27 November 2019
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Thanks in part to scientists embracing public outreach, science is central to our cultural landscape today. But not long ago, public narratives of scientists were largely controlled not by scientists, but by TV producers. In the 1970s, science on the BBC was the domain of a few dozen producers, who brought us classic programmes such as Tomorrow’s World and Horizon. These programmes inspired many to pursue careers in science, but the driving force for BBC commissioners was entertainment, not education.
As viewing figures for these series made the public interest in science clear, scientific programming moved into the mainstream, and significant additions to the output followed. Gradually, the process of science, its personalities and issues became legitimate topics of public interest and scrutiny. Demands were made on scientists to explain and debate the significance of their work – while television executives, accustomed to being called to account over perceived political bias, were now under attack for misinterpretation and misrepresentation of evidence in subjects such as brain death and BSE.
Using programme clips and illustrations from her research paper, Perceptions of Science, Caroline van den Brul MBE will look at the challenges and rewards of balancing information, education, entertainment, and statistics when communicating science to the public.
Caroline van den Brul MBE had a distinguished 30-year career with the BBC as a programme maker and as the creativity leader for an ambitious culture-change programme. Her credits include Tomorrow’s World, Horizon, Meet the Ancestors and the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures. She is now a narrative skills coach, specialising in helping scientists communicate their ideas and the value of their work to colleagues, the public and funders. She has published a paper, Perceptions of Science: How Scientists and Others View the Media Reporting of Science, and is also the author of Crackle and Fizz: Essential Communication and Pitching Skills for Scientists. Since April 2017, Caroline has been a Trustee of Alzheimer’s Research UK.
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