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A non-scientific analysis of a scientist

March 3, 2011

I was lucky enough this week to get into Professor Brian Cox’s lecture at the Ecobuild show. The theme was ‘Can Science Save Us?’ and I had expected it to be busy, but the queue for a 4.15pm lecture started at 3pm. It wound around the top floor, down the corridor and all the way down to the bottom of the stairs. The northern professor seems to be swinging on a star at the moment and the both public and press can’t get enough.

Now, having experienced it for myself I completely understand why. Essentially, he just talks about something he loves. And he’s not ashamed to show that he loves science, in fact it seems nothing gives him greater joy than being able to explain to non-scientists just how uncomplicated science really is. He had the audience charmed and yet he didn’t seem to realise – apart from one lady who stood up at the end and announced that she loved him, as grateful as he was, those kinds of declarations obviously still make him uncomfortable.

The field of science isn’t known for its sex symbols; in the professor it may have found its first. But, whether people turned out for a glimpse of the well-known Colgate smile or to listen to what he had to say, the fact is people turned out.

There is substance to the ‘rock-star scientist’; he’s engaging, well-informed and on the ball. He talks like a normal bloke and it’s a Lancashire accent that delivers potentially complex information in simple terms. That fact alone makes him more personable than any other physicist I’ve come across. Not that I can name many, mind you. And I suppose that’s the crux of the matter. He’s given warmth and personality to a subject that has, for a long time, been thought of as cold, clinical and well…a bit dull.

A terrible blurry photo of Brian Cox

He doesn’t seem afraid to stick his head out of the test tube and have an opinion on subjects like the effects of politics on the future of science. At the end of the lecture I had the opportunity to ask him a question and I was intrigued to know if he felt the media were being a help or a hindrance to science and the message of climate change and sustainability. The answer, as I suspected, was that it’s becoming increasingly difficult for the media and host Samira Ahmed confirmed that as a broadcaster she’s facing increasing political pressure. It felt like a genuine answer from both of them, not a diplomatic one, and I think this is a big part of the reason so many people are listening to what Professor Cox has to say.

And the answer to the question Can Science Save Us?’ Despite not answering the question in the lecture, a kindly soul in the audience reminded him and he firmly believes so, but education and willingness to understand science’s advances are key to this success.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 3, 2011 8:26 pm

    I love Prof Cox too! And he was in D:ream, so this isn’t his first taste of fame. He makes science interesting and puts everything in layman’s terms.

    He’s very much like Robert Winston. Remember his Child of Our Time programme? Very interesting and very accessible.

    • March 3, 2011 8:34 pm

      I remember Dr Winston, but to me he is still a wee bit plummy and ‘scientisty’ Yeah, I completely made that word up.

  2. James permalink
    March 4, 2011 6:34 pm

    Whilst I enjoyed his talk he completely failed to address the title. In the 3 days of lectures regretably he was the only one not on message.

    We deserved better.

    • March 4, 2011 6:42 pm

      To be honest, he was there to pull in numbers, the organisers booked him because he is a headliner. I agree that from a specific building/construction industry perspective it didn’t serve any great purpose, but I didn’t go in expecting him to. At the end of the day, it’s not his field.

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