Thursday, 14 April 2016

The Second Law of BBC Radio 4 science programmes

I've probably been fixating on the BBC for far too long perhaps. 

I saw that this morning's In Our Time was on the subject of 'The Neutron' and my first thought was, "I bet Frank Close will be on it". 

And, lo, it came to pass that Frank Close, Professor Emeritus of Physics at the University of Oxford, was on it! Amen.


That really is true. I really did think that. It's not a ex post facto thing. Therefore, as a result, I must be a prophet in my own lifetime.

Except that I'm a huge In Our Time fan and will always home in on anything to do with particle physics. 

And if In Our Time is covering particle physics then Frank Close will be on. It's a Radio 4 law of nature, as incontrovertible as the Second Law of Thermodynamics. 

Whenever intellectual energy is transformed from one form (academia) to another form (a Radio 4 discussion programme), or interesting stuff on physics moves freely, the likelihood of Frank Close appearing (on that Radio 4 discussion) increases. Hence d (the number of discussions about particle physics on In Our time) times S (Frank Close) is greater than or equal to 0 (zero).

And, as ever, Melvyn went to Frank first (there's another equation for that), and there was light.


So it appears as if I'm a mere conjurer rather than a prophet after all - and, worse, a conjurer who spills his trade secrets. I deserve to be chucked out of ITBB's very own Magic Circle. 

Talking of which, and in the spirit of those inveterate gossips at Hacked off......

Sue makes Dynamo and David Blaine look like amateurs (and idiots). None of her vertical walks up the outside of the Eiffel Tower have ever proved embarrassing. All have been triumphs. 

My vertical walks up the outside of Blackpool Tower aren't rated anywhere near so highly by connoisseurs of the art. 

In my defence, that's because I've got a psychological hang-up in that I think Blackpool isn't worthy of a tower and that Morecambe should have had Blackpool Tower instead. And Morecambe did have a tower. It was built in 1898 and stood some 232ft high. And this is it (and that isn't a mosque in front of it):

Isn't that something? It makes those triumphalist Islamic towers - the Burj Khalifa and the Shard - look pathetic, doesn't it? 

This awesome edifice was, I'm sorry to tell you, demolished at the beginning of the First World War and its steel was used in munitions. 

That should have happened to Blackpool Tower instead.

Oh, hang on! I must possibly be digressing here. Better get back to the point or people might start drifting away from reading the rest of this fine post. 

Can't think why though. Anyone about Morecambe is surely worth reading. There's never a justified TL;DR about any piece about Morecambe.  And it's not as if I'm like a Morecambe-obsessed Susan Calman forever banging on about my same-sex wife on every single Radio 4 comedy show.

And if you disagree, please think about Eric Morecambe, and all the laughs he gave you/ Eric...Morecambe. Morecambe. Morecambe. Bring Me Sunshine. Laughter. ITBB. This post. Joy. Stay with us. stay with us, stay with us, stay with us. stay with us...



Not that I'm complaining that Frank Close was on again as he's an absolutely first-rate communicator. In fact, I'm always glad he's on as I know I might have a good chance of understanding what's being talked about. I like (Ike) Frank. His books are excellent too (check out Amazon).


It's like when I'm listening to Sunday and hear it announced that something really esoteric and interesting-sounding is coming up. I think, "Will that be Martin Palmer?" And quite often it is Martin Palmer.

If you don't know who Martin Palmer is then you mustn't be a long-term Radio 4 listener. (He's done the odd Thought For The Day in the past.) His current role is as head of he Alliance of Religions and Conservation and, despite being something of a typical BBC religious/environmental type, he's also an absolutely first-rate communicator and a guarantee of hearing something interesting. And Martin Palmer is another of In Our Times's go-to experts - though he specialises in the religious stuff. (I love In Our Time's religious stuff, even though I'm not religious. Sod Eastenders or Newsnight, give me Melvyn Bragg and Martin Palmer on the history of concepts of the Trinity any day. Really.)

As I say, I've probably been fixating on the BBC for too long.


If any of that sounds a bit too gushing about both Frank Close and Martin Palmer (as I've just realised it might) I'm frankly, closely, intensely relaxed about that. 

(Was the phrase 'intensely relaxed' first used by Peter Mandelson or merely made famous by him? I type that and then think, "Well, why don't you Google it and find out?" OK, all right, calm down, I will!.....Having done so, Google isn't definitively answering the point, but it's 'Peter Mandelson' all the way as far as I can see. So well done Lord Mandelson!)


Frank called the electrically-neutral neutron "the spark that lights the nuclear fire". and - as must happen - Melvyn immediately asked him to give listeners a sense of how big a neutron is (the first port of call of many a popular science presentation of the atom). 

Here's Frank:
Well, if you all take a deep breath. We just breathed in a million, million, million, million atoms of oxygen. And that gives you an idea of how small the atom is. Now I can imagine one of those atoms being expanded to the size of, say, Wembley Football Stadium, then the nucleus in the middle is about the size of a pea. So that is the nucleus, made of neutrons and protons. It's incredibly small.
And so on and so forth. 

Fascinating. Brilliant Radio. Not worth the licence fee in itself. Worth subscribing too if the licence fee were scrapped though.

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