About this podcast
The home of the best science programmes from BBC Radio 4 introduced by Dr. Alex Lathbridge.
About this podcast
The home of the best science programmes from BBC Radio 4 introduced by Dr. Alex Lathbridge.
Laws That Aren't Laws: Stigler's Law - Episode 5
Stephen M. Stigler's Law of Eponymy states that no scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer. Professor Stigler, a statistician at Chicago University, defined his own law in a tributary paper to his friend, the sociologist Robert Merton, in 1980. Merton had been famous in sociology for writing about the "self-fulfilling prophecy", amongst other things, and also for a long treatise about how often the same law or principle in science has been discovered multiple times by different people. Merton also wrote about how Isaac Newton's famous phrase "Standing on the Shoulders of Giants" was not itself even his own metaphor. Stigler's amusing and humble paper was thus, despite including some new statistical insights into the phenomenon (and even a reasoned suggestion as to its cause), more of a jovial tribute to his friend's earlier insights than an aggressive assertion of nominative priority. It self-fulfilled its own eponymous point. But the joke, and the law, stuck. And it continues to ask important questions about the nature of knowledge, the sociology - and the popular history - of science itself. Presenter: Robin Ince Produced by Alex Mansfield-Sella. First broadcast on Thursday 3 September 2020.
Laws That Aren't Laws: The Peter Principle - Episode 4
n 1969, Canadian educationist Lawrence J. Peter developed an unorthodox concept that became known as The Peter Principle: “In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence". His satirical insights into business struck a chord with many subordinates across a range of organisations. Peter went on to develop his theory further, claiming that "in time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out his duties". So how is any work achieved? Are companies giant machines for sorting people into precisely the jobs they can't do? And to what extent are brilliant people really promoted until they become awful managers? Robin Ince decodes the humorous jargon that ensured Peter's book remained on best seller list for months after its publication. He hears from Yale Professor of Finance Kelly Shue, who offers the first empirical evidence for the Peter Principle in action, and Prof Robert Sutton of Stanford University on how to evade this law of hierarchy and dodge ever reaching your level of incompetence. Produced by Adrian Washbourne. First broadcast on Thursday 27 Aug 2020.
Laws That Aren't Laws: Betteridge's Law of Headlines - Episode 3
If a newspaper headline ends in a question mark, is the answer always no? And if so, are journalists who use them being lazy and cynical? Ian Betteridge described what is now known as Betteridge's Law of Headlines in a small blog post in 2009. Is it still relevant in our current age of clickbait and media bubbles? Robin Ince puts these questions to Caroline Frost, an ethicist, entertainment journalist and broadcaster, often seen reviewing the papers on a Sunday night on the BBC News Channel, and to Gemma Milne, a tech journalist and author of a book about the dangers of hype in science journalism called "Smoke and Mirrors". Produced by Alex Mansfield. First broadcast on Monday 24 August 2020.
Laws That Aren't Laws: Parkinson's Law - Episode 2
Cyril Northcote Parkinson may have trained as a naval historian, but it was his succinct humorous essay for the Economist magazine in 1955 that was to overshadow much of his career. In it, he laid out his fundamental law of bureaucracy - "work expands to fill the time available" - and he went on to explain how organisations become bloated regardless of the work in hand. It was instantly recognised by subordinates, and made for uncomfortable reading for those near the top of any institutional hierarchy. Robin Ince explores how the law and its corollaries have taken on a life of their own, and are now being reinterpreted as remote working becomes the new normal for many. Produced by Adrian Washbourne. First broadcast on Thursday 20 August 2020.
Laws That Aren't Laws: Murphy's Law - Episode 1
“If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong.” Murphy’s Law is now a part of our culture, used to describe wrong outcomes of every sort, from how buttered toast falls to the way catastrophes strike. People have uttered similar laments since time immemorial. But the modern origin of the phrase traces back to two men on one fateful day in 1949 at Edwards Air Force Base in California: Colonel John Stapp whose work would later save countless lives in safer cars and airplanes and Captain Ed Murphy whose contributions would lead to safer cockpit controls and foretell the development of better computers and software. Robin Ince uncovers their tangled tale which sprang from a series of mishaps when what could go wrong did go wrong, risking life and limb for the rider, and how, ironically, the origin of Murphy’s Law went unnoticed by Murphy himself. But does this law simply tap into our tendency to dwell on the negative and overlook the positive? Or are the rules of probability - the mathematical likeliness that something will occur - sufficient to support it? We hear how the mathematician whose car’s clutch ceased to function 100km from home, at night in the middle of a rainstorm with no phone and a flooded tool kit, came up with the definitive equation to predict how often things really do go wrong for no good reason. Produced by Adrian Washbourne. First broadcast on Monday 17 August 2020.
After becoming ill with covid six months ago, Inside Science presenter Adam Rutherford is only now getting back to normal. He didn’t go to hospital and, like many, thought he’d be back on his feet within a week or two. But his symptoms of fatigue and shortness of breath are taking months to subside and he’s still not 100%. He is not alone. The scale of what’s become known as ‘long covid’ is only now coming to light. Tens of thousands of people are still enduring serious and oddly diverse symptoms, having been initially infected several months ago, from fatigue and muscle aches, to blood clots and kidney failure. One of the most striking aspects of the disease is the stark differences in people’s experiences. Some recover quickly, while others battle with distressing and long-lasting symptoms. What are the underlying mechanisms driving these symptoms? What is it about the virus SARS-CoV-2, and the immune response it triggers, that could explain such widespread destruction in the body? Could there be several subtypes of the disease? A nationwide study, called PHOSP-COVID, is now underway to answer these questions. It’s taking the long view - recruiting ten thousand patients who were hospitalised with covid and following them up for at least a year and, many, for much longer. Adam explores the emerging science behind ‘long covid’ and asks what the repercussions might be for patients, for the NHS and for society. Produced by Beth Eastwood. First broadcast on Tuesday 29 September 2020.
The Genius of Accidents: CRISPR - Episode 5
Having a fast and easy way to cut out and replace genes could revolutionise areas of biology as diverse as medicine and agriculture. And the discovery of the gene editing tool using CRISPR-cas9 makes that revolution a present reality. But the teams that revealed this gene editing tool piece by piece were not looking for anything to do with genetic engineering: instead they were curious to know more about how bacterial immunity works. Presenter Adam Hart speaks with Professor Jennifer Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley, and Dr Rodolphe Barrangou of North Carolina State University to reveal the story of how scientific curiosity can accidentally change the world. Produced by Rory Galloway. First broadcast on Friday 27 July 2018.
The Genius of Accidents: Jet Streams - Episode 4
Before the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883, nobody knew about the invisible streams of air in the middle atmosphere that are important for air travel and meteorology. Adam Hart explores the archives of the Royal Society in London to reveal a story of how global observations of the atmospheric effects caused by the ejected smoke from Krakatoa unexpectedly revealed the presence of the jet streams. Produced by Rory Galloway. First broadcast on Thursday 26 July 2018.
The Genius of Accidents: The Coelacanth - Episode 3
The coelacanth is a fish that, until 1938, was only known from the fossil record until a young South African curator named Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer found one - only just deceased - on the deck of a fishing boat. Presenter Adam Hart speaks with ichthyologists and curators who knew Marjorie, putting together the story of how a curious mind, determination and a bit of luck saved this 'living fossil' for science. Produced by Rory Galloway. First broadcast on Wednesday 25 July 2018.
The Genius of Accidents: The Big Bang - Episode 2
Evidence for the Big Bang at the start of the universe was discovered by accident, using technology developed to record radio waves from space, that were themselves found by accident. Adam Hart explores serendipity in radio astronomy with Professor Nial Tanvir of Leicester University, and Professor Sarah Bridle of Manchester University, in a story involving not a small amount of pigeon poo, and a persistent odd noise detected from space. Produced by Rory Galloway. First broadcast on Tuesday 24 July 2018.
The Genius of Accidents: Viagra - Episode 1
Viagra was supposed to be a treatment for the heart condition angina, but during clinical trials an unexpected side effect was noticed by the young male participants. Telling the story of this unexpected discovery, presenter Adam Hart speaks with the Pfizer scientists Sir Simon Campbell and Dr Peter Ellis who were part of the team that noticed the unusual side effects, and brought Viagra forward as a treatment for erectile dysfunction. Sex journalist Alix Fox discusses the importance of this little blue pill to patients. This is the story of the accident that changed sex. Produced by Rory Galloway. First broadcast on Monday 23 July 2018.
Aleks in Wonderland: Attack of the Zombie Baby Monitors - Episode 3
Can we Control the Dark Side of the Internet? The Internet is the world's most widely used communications tool. It's a fast and efficient way of delivering information. However it is also quite dumb, neutral, treating equally all the data it passes around the world. From data that forms scientific research papers, the wealth of social media to keep us all connected with friends and relatives, entertainment or material we would rather not see- from political propaganda to horrific violence, the Internet makes no distinction. Is it time to change that? And can we? In this programme Aleks Krotoski looks at whether it's possible to use technological fixes to regulate the internet or whether a more political approach is needed to governance of this vital but flawed communications medium. Produced by Julian Siddle. First broadcast on Wednesday 30 August 2017.
Aleks in Wonderland: The World Wide Villain - Episode 2
With the coming of the World Wide Web in the 1990s internet access opened up to everybody, it was no longer the preserve of academics and computer hobbyists. Already prior to the web, the burgeoning internet user groups and chatrooms had tested what was acceptable behaviour online, but access was still limited. Aleks Krotoski asks whether the Web through enabling much wider use of the internet is the villain of the piece in facilitating not just entertainment and commerce, but all aspects of the darker side, from malicious computer hacking attacks, worms and viruses, to new channels for criminality, online extortion and identity theft. Produced by Julian Siddle. First broadcast on Wednesday 23 August 2017.
Aleks in Wonderland: The International League of Geeky Gentlemen - Episode 1
Just how did the Internet become the most powerful communications medium on the planet, and why does it seem to be an uncontrollable medium for good and bad? With no cross border regulation the internet can act as an incredible force for connecting people and supporting human rights and yet at the same time convey the most offensive material imaginable. It has become the most useful research tool on earth but also the most effective way of delivering threats to the security of governments, the health service and on a personal level our own identities. In this series Aleks Krotoski unravels the complexity of the internet, meeting the people who really invented it, looking behind the myths and cultural constructs to explain what it actually is and how it came to exist outside of conventional regulation. We'll ask whether the nature of the net itself really is cause for concern - and if so what can be done to reign in the negatives of the internet without restricting the positives? In this first episode we go back to the days before the internet to look at the cultural and technological landscape from which it grew, and unravel some of the key moments - now lost in time and obscured by technology folklore, which mark when the internet lost its innocence. Produced by Julian Siddle. First broadcast on Wednesday 16 August 2017.
Climate Change and Me: Richard Dawson - Episode 5
Richard Dawson, Professor of Earth System Engineering at Newcastle University, was the lead author of the Infrastructure section of the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2017. He reflects on how he and his fellow civil engineers now view flooding from a variety of sources the main threat to our infrastructure. Produced by Anna Buckley for the BBC Radio Science Unit. First broadcast on Friday 25 May, 2018.
Climate Change and Me: Professor Jennifer Leaning - Episode 4
Five scientists, working in different parts of the world, bear witness to some of the dramatic changes to our planet that have occurred in their lifetimes, as the global climate warms. 4. In May 2004, Professor Jennifer Leaning of Harvard University's FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, led a two-person human rights investigation into the reported widespread attacks and killings against agrarian villagers in Darfur, in Western Sudan. The villagers became refugees in neighbouring Chad. Jennifer Leaning explains how this trip lead her to realise that climate change has a crucial part to play in human migration. Produced by Anna Buckley for the BBC Radio Science Unit. First broadcast on Thursday 24 May, 2018.
Climate Change and Me: Professor Mary Edwards - Episode 3
Five scientists, working in different parts of the world, bear witness to some of the dramatic changes to our planet that have occurred in their lifetimes, as the global climate warms. They share their hopes and fears and report on some ingenious local solutions to rapidly changing conditions. 3. 3 million square kilometres of ice has been lost in the Arctic since 1979. Geographer, Professor Mary Edwards lived in Alaska for many years. She has witnessed a cruise ship navigating the Northwest Passage for the first time and seen villages in the Arctic disappear, as melting ice has led to a dramatic loss of landmass too. Produced by Anna Buckley for the BBC Radio Science Unit. First broadcast on Wednesday 23 May, 2018.
Climate Change and Me: Sir John Lawton - Episode 2
Five scientists, working in different parts of the world, bear witness to some of the dramatic changes to our planet that have occurred in their lifetimes, as the global climate warms. Professor Sir John Lawton is an ecologist and Vice President of the RSPB. He has been bird-watching in the UK since he was a boy. He remembers bird populations that have now collapsed and has seen Mediterranean species that were once rare in the UK become commonplace: multiple canaries in the global climate coal-mine, he says. Produced by Anna Buckley for the BBC Radio Science Unit. First broadcast on Tuesday 22 May, 2018.
Climate Change and Me: Callum Roberts - Episode 1
Five scientists, working in different parts of the world, bear witness to some of the dramatic changes to our planet that have occurred in their lifetimes, as the global climate warms. 1. Marine biologist and underwater diver, Professor Callum Roberts of the University of York, has seen coral reefs that were once multi-coloured and teeming with life reduced to grey, lifeless underwater landscapes with devastating consequences for marine bio-diversity. Just 0.1% of the ocean life is coral reefs but they support more than a quarter of all the species that live in the sea. Produced by Anna Buckley for the BBC Science Radio Unit. First broadcast on Monday 21 May, 2018.
What's the Solution?: Plastic Fantastic - Episode 3
The solutions to the problem of plastic pollution and plastic waste lie in many directions. A global plan to stop littering will go a long way. But human behaviour change often needs some economic intervention. One idea by the UK government and many others around the world, is to give a little financial incentive in the form of deposits on plastic bottles, or taxation on single use plastic like coffee cups, food wrapping and plastic bags. Mark Miodownik investigates some of the scientific solutions such as alternatives to petrochemical plastic using microbes or plant materials, clever waste sorting technologies to help make the process easier, even using less plastic. And he hopefully untangles some of the confusing messages about plastic and comes up with ways to be plastic smart.