BBC Street Science 3: Genetically modified foods

In the third programme of BBC Radio 4’s Street Science series, former government science advisor Sir David King meets some breakfasters at a caféthat was the centre of anti-genetic modification (GM) activism in the ’90s.

Of this science series, this is probably the one where I have the most internal conflict. I’m still mostly with the science here: GM foods have been consumed for more than 15 years in large quantities in the Americas, and they drive the cost of food production down and make it more available in places that need it. Some people might say that American food mightn’t be the best advertisment, but I think that North American problems with crap food and obesity are due to other factors. I think that European resistance to GM foods is disproportionately high.

Still, I can see where there might be long-term risks. GM should definitely proceed, but I’m glad that there’s groups keeping a close eye on it.

BBC Street Science 2: Nuclear power

In the second programme of BBC Radio 4’s Street Science series this week,former technical director of British Nuclear Fuels Dr. Sue Lion tried to defend nuclear power to members of an alternative technology centre in West Yorkshire.

There’s a little more controversy with this discussion than with the previous day’s. Lion sticks to a realistic view: that we’ll never have the electrical capacity with wind, water and solar power alone. She also explains that nuclear power is much safer than it used to be. I agree with both these points, but they’re not enough to overcome the group’s concerns about safety and waste.

I’m worried that the UK is already too far behind in their nuclear power planning and it’s going to be too late to catch up before current stations need to be retired.

BBC Street Science 1: Human-animal embryos

This past week BBC Radio 4 did a daily show called Street Science. Each was a short (approximately 15 minutes) programme wherein a leading UK scientist would have a discussion on a controversial area of science with members of the public. That public would be specifically chosen to be a group that would likely have an opinion at the other end of the controversy.

The first programme had the unfortunately-named Professor Stephen Minger, an expert in stem cell research, explaining what he does to some members of St. Mary’s Anglican Church in Kent. It’s a very calm, straightforward discussion, with very little controversy at all. Stem cell research is a good thing, and very strictly regulated here.

I think the lack of controversy is a symptom of a meeting of reasonable minds, one-on-one, rather than of sensationalist reporting through headlines and non-experts.

Playback is only in RealAudio, but it’s worth a listen. I’ll be blogging about the rest of the series throughout the next five days.

Later…with Jools Holland

It’s only recently that I’ve really clued in to what an amazing TV programmeLater…with Jools Holland is. I’ve tuned in now and again to see music performances of big-name artists I like. But they really, consistently, have very good artists on. It’s always a mix of big names and up-and-comers. And Jools is a bit cheesy and sycophantic, but he doesn’t get in the way too much. It really is mostly about the music.

Last night, for example, they had Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, the Raconteurs, Texas singer Sharleen Spiteri, amazing singer-songwriter Bon Iver, hot new rockers Glasvegas, and North Carolina bluegrass group Chatham County Line. Okay, they had ginger troll Mick Hucknall on, too, but that made the rest of it seem so much better.

That’s a pretty amazing, cool, and mixed line-up, and it’s very typical of Jools’ late-night Friday show. With the PVR there’s no excuse for missing it, either. I’m going to make it a scheduled recording right now.

BBC iPlayer

The BBC is finally trialling a video-on-demand online service for its TV programmes called BBC iPlayer. It’s come much later than most people thought (and it’s still not completely here, since it’s still in beta). But I’ve managed to get on the beta, and it looks pretty good to me, so perhaps the wait has been worth it.

The software setup takes a little while, but once it’s there it’s simple and fast. You can see all programmes that have shown in the last 7 days on any of the four BBC TV channels. You can see programmes by day, by category, or by alphabetical listing. You can search for programmes. Once you select one, it downloads quite quickly and in reasonable quality. I like it so far.

Posted in BBC

“Here, in the western verge of London…”

I’ve just started reading David Attenborough’s bio of working for the BBC,“Life On Air”. He comes across as charming in print as on TV.

My favourite image so far was from his second trip abroad as a wildlife film producer, in South America in the mid ’50s. They managed the trip as a joint venture between the BBC and the London Zoo: they filmed animals in the wild, captured some to bring back for the zoo, and then did some further live filming and discussion with the animal back in England. Whilst still in British Guiana, they had assembled many animals but found some nearby columns of army ants. They tried to keep the ants away from their caged menagerie by setting a round-the-clock guard with petrol at the ready, but during the night one guard fell asleep and the ants got into the cages. When they discovered this, they had to get the animals out of their cages and try to remove as many biting ants as they could. The animals for which this was hardest to accomplish were the venomous snakes. It turned out to be a three-man job for each snake: two people grabbed head and tail and stretched the serpent out, while the third man went along the length, picking vicious ants out from between snake scales. Despite their efforts, they still lost a third of the snakes.

Posted in BBC