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Appliance of Science – “There’s no such thing as a non-science story”

23 Jan, 2012
In this post, broadcaster and journalist Quentin Cooper talks about the search for a good story .
Science is part of absolutely everything. I hate science being confined to science programmes and science festivals and science pages. To me, science isn’t a domain but a way of looking at things.

After starting my career as a news trainee with the BBC I went on to present the arts programme ‘Kaleidoscope’. Interestingly for me, when I interviewed a photographer, visual artist or film maker nobody ever asked what my qualifications were, they just accepted I was there.

For the first three years that I presented ‘Material World’, at least half of the interviewees wanted to know if I had a scientific background. As it happens I do, but it’s interesting that we have this strange attitude that unless you’re a scientist you’re not allowed to talk to other scientists.

During that time I never looked at an arts story as more interesting than a science story, or vice versa, I just asked, is it a story first of all? Why do we have to apply labels rather than asking if it’s an interesting story? In my opinion, there’s no such thing as a non-science story. I don’t like the way the boundary around science applies to festivals either.

I’ve done events at science festivals that have gone really well, but I’m convinced that, within a five-mile radius of the venue, there are thousands of people who would love the event but who would never walk through the door because it’s in a science festival. This is one of the things I like about Cheltenham: that the festivals of jazz, music, science and literature are linked.

I’m involved in LabOratory, a project to get biomedical science across the four festivals. A think-tank including writers, musicians and scientists creates highly innovative events – both in content and style – that cross boundaries and I think there’s a great deal of potential for it to go further.

Sometimes it’s said that science is unappealing to certain audiences, but I believe that people care passionately about it. They may not know they’re caring about science, or may resent the label, but there are always amazing stories.

Are any topics too difficult? I don’t think so. You can be lazy and concentrate on stories about dinosaurs or space, but even something about a new laminate or property of a material can be interesting – if you think hard about the best way to pitch it.

I find it ridiculous that we say we don’t like science. We don’t like the difficult bits, the complicated equations, but there are difficult bits in everything – even the plots of soap operas. Science isn’t always easy, but these kinds of objections aren’t anti-science, just anti-difficult.

As told to Chrissie Giles. This feature also appears in issue 69 of ‘Wellcome News’.

Image Credit: Charlie Chan
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