Review: Professor Boffin on Britain’s Got More Talent
In the field of science communication, there always seems to be disagreement on many topics. What are we trying to achieve? In particular, when it comes to impressive demonstrations, are we trying to inspire, educate, entertain?
Each member of the community seems to have their own view on these questions. My own guess, since you asked, is that each instance (to avoid writing event, performance, intervention, act…) has its own goals, which whoever is delivering them should know and aim to fulfill.
With that in mind, let’s consider the video below:
My point is that the performer’s goals, and those of the TV company, are clearly different. So when trying to assess whether this communication was successful, we need to be clear about which perspective we are taking. Indeed, the presenter said in the backstage clip, “this is quality, keep going”, whereas others might have found it embarrassing.
So who is this Professor Boffin chap, anyway?
His real name is Terry Harvey-Chadwick, a former science teacher and part-time Viking. He now presents science shows. He’s new to the science communication sector (just like me), but has already had some success (more so than me). It’s not my place to judge this performance. Rather, I suggest you read his own thoughts on his blog.
In TV land there are two basic states of being. You are either hurrying up, or you are waiting. We did plenty of both that day. The nice stage manager, who was very interested in all our scientific equipment [and was] concerned as to whether or not it would burn down his set. [The stage manager said] we would have plenty of time to set up our equipment and move it onto the stage before the break, and maybe even have time for a quick run-through during the break before we went on. In the normal world that’s what probably would have happened. But we were in TV land.
I find it fascinating to read about the production of TV shows from “the other side”, and discussions on email lists suggest Terry’s experience was pretty typical of that environment.
Overall, although I think that the ideal-world scenario would have been more like an RI Christmas lecture, or a Famelab talk (which are closer in length to a BGT slot), I still think it was a Good Thing, at least in some respects, for Professor Boffin to appear on the show.
By the way, the “trick” that didn’t work is a lollypop stick bomb, which illustrates “something to do with forces” (I’m not very familiar with it), is visible below: