Over the past couple of years I have lamented the slow death of decent science on BBC2 – specifically how the once flagship Horizon show had slowly reduced down to a celeb driven “voyage of discovery” or “we’re all going to die” style of programme more suitable for the Discovery Channel.

I am as big a fan of big explosions type science as the next person, and BBC1 has done a good job recently of filling that interest, but I also like a bit of meat on my science at times – and Horizon was a show that I would settle down to in the hope that it might be good, but increasingly in the fear that it wasn’t.

So the new series came along, and I settled down to watch it. And the first show on the science behind our perception of colour was really good. Then the second, on super-telescopes was good. Blimey I thought. Then a third about pre-birth effects kept up the quality. And last night, on the planetary core was also very good – and unlike every show on the magnetic flip ever shown before – didn’t predict the end of all life on the planet.

So, we can rejoice, for the current series has been frankly, bloody brilliant.

They seem to have dropped the need for celebrities to front the show, and returned to using a disembodied voiceover along with interviews with the scientists doing the actual work.

More importantly, by getting rid of the people ruminating about how this discovery or that affects them as a celeb — or Prof Brian Cox sitting on a rock in a desert wringing his hands again — you have more time for science. A lot more time.

It’s not too complex — mainly just the general principles being explained — which is exactly what appeals to me. I end up an hour later somewhat educated and excited, without being put off by complex maths that would make my brain hurt at that time of night.

I also note that the shows are usually very uplifting when done this way. Gone is the “we’re all going to die” style of reporting, and here are shows about how exciting science is and the amazing things that people are developing.

It makes people want to become scientists!

So, hurrah for Horizon – please keep to the old style, it really works.

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  1. al

    Agree entirely but the script in the recent Earth’s core epside and especially its amateurish Clarkson-esque presentation was very annoying. “The most annoyng script… IN THE WORLD.” and twice they said that shear waves can only travel through solid material, when i suspect they meant that shear waves are the only waves that can travel through solid material. Quite a difference!
    And never mind the dramatic-effect music and stupid visual gimmicks. Apart from that was very interesting!
    Please no more Jay Taylor.

    • Andrew

      No, that was right, I think – both p-waves (pressure, primary) and s-waves (secondary, shear) can travel through solid materials (such as the Earth’s mantle), but only p-waves can travel through liquids (such as the outer core). So it is right to say that s-waves can only travel through solid material (for some value of solid)

  2. al

    Oh yes! I was thinking that the mantle was liquid and the core the solid. A school-boy error. I will forgive him that one. But he still annoyed me the rest of it! :-)

  3. Londonlime

    this is good to know. I had stopped watching it. I will restart!

  4. Robert Tambree

    Bang goes the Theory contains more facts per minute.
    Those recent Horizon episodes, while slightly better, are still are hesitant to give tell you any real details, and take forever to give you the ‘meat’ to which you refer. And a trigger-happy editor with a nervous-tick has to repeatedly insert quick-fire abstract montages, as if to poke the audience to wake up.
    Besides, none of the ‘science’ presented was new. We all know what black holes are – we don’t need it explained yet again in a 15 minute introduction.

    Compare Horizon in the 1950s/60s to the last decade. There’s a world of difference.

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