They don't make 'em like they used to

I was too young to see The Ascent of Man by Jacob Bronowski when it was first broadcast. But I am definitely old enough to shake my head and tut sadly about the appalling decline in standards of science programming since my youth. Look at this for a profound and thought-provoking example of engaging with the audience without the slightest sign of patronising its collective intellect.

This reminds me of a fascinating conversation I had with my friend the artist Ruth Maclennan about her work We saw it – like a flash which looks at the presentation of science on BBC television between 1954 and 2003. She confirmed, from her experience of watching hundreds of hours of such programmes, that the standard has indeed declined alarmingly over the years.

I came across the link for this powerful piece of programming on Pharyngula, part of the Seed Media Group : Science is Culture, and whilst poking around also found the excellent blog SEED – seeking dialogue between art and science which despite its name is not as far as I can work out connected to the Media Group.

4 Replies to “They don't make 'em like they used to”

  1. You don’t remember it? I just about do, if only because my elders sat down ritually to watch it, rather like ‘The Avengers’. Bronowski was Tom’s first boss at British Coal Research, an awe inspiring giant if not physically, and used to insist that the scientists spent a certain amount of their working week on non-work related chat, play and ideas.(Also invented Bronowski’s briquettes as sold by my dad in the coal yard of Masters Haulage).
    We bought the DVD of the series last year; the clip you show is still one of the most powerful and moving things I can remember watching, and overall the whole left us, both scientist and scientifically illiterate, filled with wonder and shaking our heads in despair just as you do. Somehow Robert Winstone isn’t in the same league, is he?

  2. I do remember Bronowski – and being awed and inspired by him. The decline (and virtual absence now) of programming like that is one reason I don’t have a TV.

  3. I’m acquiring the DVD as soon as possible. My children should see this too.

    Science wasn’t even on the radar in our house when I grew up so we certainly wouldn’t have watched the programme as a unit.

    Maybe that’s what I mean – rather than being too young I was not in an environment where the subject was valued.

  4. My friends and I stopped everything to watch this series when it went out originally, and the clip you’ve shared here is the one that stuck in my mind ever since. I love the quote, but I have mixed feelings about it, only because it came from Oliver Cromwell with a bloody threat implied to some Scots who didn’t happen to agree with him.

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