By Anna Perman,  Communities Manager at the British Science Association


Well, my Twitter feed is full of people getting annoyed about an ‘offensive’ video which they say targets and belittles a minority group in our society - scientists.

The video is a spoof show called ‘Science is everything’, and plays up to every stereotype in the book, from fictional host Jeremy Bumble’s terrible dress sense to his inability to kick a ball or pick up women, who, by the way, don’t get physics. Yes, this has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, and it’s certainly no
Look Around You or Moments of Wonder. But to me, it doesn’t do nearly as much damage as the constant ghettoisation of science in our mainstream culture, and I’d like to see scientists re-directing their ire.

So why is a film that plays up to so many negative stereotypes the wrong target? I don’t pretend to know how most people received those videos, but I read them very differently to my fellow science communication folk on Twitter. I took this as a spoof of the ‘Yay science’ approach, where presenters shout enthusiastically but boringly, “Science is great! Let me explain this cool thing to you with a metaphor”. When done badly, it comes off as totally patronising.

I actually thought that since the creator, Dominic Burgess, is a professional filmmaker, he might have an insight into the types of films we produce about science, and how these compare with films that other groups make. Bumble actually uses the exact metaphor for the Higgs Boson that scientists do – though the particle is usually Margaret Thatcher rather than a bottle of Lambrini. If a non-scientist is spoofing the way scientists are still presenting themselves, it might be worth listening rather than getting angry and effectively shutting down any discussion.

I wonder if the reason this has hit such a nerve with science communicators is about power. A comedic rule of thumb is that you only lampoon those in positions of authority. Punching up is funny, punching down is not. Sometimes science communicators have a tendency to think they’re an oppressed minority. Science is ghettoised in our culture, but scientists aren’t exactly powerless. To most people, scientists calling comedy about them ‘offensive’ would come across in the same way as a politician complaining about a mean joke on Mock the Week. I want scientists to play a central part in our cultural and political life. Sorry scientists, sometimes this means you’re going to get mocked and portrayed in ways you don’t like. You might have to just learn to deal with it and carry on anyway.

That’s not to say should not be vigilant. Sexism and ghettoisation of scientists in our culture should make us angry. But something so obviously intended as a silly spoof isn’t my top priority. A few weeks ago John Humphries asked Brian Cox ‘what five things should all people know about science?’, as if science is just a list of facts everyone MUST know, rather than an elegant and critical approach to finding things out. An article yesterday ticked me off by labelling some really quality Edinburgh Fringe shows that happen to include an element of science, as ‘geek comedy’. To me this ghettoises really great shows like No Such Thing as a Fish that discuss science alongside other topics, as ‘just for science nerds’, rather than as equals alongside all the other things people can go and see. I hasten to add that the article was tweeted by James Harkin, one of the QI elves on the podcast, so it clearly doesn’t annoy him, which is fair enough, but I found it grating.

In a world where a US presidential candidate avoids the substantive point of a female journalist’s questions by insinuating her period is making her crazy, there’s lots to challenge and question in mainstream media and politics. So question the people with power and influence. Don’t pick on a video that’s clearly a spoof, because it takes the mickey out of science shows.

I’m not immune to getting angry about the way science is framed to people. The Guardian video just doesn’t push my buttons, because I think people can clearly see it’s intended to be a spoof and it doesn’t legitimise the stereotype, it just has a bit of fun with a stereotype we all know exists. So can we get on with challenging things that really matter now?