Most people probably wouldn’t put science and comedy together (well unless you include the invention of the whoopee cushion), but in the BBC’s new show ‘Science Club’ comedian Dara O’Briain and his host of highly intellectual scientists not only showed science and comedy can work together, but they made it seem like a match made in heaven.
This isn’t the first instance of science and comedy combining to make a roaring success: BBC Radio 4’s witty, irreverent show ‘The Infinite Monkey Cage’ is the most downloaded podcast on iTunes, and has over a million live listeners. To be honest it could be said the ‘Science Club’ was the ‘Infinite Monkey Cage’ with pictures but if it’s worked once why not again, and indeed it seemed to do just that.
The show flings open the doors of science taking complex, controversial, highly relevant subjects such as sex, space exploration, genetics, extinction and evolution and through the use of a team of expert scientists, comedians and a number of celebrities they break the huge subjects down into comprehensible, fun, bite-size chunks.
Taking such complex topics and making them accessible to the interested but inexpert viewer can be a very hard task; how do you do it without completely dumming the science down. Well you do dumb it down but who really knows that much about complex science as a whole anyway? I have a science degree, yet I still found it interesting and engaging; that though could mean two things either I’m dumber than I think or the BBC got it just right. I’m going with the latter.
The first of the six part series opened up with a condensed, visual animation of how genetic inheritance works, going through the history of the science behind our knowledge from Aristotle to Watson and Crick. This simple explanation was then elaborated on in greater detail by the famous geneticist Professor Steve Jones.
From here there was a bold, highly enlightening piece by science writer Alok Jha about The Human Genome Project. He highlighted and answered some very controversial questions surrounding the topic, bringing in the ideas of how politics and economics can influence science. This piece was of a more serious nature yet it was still kept engaging and funny particularly when Jha very cleverly deduced that basically the scientists behind the work had used their huge brains to hoodwink the politicians into funding the project.
The show then moved on to epigenetics, a highly technical area of genetic biology that works at a far deeper level than the idea I had, of a one gene for one trait system. Epigenetics looks at the ‘epi-genome’ – a set of chemical tags which can switch genes on and off. They are manipulated by lifestyle choices such as exercise and diet. So how did they explain such a complex topic in a fun understandable way? Well they got two very cute mice for a start and explained visually how epigenetics works using a number of very good real life examples, they also elaborated on this by visiting a well known epigenist Dana Dolinoy in her lab and visually explaining the work and science involved.
The show would appeal to anyone who is curious about space, sex, extinction, brains, the human body and just life in general – so that’s most people! And if that hasn’t caught your attention, it’s worth watching just for the jokes, the quick wit and the crazy, daft yet educational experiments, involving cheese, toast and 82% vodka. Science as a form of entertainment seems to be ever more popular, so get involved, have a laugh and learn a little.
The next episode of Dara O’Brian’s Science Club will be shown on BBC2 next Tuesday at 9pm.
IMAGE: iabuk, flickr.