10 March 2010 (Wednesday) - The News

Regular readers of this drivel will know that I regularly listen to the news shows on Radio Four. As well as telling me stuff I’d never otherwise know, they have quite insightful interviews too. Yesterday featured an article on Hitler’s “Spyclists – allegations that eighty years ago the Hitler Youth movement formed links with scout groups in the UK, and groups of young Germans holidayed in the UK whilst checking out the lie of the land for a possible future invasion. They even interviewed ex- members of the Hitler youth (now well into their nineties) who described how they spent their summers in England, and were told to memorise the UK landmarks and local geography. It was absolutely fascinating.

Then the tone of the program changed. The next news item described plans to deliberately release an insect into the UK which is not native. The idea is that this creature (Psyllid) only eats one plant, and that plant – Japanese knotweed – is growing out of control in parts of the UK. In theory this insect will destroy the problem weed, but won’t be a problem to other plants because it doesn’t eat them. I suspect this is what the Australians thought about Cane Toads before said animals stuffed up the local ecologies.

And as is always the case with any news article which is vaguely science-related, the commentators treated the whole thing as a great joke. The potential destruction of all plant life in the UK was a subject of great hilarity.

It never fails to amaze me that the sporting events of the day, or the latest political trivia, or anything at all to do with “the arts” are covered with the utmost sincerity and gravity by the BBC, but anything vaguely scientific is a subject of ridicule. Developments in computing science, potential medical breakthroughs, discoveries about how reality works, are all viewed with a mild disdain.

There was an article last week about the fact that scientists are now (pretty much) sure that the dinosaurs were wiped out when a huge space rock crashed into the Earth. The presenters had a few sniggers about this.

Obviously it’s a cause of mirth. I would have though that finding out that most of the biosphere was destroyed without warning (on several occasions) might be something worth knowing. And that an application of this knowledge might be to chuck up a few satellites to have a look-see to find out if there are any other such boulders heading our way.

As always I was wrong. The potential extinction of humanity was to be treated as one big joke; the serious articles of the day were the decline of polo as a competitive sport in the UK, and Icelandic elections.

I’ve mentioned before that I shouldn’t listen to the news…

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