Tomorrow’s World: Brian Cox and Tony Hall on why the BBC’s new raft of science programming is so important

In June, BBC2 will launch a season of shows dedicated to science

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Which is the greatest British invention? The jet engine or antibiotics? Concrete or television? You’ll have the chance to decide in a live programme being aired on BBC2 in June as part of a season to get us all more engaged with science.

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The raft of new programming is part of a wider collaboration between the BBC and national scientific institutions to help ensure the UK remains a driving force for technology and innovation. As corporation Director General Tony Hall said at today’s launch: “Science is changing our world at an extraordinary rate. In the next 12 months we want to engage and inspire on a scale that I think is really unprecedented.”

The title of the BBC’s former flagship science show Tomorrow’s World has been resurrected as the campaign masthead. Scientist and TV broadcaster Brian Cox is among those backing the initiative, which also involves the Royal Society, the Science Museum and the Open University.

Cox said there had been a “lack of trust” in science and a “deep unease” about technologies of the future. “The West, not just Britain, faces a deep crisis of confidence which threatens to turn us backwards, to devalue knowledge, expertise and wisdom and to retreat into what I’d call a destructive relativism where all ideas are equal and freed from challenge.

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The original Tomorrow’s World

“Who should fight for Britain to continue to be the best place in the world to do science as it’s been, I would say, for over 350 years? In my view it falls, in part, to the institutions of Britain – the partners in this endeavour – but importantly it also falls to the BBC. The BBC is the institution charged with being the conduit through which the excitement of knowledge and ideas flow.

“The 21st century Tomorrow’s World represents the institutions of Britain coming together to inspire current and future generations. It represents our attempt to convince them to embrace the opportunities that sciences brings, to foster spirit of curiosity and tolerance and to embrace the unknown not in fear but in wonder.”

Asked later by RT.com whether Brexit risked a brain drain and a dilution in Britain’s role as science pioneers, Cox was unusually coy. “We have to work with what we’ve got,” he said. “What are we supposed to do as institutions? We are charged with acting in the interests of Britain. So the answer is whichever Britain you find we can make it better.”

The irony of that last statement is that yesterday (Monday) saw the 20th anniversary of the release of Cox’s song Things Can Only Get Better.

So, TV wise what can we expect in the next 12 months?

As well as Britain’s Greatest Invention, due to air on June 15, other highlights include:

  • Stephen Hawking: Expedition New Earth – featuring a prediction by Professor Hawking that the human race has only another 100 years before it has to colonise another planet.
  • Ten Things You Need to Know about the Future – Dr Hannah Fry on the questions the public most wants answered about how science will change our lives.
  • Toughest Job in the Universe – Twelve men and women undergo the gruelling astronaut-training programme.
  • The Innovators – a new Radio 4 series in which Sarah Montague interviews scientific pioneers.

Asked why the BBC didn’t revive the Tomorrow’s World programme as well as the title, DG Tony Hall said: “We all remember Tomorrow’s World with a huge amount of fondness, but I think we’re using it in a cleverer way. The BBC’s role is to connect science with our audiences… make them feel they have a grasp of what’s happening in the world. And that I think is why the Tomorrow’s World banner is so exciting and so good.”

The list of inventions to be voted on by the general public are: the steam engine, fridge, mobile phone, concrete, television, antibiotics and the jet engine. 

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What do you make of the suggestions? Do you have any of your own? Leave your thoughts in the comments box below…