Being a BBC Science Correspondent is a bit like walking up a down escalator. Or painting the Forth Bridge. In their time, both were marvels of scientific knowhow. Now, we take them for granted. Science moves on, and we stay the same. Scarcely able to believe our eyes, as the next scientific marvel comes our way. Time to don protective clothing, hi vis vest and safety goggles and into the inflatable speedboat, ready for some serious science-marvelling.
That’s the job, and someone’s got to do it.
But now, there’s a new threat: Scientists say that science is to actually accelerate in marvelousness. Now if this were a piece on the 6 (which is what we in the business call the six o’clock news) I’d have some fantastic graphics to show what that 32% hike actually means in visual terms. But as this is a written interview, that’s simply not possible.
Let’s take one single development: The increased scientific element in science itself. Now, thanks to advanced DNA technology, extra science can be injected in every cell, potentially making life itself more scientific. Marvellous enough, you may think – but here’s the challenge: Without the aid of an enormous oil rig, without a vast machine in the middle of a desert or a silo buried deep in a remote mountain, without even a huge chunk of glacial ice about to drop, like some vast crumbling white cheese, into the sea - without all that, how can the necessary extra marvelling percentage be achieved?
And that’s not all.
Because for every ultra-sterilised laboratory full of space-suited technocrats; for every expensive helicopter view of a vast new industrial complex; for every amazing microscopic slice of the tiniest platinum and gold microprocessor, or uncannily human robotic device - there’s a new threat.
And it’s this:
Science can go bad. Think of weapons, think of nuclear accidents, think of system failures in aircraft, ships, trains, motorcars. Simply - unthinkable. Yet the challenge is that the science used to actually overcome these threats is itself more marvellous than plain old gee-whizz here’s-the-latest-miracle from the men – and yes, women - in white suits. So even when potentially marvellous science goes wrong, the science to actually right it has to be of exponentially increased mavellousness. Hence the figure at the top of the very article you have nearly finished reading or perhaps abandoned earlier:
Can we increase marvelling by that amount small gesture close up on earnest expression? We’ll just have to.
David Shukman, News at Ten…oh no you don’t say that if it’s an interview. And I’m not sure now about the Forth Bridge bit, haven’t they actually finished building it or painting it, or..
Look, can we go again, without the goggles perhaps?