Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Supermassive black hole collapses Radio 4

There's been a scientific discovery. One that deserves a modicum of awe, along with a pinch of excitement and a sprinkle of gravitas. Instead, the matter was subjected to the usual treatment on the Today programme this morning. That is, amused disdain and wilful missing of the point.

Oh, those scientists! What have they gone and done now? I don't know. Something about a large hole or whatnot.

Humphreys - and don't get me wrong, when he's up against a politician, that is to say firmly in the middle of his comfort zone, he can still deliver an illuminating interview along with the occasional barbed question or withering put down - is always totally out of his depth when attempting to cover science. In fact Radio 4 in general seems to have a schizoid approach to science in all its guises. Material World's guests have to fight with Quentin Cooper's attempts to squeeze a bad pun into every sentence, while in the same slot on a different day we have to endure, in The Infinite Monkey Cage, Brian Cox and some other equally populist drivel merchant trying to out-do one another to find the needle of comedy in the haystack of current science. Dumb, dumber and even dumber than that, science on Radio 4 is already a joke and recently it's been presented (it seems) by nothing but jokers.

But outside of the science programmes themselves, any current affairs reporting of matters scientific - especially by the channel's headline anchor men - is inevitably accompanied by an obvious embarrassment at their total lack of understanding, or even interest. So their stock compensation for that is to make fun of it, or make light of it. Faced with the news of the largest black hole ever discovered, we get the usual re-runs of guff like "we thought at one time the LHC was going to create a black hole, didn't we? Chortle, chortle." No, we didn't. "Do I remember reading that a teaspoonful of black hole material would be so dense that if you dropped it, it would fall right through the Earth?" Well... where to start. The teaspoon wouldn't be dense enough to pick the damned stuff up in the first place. Even if it could, it would be way too heavy for you to lift, so the idea of dropping it never arises. And so on. Pathetic.

One a related but different topic, the dinosaurs on the Today programme never did, as far as I'm aware, pick up on the story of Kepler-22b.

For the first time, astronomers have found a planet smack in the middle of the habitable zone of its sunlike star, where temperatures are good for life. We can't yet determine if the planet has a surface, but if it does it would have a temperature around 21°C. What we do know is that it's about 2.4 times the size of Earth, orbits its (smaller, cooler than our) sun every 290 days, and is unlike any planet in our solar system. Could be rocky, could be icy, might even have a global ocean. No idea. But at a distance of 600 light-years we won't be visiting any time soon.

1 comment:

ChiaGwen said...

Really, what can you expect from those on radio - nitwits who love the sound of their own voice - they should all be dropped into that supermassive black hole!