Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Science personality of the year!

Don't laugh.  I recently had to tolerate the oxymoronic 'Sports personality of the year' nonsense from the BBC - albeit in the next room.

And were there any personalities?  I don't wish to disparage the great sports people of the world, but being good at sport no more makes you a 'personality' than being a good newsreader, or indeed a good scientist. 

I'm bored by sport, and just standing in front of a crowd and thanking the rest of the team for their support doesn't make any difference to me.  I'm still bored.  Just jumping a little higher or longer, running a little faster, or diving a little more elegantly is not enough to make you into a personality.

Interestingly, I think the winner of the competition is a true personality.  Bradley Wiggins is actually interesting to listen to.  His interviews have been impressive.  But when I have observed this to friends they have questioned whether he had won it because of his personality.  Given that the person who came in third place was Andy Murray I have to admit that they have a point, but still it is worth celebrating a success for the BBC, even if it was accidental.

There are real personalities in the world.  Yes, we have to include some sports people in that category, but they have to compete with other real personalities, like Stephen Fry, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett etc.  (Maybe I'm showing a little bias towards atheists here? Sorry.  Therefore I will include Jonathan Edwards who used to be a Christian and used to be a sportsman.)

Lots of people have heard of these famous sportsmen and women, and they all take their 'hobbies' very seriously, but that hardly excuses the BBC's implication that there are no personalities in science. They don't make programmes about science personalities, but only about their discoveries.  I personally feel that the other serious professions have been betrayed by the media.

Breaking a sporting record is indeed a great feat, but finding a treatment for a specific disease and having the stamina to get it through clinical trials is a greater feat.  Hundreds of other scientific projects are equally worthy, and any scientist will tell you that they know some real personalities.  The same will apply to economists, philosophers and even politicians!

Those who truly deserve our respect are the ones who do more than their own current profession.  To excel at their chosen sport and excel at their profession is rare indeed.

But why don't our (merely) rising scientists get as much public acclaim as our declining sportists?  Sportists are always young and by the time they are famous they are probably close to their peak.

Accomplished scientists should get even more credit! 

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