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Give Us Some Real Role Models In Tomorrow's World

11/05/2017 08:27
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With the return of the BBC's Tomorrow's World which launched this week as a multi-platform brand, the BBC and all the partners involved will no doubt be patting themselves on the back for helping to make more science content available to the masses. And I can't deny that this is a great start, but there's so much more that needs to be done. It's disappointing to see that the list of celebrities who are fronting the brand are the stereotypical brainy types that make science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) un-relatable to so many.

What I loved about the original Tomorrow's World as a child was its ability to make STEM everyday, it showed the public what the future could be like for them. In fact, I was teased in school for telling people it was my favourite television programme. Apparently, the 'cool answer' should have been Neighbours or Home and Away. And, that is precisely the point. If we want young people and the wider community engaging in STEM we need to make science relatable. I want to see science as part of popular culture, and not in the way it is portrayed in programmes like the hugely popular The Big Bang Theory. My ideal would be to have soap characters enjoying studying science, working as science technicians, or in any of the many science jobs no one knows exist, or better still, showing how science can lead you down any career path.

Filling our screens with the likes of Stephen Hawking and Brian Cox doesn't give all teenagers accessible role models.

Scientists have a terrible public image. Almost every cartoon baddie, James Bond villain and teen loner is portrayed as a science lover. Even positive role models like Lisa Simpson often play into the traditional stereotypes of scientists as geeky loners. I have confidence that shows like CSI, The Great British Bake Off and Strictly Come Dancing do more to promote science and the broad skills it can give you than traditional science programming. Mary Berry's explanation of why cakes rise is a great example of how science can permeate popular culture in an unexpected way.

We are missing a major opportunity to engage more young people in science by heralding the 'science highflyers' who re-enforce the stereotypes that science is only for the super smart. Filling our screens with the likes of Stephen Hawking and Brian Cox doesn't give all teenagers accessible role models. Anyone and everyone should feel able to have a view on science. The public has apparently had enough of experts, so we should respond by showing people that science is not only for those with a PhD.

A scientific mind is so much more than someone who is able to memorise equations.

I want to dispel the myth that you have to work in a lab to be engaged in science. People comment on science in a way they never would when it comes to their other interests, such as their favourite football team. I often hear people highlight their lack of credentials in science, 'I'm not a scientist but...' - yet you'd never hear someone say 'I'm not a football manager but...' A scientific mind is so much more than someone who is able to memorise equations. We all benefit from experts and their advice, but we also should all be engaged enough in science so we can question and comment on the world around us. We need a scientifically literate public, and that starts with normalising scientists.

So why not bring everyday science into the forefront of Tomorrow's World, with relatable role-models from popular culture who use science in a way everyone can relate to, such as Derren Brown with his psychological explanations, Alan Titchmarsh with the botany involved in his gardening, or food programmes with Heston Blumenthal or Mary Berry, where chemical reactions form a fundamental part of the cooking process? Pairing these non-scientists with traditional science role models would ensure that it remains grounded and down to earth as opposed to aspirational and un-relatable - and that it excites people and shows them how they can use it to pursue their passions, whatever those are. There are voices to be heard on the science we all see and use around us every day. We need to open Tomorrow's World up to show that science belongs to everyone.

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