As much as I’m glued to Science Club every week, grew up watching shuttle launches (even skipped school to watch Challenger’s launch on THAT fateful day), and can frequently be found wandering around with the Monkey Cage podcast in my ears, I have had a niggling feeling lately, like an earworm, that something isn’t right on TV… You all know I’m a space-age kind of girl. I’m the one standing in fields in more layers than Maggie Simpson on a winter’s night, staring up at the sky waiting for a meteor to streak across my field of view. But as much as the appeal of chemistry, maths and physics is bang on trend at the moment, I can’t help but wonder: what has happened to Chemistry’s dirty little sister… Biology…?
With the notable exception of Sir David Attenborough, (national treasure, hero to a generation of ecologists, biologists and conservationists) we biologists tend to get a bad rap these days. Not only does Dawkins‘ passion for his subject (you are my personal hero, so don’t take this the wrong way, Richard) give us all a reputation of being intolerant, bull-headed, frustrated bunch of tweedos (which some of us are, what with all that pesky waving around of facts and evidence, I mean, how DARE we?!) – but I get the impression that the general opinion of biologists held by other popular scientists and mathematicians (the ilk of Brian/Dara) is that biology/ecology is, well… a SOFT science.
I would like to state, for the record, that biology, being a science is, like totally scientific and stuff. By which I mean that we all adhere to the same principles – the scientific method. If you think for a minute that all biologists do is sit around poking stuff in Petri dishes or paddling about in Amazonian streams looking for new species, you’re watching too much TV. Yes, we occasionally, even frequently, swap the lab coat for the wellies, but there is observation, theory, testing, re-testing, peer review and all that jazz. Trust me. Forgive me for harking back to your GCSEs, OLevels or in my case, Junior High, but its easy to forget that because biology is so cute and fluffy a lot of the time (SpringWatch, anyone?) that it is actually an ‘Ology’ – whereas Chemistry, for example, has the intellectual equivalent of a ‘face for radio’ and, as such, must be REAL science.
Okay, so I am biased, but biology and ecology are probably actually MORE difficult to study in context than physics and chemistry. And I think that it all comes down to predictability. Chemistry, physics and mathematics all abide by laws in a predictable fashion – and this is a GOOD thing, because if it weren’t predictable, theoretical physics wouldn’t exist and we’d never have even STARTED looking for the Higgs. But the thing about biology is that although chemistry, physics and mathematics can continually AMAZE you… they rarely SURPRISE you in the way that Biology does.
I am hoping that the upcoming Wonders of Life which our Brian is currently working will go some way to making biology seem cool again – because it never really stopped being cool. Ask Richard Dawkins, Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace, Sir David Attenborough, Steve Irwin, George McGavin, Diane Fossey, Jane Goodall and, dare I say it – Steve Backshall (he touched my elbow once!) to name a few. Biology is a subject with which you can interact in ways that, in my opinion, ‘hard science’ can’t begin to equate.
*clears throat, and in best Brian Cox voice says: “And that’s why I love Biology…“