Science programming on television in Wales

Ahead of this Thursday’s (June 5) RTS ‘Science on Television in Wales’ panel debate, Dr. Rhodri Evans of the School of Physics & Astronomy, Cardiff University considers science programming on television in Wales.

I have been involved in trying to explain astronomy and physics to a wider audience since I first talked on BBC radio (Radio Cymru) in 1988 during the first year of my PhD. Since then I have spoken dozens of times on radio and TV about astronomy and physics, in the UK and also in the USA.

However, in Wales my TV appearances are nearly always as a news item on programmes such as “Wales Today”, ITV’s “Wales Tonight”, or “Heno”, “Wedi 7”, “Pnawn Da” or “Wedi 3” on S4C. I was the subject of a S4C thirty minute documentary about my PhD research which was broadcast back in either 1992 or 1993, but apart from that I think the only time I have been on Welsh TV talking about science when it has not been as a news item was on S4C/Telesgop’s “Dibendraw” series earlier this year.

It is a sadness to me that BBC Wales’ science output seems to consist almost entirely of nature/natural history programmes, and the occasional “animal vet” programme. I cannot recall a single programme or series about science commissioned by BBC Wales which has not been about wildlife, although I may be wrong in this assessment. This is a great shame, because it is not the only area of science which is of interest to the public. In my opinion, it’s not even the most interesting area of science!

In my own area of astronomy, the hundreds of people who attend astronomy clubs in Wales every month (and many every week or every fortnight), and the viewing figures which programmes like “Stargazing Live” attract, is testimony to the high level of interest in astronomy, astrophysics and cosmology (understanding the origin and nature of the Universe). There are significant numbers of people in Wales involved in research in these exciting areas, including particle physicists at Swansea University, planetary scientists in Aberystwyth, and a large wide-ranging group of people in Cardiff covering many aspects of Galactic and extra-Galactic astronomy and instrumentation. Yet, none of this interesting work seems to warrant attention from BBC Wales.

This is a situation which I would very much like to see change. There are many gifted science communicators in Wales, both working in our universities and beyond, several of whom are capable of speaking Welsh. I hope this event, which I am unfortunately not able to attend, will prompt BBC Cymru Wales into doing something about this sorry state of affairs.

A country’s prosperity is dependent on many factors, not least of which is having people who do fundamental science and its associated engineering.
To inspire the next generation of Welsh youngsters to pursue careers in STEM subjects we need to show that there are people like myself and my colleagues living in Wales who pursue such exciting careers. I left a very enjoyable job at the University of Chicago to come back to Wales, partly to try and see science in Wales grow so that people like myself did not have to leave Wales in the future. It is still very much the case that my job prospects in the US are far and away better and more financially lucrative than they are here in Wales.

Sadly, I have not seen much progress in Wales’ embrace of the sciences in the 13 years that I have been back from my nine years of living in the USA. BBC Cymru Wales can play such a vital role in promoting the interest and engagement in science; and yet so far it has abrogated that role. I hope this event will be the starting point of that situation changing.

Science on Television in Wales, is the title of a debate to be held at JOMEC on June 5th to discuss the commissioning of Science programming in Wales organised by the Royal Television Society Wales and Science Made Simple. Register using Eventbrite here.