Start The Week

January 19th, 2009 by Ben Goldacre in onanism, podcast | 38 Comments »

Just a quick note to say I was on Start The Week a moment ago.

It’s on Listen Again and downloadable as an mp3 podcast here:

www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/factual/starttheweek.shtml

Incidentally, on a nerd-efficiency tip, although I despise my HTC Tytn II mobile phone computer PDA thing more than any other piece of technology in the world (it misses calls, crashes, 15 seconds to be able to send a text, it ruins my life, I’ve just bought a G1 android on ebay until I work out what’s better) there is one fabulous piece of software I use on Windows Mobile called NewsBreak.

If you install this, and have a mobile data package like t-mobile’s cheap-ish one, then you can set it up so that it automatically sucks in the audio for the best of the Today prog, From Our Own Correspondent, Start The Week, TED Talks, etc, and it just sits in your phone, on your nice big microSD card, and you can listen to it whenever you want, waiting for a bus, walking, wireless with any bluetooth headset using BlueMusic, etc.

Just so you know.

Anyway, back to “setting the cultural agenda”, or something.

www.bbc.co.uk/radio/aod/radio4_aod.shtml?radio4/starttheweek

www.bbc.co.uk/radio/podcasts/stw/


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38 Responses



  1. Nickynockynoonoo said,

    January 19, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    Managed to catch it live. Very interesting, thanks. Couldn’t understand a word of the Othello stuff though.

  2. porcospino said,

    January 19, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    Well said, Sir:

    “You neglect your nerds at great cultural and economic cost”.

  3. Tony Hatfield said,

    January 19, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    Don’t know whether the GI would have helped your cycle problem though!
    t

  4. aimaz said,

    January 19, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    Also on radio 4 this morning was a news piece claiming that today is “Blue Monday”, the most depressing day of the year. Who figured this out? Cliff Arnall, whose bogus equations you have written about in the past.

  5. mikewhit said,

    January 19, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    “disinterested” ??

  6. mikewhit said,

    January 19, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    But v. good otherwise – probably got to say more than if A.Marr had been in charge.

  7. kinginsan said,

    January 19, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    I liked the point about the comfort of statistics and the disconnect between the part of our brain that handles logic and reasoning and the part of our brain that is terrified due to experiencing air turbulence. I guess that this is a fundamental disconnect that we’ll always be trying to get over.

  8. mockingbird said,

    January 19, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    ‘Couldn’t understand a word of the Othello stuff though.’

    What on earth was so hard to understand?

    #6, the tension between what we know and how we feel is pretty interesting, and almost seems to make things worse sometimes. Well, for me anyway: I have a bit of a tendency to descend into total hypochondria once I start noticing things that are ‘wrong’, but I know I’m just being a hypochondriac, so I try and ignore it and stop being so silly…but then the ‘what if’ is in the back of my mind all the time, etc. Still, it generally must be healthier than giving into the worry and refusing to do anything remotely risky (or what we perceive to be risky at least).

  9. Conor O'Neill said,

    January 19, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    I think you’ll like the G1 software, the hardware isn’t great. I just reviewed mine yesterday (tinyurl.com/8ugden). DoggCatcher is a fairly decent podcasting app for it.

    I hadn’t realised there were TED podcasts. Subbing now!

  10. mikewhit said,

    January 19, 2009 at 4:45 pm

    Incidentally, it’s not clear from the Amazon site what is the difference between the published and not-yet-published Bad Science books – does the new one have the Rath stuff in it ?

    If so it should make it clear in the description that it’s an bigger version of the first edition – apart from correcting “silicone” and the other typos.

  11. Saturn5 said,

    January 19, 2009 at 5:30 pm

    Well done Ben. Also liked the Nerd neglecting stuff.

    I did feel you let yourself down a little when asked about whether you try to do the right thing by your health. You managed to sound like a politician avoiding the answer. I bet you were just trying to be funny. Next time: ‘yeah, I try, but…’

    #7 perhaps #1 was being a little tongue-in-cheek. Don’t people say that about science all the time? What on Earth is so hard to understand?

  12. odhran said,

    January 19, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    Hi Ben. As always, I enjoyed what you had to say. My only slight problem was when Graham Farmelo (the author of the book about Dirac) made the point about scientists not always being very rational and wondered if you let them off the hook. I think you should have stressed the difference between “science” and “scientists”. I don’t think Graham saw any distinction (and I’ve noticed this in other debates about science). A lot of scientists I know are big headed and always, without fail, get angry if a paper is rejected by a reviewer. They are not acting rationally but the science they produce is a different matter. If its any good it’ll get cited and contribute to our understanding of the world. Darwin, for example, has written some appallingly sexist and racist sentences but this doesn’t change the fact that his theory of evolution by natural selection remains one of the best ideas in science. They way he gathered his evidence and constructed his argument, I think, is testament to how great his scientific thinking was. There’s many other examples, Dirac for one, but too often I see good science attacked simply because of who produced it.

  13. Ben Goldacre said,

    January 19, 2009 at 6:17 pm

    i did draw a distinction between scientist as person/identity and scientist as stance, didnt i? er i meant to anyway, not listened back to it. i love having an army of pedants on my team, slashing my tendons at every turn.

    AND what was the other thing? oh, fags and booze. i think i just distracted myself, obviously i do unhealthy things, i’d take that as a given, i’ve got a skit on fags and evidence in the back of my brain somewhere that comes out sometimes during lectures, which i shld write up.

  14. ALondoner said,

    January 19, 2009 at 6:18 pm

    If anyone wants to listen to just Ben, you need to start 20 minutes into the podcast.

    However, I suggest you listen all the way through, as the other stuff is pretty interesting and it means you can listen out for Ben’s stealthy arrival to the studio.

  15. Ben Goldacre said,

    January 19, 2009 at 6:19 pm

    i try to arrive late at things like this so my friends don’t think i single them out.

  16. thepoisongarden said,

    January 19, 2009 at 6:44 pm

    I happened to get in my car about a minute before your piece and slowed down a short journey to hear all of that segment.

    I especially liked your comment about the way science is supposed to be made simple so non-scientists can understand it but no-one thinks about making arts items accessible to non-arts specialists.

    I assume because you were out not rushing to the studio you missed the TV coverage of the scientific formula which explains why this is the most depressing day of the year.

  17. mockingbird said,

    January 19, 2009 at 9:42 pm

    #11, I realise #1 was probably being facetious, I just don’t see the point in making that kind of comment in the first place. I’m sorry to bring up the whole science vs arts/humanities subject again (although it wasn’t really me who did), and I’m even more sorry for being a humourless bore, but those kinds of jokes get tired almost as quickly as the jokes by people who ‘just don’t get all this science/technology stuff, haha aren’t I cute/down to earth’.

  18. pv said,

    January 19, 2009 at 11:47 pm

    Just listened to it. I thought it was all excellent; in particular Daniel Tammet and of course BG. We don’t get anything remotely like that in Italy, neither on TV nor radio and it’s the one thing I miss – thoughtful, intelligent conversation and discussion on the radio. So I download stuff like Melvyn Bragg, The News Quiz, Midweek and this one just now. I have to agree, I thought Tom Sutcliffe managed the conversation very well and I can’t imagine it would have been half as good with Andrew Marr (who I don’t mind, but he should stick to Political stuff). Nice.

  19. T said,

    January 19, 2009 at 11:51 pm

    Wow sorry Ben but Daniel stole the show for me, I could listen to him talk all day. I found his view on life very poignant and enlightening. Having been appalled by the labour MP Graham Stringers comments on dyslexia in the press recently it was wonderful to hear Daniel describe how he sees numbers in his minds eye in such a creative manner, but also to hint at the possibilities of enabling others to achieve a greater awareness of the richness of mathematics and language if they were taught differently.( I know Daniel is an autistic savant and not dyslexic but I could see correlations in relation to differences in brain functionality) Daniel for PM..

  20. mockingbird said,

    January 20, 2009 at 12:13 am

    It’s a shame there wasn’t more time to discuss the issue of widening the goalpoasts when it comes to diagnosing autism. Daniel Tammet describes himself as having high-functioning autism, yet still feels that without help he would have suffered a lot more than if he hadn’t been diagnosed. In light of Daniel’s comments, I’d have been interested to hear Ben’s opinion regarding when it would be appropriate to decide at what point a personality trait that causes someone difficulties (which we all have to an extent) becomes severe enough to be diagnosed as a ‘disorder’.

  21. wiz5 said,

    January 20, 2009 at 12:53 am

    Why is it always assumed rational people should follow health advice?

    Surely desire for self survival is an irrational core belief. From another core belief it could be argued that you shouldn’t wish to live beyond your usefulness.

  22. tobrien said,

    January 20, 2009 at 2:34 am

    Who was the fashionably Autistic man on the program with you who talked wistfully of Obama’s Inauguration maybe opening the door up for a high-functioning Autistic Prime Minister?

  23. NeilHoskins said,

    January 20, 2009 at 9:29 am

    …or you could just buy a Nokia smartphone and use the free podcasting app. If you set it to download only on your home/work WiFi, you can avoid avoid data charges from your operator.

    I hope you know more about science than you do about smartphones.

  24. censored said,

    January 20, 2009 at 10:14 am

    Good stuff. I think this makes you part of the intellectual establishment.

    Did you get the vague impression the presenter didn’t quite get your main point though? He kept bringing it back to trying to simplify complex ideas, whereas I think you were trying to say that science isn’t hard but it’s either dumbed down to idiocy or reported as if it’s alien and distant and only “bonkers boffins” would understand.

  25. mikewhit said,

    January 20, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    Don’t forget the media also has “bonkers social workers” to go at …

  26. mikewhit said,

    January 21, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    So,any observations or info on the forthcoming edition of Bad Science (see above) – or should I just Google more assiduously in an attempt to find out …

  27. jonathon tomlinson said,

    January 21, 2009 at 7:04 pm

    Hi Ben, I guess you covered Lyotard during your stint at Kings, but having just started reading ‘The Postmodern Condition’ (as part of an attempt to read around narrative medicine) i came accoss discussions of science and narrative which is highly relevant to your endeavour: “”….the Platonic discourse [The Dialogues] that inaugurates science is not scientific, precisely to the extent that it attempts to legitimate science. Scientific knowledge cannot know and make known that it is true knowledge without relating to the other, narrative, kind of knowledge, which, from its point of view is no knowledge at all. Without such recourse it would be in the position of presupposing its own validity and would be stooping to what it condemns: begging the question, proceeding on prejudice. But does it not fall into the same trap by using narrative as its authority?”
    Mary Midgely is beautifully clear on the subject.
    Should Badscience be ‘Badscience, Badscience narratives and The Goodscience narrative?’ (carefully avoiding any grand/meta-narrative tedencies)

  28. mikewhit said,

    January 22, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    “Mary Midgely is beautifully clear on the subject.”

    … although she is rubbish on Evolution by Natural Selection: www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2005/sep/07/guardianletters1

  29. jonathon tomlinson said,

    January 22, 2009 at 8:05 pm

    What is sometimes difficult to understand is that people (including scientists) make sense of the world (including science) through narratives which include facts, and not facts alone. The challenge is to consider what makes a narrative authentic or true (as opposed to politically useful) and not get stuck in a postmodern bog of relativity. In in this difficult endeavour Mary’s definitely on our side.

  30. jumma said,

    January 22, 2009 at 9:00 pm

    mikewhit says Mary Midgely is ‘rubbish on Evolution by Natural Selection’. This surprises me: I have always found her writing both subtle and rigorous, so I’d love to see an example of her producing rubbish.

    In the spirit of openness, it would be nice to know what she said or wrote that earned this description: the link is to a letter written to the Guardian by somebody else who gives no evidence of having read her.

  31. thepoisongarden said,

    January 23, 2009 at 9:20 am

    jumma, here’s the letter mikewhitt referred to www.guardian.co.uk/science/2005/sep/06/religion.news

  32. jumma said,

    January 23, 2009 at 2:43 pm

    Thanks, poisongarden!

    I don’t honestly think that the September 6th letter says anything controversial about evolution itself.

    What she may be doing is something she has been accused of elsewhere, which is ‘attacking a straw man’ in implying that Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne promote natural selection as the ‘sole and exclusive clause’ of evolution. This is an absurd belief which I’m sure neither of them hold.

  33. jumma said,

    January 23, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    Aargh spelling, I meant ’cause’ not ‘clause’

  34. mikewhit said,

    January 23, 2009 at 3:29 pm

    My beef is that she asserts that evolution by natural selection would give rise to ‘random’ results. Can’t locate the quotation I’m thinking of ATM …

  35. jonathon tomlinson said,

    January 23, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    Returning to the trickier subject of narrative. Lyotard also makes the point (more original in 1975 than today) that scientists scorn narrative knowledge as [variations of the general theme of woolly, unflasifiable rubbish] …which is a very popular position today (just read the hammer and tongs responses on most science blogs) I’m also interested in the various narratives here: the Epic; Ben as hero fighting the forces of woo, The liberation struggle: Ben as revolutionary leader emancipating the masses by translating science [the Bible] for the proletariat, The Tragedy: the Sysyphean task of battling markets with science and so on.

  36. jumma said,

    January 23, 2009 at 4:57 pm

    Ah, got it. I don’t think she is referring to randomness of results, she must be as aware of the orderliness of evolution’s products as any of us, I think it’s more the randomness of evolution’s methods that she’s referring to.

    For a proponent of ID, the non-randomness is provided by God; it would be interesting to know what Midgley (a staunch opponent of ID) would put in His place.

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