Tag: "bbc"

"Magnified" lunar eclipse? I don't think so

The BBC last week ran a story on Saturday's partial lunar eclipse. I have no objections to the BBC coverage lunar eclipses, but I do have problems with non-science writers covering them.

Just a bit of background, for viewers in Asia and the Americas this lunar eclipse would have appeared while the Moon was near the horizon. The Moon is bigger near the horizon right? Kinda.

The article of the title was "Lunar eclipse 'magnified' in US". A pathetic attempt at trying to make it seem more interesting. The article went on to say:

A partial lunar eclipse taking place on 26 June will appear magnified in the US by an effect known as the "moon illusion". [...] According to Nasa, low-hanging Moons look "unnaturally large when they beam through trees, buildings and other foreground objects". The reason for this is not understood.

NASA huh, well you could have just asked your local amateur astronomer and got an answer. The reason for the effect is NOT unknown.

The Moon, or the Sun for that matter (please don't look directly at the Sun), do look larger when they're near the horizon compared to high in the sky. However you can take a simple measurement to show they're the same size regardless of where they are in the sky, about half a degree across.

The effect is an optical illusion created by our brains. Our brains use other objects to estimate the size of things. Trees and houses, things you'd see on the horizon are pretty big. The Moon looks like it's close to them and about the same size or bigger, so hmmm the Moon must be big too. When the Moon is off by itself high up in the sky we have nothing else to compare it to.

Effect not unknown.

Culture change at the BBC

The recent issue over the BBC and Jonathan Ross and that other guy, Russell Brand or whatever his name is, the one who says "like" too much, has continued to be in the news. So I thought I'd just comment on it (makes a break from the endless tech stuff - sorry PDC and WinHEC conferences back to back means there's a lot of tech going on).

Old time readers of my blog will no doubt remember multiple instances that I've said the BBC needs to raise its game. This is largely in relation of the quality of its science programmes which have been steadily dumbed-down.

I think we all agree that the BBC needs to stop the dumbing down and trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator, that means not giving people like Jonathan Ross a job, and all the other overpaid presenters who aren't any good. The private media companies can manage that fine by themselves and we shouldn't be blowing money on trying to compete with them on their terms (however tempting that may be).

It also needs to develop more high-quality programmes in-house and stop buying elsewhere, if done right this can help fund the organisation by selling them abroad, I think there is an appetite for high quality programmes especially in the United States where I do believe there is a growing section of the population who are getting fed up with the dire state US television is in, especially from an educational, scientific and news perspective.

The real question is how do we go about this? In the past I've half-jokingly suggested we need to bring together Richard Dawkins, Patrick Moore and David Attenborough and put the BBC's science under their control. The key is we need the people running the BBC to truly believe in raising the quality of the organisation, not to dumb down but to educate and inspire, and of course we need a plan. The BBC has so much potential, and we must find a way to unlock it.

I've also long maintained that the BBC should be funded from central government, I'm pleased that Kevin Davis mentioned how the license fee should be paid in a blog post he did today on the subject.

When it comes down to it, at the moment 10 million or so people need to remember to pay their TV license, let's say they spend 10 minutes per year thinking about it, that's about one and a half million hours per year wasted. When instead we could just get Darling to write a cheque once a year taking 20 seconds.

Acupuncture - the BBC nails it

It's very rare I read an article in the mainstream press which makes so much sense, and tackles a scientific topic so well.

Simon Singh +1 point(s), but as he's the co-author of 'Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial' maybe he should get an additional point.

Ever since receiving my first ever acupuncture session last month, I have been repeatedly asked whether or not it was effective.


[W]hy on earth should my personal experience be important, when we have evidence from tens of thousands of patients who have received acupuncture during carefully observed scientific trials?

Excellent, now if only all journalists could learn this skill when dealing with a scientific topic, especially when it concerns something health related. We use science to decide if something works or not, because its the most reliable method we have.

He then goes on to talk about the scientific evidence and how there is no evidence to suggest acupuncture is effective.

Good stuff. I'm fed up with the free-ride alternative crap-based medicine is getting in the press, and I'm furious with how much public money is wasted on junk like homeopathy and the rest. The proponents of this sort of stuff aren't just taking people's money like most pseudo-scientific nonsense, they're screwing with people's health too.

Patrick Moore on the BBC's quality

Sir Patrick Moore is in the firing line over comments he recently made about the BBC's deteriorating quality. He blamed it on women, of course he has been blasted for these comments, but nobody has bothered to go into details.

British TV standards are deteriorating because the BBC is "run by women", astronomer Sir Patrick Moore has said. The presenter said: "The trouble is the BBC now is run by women and it shows soap operas, cooking, quizzes, kitchen-sink plays."

OK well it is established that a lot of high positions within the BBC are manned by women.

I'm also sure most people will agree that women aren't interested in science and technology as much as men. I'm not saying that women are any less skilful at those areas, but I think it is fair to say under current cultural conditions they're not as interested.

So I think some of what he said could be attributed to women holding some positions within the BBC, I think it is likely that if men held those positions that science programs would have a somewhat easier time of things.

Patrick Moore is well known for his disagreements with those in the BBC, particularly about how late the Sky at Night is on, when I was a kid I could very rarely watch it because it would often be on after midnight, this continues nowadays too, but at least the BBC has more channels and so can show it more than once.

This could be the result of a recent spat with somebody in the BBC screwing the Sky at Night over, and that person was probably a woman, which sparked this whole episode. A woman, or perhaps a small group of women may indeed be responsible for shoving the Sky and Night back a few hours to put some nonsense on TV and perhaps even wider attacks on science programs on the BBC, but I think fundamentally the dumbing down of television is simply due to market pressures to reach larger and larger audiences and that it is not due to differences between the sexes.

This isn't just happening with the BBC. Take the Discovery channels and the History channel; they started off pretty good, now they spend their time showing things about ghosts and the history of zombies.

The BBC however is the most worrying. I expect low quality crap from private broadcasters. I do not expect crap from the BBC, the BBC should stop trying to emulate the private sector, and concentrate on what its good at, doing things the private broadcasters simply cannot afford to do, the BBC's funding is secure, and they should stop worrying about trying to reach more viewers.

I remember when Horizon used to be the science journal on TV, where it was not uncommon for an episode to just be a scientist talking about this or that subject. What is it nowadays? 70% special effects and 30% sensationalism, it's so bad that last week's episode on the Large Hadron Collider needed to advertise itself with the machine potentially creating a black hole that would destroy the Earth. Utter junk science, honestly I feel like I'm watching American TV.

Patrick is just reacting to this decline, and in my opinion probably basing it on his own personal experiences with female executives within the BBC.

"I used to watch Doctor Who and Star Trek, but they went PC - making women commanders, that kind of thing. I stopped watching."

OK that's pretty far out there, I've never been a fan of Doctor Who, and so I can't speak on that. I didn't have much of a problem with Captain Janeway, Voyager was pretty good until they brought 7 of 9 into things just to try and get some more viewers, this sort of thing continued into Enterprise, which in my opinion is the reason it was cancelled, in trying to get more viewers they alienated their core viewers. Star Trek turned into more of a soap opera in space. So perhaps Patrick's comments aren't too far off the mark.

The Sky at Night host also described female newsreaders as "jokey"

The BBC's national newsreaders are fantastic, apart from their fairly recent additions from Sky News like Natasha Kaplinsky (for the reasons Patrick mentions) and that guy; I can't remember his name, who is one of the dumbest newsreaders I've ever come across. The ones on the local news are a bit "jokey", they lack seriousness that they should have, but that probably varies from region to region.

I suspect Patrick's comments were triggered by a recent falling out with some women whom have some say over the Sky at Night within the BBC, Patrick got rather annoyed over-generalised and fired off a salvo.

But in doing so he highlights some important facts, the BBC needs to change, the careerists ruining the corporation need to be booted out, and the dumbing down needs to stop. I'd like to see a Moore-Dawkins-Attenborough coalition take control of the BBC, and get its science up to standard.

I see the Bad Astronomer, Phil Plait has said he'll have nothing more to do with Patrick Moore over his remarks, seriously what the hell? May be if Americans had decent quality TV at some point they'd understand the seriousness of the situation, from the amateur astronomy circles I frequent the BBC's quality often crops up, people with more than 12 brain cells are getting seriously annoyed about it, so I don't think it is surprising that some people will over-generalise and lash out.

Patrick also speaks about having channels for men and women. In some cases we already have that. I've always thought of it being more of a smart vs dumb divide. The private broadcasters race to the bottom and appeal to dumb people. While the BBC, not having to worry about keeping advertising revenue can concentrate on high quality programming.

Judging from the number of comments from women largely agreeing with Patrick on the BBC News website, I think my hypothesis holds up. It is an issue between smart and dumb people and not an issue between men and women.

Patrick has a geniune point, but being a self-proclaimed eccentric he probably didn't get it across very well. But the point that remains is solid.

He claimed that interesting programmes were screened too late at night, and said he would "rather be dead in a ditch" than appear on Celebrity Big Brother.

Here here, it's time to get all the crap off the TV.

Update: It seems Patrick's remarks were misrepresented, with one of his comments being there were too few men working as TV announcers and that was spun into this, his comments were also strictly off the record, overheard by a journalist and chucked out there.