After all the Christmas excess of stories about reindeers with glowing noses, health warnings about sprouts and other festive nonsense, we’ve reached that quiet time between Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve. It’s a time when news is traditionally thin on the ground – who wants to publish their ground-breaking study when half the nation is still comatose with mince pies? – so it was good to hear science taking over Radio 4’s Today Programme this morning, with Sir Paul Nurse as the guest editor for the programme.
As well as a tour of his laboratory (where a young researcher gently explained that she did not expect to find ‘a cure for cancer’ but hoped to contribute to the slow, gradual improvement in treatments for cancers) we heard Sir Paul on the fallacy of ‘balance’ in science, and the damage that can be done when cautious scientists are up against passionate – yet wrong – health campaigners. I was also fascinated by his interview with novelist Ian McEwan, one of the few novelists not afraid to grapple with science in his novels. As someone who combines a day job in medical journalism with novel-writing, their discussion of the similarities between the creative processes of research and writing was eye-opening.
Radio 4 permeates the house during holidays at home, as often a source of irritation as delight. But this Christmas I’ve enjoyed a surprisingly thoughtful discussion about the origins and meaning of religious belief from the sceptics of The Infinite Monkey Cage, and a robust take-down of the figures around gun deaths, post the dreadful US school shooting, from More Or Less. Admittedly, none of them brought quite the same glow as Nine Lessons and Carols from Kings College, on Christmas Eve. But then sometimes you just have to give in to that Christmas feeling.