Save the Naked Scientists – Update and actions

The campaign to save the Naked Scientists radio show from being axed by the BBC Eastern region after 10 glorious years is gathering pace. This week we’ve seen articles in the Guardian Science blogs from Stephen Curry and Wired Magazine’s Nate Lanxon, both highly critical of the BBC’s decision, as well as a slew of supportive social media posts, a Twitter ‘Mexican Wave’ around the world during Sunday’s show, and countless emails to the BBC.

However, the BBC remain deaf to the huge listener response – this is the standard reply that most people seem to be getting, and frankly it’s the same unjustified bullsh*t that Eastern region controller Mick Rawsthorne spouted on BBC Radio 4’s Feedback programme last week

Thank you for your e-mail regarding ‘Naked Scientists’ which you sent to the Head of Regional and Local Programmes for the East region, who has forwarded your concerns to BBC audience Services to respond to.

The show is a specialist science programme that succeeds in communicating challenging and difficult scientific ideas in an accessible and engaging way. This is a key commitment the BBC needs to continue to maintain. But no single show can be the sole way to measure whether that commitment is discharged. The BBC is very committed to providing high quality science content on all platforms. This content reaches more than 40 million people in the UK a year. The BBC works with the world’s most influential scientists to produce high quality science series that engage the audience while tackling everything from
thermodynamics to information theory, artificial intelligence and the
origins of life.

Over the past few weeks BBC Four has dedicated an entire season of
 programmes to some of the most complicated science subjects on television with Seven Ages of Starlight, the Science of Chance, and Order and Disorder with Jim Al-Khalili. The BBC has long-standing science strands like Horizon on TV and radio programmes like the Infinite Monkey Cage. And the BBC now has a Science Editor for the first time to try to ensure the most important developments in science are reported across BBC news and factual programmes.

So why has the east region chosen to end the Naked Scientists programme? The decision is editorial; the show doesn’t fit the local radio brief.  Local radio’s editorial role is to report local stories, local events and reflect local communities. The Naked Scientists, while excellent in reporting science, isn’t really a local radio programme at all as it doesn’t fit that core local editorial function. That’s not to say local radio shouldn’t report science-it should but its primary responsibility is to report local science. Our aim is to ensure that we do even better in reporting science in our mainstream output especially on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire with its obvious connections to science at the University, research institutes and scientific industries. We’re speaking to the Naked Scientists team about how they can help us in this ambition. We’re also speaking to other parts of the BBC to explore how the Naked Scientists team can have a role in creating science content.

We will be developing and strengthening our science reporting capacity across our mainstream output to reflect the significance of science in the area.  Listeners will hear more science stories in the parts of the schedule with the biggest audiences. 

We’re sorry you’re losing a show you value highly but we hope you find other parts of the BBC’s extensive science output just as valuable.

I’d also like to assure you I’ve registered your complaint on our audience log. This is an internal report of audience feedback which we compile daily and is available for viewing by all our staff. This includes all programme makers and commissioning executives, along with our senior management. It ensures that your points, along with all other comments we receive, are considered across the BBC.

We have to keep pushing this poor and unjustified decision – please email the following people to express your concern and disappointment at the BBC’s decision to axe the show, and ask that it either be reinstated or put onto a national network.

  • – The BBC Trustee who deals with local radio
  • – Controller of BBC England
  • – The BBC’s Science Editor, who was brought in “as part of the BBC’s drive to improve science coverage“. WT actual F???

The BBC pays £40 a show for the Naked Scientists, and I’ve personally been co-presenting for many years unpaid, and only in the past few years receiving £50 per show, for several hours of prep work and an hour of presenting. This is a pittance, and proves that the decision is being made on ideological grounds rather than financial ones. The BBC simply doesn’t think that local radio deserves informative, entertaining and educational science content, and should just be chock-full of boring music programmes.

As an extra kicker, one of the long-time champions of local music radio, Sue Marchant on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire (who’s been a long-time friend of my Cambridge-based band Sunday Driver and had us on her show several times, as well as featuring the Naked Scientists) is also being axed. And what are they replacing the Naked Scientists with? More generic music. As a musician I wouldn’t mind so much if it was all local bands, but it’s not – American Country? Northern Soul? All good music, but hardly has a local flavour.

The Naked Scientists is an award-winning, unique and very popular show that reaches far beyond its region to hundreds of thousands of listeners around the world. It should be the jewel in the region’s crown and – ideally – getting national exposure. All I can conclude is that the BBC’s commitment to science is as hollow as an empty volumetric flask.

6 responses to “Save the Naked Scientists – Update and actions

  1. Sarah Turnbull, Australia

    Hi Kat, just wanted to let you know that my family and I are busy emailing and commenting in support of TNS. We love what you do and hope our small contribution can add to the many people protesting this silly decision.

    I check iTunes eagerly every week awaiting the latest podcast. I think the program has great coverage with a local flavour. One of my favourite episodes was the one featuring interviews in a punt on the Cam.

    Cheers, Sarah

    • Hi Sarah, thanks so much for your support – our campaign is gathering pace and it’s great to know our listeners are stepping up to help us.
      Thank you.

  2. Only just heard of attempts to axe you. Have sent the relevant emails and contacted my MP. Your programme represents the very best of what the BBC do. I have everything crossed.

  3. Many, many years ago I discovered a radio programme called ‘Material World’ on Radio 4. For several years I listened to it on my way home from school (I teach Physics) and it often scratched where I was itching, so to speak. Two to three years ago I discovered The Naked Scientists, via iTunes. I listen to you guys while doing jobs around the house (I once spent about 4 hours painting a fence and got through several weeks’ podcasts!), driving, cooking… basically any time I can! Your show is always fresh, interesting and informative – and WAY too good to be axed! Someone needs to walk up to the BBC officials involved in this decision-making process and give them a (figurative) clip round the ears! Are they totally brain-dead?! I have written to all the people on the list (in politer terms than I just used) but so far all I have received was a weak attempt to placate me by, in effect, saying that they might phone up you or Chris when they want a science issue explained. Charming. Please keep us informed of any other ways we can step up the pressure. Would one of those online petition things do any good? (BTW, I still listen to Material World occasionally, but TNS is much better!)

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