I watched with amusement as Sir Paul Nurse reduced James ‘the devil’ Delingpole into a gibbering mess (well maybe not such an achievement when you put it like that!) on the recent Horizon: Science Under Attack emission. And yet, curious to see whether it might be the straw that broke the camel’s back and actually shut the idiot up for once, I logged onto his blog to find him continuing to refute climate change. Although what more should I expect from the “writer who is right about everything”?
Yet why is it that he gets a column in the Telegraph? Why do we encourage unfounded controversy? Why do average people resort to making controversial ‘fashion’ statements to sell their average songs? And more interestingly still, why do the public stand for it?
Is altercation really the only way to get noticed? Are the majority of people really not interested in engaging with a more meaningful and intelligent level of debate? Do ‘artists’ really have to resort to dead animal dresses and dirty beds to make their millions?
If the answers are yes, how does this translate to those keen to tell their own stories? Are those anecdotes better off kept for indulgent loved ones down the pub once the celebrity gossip dries up? I’ve been thinking a lot about public engagement recently, my role in producing the Expedition Workshed and as an ambassador for the Royal Academy of Engineering demands it. I agree wholeheartedly with Tom Sheldon’s (of the Science Media Centre) view that engineering communication is all about telling public interest stories that just so happen to have an interesting engineering angle to them. That leaves us with the challenge of designing the raw meat facade for our buildings, so to speak.
Life was packed with love and loss whilst working as an engineer in international development; it was easy to find a story to tell and feel like my work was needed. What’s more those stories had beating hearts and breathing lungs as opposed to being dogs’ dinners. Is it time to sling my backpack over my shoulder and rediscover those feelings in a new danger zone, or is that the easy way out? Is the real challenge going to be for us UK based engineers to discover a way to unite our commercial work with life’s major preoccupations?