Monday, 28 March 2011

Stardust - or Bulldust?

Why is Brian Cox allowed to piss our licence fees up the wall as he uses every known exotic beauty spot on earth as a backdrop to (on average) two sentences? It's all in the name of the Public Engagement In Science, they would say no doubt. But for there to be any true "engagement", the public needs to make some effort, too. Not just lie back and be entertained by pretty, soft-spoken conglomerations of stardust.

Of course, it ceases to be entertainment when, in order to support some quasi-religious interpretation, Cox starts talking about things he clearly knows nothing about, or at least has not reflected upon. I have heard at second-hand (because I can't bear to watch) that he has asserted that the Cambrian Period was life's "Big Bang". The observed explosion in the fossil record about 600 million years ago is an artefact of preservation. Animals had then evolved hard body parts which are far more easily preserved in rock than soft parts. The explosion in the fossil record is not the same as an explosion in life. Organised and complex organisms have been around for an awful lot longer than that. I have been privileged to find and see for myself large marine fossil stromatolite mounds in Archean rocks in southern Africa, which are dated to something like 3,500 million years before present, or - if you prefer - say about 3 billion years before the Cambrian Period.

No "Big Bang" in the Cambrian then.

Stick to what you know, Professor Cox, or at least have the humility to discuss your assumptions with those who know better - and that, in this instance, includes even a piece of pond-life like me.

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