The Friday Fillip: Three Royal Orgs

I’m a Dr. Who fan. I make this admission (probably an admission against interest) freely and with some pleasure, because “science fiction” — whatever that term might mean — was my introduction to books, libraries and the ecstasy of reading and reading and reading. Of course, when I grew up I “put away childish things” — Mrs. Hill, my grade ten English teacher, said I had to — but not until I’d taken Theodore Sturgeon, Arthur Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Walter Miller, etc. etc. thoroughly on board. So no one was more pleased than I when the Beeb took a plunge and resurrected the legendary Dr. Who in glorious colour and with damn fine writing and acting.

I mention this because there’s a celebration going on of the 50th anniversary of the Dr. Who program, which means it’s everywhere. And I came across it on a YouTube channel called Head Squeeze. It does science in a way that makes it fun. So, for example, they play with various concepts featured in Dr. Who and explore what, if any, basis there might be for them in actual science. (Spoilers: Not much, is the answer.) But science is a kind of “science fiction”, after all (hypothesis = fiction), and so I stayed for the more or less straight science vids, and found a whole lot to like.

Much of Head Squeeze is aimed at kids or those who don’t have a lot in the way of a science background. And although I enjoy going back to school again and shedding the illusion of knowledge somewhat, I felt the need to move over to some headier stuff.

That was easy, because Head Squeeze collaborates with the Royal Institute, whose motto is “Science Lives Here.” And it does. They offer more than a hundred videos of lectures and demonstrations touching on every imaginable aspect of science: “A matter of antimatter: Friday Evening Discourse with Tara Shears,” “The Science of Fireworks,” “Colour Mixing and the Mystery of Magenta: with Steve Mould,” “A Clever Way to Estimate Enormous Numbers” . . . and on and on.

The Royal Institute was new to me. I guess I’d conflated it with the Royal Society — something else again, and “the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence.” It is also the author of videos that you might like to watch. These are typically lectures that have been filmed, and, as with the RI material, they range across the full realm of science: “Physicians, chemists and experimentalists: the Royal Society and the rise of scientific medicine, c. 1600-1850,” “From data and information to knowledge: the Web of tomorrow,” “The teenage brain,” “Medical myths and misconceptions,” . . . etc. etc.

My third Royal is one I think I’ve touched on before on Slaw: the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, or RSA for short. Their videos deal with more than science, but they also offer anyone on a science kick some satisfaction: “A New Future for Nature by George Monbiot,” “Time Reborn: a new theory of time – a new view of the world by Lee Smolin,” “The Geek Manifesto by Mark Henderson,” “The Signal and The Noise by Nate Silver,” . . . just to pick a few examples.

In Dr. Who episodes, you’ll notice that aliens always land in or near London, and that most of the world-saving Earth-bound gymnastics that go on occur in the UK. That’s an understandable production conceit that makes me smile. But it’s no mere conceit to posit a whack load of Earth changing science — and science journalism — happening in the UK. And these Royal orgs have the videos to prove it.

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