Beyond Bill Nye: Science, Media and Pop culture

Professor Brian Cox is a rare egg.  A physicist, educator and presenter who can harness a sense of wide eyed wonder of Attenborough proportions. So when I was sent a link of his appearance on the Joe Rogan experience I was excited to listen to it, despite the worryingly long 3 hour bloc.

This ended up being a sort of gateway episode  to the stream of consciousness set-up that Joe Rogan champions on his show, transforming the listener into a passive conversationalist, making you wonder why internet radio is more of a niche than mass media channel.


Professor Cox is unsurprisingly an advocate for a government-funded broadcast system such as BBC vs the constant cable TV wars across the pond in America motivated by ratings and the value of eyeballs. Here in Asia, where western media is at the mercy of a different sort of licensing war passes the choice of content to the consumer – but given changing, shorter, more snackable appetites across a range of devices, it is fair to question – for how much longer?

Joe Rogan argues that the cable TV paradigm is at its end, with increasingly vapid, sugar-loaded cereal type shows (Here comes Honey Boo Boo anyone?) he believes that personal interest leads to self-curated content with pockets of its own loyal followers. Rogan has an interesting background, the former host of TV’s Fear Factor and self-proclaimed ‘part of the problem’ he is far removed to where he is today, contributing to a micro-economy of content and choice that play into the dynamics of supply and demand across the web.

Professor Cox takes the opposing view, suggesting that viewing on demand could be cannibalizing the exposure to a wider breadth of content such as the sciences which is important to keep relevant at a cultural level.

The strongest case for the Kardashians yet                                                          


It’s by no means a new argument, and they both raise interesting perspectives. Professor Cox comes from a BBC background, an arrangement funded by tax payers to siphon interest in a range of topics. Whilst Rogan asks why wait for the BBC to spoon feed you? Rogen does not believe that this is mutually exclusive – raising a valid point, albeit jokingly, that boredom leads to stimulation. An episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians should in theory send us all kicking and screaming to the history channel.

Professor Cox counters that a programming mix, a ying and yang of public intere – the X-factor aired at primetime deliberately followed by a science programme is an easy way to cast your net wider. He talks about education not being the only place for ideas – for it to have resonance to a newer generation it must be filtered into culture.

It’s a noble enough sentiment, but is leaving the programming strategy to the professionals a mono-device perspective? As beloved as the TV is in the modern household and may never be replaced – we’re all still two-timing it.

The internet is not just an incubator but a sort of lattice-work for ideas. My seven year old watches MineCraft tutorial videos on  YouTube with  gusto, and then uses what he learns in the game. These are positive engagements that trump his experience of passive watching. After all, the idea of introducing science into popular culture should lead to inspiration not inundation. Could it be that interaction or the ability to turn content into utility on the internet, and therefore get more out of it, is why our eyeballs are straying? We can’t definitively say, of course – but it is something to consider certainly when looking at the user behaviour of the  next gen.

A free lunch for whom?              

 Full disclosure – I look at paying to access media online as an open gamble, placing my bets by funding the content I like which plays in a system that would theoretically benefit me in the long run.  Isn’t this the same theory Facebook newsfeed applies with sponsored placements for brands to gain visibility or for users to determine preferences? These content algorithms are beasts at this point, and ads can be a way to control them, provided they are not abused. We are already playing by the rules of a new media economy. Also, here I am listening to a podcast on Stitcher – with seven minutes of advertising before the show starts. So what does this mean?  My hunch is a matrix system of both, the behavioural trend that Rogan touches on – ease of access, content creators across the world working alongside the big guns of the entertainment industry, provided they continue to evolve within a platform agnostic mentality. Let them choose not just what, and when they want to watch it, but how. The customer is still always right.

Getting Meta                                                                                                                

The entire first part of this segment was by fluke something I was interested in, and as a testament to what they were both saying – how science must become a part of culture – of our collective consciousness -I was slowly pulled into their conversation, nudging the elastic band around my interests just that bit further.

This podcast also contains one of the most succinct explanation of the Higgs Boson yet ( a new fundamental particle that gives mass to other particles). They talk about infinite possibilities and monkeys on typewriters, life outside of earth, the speed and distances of light, probability,  and how the science of Cosmology is a powerful aid to philosophical thought. That piece particularly struck a chord. We are arguably an indescribably special species, but we’re also kind of doing it all wrong. We manifest this uniqueness in some pretty crappy ways from segregation to destruction.


When we look at what the Higgs Boson has allowed for; from putting a man on the moon, to sliced bread, to Betty White – from electrons to life; a way to ensure survival, propagation and connectivity; it seems like a highly disingenuous way to go about this whole higher intelligent life thing. A thought which I suppose underscores the entire idea behind their talk – we could all benefit from a little bit of perspective. A little more science in our everyday lives.

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