‘Science In The Making’: a 1931/32 BBC experiment in citizen science

Jones, Allan (2014). ‘Science In The Making’: a 1931/32 BBC experiment in citizen science. In: Sixth International Conference of the European Society for the History of Science, 4-6 Sep 2014, Lisbon, Portugal.

URL: http://eshs2014.ciuhct.com/abstracts/60_II_JONES_S...


In the spring of 1931, the BBC broadcast a short series of talks entitled ‘Science in the Making’. Speakers in the series asked listeners to report their observations on such topics as the nature of their dreams, the weather, and the perception of sound. One talk, by John R. Baker on the timing of blackbirds’ egg-laying, resulted in the publication of an academic paper. The producer of the series, Mary Adams, considered this type of science broadcast to be highly successful as it introduced listeners to the methods of science.

A second series, the following year, had mixed fortunes. Listeners were asked to complete a multi-page questionnaire about their family circumstances and personal history, on the assurance that they were making a valuable contribution to social science. The questionnaire, however, proved controversial and popular newspapers condemned it as intrusive. The results were not made public, and no further broadcasts of this type were attempted.

The talk sets these broadcasts in the context of the newly emerging field of science broadcasting, and suggests that the failure of the second series was related to its flawed methodology, which resulted in very little useful scientific data. It also looks at Mary Adams’s outlook on science broadcasting, which she concluded had little scope for useful scientific dissemination, but could, if entertainingly presented, offer a stimulating diversion. The talk is based on original, unpublished archival research at the BBC, and contributes to the developing field of the history and sociology of science broadcasting.

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