Symbolic Forest

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Blog : Posts tagged with ‘charity’

Sense About Science

In which we try to teach

I was intrigued by yesterday’s news story on Sense About Science, the public information charity who has produced a leaflet aimed specifically about celebrities, in the hope of persuading them not to talk rubbish in public. They’re distributing it around celebrity-infested places, but if you’re not a celebrity yourself you can download it from their website.

It’s an admirable attempt by an admirable charity, to reach people who could potentially have a lot of influence but who probably don’t read Bad Science regularly. I can’t help thinking that they would have had more effect distributing it to celebrities’ agents, rather than the celebrities themselves. Moreover, I think that a lot of media organisations overestimate the level of influence that celebrities in particular (and the media in general) have on your average person.

Furthermore, are any celebrities who read the leaflet going to believe it? Apart from being recognisable, they’re generally fairly average people. Not particularly clever, not particularly smart, maybe more charismatic than the average,* but on the whole fairly ordinary at heart.** They’re not scientists, and they’re not going to realise how little they know about science, because, as a general rule, the less you know on a subject, the less you realise just how little you know. The less you know about scientific ideas, the worse things you’re likely to say along the lines of “natural things are chemical-free”, or “green plants are healthy because chlorophyll will oxygenate your blood”,*** and the less likely you are to believe the truth on the topic.

* this is starting to sound like an RPG statsfest, I know

** despite what some of them may think.

*** the first is a common trope; the second is a Gillian McKeith piece of wrongness.


In which I am accosted

Popping into town at lunchtime, ambling down a side street, I passed a dirty-looking one-legged man in a wheelchair.

“‘Scuse me, mate,” he said.

“Yes…?” I replied, warily. I couldn’t see this conversation going well.

“Are you from here?”


“Have you got any ten-pees?”

“No,” I replied. I had no idea if I had or not, but I definitely couldn’t see this conversation getting any better.

“Have you got any money at all, mate?”

“Not much,” I answered. “Why?”

“I’m from Doncaster, and I need to get back home. I need another £4.50 for the train fare.”

“Really,” I said, trying my best to sound unbelieving. I’ve never had beggars try to pull this trick on me since I moved here, so it made a change to hear it again. I also noticed that his accent was nothing like a Doncaster one.

“I’m a diabetic,” he said, pulling a hypodermic from a pocket of his dirty cardigan. “Look. Diabetic. I need to get back to Doncaster.”

If I was quicker at thinking, I might have said something meaningful and concerned, like: isn’t it convenient for you that you can wheel straight off the train into the street when you get to Doncaster?* If I was more violent, I might have just grabbed the handles of his chair, kidnapped him, and wheeled him onto the next Doncaster-bound train, with instructions to the guard to definitely make sure he got off at the right stop. Being me, I just started walking onwards.

“I’VE GOT NO LEGS, MATE!” he shouted at me as I walked away. I felt like turning round and replying: look, I can at least count to one.

* For people lucky enough never to have to go there, or change trains there: if you are in a wheelchair, there are no public routes to, from or between the platforms at Doncaster station. The only thing you can do is to ask the staff to put you in the parcels-trolley lift.