By Peter J Pullan
This event was hugely enjoyable, featuring Professor Jim Al-Khalili in conversation with the award-winning author and writer Bill Bryson. Bill comes from Iowa USA, but loves the UK. The conversation featured Bill talking mainly about travel and science, including his school science classes where his attention fell to zero as soon as the teacher turned to the blackboard and started writing out chemical formulae. (I think most of us have been there at some stage.)
Bill is clearly fascinated by the broader picture of many subjects and can condense huge topics into manageable portions in very accessible language; his book ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’ attests to that.
He was worried that science was not given the exposure it deserved in the media, particularly the printed media where concerns over declining circulations meant an ever-increasing diet of celebrity and trivia. Bill felt that science was sometimes losing the battle with deeply-ingrained religious and cultural thinking, giving as an example the power of creationists in the USA to bring about minimal or no teaching of scientific ideas such as evolution. This depressing thought was compounded by a question concerning Bill’s optimism about the future. Bill felt that humans were the world’s best answer for the future and also its worst enemy. Sobering stuff.
The speech-to-text was beautifully projected comfortably above the speakers’ heads and enabled us to follow all of the often rapid discussion. An enjoyable event for scientists and non-scientists alike.