Five Portraits Of Science

Episodes

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01John Dee20130114

The Essay considers how five real-life scientists have been portrayed in culture, examining along the way ideas of genius, inspiration and authority.

Tonight the cultural historian Jonathan Sawday explores how, despite having no scientific law or theory named after him, and despite not really being a scientist as we understand the term today, the Elizabethan alchemist and astrologer John Dee has gripped our imaginations for centuries, and inspired literary characters like Victor Frankenstein, Prospero and Dr Strangelove. Dee's cultural afterlife is a contradictory one - on the one hand, he's been seen as the archetypal 'mad' scientist, meddling with things best left alone, yet in the 1970s he became a countercultural hero, appearing in the work of Michael Moorcock and Derek Jarman as a representative of ancient wisdom and an icon of a kind of alternative science.

02Galileo20130115

The Essay considers how five real-life scientists have been portrayed in culture, examining along the way ideas of genius, inspiration and authority.

Tonight, Orwell Prize winning writer Andrew Brown unpicks the narrative of Galileo's battle with the Inquisition. We think we know the story. Summoned to face the inquisition, threatened with torture, Galileo, the greatest astronomer of his age, is forced to deny his revolutionary belief that the earth moves round the sun. Some writers have gone so far as to imagine the great man on his knees. It's an image with a nice clear message, after all - scientific truth cowed before religious ignorance and oppression. But - traditional accounts tell us - Galileo is not quite defeated. He has one pithy parting shot left in him. The earth doesn't move round the sun, he grudgingly admits, "but still, it moves." This phrase has made Galileo a hero, the icon of every outgunned and outnumbered crusader prepared to speak truth to power. But -Andrew Brown asks - what if he actually didn't say it?

03Isaac Newton20130116

The Essay considers how five real-life scientists have been portrayed in culture, examining along the way ideas of genius, inspiration and authority.

Tonight, historian of science Patricia Fara explores how Isaac Newton helped to define our modern sense of what a genius is - and a quintessentially English one, at that.

04Marie Curie20130117

The Essay considers how five real-life scientists have been portrayed in culture, examining along the way ideas of genius, inspiration and authority.

Tonight scientist and novelist Sunetra Gupta considers Marie Curie's reputation as self-sacrificing scientific saint.

05 LASTAlbert Einstein20130118

The Essay considers how five real-life scientists have been portrayed in culture, examining along the way ideas of genius, inspiration and authority.

When people stopped him in the street in later life - as they constantly did - Albert Einstein would tell them 'I'm sorry, you've mistaken me for Albert Einstein.' This wasn't only a canny ploy to get him from a to b without interruption. It was also, arguably, a statement of fact. Because the Einstein we think we know - the genius who didn't wear socks, who was dyslexic and left handed - is not the real Einstein. He was unquestionably a genius - perhaps the quintessential twentieth century genius - but was neither dyslexic nor left handed. So why are so many of the things we think we know about him nothing more than myths? And how did the man who invented modern physics cope with unprecedented fame? The writer Richard Hamblyn considers the cultural afterlife of the quintessential twentieth century scientist.