Bob Parkinson: media science consultant

Bob Parkinson recalls acting as science consultant for television's 'Mission to Mars' and the sci-fi soap 'Jupiter Moon'.

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This is almost something that I shouldn’t [laughs] bring out into the open. When the BSB started, they thought they had to have a science fictional soap. And they produced this thing called Jupiter Moon and they got me to do the technical background to it. I mean it wasn’t very good, it was interesting to see how soaps worked but they didn’t have even people who had familiarity with science fiction background, which would have helped in the writing. It was, I won't say EastEnders transmitted to Jupiter but it, I shouldn’t be too rude, it was an interesting exercise. And you kind of know that when people fictionalise, with Mission to Mars immediately you get people writing stories there, they want to know what will go wrong. And as an engineering designer [laughs] that’s difficult because anything I can think of I would correct, I would do something about it. [Laughs] Anything that goes wrong is an improbable situation, but they have to invent improbable situations. And to some extent, if you’re an advisor, you’ve got to go along with this because there ain’t a programme if you don’t do it. They did in the case of Mars kind of try and keep to some of the advice in more detail. So it’s – it’s a little bit better than most, though they’re fitting things together that you probably wouldn’t manage to do. It’s often the criticism you get, ‘Why can’t the media get science right?’ And it’s generally said by people who’ve not had to deal with the media and seen it from their end. If it got technical – if it got completely technically right it would be as boring as hell probably. There’s the other thing that, the other side of it which the media people don’t understand, however, which sometimes give problems that – and there’s a big perceptional sort of thing. I remember it was actually Jupiter Moon time, but I remember explaining to one of the writers, I explained some bit of science or technicality to her, and she listened to me and said, ‘I can understand that.’ And I said, ‘Yes, that’s what science is about.’ It wasn’t what science as about to her, science was about magic to her. It was, what she expected from a scientific point of view was something she didn’t understand. And it came as a surprise to discover that what scientists worked on [laughs] who weren’t particularly more intelligent than she was, just in a different way, was to understand things [laughs] not to produce magic. And that’s one of the big problems. As a scientist or an engineer, you, when somebody asks you a question you want them to understand what’s going on, which takes a little investment in time. Whereas if the media people, the guy writing the script or whatever, wants to get on and write the script and wants some magic in it, then does [laughs] whatever the dramatic thing requires. And therefore there’s always that tension between this and probably always will be. 

  • Interviewee Bob Parkinson
  • Duration 00:03:38
  • Copyright British Library Board
  • Interviewer Thomas Lean
  • Date of interview 1/19/2011
  • Shelfmark C1379/05

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