Thursday, October 30, 2008

The New Charles Simonyi Professor

The new Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford is the mathematician Marcus du Sautoy. Judging by his website, he has done lots of worthy media work to promote mathematics and he is colour-blind (if you doubt that, click on the link but make sure you are wearing shades). The website isn’t terribly up-to-date but he does appear to have plenty of experience communicating with the public. He is also an A-list academic.

And that, folks, is the last you will ever hear about him, on this site or anywhere else, unless you watch educational programmes on British television. To prove my point, consider what you know about the other Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, Kathy Sykes at Bristol University. She works hard to make fun programmes about science that pull in a niche audience on the box. But the press have no interest in her and none of her books have troubled the bestseller lists. I mean no disrespect to Professors Sykes or du Sautoy when I say this. But for the wider public and those who thrive on controversy, they provide thin gruel.

The fact is, it was Dawkins who created headlines and not the post he occupied. He was, and is, a much bigger fish then the Charles Simonyi chair. When Dawkins speaks, the press take notice. So do we at Quodlibeta. The same will not be the case for Professor du Sautoy. It appears that he is an atheist but is bored by religion. As he is a mathematician, a subject that simply lacks media appeal, I suspect we will hear little from him.

Luckily, Richard Dawkins is still going strong. We must wish him a long and productive retirement.

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