Television series such as Horizon (BBC2) do much to change public ideas about science and scientists
Like episodes of the long-running Coast, they are an ideal place for new presenters to prove themselves and they help to ensure that the scientific world comes across as one to which people of all races and genders can contribute.
It was a strange decision then for last night’s episode to have drafted in an exclusively female team.
The subject was hair care and the science behind it and as some intriguing research at the outset of the programme suggested, it is a pretty universal human concern.
Tests indicate that people genuinely experience low mood and poor productivity on so-called bad hair days; it also seems that our instinctive judgments of other people are based more on hair – length, style, colour and amount – than their other features.
One of the stories within the hour that followed concerned a young man having a hair transplant – at a cost of about £7,000 – to combat what was for him a debilitating and life-hindering case of male pattern baldness.
In other words, hair is a concern of everyone. Choosing a panel of female scientists to explain it suggested almost the opposite of what Horizon continually tries hard to remind us – there are no specifically male subjects or female ones, science is just science.
Silent Witness (BBC1)
There was no reason why the chemistry of shampoos and conditioners or the physics of hair straighteners should have been made to seem like they only mattered to women, or mattered more to them than to men.
Casting decisions aside, it didn’t feel like this particular episode had that much to tell us. Vox pops of people talking about their hair kept filling in time and space, although it was enlightening to learn the science of this strand of the beauty industry was not all for show.
Products from lip balm to leg wax are flogged to us using people in white coats and pictures of atoms, creating a false belief that they must work because people with test tubes say so.
In the case of hair care, though, the people in the lab coats are real, thousands of genuine scientists, male and female, working around the clock to straighten, thicken, lighten or brighten your barnet. You expect Silent Witness (BBC1) to give you more than a few stomach-juddering shots in every episode.
This is a show about a forensics lab, after all, but there is usually a more gentle lead-in, some tension and a death before we get the blue-grey body on a metal tray. Last night’s story however went straight in, depicting a young man in his underpants being drenched in a bucket of fish guts.
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This was not an ingenious murder method but a straightforward initiation ritual at Billingsgate Fish Market.
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While the newcomer in question was spending his weekend chained to a fridge, his best friend was driving off with his car. With friends like him… you might have been tempted to say but, actually, old Fishguts had even scarier enemies.
Set in a fish market with a classic angry DCI and a pair of warring brothers, this felt like the turf of a traditional cop show with forensics relegated to supporting cast. It was a reminder this series has never really thrashed out the relationship between coppers and the boffins in the lab.
Dr Nikki Alexander (Emilia Fox) and her team solve so many mysteries you wonder why CID still exists.