We’re running a series of guest posts from the judges of the 2013 Chemistry World science communication competition. This time, writer and broadcaster Adam Hart-Davis explains why he thinks openness is a benefit to all.

 

As researcher, then producer, and finally presenter, I spent 30 years in television, trying to get across to the general public scientific ideas, from why banana skins are slippery to the detector experiments at the Large Hadron Collider.

In the science office at Yorkshire Television, I was surrounded by creative people, but I noticed they came in two varieties. Arriving at the office in the morning with a new idea for an item or a programme, some (afraid of theft or ridicule) would go into a corner, scribble secret notes, and phone advisers; others would tell everyone about the idea, and ask for comments. This latter, open approach was hugely more successful. Some proposals would get instantly laughed out of court, but most would provoke arguments, sometimes heated, and these arguments always improved the basic idea.

In other words, openness paid off handsomely; taking the apparent risk of sharing the idea was almost always beneficial.

The same principal applies to practising science; the more scientists share their ideas the better the outcome is likely to be. Joseph Priestley made have regretted telling Antoine Lavoisier about his discovery of “dephlogisticated air” but at least Lavoisier coined the sexier name oxygen.

When I worked in a lab – a long time ago – I learned a great deal from watching and talking to my colleagues – theoretical ideas, tips of technique, and so on – and I am convinced that the more you share the more you gain.

 

Adam Hart-Davis is a freelance writer and broadcaster – former presenter on television of Local Heroes, Tomorrow’s World, What the Romans (and others) did for Us, How London was Built, and many others. He has collected various awards for both television and radio, as well as two medals and 14 honorary doctorates. He has read several books, and written about 30. He spends a lot of time hacking at green wood, making chairs, tables, egg cups, bowls, and spoons.

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