Another cracking Today programme this morning: Trevor Phillips on human rights (“human rights are absolute; they are the rights you cannot take away from the people you most loathe”), the courageous Debra Storr on why we shouldn’t let Donald Trump dig up some of Scotland’s most beautiful dunes, Tom Butler on Terry Pratchett, plus the man who invented the gas mask. He lied about his age to fight in the First World War, then put his scientific skills to work to save people from the gas attacks he witnessed. Fantastic stuff; if you missed it, you can listen again here.
The gas mask man wasn’t the only scientist on the programme; James Naughtie was grilling Sir John Chisholm of Qinetiq about the fact that the staff turned shareholders made a whole heap more from its privatisation than the taxpayer. [I should perhaps declare an interest as Qinetiq are clients of my firm. I don’t know any military secrets. I do know a bit about their quality control of bibliographic records, but nothing worth kidnapping me over. Sorry.]
Even richer than Sir John, however, is the fact that this criticism is coming from Edward Leigh MP, one of the keenest advocates of privatisation under Mrs Thatcher. Their whole argument was that bringing in entrepreneurs motivated by profit would re-energise flagging state-owned companies. I don’t agree with the wholesale privatisation agenda (although who thinks the state should own a telecoms monopoly now) but it’s hypocritical of Mr Leigh to criticise the results of his own policy.
On yesterday’s programme, for one delirious moment I thought they had a Professor Kidney talking about urinary tract infection. Too good to be true; it’s Professor Richard Kitney of Imperial College. [Ahem, may I declare the same interest as before. We have a lot of clients.] But his subject was fascinating – using synthetic biological organisms to identify infectious contamination on hospital equipment; could this be the end of MRSA?
As Steve Webb said in yesterday’s Climate Change debate, “I am not a scientist but I know some people who are”. With science at the heart of the fight against climate change, it’s good that the Today programme is doing its bit to promote news about science alongside the more regular diet of politics and culture.