You are here:   Civilisation >  Screen > Naked Untruth

The Latin for the people - populus - has produced two words we foolishly treat as synonyms. A "populist" believes, or affects to believe for the purposes of career advantage, that wisdom resides in crowds. To populists, challenging the audience by questioning its assumptions and knowledge is an elitist assault on the sensibilities of the masses. It is a threat both to business and the comforting post-modern doctrine that all ideas are equally valid.

By contrast, a "populariser" welcomes the complex, and attempts to explain it "in a generally interesting and understandable form," as my dictionary puts it. Finding a way to pass on a difficult but important argument is the hardest journalistic work there is. Fortunately, many are trying, and we live in a great age of popular science writing. Whatever their intellectual differences, Richard Dawkins, Matt Ridley, Steve Jones, Stephen Jay Gould, E.O. Wilson and Jared Diamond have brought arguments about evolution to large audiences. The most ambitious populariser is the non-scientist Bill Bryson, whose Short History of Nearly Everything displays a master of English prose struggling to find ways to explain the counter-intuitive - actually you don't see him struggle, as true masters never let the strain show.

Yet while brilliant accounts of scientific debates are everywhere in the bookshops they have vanished from the television screens.

View Full Article

Post your comment

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.