I was spitting feathers at the telly earlier this week. The new series of Horizon began on Tuesday. When I was a kid, Horizon was one of a small number of excellent BBC television programmes that made me realise I wanted to study science. At its best, Horizon is one of the best programmes produced by the BBC—which is saying an awful lot.
Unfortunately, in recent years, Horizon has gone a bit too pop science for my liking. There are clear signs of dumbing-down. This week's episode was particularly poppy. It was entitled My Pet Dinosaur. The clue's in the name. The bumf about the programme said (BBC's emphasis retained):
… The meteorite impact that doomed them to extinction was an event with a probability of millions to one. What if the meteorite had missed? …
Would we be hunting Hadrosaurs instead of elk? Or farming Protoceratops instead of pigs? Would dinosaurs be kept as pets? And could the brighter dinosaurs have evolved into something humanoid?
Oh good grief! If the dinosaurs had survived, why on earth would we think that us humans would ever have evolved? It was the extinction of the dinosaurs that gave us mammals the big break we'd been waiting for.
To be fair, Tuesday's programme did touch upon this point in passing, but most of the programme was taken up with wistful, pointless what ifs, with Simon Conway Morris wheeled on towards the end to go on about convergent evolution and intelligent, bipedal dinosaurs (again).
The dinosaurs ruled the earth for 165 million years. They were a magnificent, highly evolved lineage (even though they never came close to sipping G&Ts on the terrace after a round of golf). They were as diverse and vibrant as any similar lineage on earth today. They died out spectacularly and unluckily 65 million years ago, leaving only a small twig of descendents that we call birds. Isn't there enough good, real material there for a whole season of Horizons, instead of wasting time on pointless fantasies?
I'll get off my hobby-horse now.