Drunken thoughts on Brainiac Live at the Big Bang Fair

A little while ago, there was a lot of discussion between Sci-Commers about the rightness (yes, it’s a word) of having Brainiac Live as the headlining act at the Big Bang Fair. I didn’t really have much to add to the debate until recently, when I attended a Beer Festival run by people who clearly weren’t that enthusiastic about beer. Following this experience, I wanted to share my beer-goggled perspective on the Brainiac debate, and how important passion is for posterity.

A Beer Festival is “an organised event during which a variety of beers (and often other alcoholic drinks) are available for tasting and purchase”. If you’ve ever been to a beer festival, you know that they are merry events in which one can try new things, and share enjoyment and passion for real ales, ciders, perries etc. A really well organised beer festival, such as CAMRA’s Great British Beer Festival will work hard to give enthusiasts a huge variety of beers, served in optimum condition by knowledgeable and friendly staff. These staff are often fellow enthusiasts.

The beer festival I went to recently did not operate that way. Hops N Harvest at the Museum of Kent Life certainly had all of the things you’d expect from a beer festival (beer, beer drinkers), however, a vital component was missing that ruined the whole experience for me.


The organisers clearly didn’t give a toss about the beer, or the drinkers’ enjoyment of the beer. They went to great pains to remove the personal touch from the day, leaving the drinkers cold and bewildered. Beer was served by numbers, with all the relevant information provided in booklet form. Which would have been fine, if all the information in the book was accurate; or at least someone had bothered to check. Staff knew nothing about what was going on behind them, or indeed in front of them. When I ordered number 42, ‘a refreshing, golden hoppy ale with citrus overtones’ and was served with number 42, stout; nobody noticed. When I pointed it out, nobody cared.

Watching the staff react to their error reminded me of the five stages of grief:

Denial – No, that’s number 42 all right.

Anger – Look, it’s not our fault if the booklet isn’t right.

Bargaining – Fine, I’ll pour you something else.

Depression – But I’m not happy about it.

Acceptance – You’ve got your new beer. Now go away.

A bar is nothing without a friendly face behind it, and beer means nothing if it’s not poured.

I believe the same goes for science.

For those not in the know, Brainiac markets itself as ‘Science Abuse’, and the live show promises “a breathless ride through the wild world of the weird and wonderful, delving fearlessly into the mysteries of science, doing all of those things on stage that you were too scared to do at home!”

The Big Bang Fair is “the largest celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths for young people in the UK.”

I’ve not seen Brainiac Live, but since this whole debate opened up, I’ve watched a couple of clips and I am less convinced about the accuracy of their blurb, and indeed their ‘science’.

People felt passionate enough about the subject to write an open letter to the organisers.

One of the biggest complaints is that they aren’t portraying accurate science, and I’m forced to agree.

There are several more issues with Brainiac Live that make them totally wrong for events like the Big Bang Fair.

The Big Bang Fair is dedicated to inspiring young people about the wonders and opportunities within science, and quite simply, Brainiac isn’t.

I know that I’m reasonably new to Science Communication, but sitting on an office chair being spun by pyrotechnics (dubbed ‘rockets’) is hardly something that I would call an ‘opportunity’ for young scientists.

I would go so far as to suggest that they’re not even real scientists, because real scientists would care if they were making shit up.

Much like the bar staff at Hops N Harvest, if you don’t know about whatever you’re serving, you don’t care if it’s wrong. This attitude ruined my beer experience.

Can we afford to run this risk with Science?

Clearly, Brainiac lies. fills a niche in a market.  And we can’t blame them for abusing science to make a profit. I find it a little disturbing, however, that respected institutions like the Big Bang Fair are so concerned with the spectacle of science that they place no priority on the content.


About nicolajrolfe

Dr. Nicola J. Rolfe is currently looking for her next opportunity to make a big splash in East Kent industry.
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