Things the BBC should know about chemistry

Science is pretty popular at the moment. Shows are springing up all over the place that are trying to demystify science. The BBC recently launched a new series called “Things you need to know.. ” and yesterday it was chemistry’s turn (if you are in the UK and want a treat then you can catch up with the show on the iplayer)

The show’s aims seemed pretty honourable, it was trying to point out that chemicals are everywhere, from the air we breath to the contents of our soap. And that really people shouldn’t be scared of chemicals. But even before we get to the nitty gritty, it pretty much fails to achieve these aims by packing the show with graphics of explosions and other harmful stereotypes.  At one point there is even the implication that mixing baking soda and vinegar could trigger a thermonuclear reaction!

It gets worse, because the BBC clearly didn’t do their research, the show is absolutely chock full of basic  mistakes. Within the first 2 minutes we are treated to these images! There are plenty more errors for you to spot, so I won’t throw in any more spoilers.

You’ve got to ask why on Earth the BBC didn’t run the show past a chemist or two before they aired it. Or failing that you would hope that someone on the team would have had  a son or daughter studying chemistry at school who could have picked up on most of the errors.

There is however a silver lining. The show is so bad I’m planning on using it as a teaching aid. I’m going to ask students to watch the show and then they’ll get marks for every error they spot. If anyone feels like helping me with the mark sheet then have a look at the show and post the errors in the comments.


P.S. If you fancy letting the BBC know what you think of the program fill out the form on their ‘Points of View’ page.




  1. Your friend-in-arms Stuart Cantrill is also planning to destroy the show in a similar blog post. He live-tweeted in, blow for blow, last night.


  2. I think the need to for me to blog has been negated by Mark’s excellent post above – and also one over at Chemistry World. Never say never though…

  3. That last comment reads much better if you realise that the first ‘to’ is obviously silent 😉

  4. I think theres room for a couple more blog posts on the subject. The more the merrier.

  5. I made this a question on my exam yesterday (about Lewis structures) 🙂

  6. I’m sure the BBC will be very pleased to know their show is of some use after all.

  7. Pingback: Chemistry Blog » Blog Archive » Things the BBC need to know about chemistry; The BBC responds.

  8. Yeh! I think they should have brought in one or two chemists to see what they were going to air before going ahead.

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