Robyn Williams

Fred Watson’s inspiration as a lad was the legendary telly astronomer Patrick Moore, who presented the BBC’s show The Sky At Night for more than fifty years. At the end, when others such as Chris Lintott began taking over, Moore was simply wheeled in at the start of the show in his wheelchair, to mumble a couple of sentences, then wheeled off again, out of the way, looking on wistfully.

Watson and Moore have a lot in common: both British, both immensely informed, both musical performers. And they both showed not just deep knowledge of deep space but also the essential emotional commitment to the vast tapestry they were investigating. I well remember the night when the first pictures of the far side of the moon came to Moore, live on air. As he showed them to the television audience, he simply cried, talking in choked tones as tears streamed down his face.

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In 2014, veteran ABC science broadcaster Robyn Williams was diagnosed with bowel cancer. It was, he reports, his third brush with death, following cardiac arrest in 1988 and bladder cancer in 1991. His description of the experience, including surgical reduction of his gut and rectum and ...

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Peter Atkins writes a sentence at the beginning of this bewildering book that seems both preposterous and cheeky: ‘I would like to assert that not much happened at the Creation.’ And then: ‘I would like to replace the “not much” by “absolutely nothing”.’ How can any leading scientist ...

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What shocks me, as I consider this important new book, is how completely John Bolton has disappeared from the public mind. Just consider, he pioneered extragalactic radio astronomy, built two superb radio telescopes, was worthy of a Nobel Prize, hired or mentored a generation of top scientists – and was played by Sam Neill in the film The Dish (2000). Nei ...

When David Attenborough's memoir Life on Air was published in 2002, the magazine I worked for arranged for me to interview him. By then I had been interviewing people for a while and thought myself quite unflusterable. I keyed in the number, listened to the dial tone. And then it was as if the call had been answered by God (interesting, as an atheist). My r ...

To complement the essays, commentaries, reviews, and photographic essay in this issue, we asked a group of leading environmentalists, scientists, commentators, and writers what they regard as the most urgent action needed for environmental reform.

Wayne Bergmann

There is an urgent need for widespread recognition of the interrelationship between the ...

Books of the Year is always one our most popular features. Find out what our 41 contributors liked most this year – and why.

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I must let you into a secret. I have three different ways of reading books: lightning fast, with serene attention; and, as with Smashing Physics, postmodern.

The fast mode is forced by unavoidable professional requirements. This week, for example, I received a (thankfully) slim volume just hours before having to record a satellite interview with the author who is based at Harvard. I had ninety minutes to skim the novel to obtain enough ‘feel’ for the work so that I could lead a credible discussion. All went well.

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ABR Radio National’s Robyn Williams reviews Thomas Suddendorf’s important new study of the science that separates human beings from animals.

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I’ve interviewed Stephen Hawking twice. On both occasions it was in his old office in Silver Street, Cambridge – in front of his huge poster of Marilyn Monroe. The first time, in 1989, I was a little anxious, not because I was with the world’s best-known scientist, but because I found the awkward silences waiting for his answers hard to manage. What do you do, having asked a question, during the two or three minutes it takes him to put together a sentence on his machine? You can’t stare at him for that long – we’re not equipped to do that with anyone for more than seconds. Ignore him? The way we ignore other crippled folk, without realising it? Hardly!

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