The Hawking Paradox

I found this on Youtube. The programme was made for the BBC TV series Horizon and first broadcast in the UK in 2005. You’ll find yours truly in a couple of places, when I was working at the University of Nottingham and had more hair. In fact got a bit of stick, from some people at a certain University I used to attend, for being insufficiently reverential in my comments about Stephen Hawking but, for what it’s worth, I stand by everything I said. I do admire him enormously as a physicist, but I think his very genuine contributions are sometimes lost in the cult that has developed around him.

Anyway, I thought the programme turned out relatively well. Horizon has gone steadily downhill since 2005, obviously because I haven’t been involved…

It’s in 5 parts so if you want to watch all of it, you will need to click through to the next at the end of each segment.

7 Responses to “The Hawking Paradox”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    Peter: I don’t know what you said – I’m presently somewhere with low bandwidth – but you might be aware that Peter Higgs made some unguarded comments about Hawking that he thought were off the record but weren’t, and took some flak. I wrote the following on the blog of the fine science writer and expositor Nigel Calder, who discussed the issue at

    “I too feel some irritation with the Hawking bandwagon but I think that it is the media, not Hawking, who are (ir)responsible… The media love the disparity between Hawking’s physical and mental faculties, and they have made him much better known than if he had done the same work but not been wheelchair-bound. Hawking has a horrible disease, and some compassion is in order.”

    Someone else on Calder’s blog reminded us that Hawking has explicitly denied being in the same league as Newton and Einstein. He does not seem to me to be promoting a cult of himself. If he enjoys publicity, who doesn’t?


    • I got here via RSS, since Peter referenced this old post. This led me to the news that Nigel Calder died a couple of weeks ago.

      I fondly remember his Einstein’s Universe (and the television version with Peter Ustinov) and The Key to the Universe (about Feynman diagrams and particle physics) and at one time rated him among my top-7 science writers (“Asimov, Clarke, Gamow, Sagan, Moore, Calder and Nicolson”). Moore is Sir Patrick, and Nicholson is Iain. (In retrospect, it’s Asimov, then Clarke and Sagan, then everyone else. I remember being fascinated by Nicolson’s The Road to the Stars when I were a wee lad.) In his later years, Calder seems to have moved into the anthropic–climate-change denier/sceptic camp.

  2. Steve Jones Says:

    I’m always amazed how often he is refered to as Stephen Hawkings with an “s”. If he is a self promoting cult he must be a little irritated that so few people seem to even be able to get his name right.

  3. telescoper Says:

    One of the things I said in the interview was that there is quite a gap between the public perception of Hawking’s status as a scientist and the view among physicists. What I meant by that was not that he has a low status as a scientist – far from it – but that he’s not out there on his own with Newton and Einstein. There was a survey of physicists in 2000 that asked who were the greatest. Hawking was way down the list in the 100s somewhere. Top were Newton and Einstein, but the other names in the top 10 – Maxwell, Dirac, Feynman, etc – are not household names. Hawking is a brilliant scientist, but there have been (and are) many
    others just as brilliant. I’d like to see more scientists being celebrated without the excessive concentration on Hawking.

    I don’t think it’s Hawking doing self-promotion, more the effect of the media and especially the publishers. I wouldn’t blame Hawking for going along with it anyway; life has dealt him a difficult hand and he’s played it the best way he can.

  4. […] I was going to be interviewed later that day for a programme in the BBC TV series Horizon called The Hawking Paradox. The filming was to take place inside the Café de Paris near Piccadilly Circus, for the simple […]

  5. […] I was going to be interviewed later that day for a programme in the BBC TV series Horizon called The Hawking Paradox. The filming was to take place inside the Café de Paris near Piccadilly Circus, for the simple […]

  6. […] a lot about Stephen Hawking over the years. In particular I have in the past gone on record, both on television and in print, as being not entirely positive about the `cult’ that surrounds him. I think a […]

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