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A great storyteller returns
On rocket launches, television in the public interest, and the return of an 86-year-old storyteller who wants us not to fear the unknown
After a hiatus of more than a quarter-century, the remarkable television presenter James Burke has revived -- or, perhaps, appended -- his "Connections" series. The programs did a remarkable job of telling the very non-linear story of science and technology: How seemingly different and widely-separated events and innovations eventually converged to produce unexpected outcomes.
■ Burke's ability to tell a riveting story is brilliant on paper. It is even more fantastic when delivered with a flair for the dramatic on-screen, like his perfectly-timed build-up to a rocket launch. That is a skill set worth celebrating in Burke and cultivating in others.
■ It comes as news to no one that we struggle to keep pace in the social sciences with progress in the technical sciences. A lot of developments come to fruition far before a legal framework is ready to accept them. That imbalance turns some people into Luddites and others into anarchists.
■ But Burke espouses a different view: "You're either optimistic, or you jump off the bridge, and I don't intend to jump off the bridge. The best thing is to stick around and do something." And his storytelling style -- particularly in its embrace of the unexpected, seemingly-random connections that cause changes in nothing like a linear fashion -- is a great model to embrace.
■ Nobody can know it all, and that's just fine. But we can (and should) be eager to learn some of it along the way, and to form useful heuristics for approaching new developments not with fear, but with sensibility.