Feeling like a fraud

Dallas Campbell, factual TV presenter

I remember my first interview for BBC One’s Bang Goes The Theory, a new prime-time science magazine series, and feeling a nagging sense of unease. Did they want to interview ‘the other’ Dallas Campbell? As a humanities graduate and despite my deep interest in science I still felt like a fraud. I was coming down with a nasty case of what psychologists Dr Pauline Clance and Dr Suzanne Imes called ‘imposter syndrome’. A chronic condition that most have a passing familiarity with.

Why is it that we’re ‘allowed’ to listen to music, watch a film or read a book without having to be able to read music notation, or understand film grammar or literary theory? And yet too often with science, non-academics feel like this. Are we going to say something wrong? Are we going to be judged? Many people resort to the, “Oh, I was crap at science at school,” line almost as a badge of honour.

Can you imagine listening to Taylor Swift and then shaking your head before turning it off and saying, “I can’t listen to this. I was crap at music at school.” Of course, if you want to be a professional musician, or a novelist, or a filmmaker, you have to learn and hone your craft. But not to the exclusion of the rest of us. I have always been curious about the world around me. Although I didn’t study any science subjects beyond A-level, that pleasure is as potent as it’s ever been.

We need to stop feeling like frauds. We should all ‘own’ an appreciation of science, as we would any other part of human culture, and not feel like outsiders. Part of the problem is we have to remember what science actually is – science isn’t a subject. It’s a method. It’s the most brilliant way humans have devised to try and understand nature. But we’ve become conditioned to regard science as a dogmatic book of facts when in reality the opposite is true – uncertainty and exploration are the engines of science and this should be understood and relished.

Science and the arts are perceived as two different cultures but ultimately they spring from the same well: to explore, to question, to experiment, to wonder, to inspire. Both cultures are expressions of being human. Most important of all let’s remember science isn’t an exclusive club. We shouldn’t worry about being turned away on the door. We’re all fully paid-up members when we’re born. The trick is stopping us from forgetting that as we get older.

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