As part of the MSc in Science Communication at Imperial College, we were asked at the beginning of January to create a product, any product, that was based on the first semester’s theory. I remember that day. It was, I must admit, a rather daunting task, especially since we had just been shown some of the previous cohorts creations. But, Keeren, Annie and myself did not let that get us down.

We got stuck in straight away, and dug a little deeper into the philosophy of science.

IMG_8252Science has often been described as a game: with many rivalries, influences and champion theories. Annie, Keeren and I explored this idea by embracing the spirit of a tennis tournament to discuss the different leading philosophers of science. We present a “live” radio commentary of a philosophy tennis tournament, with commentary on Aristotle and Francis Bacon in the first match, followed by the events of Thomas Kuhn and Karl Popper in the second. This is complemented by an expert analysis of each match by Professor Steve Fuller, a social epistemologist from Warwick University.

So, we decided to create a BBC radio 5Live parody of a Wimbledon Tennis Tournament: Wimbledon 2013: The Philosphers Battle!

The metaphor of tennis has been used to convey the transfer of ideas for a long time; the ball is on your court, that’s a smashing idea, ideas bouncing back and forth etc. Looking back, it now seems a rather obvious thing to do.

Credit Keeren Flora
Credit Keeren Flora

The way that we extended this metaphor into the tournament, and especially in the commentary and analysis, really added some depth.  We could have had philosophers literally shouting ideas to each other, but that was too obvious. Our goal was to be subtle and more abstract. The metaphor became the entire game; the personalities, techniques and approaches the characters had to the game of tennis were all based on their philosophies and as much as we could find about their personal histories. The method the philosopher used to play tennis was influenced the way they thought you should do science, and their ideas and what we knew of their histories influenced their personalities. The question essentially became: how would these philosophers behave if they played tennis as if it were science? So, for example, we made Popper argumentative, as he believed in falsification, and also we made him try to encourage clapping from a non-reactive crowd as we knew that he wanted to be more popular and influential than he was. In the case of Aristotle, we knew little about his personality, so instead defined him by Bacon’s idea of him being the “dogma of the time”, therefore making him slow, thoughtful and consistent.

I would like to thank Annie Mackinder and Keeren Flora for being wonderful team mates; Professor Steve Fuller for being the philosophy analyst; Christopher Clarke, Dave Laurence and Andy Roast for contributing; Mike Lewis from Wimbledon for showing us around; and to the BBC for letting us use the Wimbledon theme tune.


If you prefer to watch the video that Annie put together (thanks Annie!), then please do!

Go to the orginal article here or listen below