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Radio review: One to One, Led by the Science, and Test Match Special

21 August 2020

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IF THERE is one thing worse than having to endure the company of a narcissistic poseur with verbal diarrhoea, it is to be told by an indulgent member of his retinue that he is, in reality, cripplingly shy. What reality that shyness might be, and how one might access it, is normally left unexplained. But in One to One (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week), the comedian Russell Kane and the psychologist Mark Vernon attempted an explanation. Such people are “ambiverts”, who can put on a show when they feel the need, but are never happier than when they are on their own, enjoying a dark night of the soul.

The terms “extrovert” and “introvert” don’t work for them; nor did the psychologist who coined these terms — Carl Jung, in 1921 — intend these categories to be the inflexible self-definitions of contemporary analysis. Jung recommended that people embrace their shadow — the representative of their inner life — so that they might be whole. Stand-up comedians should acknowledge their inner accountant, and librarians their inner surf instructor.

But contemporary culture encourages us to create psychological profiles, as if such photo-fit personalities sufficed to express the authentic self. The Myers-Briggs system of assessing character, employed by human-resource managers around the world, has spun out of Jung’s basic polarity of introvert-extrovert a rich vocabulary of categories; but, as Vernon argued here, the danger is that people judge others by what they think they are rather than what they do.

From one myth of scientific certainty to another: in Led by the Science (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week), Philip Ball gave a timely analysis of our relationship with public-health experts. Indeed, so ubiquitous has “the science” become that it might be added to the OED as a new coinage, having supplanted earlier meanings by implying the existence of an orthodoxy heretofore unknown in scientific endeavour. There have not been enough scientists over the past few months willing to say “I don’t know”; that is the conclusion that Ball reaches here, and both scientists and politicians are to blame.

The relationship between science and politics has been most explicitly realised in the daily press briefings, in which politician and scientific expert stand side by side, and “the science” is repeatedly invoked as the justification for policy. As the editor of The Lancet, Richard Horton, protested, this collusion between scientist and politician represents “a terrifying failure” in a system that should protect the integrity of both parties: the former to express doubt, the latter to act decisively. Scientists, Churchill is reported to have said, should be “on tap, not on top”.

The production team for last week’s Test Match Special (Radio 5 Live Sports Extra), faced with many rain-drenched hours to fill, turned as ever to archive material and, last Friday, to an interview from 2018, in which Muhammad Waleed Khan described to Jonathan Agnew the terrorist attack on his Peshawar school which left him requiring many years of physical and emotional rehabilitation.

It is a remarkable story and a remarkable interview. Khan freely reveals in an unrestrained, articulate, and engaging way all the gory and heart-warming details. He now turns in a useful right-hand seam for his local team in Birmingham.

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