My first two scientific experiences of media madness occurred in the early 1960s when I was a real microbiologist. One day, the new local television station sent along a camera team to see what we were all up to. After a quick glance around the lab, the boss pointed at a fraction collector and asked me to switch it on. "It is on," I replied, explaining that the machine clicked around once very 15 minutes as each test tube collected liquid from the ion exchange column above. "OK, I understand," the man said, and went away to find something more dynamic next door. An hour later, he was back. "I really wish you guys would make that thing work properly," he said. Repeat of conversation. Deeply disappointed camera team.

But then anxiety descended: maybe these TV chaps would lose interest and go away. So guess how the story ended. With...

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