Radio: Everybody’s getting tangled up by the Garda tapes story

Confused commentators were tied in knots trying to unravel the Garda controversy. Maybe RTÉ’s new science series could help make sense of it all

Sat, Mar 29, 2014, 01:00

With seasoned reporters fumbling in the dark for concrete facts, Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) seems as good a source as any for opinionated speculation about the matter, if not actual information. On Tuesday retired gardaí phone in to sympathise with Callinan. One caller, Walter, blames the former commissioner’s departure on “a frenzy in the media” and, less obviously, on the public’s “short memories” about a force that has lost members in its fight against crime and dissident-republican terrorism.

Asked by Joe Duffy if the force’s reputation has been damaged, Walter is adamant: “Not by An Garda Síochána. We have given too much down the years.”

It’s a telling if inadvertent glimpse into the kind of instinctive institutional loyalty that has landed the force in its current hot water. Amid the fog of supposition surrounding a murky affair, it’s as close to a revealing insight as one gets.

Other shows have more success making sense of apparently impenetrable matters – or, more precisely, grey matter. What Woody Allen described as his second-favourite organ, the brain, is the subject of the inaugural edition of What’s It All About? (RTÉ Radio 1, Sunday), a promising science series presented by Seán Duke and Colette Kinsella.

From the off it’s clear that scientists are not the show’s primary target audience. Over a backdrop of futuristic sound effects, Kinsella and Dr Brendan Kelly describe the brain as composed of “stuff” that is “mushy” and “squashable”, terms not usually found in neurosurgery textbooks.

Rather than dissect their subject, so to speak, Duke and Kinsella instead use a set of unexpected but arresting vignettes to illustrate how the brain works and how it can go wrong. They meet Donna, a woman whose philandering, bigamist husband swindled her before moving on to his next wife, by way of showing how psychopaths are “not sick, just wired differently”. They tell how up to a third of the population may be infected by Toxoplasma gondii , a mind-controlling parasite that jumps from rats to cats to humans, resulting in everything from poor dress sense to increased traffic accidents.

With the presenters weaving accessible scientific exposition with accounts of meditative techniques and zombie cockroaches, What’s It All About? is more diverting romp than forensic study – and all the better for it. Listeners might even learn something, which is more than can be said for the blanket coverage of the week’s political events.

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