Kentucky Noah too much bad science for Matt Cooper

Radio review: Creationist guest prompts smug reaction from Today FM host, as Ray D’Arcy discusses mid-life crises and Theresa May’s shoes

 Matt Cooper: At his best Cooper is an informed, deft host with an accessible manner, but he doesn’t always resist the temptation to sound like the smartest guy in the room. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / The Irish Times

Matt Cooper: At his best Cooper is an informed, deft host with an accessible manner, but he doesn’t always resist the temptation to sound like the smartest guy in the room. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / The Irish Times

 

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but there are times when a few words on the radio can conjure up an equally evocative image. Certainly, Matt Cooper’s remarkable interview with an American creationist on Tuesday’s edition of The Last Word (Today FM, weekdays) brings to mind a vision of the host smirking behind the microphone.

But it would be hard for anyone to keep a straight face when talking to Georgia Purdom of Answers in Genesis, an “evangelistic outreach” group that has just built a giant reproduction of Noah’s Ark in Kentucky.

Far from pitching this as a theme-park attraction, Purdom views the 150m-long ark as a science exhibit. “We want people to know that the Bible is true, and just as there was a judgment in Noah’s day, so there is another coming,” she says, sounding remarkably breezy despite the imminence of Armageddon.

Cooper initially approaches the interview as a rational debate, but that soon proves foolhardy. When he suggests that the story of Noah may be a metaphor Purdom counters, “We have an eyewitness to the past, and that is God.” Noting that his guest is a molecular biologist by trade, the host then hears her explain that the world is about 4,500 years old.

At this stage Cooper cannot hide his incredulity. Less appealingly, he also sounds a patronising note, as he ponders Purdom’s assertions that dinosaurs were on the ark. “It must have smelt pretty badly with all those animals for 40 days and 40 nights,” he says, just a tad too smugly. At this stage one almost feels sorry for Purdom, although she doesn’t sound unduly put out.

At his best Cooper is an informed, deft host with an accessible manner, but he doesn’t always resist the temptation to sound like the smartest guy in the room. (He adopts the same tone in an earlier discussion about restoring copyright for the national anthem.) And he risks missing the most important issue at stake: the trend of taking every position and statement as subjective, regardless of factual evidence.

Cooper eventually finds his sense of purpose and gets around to asking whether the ark model is detrimental to scientific research. Purdom says that she too uses science, just “from different perspectives”. The host delivers a succinct rejoinder: “Sometimes people are right in their answers, sometimes people are wrong.” But in adopting a dismissive register with his guest, alarming as her beliefs may be, Cooper’s point seems less effective – or less graceful, anyway.

Cooper is hostile to bad science; Ray D’Arcy has a more accepting attitude towards dubious mathematics, at least when it’s him doing the sums. Discussing the subject of midlife crises with the English journalist Miranda Sawyer on The Ray D’Arcy Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), the presenter takes issue with his guest’s assertion that most people’s lives are more than half over by the age of 45. D’Arcy says that, because he “wasn’t really paying attention” for his first 12 years, he subtracts that amount from his age.

“If you look at the cold calendar you’re middle-aged, but you’re not really,” he says, slightly half-heartedly. “It does sound like there’s a lot of bargaining going on there,” Sawyer replies. It’s the beginning of an enjoyable encounter that addresses the “quite common sense of unhappiness” that she says people feel in their 40s. “I had two thoughts,” Sawyer says of her own minor crisis. “‘Is this it?’ and ‘I’ve done it all wrong.’ ”

Much of this veers close to first-world-problem territory, but Sawyer is aware of it: “You’re very grateful for your life, but you can simultaneously feel like you’re in a time of change, when you’re not sure where you fit in.”

It helps that there’s a sparky chemistry between host and guest, in large part due to the similarities in age between their young children and, indeed, between themselves. They get on so famously that texters end up urging them to get a room.

That may be overstating the case, but in chiming with so much of D’Arcy’s life Sawyer brings out the best in the host. It’s a common occurrence: he never sounds so animated as when relating a story to his own experience. Commenting on tabloid outrage about a photograph of Victoria Beckham kissing her young daughter on the lips, the presenter gets annoyed at busybodies who “get offended on your behalf”.

“For the record I kiss my kids on the lips daily,” D’Arcy says. (He does wonder about the wisdom of Beckham posting the photo on social media.)

Even when it comes to politics he prefers the personal angle. As Theresa May becomes British prime minister he talks to Zoe Healy, who for several years worked as May’s press officer. Healy gives a candid assessment of the new premier: “I could recognise straight away she was leadership material.”

For someone who spent many hours in a car with May, Healy doesn’t offer much revealing information. “She’s never been one of the boys,” is a typically anodyne snippet.

There is a depressing air of predictability when D’Arcy starts asking about May’s taste in shoes, although this may be out of desperation for juicy material rather than gender stereotyping. Sometimes it’s just better to look for the big picture.

Moment of the Week: Coleman over the limit

Wednesday’s edition of Breakfast (Newstalk, weekdays) has an interview with Joe Herron of the Irish Taxi Drivers Federation about proposals for a 30km/h speed limit throughout the Dublin City Council area. It’s a lively exchange, with Herron’s doubts about lower speed limits having any safety impact getting short shrift. It’s all too much for Shane Coleman, one of the hosts. “Let us know your views on that,” he says, inviting listeners to text “at a cost of 30 miles per hour”, before correcting himself: “Sorry, 30 cents per minute.” As they say, a man’s gotta know his limits.

radioreview@irishtimes.com

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