Blowing shit up in the name of science (President’s Update)

By Dr Craig Cormick
President, ASC.

I have a confession to make. I am not a great fan of the BSU school of Science Communication (that is – Blow Shit Up). I realise that puts me at odds with a vast number of science communication professionals, and even esteemed people like Nobel laureate Professor Brian Schmidt – who can often be caught waxing lyrical on the different ways to shoot plastic bottles into the air or make things explode in the name of science communication. But it never really works for me.

Admittedly BSU always draws a good crowd and people love to cheer when things are blown up in the name of science – but I just don’t see the linear connection with learning scientific principles.

I know this puts me in a bit of a minority group, and if you search Youtube you will find an endless series of people who are determined to blow shit up in the name of science, with titles like: Will a thermite grenade blow up a limo? Blow stuff up in the microwave and even Uncle Rob’s Explosive Life Hack Compilation.

I know Mythbusters fans go crazy whenever they blow shit up, and there was even a UK science show, Brainiac, that seemed built around the premise of scantily-clad hot babes blowing shit up.

Now I’m not complaining here about the way we are educating generations to be competent with home-made explosives – that’s another issue altogether. I simply want to see any evidence that says beyond having a hell of a good time, that any science is being learned.

A few websites cut to the chase, with names like: Break Things and Blow Shit Up: An immature guide to science teaching – but I’ve yet to find one that outlines the actual science learning.

There are a few with legal insights though – Boingboing.net reported that a Florida high school student undertaking a science experiment mixed together aluminum foil and toilet bowl cleaner – and to her surprise the mixture exploded. The school authorities clearly didn’t attend the school for BSU though, as they had her both suspended and charged with a felony.

Dan Dubno, writing for the Huffington Post, tries hard to draw a correlation between scientific discovers and blowing shit up as a child, which is almost convincing, until he suggests that America’s diminishing standards in maths and science might be turned around by letting more kids blow shit up.

And a second confession – I have put my share of Mentos in Coke bottles and mixed bicarbonate soda with vinegar in my times too – but I have one plea as a science communicator – after the bang and the cheers have settled, or after the flames have gone out, and after everyone has stopped whooping each other up about how awesome science can be as it lets you blow shit up – how about then actually explaining the science behind what people have witnessed, and how it can be used in real life applications.

Now that would get me excited!

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