President’s update: The great science joke search

By ASC President Craig Cormick

 

Calling all science communicators…

So it has become abundantly clear that despite many years of work and millions of dollars being invested, the science community has been particularly unsuccessful in developing any breakthrough science jokes. So I am putting out the call to all science communicators to see if we can help address this sad state of affairs.

It might be a short one or two liner, like:

Q. What does DNA stand for?

A. The National Dyslexic Association.

Or it may be a much longer joke, but I challenge you all to send in your best science jokes, either on the ASC Facebook page, or post in the comments section of the newsletter. Let’s show you have what it takes to reach out and communicate science in diverse mediums, including humour.

My best effort:

There were three scientists attending a conference in New York – a geneticist, a nanotechnologist and a nuclear physicist. As they were leaving the conference centre late in the evening a robber jumped out in front of them with a gun. ‘Give me your money or I’ll shoot you,’ he said.

‘No, no, don’t rob us or shoot us,’ said the geneticist. ‘We’re scientists. We are trying to better the world.’

The robber thinks about that a moment and then says, ‘Okay. Here’s what I’ll do. If you can convince me that what you are doing is for the betterment of the world, I’ll let you go. But if not. Bang!’

The three scientists agree and the nuclear physicist goes first. ‘Well nuclear power has a lot of potential for addressing modern problems and it has a bad reputation I know, but I believe nuclear power is the way of the future…’

Bang! The robber shoots him.

Then he turns the gun to the nanotechnologist. ‘You next!’

No, no, me next,’ says the geneticist. ‘I’d rather be shot than have to hear one more time how nanotechnology is going to save the world!’

Over to you, ASC members…

Casual Presenters sought to help deliver (and develop) discovery and science clubs around Sydney

Children’s Discovery seeks to recruit inspiring educators to help us deliver our discovery and science activities. These include our pre-school Little Bang Discovery Club (during school hours), and/or after-school science club activities in various venues around Sydney. There are also full-day programs during school holiday periods.

Key responsibilities

  • Become trained to deliver high quality discovery science workshops at various locations in Sydney, principally public libraries.
  • Opportunity to assist improving existing programs, and develop new programs.
  • Opportunity to assist on educational instruction materials, web and social media.

Required Qualifications and Skills

  • Outstanding organisational and communication skills.
  • Ability to engage and sustain the attention and interest of young children (aged 3 to 5) and their accompanying adults; and children aged 6 to 12.
  • Broad understanding of scientific theories and laws, with the ability to interpret everyday experiences in terms of thinking scientifically.
  • Strong interpersonal skills, ability to perform in public spaces.
  • Excellent English communication skills.
  • Work to deadlines and deliver programs within scheduled time.
  • Clean driving record and access to own car.
  • Commitment to WHS and EEO principles within the workplace.
  • A reasonable level of physical fitness.

Preferred Qualifications and Skills

  • Background in Primary education, Science or other relevant education or experience.
  • Experience with a variety of hand tools.
  • Working with Children Check as required by legislation.

The successful applicant’s role may be expanded depending upon interest, availability and qualifications.
Applications
Please send an email to info@childrensdiscovery.org.au with your CV, with a short letter addressing why you’d like to join our team.

Internship opportunities

The National Wetlands Trust of NZ (NWT) has two volunteer internship opportunities starting as soon as possible. Both internships require a commitment of at least three months and are as follows:

1. Environmental Education Coordinator
Primary objective: To develop an outdoor, wetland-themed environmental education programme for the proposed National Wetland Centre which we are developing at the Rotopiko Reserve in South Waikato

2. Fauna Restoration Coordinator
Primary objective: Responsible for furthering our plans to return native wildlife to our pest free sanctuary for the proposed National Wetland Centre which we are developing at the Rotopiko Reserve in South Waikato

Download the position descriptions below.

Intern Position Description_Environmental Education_National Wetland Trust Intern Position Description_Fauna restoration_National Wetland Trust

Winning even if you don’t win

By Paul Holper, Director of Scientell

Recently Scientell won the 2016–17 Monash Business Award in the Micro Business category. My co-Director, Simon Torok, said in his acceptance speech in front of a packed ballroom, ‘We were delighted to have been nominated for this award – and we nominated ourselves, so imagine how excited we are to have actually won.’

A business coach suggested that we enter the award. It was excellent advice, but not just because we won. The entire process of entering, being assessed and then attending the awards night was invaluable for us.

For starters, the nomination process helped us dispassionately assess our business, its activities and ambitions. We had to ask ourselves what our main focus was, what our objectives are, and how we can simply describe the business in a few sentences.

The judging process included making a short presentation at a lunch where we met other small business owners. This led to us catching up with a number of them over the ensuing weeks to share business ideas and look for opportunities to collaborate in future. As any small business owner knows, success comes from relationships. The Monash Business Awards introduced us to lots of people.

Of course, winning generates valuable publicity opportunities. It helped us highlight the value of communication of environmental, scientific and technical information. But even if we had known at the outset that we would not win, we would still have entered, such was the value of the process.

Sponsored by the City of Monash, the Monash Business Awards serve to ‘promote business success and excellence through the recognition of significant achievements and innovations’. The City of Monash, with almost 200,000 residents, is one of Victoria’s most populous municipalities. There are 18,000 businesses in the area.

Simon Torok on left, with Paul Holper

Resources from “Best Practice Boothing” NSWk Masterclass

ASC-WA held an ASC members-only, free masterclass in the lead up for National Science Week. This masterclass explored case studies, group discussions and handy hints for members to get the most out of their booth and informal engagement strategies in the lead up to and during events like Perth Science Festival.

ASC-WA President Renae Sayers says:

I’m happy to report a valuable session we had on the 27th of July and we’re keen to share the resources for those who could not attend or live stream in.
Attached are the presentations, reports and notes from discussions that explored case studies and handy hints for science communicators to get the most out of your booth and informal engagement strategies in the lead up to and during events for National Science Week (and beyond!).

A huge thank you to our presenters who gave up their time and expertise during this busy period, and our WA members in attendance. It was lovely to catch up over a glass of wine and cheese as always!

Featured:

  • Professor Leonie and Richard Rennie – sharing the outcomes from the evaluation report of ‘World Biotech Tour’ zone at 2016 Perth Science Festival, highlighting visitor impressions from exit surveys after experiencing a range of activities, exhibits and displays.
  • Sarah Lau, Communications Manager Dept of Water – Communication pearls of wisdom and getting staff on board for the best booth experience.
  • Josh Richards, Mars One candidate and science communicator – sharing his impact metrics from publicity feats and media.
  • Carmen Smith, Executive Officer Western Australian Coordinating Committee for National Science Week (WACC)

Covered:

  • Identifying and targeting your audience, outcomes
  • Visual and participation hooks, conversation starters
  • Common pitfalls and troubleshooting
  • Social media pre, during and post event

We wish you all the very best for this exciting time, and look forward to crossing paths with the plethora of phenomenal WA events.

Warm regards,
ASC _WA

 

Download the documents below.

Analysis of the Perth Festival Exit Survey Report Engaging your staff in engagement activities – Sarah Lau Evaluation of the World Biotech Tour JR – Quick & Dirty Social Media Perth Science Festival Impact Report. FINAL Toolkit – for science communicators – Inspiring Australia

President’s update: Capturing the feel and wonder of science

With thanks to ASC President Craig Cormick


So sure you can research all you want about a NASA rocket launch and find out data on thrust and payload and the science of rocket flight and so on – but none of that really tells you what a NASA rocket launch FEELS like.

And that goes something like this:

Mid-afternoon you park your car on the southern shore of the Banana River, just north of the Port Canaveral Marina in Florida. There are already cars spread out all along the shore and a bit of a community picnic feeling is developing. Right across the water, about 12 kilometres away you can see the tall buildings of the Kennedy Space Centre. One of them will be the rocket that is going to be launched tonight.

Closer to dark more and more people arrive. People pull up and get out chairs and blankets, and walk back and forward talking to each other excitedly, about previous rocket launches. Some people are veterans of over 40 or more launches and some are there for the first time like us.

As sun sets in a beautiful pink glow the particular launch gantry for tonight is illuminated by a large spotlight. People might tell you that night launches are best seen across the water, and that the observation station over at the NASA facility isn’t even as good as this.

People keep talking and swapping stories, until about 10 minutes to the launch window. Then everyone is quiet. We hear people about us calling, “Launch is go!” Then, “30 seconds.” “15 seconds.” “Ten seconds.” Kids along the row, who have been practicing the 10, 9, 8 countdown all evening now all join in loudly shouting the numbers in unison.
Then the shout is “Lift off!”

All eyes are fixed on the gantry across the dark water. There is a sudden blossoming of light, as if you are watching a film frame that has gotten stuck to a projector and burnt to white.

The light spreads out into a ball and then, slowly, you see the rocket start to lift. The ball of light lengthens into a flame shape as the rocket rises. There is a collective exhalation as it starts to speed higher and higher into the sky, seeming to rise over your head like some ascending divine star, the fire ball contracting to a round ball again behind the rocket.

And it is silent. Strangely silent. But as the rocket rises the rumble comes across the river, building and building like no other sound you’ve ever heard, reverberating in your chest. You tilt your head back and the rocket climbs higher and higher, the fireball getting smaller and smaller, as it joins the stars. Then you close your eyes for a moment to imprint the feeling and awe and wonder of it deep into your memory, as those gathered around start applauding the godamned technological achievement and marvellous wonder and everything of it.

Dr Craig Cormick
President, Australian Science Communicators

Looking for #scicomm mentors

By Lisa Bailey

It’s 3 Minute Thesis season around the country, and I was thinking that they are chock full of potential ASC members! I’m looking for current ASC members who work in these institutions, or who can attend the 3MT finals public events (or any of the training/heats leading up to them in many cases) to let students know about Australian Science Communicators and encourage them to a branch meeting or event.

Please get in touch with me (LBailey@riaus.org.au) if you are involved in any of these events – I think we can provide a valuable opportunity for students to start developing their own networks beyond Uni, and it would be great to have more students involved in ASC at the branch level. They’re coming up soon! I want to see if I can match a member to each final – the first ones kick off in Newcastle, Wollongong and Sunshine Coast in the next two weeks.  Please get in touch and let me know if you can help out and provide some support and encouragement.

Australian Capital Territory

Australian National University – ANU final at 6pm, 6 September Llewellyn Hall, ANU
University of Canberra – UC 3MT Final will be held on Wednesday 30 August from 6.30-8.00pm at UC

 

New South Wales

Macquarie University – Enquiries to Florence Chiew florence.chiew@mq.edu.au
Southern Cross University

  • School Finals: no later than 21 August
  • SCU Finals: TBC (week beginning 28 August)

University of New England
University of New South Wales – Final 13 September 4.30pm to 7.30pm Leighton Hall, Scientia
University of Newcastle – 12 July from 4.00pm in lecture theatre CT202, Callaghan Campus
University of Sydney – August (exact date to be confirmed)
University of Technology Sydney – Tuesday, 29 August at Aerial Function Centre, UTS
University of Wollongong – Friday July 21st, from 5.30-7.30pm, Building 67.107
Western Sydney University – Friday, 18 August, from 2.00-4.00pm, The Playhouse (Building D), Kingswood Campus

 

Northern Territory

Charles Darwin University – Friday 8 September

 

Queensland

Griffith University – Wednesday 6 September
James Cook University – Tuesday 13 September
Queensland University of Technology – Wednesday 6 September
The University of Queensland (founding institution) – Wednesday 13 September
University of the Sunshine Coast – Thursday 13 July

 

South Australia

Flinders University – Semi-Final on 27 July
University of Adelaide – Faculty finals July/August. Uni final Tuesday 12 September
University of South Australia – 24 August

 

Tasmania

University of Tasmania – Friday 8 September from 2.30-4.00pm in the Stanley Burbury Lecture Theatre, Sandy Bay Campus

 

Victoria

Deakin University – 3pm on 2 August at The Burwood Corporate Centre – Level 2 Building BC Melbourne Burwood campus
Federation University Australia
La Trobe University – Wednesday 30 August
Monash University – Thursday 10 August
RMIT University – Contact research.ed@rmit.edu.au dates TBC
Swinburne University
University of Melbourne – 2.00pm – 4.00pm Thursday 7 September
Victoria University – 3MT@vu.edu.au.

 

Western Australia

Curtin University – Friday 15 September
Edith Cowan University – Friday 22 September, 2.00pm – 4.30pm Joondalup campus 7.102
Murdoch University
University of Western Australia – Thursday 7 September

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!

Writing, ice, and really smelly fish: attending the Iceland Writers Retreat

The smell reaches through the air, sits heavy at the back of my throat. I approach the table and look down at the helpless chunks of pale, rotten flesh. Thicker than jelly. We are to eat this creature—the oldest living vertebrate, one that’s swam blindly in the freezing depths for centuries, devouring seals, polar bears, and countless fish seeking refuge from those parasite-infested eyes. Here I am, a clawless woman in a hot room, about to grind it with my blunt teeth. The shark goes into my mouth and quickly comes back out again.

Eating hákarl (fermented Greenland shark) was one of many new experiences during my time at the Iceland Writers Retreat. I’d seen the Retreat advertised online and fantasised about going. My first trip to Iceland had been in July the previous year, and had left me fascinated with the landscape, culture, and people. Their passion for storytelling, books, writing—and any other creative pursuit—made it seem like a wonderful place to gather writers, to share ideas and generate new ones. But without the help of the Professional Development Grant from the ASC, I wouldn’t seriously have considered travelling from Melbourne to Reykjavík to attend it. I’m so very grateful for the time I was able to spend at the retreat. We each attended five, two-hour workshops run by the featured authors. I took part in: ‘Palm of the hand stories’ with Man Booker Prize shortlisted author Madeleine Thien; one on writing historical novels, with Icelandic author and ex-journalist Vilborg Davíðsdóttir; a session on the technicalities of point of view with Bret Anthony Johnston, author and Director of Creative Writing at Harvard University; a session on finding empathy in your writing on both sides of moral, political and social divides, with Danish journalist and author Carsten Jensen; and one on research for writing by Claudia Casper, who writes science-themed novels.

For a visceral demonstration of the difference good research makes to your writing, Claudia had us first write a paragraph describing eating hákarl (with few Icelanders in the classes, it was unlikely we would have tried it). Then she read us some information about the shark, and asked us to write it again. And then we were told we would actually be eating it, before writing the paragraphs again, to compare with our original versions (during which she gave us Icelandic whisky, I think as a sort of apology).

I also interviewed Claudia and Vilborg about their books and writing approaches, and around the workshops there were shared dinners, author readings, a Q&A panel, sightseeing, blocks of writing time, and a trip to meet the Icelandic President, Guðni Th. Jóhannesson (husband of co-founder of the retreat, Eliza Reid).

The Literary Borgarfjörður day trip involved visits to: Gljúfrasteinn, the home/workplace of Nobel Prize winning author Halldór Laxness, with a reading by author Hallgrímur Helgason; Hvalfjörður Fjord; Hlaðir community centre’s museum dedicated to the ‘Arctic Convoys’ of WWII; Reykholt, home of C13th century writer and chieftain Snorri Sturluson; Hraunfossar and Barnafoss waterfalls; and Deildartunguhver, Europe’s most powerful hot spring, where our guide boiled some eggs in the hot spring for us to eat with rye bread and herring.

Photo credit: Claudia Casper. Hakarl writers retreat.

Photo credit: Claudia Casper

Immediately after the retreat, I felt something like the old emotional intensity following a school camp. Having been thrown together with a bunch of strangers, who opened such intimate parts of their lives in such a short time, was both exhilarating and exhausting. There were days I would sit down next to someone and ask, “what are you working on at the moment?” only to be told “I’m writing about the stabbings I attended as a paramedic,” or “I’m writing about an abusive ex-husband,” or “I’m using cultural research to write about racism and sexuality.”

But far from furthering any stereotypes about depressed writers sitting about in the cold, I felt the retreat created a space where people were comfortable sharing not only their writing and motivations for it, but where they felt supported and welcomed to both ask for, and give, advice based on their own (incredibly varied) writing careers. Conversations circled from personal stories to feedback on the structure or technicalities of a story, on ways to avoid burnout, ways to approach publishers, the best computer programs to use, and everything in between. The featured authors were often part of these informal conversations outside their workshops, and their willingness to share their own struggles and personal successes was a lovely reminder of the fact they work through the same insecurities and challenges as almost everyone else.

It was my first time at a writer’s retreat, and I hope it won’t be the last.

President’s update: Waiting for Science Comms to be rocked to its underpants…

Waiting for Science Comms to be rocked to its underpants…

So some really significant research was released in the last few years – and I have been patiently waiting for science communications globally to be rocked to its underpants.

But nothing has happened.

Let me explain. The first research was conducted by a collaborative effort of over 270 psychology researchers who got together to try and replicate the findings of 100 key psychological studies.

What did they find? – They could only replicate about a third of them.

The implications of this are pretty profound (to quote Back to the Future III), as it has potential impacts across lots of social science research – including science communication research – that is rarely replicated.

And why is that?

It is key tenant of good science that an experiment be replicated to ensure it is valid. But in the social sciences, not only are there no rewards for replicating research, but you can actually be subtly punished for it – most often through not achieving publication because your work was deemed not new.

And this means that research that is conducted at a particular time with a particular audience is held up as the gold standard to how all audiences at all times and in all places will undoubtedly react or behave.

But what if that is not the case? What if the gold standards of Cultural Cognition and Values and Biases and Framing and so on are not very replicable, or are very dependent on particular situations? Can you hear the collective Uh-oh?

And that brings us to the second study that I referred to.

The key researcher, Joe Henrich, had been doing work amongst people in South America and Africa and noted that social experiments conducted there obtained very different results from the ones that were conducted in North America. And where are the majority of social science experiments conducted? 70 per cent are conducted in the USA, and a huge number of those are with undergraduates. And I would argue that that is not the most typical of audiences to extrapolate data from.

With his colleagues, Heine and Norenzayan, they started applying studies more widely across different cultures and they found that over and over there was one group of people who were particularly unusual when compared with the broad population of the globe. They even called their research paper ‘The Weirdest People in the World’

And you have probably guessed by now that the weirdest people were North Americans! And yet they are the main core for global social science experiments.

They stated, “American participants are exceptional even within the unusual population of Westerners—outliers among outliers.”

They concluded that social scientists could not possibly have picked a worse population from which to draw broad generalizations about how we might all behave.

Granted, we in Australia can sometimes be more like North Americans than we’d like to admit, but we do have some distinct differences. And of course for researchers working in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, South America and the Pacific and so on, the differences will be much, much greater.

Individually, the findings of these two research projects are quite startling, but when you mix them together, they are like the Mentos in the Coke bottle that all science communicators have tried at one time or another.

For when it comes to science communication research gold standards (or even the silver, bronze and other less Olympic metal standards), we really don’t know how much science communication wisdom might not be replicable, nor how much is not relevant in other cultures than where it was undertaken. I don’t think I’m going out a limb here to say – probably quite a bit.

And just maybe that is exactly why nobody wants to talk about it!

If you want to read more on the studies, fasten your undies from a rocking, and check them out here:

http://www.psmag.com/books-and-culture/joe-henrich-weird-ultimatum-game-shaking-up-psychology-economics-53135

https://theconversation.com/we-found-only-one-third-of-published-psychology-research-is-reliable-now-what-46596

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/349/6251/aac4716

Dr Craig Cormick

President

Australian Science Communicators