Event Review: A quiet Wednesday dinner

Thank you to Amy Nisselle for her reflections on the dinner.

On Tuesday 22nd July I had the pleasure of attending a dinner hosted by ASC Vic Branch President George Aranda for visiting science communicator, Núria Elías at Artusi, Southbank. Núria was in Melbourne for the ASC’s Science Storytelling Workshop and we had a great time swapping stories about our areas of study, research and practice, plus the best places to spot Australian fauna (who knew there was a world-famous koala colony on the Great Ocean Road?!).

Núria told us about the NeuroEnhancement Responsible Research and Innovation (NERRI) program she coordinates for the Science, Communication and Society Studies Centre (SCS-UPF) at Universitate Pompeu Fabra (UPF), in her native Barcelona. I had no idea of the variety of neuroenhancements available, from pharmacological to physical to magnetic and electric, having relied solely on caffeine when writing my thesis. The NERRI program is asking Europeans their opinion about neuroenhancements – would they use them? If so, what type, under what circumstances? Our party was split. Some fervently said they’d never use anything, while others thought if they were going to use something then they’d trust magnetic stimulation in a medical setting over tablets, which is currently an unregulated industry.

Throughout the conversation we feasted on Artusi’s delicious fare, tasting each others risotto, pappardelle and tagliatelle and splitting decadent desserts. On a personal note, I was really excited to introduce my younger cousin to the ASC. Benny was in the first cohort of students at Melbourne’s John Monash Science School and is now studying Law/Commerce at uni. He said afterwards it was incredible to have dinner with such informed people and he was in awe most of the time. It was a nice reminder of something I take for granted these days – being surrounded by such learned, experienced and inspiring folks in the ASC.


Event Review: Science Storytelling Workshop

Thank you to George Aranda for the event review.

On the 16th of July ASC Victoria was delighted to host NZ Science Communicator – Elizabeth Connor, Captain of The KinShip (http://www.thekinship.co.nz), a science communication organisation that “connects science with the human side of the equation.”

Elizabeth ran a Science Storytelling Workshop with about 20 guests who included science PhDs, scientists, science communicators and educators. She took us through her story of science communication, including some great original drawings that made the story all the more enjoyable. After a break for dinner which was provided by the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre, we broke into groups examining the ways that we could elicit stories from the scientists in the group. This included using metaphors to embody those things that help and hinder scientists as they do their work; ideas for questions; the different types of ‘why’ that one can ask; and creating a positive environment for interviews. She showed videos of presenters at the start of a series of workshops and their presenting afterwards, where they had found the story in the science and could more easily communicate to the public. Overall it was a great night with lots of learning opportunities.

Some feedback about what people enjoyed:
  • Really enjoyed the group answers to questions posed in the workshop. Hearing from a number of people made the various points easier to learn
  • The “why” session.
  • Great presenter! Very likeable, interesting presentation and great knowledge/experience
  • Fun, great drawings. Loo conveyed a lot of information through her own stories. Personality really came through

Event review: The science nation

Australia’s newest public events series, The Science Nation, kicked off in May by touring the event The Storytelling of Science, which was run as a one-off event at the 2014 ASC conference, through Adelaide, Brisbane and Sydney. All three events were a big success with strong attendance, and much fun being had by both the audience and speakers.

The Science Nation series’ first event – The Storytelling of Science included the best in the nation telling their own story of science, and the stories behind the latest discoveries. From the origin of the universe to the exciting technologies that will change our future, the event was one story you definitely needed to hear.

The Science Nation is celebrating National Science Week by answering the question that has plagued mankind for centuries: which field of research is the weirdest of all? To find out coming along to The Science Nation’s second event, The Great Debate: My Research Rules, which sees eight researchers compete in a debate tournament each trying to convince the audience that they do the weirdest, wackiest, craziest research in the world. With additional rounds of improvised, audience-inspired, topics this Great Debate is 90 minutes of science & laughs that promises to be fun for people of all ages. The Great Debate: My Research Rules is being held during August in Brisbane (15th), Sydney (22nd) and Adelaide (26th).

These events grew out of a triple anniversary event held at ASC2014. The broadcast video of the event is available here.

First published Proceedings of an Australian Science Communicators Conference are now available online

Thank you to Nancy Longnecker for the update and for kindly editing the Proceedings!

Professor Nancy Longnecker – Centre for Science Communication, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand

The first published proceedings of an Australian Science Communicators conference are now available online at ASC Publications. The 200-page volume includes full papers and presentation abstracts as well as summaries of keynotes, plenaries, panel discussions, workshops, the Spectrum Science Art exhibition and other special events as a record of this noteworthy conference.

Many people played important roles in this undertaking. Authors submitted their work for review and waited patiently for the review process and publication to be completed. The Program Committee (Claire Harris, Kali Madden, Nancy Longnecker and Jesse Shore) went through each abstract and proposal submitted and allocated all those accepted to thematic strands to strengthen coherence of sessions at the conference.

Without reviewers, there is no peer review process and thanks for reviewing efforts go to Emma Bartle, Jenny Donovan, Jean Fletcher, Mzamose Gondwe, Will Grant, Nancy Longnecker, Jennifer Manyweather, Vicky Martin, Jenni Metcalfe, John O’Connor, Lindy Orthia, Will Rifkin and Miriam Sullivan.

Editing the ASC2014 Proceedings was my parting gift to ASC after almost two decades of membership. Editing any volume is a big but satisfying job. Incorporation of a research stream at the ASC conference and production of a peer-reviewed conference proceedings are ways to enhance the rigour of science communication for both practitioners and theorists. I am proud to have helped make this conference proceedings a reality and am happy to share what I learned with the next editors.

While many hands make lighter work, production of an edited volume is a substantial job and it was a relief when we finally published this. So why bother? For me personally, belonging to ASC shaped my career and this was a chance to give back to the ASC community. It has been extremely satisfying to be a member and to contribute to ASC in a variety of ways over the years. The small band of friends and colleagues who helped revive the WA branch in the mid-naughties and those on the Executive at that time taught me a great deal as have those who contributed to production of this volume.

Using a peer review process in publishing means that these papers are scholarly publications as  defined by the Australian Government’s audit standards. The full papers ‘count’ as a publication category E1 for those who record publications as a performance indicator. The research abstracts in this publication satisfy the requirements for publication category E2.

So what? As science communicators, we know that peer-reviewed articles are not the be-all and end-all of good communication. Yet for all its flaws, the peer-review system is still widely regarded as providing an important source of credible information.

Given there are so many alternative mechanisms to communicate, why do academics and other researchers remain so fixated on publishing peer-reviewed papers? It is important for our employers and in turn, they ensure it is important to us as individuals by rewarding publishing via the promotion process.

Most of us would agree that this is not a great mechanism. But the rules of the game we play in are that organisational publication tally is one thing that determines the size of slice of the university funding pie that individual universities get from government (at least in Australia and New Zealand). This funding is substantial at a research intensive university. While funding for one publication is small, it adds up. The financial reward for publications in a large research department can be enough to fund a full-time salary each year.

We can try to change the rules, but the maxim to publish or perish is likely to be with us for at least the remainder of my career. Publication of the ASC2014 proceedings has enabled some early career science communication researchers to add to their CVs. In addition to the value to authors on their CVs, readers will find value in papers and abstracts in the proceedings.

The papers in this volume touch on current critical issues such as risk communication, science and art collaboration and use of social media to support the community of science communication. Research students invest months of dedicated work into writing research proposals and literature reviews. Half of the full, peer-reviewed papers in this volume fall into this category. It can be difficult to find an appropriate place to publish these types of reviews since they usually do not contain ‘new’ results. Yet, literature reviews and synopses often synthesise a great deal of current work and can contain insights that are useful to other science communicators. Happy reading!

The citation for this resource is:

Longnecker, C. Harris & K. Madden. (Eds.). 2015. Proceedings of the Australian Science Communicators National Conference. 2–5 Feb, 2014, Brisbane. www.asc.asn.au/publications/


Neural knitworks: craft a healthy brain

Thank you to Jackie Randles for the update.

Neural Knitworks, the collaborative project about mind and brain health, was first on show last August at the Hazelhurst Regional Gallery during National Science Week. A giant, walk in brain sculpture made from more than 1600 knitted, crocheted and woven brain cells donated from all over Australia was created by textile artists Pat Pillai and Rita Pearce.

Many other neuron-inspired artworks from delicate crotched neurons to jewellery and sculpture accompanied the impressive brain installation that was the centerpiece of this exhibition seem by thousands of visitors over a three-week period.

So far Neural Knitworks has seen dozens of knit-ins held across the country at which people of all ages and abilities get together to create textile neurons and find out about neuroscience at the same time from guest presenters. The project’s aim is to encourage community members to learn about neuroscience as they have some fun with yarn craft and reap the benefits that it can bring – in particular mindfulness, creativity, learning something new and being with others. Take up of this grass roots initiative has been sensational, with more than 12000 people visiting the Neural Knitworks webpage in the project’s first 6 months.

In 2015 Neural Knitworks continues and all are encouraged to get involved!

This year we’re encouraging people everywhere to create a brain installation in their own community. We need as much help as we can get to spread the word and inspire people to have a go. Scientifically informed patterns and installation ideas are available on the National Science Week website so that everyone can enjoy the experience of yarn craft in a group.

It’s a great way for people of all ages to learn about the billions of neurons in our bodies that save memories, send electrical signals to every muscle and receive signals from every sense. The best thing about this community art/science project is that everyone can get hands on with knitting neurons no matter their age or level of competence.

Rita and Pat have enjoyed running yarn craft sessions with Dementia sufferers and we’ve had wonderful neurons donated from knit ins held at kindergardens, age care facilities, universities and schools. No knit patterns are especially popular with those of us who cannot yet knit or crotchet and participants have ways to make other brain cell like astrocytes. A group has even begun making footy neurons to raise awareness of brain injury in sport.

Not surprisingly, the project has been popular with neuroscientists, attracting support from luminaries like Professor Ian Hickie, Director of the Brain and Mind Research Institute and brain surgeon Dr Charlie Teo, who each led knit ins that were covered by the media last year. Pat and Rita have been invited to present at international brain imaging conferences and will be heading to Brisbane later this year to lead a knit in at QUT with Queensland based neuroscientists.

We anticipate that many more brain experts will again join knit ins this year and to promote important brain health messages in the community. There are many angles that can be explored, from adolescent brains and ageing through to addiction, dementia, brain injury, depression and more. Why not get a group together and invite a brain expert to join you at a knit in? We need your help to keep this national neural network thriving and look forward to seeing your creations on Facebook where you can join us here. https://www.facebook.com/groups/648068261927343/

Congratulations to artists Pat Pillai and Rita Pearce who have been so successful in bringing community members together with leading neuroscientists and brain health experts. What a fantastic and inspiring science communication success story!

Jackie Randles is Manager, Inspiring Australia (NSW). Neural Knitworks is supported by the Brain and Mind Research Institute, Alzheimer’s Australia, ANSTO, Inspiring Australia (NSW), National Science Week, the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing, Hazelhurst Regional Gallery and Arts Centre, Gymea Tradies, Your Brain Health and Carringbah Lions Club. Find out more on the National Science Week website at www.scienceweek.net.au/neuralknitworks



Unsung Hero of Science Communication Award 2014 announcement

Thanks to Sarah Lau for the award announcement round up.

Recently, we celebrated the best and brightest of Australian Science Communication at the Unsung Hero award presentation ceremony in Sydney.

The ASC created the Unsung Hero award to honour a person or group who exemplifies science communication and who has not yet received significant recognition for their contributions.

Frankie Lee was crowned as the 2014 winner, in recognition of her diverse, creative and wide-reaching efforts in science communication across the country.

Frankie has worked tirelessly to engage audiences in science by managing varied and unusual science communication projects in Sydney and around Australia. She was recognised for her work in developing the careers of emerging science communicators through connecting them with events and media opportunities.

Whilst Frankie has been instrumental in many of Australia’s highest profile science communication programs, her work is nearly always behind the scenes – facilitating, coordinating and mentoring. It was for this reason that the panel considered Frankie to be the definition of ‘unsung’ in creating and promoting excellent science communication in Australia.

Frankie’s full citation from the judging panel and ASC President, Associate Professor Joan Leach, is included below.

The judging panel was impressed with the calibre of nominations and also selected two highly commended finalists for recognition – Dr Shane Huntington, from the University of Melbourne and broadcaster on 3RRR’s Einstein-a-Go-Go program and Jeannie-Marie LeRoi from the University of Tasmania.

Shane is a true all-rounder in science communication, whether exploring science via radio interviews, implementing science outreach programs with schools or developing partnerships to support scientific research. Shane’s dedication to quality science communication, coupled with his community spirit, is evident in the quality of his work and the extent of his contributions.

27 years, Jeannie-Marie has initiated, developed, co-ordinated and supported a diversity of education and engagement programs. These have spanned student programs, community engagement, government relations, teacher professional learning and science-arts collaborations. Jeannie-Marie’s work has been extensive and she has made an extraordinary contribution within Tasmania and across Australia.



FRANKIE LEE is honoured as the 2014 Unsung Hero of Australian Science Communication for her significant contribution to science promotion.

Frankie has worked tirelessly to engage audiences in science by managing varied and unusual science communication projects in Sydney and around Australia. She is also recognised for her work in developing the careers of emerging science communicators through connecting them with events and media opportunities.

As a project manager across a number of science communication projects, Frankie is creative and sets up science communication in unusual settings, ranging from the Woodford folk festival to online ‘weather detectives’.

Frankie’s ability to monitor trends in science and seek opportunities for effective science communication is reflected in her involvement with the ‘I F***ing Love Science Live’ and ‘Science Alert – Space Oddity’ events. In both instances, Frankie worked tirelessly to secure interesting local and international talent, creating successful events that achieved significant attendance and media coverage. Frankie has played a huge part in bringing science to the forefront in Australia and ‘making science cool’ for different and unexpected audiences.

During her time with the ABC, Frankie was the driving powerhouse behind the ABC’s successful science outreach programs. She worked with scientists, broadcaster and ABC staff to produce creative science programs which highlighted the work of the scientists involved, engaged high school students and promoted a range of science events.

Frankie is a founding member of the Ultimo Science Festival (a partnership between Powerhouse Museum, ABC, University of Technology Sydney and TAFE Ultimo) and project manages many of the events as part of the festival, having been involved since its creation in 2006. Frankie has also project managed Science in the Pub across Australia, contributed to the genre of science comedy with the Science Comedy night at Ultimo Science Festival and the series of “That’ll Learn You” at Giant Dwarf Theatre, Redfern in late 2014.

Frankie works with many well-known as well as new science communicators to produce events on radio, television and live events. Frankie puts science communicators in the spotlight while staying behind the scenes. She is the brain behind the operation, curating inspiring and engaging science events and bringing science communicators to the forefront. She makes science communicators shine by ensuring that they are taken care of and that events run without a glitch.

Over the course of her extensive and diverse career, Frankie has made many significant contributions, but nearly always behind the scenes. It is for this reason the panel considers Frankie to be the definition of ‘unsung’ in creating and promoting excellent science communication in Australia.

Associate Professor Joan Leach

President, Australian Science Communicators





JEANNIE-MARIE LEROI is recognised as a highly commended finalist in the 2014 Unsung Hero of Australian Science Communication.

Over the last 27 years, Jeannie-Marie has initiated, developed, co-ordinated and supported a diversity of education and engagement programs. These have spanned student programs, community engagement, government relations, teacher professional learning and science-arts collaborations. Working primarily in Tasmania, Jeannie-Marie’s work has been extensive and she has made an extraordinary contribution across a wide range of activities.

Jeannie-Marie’s background in marine microalgal research has provided a strong scientific platform, whilst her creativity has contributed to new ways to inform and engage. Her commitment to improving community knowledge of local science research and career pathways has informed many successful programs and collaborations. She has excelled at pitching science communication activities, securing support and funding at the state and national levels.

In her current role managing marketing and engagement activities across the Faculty of Science, Engineering & Technology at UTAS, Jeannie-Marie works with internal and external partners on a range of mutually beneficial science education and engagement programs.

Under her leadership, Jeannie-Marie has helped develop the National Science Week program in Tasmania, expanding the number of events from 35 in 2001 to over 160 in 2013, with participation rates each year as the highest per capita of any state. Jeannie-Marie is currently the Chair of NSWk Tasmanian Co-ordinating Committee and member of the IA state partnerships with Questacon and DEDTA.

Jeannie-Marie initiated the Young Tassie Scientist program in 2003, which involves early career researchers in an interactive presentation program for Tasmania, focussing on regional and rural areas. This program has reached thousands of people in Tasmania and has helped the scientists share their work. She has also initiated and led a number of professional development programs for teachers, securing funding to establish targeted learning opportunities to support teacher skill development. These activities led to the establishment of the UTAS Graduate Certificate in Science Education in conjunction with the Faculty of Education.

Jeannie-Marie is committed to promoting the values of science as a career – and why we need scientists – challenging the commonly-held stereotype of scientists, and increasing the awareness of the importance of science in our society.

Associate Professor Joan Leach

President, Australian Science Communicators





DR SHANE HUNTINGTON is recognised as a highly commended finalist in the 2014 Unsung Hero of Australian Science Communication.

Shane is a true all-rounder in science communication who works across a variety of media, a range of scientific fields, and targets a diverse range of audiences.

In his capacity broadcasting on 3RRR’s Einstein-a-Go-Go program, Shane has interviewed over 1000 scientists and communicated a variety of scientific concepts. Over the past 21 years, he has championed science, scrutinised bad science, and invited listeners into the discussion of where science is taking us.

As the Medicine, Science and Engineering host of Melbourne University’s Up Close podcast program, Shane hosted more than 1000 episodes, helping scientists and engineers tell their stories through in-depth interviews.

All of these activities are above and beyond Shane’s full-time role as Executive Officer (Strategy) to the Dean of the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences. In this role, Shane advocates for researchers across the faculty, building important linkages with hospitals and other partner organisations and supports the development of the Faculty as a vibrant and successful research hub.

Along with Professor Rachel Webster, Shane founded, conceived and funded the Telescopes in Schools program, drawing on his background in physics and passion for astronomy. This program places research-grade telescopes into secondary schools in Melbourne. The schools targeted by the program are local government schools, predominantly in areas of socio-economic disadvantage. Through the program, students have access to a research-grade telescope, along with on-going training and outreach evenings that help to foster an interest in science at these schools. This program has now reached thousands of students.

Shane has also conducted communications training for hundreds of students and early career researchers over the last 10 years, and MCs numerous science communication events.

Shane’s dedication to quality science communication, coupled with his community spirit, is evident in the quality of his work and the extent of his contributions.

Associate Professor Joan Leach

President, Australian Science Communicators


President’s update

Thank you to Joan Leach for the update!

Not enough happening?

At our last National Council meeting, the representatives from our branches gave a bit of an overview of the activities that have been going on around Australia. There are science and film nights, cafe scientifiques, professional development meetings, networking and speed networking events, and even awards nights (check out our Unsung Heroes!) as we recognise each other’s strengths. It is pretty amazing the volume and quality of activities that are designed to support and develop us as science communicators. To add to that, I was just in Sydney for the Inspiring Australia Engagement Summit. There, I heard about what IA officers are doing to interact with ASC professionals and encourage keen volunteers in their local communities to give science communication ‘a go’. It’s impressive. Very occasionally, someone grumbles to me that ‘there is not enough happening’ in science communication. I’ve always given such grumbles short shrift but I think what is really being said is that ‘there is so much happening, it’s hard to characterise’. And, that’s different. I’ve also been inspired by the ways in which ASC members have characterised it themselves—for example, AUSSCM just launched SciMEX to be a hub for experts to tell their stories about Australian science (and review others!), the RiAus has launched their own digital channel, and the Australian Academy of Science has re-launched NOVA (a website with a wealth of digital content). And, I’ve sat at a table with ASC members from each of these organisations who clearly characterised what makes these different, but very complementary efforts to improve the availability and quality of digital science content. Not enough happening? No way. And, ASC members are also good at characterising the wealth of what they produce.

Soft power of science communication

One of the most stimulating discussions at the Sydney IA summit was had with colleagues from DFAT (I don’t usually get to write such things) about science diplomacy. Usually this refers to scientists in one country working with scientists from another to achieve a larger goal (the SKA or other big international science project). But, then, what is scienceinpublic doing when it puts out “Stories of Australian Science 2015”? Isn’t this a kind of science communication diplomacy, with science communicators making conversations among industry and governments in different countries possible? I’d say it is. So, it was so rewarding to find that colleagues at DFAT immediately saw a value in science communication in the cultural diplomacy area. Another thing that science communicators do—they are cultural ambassadors. I’m actually very keen on collecting examples of this from around Australia. So, if you think your organisation is doing this, please give me a shout by email.

Soft launch of STEM consultation

You may have missed it; I nearly did!  However, as you see in this month’s SCOPE, there is an open consultation on “Vision for a Science Nation”. ASC needs to make a contribution here—there is a lot in this paper about science engagement and that is great.  I think we need to underscore our value,  remind government about our continuing professional contributions to ’the science nation’, and even talk about how we’ve used the national strategy, Inspiring Australia, for good. I’m also keen to represent members views.  I’ll put a note on LinkedIn where you can comment or just email me on j.leach@uq.edu.au. But don’t wait, consultation is over at the end of July so I’d like to get your views by the 20th.

Event review: National Science Week Event Holders’ Meeting

Thanks to Bonnie Murthy and Anneliese Gillard for the event review.

National Science Week is Australia’s biggest science festival. During the National Science Week Event Holders’ Meeting, the Victorian committee provided background about the event from previous years, including key successful events, and provided an overview of 2015’s plans.

Nine Victorian groups have received grant support for their events in 2015, and the meeting aimed to help cross-pollinate information and ideas between event holders. A few of the grant-holders spoke about the events they will be hosting during the National Science Week in Victoria-

  • Representative from IEEE Women in Engineering announced that they will be running Energized Fashion Show– a wearable technology fashion runway and hands on workshops exploring various applications of wearable technology in fashion, healthcare, occupational safety and many other fields.
  • Ricketts Point in Brighton will be hold nine days of marine science activities engaging community members of all age groups. Marine Education and Science Centre at Ricketts Point will be a multi-use, environmentally friendly facility, redeveloped at Beaumaris Yacht Club just in time for National Science Week.
  • Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI), whose many and varied activities for National Science Week coincide with WEHI’s Centenary 2015, celebrating its 100 year anniversary. One key event that is part of Centenary 2015 is a free Art of Science exhibition that is open to the public in The Atrium at Federation Square. Other information about Centenary 2015 can be found here.
  • Representative from University of Melbourne announced an Astronomy and Light Festival for National Science Week with an aim to bring science to the western suburbs of Melbourne. The event will showcase current research in the field, host talks by local leading researchers, hands-on demonstrations, telescope observing, planetarium and light room shows, and more.

The committee was firm in reiterating that inspiring Australia is particularly keen for this festival. There is a strong focus on engaging people who don’t consider themselves the usual consumers of science.

National Science Week website provides a tool kit for those interested in holding events throughout the festival and can be found here. There is encouragement and support provided from the National Science Week committee.

Australian Science Communicators encourages everyone to get out there and take part in #NatSciWk and encourage your friends and family to do so too. ASC will also help promote your events on ASC’s social channels.

You can stay up-to-date with National Science Week through following channels:
Website: http://www.scienceweek.net.au
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nationalscienceweek
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Aus_ScienceWeek or #NatSciWk


Book review: D’harawal

Thank you to Denis Warne for the book review.

We are accustomed to science communication being the depiction of scientific concepts, by the scientific community for an external party. There are, however, instances where it is the conventional scientific community that needs to do the listening. There are also communication lessons to be learnt from ways in which others convey science-related knowledge. Both situations apply in the growing recognition of Aboriginal peoples’ valuable knowledge of the Australian landscape and climate, and the environmental management strategies embedded in their culture.

D’harawal Climate and Natural Resources is a compilation of such knowledge of the D’harawal people. D’harawal country extends south from Sydney Harbour to the Shoalhaven River. The compilation represents methodical research by Frances Bodkin who is both an Aboriginal knowledge holder and a “Western” trained scientist. Her expressed motivation is “proving that the Australian Aboriginal people possess cultures that are … based on the scientific premise of observation and experience, and the results recorded, through stories, in the memories of future generations.” In short, here is a body of scientifically relevant knowledge, spanning a long history. It comprises much more than simple observational facts, extending into effective management and conservation practices. If we let ourselves go there, it also embraces alternative environmental values.

As with seasonal calendars published elsewhere, climate can serve to bridge the cultural gap. Everyone can talk about the weather – it is a tangible common ground that helps make knowledge comprehensible. Bodkin goes further than most calendars. She addresses climatic cycles beyond the annual cycle in some detail. She also delves into subject matter where cultural practice may have lessons for scientific management of the environment.

Four primary cycles are documented: the daily cycle, the annual cycle (comprising six seasons), the Mudong cycle (spanning 11–12 years beginning with “the appearance of the Southern Aurora over D’harawal lands”), and the Garuwanga cycle with four seasons encompassing historical knowledge of long-term climate change – stories which may have significance in this era of climate change. Additionally, of particular interest to those involved in land and biodiversity management, Bodkin describes fire management, through both annual and Mudong cycles, and management of special places such as the Wirrimbirra, or sanctuaries, which played a role in species conservation.

For scientists concerned with the natural world, how can they learn from this body of knowledge which is expressed in ways to which they may be unaccustomed? There are cultural differences. Indigenous knowledge is always in a holistic context, it is not compartmenalised into scientific disciplines, nor even are social implications separated from the science. Bodkin shows us many instances of this and demonstrates how the cultural embodiment provides the means of both knowledge preservation and application of sustainable management practices. The knowledge is not expressed as abstract models but as stories told in appropriate context. Little is numerically expressed – nothing occurs on strict dates but in response to environmental circumstance. If you wished to date the historical sweep of the Garuwanga cycle, the stories would need to be correlated with science from other sources. Clearly effort is required on the part of the scientific audience.

Bodkin’s work like many seasonal calendars has proven popular – it has been discussed on ABC radio, depicted on the Bureau of Meteorology’s Indigenous Knowledge website, and underpinned a major project of Sydney’s VIVID Light festival 2012. For the science communicator, there are lessons to be learnt from the tools of Aboriginal communication of knolwedge: story told in tangible context, cultural integration, and artwork.

The book is short and Lorraine Robertson’s illustrations have made it a work of beauty. However, it can challenge the thinking of both natural scientists and science communicators.


Book details:

D’harawal Climate and Natural Resources
Compiled by Frances Bodkin
Illustrated by Lorraine Robertson
Published 2013 by Envirobook, Sussex Inlet, NSW

Can We Teach Science with Fiction?

I’m a scientist. But over these past few years, I’ve discovered that I’m a writer, too. This side of myself surprised me, though it really shouldn’t have—if you’d asked me when I was 6 or 8 or 11 years old what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d have said “writer.” But then around Grade 8, I did a project on whale communication and somehow ended up becoming an ecologist studying birds, frogs and marsupials. That’s how it happens, I guess.

As an undergrad, I never realised how much of science is writing. I envisioned a career of exotic fieldwork and experimental design and gel-running, and although I do those things from time to time, I spend most of my working life (the part not feeding marsupials or cleaning their poo, anyway) reading and writing. Publishing papers, applying for grants, reporting to stakeholders—these are jobs that must be done and done well to succeed in science. In fact, there are countless metrics to calculate your scientific value based on how much you publish, where you publish and how many times your work has been cited by others in research papers, on Twitter, or in the media. So yes, I’m a writer.

But I have to admit, academic papers sucked the soul out of me and any desire to read and write I may have harboured. Between 2004–2007, I don’t think I read anything that wasn’t a journal article (except maybe the Harry Potters), and I’m pretty sure that every chapter in my PhD thesis started with the same sentence. This was not the creative, inspired writing that I’d dreamed of as a child. So when my daughter was born and I had a few years away from university life, I reacquainted myself with fiction. I read books for pleasure – stories that had nothing to do with the metabolic constraints of tadpoles or the jumping performance of metamorphic frogs. Stories that nonetheless affected me, made me see the world differently, gave me perspective. I also began writing my own stories and blogging regularly.

Now that was reading; that was writing.

I returned to academic life in 2013, but I’m not the same scientist that I was before. Now, I look for evocative, clever word usage in whatever I’m reading, and writing and editing has become one of my favourite parts of the job. But I’m not satisfied with just that. What I want to know is, can we use fiction to:

  1. improve science writing and
  2. teach science itself?

Most undergraduate and post-graduate science programs teach basic academic and essay writing, but reading and discussing fiction could show students what it is that makes great stories great – engaging and memorable. Writing fiction can give students the writing practice that’s critical for improvement and encourage them to approach ideas from different angles. I think we can teach important scientific concepts through stories, too; and no, not just science fiction stories. I’m interested in the idea that science might be integrated into stories just like spinach can be baked into chocolate brownies (yes, it’s possible!)—I love science, and I also love spinach, but I recognise that not everyone feels that way.

On a physical level, learning happens when information is gathered from the environment and placed into context, producing a lasting change in the brain. In other words – learning requires that we comprehend and that we remember. Like other art forms, fiction uses analogy and example to link information with emotion, encouraging viewers to see the same information in a different way and in the context of the human experience. Students learn better when they’re interested in the subject matter and when they see how it relates to them and their world (but particularly to them). In this regard, fiction is entertaining, and gives ideas and information a wider vantage that encourages emotional connection and big-thinking. As a supplement to traditional forms of science teaching, I think fiction could motivate, inspire and augment learning in young scientists.

Thank you to the ASC for awarding me a 2014 Professional Development grant, which supported my enrolment in an online fiction writing course through Stanford University. The 10-week course was exceptional. I learned the fundamentals of good writing (plot, character, point of view), but most importantly, I gained valuable feedback on my own short fiction. I hope to get some of my creative work published this year—and yes, it’s chock full of science.