Science in a glossy mag? Tell ‘em they’re dreaming

Thank you to Sarah Keenihan for preparing this piece.

There’s no doubting Professor Rob Morrison’s science communication credentials. With more than 40 years of experience as a broadcaster and author, he has also won many national and international awards. In 2002 he received the Eureka Prize for Critical Thinking and the Michael Daley award for science journalism. In 2004 he was awarded an Order of Australia Medal, in 2007 a Eureka Prize for Science Promotion and in 2005 the South Australian Premier’s Award for Excellence in Science Communication. In 2008 he was South Australian Senior Australian of the Year (see this RiAUS profile for more).

As members of the Australia Science Communicators and active consumers of science, many of us already know this. But what about the rest of the world? Sure, they’ve seen Rob as one of the starring duo in The Curiosity Show. But other than that, how would they come across the guy? Indeed – to take it further – how do most Aussies even read about science, just as something interesting to consider and perhaps reflect on?

To my great surprise, I stumbled across science and Rob in an unexpected setting during my 2014 Easter holiday reading. Lounging in a sunny spot at the bottom of South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula, I noticed Rob was the subject of the regular “One Hour With” interview segment in the Autumn edition of the glossy Adelaide Hills Magazine. Adelaide journalist Lainie Anderson asked him about his history with The Curiosity Show, touched on the place of science and technology in Australian life and explored his role as an expert witness in the Azaria Chamberlain Royal Commission (he contributed evidence relating to how wide a dingo can open its jaws, in case you were wondering).

When I purchased my Winter edition of the magazine a couple of months later, there he was again! This time he presented his own article. With the title ‘Gone – and almost forgotten’, the piece described the loss of native mammals from the Adelaide Hills due to habitat destruction and the introduction of feral predators.

As a former scientist and lover of science communication, this made me very happy. Somebody outside of science was actually publishing this stuff for a general readership.

But how did this happen? Was it a deliberate choice to feature science amongst the other stories? Did the magazine see a desire for such articles in its customers? I was keen to find out more, so I contacted the editor of the Adelaide Hills Magazine, Max Anderson. I had met Max at a workshop he ran at the SA Writers Centre in late 2013. I started off by asking him about the magazine itself, which has a readership of more than 10, 000 both in and out of the region.

“Adelaide Hills Magazine is a glossy regional mag focused on the Adelaide Hills,” he explained. “That however comes with a qualifier: the features we run are firmly rooted in a wider context. From an editorial point of view I aim to run features that would satisfy or interest anyone anywhere in Australia.”

The fact that Rob lives in the Adelaide Hills factored into his initial inclusion in the mag, but it soon went way further than that.

“Rob was suggested to us as a perfect ‘One Hour With’” said Max. “He was well known to South Australians for his work on the ABC and — as it transpired — had a remarkable trove of experiences and stories that most people knew nothing about.”

So was science a sellable part of Rob’s appeal? Max said yes.

“I reckon sharing a story is a colourful way of making a case,” he told me. “Science makes great stories and brilliant, often demonstrable, cases. Climate science, environmental science, social science, the science of electric cars and how to train a chicken; what’s not to like?!”

Of course I agree. I wanted to get Rob’s thoughts on the matter as well, so sent him a quick email with some questions. He admits he was initially quite surprised to be of interest to a glossy publication.

“Before having anything to do with Adelaide Hills Magazine, I would have thought it was a lifestyle publication,” he wrote. “I am impressed with their scientific inclusions, and not surprised any longer to see that they seem to have a pretty strong interest in such material.”

So is it important that science pops up in the general media like this? “Extremely important,” Rob stated. “Science should be as much a part of the spectrum of civilised people’s interests as art, music and politics. We have let it become a specialised topic that people don’t always feel they can embrace as they do these other subjects. We need it back among the ‘dining room’ conversations, and that will only happen if it is as much a part of everyday media as the many other subjects that one expects to find there.”

I’m completely with Rob. (In fact, his thoughts reminded me of similar words I chose in a review of The Curious Country which I performed for George Aranda’s excellent website Science Book a Day).

Adelaide Hills Magazine has recently published its Spring edition. Once again, science features among its panel of articles. The first is a piece on climate change, including an interview with BOM scientist Darren Ray (also an ASC member) and anecdotes relating to how warming and water access is impacting on producers in the region (I wrote this particular article). The second looks at a local chess grand master, who is working with children on the autism spectrum. In Max’s words, “It’s a story with science lurking discreetly at the edges – and hopefully it’s packaged in a way to make people connect.”

I believe this idea of connection is a key one. If we can help people find a way to relate to science, offer them a ‘foot in the door’ so to speak, then maybe one day they might be prepared to become advocates for science. Or at the very least not reject it on political and social grounds.

Rob describes the problem thus: “We are now in a lamentable position where science is politicised (evolution, climate change, genetically modified food, vaccinations) on almost every topic, with more and more people who have no science taking increasingly dogmatic and scientifically unfounded positions because it suits their beliefs or lifestyles.”

Can featuring science in popular publications help to counter this? I say yes.

Should we as a society be looking out for publications that support the general relevance of science? Again, my answer is in the affirmative.

And what do I actually do with my science-containing copies of glossy magazines? Straight to the pool room, of course.





President’s update

Thank you to Joan Leach for the President’s update.

This month, I participated in a debate at the RiAus on genetic modification (sponsored by the Waite Research Institute at Uni Adelaide)—not whether we should be doing it or its dangers or potentials—but how we should carry out conversations about it in public. During the course of the debate, I was reminded that the first Australian consensus conference on gene technology in the food chain was held 15 years ago. Do you remember what you thought of GM in 1999? It also reminded me that I was living in London at the time and that the GM tomato controversy was raging in the supermarket aisles, food-borne illness from listeria was stoking anxiety and Mad Cow was around the corner. The debate in Adelaide was an interesting indication of how far we’ve come and, well, how far we need to go.

The affirmative team was arguing “The GM debate should only be about the science” and the team was staffed with eminent Australian scientists working on various forms of GM.  They tried to argue that scientists should stay out of public debate and leave it to the professionals—science communicators. They tried, but couldn’t really do it with a straight face. Every member of that team had worked with a science communicator, a few had media training from ASC members, and all reflected that effective science communication was a real partnership  between science and communicators. That’s a fair move from 1999.  For the debate, I was on the negative team arguing, of course, “The GM debate should NOT only be about the science.” It’s a position I believe as a communicator and something we probably share in the ASC community. Whether or not you like or loathe GM, various values, legal intuitions, views on social justice, are going to come into the conversation and they should.

What was perplexing to me, though, is that because I was arguing to pay attention to various values and the context of science, some people in the audience assumed I was anti-GM or assumed that I thought values should always trump the science in conversation. Here’s where we still have some way to go, then. It still seems that there is a assumption that “social” values are at odds with “science” and that “social” and “science” are antonyms. They are not. Scientists have values, too. And, there are social contexts where science trumps everything else. So, creating a context where values can be discussed openly, even when those values are about scientific things, still seems elusive.

Unbelievably, it’s time for the ASC AGM. We’re planning to have it in Canberra on 5 December. If you can’t get to our nation’s capital for this event, ASC is planning to stream proceedings so consider putting a ‘save the date’ in your diary and checking in on the AGM online.  As always, if there are issues you’d like to discuss, drop me a line.

Stories from the Interview Booth—A disease of poverty

Stories from the Interview Booth showcases some of the most interesting tales presented at the #ASC14 Conference Interview Booth. Thank you to Michelle Wheeler for sharing these stories!

Since being diagnosed with rheumatic heart disease at the age of seven, Carlisa Willika has had four major heart operations.

The 13-year-old has a mechanical heart valve, takes daily blood-thinning medication, requires penicillin injections every 28 days and can’t play contact sport.

Sadly, rheumatic heart disease is preventable.

“It’s a disease of poverty so in most developed countries it doesn’t exist any more,” RHD Australia communications officer Emmanuelle Clarke said.

“In Australia rheumatic heart disease is most common among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and unfortunately most of the cases occur in children between five and 14 years old.”


Pic credit: An RHD Australia doctor supporting rheumatic heart disease control programs – Emmanuelle Clarke.

Ms Clarke faces a tough job communicating information about a disease that affects almost no one in big cities and developed areas.

Doctors and nurses coming from urban areas can misdiagnose rheumatic heart disease and the fact that most sufferers live in remote communities presents a unique set of challenges.

Acute rheumatic fever is caused by the streptococcus bacteria and enters the body through skin sores or the throat.

Ms Clarke said people usually suffer from aches and swollen joints and the disease causes permanent damage to the valves of the heart.

“Once someone has had an episode of acute rheumatic fever, they usually get it again and again unless they receive penicillin injections every 28 days,” she said.

“With each episode it causes more damage to the valves of the heart, which ends up being rheumatic heart disease.”

Ms Clarke said the condition is linked to poor hygiene and overcrowding in houses.

She said rheumatic heart disease can halve a person’s life expectancy and those dying were often young people in their most productive years.

“I’ve heard a story of a young man playing football in a remote community and dying in the middle of the football game due to a heart attack as a result of rheumatic heart disease,” Ms Clarke said.

According to an Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report, 98 per cent of cases of acute rheumatic fever in the Northern Territory are in people of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent and 58 per cent occur in children between five and 14 years old.


Navigating the Animation Process (Part 1 of 5 – Initial Briefing)

Navigating Animation 1

From concept to screen, getting the best results.

by Adrian King (Animation/visual–fx producer, designer & artist)

I presented this material at a workshop at the ASC Conference 2014 in Brisbane. Some positive feedback has prompted me to write a condensed summary for ASC members who couldn’t attend. I hope you find it useful.

Creative processes can be described as the series of decisions required to turn something imagined into something tangible. This might sound like magic, and to some it is, but how do we learn to get the best results from the process? Every decision starts with a question, so the best way to get the best results from any process is to have a firm grasp of the language of the process. Fortunately we can break the process down into a bite size chunks that de-mystify or decode it. This is what we need, and exactly what I‘ll be doing with this series of articles on Navigating the Animation Process.

I like to break down the entire process into 5 stages, each of which has a number of key processes and assets. In this first article we’ll take a quick overview and then look closely at stage 1. Stay tuned for stages 2–5 in subsequent articles.

The Stages

  1. Initial Briefing
  2. Concept & Script Development
  3. Design
  4. Production
  5. Delivery

Stages 1–3 are your planning stages. Stage 4 is where most of the costs are incurred. It’s essential to get stages 1–3 right in order to avoid hidden costs or wasted time and energy down the track. Just like building a house.


  • Make the primary goal of the first 3 stages to ensure that only minor creative decisions remain to be made during stage 4.
  • The more major creative decisions remain once you enter stage 4, the higher the risk of disappointment!

Let’s have a deeper look at each of the 5 stages…

1. Initial Briefing

It all starts with an idea, a little spark of imagination, some neural activity forging new pathways in the brain. But how do we get this out of our heads and onto the screen? First step – put it on paper. You need to go on a quest! Ask yourself questions (the challenges) and speak, write, draw, or act out the answers. Go on – have fun with it!

The first thing I ask when someone enquires about producing some animation is how well defined is the brief? Most producers, including myself, will spend some time facilitating an enquiry process with a client to define these (free of charge) until we get to a point where we can provide an estimation or quotation of costs of the next three stages. We need the brief to be well defined in order to provide accurate costs. We love clients who come armed with well defined briefs!

The goal of this phase is to turn those sparks of imagination into a well-defined written brief consisting of as much of the following essential and preferred information as possible. A good animation producer will be able to help you achieve this if you don’t have it already.


  • Title (or working title)
  • 1 sentence description
  • 1 paragraph summary
  • 1 page synopsis
  • Audience/demographics
  • Purpose/intention
  • Date required by
  • Duration
  • Media platform(s) where it will be shown

Preferred (and sometimes essential)

  • List of core messages
  • A list of all stakeholders/agencies involved, and their interest in the outcome
  • Sequence/timing requirements (if available)
  • List of characters (if required)
  • Voice over and dialogue requirements (if required)
  • Related or associated campaigns
  • Any creative material (sketches, designs or writing) already developed for work (if available)

In most cases, armed with a well-defined written brief, we can then provide an accurate cost for the entire project (Stages 2, 3 & 4). However sometimes we need to complete stages 2 or 3 in order to provide an accurate quote for the stage 4 (Production). In that case we would provide an accurate quotation for stages 2 & 3 (Concept/script development & Design) and a close estimation for stage 4. After stage 2–3 that estimation can then be firmed up to provide an accurate quotation.

If the client provides a budget constraint, the results of stages 2 & 3 can be tailored to ensure the production costs match the budget, which can help speed up the process.


  • Write down all the essential information for the initial brief.
  • Include as much as possible of the preferred information.
  • Expect a good animation producer to help you during this stage by asking questions that will help you define the brief.


  • The written brief (aka the scope of work)

Next month we’ll continue the journey with stage 2 (Concept/Script Development).

Till then…

Adrian King (Animation/visual–fx producer, designer & artist)

(PS: You can send any questions you’d like answered about the animation process by logging in and leaving a comment below, or contact me directly at

Stories from the Interview Booth at #ASC14—They had to run, run, run…

Stories from the Interview Booth showcases some of the most interesting tales presented at the #ASC14 Conference Interview Booth. Thank you to Michelle Wheeler for sharing these stories!

If you were at the ASC14 conference dinner, you’ll know Scottish palaeontologist Professor Flint as a man of brilliant lyrics and tunes you can’t get out of your head.

You’ll know he’s a little eccentric, passionate about the Australian story and has the kind of energy that gets hundreds of science communicators on their feet doing dinosaur actions.

But you might not realise Professor Flint’s creator Michael Mills has been on real fossil digs, spent time hanging out with one of the inspirations for Jurassic Park’s Alan Grant character and calls some of Australia’s leading palaeontologists friends.

Oh, and he’s not actually Scottish.

Mills, who is the creative director of Heaps Good Productions, said the character of Professor Flint came about after he read Tim Flannery’s book The Future Eaters.

He was Australian right up until the final dress rehearsal when Mills walked past a puppet wearing a Tam o’ Shanter and realised that if Professor Flint was Scottish the song “rocks and bones” became “rrrocks ‘n’ boones”.

“All of sudden it became funnier,” Mills said.

“It also allowed Flint to be an outsider saying how cool this stuff is because at times in Australia we’ve got this cultural cringe where we’re a bit shy about raving about some of our stuff.”

If making Professor Flint Scottish was genius, what happened next was just brilliant good luck.

The SA Museum decided to host a palaeontology week, bringing Australia’s best palaeontologists to Mills’ home town of Adelaide just as he had created the character.

Professor Flint became an important part of the event and Mills got to hang out with some of the leading palaeontologists from Australia and around the world.

“For me, part of the buzz was the privilege that you have of sitting in a room at dinner at night with guys like (Jurassic Park inspiration) Phil Currie, (Flinders University Professor) Rod Wells and (Queensland Museum curator) Scott Hocknull and all of the Australian palaeos that have discovered all the stuff because in the end it’s their stories that I’m telling,” he said.

“And they impressed upon me the importance of getting the content right.”

Mills has since gone on fossil digs at Emu Bay, been shown museum collections closed to the public and sends his lyrics to palaeontologists to check he has them scientifically correct.

In the process he has amassed a depth of knowledge that leads many to mistake his alter ego for a real person.

“We constantly have people seeing Flint as real and that’s because I’ve learnt enough about the palaeo to be able to talk the stuff,” Mills said.

They had to run, run, run, they had to hit top speed,

They had to run, run, there was a dinosaur stampede.








President’s update

Thank you to our President A/Prof. Joan Leach for the March/April update.
Not that there was any doubt, but the variety of evaluations coming in on ASC14 shows that the conference was definitely seen as a success by our members. Interestingly, 61% of colleagues we met in Brisbane were at their first ASC conference. The top three words used to describe the conference were “interesting,”  “fun,” and “engaging.” Finally, the nominations for ‘most useful session’ went on for 3 pages and name-checked just about everyone! Of course, we’ve learned some things, too. Our members want more professional development sessions, more time for networking (we are communicators, after all), are predictably savvy receivers of communication advice and don’t like to be told how to do it without evidence for why it works, and need fruit and not just cupcakes to function at conferences. So, the conference team and Executive are working through this data to help plan future conferences and events…and professional development sessions.
This month, I’m trying to get across the range of activities that are going on nationally and work with our volunteers to find ways we can support more of the activities our members want. I do want to send out a general ‘save the date’ invitation for 2 October for an “International Roundtable on Science Communication” to be held at Customs House in Brisbane in conjunction with the International Communication Association. I’ll send more about this out via SCOPE in due course, but this event is an attempt to highlight science communication activity in the Asia-Pacific region and Australia’s leading place in it.
Finally, I’ve had more than a few conversations in the last several weeks to bring me down from the conference (sugar) high. As the next Federal budget approaches some science communicators find themselves and their work not only under scrutiny but under pressure and threat. I’ve heard a range of interpretations of ‘what might happen’ (and what has happened) but I’m keen that, as a community, ASC supports our members and affirms the value of what we do. As ever, I’m keen to hear from members about how ASC might respond to our changing context and clearly assert our value.

A year in review: Scope 2013

Thanks to Victoria Leitch for the Scope ‘year in review.’

I might be a little biased, but I think we have had a great year with the ASC newsletter – Scope!

As current editor, I can proudly say that in the past year Scope has seen a number of improvements – many of which were implemented by (and should be attributed to the hard work of) my predecessor Sally Miles. A move to mailchimp has seen a greatly improved look and feel to the newsletter, and the introduction of a Scope writing team has allowed us to continue to improve our provision of new and varying content for members.

The newsletter has a very good open and click through rate, for those numberophiles (not a word, I know!) among us here are some stats since our move to mailchimp:

  • Sent to an average of 480 subscribers (min was 434 in March, max was 547 in June)
  • Average open rate of 50.1% (min was 43.3% in June, max was 56% in July)
  • Average link click rate of 21.9% (min was 15.1% in August, max was 34.1% in April/May)
  • The majority (>90%) of the opens are coming from Australia, but we also have opens in USA, Japan, New Zealand, Canada, UK, Poland and India

As a comparison for you, although stats vary pretty widely, an average open rate for a list our size would be up to 20% – so we really are doing very well.

Although we generally receive very positive feedback from readers, current discussion on the ASC discussion lists gave me cause to reflect on the format and content of Scope, and on that matter I offer the following thoughts.

I acknowledge that the current Scope format or content might not be to everyone’s taste, or might not be what you want to see. There is no way this can change unless people come forward and say something. There is a constant call for suggestions and opinions – this is included in every newsletter – and there is, and I believe always will be, an open call for content for the newsletter. The ASC communications team work damn hard on an essentially volunteer basis to bring you the newsletter and we desperately want to give you a quality publication that encompasses your vision for an ASC newsletter. Although we do receive some very positive feedback, which is always nice, we also invite any negative feedback or suggestions.

For those of you that have contributed content in 2013, I sincerely thank you for the effort you have put into improving our newsletter. Particularly to the Scope writing team, who put in many hours of blood, sweat and typing as volunteer writers – thank you!

We look forward to bringing you even more new and improved content in 2014.

… and I’ll say it one more time, please, if you ever have any thoughts, suggestions, events, or even if you simply want to tell me what the correct name for a numberophile is – email me at or if your comment is suitable for sharing, post it below!


Sally hands over the reins of the ASC SCOPE newsletter

Article prepared by Claire Harris on behalf of the ASC National Executive

In the last two years as our Scope editor, Sally Miles has played a very important role for ASC and its members. She has, as Jesse says below, transformed this communication channel through writing engaging articles, working with members to tell their stories, interviewing sci comm leaders and ferreting out interesting tidbits of news for us all. She has also recently upgraded the newsletter with slicker design and a move into MailChimp.

I spent a few moments with Past-President Jesse Shore and Executive Officer Kali Madden to hear their thoughts.

“As editor of Scope, Sally Miles has transformed the ASC newsletter and made it a more valued membership benefit,” said Jesse.

“The smart new look she recently created for Scope complements and emphasises her focus on featuring current content. Sally has expanded the range of topics in the newsletter and increased the number of people contributing to the various editions,” he said.

Kali agreed, highlighting Sally’s enthusiasm, care and attention to detail.

“Sally brought so much to the table in her role, which was very much appreciated and made her a valued member of the ASC Communication Team,” said Kali.

“Our thanks go to Sally for keeping Scope fresh and very readable and for laying the groundwork for others to build on her achievements,” said Jesse.

The National Executive would like to take this opportunity to thank Sally for her efforts.

With Sally stepping down, we are pleased to announce Victoria Leitch as our new Scope editor. Victoria’s background includes a PhD in craniofacial biology and work as a science communicator at Puratap and CRC CARE (CRC for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment). Victoria is excited to take on the position and build upon the the solid foundation left behind by Sally and her hard work and enthusiasm.

Have you loved Sally’s work or want to say hello to Victoria or send some feedback on Scope? Please feel free to email

Scope editor update

In July Sally Miles and Silvia Piviali took on the Scope editorship from Laura Miles. Both Sally and Silvia have young children and agreed to job-share the workload.

Despite best intentions Silvia found the workload of a new-born and other family commitments left her little time for Scope tasks. Silvia has wisely asked to step away from Scope for 6 months. Sally has agreed to carry on as our sole editor.

I thank Silvia for her work on Scope in recent months and look forward to Sally continuing to mould Scope with flair.

Jesse Shore
National President

New Scope editor

The Executive Committee and I were ecstatic with the response to the recent advertisement for the position of Scope editor. But then we had the agony of deciding between excellent applications from several well qualified candidates. In the end, we went for an unexpected outcome.

I’m pleased to announce that not only do we have a new editor for Scope, but that we have two new editors in a job sharing arrangement. Sally Miles (no relation to Laura), from Sydney, and Silvia Piviali, from Perth, will team up to produce our newsletter.

The Executive is anticipating that this job-share will contribute to building up expertise and experience within the ASC and ease workloads during increasingly busy times.

I look forward to Sally and Silvia introducing themselves to you in their new role.

Jesse Shore

National President