Archive for the ‘January 2013’ Category

Day 174. Jedi Mind Tricks

In January 2013 on February 2, 2013 at 2:29 pm


How do you convince an unwilling audience that what you’re telling them is mind-blowingly important and will change the way they live?

Is it possible that some knowledge of Jedi mind tricks would help in this task?

As I prepare for Adelaide’s ScienceOneline Watch Party 2013, I refer you to a blog post that might help you tackle this issue. The post was written by Melanie Tannenbaum in the lead-up to the ScienceOnline2013 session Persuading the unpersuadable – communicating science to deniers, cynics and trollsWe’ll be watching this session, and digesting it for our own purposes, at our Watch Party today.

Happy reading, here it is: Persuading the Unpersuadable

[image thanks to JD Hancock on flickr]


Day 173. Science Online….and Offline

In January 2013 on February 1, 2013 at 4:42 pm


Being a science communicator can be an isolating profession.

Sure, social media helps, but still it’s great to be able to meet up with colleagues in person and chew the fat over new trends, issues we all face, and how to communicate better.The ScienceOnline conference is one way that people in the USA ‘doing science online’ come together as a physical community. Actually, scienceOnline 2013 is happening right now! But don’t despair, you can follow from afar: see #scio13 Information Central to find a way that suits you best.

One of the ways to be part of the ScienceOnline global conversations is via ScienceOnline Watch Parties. It is a concept that started this year as a way to facilitate the formation of mini-conferences for people ‘doing science online’ all around the world. Thus people in many different locations can meet up, listen to experienced science communicators present on a variety of issues, and then conduct their own conversations as a flow on.

This week and next, there are 3 free ScienceOnline Watch Parties happening in Australia:

Along with Kristin Alford and Heather Bray, I’ll be hosting the Adelaide event. We’re very excited and looking forward to meeting all participants tomorrow and Sunday.

See here if you’d like more information, or to book. All welcome!

Image from the opening ceremony of ScienceOnline2013, showing @BoraZ, @ktraphagen and @mistersugar

Day 172. Making a stand

In January 2013 on January 31, 2013 at 8:31 pm

calvesFinally, term 1 of the 2013 school year has commenced.

The house is mine, mine, all mine!

I sat down for a long spell at my desk today to tackle some work. It felt wrong; too much sitting! The knowledge from previous posts – see here and here – was making me twitchy.

Inspired by Kristin Alford‘s recently upgraded desk set-up, showing a standing set-up at the rear (for social media and email), and a seated position at the front (for thinking and writing):

desk Kristin

I made this, using a toddler stool:


Instantly better!

Not the perfect height, but fine for breaking up the sitting. A standing desk, using existing household materials.

[calf image thanks to vagawi on flickr]

Day 171. Perceptions of risk

In January 2013 on January 30, 2013 at 9:02 pm


Do statistics like “you have a 1 in 11 million risk of being killed in a plane crash” mean anything to you?

Does the statement “the risk of having a baby with Downs Syndrome increases with higher maternal age” make sense?

If not, you’re not alone. It’s pretty tricky grappling with numbers which describe populations overall, and trying to mould them into something which makes sense for your particular circumstances.

This week, Jared Diamond (author of Guns, Germs and Steel and The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn From Traditional Societies?) wrote an article for the New York Times describing risk.

That Daily Shower Can Be A Killer explores

“the importance of being attentive to hazards that carry a low risk each time but are encountered frequently”.

Like showering. In the elderly (Diamond is in his 70s), each shower carries a risk of major injury due to slipping. The risk associated with each individual shower is probably very low. But Diamond argues that when combined with the frequency with which one has a shower – daily, for most of us – the overall remaining lifetime risk of injury is not insubstantial. At the very least, it’s worth being aware of. He refers to the phenomenon as “constructive paranoia”.  Diamond then goes on to say that in America, a biased perception of risk can be dangerous, in that

“we exaggerate the risks of events that are beyond our control, that cause many deaths at once or that kill in spectacular ways — crazy gunmen, terrorists, plane crashes, nuclear radiation, genetically modified crops. At the same time, we underestimate the risks of events that we can control (“That would never happen to me — I’m careful”) and of events that kill just one person in a mundane way”.

It makes me think about texting whilst driving. Sure, the risk of having a crash if you only do it once is probably pretty low. But if you conduct it several times a day, perhaps you are pushing the numbers way beyond a sensible limit.

[image thanks to mrJasonWeaver on flickr]

Day 170. Cricket vs science

In January 2013 on January 29, 2013 at 4:11 pm


“As Michael Clarke and his teammates sweated out a test match draw against South Africa at the hallowed grounds of Adelaide Oval in late 2012, more than 600 researchers gathered nearby at the Adelaide Convention Centre to share their latest findings in health and medical research”.

This is an excerpt from my latest piece of writing for BioInnovationSA.

To read more, follow this link, and click on the BioNews January 2013 PDF image.

Day 169. Best practise social media

In January 2013 on January 29, 2013 at 2:40 pm

social media

With Adelaide’s first official ScienceOnline event happening this weekend in the form of a WatchParty (book here!), I’ve been thinking again about how to get the most out of social media for science communication.

As a result, I’ve been re-reading some old material. In July 2011, Kristin Alford and I wrote a series of articles for Australia Council for the Arts describing best practice use of online tools.

I’ll post more on ScienceOnline over the course of this week.

[image thanks to birgerking on flickr, from Brian Solis]

Day 168. Science. It works.

In January 2013 on January 27, 2013 at 6:58 pm


And now for something completely different…a lazy Sunday science cartoon brought to you by xkcd.

Here’s an explanation, if you’re interested.

Day 167. The Listies

In January 2013 on January 26, 2013 at 9:06 pm

Nose picking. Skid marks. Plops. Spit. Multiple terms that are nearly swearing but not quite.

To kids aged 7-10 (two of mine fit that category), these words are pure comedy gold. And The Listies know it.

Formally known as ‘The List Operators’, The Listies is a two-man performance outfit in which Richard and Matthew,

‘crash through all things sensible, with a mad take on the brave new world of cyberspace, that interweb thingo, myface, spacebook and fart-ificial intelligence.’

Last year we saw them in More Fun Than a Wii. Today we attended The Listies do Compooters, which saw the fellows,

‘go geek, stepping into the virtual World of Wool-craft and Pong computer games, PowerPoint, water pistols and LOLz from the very edge.

These guys make you (oh yeah, and the kids) laugh so hard you will be ROFLSHALBOWCO (rolling around on the floor laughing so hard a little bit of wee came out).’

Perfectly pitched at both kids and their parents – the old ones, you know, those of us who know what a cassette is – we left with faces sore from laughing.

I’ll claim it as a science experience based on this excerpt from a track entitled Mad Scienceing on the The Listies CD we are now enjoying in the car:

Setting the scene: Richard has done a course at TAFE which has taught him the basics of mad scienceing, including the capacity to laugh maniacally and make mutants in his laboratory.

Richard, explaining his recent work to Matthew: I’ve taken a lizard, I’ve elongated its arms. Next, I covered it in feathers and then gave it the ability to fly. I call it….a Flappy!

<insert crazy laughter and bolt of lightening/thunder>

Matthew: A ‘Flappy’?

Richard: Yes. Names aren’t my strong point. What about Dr Feathers?

Matthew: No.

Richard: George Plumey?

Matthew: No! It’s a bird, Rich. A bird. That one’s a budgie. 

It turns out Richard has also used his new skills to create:

    • Mr Stripey Horse (zebra)
    • Deborah Necky (giraffe)
    • Teeney Tiny Clippy Cloppy (Shetland pony)
    • Teeny Tiny Splishy Splashy Clippy Cloppy (seahorse)
    • Small Arrogant Domesticated Lion (cat)
    • Mr Eggy Beaky Spikey Ducky Thing (platypus).

Matthew: That’s intelligent design, Rich!

Day 166. The walking meeting

In January 2013 on January 25, 2013 at 8:55 pm


“Sitting is the new smoking. It makes you fat and then it kills you”.

Not a great quote to read on a long-haul flight between Australia and Europe.

These words came from Lucy Kellaway’s Financial Times On work column, dated Monday 21 January 2013 (you can access the text for free if you click on the link and follow instructions).

Lucy wrote this piece as a description of her foray into the ‘walking meeting’, inspired by a recent Harvard Business Review blog Sitting is the Smoking of Our Generation by Nilofer Merchant.

The walking meeting is literally that: rather than talking to business or work associates across a conference room table, you arrange to meet, and then pound the pavement in comfortable shoes whilst exchanging words.

Apart from the obvious benefits that being upright has on our health (as mentioned by Lucy and Nilofer, and as I touched on briefly in Sitting and standing), the walking meeting can change the way people interact. Avoiding the ‘face-off’ atmosphere of a desk-based meeting, walking meetings are less confrontational and perhaps better suited to allow reflection during the conversation. I’ve certainly found this to be true with my children; most of the deep dark secrets I’ve managed to extract from my 9-year old son have emerged bit by bit as we walk to or from school. Somehow he feels more able to tell me stuff as we walk along, as opposed to me and him across the kitchen counter in the “how was your day?” exchange which usually goes nowhere.

It’s one of the reasons I’ve resolved to walk the kids to school as often as I possibly can during 2013. And maybe I’ll even suggest a walk to a few work colleagues too.

[image thanks to Foxtongue on flickr]

Day 165. UpGoerFive

In January 2013 on January 24, 2013 at 1:03 pm


Have you tried explaining stuff like divorce, death or sex to a child?

When a new audience is involved, it’s really tough communicating material which is complicated and has a language of its own.

This is a battle scientists often face when trying to talk to people outside their field of expertise. For this reason, the UpGoerFive project has been embraced by many scientists and those working in science communication.

UpGoerFive asks the writer to communicate a complex idea using only the 1000 most common English words. I had a go at describing the broad subject matter of my PhD studies:

Babies grow inside women. The problem is, half the building blocks which make up a baby have come from the father. How is it that a living thing which is 50% not ‘self’ is allowed to grow inside a woman? It’s not that the woman doesn’t know the baby is there – her cells ‘see’ it is present. What actually happens is, when a man and a woman share a bed the man’s little white present to the woman acts like a sign. The sign lets the woman know that some building blocks might be on the way which she should allow to stay. And then if the building blocks show up in a couple of days, they are allowed to set up shop and grow. That’s how babies manage to make it in a strange new land.

I wonder if that made any sense to those of you who don’t know the field? I’d love to hear back with your interpretations.

Some better science examples written by others have been assembled at tenhundredwordsofscience.

You can have a shot as well! It doesn’t have to be a scientific idea either. Just go here and start typing away – and post to twitter using #upgoerfive to add it to the global discussion.

[image thanks to PhotoJonny on flickr]