Monthly Archives: January 2013

Perlustrating asseverations: the finale

perlustratingThis is the final instalment of my and Mathew McGann’s back-page column for Woroni. The editors decided to make the last issue of 2012 a creative edition with stories, poems, artwork, etc. Our column didn’t really fit in so here is the lost episode of our ridiculous, adbsurdist exercise in extrapolation with an appropriately foolish title: Perlustrating Asseverations. This final instalment takes the wordiness and haughtiness to new levels by being self-referential. There’s a lot of this kind of thing:

wielding teaspoons and hardened biscotti, as they too follow the slippery slope towards mass carnage, closing with inappropriate Latin acronyms as they scald the faces of their interlocutors with reasonably hot cappuccino. [..] QED

The other articles in the series can be found here.

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Chaos in the studio

bright_pods

This is me guest hosting my colleague/friend Meg O’Connell’s program, Bright Pods, on 2XX FM a few months ago. The show had a great format whereby a serious interview with an expert (a “bright pod”) is preceded by an elaborate, absurdist introduction.

I lined up an interview with my mate Mat McGann about chaos theory, which he studies as part of his physics PhD. The interview’s pretty good as a 20 minute digest of a cool topic in an irreverent manner (we’ve both worked as professional science communicators) but I’m particularly proud of the intro. It’s done as a live read with no mistakes, covering some pretty wordy content and is basically the apotheosis of my Micalef-inspired sense of humour; you might not think it’s funny but I do.

Even though we’re generally interested in experimenting  science communication nerds can note a few classic techniques:

  • me playing dumb about chaos theory to position myself with the audience;
  • starting with a framing question rather than a direct one (like, what is chaos theory?); and
  • only asking the expert about their particular speciality at the end because researchers are notoriously boring on their own work and better at the more general stuff (Mat excepted).
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Science communication: hopeless?

Last year my colleague (and  I suppose  friend) Mathew McGann and I participated in the Canberra focus group for the Australian Science Communicators (ASC) audit of how the discipline is doing in Australia. The results of this audit should be out soon and I look forward to seeing if anything from our session makes it into the report.

Mat and I put forward the views that we’ve been debating among ourselves for years. No doubt those views will continue to change as we learn more, but at the moment I think I can summarise what we see as the problems with science communication (SC) with a few questions which don’t seem to be answered at the moment.

How do we measure the effectiveness of an SC activity?

Even if we devoted funds to measuring how SC events are implemented, it’s not clear that we have any metrics for measuring “science engagement” — whatever that is. Should we test people before they enter Questacon about their knowledge of seismology and then quiz them again upon leaving and then follow-up the study six months later? Continue reading

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