This Tuesday the internet was widely celebrating Ada Lovelace Day, an occasion often used to point out the achievements of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). Today I’m going to be my contrary self and discuss a problem I have with how we portray Ada Lovelace Day.
Firstly, I’ll recap Ada’s background for context, though I’d also recommend reading either of these articles about her for more information.
A few months ago, I read and enjoyed Sam Kean’s The Tale of the Duelling Neurosurgeons. Thanks to that book, I figured out something interesting about how I understand sci-comm.
The principles I believe in when it comes to science and sci-comm, and the threads which run through both my psycholgical and scientific interests, weren’t created through my science or psychology education.
1) Cross-disciplinary connections – Science doesn’t work in a vacuum but is informed by art, humanities, politics, and religion.
2) Human history – Rather than being detached thinking agents, scientists are as human, flawed and biased as anyone else.
3) Accidents, serendipity and luck -“Failed” inventions, wrong beliefs and faulty discoveries can be as valuable, informative and powerful etc “successful” history.
Season 10 of Robot Wars will be on our screens in the next few months. As a long-term fan, I’m happy that the most memorable show of my childhood is doing well. However, I’m uncertain about whether Season 10 will be able to outgrow the problems Seasons 8 and 9 highlighted.
Interviews with cast members such as Angela Scanlon hinted at the social goals invested under the layers of fun and spectacle. Rebooted Robot Wars aimed to encourage women into engineering, push robots away from being “boy’s toys”, and to interest children and young people in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) topics. But Seasons 8 and 9 revealed dramatic advances in robot technology- advances which have made Robot Wars far less accessible and amateur-friendly. To me, the rebooted show is less interesting or entertaining than the original show as a result. Also, the way both seasons have portrayed robot teams arguably locks out women and people unattached to STEM.
As a result, I believe that rebooted Robot Wars is currently failing at the social goals it set out to achieve. In its current format, it’s instead opposing the causes it wishes to champion. Something needs to change, and I hope that whatever is planned for Season 10 can bring the show closer towards its aims.
I picked up a copy of The Accidental Scientist thanks to its title- one of my favourite scientific topics is how luck has influenced science and medicine, so this book seemed like a good idea.
The Accidental Scientist is a short and fast read which covers the story of various inventions such as Botox, explosives, and telephones. Each 8-12 page chapter starts with one invention as a theme. From this point, single-page subsections handle each link in a chain of discoveries. This book is concise by necessity, as it aims to pack a large collection of trivia in tightly limited space.
I’m revisiting my pop-science book collection, partly to get back into a habit of reading and partly to look at the range of styles available in popular science writing. First on my list is Sam Kean’s The Tale of the Duelling Neurosurgeons.
Duelling Neurosurgeons initally surprised me by not opening with duels or with neurosurgery. Instead, it dives into the world of sleep paralysis, an experience often compared to possession or even alien abduction.
News from the last three weeks has been bad, to say the least. Both Britain and America have seemingly been bent on destruction and bridge-burning. Yet despite being anxious about just what will happen next, I’m also a little bit curious as well.
One of the few good parts about the previous three weeks is how people have often responded to protect and support others. Social networks have shared resources for contacting politicians, lawyers and advocates, and advice on how best to do so. Widespread protests and calls for mobilisation have made some meaningful changes, called attention to the wrongs which would have remained away from the spotlights, and delayed political decisions. People aren’t taking the changes as quietly as either Trump and co. or May and co. had wanted. And I hope this atmosphere of fighting back will continue, and lead to bigger changes.
I’ve finally got around to reading Fun Science by Charlie McDonnell, and after reading it I have quite a lot of thoughts about both the book itself and its potential value for science communication, so here they are:
Firstly, some context for people who haven’t heard of Charlie McDonnell. He’s a filmmaker/musician/ vlogger/presenter- and now an author too. Last month he released Fun Science (the book), inspired by his 2011 YouTube series of the same name. Fun Science (the show) has also returned, featuring another look at topics included in the book. (A playlist of all of the YouTube episodes is below).