Archive for the ‘Science Communication’ Category

… to spread the word to all undergraduate Melbourne University students you know about the subject Communicating Science and Technology.

I have blogged about this subject before. In it students get to write on a blog, write articles for different publications and even get on the radio. It’s an amazing subject, and well worth doing even if you don’t have to. I got more out of that subject and enjoyed that subject more than any other subject I have ever done.

Enrolment for this subject for next year is really low, such that it is at risk of being cut by the science faculty. It would be a real shame if this were to happen, as it is one of the most valuable subjects offered by the university.

So please help me out and spread the word!

Not doing so makes this puppy sad…

sad puppy


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I’m one of the new additions to “The Pseudo-Scientists” podcast. This is the official podcast of The Young Australian Skeptics, which aims to promote science and skepticism.

Episode 23 is out now. Find out more on their website, where you can also check out their blog and forums.

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This is probably my favourite quote from the TED talk, in which Mechai Viravaidya discusses how a campaign promoting family planning and safe sex has helped the people of Thailand

This campaign  is a great example of effective science communication. The Thai community was the basis of change and through the community and through people interacting and talking was the message of safe sex and importance of family planning spread. Through this action, the population growth rate was dramatically decreased from 3.3% to 0.5%. Millions of lives were saved by education about the risks of HIV/AIDS

Part of what it made it so successful was engagement with the Thai people. It encouraged learning by directly interacting with people through activities and language. By talking about the issue and having condoms widely available, much was able to be achieved. Everybody was involved. The  media, market workers, and even the police with a “Cops and Rubbers” campaign, became involved in spreading the massage.

As Mechai says in this video “We didn’t have a strong government we, didn’t have lots of doctors, but it’s everybody’s job to change attitude and behaviour.”

This is what promotion of scientific ideas should be about. It should be something that we do ourselves all the time, rather than waiting for the government or other organizations to start it for us. We are the mechanism for change.

Mechai Viravaidya

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There has been a recent meme on facebook where women post up status messages saying things like “I like it on the kitchen table” or “I like it in the car”. Well… I’m here to tell the secret.

It’s about handbags. It’s about where women like to put their handbags.

It’s not about women feeling empowered about their sexuality enough to state where they like to enjoy sexual activities. Instead it’s a childish ploy that is meant to raise awareness of breast cancer. Nothing specifically about breast cancer, just that it exists.

I have several problems with this campaign.

Firstly, it is ineffective at getting a real message across on two levels. The message being communicated is vague.  The aim is to raise awareness of breast cancer. If there is a cancer out there that people are not aware about, it’s not breast cancer. messages and stories about breast cancer are all over the media. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s wonderful that this horrible disease is in the mainstream media. I just think that this particular stunt is not necessary as there is so much information about the existence of breast cancer out there being communicated in a far more effective way. It would perhaps be a better campaign if there was some actual important information in it, such as stressing the importance of mammograms and regular breast examinations. This way it would be communicating something that is not widely communicated.

Even then, it is a fairly ineffective way of communicating an idea. The campaign involves leaving cryptic message for all your friends to see, with no explanation why. The only people who do understand what it means are in on it and so have already had the message communicated to them, so it fails to achieve it’s aim of raising awareness entirely.

If you want to make a real difference, don’t post stupid statements on your status, instead go here. One click will provide a woman with a free mammogram!

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When it comes to tools of science communication, it doesn’t get much better than the zoo. A few days ago, a group of friends and I went to the Melbourne Zoo for an afternoon of animal related frivolities.  The more I looked around the more I realized that the zoo was taking every opportunity it could to increase public awareness about the environment and the plight of endangered animals such as orangutans and elephants.

The “Wipe for Wildlife” posters were everywhere. This is a campaign to encourage people to use toilet paper made from recycled materials. In addition to the posters there was a quest to find “Who has the most unique poo in the zoo?” This involved toilets with poo on the lid scattered around various animal exhibits with the question “Who’s poo is this?” One would then lift the lid to find out the owner of the poo and where to go next to find clues as to who has the most unique poo in the zoo. I won’t give away the answer here… you’ll have to go to the zoo to find out!

This is a great way of getting children involved in being concerned about the environment. Children LOVE toilet humor. This was abundantly clear by the way they would run up to these toilets, feel the fake poo on top and eagerly look under the lid to find out who it belonged to, all with a giggle and a cheeky grin on their face. The “wipe for Wildlife” campaign appears to be a real success and is implemented really well by the zoo.

In addition to this campaign, the plight of elephants in south east Asia. The “Trail of the Elephants” winds its way round the enclosure that houses the zoo’s five asian elephants. It is themed in the style of a South East Asian village with bamboo, wooden huts and bright posters. It highlights that threats to these animals habitats as a result of human activities, and the attempts by conservationists to rectify the problem without putting the people of the region at a disadvantage.  The orangutan and tiger exhibits are similarly themes as their natural habitats are being similarly threatened. It is really effective in bringing the problem to the attention of the Melbournians visiting the zoo by essentially bring the problem directly to them.

The zoo does a great job of communicating these global environmental concerns to the general public. For more information on the Melbourne Zoo, go here.

This post is also found on my other blog, Science Communication.

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Triceratops Skull

An interesting thing happened a few months ago in the world of paleontology . Based on evidence collected over many decades it has been concluded that the triceratops and the torosaurus are in fact the same species, and are not separate species as previously thought(1). The tricaretops is in fact a juvenile torosaurus. I am a bit slow off the mark with this topic, having only recently heard about it, but thought I’d share it as an example of a topic that connects young children with the current science.

Dinosaurs are a hot topic with young children. It allows them to use their imagination and take themselves back in time in to our planets past, and think about and explore a world completely foreign to our own. The dinosaur exhibition at the Melbourne Museum is one of the more popular exhibits in the museum. It has children and adults alike gaping at the huge skeletal structures on display.

This is part of what makes this new science so exciting. It is a topic that already has a great following of young people, and so it is an easy way of showing the scientific process in action to a young audience. To be able to show children that science changes with new information, and is not a whole lot of hard facts that are set in concrete will give them an insight into what science really is and the way it works. This will hopefully encourage their own scientific thinking and lead to a new generation of eager scientists.

(1) J. B. Scannella, J. R. Horner. Torosaurus Marsh, 1891, is Triceratops Marsh, 1889 (Ceratopsidae: Chasmosaurinae): Synonymy Through Ontogeny. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 30(4):1157-1168. 2010

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The Sombrero Galaxy

The Sombrero Galaxy

This article is also found here: Science Communication.

This is a picture of the Sombrero Galaxy Taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. It is “50,000 light-years across and 28 million light years from Earth” according to the Hubble website.

As an aspiring physicsist trying to learn all the ins and outs of the laws that govern our universe, it is often too easy to get bogged down in the abstract concepts and maths, and lose the appreciation of how awesome physics is. Sometimes we need to take a step back and look at what we are trying to achieve with scientific discovery and feel the awesomeness of it.

If we don’t feel the excitement of what science can do, how can we expect anyone else to?

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