Tag Archives: podcasts

Why “scientific literacy” is silly, again.

scientific literacy klaxon

The prize of smugness for anyone who can correctly guess which event caused a friend to text me this last year.

I spent an evening earlier this month doing some public engagement about public engagement. Or, talking about scientific literacy in a pub in Bloomsbury as part of the regular “Big Ideas” debates. If you don’t mind the sound of a load of pub chairs moving around, here’s a podcast.

It’s pretty similar to the stuff I covered for the BBC last summer but with added Boris Johnson and much longer (and better) Q&As at the end. Especially good first question from a chap who works for a biomedical charity.

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Questioning academics

"intellectruism"

A table at the Science Museum’s Dana Centre coffee shop. No, I don’t know what it means either. 

The latest episode of Brain Train is up – the podcast I work on where we get academics to quiz other academics – this time with autism researcher Johanna Finneman interviewing philosopher Nina Power. I think my favourite bit is where Power stands up for the right of philosophers to be “a little bit annoying”. As much as I am a philosopher (and I’d say I’m roughly 15% philosopher, albeit a self-hating one most of the time) I very much ascribe to that.

The format’s designed so each episode an academic interviews another about their work, then in the next episode the interviewee becomes the interviewer (and the expert becomes the novice) and so on. At the end of each episode we also ask the interviewee (the expert) what questions they have for their own field. These are Power’s, for philosophy, but I think they could be directed to about any group of the academy.

A political question [first]: how do we get philosophers at Russell Group Universities to defend those philosophy departments at non-Russell Group universities that are being closed? I’d like to see solidarity across my subject, because it’s my feeling that if you love and care about the subject, you would want to see more of it, everywhere, not less of it. And not trying to sort of keep it to yourself  and you know, get all the research money which they get already and you sit by while philosophy departments left right and centre get closed. So that’s a political question […]

I guess the question you’re [Johanna started with] asking me: How do we get philosophy out there? How do we critically but clearly state what we think is important about philosophy? […] How do we make the link between the critical questions that people have all the time to the older and ongoing philosophical questions in a non-patronising way, in a way that doesn’t kind of, I don’t know, but nor does it reduce to a self-help model of philosophy, this kind of popular philosophy that is, I think, anti-philosophical in lots of ways.

Brain Train Podcast

Largely gratuitous picture of a steamtrain.

Martin Austwick (physicist, podcaster, musician) and I have just launched a podcast called Brain Train.

Each episode an academic interviews another about their work, then in the next episode the interviewee becomes the interviewer (and the expert becomes the novice) and so on. It’s a bit like Chain Reaction on Radio 4, except our focus is more on knowledge rather than performers’ lives. The pilot had me interview a water systems engineer. Then she wanted to know about autism research, so we found an expert on that. Now the autism researcher wants to know more about philosophy…

Visit the website, or you can subscribe directly in iTunes. We’re still finding our feet a bit, and each episode with vary just because of the nature of the project, but I hope it’s going to build into something fun.

Science and growth

Last week I co-organised a debate on science and growth, one of a regular* “Science Question Time” seminars.

The idea that science might equal growth is something which has dominated UK science policy discourse for several years (e.g. David Willetts’ first speech as Science Minister). But can the government pick winners, and how can we ensure public coffers benefit from such public investment? Perhaps we need to think in different terms entirely – should we be looking to technology for sustainability, rather than growth? Is an unrelenting focus on growth a bit irresponsible? (see, for example, the Royal Society’s recent People and the Planet report).

We brought together a panel consisting of Penny Attridge (SPARK Ventures), Rebekah Higgitt** (National Maritime Museum/Royal Observatory), Mariana Mazzucato*** (SPRU, University of Sussex) and James Meadway (new economics foundation), chaired by Jack Stilgoe (University of Exeter) and involving a diverse audience largely drawn from science, policy and journalism for what turned out to be an exciting and lively debate.

Yes, exiting and lively, about innovation policy, really and truly, I promise. It was even funny at times. You can listen to a podcast of the event for yourself:

 

 

* The last event was in March, on nuclear policy. You can also listen to a podcast of this event. That was played over 120,000 times, so it must be good (nothing to do with it having been Boing-ed, not at all…).

** Becky’s written up her notes for the evening with some good links on her blog.

*** Professor Mazzucato’s contribution was dominated by questions of rebalancing the economy (and what we might mean by this) with a particular focus on the capturing of structures and rewards of innovative labour by the financial sector. You can read her report on this for the Policy Network, published yesterday (see also her piece for the Guardian).

Sounds of Science

BBC Madia Vale Studios, before a recording last year.

It’s world radio day! I don’t know about you, but I’m celebrating. I love the radio.

I think I just like noise. Maybe it’s because my Dad was a musician. He usually worked from home, on what are probably best described as “musicians’ hours”, so there was a steady stream of odd bits of organised noise coming from his office. He was always very focused on the quality of sounds around him, taking personal offense to musac and swearing loudly every time the doorbell rang or a car horn beeped to interrupt the more controlled flow of noise around him. As an orchestrator, it was the particular sound any instrument made which interested him most, and he’d come home from a recording session full of stories of standing out the back of Abbey Road studios with percussionists hitting bin lids. I’m not a musician, but I seem to have picked up some of his obsession sound.

I thought I’d take the opportunity of world radio day to advertise an event I’m chairing at Charles Darwin House next month on the sounds of science. Do come! There will be beer and cake and interesting people talking about the noisiness of science. It’ll be great fun.

On the run up to this, I’ve been thinking about how I could share the noises of my research. I’m a humanities scholar so mainly just sit in an office on my own. There’s the sound of an email hitting my inbox I guess, or maybe the bell ringing from the tower outside my office at Imperial or people gossiping over a cigarette by the window I sit near at UCL. There is also a really cool whistling sound that happens on a windy day in the space between the engineering departements at Imperial. Some day I really must record that. Or the glass bridge at the Science Museum. It’s held up by piano strings so makes a slight sound as you walk across it. It’s usually too loud to hear in the museum, with all the visitors, but when I worked there I’d sometimes walk across it when the museum was closed, lean out to pluck a string and just listen. There are probably other noises around my work I don’t think about. I’m going to have to take time to think and listen.

I also thought I’d share my top five listens in terms of science and technology; the podcasts I feel my week isn’t complete if I haven’t heard.

  • BBC World Service Click – I’m not just saying this because the presenter has an office next door to mine at Imperial. The global perspective on technology it provides is simply fascinating. It’s something I don’t get from a lot of the other sci/tech media I consume, and really makes me think about technology in different ways. Like the Guardian tech podcast, I also find it invaluable as a briefing on media issues.
  • Radiolab – It’s hard to describe quite how brilliant RadioLab is. Very simply, it is storytelling about science at its best. It will make you cry and laugh out loud in the middle of the street and you won’t care that it makes you look a bit weird because you are simply so absorbed in it. It is that good. Really.
  • Guardian Science Weekly – There are a few science magazine radio shows out there, but this is my personal favorite. It updates me on the news and will add in the odd interesting feature and/ or interview too. There is a lovely chatty feel to it, a nice mix of humble and strident, and fun too. I’m also a huge fan of the Nature one, though it’s slightly more serious.
  • Peter Day’s World of Business – This is maybe an odd choice as the focus of this is business, but perhaps because of this I find that when it does cover sci/ tech issues it does in a way I won’t find elsewhere. Plus, I just love the presenter’s voice and they once did a whole show about the history of pencils.
  • In Our Time – Again, not always science, but rather the history of ideas, which often touches on science. The presenter can sometimes be a bit deferent to scientific expertise for my personal taste, but it’s usually a good clever chat about something interesting and often has Simon Schaffer on it (I’m happy to admit to being a huge Schaffer fangirl). The archive is prestigious.
So, what are your favourite science and technology themed podcasts? I’d love to know. Also, do you work in a lab? Does your machinery, building or colleages make interesting noises? Maybe you could record it on your phone or something and share it? (Audioboo is good for this). Share your science noises!