Gentle Science Communication: Bill Nye vs David Attenborough

I’ve been promising this blog post on gentle science communication for months now, so apologies that it has taken me so long to get round to writing. I first thought of writing about this topic when I was in Toronto as part of my WCMT Fellowship (that reminds me, applications for WCMT Fellowships 2020 are now open, find out more here!). Anyway, yes, Toronto. I started my Fellowship work in Toronto at the beginning of January, and my initial aim was to find out how to make science communication more engaging.

The field of science communication research is vast, and there are hundreds, if not thousands of published, peer-reviewed studies that provide robust data on what works, what doesn‘t, and why. My Fellowship was different to that field of research because I was coming at it from a different angle; I approached this from an entirely practical perspective. To be blunt, I didn’t want to know why specific science communication techniques worked, what causes specific responses to communication methods. I wanted to know, in very simple steps, how I can improve the way I engage with people online. (Spoiler alert – blogging infrequently, irregularly and in rushed snippets of time is not as I have been over the last few months? That’s absolutely not the answer; do as I say not as I do and all…).

See the source imageOne of the biggest learning points I took away from that first week in Toronto was the importance of gentle science communication.

For me, there are two extremes to science communication; the shouty type where you are communicating a fact in an effort to tell ‘the truth’, and the more touchy feely, diffuse, hard-to-put-your-finger-on type where you are finding out scientific story or learning skill (e.g. critical thinking) but it’s not so immediately obvious.
This time last year I’d say I sat firmly in the middle of those two extremes. I got frustrated by people that were against vaccination and would find myself thinking things like, ‘but how on Earth can this person think like that, they’re intelligent!’, and the prospect of engaging with a flat-Earther or someone that ‘didn’t believe’ in climate change just seemed pointless.

Honestly I’m a bit embarrassed by that.

Now, my views on science communication lean much more toward the touchy feely, diffuse, hard-to-put-your-finger-on type. So why have my views changed so much?

As with anything, there are pros and cons to each of those two extremes, but after the conversations I had during my Fellowship, I’m not sure I’ll ever be involved in shouty science communication (yes, that’s a technical term) again.
Gentle science communication allows us to build an understanding environment, one where people are free to explain their anxieties, fears, and unease about a subject, and where the scientist or science communicator takes those concerns into account, respectfully engaging in dialogue that factors in uncertainties no matter whether they are scientifically accurate or not.

That might make complete and total sense when you read it – ‘of course we should be respectful and not belittle people’ I hear you cry! Unfortunately, that’s not always how things play out. A recent example of this comes from science celebrity Bill Nye. Now, I am not anti-Bill Nye; I’ve paid money to see him and written about that experience on this blog before, but I think it’s important that we are able to take a critical look at people that we admire.

A few weeks ago, Bill Nye appeared on US TV show Last Week Tonight, explaining that:

“By the end of this century, if emissions keep rising, the average temperature on Earth could go up another four to eight degrees. What I’m saying is: The planet’s on fucking fire.”

For those of us who agree with Bill’s stance on climate change, this video might offer a quick laugh or a frustrated sigh in agreement.

What do you think it offers people that have different views on climate change? Personally, I think it has the potential to offend and insult those people, likely causing them to immediately disengage with any further communication efforts focussing on the science behind climate change.

See the source imageBill Nye is one of the most famous scientists alive today, and in my opinion, this brand of harsh science communication is doing more harm than it is good. The topic of climate change is contentious; there are those that believe it is either not happening, or a natural phenomenon that would be happening whether humans were on the planet or not.

On the other hand, millions of people agree that it is happening, and that is it caused by human-kind. I am in that group; I don’t eat meat, I always carry a re-useable water bottle and I try to limit the amount that I consume in terms of fast fashion and single use plastics. I believed in climate change before, but this clip from David Attenborough made me more conscious of the part that I am playing in the progressive warming of the planet.

So, why do I think David Attenborough’s approach is more effective than Bill Nye’s?

See the source imageFirst and foremost it’s about emotional impact. Both Bill Nye and David Attenborough were presumably hoping that their communication methods would encourage people to make changes their behaviour. The former used anger and frustration, the latter opted for emotion, visuals and gentle words. David Attenborough caused me to change my behaviour because I was able to see myself in the nets and straws that overwhelmed the sea in front of him. Bill Nye on the other hand, made me pity the people that I already disagree with. Swearing and belittling an audience with an opposing view to you is going to alienate them, rather than encourage them to listen to you. This shouty approach is not one-time screw up that can be remedied by another interaction later on, dismissing someone’s views (whether scientifically correct or not) is likely to make them think twice about engaging with a scientist in the future; it’s a screw-up that could have negative long-term consequences.

As scientists, it’s important that we learn from those that are doing science communication respectfully. Please, think twice before you make a joke about someone’s views on science; it’s the fault of generations of scientists before us (and likely a few that are still alive and well today) that members of the public are basing their opinions on factually inaccurate information, and it’s up to us to do better.

This piece published in Scientific American is also worth a look – even the scientists that we look up to can be problematic. It’s important that we acknowledge that and aim to do better.


I’m sure there are professional science communicators that are reading this thinking that I am naïve, and they’d be correct – I was hugely naïve before embarking on my Fellowship. Now I’m a bit less naïve, and I’m working to share my own little journey in a gentle and understanding environment. I’m not perfect; I’m learning, and I hope that sharing my thoughts on topics like this can help people learn from me just as I learned from others.

 

Songs for Science Education with Jonny Berliner – Edinburgh Science Festival 2019

This week I’m at Edinburgh Science Festival as part of their Delegate Programme, and it’s been fantastic! The programme enables science communicators, researchers, public engagement professionals, teachers and creatives to come together to find out how the Edinburgh Science Festival team craft events, choose speakers and put together the programme. We’ve also been able to attend a number of the ticketed events so that we can use them as discussion points later on in the programme.

The first event of these ticketed events that I chose was, ‘Songs for Science Education’, which was described as a humorous and song-studded talk with science troubadour Jonny Berliner. Jonny Berliner - science through song

I’d never heard of Jonny Berliner before, but figured that using songs and music to communicate science would fit into my recent quest to further the impact of science communication with creativity. I’ll be honest here – before attending I fully expected these songs to make me cringe. I had flashbacks of the toe-curling songs that I’d been taught during science lessons at school that aimed to help me remember things, but ultimately resulted in me turning a vibrant shade of beetroot whilst I attempted to get away with miming the words. I was a quiet kid, and when teachers tried to push me by forcing students to sing these horrendous songs solo in front of the class, it made me dread attending lessons.

Anyway, I’m pleased to report that I found myself laughing, learning, and at times voluntarily singing along to Jonny Berliner’s science songs. Not only was I impressed with the way that the science songs made learning about areas of science that I’ve previously actively avoided (dark matter, for example), I was also happy to see Jonny discuss the important subject of ‘democratising science’, in his words the process of improving access to information, accountability of scientists, and representation of scientists. At beginning of the talk, I was unsure just how many of these issue that a seemingly simple science song could tackle. Perhaps predictably, again Jonny proved me wrong in his explanation of how songs can open science up to the masses by making subjects memorable, understandable, critical and universal.

The video below for Jonny’s song ‘Sexual Reproduction’ was a highlight as it allowed him to explain how he uses humour and diagrams to make his music videos just as engaging as his songs.

That said, I think my favourite song of the entire show was ‘Understanding Misunderstanding‘; a song written with Professor Abigail Williams from the University of Oxford, to communicate her work on 18th century English Literature.

From Jonny’s website:
“Abigail’s research looks at ways in which the misreading of text in the 18th century parallels many of the problems faced navigating new media in the digital age. Her research tells us that there is no need to worry. As people learned to handle new media in the 18th century, they learned to deliberately misread texts, leading to great satire. It is just a matter of time until we can do the same with digital information.”

I recorded a snippet of Jonny’s performance of this song, so you can see just how utterly brilliant it was. Also, the song was so effective that I found myself talking about Abigail’s research in conversation with a stranger this morning – we were talking about The Daily Mail’s reputation for bullshit science, which led to talk of fake news, and then suddenly I found myself humming the start of the chorus of Jonny and Abigail’s song; “There’s so much misunderstanding, fake news spread globally, how do you know what to think, when the web’s got no integrity?

Now, music is not my strong point.

I learned to play the keyboard when I was much younger, but quit when my teacher suggested that I sit the Grade 1 exam – my reasoning being that as a hobby, it shouldn’t be an additional cause of exam stress. I don’t think my teacher was very keen on me after that. That said, Jonny gave some excellent ideas during his talk for those of us that are less musically inclined than him; the act of writing a song is itself a learning exercise, and though I highly doubt that I’ll be singing about all things clinical trials any time soon, I may have a stab at writing a science song for my own amusement.

For more information about what Jonny does, and to access his portfolio of science songs, head to his website.

Popular Science Books on My Reading List

When I first started this blog (2 years ago, can you believe it?!), I wrote a blog post about 5 popular science books that I recommend to anyone who dares to ask me about the subject. That post had a really good response, and since then I’ve been reviewing books on this blog individually after I’ve read them. I’ve been reading lots recently, but more fiction than non-fiction, which has left me with a pile of popular science books that I still need to get to. I’m not sure which I want to tackle first – I just want to read them all, so I figured I’d list them here, and then if any of you have read and enjoyed them you can let me know.

Invisible women: exposing data bias in a world designed for men by Caroline Criado Perez

From the inside cover:
“Imagine a world where your phone is too big for your hand, where your doctor prescribes a drug that is wrong for your body, where in a car accident you are 47% more likely to be seriously injured, where every week the countless hours of work you do are not recognised or valued. If any of this sounds familiar, chances are that you’re a woman.”

This. Sounds. Incredible.

(and rage inducing)

I preordered this book a few months ago and totally forgot about it. When it landed on my doorstop I did a little squeal of excitement, but now I’ve seen eeeeeeeveryone talking about it on Twitter and I’m nervous that it’s not going to live up to my expectations. Does anyone else get that?

The only woman in the room: why science is still a boys’ club by Eileen Pollack

This is another book that looks like it’s going to make me rage – there’s a theme beginning to form here..

I bought this book when I went to Powell’s City of Books in Portland last year, and despite carrying it all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, it’s been tucked away on my bookshelf since then. It looks like a book I’ll love (and again, rage as a result of), and I’m excited to get to this one. It was named one of the notable non-fiction books of 2015 by the Washington Post, and it focusses on Eileen Pollack’s quest to find out why, even now, relatively few women pursue careers in what she calls ‘the hard sciences’. I really dislike that dichotomy of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ sciences, because it implies that there’s a difference in quality, rigour and as a result, respect for and value of. To be clear, I don’t think that there is; so-called soft sciences should be equally as valued as so-called hard sciences – both can be done badly, and both can be done well. Poor phrasing won’t stop me reading this though – I’ll just be mindful of Pollack’s potential biases when I’m reading it.

The war on science: who’s waging it, why it matters, what we can do about it by Shawn Otto

This is another book I carted home with me from Portland, and at 514 pages it’s not the lightest.. I think it’s size is the reason why I haven’t read it yet – it weighs a tonne and the quotes on the back emphasis how ‘well researched’ it is, which is a good thing, but it’s making me hesitate to pick it up in case it’s really dry and full of jargon. Given the subject matter, I really hope that’s not the case!

I’ve never seen anyone talk about this book either. It doesn’t have many reviews on Amazon or GoodReads, but the reviews that are there seem good.
Have any of you read it? I think I need someone to rave about it to finally convince me to start reading.

A guide to making science matter: Escape from the ivory tower by Nancy Baron

I ordered this book after speaking to Jim Handman; science journalist, Executive Director of the Science Media Centre in Canada and former senior producer of science radio show Quirks and Quarks. Jim is kind of a big deal when it comes to science journalism, so when he recommended this book I bought it straight away.
Nancy Baron is a communications coach with an incredible track record, and I am SO excited to read this. From the back, “No one understands scientists the way Nancy Baron does. This book helps connect the worlds of science, journalism, and policy in very entertaining and insightful ways. If you care about linking science with action, this is the book to read.” (Pam Matson, Scientific Director of the Leopold Leadership Program, Woods Institute for the Environment and Dean of the School of Earth Sciences Stanford University).

I already feel like I’m recommending this book before I’ve read it. This is on my April reading pile so expect a review relatively soon.

The state of medicine by Margaret McCartney

Another of Margaret McCartney’s books, ‘The Patient Paradox: Why Sexed Up Medicine is Bad for Your Health’ was included in the 5 science books blog post I mentioned earlier, and this is McCartney’s newest book. Released in 2016, this looks at the NHS – in my opinion, the best thing about the UK.
The back of the book claims that ‘the NHS is the closest thing the UK has to a national religion’, the reason behind that being that it unites people across social and class divides. This book isn’t an ode to the NHS though, it’s about the financial strain that the service is under, and the political decisions that have led to the situation we now find ourselves in.
I love Margaret McCartney, I’ve fangirled about her on this blog before, and I know this book will not disappoint.

If there are any of these books that you’d like to see me review, let me know and I’ll try to make those a priority!

Living Artwork and Questioning the Ageing Process – a Visit to STATE Studio Berlin

I’m fiiinally making some time to write blog posts about all the wonderful places I’ve been as part of my Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship over the last few months, so if you’re interested in science communication/how science can be communicated using art, then be sure to check back over the coming weeks. Last week I talked about a fantastic exhibition that I visited at the Red Dot Design Museum in Singapore, which was more data visualisation than art, so today I thought I’d highlight something that’s more obviously in the art sphere; STATE Studio in Berlin, Germany.

STATE Studio, Berlin

In between Fellowship trips (I did two legs – North America and Asia), I sneaked in a
weekend in Berlin. This wasn’t strictly Fellowship-based travel as it wasn’t in my itinerary, but STATE Studio’s work merging art and science is the reason I went to Berlin, so I’m counting it as part of the Fellowship
experience.

STATE Studio is a public gallery, showroom and event space that was established on the back of STATE Festival; Berlin’s festival for open science, art and society. The team also have an agency made up of a collective of artists, designers, scientists and cultural producers, to create innovative experiences to engage the public with science. The Studio part of STATE opened in October 2018 (after my Fellowship was funded, hence the last minute addition to my itinerary!), and is home to various exhibits that focus on cutting-edge scientific research, innovation, and creativity. In the words of STATE, “It’s a place for creative synergies between science, art, and innovation to discover and explore the breakthrough developments that shape our future.”

For me, the two standout exhibits were, the Living Canvas installation, and ÆON- Trajectories of Longevity and CRISPR.

Living Canvas, Fara Peluso with biotech start-up Solaga
Artist Fara Peluso with her Living Canvas exhibit. Image credit: Anne Freitag Photography

The Living Canvas is the first thing you see when you walk into the STATE Studio space – at first glance it looks like a regular painting, but on closer inspection it’s clear that it really is living. Within a chunky glass frame is a growing algae biofilm, and it comes complete with external circuitry that supplies that algae with life-giving saline solution. What I found super interested is that the algae biofilm inside the Living Canvas is actually in constant interaction with the exhibition space itself; the algae is filtering the air around it, removing carbon dioxide and pollutants, and releasing oxygen and water – which you can see as little bubbles on the inside of the glass, giving the impression that the piece is sweating.

The Living Canvas was designed by artist Fara Peluso, in collaboration with Solaga, a Berlin-based biotech start-up which specializes in the development of innovative solutions for air filtrations and regenerative energy production based on algae biofilms. In interviews since the exhibition opened, Fara has explained that she wanted to initiate a discourse on sustainability and new technologies, and so created a work of art that will continue to develop over the course of the exhibition’s lifetime.

As part of the Living Canvas exhibit, Fara Peluso also runs an algae cultivation workshop at STATE. The Algature workshop combines DIY Biology and speculative design, giving attendees an opportunity to develop their own algae cultivation tool that they can then take home to purify the air in their own spaces.

ÆON- Trajectories of Longevity and CRISPR, Emilia Tikka with the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC)

After admiring the Living Canvas exhibit I headed upstairs to a bigger space which included the ÆON- Trajectories of Longevity and CRISPR exhibit (I originally found out about STATE Studio from a piece that Nature did on this exhibit). This was one that I found really interesting because it’s a photography exhibit, and therefore something that could be translated into the format of a blog post with relative ease.

Photographs by Zuzanna Kaluzna form part of Emilia Tikka’s ÆON. Image credit: Anne Freitag Photography

STATE has a residency program, where artists spend an extended period of time within a scientific research environment. A residency is designed to provide an intimate link between artists and research institutions, in the hope that the artists can produce innovative work that defies convention and provokes curiosity, whilst also enabling scientists to reflect on the potential impact that their work may have on wider society. This exhibition was a result of Finnish artist and designer Emilia Tikka‘s residency at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC). There, she worked on uncovering the molecular hallmarks of ageing, and exploring the potential of CRISPR gene editing technology to reverse the biological clock. According to STATE, “ÆON- Trajectories of Longevity and CRISPR – addresses philosophical and societal dimensions of the desire for eternal life.”

The main body of the exhibit is made up of photographs, styled and conceptualised by Emilia Tikka, and shot by Zuzanna Kaluzna. The photographs tell the fictional story of a potential future; a couple are given the choice to defy the ageing process – the man agrees to, and inhales the CRISPR therapy, the woman does not. The resulting images are confronting as you see the consequences of their decisions; the man ceases to age, and the woman continues to do so. The fictional inhaler that Tikka designed is also part of the exhibit.

Emilia Tikka’s speculative design for a CRISPR–Cas9 inhaler. Image credit: Anne Freitag Photography

Clearly, Emilia’s work is speculative; you absolutely cannot take CRISPR gene editing technology via an inhaler, and then never see another wrinkle again, but the potential for CRISPR to be able to do something like this isn’t actually that far fetched. The world’s media recently exploded when a scientist from China revealed that he’d used CRISPR to edit the genomes of human embryos so that they would be immune to HIV infection.

CRISPR is a perfect example of the speed that science is moving at, and just how far the ethical and societal impacts of that are lagging behind. In my opinion, this exhibit at STATE Studio is a great way to stimulate conversation around these complex scientific topics.

Trip Update – 2 Weeks Down, 5 to Go!

The last two weeks had passed more quickly than 14 days has ever passed in my life. On January 5th I started my Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship adventures in Toronto, Canada, I then headed to New York City, and now I’m in Manchester, New Hampshire – I figure it’s time for an update.

Toronto
‘This is Paradise’ mural on the side of Cameron House, Toronto

Toronto was the perfect point for me to kick off my Fellowship adventures – the science communication community welcomed me with open arms and I had some of the most intellectually stimulating conversations I’ve had in a while. It was like someone had taken the top off my head, added in approximately 5 million new ideas, put the top back on my head, and then gone, ‘well have a think about that then!’.
It was wonderful, and provided lots of new layers to the Fellowship that I did not expect – important conversations around the culture the scientists are working in within both academia and industry, how gender may or may not impact on the way that we are doing science communication as a wider community, and how we can improve opportunities for inclusion of all communities (LGBTQIA+, first nations, people of colour, people living with cognitive, developmental, intellectual, mental, physical, and/or sensory impairments) to get involved in the communication of science that is important to them (both as individuals and as members of various groups within society).
Perhaps naively, I didn’t think that asking to speak to people about science communication would bring up this melting pot of political and societal issues, but I’m really glad it did. I left feeling acutely aware of my privilege as a straight white cis woman, but not in a guilty way; the people I met and the conversations that I had were hopeful and passionate, and rather than feeling guilty for the privileged life I have had, I felt empowered to educate myself on issues that have not impacted me, and excited to be part of a community of people that are working to change things for everyone, for the better.

New York
Oak Bridge, Central Park, New York

After my time in Toronto was up, I headed to New York. I’ve been to New York lots before – my parents got married there when I was 11, I worked just over the border at a camp in Pennsylvania during my first summer of University, and I did an internship in Princeton before I went back to University for my final year. It’s a place I love and have loved for a really, really long time. It sounds so cheesy, but I feel at home in New York, and this part of the trip was just as important to me personally professionally.
I decided to take my first 2 days in New York off as fun days – my days in Toronto were packed and I needed some downtime. Those 2 days were brilliant; I spent time with one of my favourite humans on the planet, my friend Lacy, who I first met during that summer at camp I mentioned earlier, and have since met up with in various places around the world. I also spent time with Daniel Whibley (you may know him as Dr Daniel Whibley) which was soooo bloody brilliant and absolutely what I needed after a hectic week. We wandered around Central Park, saw more dogs than I could count (most had coats on and some even had shoes on!), ate delicious doughnuts and discovered the taste sensation of pumpkin bread French toast.
Unfortunately I also got sick whilst I was in New York. I only managed to fit in one meeting before I retreated to my hotel bed for 3 days. Not ideal, but the people that I was scheduled to meet have agreed to Skype/FaceTime etc whilst I’m in different cities so that’s good.

New Hampshire

And now I’m in New Hampshire. I arrived late yesterday afternoon and went straight from the airport to the hotel so that I could crawl into bed in an attempt to sleep off my lurgy. I managed to sleep for 14 hours, yes, 14 hours, and now I’m feeling much more human, which is a relief. Today has been used for catching up with life admin, writing, emails etc, and tomorrow I’m heading to a nearby science centre to see how they communicate science and scientific concepts to various audiences. I’m only here until Tuesday morning before my trip to Washington DC, so I’m kind of using this time as a working retreat – getting organised before a week of meetings and science events in the capital!

It’s hard to believe that I’ve only been officially on my Fellowship adventures talking creative science communication for a fortnight but I am so excited for the rest of my trip. Washington DC is set to be a whirlwind of a week, and then I’ll be back in the UK for about 12 hours before I fly to Berlin.


Do you have a passion project that you’d like to learn more about from experts around the world? Applications for Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowships open again in May, but you can register for alerts now.

Science and Art – a Natural Partnership or Two Very Different Fields?

In my last post I explained the main aims that I have for the Fellowship that I am currently on; if you missed that, then in basic terms I want to explore how science and art can come together to improve the way that members of the public engage with science.

Since that post I’ve had lots of conversations with wonderful scientists, researchers, science communicators, and members of the public (Canadians are probably the friendliest people in the world, but Canadians in coffee shops are a whole new level of friendly), about the relationship between science and art, so I wanted to try to capture some of those thoughts in a blog post. Mainly I’m writing this as a way to keep track of my own thoughts around this topic, but I’m also interested in hearing your thoughts to – leave a comment below or send me a Tweet if you’d like to join the conversation!

My initial thoughts about the potential relationship between the fields of science and art started a really long time ago. In my early teenage years I wanted to be a graphic designer, I had dreams of setting up my own business, just like my Dad had, and spending my days steeped in creativity. After a couple of years that no longer sounded like a viable career for me; I did a GCSE in Art & Design and got a grade A, but even the process of doing a GSCE in the subject felt like too much pressure for me. I loved being creative, but being creative under pressure (in this case exam conditions) was not something I enjoyed at all – the pressure made me feel claustrophobic and my usually creative brain was suddenly unable to think as usual.
That realisation was a tricky one; I clearly wasn’t cut out to be a working designer where the pressure was not exam conditions, but bill paying and you know, life. I thought about other careers including law, medicine and surgery, my grades were decent and the options presented to me by careers advisors at school were a reflection of that. None of those really interested me and it took me a few months of trawling through university prospectuses to find the course I wanted to do – Pharmacology (the science of how drugs act on the body). I still wasn’t sure where I’d go career-wise, but I figured getting a science degree would give me some options, and I liked the sound of the topics that would be covered in the Pharmacology degree program at the University of Aberdeen.

During the years of my undergraduate degree I didn’t do much art, I made jewellery sometimes but I didn’t feel like I was being creative very often at all. Now when I look back, I was being creative all of the time; but I’d been taught throughout years of education that creativity meant activities like drawing and painting. I was writing all of the time, I read daily, and I was solving problems in almost every aspect of my degree – all tasks that require creative input. I was being creative, just not ‘traditionally’ so.

It’s not just me that has thought this way. Towards the end of last year I took part in the ‘I’m A Scientist‘ online event with school children across the UK. Lots of them were asking questions about careers, what our favourite subjects were at school and whether that linked in with what we were doing now. My favourite subject was Art & Design, and it took those kids asking questions of me to realise that I use creative skills every single day in my job. To me, science is inherently creative, I just hadn’t realised it because my teachers always presented science and art as opposing fields; you were good at one or the other, not both.

I guess this sort of thought process came from the myth of the left brain/right brain.

Image credit: Maggie Wince ‘Left Brain / Right Brain’

From a blog post written by Robert H Shmerling MD from Harvard Health Publishing:

“Those who are right-brained are supposed to be intuitive and creative free thinkers. They are “qualitative,” big-picture thinkers who experience the world in terms that are descriptive or subjective. For example, “The skies are gray and menacing; I wonder if it’s going to rain?”
Meanwhile, left-brained people tend to be more quantitative and analytical. They pay attention to details and are ruled by logic. Their view of the weather is more likely, “The forecast said there was only a 30% chance of rain but those cumulonimbus clouds will probably bring thunder as well as rain.””

I’m not going to go into the depths of scientific research that discount this thought process, instead I want this blog post to be a way for scientists to be reminded that they are creative people, and for younger readers to understand that it’s absolutely fine (and actually very helpful) to think creatively in the world of science.

Note: If you are interested in learning about the science behind this left brain/right brain idea, I saw that Samantha Yammine (you may know her as Science Sam) plans to cover this on her Instagram over the coming weeks. Follow her here and keep an eye an her Instagram stories and feed.

The reason why I’m passionate about exploring how art can be used to engage the public with science is because of these experiences; I never thought I would be a scientist because I thought that I was a ‘creative’ person; someone expressive and emotional (ask my boyfriend, I can be pretty dramatic if I’m hungry/too cold/too hot). I am expressive and emotional, and I’m a scientist too; I think that those qualities make me a better scientist. Lots of the conversations that I have had over the past week have included scientists echoing that sentiment. Infusing science with creativity means that conversations about science, and scientific issues, are encouraged within and between groups of society outside those that they may reach with traditional forms of science communication. It’s no use trying to have a conversation about a scientific issue that could impact on everyone, if there are huge sections of society not being invited into that conversation. I believe that creativity is one way to ensure we’re at least inviting every part of society to that discussion.

What do you think; if you’re a scientist, would you describe yourself as creative? If you’re not a scientist, then what do you think of this idea of sparking conversations about science with creative practices?


More information on the idea of science and art working together can be found by clicking the links below:

Artists and Scientists: More Alike Than Different
Why Art and Science are More Closely Related Than You Think
Art for Science – Science Communication Through Art
Why Researchers Should Use Art to Talk Science
Scientists are More Creative Than You Might Imagine
Exploding the Myth of the Scientific vs Artistic Mind