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“STEPHEN HAWKING WAS THE MOST ACCOMPLISHED SCIENCE COMMUNICATOR OF OUR TIME. NOT ONLY DID HE POPULARISE EXTRAORDINARILY COMPLEX IDEAS AND MAKE THEM AVAILABLE TO PEOPLE FROM ALL WALKS OF LIKE, BUT HIS LEGACY INSPIRED ARTISTS TO MAKE WORK THAT FURTHER ENRICHED OUR UNDERSTANDING OF THE UNIVERSE AND OUR PLACE WITHIN IT.
WHAT DISTINGUISHED HAWKING WAS THAT HIS RESEARCH INSIGHTS ALWAYS SHAPED THE SUBJECT OF HIS SCIENCE COMMUNICATION. IN SO DOING, HE MADE THE MASSIVE JUMP THAT MUCH SCIENCE COMMUNICATION FAILS TO ACHIEVE, NAMELY TO BRING THE LATEST IDEAS TO THE PUBLIC’S ATTENTION. HAWKING DID THIS IN LEAPS AND BOUNDS AND WAS ALSO A DEEPLY HUMANITARIAN FIGURE, AS MUCH CONCERNED WITH THE SURVIVAL OF THE HUMAN SPECIES AS HE WAS FOR THE IDEA OF LIFE IN ITS ENTIRETY.”
“IN THE FINAL YEARS OF HIS LIFE, HE TURNED HIS ATTENTION TO THE OPPORTUNITIES AND RISKS AFFORDED BY ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND HOW THIS COULD CONTRIBUTE TO OR DETRACT FROM IMPROVING THE LIVES OF THE PEOPLE MOST WORSE OFF IN SOCIETY. IN THIS RESPECT, HAWKING’S CONTRIBUTION WAS ALWAYS WRAPPED IN A DEEP COMMITMENT TO THE PURSUIT OF LIFE AND TO OUR ENJOYMENT OF IT. HIS CONTRIBUTION BEYOND PHYSICS WILL LIVE ON FOR YEARS TO COME, NOTABLY IN THE STEPHEN HAWKING MEDAL FOR SCIENCE COMMUNICATION, WHICH WAS FIRST AWARDED IN 2015."
Today, the BBC launches a big initiative to help children navigate the world of fake news and this is a nice segway into an event I took part in a couple of weeks ago at the National Science and Media Museum, which opened a new exhibition on Fake News. Curated by John O'Shea and Sarah Browncross, I was really pleased to advise it in the lead up.
The Museum has done a great job of turning around an exhibition in a short space of time, which deals with one of the biggest stories of the year and certainly the biggest digital discourse of 2017. With the Collins Dictionary including 'fake news' into its historic pages, we need greater work on promoting digital literacy, but also thoughtful responses to how we engender trust within our institutions.
One of the problems here is that all information sources become compromised and this may even include museums as we begin to rethink who we trust and what counts as authority in a digital age. The trend over the last decade has been to elevate the crowd to the position of authority. The more likes on Facebook or views on YouTube, or recommendations on Amazon, the more credit we give to something. Yet, this reputation economy becomes subject to manipulation as the platform within which it takes place is monetised. So, we see celebrities being told off for promoting a product on Twitter, as this is strictly speaking advertising, which is carefully regulated.
The Museum's exhibition draws attention to the longer history of Fake News, which began well before Donald Trump came on the scene.
The edited volume by myself and Mark Lorch received interest from the Mirror last week in an article which outlines the book we published earlier in the year with the Royal Society of Chemistry. Check it out here
The book was published out of a book sprint we conducted during Manchester Science Festival in 2016 and has been getting some great reviews, including one from Nature.
This is probably the biggest event in my calendar and it's happening over the next week! My role is to work with a great team at Salford Uni to develop, design, curate, and produce a programme of work for the Festival. As Educational Sponsor, we put a lot of work into this and it's huge this year. Headlines for me personally including having our VC open the festival at the main launch, spread of budget investment across 4 schools and various other units, over 50 staff members involved in delivery, about the same number of students, and some really creative, innovative events.
The biggest one in terms of production for us is the GameLab, which happens weekend of 21/22 October. Here's a quick glimpse of it...
Really excited to announce our GameLab weekender for the opening of Manchester Science Festival. Here's a quick overview. Working with VR Manchester to pull together this amazing event, which will include a citizen science showcase, VR demos, game experiences, science showing off, an eSport space, and a VR Gym. You can come for a drop in experience 21-22 Oct at our Media City building in Salford, 11am-5pm, or if you are a hard core VR person, sign up to a more formal programme here
Amazing to have received my copy of my new book, co-edited with Professor Mark Lorch. He and I cooked up a book sprint in Manchester Science Festival with some of the best people in the business to produce a fun book around the science behind superhero skills! It was published by the Royal Society of Chemistry and covers everything from Wonder Woman's lasso to what Spiderman eats for breakfast. You can find the book on Amazon, or at the RSC.
A couple of weeks ago, the Great Science Share took place at the Manchester City Academy. It was so much fun to be involved with this again as a Steering Committee member and it was a huge event! Here's a glimpse of what we did, under the leadership of Steve Bennett and Lynne Bianchi and here's a great blog from Mariana Salguiero who was my partner in crime for the day, along with Ethan!
This week, the Times Higher Education published a piece about our new MSc in Science Communication & Future Media, an online, part time course, designed for professionals who want to increase their skills and creative capacities. The article is broadly about the need to do more than just communicate facts to the public, a position that has been reinforced in the last week, as authors write about the consequences of the Anti-Science Trump administration. Here's the full article and here's a link to our exciting new course!
The amazing Beth Hewitt at Salford University produced this fantastic afternoon event within the BBC Digital Cities week, which I opened with a talk on how Virtual Reality is changing what sports involve. Here's a summary of the event from the BBC's journalist Charles Miller, who came up from London to capture some of the afternoon.
As part of the BBC Digital Cities week, I was delighted to take part and open the VR/AR Show and Tell event at Manchester Metropolitan University's Digital Innovation hub last week. It brought together some really amazing pioneers in VR, demonstrating how it can be an interface for research, industry, art, and entertainment. It was a fantastic affirmation of England's vibrant North West VR/AR network!
Among the people there was WizDish, which is a fantastic low friction platform to allow a player of a VR game to physically walk on the plate, thus moving a character within the digital game. Here's what it looks like.
As part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science, I produced an event that explores our future with robots in an experiment of public engagement, science communication, and social science. We invited families to come to the Museum of Science and Industry to discuss together what this future might be, while undertaking a Lego robot building workshop with Nick Hawken and creating Noisy Toys, Steve Summers - robot instruments.
I really wanted to create an event that explored a novel social science methodology and we combined a number of techniques to give people an insight into the role of social science in developing our understanding and comprehension of the future. This is a really challenging proposition for areas where we have yet to work with a demographic of users, but is crucial to help us build a greater comprehension for the issues that might arise.
As a catalyst for the discussions, we had input from world leading experts on this field who asked the following questions of our participants:
We had fantastic support from Salford University student volunteers and the amazing contributions of Dr Marieke Navin, Salford Uni Science Communicator in Residence and Dr Gary Kerr, PhD researcher in Science Communication.
Here's a little overview
As part of the Manchester Science Festival closing weekend, I developed and co-produced an event called Amorance, exploring the science of falling in love. We had some of the most amazing science communicators around the UK involved, including Dr Marieke Navin, Dr Erinma Ochu, Dr Sam Illingworth, Dr Gary Kerr, Dr Jo Meredith, Dr Linda Dubrow-Marshall and Dr Rod Dubrow-Marshall, and fantastic performers.
It was the most amazing event I have ever worked on and I really feel like we might have generated some life-long memories for people. In a world where we often focus more on the numbers, the depth of an experience is often a harder goal to achieve. Yet, the most significant memories in our lives - and possibly the most informative or educative - are those that have a deep impact on us and whose influence can stretch further. I will always remember a production of 'A Brief History of Time' at the Tramway theatre in Glasgow, which is one of the most memorable theatre experiences of my life. Their audience for that show was deliberately 12 people and it was amazing.
That's what we tried to do with this event, time will tell whether we managed it! Here's some coverage...
Our most spectacular event in Manchester Science Festival is the Salford Science Jam, in which we had an amazing array of events for all the families. This year's production included a plethora of virtual reality systems, co-creation of the amazing Sensory Sound Pit, by European City of Science Artist in Residence, Di Mainstone, a co-commission with the Foundation of Art and Creative Technology, and even Dr Helen Sharman's space suit. More documentation to follow!
Over the last year, I've been involved with organizing the European Science Open Forum, through my role on the European City of Science programme. We've produced events all over the region, from performances, to talks, and installations. One programme I have been particularly proud of is our Young Reporters programme. We've had students from Salford and Manchester universities, along with A-level students from UTC Bolton, reporting activity around the conference.
Our students have had an amazing time, meeting Nobel laureates, leading science editors, and covering content from graphene to e-doctors. It's been a fantastic week and such a great experience for all. Here's one of their videos:
This week, I took part in the Great Science Share, an event that formed part of the European City of Science in Greater Manchester this year. It was essentially a scientific conference for and by kids. Schools came from all over the region and showed what they had been doing in science.
I took along Ethan who helped me give a short talk to children about my journey through science. It was a wonderful day and such an amazing experience for all involved, a real highlight of my year.
This week, I gave a talk within the British Science Association Masterclass on Science Communication, which took place in Manchester. I decided to present something that was autobiographical, as I wanted to talk about the diverse ways into #scicomm.
In essence, I started #scicomm work as a PhD student, first designing websites to get ideas out, but also quickly starting to write about my ideas for the media. Most of those ideas were very closely connected to my PhD research, but not always. From here, I moved into a School of Media, which led me from science into an arts context, in which I could spend time bringing the two together. I did this by teaching at a range of art schools, while also trying to work with artists who were interested in exploring scientific ideas.
During that time, art works became a part of the means of science communication for me, but not necessarily within its service and I have always advocated a form of disruptive science communication, which does not focus simply on the scientific accuracy or information.
Over this period, I became closer to producers, curators, and art directors, which then brought me into their world and, since around 2009, I have been involved with some such activity. As a producer of creative work - film, media art, bioart, and more, - science communication has become more of a place to stimulate the involvement of others and I now sit on various steering committees where I can do that most effectively.
The key message for me is that, wherever you start in science communication may be very different from where you will be in 10 years, so don't get too hung up on being a particular kind of communicator. Also, find ways to bring together the original research and the communication activity, as much as possible. This means starting to think about collaboration very early and pushing out ideas when they are not fully formed. This feels risky, but it's crucial to make things happen and to keep innovating.
I also talked about how science communication can happen in all kinds of spaces, from industry conferences to going into schools and doing workshops. The opportunities are incredibly diverse, but we don't all have to do everything.
Today, I took part in a conversation focused on the ideas within a documentary directed by Roy Cohen called Machine of Human Dreams. It focuses on the story of Ben Goertzel and his work to make a robot which could demonstrate Artificial General Intelligence. It was a great chance to re-visit some of the early ideas around the AI research world and we covered so much ground, from Deep Blue vs IBM and the Turing Test, to a future in which all human jobs become automated and where we need to figure out what will be left for us to do.
It was fantastic to take part in this event and fantastic to see how a neuroscientist who took a documentary film module while at university found a way into telling one of the most complicated stories in science today. Very grateful to Erinma Ochu, who worked with Wellcome Trust to curate this programme of events, which gave me a chance again to be at the amazing and inspiring Sheffield Documentary Film Festival.
This week, I was in Cheltenham for another amazing science festival. It was a fantastic chance to share a stage again with Emeritus Professor Kevin Warwick, whose company I have enjoyed many times. I also met the fantastic Mark Miodownik. Together, we unravelled the world of superheroes and explored how closer we have come to making them a reality. I talked about the promise and peril of technology, the number of ways in which we are already superhuman, and how the idea of what it is to be a superhero has changed over time. Here's what I did.