By Kristina Campbell, Photos by Theresa Liao
Where do you get your science information from?
This was the question that greeted the attendees of #ScicommnightBC, an SWCC event hosted in collaboration with the Royal BC Museum, Science Borealis, and Curiosity Collider in Victoria on Friday, September 22nd.
"Coworkers" figured prominently, yes—so, learning about science through real-life social interactions. But "Twitter" and "journal articles" were the top answers, closely followed by "Google". This meant the majority of people in the room regularly got their science information from digital sources.
The digital world, of course, allows people to create communities around their own narrow set of interests. And while it's great to have a thriving online hub for soil bacteria enthusiasts and devotees of astrophysics—where does that leave all that's local?
The SWCC science communication event took shape to explore this question. And the gathering of some of Victoria region's best science communication talent—the 100-mile diet of #scicomm, if you will—did not disappoint.
First up was the SWCC 2017 book award, presented to Mark Leiren-Young for a story he chased for more than 20 years: The Killer Whale Who Changed the World. Leiren-Young, a seasoned writer and interviewer, says many of the book's stories were brought forth from a single question he asked the people around him: when did you first see an orca?
Next came representatives from the blog aggregator Science Borealis: co-founder Sarah Boon introduced spider scientists Catherine Scott and Sean McCann, who shared stories of their early-morning expeditions to local beaches to track and photograph spiders. In their passion fused with scientific inquiry (plus videos of the cutest, fuzziest spiders ever), Scott and McCann argued convincingly that spider stories can help almost anyone get to appreciate arachnids a little better.
Shelley McIvor of Curiosity Collider then took the podium, sharing stories of their unique efforts to draw in those who might not normally take an interest in science. When the organization brings together scientists, artists, and other collaborators in various projects—from a dance that models how the brain forms a memory, to a line-following wheeled robot—the audience may be inspired to think outside the traditional "science" box. Vancouver artist Larissa Blokhuis, for example, challenged the #SciCommNightBC audience to imagine a beetle species that changed some aspect of its body or behaviour after the recent eclipse. Her explorations of the same challenge were represented in an art installation at the back of the room during the event.
The collections manager of invertebrates and the curator of invertebrates at the Royal BC Museum took the opportunity to speak about the science communication work of their institution. They emphasized the constant battle against the idea of museums as places to park old specimens: in reality, not only does the Royal BC Museum lead dynamic research efforts, but they also do constant outreach in the wider community. And even these taxonomists emphasized that it’s not the specimen or its name that matters—it’s the story. This, they said, is what science communicators should always be trying to uncover.
The final activity of the night, led by Chris O'Connor, Program Developer in the Learning Department at the Royal BC Museum, made use of all the science communication talent in the room, professional & amateur alike. O'Connor gave each small group an object that looked like a random, unremarkable item a small child would have collected from a BC beach: a shell perforated with holes; a hollow rocklike object, brown and crumbling. O'Connor asked each group to come up with a name and a one-sentence story about the object.
In five minutes, the mundane objects all been transformed with a story. They had all been tethered to something, or someone, that had made them come alive.
Also at the event: the definitive Victoria faceoff between "Oxford Comma" and "No Oxford Comma". Attendees voted with their spare change. Although various participants argued eloquently on both sides, Oxford Comma was the winner with 79% of the proceeds.
Sarah Boone wrote a report about this event for Science Borealis. You can read more about it here
This event was organized as part of Science Literacy Week.