What kind of example is set by the organisers of the largest STEM engagement event in the UK when they book Brainiac Live – Science Abuse as a headline show? What possessed STEMNET and the ASE to think that collaborating in a ticket promotion of Brainiac Live’s recent West End debut was a good idea?
Faked demonstrations. Mistakes in basic science. A disregard for copycat risks. A counter-productive desperation to ‘make science fun’. A profound lack of passion for science. Are these really qualities with which these organisations want to associate themselves?
Faking your results is the very antithesis of science demonstration shows and, in fact, science. Also, if you fake demos, the damaging subtext is that science isn’t interesting enough in itself, so it has to be enhanced by trickery. The rocket-powered spinning chair routine is symptomatic of most of what is wrong with Brainiac Live and its choice as a headline act for the Big Bang Fair:
Incredibly, it is claimed that the stage pyro “rockets” create the additional thrust rather than the fact that the performer is firing the extinguisher almost continuously on the second occasion! This could have been a high-impact demo with strong theatrical production values and good audience interaction. However, it is completely compromised by a shameful disregard for the science and a preference to trick the audience with a stage firework. It’s so frustrating – a single line at the end of the routine, humorously acknowledging the real role of the “rockets”, could have saved it entirely. This has been pointed out to them. But they don’t seem to care.
The biggest irony of Brainiac Live being booked or promoted by STEM engagement organisations is that it is self-evidently written and performed by people who refuse to believe that science is interesting. This is a capital crime in science communication.
I despair at seeing the wonderful art and science behind science demonstrations being exploited by a theatre production company who do not seem to care about either. There are many passionate, knowledgeable, professional science demonstrators in the UK for whom this caricature of science communication is ludicrous.
I’ve written an open letter of concern explaining my criticisms in more detail. If you share any of these concerns, I urge you to express them to the STEM engagement organisations which book or promote this show.
The British Interactive Group is somewhere between a professional association for science communicators and a self-help group. They host the excellent (as in ‘everyone who reads this blog should sign up’) BIG-Chat email list, and run an annual ‘Event.’ Which is sort-of a conference, but … well, you’ll just have to go to experience it.
Too late this year, though, as it’s on in Glasgow right now. Tonight’s shindig was the annual Best Demo Competition, which is sort-of a performance competition and sort-of a soapbox session for trotting out just plain neat ideas. There’s no more terrifying audience for a science communicator than the members of BIG… and no more forgiving an audience, either.
I’m missing the Event this year, but thanks to the lovely folks at Science Made Simple there was a live stream of tonight’s performances, and you can view it for yourself. Be warned – the audio is patchy (it gets better in the second and third segments), and there are many drop-outs. So it’s almost like being there, if you imagine yourself drinking heavily before showing up. Which would be traditional.
Some cracking ideas, some lovely performances, and some stuff that plain doesn’t work. Great combination.
…and the results (with a few extra demos because… because Best Demo):
Congrats to everyone who signed up to take part. Keep reading below for Elin’s thoughts on entering from last week…
A few weeks ago I was part of a crack team of science presenters (James Piercy, Debbie Syrop and Matt Pritchard) presenting a session at the Science Communication Conference, How not to present science. It consisted of our favourite pet hates, brought to life, and a number of people have asked for notes on the session. I thought I’d provide my ‘script’ on one section, titled The World Cringing Championships.
The premise had my co-presenters on a sofa with ‘buzzers’ commenting on my cringeworthy performance, whilst I attempted to break every ‘rule’ in the science communicators’ handbook. This was very peculiar to put together, as I was deliberately trying to insert comments and foibles that I’ve spent over a decade deliberately minimising, or intentionally inserting comments that don’t come naturally. It was joyfully liberating, however, to know that whatever went wrong on stage I could assert was my intention all along.
Continue reading How not to present science
Speaking of Michael de Podesta (see comments on previous post. Also: autocorrect wants to transmogricate ‘Podesta’ to ‘Pedestal’), he’s blogging the development of the NPL’s stand for the Royal Society Summer Exhibition. Well worth keeping an eye on for some background about what goes into a good demo. Knowing Michael, there’ll be some extremely subtle and smart thinking involved.
(Michael presented some of our physics demo films, shot in one of the archive rooms at the NPL‘s kind invitation.)
In a demonstration lecture we rely on the ‘demonstration’ to drive attention, and shy away from the ‘lecture.’ We run away from aesthetics, emotion and character, which leaves only exposition — and we’re at least dimly aware exposition is the dull bit. Best throw in another explosion.
– via StoryCog – Blog.
Yes, I’m cross-posting to my own site again. But it only looks bad because that laggard Shaha hasn’t written anything here yet. And really, read this, it’s good.
[cross-posted from the StoryCog blog:]
The sequence here which goes from hard light → hard shadow on scrim/Hitchcock gag → using that scrim to turn the same hard light into a soft source is very nicely thought-out. Sometimes demonstrations are about finding the minimal sequence of operations which makes your point.
Thinking about it, usually demonstrations are about finding the minimal sequence of operations which makes your point.