Its always great to perform at this Festival. I increase the average age of the contributors substantially just by taking part. Many of them entered science communication through Famelab, a talent contest that challenges scientists to take some aspect of science to a public audience in under three minutes which I played a part in launching back in 2005.
The programme note about my show at the Festival this year is here
Had a reason to trawl back through my Archives and came across some articles written before the www took hold and published in The Biochemist which I edited from 1992 to 2001.
I thought some of them might make you smile in the most depressing season of the year.
The first “Impressions of a Meeting”was published in 1992 and featured some brilliant cartoons by Daniel Postgate [Bagpuss’ father’s son] that poked a little fun at some of the characters I had encountered at Conferences. I would be very interested to know if they are all alive and well, and also whether any new characters have joined the menagerie
Dress cool and casual. Research group credits took two slides to complete. Talked with studied ease, whilst drinking mineral water from a bottle. Science awesome costing somewhere in the range of the Gross National Products of the countries of several of participants. Communicated a strong sense of being part of a small international band of experts who spend high percents of their time in each other’s company starring at exotic locations around the world. Trailed parts of the talks that members of this in-crowd would give with asides like “David has some great new data on this”
Everything he talked about was either in press or being prepared for submission to THE journal; tended to be coy about these pieces of information. Presentation was a full performance often including a few joke slides or puns.
Strategy for answering questions was to label any question however crass as very interesting and then refer to a string of papers published in the last few days that showed conclusively that their interrogator was a complete clown
Dress: lounge suit. Manner: that of headmaster addressing morning assembly. Often worked in a clinical area. Presentational style adapted from that used to brief bomber pilots during the War. Always referred to colleagues by their correct titles and tended to convey the impression that he was not in the least surprised that his data failed to agree with that of his overseas colleagues. Treated with great deference by the Chair, answered questions crisply, and from a great height.
Dress : Tidy. Manner: deferential. Read in a monologue from a script. Tendency to mutter “Next slide please”, even though they were holding the remote control. Avoided eye contact with the audience at all costs. Paused from time to time to wave the laser pointer at slides that would have taken Einstein a quarter of an hour to understand whilst mumbling things like”as is obvious from the seven columns on the extreme right” Audience too dazed and baffled to ask questions.
Dress: Ideal for Hiking. Beard of nature reserve proportions. Eyes of great intensity. Worked in a well equipped shed. Audio-visuals various including unexpected single words on the blackboard and wordy slides interspersed with multi-coloured, animation packed moments when he reached the bit that had attracted commercial sponsors. Tended to respond to questions after a long pause, often answered an entirely different one.
Dress: Jeans and button down shirt. Manner, someone who was a good deal older than they looked. Subject invariably Molecular Biology. Presentation appeared to consist of a random recitation of acronyms laced with the odd pronoun and a very rare verb which had been a noun in an earlier and less confusing incarnation. Some phrases seemed to have been deliberately invented because they combined a pun with a particularly bizarre image. The award winner talked casually about “Walking off the end of a YAC” Questions tended to be even less comprehensible since they came from the only other person on the planet who knew what the talk had been about.
Once upon a time I dreamt of teaching in Italian. It has never quite happened although stumbling conversations with long pauses while I try to engage my neuro-language gear are possible
Fortunately, I can work with young kids in the guise of them teaching me Italian whilst I brush up their English. Italian primary schools have next to no science in the curriculum so you get a big welcome if you can fill in a little of that gap.
For more got to
Recently featured in the Sofia Science Festival with Meet your Brain an event I developed for the Arts Festival of my home town Canterbury. The venue was a 300 capacity tent in one of central Sofia’s very beautiful parks and the show stoppers were jelly brains.
The next morning I took one of the brains, the lemon and yoghurt flavoured one, along to a chat show on Bulgarian TV’s Channel 1 and used it to take the viewers on a guided tour of the brain, and persuaded the host to amongst other things eat the Cerebellum.
To see the clip go to : http://bnt.bg/part-of-show/frank-ba-rnet-razkriva-tajnite-na-moza-ka
One of my weirder TV appearances. Right up there with winning the Loudest Voice in Britain competition on the BBC thirty years ago.
Working with Arts Festivals
Arts festivals are targeted principally at adults, expect punters to pay for tickets and take place in public venues. They are constantly on the lookout for new lines of programming that will broaden their audience and attract funding.
They are also one of the primordial forms from which science festivals like Gothenburg and Cheltenham evolved.
It seemed like the right time, in an era when there is intense pressure to maximise the dissemination of research, to put together a session about how science might more often find a place in the programmes of arts festivals. In fact, it seems odd that the conversation has not been more animated to this point given over a decade’s investment in the creation of a large body of work at the science: art boundary of which I guess only a small fraction has gone on to feature in the programmes of arts festivals [Cue plea for research on the subject].
So what will there be to talk about?
What models might be appropriate? What about an equivalent of Einstein’s Garden, a satellite science festival that co-exists with and draws inspiration from the Green Man Festival? Or a science strand woven into the programme like Canterbury’s? Or the staging of installations, demonstrations and experiments at arts events and music festivals like Guerilla Science. Or science performers, like Andrea Sella, working with artists to create intense experiences for new audiences?
What types of Arts Festival might make the best platforms?
Maybe ones with a broad programming base who already, for example, feature authors of science books? Or ones positioned close to a science hot spot which has no local science festival? Or ones that are themselves based in the birthplace or workplace of a famous scientist? Or ones that have gaps in their audience profile that need filling? Or ones that have sponsorship candidates who might be wooed by a science scented proposition?
And that’s before discussion of exactly what forms might these science additions take?
Need they be specifically positioned at the science: art boundary in a form like performance? Or might they simply be an opportunity to broaden the audience for more traditional science events like presentations and debates. Or should the aim be to innovate by drawing inspiration from a particular Festival’s ethos and audience.
That is just a taste of what might arise at a session designed for discussion which is why each speaker is getting a measly 6 minutes to make their points leaving 45 minutes for the audience to get involved and also why the session will use a “fishbowl” room layout with the audience arranged in a circle around the speakers.
Just spent a fantastic two days contributing to the Masterclass stage of FameLab Italia. Hard to believe that it will soon be ten years since the first FameLab competition and that it continues to create a platform for what has turned out to be and extraordinary number of gifted young scientist communicators worldwide. Can’t wait for the Italian Final in Perugia on May 3rd