Category Archives: writing

Storytelling, space, science, and a mini authors’ tour of Vancouver and Victoria (Canada)

I wasn’t expecting to go down a rabbit hole when I received an April 18, 2019 email announcement from Vancouver’s Curiosity Collider about an upcoming April 26, 2019 event but why not join me on the trip?

From the April 18, 2019 Curiosity Collider email,

Join astrophysicist / writer Elizabeth Tasker & young adult (YA) novelist Ria Voros as they share how discoveries of new worlds help tell stories of family

Curiosity Collider is co-hosting [emphasis mine] a special evening event with authors Ria Voros and Elizabeth Tasker. Ria and Elizabeth seem to be authors of a very different type: Ria is a YA novelist, while Elizabeth is an astrophysicist who writes popular science. The two authors will discuss how they came to work together unexpectedly through Ria’s novel. Ria will explain the process and research for her novel, The Centre of the Universe, and how the use of space metaphors help explain relationships between the characters. Elizabeth will then cast a scientific eye over these same metaphors, before moving on to talk in more depth about her own research and book, The Planet Factory

When: 7:00pm on Friday, April 26, 2019.
Where: Room 202, Hennings Building on UBC [University of British Columiba, Vancouver Endowment Lands] Campus (6224 Agricultural Road)
Cost: Free

Book signing to follow immediately after the event. UBC Bookstore will be on site with both Ria and Elizabeth’s books. 

Ria Voros is a YA author whose latest novel, The Centre of the Universe, explores the relationship between mothers and daughters and also explores a teen’s passion for astronomy. Ria has an MFA in creative writing from UBC and her books have been nominated for several awards across the country. She writes, teaches and lives in Victoria.

Elizabeth Tasker is an astrophysicist at Japan’s national space agency, JAXA. Her research uses computer models to explore how stars and planets form. She is a keen science communicator, writing principally about planets and space missions for publications that have included Scientific American, Astronomy Magazine and Room, and she is a regular feature writer for the NASA NExSS ‘Many Worlds’ online column. Her popular science book, The Planet Factory, comes out in paperback in Canada this April.

Curious as to what Tasker, an astrophysicist working in Japan, is doing here in BC, I noted the event is being cohosted by UBC’s Department of Physics and Astronomy (presumably Tasker is visiting colleagues and/or engaged on a sabbatical leave) along with Curiosity Collider. Not so coincidentally, Theresa Liao is the communications coordinator for the UBC department and is a member of the Curiosity Collider ‘team‘.

This April 26, 2019 Curiosity Collider event is the first of three of these authors’ events (according to my searches) within three days. The next is on April 27, 2019,. From the Royal BC Museum Astronomy Day (2019) event day webpage, (sometimes it’s ‘Astronomy Day’ and sometimes it’s ‘International Astronomy Day’)

The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (Victoria Centre) will host the celebrations for International Astronomy Day [emphasis mine]. Join us and explore the mysteries of the universe!

2:30 PM – Science & Storytelling: How discoveries of new worlds help tell stories of family
By Ria Voros and Dr. Elizabeth Tasker

Ria and Elizabeth seem to be authors of a very different type: Ria is a “Young Adult” novelist, while Elizabeth writes popular science. The first part of this talk will tackle a crucial question: why are they presenting together? The two authors will discuss how they came to work together unexpectedly through Ria’s novel. Ria will then explain the process and research for her novel, The Centre of the Universe and how the use of space metaphors help explain relationships between the characters. Elizabeth will then cast a scientific eye over these same metaphors, before moving on to talk in more depth about her own research and book, The Planet Factory.

Event Details
April 27, 2019
10:00 am to 4:00 pm
Royal BC Museum
Free

Segue: I found more than one International Astronomy Day for 2019., the April 27, 2019 date in Victoria, BC, an April 28, 2019 date, and a May 11, 2019 date. As well, there is an International Astronomy Week being celebrated May 6 – 12, 2019 (as noted on the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s (RASC) Astronomy Events webpage). Lots of options for folks.

On the last date of this mini tour, the authors return to Vancouver for an April 28, 2019 event at the H. R. MacMillan Space Centre,

Passion for Astronomy: A Tale of Two Authors

Have you ever wondered how writers develop their stories? Have you ever wanted to write your own novel?

Join us Sunday, April 28th [2019] to find out how popular science author Dr. Elizabeth Tasker and Young Adult novelist Ria Voros develop their work. There is no charge to attend and all ages are welcome.

Learn how a shared passion for science and astronomy, and Ria’s latest novel ’The Centre of the Universe’, lead to a collaboration between these two authors.

Ria will be sharing the backstory and process she used to develop ’The Centre of the Universe’, and how she used space metaphors to help explore relationships between her characters. Elizabeth will shed a scientific light on the metaphors in Ria’s work before talking about her own research and book ’The Planet Factory’.

We will close the talk with a Q&A and book signing.

Located in the lower level auditorium.

Event Details
April 28, 2019 – 3:00pm to 4:00pm
Tickets

FREE ADMISSION. Reserve your seat on Evenbrite


Enjoy!

AI (artificial intelligence) text generator, too dangerous to release?

Could this latest version of OpenAI‘s text generator be so good that it would fool you? And following on that thought could the concomitant reluctance to release the research be real or is it a publicity stunt? Here’s a sample of the text from the GPT2 AI model from a February 15, 2019 article by Mark Fraunfelder for Boing Boing,

Recycling is good for the world.
NO! YOU COULD NOT BE MORE WRONG!!
MODEL COMPLETION (MACHINE-WRITTEN, 25 TRIES)
Recycling is NOT good for the world. It is bad for the environment, it is bad for our health, and it is bad for our economy. I’m not kidding. Recycling is not good for the environment. It is destructive to the earth and it is a major contributor to global warming. Recycling is not good for our health. It contributes to obesity and diseases like heart disease and cancer. Recycling is bad for our economy. It increases the cost of a product, and in turn, the price of everything that is made with that product. Recycling is not good for our nation. We pay a tremendous price for the privilege of having the world’s most advanced and efficient recycling system. Recycling is a huge, colossal waste of time, energy, money, and resources. And THAT is why we need to get back to basics and get back to basics in our recycling efforts. One of the best ways to start is to look at the process of creating a paper product. When you make a paper product, it is basically a long chain of materials. Everything from the raw materials (wood, cardboard, paper, etc.), to the reagents (dyes, solvents, etc.) to the printing equipment (chemicals, glue, paper, ink, etc.), to the packaging, to the packaging materials (mercury, chemicals, etc.) to the processing equipment (heating, cooling, etc.), to the packaging materials, to the packaging materials that are shipped overseas and to the packaging materials that are used in the United States. Each step along the way creates tons of waste that we constantly have to clean up. The process of making a paper product is a very wasteful one. But the end result is something that all of us need to consume. And if we want to keep the recycling process running efficiently, then we really need to think about each and every step that goes into making a paper product.

The first few sentences don’t work for me but once the discussion turns to making paper products, then it becomes more convincing to me. As to whether the company’s reluctance to release the research is genuine or a publicity stunt, I don’t know. However, there was a fair degree of interest in GPT2 after the decision.

From a February 14, 2019 article by Alex Hern for the Guardian,

OpenAI, an nonprofit research company backed by Elon Musk, Reid Hoffman, Sam Altman, and others, says its new AI model, called GPT2 is so good and the risk of malicious use so high that it is breaking from its normal practice of releasing the full research to the public in order to allow more time to discuss the ramifications of the technological breakthrough.

At its core, GPT2 is a text generator. The AI system is fed text, anything from a few words to a whole page, and asked to write the next few sentences based on its predictions of what should come next. The system is pushing the boundaries of what was thought possible, both in terms of the quality of the output, and the wide variety of potential uses.

When used to simply generate new text, GPT2 is capable of writing plausible passages that match what it is given in both style and subject. It rarely shows any of the quirks that mark out previous AI systems, such as forgetting what it is writing about midway through a paragraph, or mangling the syntax of long sentences.

Feed it the opening line of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four – “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen” – and the system recognises the vaguely futuristic tone and the novelistic style, and continues with: …

Sean Gallagher’s February 15, 2019 posting on the ars Technica blog provides some insight that’s partially written a style sometimes associated with gossip (Note: Links have been removed),

OpenAI is funded by contributions from a group of technology executives and investors connected to what some have referred to as the PayPal “mafia”—Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, Jessica Livingston, and Sam Altman of YCombinator, former PayPal COO and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, and former Stripe Chief Technology Officer Greg Brockman. [emphasis mine] Brockman now serves as OpenAI’s CTO. Musk has repeatedly warned of the potential existential dangers posed by AI, and OpenAI is focused on trying to shape the future of artificial intelligence technology—ideally moving it away from potentially harmful applications.

Given present-day concerns about how fake content has been used to both generate money for “fake news” publishers and potentially spread misinformation and undermine public debate, GPT-2’s output certainly qualifies as concerning. Unlike other text generation “bot” models, such as those based on Markov chain algorithms, the GPT-2 “bot” did not lose track of what it was writing about as it generated output, keeping everything in context.

For example: given a two-sentence entry, GPT-2 generated a fake science story on the discovery of unicorns in the Andes, a story about the economic impact of Brexit, a report about a theft of nuclear materials near Cincinnati, a story about Miley Cyrus being caught shoplifting, and a student’s report on the causes of the US Civil War.

Each matched the style of the genre from the writing prompt, including manufacturing quotes from sources. In other samples, GPT-2 generated a rant about why recycling is bad, a speech written by John F. Kennedy’s brain transplanted into a robot (complete with footnotes about the feat itself), and a rewrite of a scene from The Lord of the Rings.

While the model required multiple tries to get a good sample, GPT-2 generated “good” results based on “how familiar the model is with the context,” the researchers wrote. “When prompted with topics that are highly represented in the data (Brexit, Miley Cyrus, Lord of the Rings, and so on), it seems to be capable of generating reasonable samples about 50 percent of the time. The opposite is also true: on highly technical or esoteric types of content, the model can perform poorly.”

There were some weak spots encountered in GPT-2’s word modeling—for example, the researchers noted it sometimes “writes about fires happening under water.” But the model could be fine-tuned to specific tasks and perform much better. “We can fine-tune GPT-2 on the Amazon Reviews dataset and use this to let us write reviews conditioned on things like star rating and category,” the authors explained.

James Vincent’s February 14, 2019 article for The Verge offers a deeper dive into the world of AI text agents and what makes GPT2 so special (Note: Links have been removed),

For decades, machines have struggled with the subtleties of human language, and even the recent boom in deep learning powered by big data and improved processors has failed to crack this cognitive challenge. Algorithmic moderators still overlook abusive comments, and the world’s most talkative chatbots can barely keep a conversation alive. But new methods for analyzing text, developed by heavyweights like Google and OpenAI as well as independent researchers, are unlocking previously unheard-of talents.

OpenAI’s new algorithm, named GPT-2, is one of the most exciting examples yet. It excels at a task known as language modeling, which tests a program’s ability to predict the next word in a given sentence. Give it a fake headline, and it’ll write the rest of the article, complete with fake quotations and statistics. Feed it the first line of a short story, and it’ll tell you what happens to your character next. It can even write fan fiction, given the right prompt.

The writing it produces is usually easily identifiable as non-human. Although its grammar and spelling are generally correct, it tends to stray off topic, and the text it produces lacks overall coherence. But what’s really impressive about GPT-2 is not its fluency but its flexibility.

This algorithm was trained on the task of language modeling by ingesting huge numbers of articles, blogs, and websites. By using just this data — and with no retooling from OpenAI’s engineers — it achieved state-of-the-art scores on a number of unseen language tests, an achievement known as “zero-shot learning.” It can also perform other writing-related tasks, like translating text from one language to another, summarizing long articles, and answering trivia questions.

GPT-2 does each of these jobs less competently than a specialized system, but its flexibility is a significant achievement. Nearly all machine learning systems used today are “narrow AI,” meaning they’re able to tackle only specific tasks. DeepMind’s original AlphaGo program, for example, was able to beat the world’s champion Go player, but it couldn’t best a child at Monopoly. The prowess of GPT-2, say OpenAI, suggests there could be methods available to researchers right now that can mimic more generalized brainpower.

“What the new OpenAI work has shown is that: yes, you absolutely can build something that really seems to ‘understand’ a lot about the world, just by having it read,” says Jeremy Howard, a researcher who was not involved with OpenAI’s work but has developed similar language modeling programs …

To put this work into context, it’s important to understand how challenging the task of language modeling really is. If I asked you to predict the next word in a given sentence — say, “My trip to the beach was cut short by bad __” — your answer would draw upon on a range of knowledge. You’d consider the grammar of the sentence and its tone but also your general understanding of the world. What sorts of bad things are likely to ruin a day at the beach? Would it be bad fruit, bad dogs, or bad weather? (Probably the latter.)

Despite this, programs that perform text prediction are quite common. You’ve probably encountered one today, in fact, whether that’s Google’s AutoComplete feature or the Predictive Text function in iOS. But these systems are drawing on relatively simple types of language modeling, while algorithms like GPT-2 encode the same information in more complex ways.

The difference between these two approaches is technically arcane, but it can be summed up in a single word: depth. Older methods record information about words in only their most obvious contexts, while newer methods dig deeper into their multiple meanings.

So while a system like Predictive Text only knows that the word “sunny” is used to describe the weather, newer algorithms know when “sunny” is referring to someone’s character or mood, when “Sunny” is a person, or when “Sunny” means the 1976 smash hit by Boney M.

The success of these newer, deeper language models has caused a stir in the AI community. Researcher Sebastian Ruder compares their success to advances made in computer vision in the early 2010s. At this time, deep learning helped algorithms make huge strides in their ability to identify and categorize visual data, kickstarting the current AI boom. Without these advances, a whole range of technologies — from self-driving cars to facial recognition and AI-enhanced photography — would be impossible today. This latest leap in language understanding could have similar, transformational effects.

Hern’s article for the Guardian (February 14, 2019 article ) acts as a good overview, while Gallagher’s ars Technical posting (February 15, 2019 posting) and Vincent’s article (February 14, 2019 article) for the The Verge take you progressively deeper into the world of AI text agents.

For anyone who wants to dig down even further, there’s a February 14, 2019 posting on OpenAI’s blog.

Canada’s Perimeter Institute, graphic novels, physics, and a public webcast

The full name is Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. The abbreviation I’m most familiar with is PI but there’s also Perimeter or PITP according to the institute’s Wikipedia entry. It is the only such institute in the country (as far as I’m aware) and it is very active in science outreach such as their latest foray: Graphic Talk about the Universe: a Clifford V. Johnson public lecture webcast.

A January 16, 2019 posting on the Slice of PI blog (?) announces the webcast,

Physics lends itself to illustration

From da Vinci’s detailed drawings to schematics of a hypothetical zombie cat both alive and dead in a box, illustrations are invaluable tools for those not fluent in the language of equations

But while illustrated textbooks abound, only relatively recently have artists and writers begun exploring physics concepts through the growing genre of graphic novels

These artists (one of whom will deliver a live webcast from Perimeter on Feb. 6!) convey complex ideas not only through illustration, but also narrative creativity, dialogue, action, and humour.

Here are some of our recommendations. Did we miss your favourite? Let us know in the comments.

The Dialogues by Clifford Johnson (MIT Press) is available here.

Max the Demon vs Entropy of Doom by Assa Auerbach and Richard Codor (Loose Line Productions Inc.) is available here


I have two comments about the excerpt from the PI blog: (1) I love the reference to Maxwell’s demon thought experiment in the title for Auerbach’s and Codor’s graphic novel title and (2) Clifford Johnson and his graphic novel were mentioned here in an April 16, 2018 posting.

PI has created a trailer for Johnson’s upcoming webcast,

You can watch the live webcast on February 6, 2019 here (7 pm ET or, for those of us on the West Coast, 4 pm PT). There will be tickets available for anyone who can attend the live lecturre in Waterloo, Ontario. Tickets are available as of Monday, January 21, 2019 at 9 am ET or 6 am PT.

How the technology of writing shaped Roman thought

I have two bits about the Romans: the first is noted in the head for this posting and the second is about a chance to experience a Roman style classroom.

Empire of Letters

This January 8, 2019 news item on phys.org announces a book about how the technology of writing influenced how ancient Romans saw the world and provides a counterpoint to the notion that the ancient world (in Europe) was relentlessly oral in nature,

The Roman poet Lucretius’ epic work “De rerum natura,” or “On the Nature of Things,” is the oldest surviving scientific treatise written in Latin. Composed around 55 B.C.E., the text is a lengthy piece of contrarianism. Lucreutius was in the Epicurean school of philosophy: He wanted an account of the world rooted in earthly matter, rather than explanations based on the Gods and religion

Among other things, Lucretius believed in atomism, the idea that the world and cosmos consisted of minute pieces of matter, rather than four essential elements. To explain this point, Lucretius asked readers to think of bits of matter as being like letters of the alphabet. Indeed, both atoms and letters are called “elementa” in Latin—probably derived from the grouping of L,M, and N in the alphabet

To learn these elements of writing, students would copy out tables of letters and syllables, which Lucretius thought also served as a model for understanding the world, since matter and letters could be rearranged in parallel ways. For instance, Lucretius wrote, wood could be turned into fire by adding a little heat, while the word for wood, “lingum,” could be turned into the world for fire, “ignes,” by altering a few letters.

Students taking this analogy to heart would thus learn “the combinatory potential of nature and language,” says Stephanie Frampton, an associate professor of literature at MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology], in a new book on writing in the Roman world.

Moreover, Frampton emphasizes, the fact that students were learning all this specifically through writing exercises is a significant and underappreciated point in our understanding of ancient Rome: Writing, and the tools of writing, helped shape the Roman world.

A January 3, 2019 MIT news release, which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

“Everyone says the ancients are really into spoken and performed poetry, and don’t care about the written word,” Frampton says. “But look at Lucretius, who’s the first person writing a scientific text in Latin — the way that he explains his scientific insight is through this metaphor founded upon the written word.”

Frampton explores this and other connections between writing and Roman society in her new work, “Empire of Letters,” published last week by Oxford University Press [according to their webpage, the paper version will be published on February 4, 2019; the e-book is now available for purchase].

The book is a history of technology itself, as Frampton examines the particulars of Roman books — which often existed as scrolls back then — and their evolution over time. But a central focus of the work is how those technologies influenced how the Romans “thought about thought,” as she says.

Moreover, as Frampton notes, she is studying the history of Romans as “literate creatures,” which means studying the tools of writing used not just in completed works, but in education, too. The letter tables detailed by Lucretius are just one example of this. Romans also learned to read and write using wax tablets that they could wipe clean after exercises.

The need to wipe such tablets clean drove the Roman emphasis on learning the art of memory — including the “memory palace” method, which uses visualized locations for items to remember them, and which is still around today. For this reason Cicero, among other Roman writers, called memory and writing “most similar, though in a different medium.”
As Frampton writes in the book, such tablets also produced “an intimate and complex relationship with memory” in the Roman world, and meant that “memory was a fundamental part of literary composition.”  

Tablets also became a common Roman metaphor for how our brains work: They thought “the mind is like a wax tablet where you can write and erase and rewrite,” Frampton says. Understanding this kind of relationship between technology and the intellect, she thinks, helps us get that much closer to life as the Romans lived it

“I think it’s analagous to early computing,” Frampton says. “The way we talk about the mind now is that it’s a computer. … We think about the computer in the same way that [intellectuals] in Rome were thinking about writing on wax tablets.”

As Frampton discusses in the book, she believes the Romans did produce a number of physical innovations to the typical scroll-based back of the classic world, including changes in layout, format, coloring pigments, and possibly even book covers and the materials used as scroll handles, including ivory.

“The Romans were engineers, that’s [one thing] they were famous for,” Frampton says. “They are quite interesting and innovative in material culture.”

Looking beyond “Empire of Letters” itself, Frampton will co-teach an MIT undergraduate course in 2019, “Making Books,” that looks at the history of the book and gets students to use old technologies to produce books as they were once made. While that course has previously focused on printing-press technology, Frampton will help students go back even further in time, to the days of the scroll and codex, if they wish. All these reading devices, after all, were important innovations in their day.

“I’m working on old media,” Frampton says, “But those old media were once new.” [emphasis mine]

While the technologies Carolyn Marvin was writing about were not quite as old Frampton’s, she too noted the point about old and new technology in her 1990 book “When Old Technologies Were New” published by the Oxford University Press in 1990.

Getting back to Frampton, she has founded an organization known as the Materia Network, which is focused on (from @materianetwork’s Twitter description) “New Approaches to Material Text in the Roman World is a conference series and network for scholars of books and writing in Classical antiquity.”

You can find Materia here. They do have a Call for Proposals but I believe the deadline should read: December 20, 2018 (not 2019) since the conference will be held in April 2019).

Also, you can purchase the ebook or print version of Frampton’s Empire of Letters from the Oxford University Press here.

I have a couple of final comments. (1) The grand daddy of oral and literate culture discussion is Walter J. Ong and I’m referring specifically to his 1982 book, Orality and Literacy. BTW, in addition to being a English Literature professor, the man was a Jesuit priest.

Reading Ancient Schoolroom

(2) The University of Reading (UK) has organized over the last few years, although they skipped in 2018, a series of events known as Reading Ancient Schoolroom (my August 9, 2018 posting features the ‘schoolroom’). The 2019 event is taking place January 23 – 25, 2019. You can find out more about the 2019 opportunity here. For anyone who can’t get to the UK easily, here’s a video of the Reading Ancient Schoolroom,

According to the description on YouTube,

UniofReading

Published on Feb 22, 2018

The Reading Ancient Schoolroom is a historically accurate reconstruction of an ancient schoolroom. It gives modern children an immersive experience of antiquity, acting the part of ancient children, wearing their clothes and using their writing equipment. It was developed by Eleanor Dickey at the University of Reading. Find out more at: www.readingancientschoolroom.com

There you have it.

Metcalf Institute Science Immersion Fellowship 2019 for journalists: applications open

I received this January 4, 2018 announcement from the Metcalf Institute at the University of Rhode Island (URI; US) in my email this morning. In other words, this is fresh off the email,

Get Science Tools to Break Stories
About Global Change & Water Resources

Apply for Metcalf Institute’s Career-Changing Science Immersion Fellowship
tuition, room and board, and travel support included

Global Change Impacts and Water
According to the United Nations, water is the “primary medium through which we will feel the effects of climate change” and water scarcity alone affects nearly half the global population.

Do you have the science tools to make the connection between shrinking water supplies, water quality, food production and climate change? Are you looking for story ideas to convey these global change impacts to your news audience? Would you like to build your confidence in discerning the credibility of scientific sources?

Call for Applications
The University of Rhode Island’s Metcalf Institute is accepting applications for its 21th Annual Science Immersion Workshop for Journalists, June 2-7, 2019. Ten journalists will be awarded Workshop fellowships, which include tuition, room and board, and travel support, thanks to the generosity of private donors and Metcalf Institute’s endowment. Two of the ten slots will be awarded to journalists based outside of the U.S.

Apply for the Workshop here.

About the Workshop
The Metcalf Institute Annual Science Immersion Workshop provides professional journalists with hands-on experience in field and laboratory science with expertise from leading scientists and policymakers who are working to project the impacts of global change, identify adaptation measures, and investigate the most effective ways to communicate these challenges. The workshop will address water resource and climate change topics of global significance while focusing on local and regional case studies in and around Narragansett Bay, among the world’s best studied estuaries. Held at the URI Graduate School of Oceanography, one of the nation’s premier oceanographic research institutions, the Metcalf Workshop provides an intense week of learning in the field, classroom and lecture hall.

Metcalf Fellows will:

  • Receive a comprehensive overview of climate science and global change
  • Gain a deeper understanding of how scientists conduct research and handle scientific uncertainty
  • Develop the skills and confidence to interpret and translate the language of scientific journals for news audiences
  • Build confidence in their abilities to discern the credibility of scientific sources
  • Board a research vessel to study the impacts of rising water temperatures and ocean acidification on coastal ecosystems
  • Explore the study of “emerging contaminants” such as PFAS that affect freshwater and marine ecosystems and public health
  • Visit wetlands, shorelines, and coastal communities to better understand adaptive management efforts and solutions in response to sea level rise and coastal storms
  • Discover new ways to write about global change to build audience understanding and engagement
  • Cultivate new sources by interacting with leading researchers and policy experts in an informal, off-deadline atmosphere
  • Network and develop lasting relationships with journalists from around the globe

Metcalf Alumni
Metcalf Institute has helped nearly 900 journalists cover the environment with greater accuracy and nuance since its first program in 1999. Metcalf alumni represent all media types and a wide variety of large and small news organizations ranging from local and regional newspapers and broadcast outlets to online and national/international outlets such as the Los Angeles Times, Reuters, National Geographic, China Global Television Network, Marketplace, Politico and PBS NewsHour. Metcalf Institute alumni hail from the U.S. and around the world, including Pakistan, Brazil, Nigeria, Israel, Egypt, Italy, South Africa, and China.

“This experience has changed my entire outlook on covering the environment and climate science. I may have only been in Rhode Island for a week, but the tools I gained during my Metcalf fellowship will stay with me for the entirety of my career.” Tony Briscoe, Chicago Tribune reporter and 2018 Annual Workshop alumnus.
                                                    
“Metcalf has greatly enhanced my ability to break down complex issues for my audience. Not only am I headed back home with a bunch of great story ideas, but the ability to set them against an international background and draw broader connections between issues in my region and the rest of the world.” Tegan Wendland, New Orleans Public Radio interim news director, lead coastal reporter, and 2017 Annual Workshop alumna.

Note for journalists applying from outside of the U.S.
While the Workshop addresses environmental topics of global significance, it focuses on U.S. case studies and a U.S. perspective on environmental policies. Metcalf Institute receives applications from journalists worldwide. However, due to funding limitations, only two of the ten fellowships will be awarded to journalists based outside of the U.S.

Eligibility
The Fellowship is designed for early- to mid-career, full-time journalists from all media who are looking to start or expand their coverage of the environment. Applicants must demonstrate a clear need for scientific training in topics relating to global change in coastal environments, specifically related to climate change and water resources. The fellowship includes room, board, tuition, and travel reimbursement paid after the program in the amount of up to US$500 for U.S.-based journalists and up to US$1,000 for journalists based outside of the U.S. Journalists applying from outside the U.S. must provide written assurance that they have full travel funds and can obtain the appropriate visa. Applications for the 2019 Annual Science Immersion Workshop for Journalists must be submitted by February 18, 2019.

Apply for the Workshop here.

About Metcalf Institute
Metcalf Institute is a global leader in environmental science training for journalists and communication training for scientists and other science communicators, as well as provider of science resources for journalists and free public programs and webinars on environmental topics. Metcalf Institute was established at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography in 1997 with funding from three media foundations: the Belo Corporation, the Providence Journal Charitable Foundation and the Philip L. Graham Fund, with additional support from the Telaka Foundation. In 2017, the Institute joined the URI College of the Environment and Life Sciences.

Metcalf Institute Funding
Metcalf programming is underwritten by federal and foundation grants, as well as donations from individuals and an endowment managed by the University of Rhode Island Foundation.

I headed off to the Metcalf Institute Fellowship application webpage and decided to include a few details here,

Email Stamp/Postmark Deadline: February 18, 2019

This application has two parts – an online form and a set of required inclusions. Read thoroughly before applying for the workshop below.

Application packages (online form and required enclosures together) will be used to evaluate applicants. Any hard copies of application materials will not be returned.

All application forms and required enclosures must be submitted in English. Application packages in languages other than English will not be reviewed.

Application packages that are not complete by midnight, U.S. Eastern Time, on February 18, 2019, will not be reviewed. …

Good luck!

ArtSci Salon visits the Society for Literature, Science & the Arts 2018 Meeting in Toronto (Canada) while Vancouver’s Curiosity Collider provides a November 2018 update

I have two art/sci (or sciart) announcements, one concerns an event and the other is a news update.

Toronto’s ArtSci Salon and the Society of Literature, Science & the Arts (SLSA) 2018 Meeting

How could I not have stumbled across SLSA until now? Better late than never but the 2018 meeting/conference in Toronto, Canada is the 32nd of this annual event. (sigh)

Getting on to the important points, the ArtSci Salon is hosting a special roundtable as part of the conference (from a November 14, 2018 announcement received via email),

ArtSci Salon has organized a special roundtable at the annual SLSA
(Society for Science Literature and the Arts) which will take place in
Toronto this week.

The roundtable is public and will be held at OCADU [Ontario College of Art and Design University] in the gallery on 49 McCaul Street.

Re-locating the rational: on the re-making of categories through art and science (or: the artist is out of mind!)

A roundtable and a mobile/pop-up exhibition organized by ArtSci Salon

The world always exceeds our conception of it (Shotwell, 2016)

Coinciding with this year’s SLSA “Out of Mind” conference in Toronto, ArtSci Salon is proposing a panel/roundtable on “out-of-mindedness” as a way to re-think categories, and to disrupt the disciplinary and methodological status quo through which we normally see science and the humanities unfolding in academic contexts. We plan to do it through a pop-up exhibition featuring the works of local artists and members of SLSA.

What to do when the sciences and the humanities loose [sic] their ability to fully grasp, and sometimes even speak of, phenomena that have inevitably become too complex, too diffuse to be simplified through a model or a formula, or to be seized and summarized by one discipline?

This initiative is not designed to propose a set of new categories, but to pose a series of open questions, highlighting the necessity to conduct collaborative research between artistic practices and scientific research. We interpret the idea of “out of mind” as a strategy. In fact, using the arts as our preferred mode of expression, we believe that we ought to step out of the traditional mind configurations and fixed wiring in order to seize new ways to come to term with the multiplicities characterizing current environmental transformations. These occurrences have proved to be connected with nature, culture, and society in too many intricate ways, to the extent that neither science, nor technological methods are able to fully comprehend them.

Roundtable Participants:

Roberta Buiani (Chair)

Erika Biddles

Jenifer Wightman

Stephanie Rothenberg

Adam Zaretsky

Kathy High

Dolores Steinman

Here’s the poster:

One more logistical detail,

[T]he roundtable will be at 10:30-12:00 noon [Friday, November 16, 2018] followed by a small tour of the mobile pop-up exhibition[.]

For the curious, here’s the SLSA website and the SLSA 2018 [Meeting]—Out of Your Mind website. Unexpectedly, the University of Toronto is not one of the conference hosts, instead we have the University of Waterloo [Waterloo, Ontario] and York University [Toronto, Ontario] as joint hosts with OCAD University—Canada’s oldest art and design institution—partnering with the Rochester Institute of Technology (New York state, US).

Vancouver’s Curiosity Collider

Coincidentally on the same day I received the ArtSci Salon event information, I received a November 14, 2018 update for Vancouver’s art/sci (or sciart) organization, Curiosity Collider. From the update received via email,

Collider Update

Next events (save-the-date), call for submissions, and other art+science in town

Collisions Festival:
Meet Up & Hang Out

Are you an artist working in the sci/art genre? A scientist interested in collaborating with artists? Or one who wears both hats?

In the fall of 2019, the Curiosity Collider will be hosting our inaugural Sci-Art festival The Collisions Festival; the first theme will be Invasive Systems. The call for submission will be open in spring, 2019. The theme is meant to be broad in scope and not limited to any specific scientific subject/discipline; participants are encouraged to suggest various interpretation of the theme.

We would like to invite all artists and scientists who are interested in participating or potentially submitting a proposal to join us at this meet up event, chat about possible collaborations, and learn more about projects and details on “collaborative work” proposals we are looking for.

RSVP now so we know how many to expect.. This is a casual drop in event; feel free to stay, or just stop by and say hi!

Notice that RSVP? Taken with the next announcement, something becomes evident,

Join the Collider Team!

Are you passionate about art and science? Want to be part of the awesome Curiosity Collider team to help create new ways to experience science? 

We are now inviting applications for the following positions:

Read more on our volunteer page. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions!

In the old days a ‘development director’ was a ‘fundraiser’. That RSVP? Likely, they’re trying to establish the size of their potential audience so they can get government grants. Audience size is important to corporate or ‘other’ funders but if you want a government grant you need numbers.

Getting back to the update, this is a grouping of Curiosity Collider’s latest hits,

#ColliderCafe: Art. Science. Cadence.

Did you miss our most recent Collider Cafe event? You can now chek out the talks by Singer-songwriter Devon More, Biologists Wayne Maddison and David Maddison, as well as Integrated Media Artist Victoria Gibson on our YouTube Channel.

Check out the talks now.

Et al 3: Collaboration Process for Quantum Futures

Nerd Nite, Science Slam, and Curiosity Collider joined forces for the 3rd edition of Et al: the ultimate bar science night event. During the event, Quantum Physicist James Day and our Creative Managing Director Char Hoyt gave attendees an overview of the collaboration process that made Night shift: Quantum Futures, an event curated by CC and hosted at the Museum of Anthropology, possible.

Missed the show? Watch the presentation on our YouTube channel now.

While they don’t seem to have any details, there is a date for the next Collider Cafe,

Save the Date:
Next Collider Cafe

Our next Collider Cafe will be on Wednesday, January 23 at Cafe Deux Soleils. #ColliderCafe is a space for artists, scientists, makers, and anyone interested in art+science. Meet. Discover. Connect. Create.

Are you curious? Join us to explore how art and science intersect in the exploration of curiosity.

Finally, a miscellaneous listing of related events being held in Vancouver, mostly, this November,

Looking for more art+science in town?

  • November 17 (Victoria) Science Writers and Communicators of Canada is hosting a workshop on science writing in an age of reconciliation: What science writers can learn from indigenous community members about better representation and relationships. Only a few spots left! Register now.
  • November 15-18 CC friend Dzee Louise will open her studio during the East Side Cultural Crawl! Drop by at studio #5 just at the top of the stairs of the William Clark Building at 1310 William Street (on the corner of Clark).
  • November 21 Natural History (Paleoart) Illustrator Julius Csotonyi will present a public lecture at the Vancouver Public Library (Kits branch) on the mutually beneficial affair between science and art.
  • November 21 Our friends at Nerd Nite Vancouver is hosting another awesome event next week, including a presentation by artist Michael Markowsky who will talk about how he ends up “Painting on the Moon”. Get your tickets now!
  • Until December 15 Vancouver Biennale’s CURIOUS IMAGININGS continues…check out the exhibition that will “challenge us to explore the social impacts of emerging biotechnology and our ethical limits in an age where genetic engineering and digital technologies are already pushing the boundaries of humanity.”

For more Vancouver art+science events, visit the Curiosity Collider events calendar. Let us know about your art+science events by emailing info@curiositycollider.org.

I did write a preview (June 18, 2018) for the last event on the list, Curious Imaginings, which included some of the latest science on xenotransplantation and chimeras (i.e., examples of  emerging biotechnology). That’s all folks!

AI fairytale and April 25, 2018 AI event at Canada Science and Technology Museum*** in Ottawa

These days it’s all about artificial intelligence (AI) or robots and often, it’s both. They’re everywhere and they will take everyone’s jobs, or not, depending on how you view them. Today, I’ve got two artificial intelligence items, the first of which may provoke writers’ anxieties.

Fairytales

The Princess and the Fox is a new fairytale by the Brothers Grimm or rather, their artificially intelligent surrogate according to an April 18, 2018 article on the British Broadcasting Corporation’s online news website,

It was recently reported that the meditation app Calm had published a “new” fairytale by the Brothers Grimm.

However, The Princess and the Fox was written not by the brothers, who died over 150 years ago, but by humans using an artificial intelligence (AI) tool.

It’s the first fairy tale written by an AI, claims Calm, and is the result of a collaboration with Botnik Studios – a community of writers, artists and developers. Calm says the technique could be referred to as “literary cloning”.

Botnik employees used a predictive-text program to generate words and phrases that might be found in the original Grimm fairytales. Human writers then pieced together sentences to form “the rough shape of a story”, according to Jamie Brew, chief executive of Botnik.

The full version is available to paying customers of Calm, but here’s a short extract:

“Once upon a time, there was a golden horse with a golden saddle and a beautiful purple flower in its hair. The horse would carry the flower to the village where the princess danced for joy at the thought of looking so beautiful and good.

Advertising for a meditation app?

Of course, it’s advertising and it’s ‘smart’ advertising (wordplay intended). Here’s a preview/trailer,

Blair Marnell’s April 18, 2018 article for SyFy Wire provides a bit more detail,

“You might call it a form of literary cloning,” said Calm co-founder Michael Acton Smith. Calm commissioned Botnik to use its predictive text program, Voicebox, to create a new Brothers Grimm story. But first, Voicebox was given the entire collected works of the Brothers Grimm to analyze, before it suggested phrases and sentences based upon those stories. Of course, human writers gave the program an assist when it came to laying out the plot. …

“The Brothers Grimm definitely have a reputation for darkness and many of their best-known tales are undoubtedly scary,” Peter Freedman told SYFY WIRE. Freedman is a spokesperson for Calm who was a part of the team behind the creation of this story. “In the process of machine-human collaboration that generated The Princess and The Fox, we did gently steer the story towards something with a more soothing, calm plot and vibe, that would make it work both as a new Grimm fairy tale and simultaneously as a Sleep Story on Calm.” [emphasis mine]

….

If Marnell’s article is to be believed, Peter Freedman doesn’t hold much hope for writers in the long-term future although we don’t need to start ‘battening down the hatches’ yet.

You can find Calm here.

You can find Botnik  here and Botnik Studios here.

 

AI at Ingenium [Canada Science and Technology Museum] on April 25, 2018

Formerly known (I believe) [*Read the comments for the clarification] as the Canada Science and Technology Museum, Ingenium is hosting a ‘sold out but there will be a livestream’ Google event. From Ingenium’s ‘Curiosity on Stage Evening Edition with Google – The AI Revolution‘ event page,

Join Google, Inc. and the Canada Science and Technology Museum for an evening of thought-provoking discussions about artificial intelligence.

[April 25, 2018
7:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. {ET}
Fees: Free]

Invited speakers from industry leaders Google, Facebook, Element AI and Deepmind will explore the intersection of artificial intelligence with robotics, arts, social impact and healthcare. The session will end with a panel discussion and question-and-answer period. Following the event, there will be a reception along with light refreshments and networking opportunities.

The event will be simultaneously translated into both official languages as well as available via livestream from the Museum’s YouTube channel.

Seating is limited

THIS EVENT IS NOW SOLD OUT. Please join us for the livestream from the Museum’s YouTube channel. https://www.youtube.com/cstmweb *** April 25, 2018: I received corrective information about the link for the livestream: https://youtu.be/jG84BIno5J4 from someone at Ingenium.***

Speakers

David Usher (Moderator)

David Usher is an artist, best-selling author, entrepreneur and keynote speaker. As a musician he has sold more than 1.4 million albums, won 4 Junos and has had #1 singles singing in English, French and Thai. When David is not making music, he is equally passionate about his other life, as a Geek. He is the founder of Reimagine AI, an artificial intelligence creative studio working at the intersection of art and artificial intelligence. David is also the founder and creative director of the non-profit, the Human Impact Lab at Concordia University [located in Montréal, Québec]. The Lab uses interactive storytelling to revisualize the story of climate change. David is the co-creator, with Dr. Damon Matthews, of the Climate Clock. Climate Clock has been presented all over the world including the United Nations COP 23 Climate Conference and is presently on a three-year tour with the Canada Museum of Science and Innovation’s Climate Change Exhibit.

Joelle Pineau (Facebook)

The AI Revolution:  From Ideas and Models to Building Smart Robots
Joelle Pineau is head of the Facebook AI Research Lab Montreal, and an Associate Professor and William Dawson Scholar at McGill University. Dr. Pineau’s research focuses on developing new models and algorithms for automatic planning and learning in partially-observable domains. She also applies these algorithms to complex problems in robotics, health-care, games and conversational agents. She serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research and the Journal of Machine Learning Research and is currently President of the International Machine Learning Society. She is a AAAI Fellow, a Senior Fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) and in 2016 was named a member of the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists by the Royal Society of Canada.

Pablo Samuel Castro (Google)

Building an Intelligent Assistant for Music Creators
Pablo was born and raised in Quito, Ecuador, and moved to Montreal after high school to study at McGill. He stayed in Montreal for the next 10 years, finished his bachelors, worked at a flight simulator company, and then eventually obtained his masters and PhD at McGill, focusing on Reinforcement Learning. After his PhD Pablo did a 10-month postdoc in Paris before moving to Pittsburgh to join Google. He has worked at Google for almost 6 years, and is currently a research Software Engineer in Google Brain in Montreal, focusing on fundamental Reinforcement Learning research, as well as Machine Learning and Music. Aside from his interest in coding/AI/math, Pablo is an active musician (https://www.psctrio.com), loves running (5 marathons so far, including Boston!), and discussing politics and activism.

Philippe Beaudoin (Element AI)

Concrete AI-for-Good initiatives at Element AI
Philippe cofounded Element AI in 2016 and currently leads its applied lab and AI-for-Good initiatives. His team has helped tackle some of the biggest and most interesting business challenges using machine learning. Philippe holds a Ph.D in Computer Science and taught virtual bipeds to walk by themselves during his postdoc at UBC. He spent five years at Google as a Senior Developer and Technical Lead Manager, partly with the Chrome Machine Learning team. Philippe also founded ArcBees, specializing in cloud-based development. Prior to that he worked in the videogame and graphics hardware industries. When he has some free time, Philippe likes to invent new boardgames — the kind of games where he can still beat the AI!

Doina Precup (Deepmind)

Challenges and opportunities for the AI revolution in health care
Doina Precup splits her time between McGill University, where she co-directs the Reasoning and Learning Lab in the School of Computer Science, and DeepMind Montreal, where she leads the newly formed research team since October 2017.  She got her BSc degree in computer science form the Technical University Cluj-Napoca, Romania, and her MSc and PhD degrees from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, where she was a Fulbright fellow. Her research interests are in the areas of reinforcement learning, deep learning, time series analysis, and diverse applications of machine learning in health care, automated control and other fields. She became a senior member of AAAI in 2015, a Canada Research Chair in Machine Learning in 2016 and a Senior Fellow of CIFAR in 2017.

Interesting, oui? Not a single expert from Ottawa or Toronto. Well, Element AI has an office in Toronto. Still, I wonder why this singular focus on AI in Montréal. After all, one of the current darlings of AI, machine learning, was developed at the University of Toronto which houses the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR),  the institution in charge of the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy and the Vector Institutes (more about that in my March 31,2017 posting).

Enough with my musing: For those of us on the West Coast, there’s an opportunity to attend via livestream from 4 pm to 7 pm on April 25, 2018 on xxxxxxxxx. *** April 25, 2018: I received corrective information about the link for the livestream: https://youtu.be/jG84BIno5J4 and clarification as the relationship between Ingenium and the Canada Science and Technology Museum from someone at Ingenium.***

For more about Element AI, go here; for more about DeepMind, go here for information about parent company in the UK and the most I dug up about their Montréal office was this job posting; and, finally , Reimagine.AI is here.

Putting science back into pop culture and selling books

Clifford V. Johnson is very good at promoting books. I tip my hat to him; that’s an excellent talent to have, especially when you’ve written a book, in his case, it’s a graphic novel titled ‘The Dialogues: Conversations about the Nature of the Universe‘.

I first stumbled across professor (University of Southern California) and physicist Johnson and his work in this January 18, 2018 news item on phys.org,

How often do you, outside the requirements of an assignment, ponder things like the workings of a distant star, the innards of your phone camera, or the number and layout of petals on a flower? Maybe a little bit, maybe never. Too often, people regard science as sitting outside the general culture: A specialized, difficult topic carried out by somewhat strange people with arcane talents. It’s somehow not for them.

But really science is part of the wonderful tapestry of human culture, intertwined with things like art, music, theater, film and even religion. These elements of our culture help us understand and celebrate our place in the universe, navigate it and be in dialogue with it and each other. Everyone should be able to engage freely in whichever parts of the general culture they choose, from going to a show or humming a tune to talking about a new movie over dinner.

Science, though, gets portrayed as opposite to art, intuition and mystery, as though knowing in detail how that flower works somehow undermines its beauty. As a practicing physicist, I disagree. Science can enhance our appreciation of the world around us. It should be part of our general culture, accessible to all. Those “special talents” required in order to engage with and even contribute to science are present in all of us.

Here’s more his January 18, 2018 essay on The Conversation (which was the origin for the news item), Note: Links have been removed,

… in addition to being a professor, I work as a science advisor for various forms of entertainment, from blockbuster movies like the recent “Thor: Ragnarok,” or last spring’s 10-hour TV dramatization of the life and work of Albert Einstein (“Genius,” on National Geographic), to the bestselling novel “Dark Matter,” by Blake Crouch. People spend a lot of time consuming entertainment simply because they love stories like these, so it makes sense to put some science in there.

Science can actually help make storytelling more entertaining, engaging and fun – as I explain to entertainment professionals every chance I get. From their perspective, they get potentially bigger audiences. But good stories, enhanced by science, also spark valuable conversations about the subject that continue beyond the movie theater.
Science can be one of the topics woven into the entertainment we consume – via stories, settings and characters. ABC Television

Nonprofit organizations have been working hard on this mission. The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation helps fund and develop films with science content – “The Man Who Knew Infinity” (2015) and “Robot & Frank” (2012) are two examples. (The Sloan Foundation is also a funding partner of The Conversation US.)

The National Academy of Sciences set up the Science & Entertainment Exchange to help connect people from the entertainment industry to scientists. The idea is that such experts can provide Hollywood with engaging details and help with more accurate portrayals of scientists that can enhance the narratives they tell. Many of the popular Marvel movies – including “Thor” (2011), “Ant-Man” (2015) and the upcoming “Avengers: Infinity War” – have had their content strengthened in this way.

Encouragingly, a recent Pew Research Center survey in the U.S. showed that entertainment with science or related content is watched by people across “all demographic, educational and political groups,” and that overall they report positive impressions of the science ideas and scenarios contained in them.

Many years ago I realized it is hard to find books on the nonfiction science shelf that let readers see themselves as part of the conversation about science. So I envisioned an entire book of conversations about science taking place between ordinary people. While “eavesdropping” on those conversations, readers learn some science ideas, and are implicitly invited to have conversations of their own. It’s a resurrection of the dialogue form, known to the ancient Greeks, and to Galileo, as a device for exchanging ideas, but with contemporary settings: cafes, restaurants, trains and so on.

Clifford Johnson at his drafting table. Clifford V. Johnson, CC BY-ND

So over six years I taught myself the requisite artistic and other production techniques, and studied the language and craft of graphic narratives. I wrote and drew “The Dialogues: Conversations About the Nature of the Universe” as proof of concept: A new kind of nonfiction science book that can inspire more people to engage in their own conversations about science, and celebrate a spirit of plurality in everyday science participation.

I so enjoyed Johnson’s writing and appreciated how he introduced his book into the piece that I searched for more and found a three-part interview with Henry Jenkins on his Confessions of an Aca-Fan (Academic-Fan) blog. Before moving onto the interview, here’s some information about the interviewer, Henry Jenkins, (Note: Links have been removed),

Henry Jenkins is the Provost Professor of Communication, Journalism, Cinematic Arts and Education at the University of Southern California. He arrived at USC in Fall 2009 after spending more than a decade as the Director of the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program and the Peter de Florez Professor of Humanities. He is the author and/or editor of seventeen books on various aspects of media and popular culture, including Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture, Hop on Pop: The Politics and Pleasures of Popular Culture,  From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, Spreadable Media: Creating Meaning and Value in a Networked Culture, and By Any Media Necessary: The New Youth Activism. He is currently editing a handbook on the civic imagination and writing a book on “comics and stuff”. He has written for Technology Review, Computer Games, Salon, and The Huffington Post.

Jenkins is the principal investigator for The Civic Imagination Project, funded by the MacArthur Foundation, to explore ways to inspire creative collaborations within communities as they work together to identify shared values and visions for the future. This project grew out of the Media, Activism, and Participatory Politics research group, also funded by MacArthur, which did case studies of innovative organizations that have been effective at getting young people involved in the political process. He is also the Chief Advisor to the Annenberg Innovation Lab. Jenkins also serves on the jury that selects the Peabody Awards, which recognizes “stories that matter” from radio, television, and the web.

He has previously worked as the principal investigator for  Project New Media Literacies (NML), a group which originated as part of the MacArthur Digital Media and Learning Initiative. Jenkins wrote a white paper on learning in a participatory culture that has become the springboard for the group’s efforts to develop and test educational materials focused on preparing students for engagement with the new media landscape. He also was the founder for the Convergence Culture Consortium, a faculty network which seeks to build bridges between academic researchers and the media industry in order to help inform the rethinking of consumer relations in an age of participatory culture.  The Consortium lives on today via the Transforming Hollywood conference, run jointly between USC and UCLA, which recently hosted its 8th event.  

While at MIT, he was one of the principal investigators for The Education Arcade, a consortium of educators and business leaders working to promote the educational use of computer and video games. Jenkins also plays a significant role as a public advocate for fans, gamers and bloggers: testifying before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee investigation into “Marketing Violence to Youth” following the Columbine shootings; advocating for media literacy education before the Federal Communications Commission; calling for a more consumer-oriented approach to intellectual property at a closed door meeting of the governing body of the World Economic Forum; signing amicus briefs in opposition to games censorship;  regularly speaking to the press and other media about aspects of media change and popular culture; and most recently, serving as an expert witness in the legal struggle over the fan-made film, Prelude to Axanar.  He also has served as a consultant on the Amazon children’s series Lost in Oz, where he provided insights on world-building and transmedia strategies as well as new media literacy issues.

Jenkins has a B.A. in Political Science and Journalism from Georgia State University, a M.A. in Communication Studies from the University of Iowa and a PhD in Communication Arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Well, that didn’t seem so simple after all. For a somewhat more personal account of who I am, read on.

About Me

The first thing you are going to discover about me, oh reader of this blog, is that I am prolific as hell. The second is that I am also long-winded as all get out. As someone famous once said, “I would have written it shorter, but I didn’t have enough time.”

My earliest work centered on television fans – particularly science fiction fans. Part of what drew me into graduate school in media studies was a fascination with popular culture. I grew up reading Mad magazine and Famous Monsters of Filmland – and, much as my parents feared, it warped me for life. Early on, I discovered the joys of comic books and science fiction, spent time playing around with monster makeup, started writing scripts for my own Super 8 movies (The big problem was that I didn’t have access to a camera until much later), and collecting television-themed toys. By the time I went to college, I was regularly attending science fiction conventions. Through the woman who would become my wife, I discovered fan fiction. And we spent a great deal of time debating our very different ways of reading our favorite television series.

When I got to graduate school, I was struck by how impoverished the academic framework for thinking about media spectatorship was – basically, though everyone framed it differently, consumers were assumed to be passive, brainless, inarticulate, and brainwashed. None of this jelled well with my own robust experience of being a fan of popular culture. I was lucky enough to get to study under John Fiske, first at Iowa and then at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who introduced me to the cultural studies perspective. Fiske was a key advocate of ethnographic audience research, arguing that media consumers had more tricks up their sleeves than most academic theory acknowledged.

Out of this tension between academic theory and fan experience emerged first an essay, “Star Trek Reread, Rerun, Rewritten” and then a book, Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. Textual Poachers emerged at a moment when fans were still largely marginal to the way mass media was produced and consumed, and still hidden from the view of most “average consumers.” As such, the book represented a radically different way of thinking about how one might live in relation to media texts. In the book, I describe fans as “rogue readers.” What most people took from that book was my concept of “poaching,” the idea that fans construct their own culture – fan fiction, artwork, costumes, music and videos – from content appropriated from mass media, reshaping it to serve their own needs and interests. There are two other key concepts in this early work which takes on greater significance in my work today – the idea of participatory culture (which runs throughout Convergence Culture) and the idea of a moral economy (that is, the presumed ethical norms which govern the relations between media producers and consumers).

As for the interview, here’s Jenkins’ introduction to the series and a portion of part one (from Comics and Popular Science: An Interview with Clifford V. Johnson (Part One) posted on November 15, 2017),

unnamed.jpg

Clifford V. Johnson is the first theoretical physicist who I have ever interviewed for my blog. Given the sharp divide that our society constructs between the sciences and the humanities, he may well be the last, but he would be the first to see this gap as tragic, a consequence of the current configuration of disciplines. Johnson, as I have discovered, is deeply committed to helping us recognize the role that science plays in everyday life, a project he pursues actively through his involvement as one of the leaders of the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities (of which I am also a member), as a consultant on various film and television projects, and now, as the author of a graphic novel, The Dialogues, which is being released this week. We were both on a panel about contemporary graphic storytelling Tara McPherson organized for the USC Sydney Harmon Institute for Polymathic Study and we’ve continued to bat around ideas about the pedagogical potential of comics ever since.

Here’s what I wrote when I was asked to provide a blurb for his new book:

“Two superheroes walk into a natural history museum — what happens after that will have you thinking and talking for a long time to come. Clifford V. Johnson’s The Dialogues joins a select few examples of recent texts, such as Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, Larry Gonick’s Cartoon History of the Universe, Nick Sousanis’s Unflattening, Bryan Talbot’s Alice in Sunderland, or Joe Sacco’s Palestine, which use the affordances of graphic storytelling as pedagogical tools for changing the ways we think about the world around us. Johnson displays a solid grasp of the craft of comics, demonstrating how this medium can be used to represent different understandings of the relationship between time and space, questions central to his native field of physics. He takes advantage of the observational qualities of contemporary graphic novels to explore the place of scientific thinking in our everyday lives.”

To my many readers who care about sequential art, this is a book which should be added to your collection — Johnson makes good comics, smart comics, beautiful comics, and comics which are doing important work, all at the same time. What more do you want!

In the interviews that follows, we explore more fully what motivated this particular comics and how approaching comics as a theoretical physicist has helped him to discover some interesting formal aspects of this medium.

What do you want your readers to learn about science over the course of these exchanges? I am struck by the ways you seek to demystify aspects of the scientific process, including the role of theory, equations, and experimentation.

unnamed-2.jpg

 

That participatory aspect is core, for sure. Conversations about science by random people out there in the world really do happen – I hear them a lot on the subway, or in cafes, and so I wanted to highlight those and celebrate them. So the book becomes a bit of an invitation to everyone to join in. But then I can show so many other things that typically just get left out of books about science: The ordinariness of the settings in which such conversations can take place, the variety of types of people involved, and indeed the main tools, like equations and technical diagrams, that editors usually tell you to leave out for fear of scaring away the audience. …

I looked for book reviews and found two. This first one is from Starburst Magazine, which strangely does not have the date or author listed (from the review),

The Dialogues is a series of nine conversations about science told in graphic novel format; the conversationalists are men, women, children, and amateur science buffs who all have something to say about the nature of the universe. Their discussions range from multiverse and string theory to immortality, black holes, and how it’s possible to put just a cup of rice in the pan but end up with a ton more after Mom cooks it. Johnson (who also illustrated the book) believes the graphic form is especially suited for physics because “one drawing can show what it would take many words to explain” and it’s hard to argue with his noble intentions, but despite some undoubtedly thoughtful content The Dialogues doesn’t really work. Why not? Because, even with its plethora of brightly-coloured pictures, it’s still 200+ pages of talking heads. The individual conversations might give us plenty to think about, but the absence of any genuine action (or even a sense of humour) still makes The Dialogues read like very pretty homework.

Adelmar Bultheel’s December 8, 2017 review for the European Mathematical Society acknowledges issues with the book while noting its strong points,

So what is the point of producing such a graphic novel if the reader is not properly instructed about anything? In my opinion, the true message can be found in the one or two pages of notes that follow each of the eleven conversations. If you are not into the subject that you were eavesdropping, you probably have heard words, concepts, theories, etc. that you did not understand, or you might just be curious about what exactly the two were discussing. Then you should look that up on the web, or if you want to do it properly, you should consult some literature. This is what these notes are providing: they are pointing to the proper books to consult. …

This is a most unusual book for this subject and the way this is approached is most surprising. Not only the contents is heavy stuff, it is also physically heavy to read. Some 250 pages on thick glossy paper makes it a quite heavy book to hold. You probably do not want to read this in bed or take it on a train, unless you have a table in front of you to put it on. Many subjects are mentioned, but not all are explained in detail. The reader should definitely be prepared to do some extra reading to understand things better. Since most references concern other popularising books on the subject, it may require quite a lot of extra reading. But all this hard science is happening in conversations by young enthusiastic people in casual locations and it is all wrapped up in beautiful graphics showing marvellous realistic decors.

I am fascinated by this book which I have yet to read but I did find a trailer for it (from thedialoguesbook.com),

Enjoy!

A SciArt Gallery @ Science Rendezvous call for artists and a SciFi and Fantasy screenplay contest and

I’ve got two ‘creativity’ opportunities, one for people working on an art/sci (sciart) project and another for people with scripts,

SciArt Gallery @ Science Rendezvous

This notice arrived in a January 31, 2018 email from the ArtSci Salon people in Toronto (Ontario, Canada),

Science Rendezvous is a free Canada‐wide outreach festival that spurs interest in scientific research among the general public and last year at U of T, we attracted over 30,000 guests! This year we are hosting our first science-inspired art gallery called the SciArt Gallery! We are actively recruiting artists for the gallery to display their science-inspired works! Painting, design, music, dance, theatre, textiles, ceramics: We welcome all artists to apply!

To apply and for more information, please visit: http://bit.ly/SciArtGallery2018

The open call deadline is Friday, February 23rd, 2018 at 11:59pm!

To learn more about Science Rendezvous and this year’s festival on Saturday, May 12th, please visit www.ScienceRendezvousUofT.ca.

So you know what you might be getting into, the About Science Rendezvous webpage has this to say about what the organization does and about its origins,

We work with Canada’s top research institutes to present a coast-to-coast open house and festival that is FREE for everyone. With over 300 events across 30 cities and 1000’s of mind-blowing activities, Science Rendezvous is Canada’s largest celebration of the amazing feats of science and engineering happening right here at home.

In 2017, more than 210,000 attendees participated in our unique brand of hands-on science, a new landmark for such events in Canada. Science Rendezvous is the only organization that generates this level of public engagement with science, and direct face-to-face involvement with those at the very frontiers of innovation.

This SATURDAY, MAY 12th 2018 [emphasis mine] over 6,000 of Canada’s greatest innovators, researchers, engineers, and scientists from 125 partner organizations will open their doors and close city streets to present exciting demonstrations, hands-on activities, and explosive experiments. From the physics of rock and roll to the chemistry of ice-cream, Science Rendezvous has something for everyone!

History

Science Rendezvous began as a joint program between the University of Toronto, Ryerson University, York University and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) in 2008. These founding partners saw the need to work together in order to launch an event of great enough scale and exciting content to engage the public in the vast wonders of science and engineering. Since that time, Science Rendezvous has grown to include 40 of Canada’s top research institutions and over 85 community partnerships across 30 cities in 10 provinces and 2 territories. Today, it is a marquee event and signature partner of Science Odyssey [Note: This is a government of Canada annual national “celebration of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, featuring fun and inspiring experiences in museums, research centres, laboratories and classrooms from coast to coast” which will run from May 11 – 20, 2018 this year], and is the single largest science festival in Canada.

Science Rendezvous is a science outreach pioneer in Canada. Offering direct engagement with 6,000 of Canada’s top researchers and scientists at 300 simultaneous events and 1000’s of hands-on experiments for the public to try themselves.

The Science Rendezvous head office acts as an umbrella organization that coordinates the efforts of all participating institutions, reinvents public engagement with science through festival programming, and offers direction for event organizers all while promoting both the festival and Canadian science on a national level.

To be clear, the call for sciart projects is from the physics department at the University of Toronto (U of T) and the deadline is February 23, 2018. I went to the U of T Science Rendezvous SciArt Gallery artist application page and found more details about the call,

The theme for SR 2018 is “Full S.T.E.A.M. Ahead!” – We’re placing an emphasis on the Art in S.T.E.M. [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] this year and hosting our first and hopefully annual SciArt Gallery! We want to create a gallery full of science-inspired art and showcase the talent of our local Toronto artists! We hope that artists will be able to share their enthusiasm and teach visitors about how science inspired you to create and the science behind the art!

Artists will be permitted to sell their wares and will be provided with tents, chairs, volunteers, t-shirts, and lunch if accepted to the gallery. SR2018 is currently accepting applications for its SciArt Gallery taking place on Saturday, May 12, 2018 from 11am to 5pm.

There will be a $20 table deposit fee that will be refunded upon your attendance at SR. SR hopes to showcase science-inspired works of art and host workshops to allow artists to inspire kids and adults about their art medium.

*** Applications will close on Friday, February 23rd, 2018 at 11:59pm! ***

If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us at uoftsr.sciartgallery@gmail.com

For more information and to keep up-to-date about the SciArt Gallery, please visit our:

Website: http://www.sciencerendezvousuoft.ca/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/UofTSR/

The name and photo associated with your Google account will be recorded when you upload files and submit this form.

I don’t know if you noticed but the application page specifies Toronto artists while the email did not. You may want to contact the organizers for more details. At a guess, they don’t want to fund any trips or accommodation for out-of-town artists but if you’re willing to self-fund they’ll consider your application.

One final thing worth mentioning, there may be opportunities in your home community. So, it may be worthwhile to check out the Science Rendezvous website.

SciFi and fantasy screenplay contest

I got this January 31, 2018 withoutabox.com announcement via email,

… the 4th Annual ScreenCraft Sci-Fi & Fantasy Screenplay Contest, an out of this world screenplay competition set to discover talented writers. The 2018 contest judges are Steven Douglas-Craig, Development at Sony Pictures, the studio behind Passengers, Ghostbusters, Men In Black, Resident Evil, and Spider-Man; Jonathan Wu, Development Executive at 20th Century Fox, the studio behind Avatar, X-Men, Another Earth, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, and Prometheus ; and Michael Doven, CEO of United Pictures, producer of such celebrated movies as Mission: Impossible, Vanilla Sky, Minority Report, and The Last Samurai.

The Grand Prize winner will receive a $1,000 USD cash award and personal introductions to producers, managers, agents and studio executives. Additionally, the top finalists will be circulated to ScreenCraft’s vetted network of over 60 producers, studio executives, managers and agents. Whether you’re writing a contained science fiction drama or an epic fantasy saga, ScreenCraft wants to read your sci-fi or fantasy feature film screenplay. Great science fiction explores the human condition against the backdrop of a heightened imagined world, impacted by technology and human creativity and imagination.

Past ScreenCraft winners have optioned their projects and signed with top representatives at top Hollywood companies including WME, CAA, 3Arts Entertainment, Anonymous Content, Paradigm Talent Agency, ICM, Bellevue Productions Zero Gravity Management, Kaplan/Perrone and many more.

UPCOMING DEADLINE
February 9, 2018 – Earlybird Deadline [March 30,2018 final deadline]

View submission details

MISSION AND OBJECTIVE
ScreenCraft’s screenwriting contests are dedicated to discovering talented screenwriters and connecting them with producers, agents and managers.

MORE ABOUT THE FESTIVAL
ScreenCraft runs a suite of screenwriting competitions that have a long history of getting writers represented and working. The secret is that ScreenCraft actually determines the winners with judges who work in the particular genre or space – real industry executives (not just readers). The winners get actual meetings with actual executives, so that a relationship forms beyond just a great script.

I checked for more details and found this (from the withoutabox.com 4th Annual ScreenCraft Sci-Fi & Fantasy Screenplay Contest Submission webpage),

RULES:
Submissions are accepted via electronic submission only, between January 10, 2018 and March 30, 2018.
Entry fee for each feature film screenplay is $49 until the early deadline on February 9, 2018, then $69 until the final deadline on March 30, 2018.
Optional feedback from a professional reader may be requested at the time of entry. Requests for feedback after an entry is submitted will not be accepted.
Screenplays must be a minimum of 75 pages and a maximum of 150 pages.
There is no limit to the number of projects you may submit.
Entries must be received on or before the deadline dates by 11:59PM Pacific Time, and submission fee payment must be made in full at time of the submission. All entry fees are non-refundable.
All submitted material must be original, and all rights must be wholly owned by the writer(s).
Material must be submitted by the writer. Material written by writing teams must be submitted by one of the writers, with consent of the other(s). All writers must be credited on title page.
If a writing team is chosen as a winner, prizes will be given to the person who submits the project. Each team is responsible for dividing or sharing the prize money.
Substitutions of either corrected pages or new drafts of the entered material will be allowed for a limited time with a $5 reentry fee through Coverfly. Please proofread your script carefully before submitting.
It is recommended that original material be registered with the WGA or The Library of Congress before submitting to any competition, however we do not require registration.
Contact info may be included on the cover page of the screenplay, however it is not required.
All ownership and rights to the scripts submitted to this contest remains with the original rights holders.

ELIGIBILITY:
All writers at least 18 years of age are eligible. However, a writer who has earned more than $50,000 (or equivalent currency) from professional writing services for film or TV in the preceding year is not. (Contest winnings not included.)
All persons from anywhere in the world are eligible; however the material submitted must be in English (occasional dialogue in other languages is acceptable, if subtitle translation is provided).
All material submitted to other competitions or contests are eligible for this contest.
There are no requirements as to when the material was written.
Screenplay and intellectual property must be wholly owned and submitted by the writer(s).
Material should be submitted in standard screenplay format, font, spacing and margin.
We have no preferences regarding title page content. Title and name of writer would suffice.
Entries for this competition are managed on the submission platform Coverfly.
Adaptations are ineligible unless the underlying rights are owned by the writer or the work is in the public domain.
Feature screenplays longer than 150 pages will not be eligible.
All material must be submitted electronically as a PDF or it will not be eligible.

You can find out more about ScreenCraft here.

To everyone: good luck!

“Innovation and its enemies” and “Science in Wonderland”: a commentary on two books and a few thoughts about fish (1 of 2)

There’s more than one way to approach the introduction of emerging technologies and sciences to ‘the public’. Calestous Juma in his 2016 book, ”Innovation and Its Enemies; Why People Resist New Technologies” takes a direct approach, as can be seen from the title while Melanie Keene’s 2015 book, “Science in Wonderland; The Scientific Fairy Tales of Victorian Britain” presents a more fantastical one. The fish in the headline tie together, thematically and tenuously, both books with a real life situation.

Innovation and Its Enemies

Calestous Juma, the author of “Innovation and Its Enemies” has impressive credentials,

  • Professor of the Practice of International Development,
  • Director of the Science, Technology, and Globalization Project at Harvard Kennedy School’s Better Science and International Affairs,
  • Founding Director of the African Centre for Technology Studies in Nairobi (Kenya),
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of London, and
  • Foreign Associate of the US National Academy of Sciences.

Even better, Juma is an excellent storyteller perhaps too much so for a book which presents a series of science and technology adoption case histories. (Given the range of historical time periods, geography, and the innovations themselves, he always has to stop short.)  The breadth is breathtaking and Juma manages with aplomb. For example, the innovations covered include: coffee, electricity, mechanical refrigeration, margarine, recorded sound, farm mechanization, and the printing press. He also covers two recently emerging technologies/innovations: transgenic crops and AquAdvantage salmon (more about the salmon later).

Juma provides an analysis of the various ways in which the public and institutions panic over innovation and goes on to offer solutions. He also injects a subtle note of humour from time to time. Here’s how Juma describes various countries’ response to risks and benefits,

In the United States products are safe until proven risky.

In France products are risky until proven safe.

In the United Kingdom products are risky even when proven safe.

In India products are safe when proven risky.

In Canada products are neither safe nor risky.

In Japan products are either safe or risky.

In Brazil products are both safe and risky.

In sub-Saharan Africa products are risky even if they do not exist. (pp. 4-5)

To Calestous Juma, thank you for mentioning Canada and for so aptly describing the quintessentially Canadian approach to not just products and innovation but to life itself, ‘we just don’t know; it could be this or it could be that or it could be something entirely different; we just don’t know and probably will never know.’.

One of the aspects that I most appreciated in this book was the broadening of the geographical perspective on innovation and emerging technologies to include the Middle East, China, and other regions/countries. As I’ve  noted in past postings, much of the discussion here in Canada is Eurocentric and/or UScentric. For example, the Council of Canadian Academies which conducts assessments of various science questions at the request of Canadian and regional governments routinely fills the ‘international’ slot(s) for their expert panels with academics from Europe (mostly Great Britain) and/or the US (or sometimes from Australia and/or New Zealand).

A good example of Juma’s expanded perspective on emerging technology is offered in Art Carden’s July 7, 2017 book review for Forbes.com (Note: A link has been removed),

In the chapter on coffee, Juma discusses how Middle Eastern and European societies resisted the beverage and, in particular, worked to shut down coffeehouses. Islamic jurists debated whether the kick from coffee is the same as intoxication and therefore something to be prohibited. Appealing to “the principle of original permissibility — al-ibaha, al-asliya — under which products were considered acceptable until expressly outlawed,” the fifteenth-century jurist Muhamad al-Dhabani issued several fatwas in support of keeping coffee legal.

This wasn’t the last word on coffee, which was banned and permitted and banned and permitted and banned and permitted in various places over time. Some rulers were skeptical of coffee because it was brewed and consumed in public coffeehouses — places where people could indulge in vices like gambling and tobacco use or perhaps exchange unorthodox ideas that were a threat to their power. It seems absurd in retrospect, but political control of all things coffee is no laughing matter.

The bans extended to Europe, where coffee threatened beverages like tea, wine, and beer. Predictably, and all in the name of public safety (of course!), European governments with the counsel of experts like brewers, vintners, and the British East India Tea Company regulated coffee importation and consumption. The list of affected interest groups is long, as is the list of meddlesome governments. Charles II of England would issue A Proclamation for the Suppression of Coffee Houses in 1675. Sweden prohibited coffee imports on five separate occasions between 1756 and 1817. In the late seventeenth century, France required that all coffee be imported through Marseilles so that it could be more easily monopolized and taxed.

Carden who teaches economics at Stanford University (California, US) focuses on issues of individual liberty and the rule of law with regards to innovation. I can appreciate the need to focus tightly when you have a limited word count but Carden could have a spared a few words to do more justice to Juma’s comprehensive and focused work.

At the risk of being accused of the fault I’ve attributed to Carden, I must mention the printing press chapter. While it was good to see a history of the printing press and attendant social upheavals noting its impact and discovery in regions other than Europe; it was shocking to someone educated in Canada to find Marshall McLuhan entirely ignored. Even now, I believe it’s virtually impossible to discuss the printing press as a technology, in Canada anyway, without mentioning our ‘communications god’ Marshall McLuhan and his 1962 book, The Gutenberg Galaxy.

Getting back to Juma’s book, his breadth and depth of knowledge, history, and geography is packaged in a relatively succinct 316 pp. As a writer, I admire his ability to distill the salient points and to devote chapters on two emerging technologies. It’s notoriously difficult to write about a currently emerging technology and Juma even managed to include a reference published only months (in early 2016) before “Innovation and its enemires” was published in July 2016.

Irrespective of Marshall McLuhan, I feel there are a few flaws. The book is intended for policy makers and industry (lobbyists, anyone?), he reaffirms (in academia, industry, government) a tendency toward a top-down approach to eliminating resistance. From Juma’s perspective, there needs to be better science education because no one who is properly informed should have any objections to an emerging/new technology. Juma never considers the possibility that resistance to a new technology might be a reasonable response. As well, while there was some mention of corporate resistance to new technologies which might threaten profits and revenue, Juma didn’t spare any comments about how corporate sovereignty and/or intellectual property issues are used to stifle innovation and quite successfully, by the way.

My concerns aside, testimony to the book’s worth is Carden’s review almost a year after publication. As well, Sir Peter Gluckman, Chief Science Advisor to the federal government of New Zealand, mentions Juma’s book in his January 16, 2017 talk, Science Advice in a Troubled World, for the Canadian Science Policy Centre.

Science in Wonderland

Melanie Keene’s 2015 book, “Science in Wonderland; The scientific fairy tales of Victorian Britain” provides an overview of the fashion for writing and reading scientific and mathematical fairy tales and, inadvertently, provides an overview of a public education programme,

A fairy queen (Victoria) sat on the throne of Victoria’s Britain, and she presided over a fairy tale age. The nineteenth century witnessed an unprecedented interest in fairies and in their tales, as they were used as an enchanted mirror in which to reflection question, and distort contemporary society.30  …  Fairies could be found disporting themselves thought the century on stage and page, in picture and print, from local haunts to global transports. There were myriad ways in which authors, painters, illustrators, advertisers, pantomime performers, singers, and more, capture this contemporary enthusiasm and engaged with fairyland and folklore; books, exhibitions, and images for children were one of the most significant. (p. 13)

… Anthropologists even made fairies the subject of scientific analysis, as ‘fairyology’ determined whether fairies should be part of natural history or part of supernatural lore; just on aspect of the revival of interest in folklore. Was there a tribe of fairy creatures somewhere out thee waiting to be discovered, across the globe of in the fossil record? Were fairies some kind of folks memory of any extinct race? (p. 14)

Scientific engagements with fairyland was widespread, and not just as an attractive means of packaging new facts for Victorian children.42 … The fairy tales of science had an important role to play in conceiving of new scientific disciplines; in celebrating new discoveries; in criticizing lofty ambitions; in inculcating habits of mind and body; in inspiring wonder; in positing future directions; and in the consideration of what the sciences were, and should be. A close reading of these tales provides a more sophisticated understanding of the content and status of the Victorian sciences; they give insights into what these new scientific disciplines were trying to do; how they were trying to cement a certain place in the world; and how they hoped to recruit and train new participants. (p. 18)

Segue: Should you be inclined to believe that society has moved on from fairies; it is possible to become a certified fairyologist (check out the fairyologist.com website).

“Science in Wonderland,” the title being a reference to Lewis Carroll’s Alice, was marketed quite differently than “innovation and its enemies”. There is no description of the author, as is the protocol in academic tomes, so here’s more from her webpage on the University of Cambridge (Homerton College) website,

Role:
Fellow, Graduate Tutor, Director of Studies for History and Philosophy of Science

Getting back to Keene’s book, she makes the point that the fairy tales were based on science and integrated scientific terminology in imaginative ways although some books with more success than other others. Topics ranged from paleontology, botany, and astronomy to microscopy and more.

This book provides a contrast to Juma’s direct focus on policy makers with its overview of the fairy narratives. Keene is primarily interested in children but her book casts a wider net  “… they give insights into what these new scientific disciplines were trying to do; how they were trying to cement a certain place in the world; and how they hoped to recruit and train new participants.”

In a sense both authors are describing how technologies are introduced and integrated into society. Keene provides a view that must seem almost halcyon for many contemporary innovation enthusiasts. As her topic area is children’s literature any resistance she notes is primarily literary invoking a debate about whether or not science was killing imagination and whimsy.

It would probably help if you’d taken a course in children’s literature of the 19th century before reading Keene’s book is written . Even if you haven’t taken a course, it’s still quite accessible, although I was left wondering about ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and its relationship to mathematics (see Melanie Bayley’s December 16, 2009 story for the New Scientist for a detailed rundown).

As an added bonus, fairy tale illustrations are included throughout the book along with a section of higher quality reproductions.

One of the unexpected delights of Keene’s book was the section on L. Frank Baum and his electricity fairy tale, “The Master Key.” She stretches to include “The Wizard of Oz,” which doesn’t really fit but I can’t see how she could avoid mentioning Baum’s most famous creation. There’s also a surprising (to me) focus on water, which when it’s paired with the interest in microscopy makes sense. Keene isn’t the only one who has to stretch to make things fit into her narrative and so from water I move onto fish bringing me back to one of Juma’s emerging technologies

Part 2: Fish and final comments