Back in January 2019 I got an email from my good friend and colleague Lance Gharavi with the title “Podcast brainstorming.” Two years on, we’ve just launched the Mission: Interplanetary podcast–and it’s amazing!
It’s been a long journey — especially with a global pandemic thrown in along the way — but on March 23 , the Mission: Interplanetary podcast with Slate and ASU finally launched.
After two years of planning, many discussions, a bunch dry runs, and lots (and by that I mean lots) of Zoom meetings, we are live!
As the team behind the podcast talked about and developed the ideas underpinning the Mission: Interplanetary,we were interested in exploring new ways of thinking and talking about the future of humanity as a space-faring species as part of Arizona State University’s Interplanetary Initiative. We also wanted to go big with these conversations — really big!
And that is exactly what we’ve done in this partnership with Slate.
The guests we’re hosting, the conversations we have lined up, the issues we grapple with, are all literally out of this world. But don’t just take my word for it — listen to the first episode above with the incredible Lindy Elkins-Tanton talking about NASA’s mission to the asteroid 16 Psyche.
So if you’re looking for a space podcast with a difference, and one that grapples with big questions around our space-based future, please do subscribe on your favorite podcast platform. And join me and the fabulous former NASA astronaut Cady Coleman as we explore the future of humanity in space.
Cady Coleman is a former NASA astronaut and Air Force colonel. She flew aboard the International Space Station on a six-month expedition as the lead science and robotics officer. A frequent speaker on space and STEM topics, Coleman is also a musician who’s played from space with the Chieftains and Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull.
Happy listening. And, I apologize for the awkward links.
Event Rap Kickstarter
Baba Brinkman’s April 27, 2021 email notice has this to say about his latest venture,
Join the Movement, Get Rewards
My new Kickstarter campaign for Event Rap is live as of right now! Anyone who backs the project is helping to launch an exciting new company, actually a new kind of company, the first creator marketplace for rappers. Please take a few minutes to read the campaign description, I put a lot of love into it.
The campaign goal is to raise $26K in 30 days, an average of $2K per artist participating. If we succeed, this platform becomes a new income stream for independent artists during the pandemic and beyond. That’s the vision, and I’m asking for your help to share it and support it.
But instead of why it matters, let’s talk about what you get if you support the campaign!
$10-$50 gets you an advance copy of my new science rap album, Bright Future. I’m extremely proud of this record, which you can preview here, and Bright Future is also a prototype for Event Rap, since all ten of the songs were commissioned by people like you.
$250 – $500 gets you a Custom Rap Video written and produced by one of our artists, and you have twelve artists and infinite topics to choose from. This is an insanely low starting price for an original rap video from a seasoned professional, and it applies only during the Kickstarter. What can the video be about? Anything at all. You choose!
$750 – $1,500 gets you a live rap performance at your virtual event. This is also an amazingly low price, especially since you can choose to have the artist freestyle interactively with your audience, write and perform a custom rap live, or best of all compose a “Rap Up” summary of the event, written during the event, that the artist will perform as the grand finale.
That’s about as fresh and fun as rap gets.
$3,000 – $5,000 the highest tiers bring the highest quality, a brand new custom-written, recorded, mixed and mastered studio track, or studio track plus full rap music video, with an exclusive beat and lyrics that amplify your message in the impactful, entertaining way that rap does best.
I know this higher price range isn’t for everyone, but check out some of the music videos our artists have made, and maybe you can think of a friend to send this to who has a budget and a worthy cause.
Originally, the plan was to produce some sort of a Canadian science culture roundup for 2019 but it came to my attention that 2019 was also an end-of-decade year (sometimes I miss the obvious). I’ll do my best to make this snappy but it is a review (more or less) of the last 10 years (roughly) and with regard to science culture in Canada, I’m giving the term a wide interpretation while avoiding (for the most part) mention of traditional science communication/outreach efforts such as university rresearch, academic publishing, academic conferences, and the like.
Since writing that opening paragraph in late December 2019, COVID-19 took over the world and this review seemed irrelevant for a while but as time passed, Iit occurred to me it might serve as a reminder of past good times and as a hope for the future.
Having started this blog in 2008, I’ve had the good fortune to observe a big increase in the number and range of science outreach/communication/culture initiatives, projects, festivals, etc. It’s tempting to describe it as an explosion of popular interest but I have no idea if this is true. I spend much of my time searching out and writing up this kind of work in addition to the emerging science and technology that I follow and my perception is most likely skewed by my pursuits. What i can say is that in 2019 there was more of everything to do with science culture/outreach/communication than there was when I started in 2008.
Coincidentally, I wrote a three-part series about science communication (including science outreach/culture projects) in Canada in Sept. 2009, just months before the start of this decade. In retrospect, the series is sprawling everywhere and it looks to me like I was desperately trying to make something look bigger than it actually was.
I’m looking at the more formal aspects of science communication and so onto mainstream media and education. This is the saddest section but don’t worry it gets better as it goes on.
As I note in the following subsection, there are fewer science writers employed by mainstream media, especially in Canada. The only science writer (that I know of) who’s currently employed by a newspaper is Ivan Semeniuk. for the Globe and Mail.
Margaret Munro who was the science writer for PostMedia (publisher of most newspaper dailies in Canada) is now a freelancer. Kate Lunau, a health and science journalist for Maclean’s Magazine (Canada) until 2016 and then Motherboard/VICE (US online publication) until March 2019 now publishes her own newsletter.
Daily Planet, which was a long running science programme (under various names since 1995) on Discovery Channel Canada and which inspired iterations in other countries, was cancelled in 2018 but there is still a Twitter feed being kept up to date and a webpage with access to archived programmes.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) programmes, Spark for technology and Quirks & Quarks for science on the radio side and the Nature of Things for science, wildlife, and technology on television carry on year after year and decade after decade.
A more recent addition (2019?) to the CBC lineup is a podcast that touches on science and other topics, Tai Asks Why? According to the programme’s About page, the host (Tai Poole) is in grade seven. No podcasts dated after September 2019 have been posted on Tia’s page.
Yes Magazine for children and Seed magazine (for adults) have both died since 2009. On a happier note, Canadian children’s science magazines are easier to find these days either because I got lucky on my search and/or because there are more of them to find.
Thank you to helpwevegotkids.com for their 10 Awesome Magazines for Canadian Kids webpage. First published in 2016, it is updated from time to time, most recently in October 2019 by Heather Camlot; it’s where I found many of these science/technology magazines (Note: I’m not sure how long these magazines have been published but they are all new to me),
Chickadee Magazine: ages 6-9 ( Every month, the Chickadee team creates a package of interactive stories, puzzles, animal features, and science experiments to educate and entertain readers.) It’s from the folks at owlkids.com
OWL Magazine: ages 9-13 (… highlight the elements of science and tech, engineering, art and math ) Also from the folks at owlkids.com
AdventureBox: ages 6 – 9 (… nature with beautiful photographs and fascinating scientific information … Hilarious and adventurous comic-strips, games and quizzes … An audio CD every 2 months) Also from the folks at owlkids.com
DiscoveryBox: ages 9 – 12 ( … Animals and nature, with spectacular photographs … Fascinating scientific topics, with clear explanations and experiments to carry out …) Also from the folks at owlkids.com BTW, I was not able to find out much about the Owl Kids organization.
WILD magazine ( … jam-packed with fun wildlife stories, games and pictures for youngsters of all ages. It’s a great way to get the children in your life engaged in nature and share your passion for the outdoors. Published 6 times per year) From the folks at the Canadian Wildlife Federation (enough said).
Bazoof! (… suited for ages 7-12 … nutrition, personal care, fitness, healthy lifestyles, character development, eco-education—all in a creative and zany style! Filled with short stories, comics, recipes, puzzles, games, crafts, jokes, riddles, pet care, interviews, healthy snacks, sports, true stories, fun facts, prizes and more!) Bazoof! is being brought to you by the team responsible for Zamoof! You might want to read their About page. That’s all I can dig up.
Brainspace (an augmented reality magazine for kids 8 – 14) As best I can determine they are still ‘publishing’ their interactive magazine but they make finding information about themselves or their organization a little challenging. It’s published in Ontario and its publisher Nicky Middleton had this in her LinkedIn profile: “Publisher of Brainspace interactive magazine for kids 8-12. Creating augmented reality content for teaching resources in partnership with Brock University, District School Board of Niagara.”
One more thing regarding mainstream media
While there are fewer science journalists being employed, there’s still a need for science writing and journalism. The Science Media Centre of Canada (SMCC) opened in 2010 (from its Wikipedia entry),
… to serve journalists with accurate information on scientific matters. The centre has a Research Advisory Panel of 20 Canadian scientists who will make their expertise available in a simple and understandable manner. In order to secure objectivity, the centre has an Editorial Advisory Committee of eight journalists. The centre is bilingual.
As of January 2020, the SMCC is still in operation.
The University of British Columbia’s Journalism School (Vancouver) no longer has a Science Journalism Research Group nor does Concordia University (Montréal) have its Science Journalism Project. I have checked both journalism schools and cannot find any indication there is a science programme or specific science courses of any kind for journalists or other communicators but I didn’t spend a lot of time digging. Interestingly, the chair, David Secko, of Concordia’s journalism programme is a science journalist himself and a member of the Editorial Advisory Committee of the Science Media Centre of Canada.
The lack of science journalism programmes in Canada seems to reflect on overall lack of science journalism. It’s predictable given that the newspapers that once harboured science journalists have trimmed and continue to trim back their staffs.
Science centres, museums, and the like are considered part of the informal science community with Makerspaces being a new addition. For the most part, their target audience is children but they are increasingly (since 2010, I believe) offering events aimed at adults. The Canadian Association of Science Centres (CASC) describes itself and its membership this way (from the CASC About Us webpage),
CASC members are a diverse group of organisations that support informal learning of science, technology and nature. Our common bond is that we offer creative programming and exhibitions for visitors that inspire a drive to learn, create, and innovate.
If you are a member of a Science Centres, Museums, Aquariums, Planetariums and Makerspaces [these are a 2010s phenomenon] you could benefit from our reciprocal admission agreement. Not all CASC Members are participants in the Reciprocal Admissions Agreement. Click here for more information.
You can find a full list of their members including the Ingenium museums (the federal consortium of national Canadian science museums), the Saskatchewan Science Centre, the Nunavut Research Institute, Science East, and more, here.
I’m calling what follows ‘truly informal science culture’.
Science: the informal (sometimes cultural) scene
When I first started (this blog) there was one informal science get-together (that I knew of locally) and that was Vancouver Café Scientifque and its monthly events, which are still ongoing. You can find our more about the parent organization, which was started in Leeds, England in 1998. Other Canadian cities listed as having a Café Scientifique: Ottawa, Victoria, Mississauga, and Saskatoon.
Now onto the music, the dance, and more
Sing a song of science
Baba Brinkman is well known for his science raps. The rapper and playwright (from British Columbia) lives in New York City these days with his wife and sometime performance collaborator, neuroscientist Dr. Heather Berlin and their two children (see his Wikipedia entry for more), he is still Canadian (I think).
He got his start rapping science in 2008 when I think he was still living in Vancouver (Canada) after gaining the attention of UK professor Mark Pallen who commissioned him to write a rap about evolution. The Rap Guide to Evolution premiered at the 2009 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Here’s a video of Brinkman’s latest science rap (Data Science) posted on YouTube on October 21, 2019,
I find this one especially interesting since Brinkman’s mother is the Honourable Joyce Murray, a member of parliament and the Minister of Digital Government in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s latest cabinet. (My December 27, 2019 posting highlights what I believe to be the importance of the Minister of Digital Government in the context of the government’s science and technology vision. Scroll down about 25% of the way to the subhead titled “The Minister of Digital Government and a bureaucratic débacle,”) You can find out more about Baba Brinkman here.
Tim Blais of A Capella Science first attracted my notice in 2014 thanks to David Bruggeman and his Pasco Phronesis blog (btw: David, I miss your posts about science and music which are how I found out most of what I know about the Canadian science music scene).
Blais (who has a master’s degree in physics from McGill University in Québec) started producing his musical science videos in 2012. I featured one of his earliest efforts (and one of my favourites, Rolling in the Higgs [Adele parody]) in my July 18, 2014 posting.
Dating back to 2012. The Institute of Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo held two performances of Quantum: Music at the Frontier of Science. Raymond Laflamme, then director of the institute, wrote a September 20, 2012 article (The Quantum Symphony: A Cultural Entanglement) about the performances. You can see a video (15 mins., 45 secs.,) of the February 2012 performances here.
More recently, the Life Sciences Institute at the University of British Columbia (UBC) hosted a performance of Sounds and Science – Vienna Meets Vancouver in late 2019. I covered it in a November 12, 2019 posting (scroll down to the Sounds and Science subheading). The story about how the series, which has its home base in Vienna, started is fascinating. The sold out Vancouver performance was a combination of music and lecture featuring the Vienna Philharmonic and UBC researchers. According to this Sounds and Science UBC update,
For those who missed this exceptional evening, JoyTV and its CARPe Diem show will be producing an episode focusing on the concert, to be aired in February, 2020 [emphasis mine].
There is another way to look at musical science and that’s to consider the science of music which is what they do at the Large Interactive Virtual Environment Laboratory (LIVELab) at McMaster University (Hamilton, Ontario, Canada). it’s “a research concert hall. It functions as both a high-tech laboratory and theatre, opening up tremendous opportunities for research and investigation”, you can read more about it in my November 29, 2019 posting.
One last thing, there is data sonification which means finding a way to turn data into music or a sound which can more or less be defined as musical. There may be other data sonification projects and presentations in Canada but these are the ones I’ve tripped across (Note: Some links have bee removed),
Songs of the Ottawa From the website: “Songs of the Ottawa” is the Master’s Research Project of Cristina Wood, under the co-supervision of Dr. Joanna Dean and Dr. Shawn Graham. She completed her Master’s of Arts in Public History with a Specialization in Digital Humanities at Carleton University in spring 2019. She will continue her explorations of the Ottawa River in the Ph.D. program at York University [fall 2020]. Be in touch with Cristina on Twitter or send an email to hello [at] cristinawood [dot] ca.”
The Art of Data Sonification (This January 2019 workshop at Inter/Access in Toronto is over.) From the website: “Learn how to turn data into sound! Dan Tapper will teach participants how to apply different data sonification techniques, collect and produce a variety of sonifications, and how to creatively use these sonifications in their own work. The workshop will move from looking at data sonification through the lens of Dan Tapper’s work sonifying data sets from NASA, to collecting, cleaning and using your own data for artistic creation. Participants will work with pre-gathered and cleaned data sets before collecting and working with personal data and online data sets. Tools will be provided by Tapper created in Pure Data and Processing, as well as versions for Max/MSP users. A particular focus will be placed on how to use data sets and the created sonifications in creative practice – moving beyond quantitative sonic representations to richer material. “
Sonification: Making Data Sound (This September 2019 workshop at the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of British Columbia is also over.) From the website: ” Computers and music have been mingling their intimate secrets for over 50 years. These two worlds evolve in tandem, and where they intersect they spawn practices that are entirely novel. One of these is “sonification,” turning raw data into sounds and sonic streams to discover new musical relationships within the dataset. This is similar to data visualization, a strategy that reveals new insights from data when it is made for the eye to perceive as graphs or animations. A key advantage with sonification is sound’s ability to present trends and details simultaneously at multiple time scales, allowing us to absorb and integrate information in the same way we listen to music. In this workshop, Chris Chafe will lead a discussion of the practice and application of sonification in a wide array of disciplines, drawing on his own extensive experience in this field.”
I have been looking for data sonification projects in Canada for years. It’s amazing to me that all of this sprung up in the last year of this decade. If there’s more, please do let me know in the Comments section.
Science blogging in Canada
The big news for the decade was the founding and launch of Science Borealis, a Canadian science blog aggregator in 2013. Assuming I counted right in December 2019, there are 146 blogs. These are not all independent bloggers, many institutional blogs are included. Also, I’m not sure how active some of these blogs are. Regardless, that’s a pretty stunning number especially when I consider that my annual Canadian blog roundup from 2010 -2012 would have boasted 20 – 30 Canadian science blogs at most.
I’m not sure why ASAP Science (Michael Moffit and Gregory Brown) isn’t included on Science Borealis but maybe the science vloggers (video bloggers) prefer to go it alone. or they fit into another category of online science. Regardless, ASAP Science has been around since May 2012 according to their About page. In addition to the science education/information they provide, there’s music, including this Taylor Swift Acapella Parody.
One of the earliest Canadians to create a science blog,Gregor Wolbring, Associate Professor at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine, started his in 2006. He has taken a few breaks, 2011 and August 2013 – June 2017 but he’s back at it these days. He is in a sense a progenitor for Canadian science blogging. At one time, his blog was so popular that US researchers included it in their studies on what was then ‘the blogging phenomenon’. His focus academically and on his blog is on rehabilitation and disability. This webpage on his blog is of particular interest to me: FUTUREBODY: The Future of the Body in the Light of Neurotechnology. It’s where he lists papers from himself and his colleagues’ in the ERANET NEURON ELSI/ELSA funded by the European Community. (ELSI is Ethical, Legal and Social Implications and ELSA is Ethical, Legal, and Social Aspects.)
Canada’s Favourite Science Online, a competition co-sponsored by Science Borealia and the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada (SWCC), gives a People’s Choice Award annually in two categories: blog and science site. This September 16, 2019 posting on the Science Borealis blog features the finalists in the categories and a pretty decent sampling of what available online from the Canadian science community.
Science in the City is a Canadian life sciences blog aggregator and job and event listing website. The name is an official mark of McMaster University (Ontario, Canada) and it is used and registered by STEMCELL Technologies Canada Inc. Here’s more from their AboutScienceInTheCity webpage,
As scientists ourselves, we know that science is accelerated by collaboration and connection, but that the busy, demanding lifestyle of a scientist makes this challenging. Thus, we saw the need for a central resource that connects local scientists, provides them with a platform to share their ideas, and helps them stay current with the news, events, and jobs within their local scientific community. This inspired us to launch Science in the City in our hometown of Vancouver, Canada in 2017.
Science in the City is your complete source for all the life science news and events happening in your city. The Science in the City website and weekly newsletter provide researchers and medical professionals with breaking news, in-depth articles, and insightful commentary on what is happening around them. By supplying scientists with a resource for the local news and events that affect them, Science in the City fosters learning and collaboration within scientific communities, ultimately supporting the advancement of science and medicine.
Vancouver is our hometown, so it made sense to launch this exciting initiative in our own backyard. But we’re only getting started! We’ve launched Science in the City in Seattle and Boston, and we’re currently working on bringing Science in the City to several more scientific communities across North America and Europe!
Do check their event listings as they range past life science to many other interesting ‘sciencish’ get togethers. For example, in early 2020 (in Vancouver) there was,
At a guess their funding comes from STEMCELL Technologies while Science Borealis was originally (not sure what the status is today) bankrolled by Canadian Science Publishing (CSP).
It’s just dance, dance, dance
Ranging from pigeon courtship to superconductivity, Canadian scientists have scored a number of wins in the Dance Your Ph.D. competition founded in 2008 according to its Wikipedia entry and held by Science Magazine and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The contest requires that the entrant dance either as a solo artist or as part of a troupe.
In 2018, a University of Alberta student won in the physics category and then went on to win overall. I covered it in a February 22, 2019 posting. Because I love the video, here is Pramodh Senarath Yapa with his Superconductivity: The Musical!, again,
BTW, John Bohannon who came up with the idea for the contest wrote this February 15, 2019 article about Yapa’s win for Science Magazine.
While searching for other Canadian Dance Your Ph.D. winners, I found some from the 2010 and 2011 contests. (If there are others, please do let me know in the Comments section.)
McConnell’s video did not win in its division but another Canadian student, Queen’s University (Ontario) biologist, Emma Ware won the 2011 social science division for ‘A Study of Social Interactivity Using Pigeon Courtship‘. For more about McConnell and Ware’s 2011 efforts, you can read Tyler Irving’s October 20, 2011 posting on his eponymous blog. (Side note: Irving is a Canadian science writer who started the blog in 2011 and took a five year hiatus from January 2015 to January 2020.)
Lesley Telford, choreographer and director of Inverso Productions based in Vancouver, seems to have started showing a dance piece inspired by Albert Einstein’s famous description of quantum entanglement as “spooky action from s a distance” in 2017.
I first wrote about it in an April 20, 2017 posting. The title, at that time, was, ‘Three Sets/Relating At A Distance; My tongue, your ear / If / Spooky Action at a Distance (phase 1‘. In 2017, Telford was artist-in-residence at the Dance Centre and TRIUMF, Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics and accelerator-based science, both located in Vancouver.
She has continued to work with the concept and most recently her company gave performances of ‘Spooky Action’ in 2019 and will go on tour in 2020 according to her company’s homepage.
Unlike Lesley Telford who has a single science-inspired piece, Blue Ceilingdance in Toronto, is organized around the idea of art (dance) and science according to the company’s About page,
Blue Ceiling dance aims to pierce the soul through investigations at the intersection of art and science, and physical rigour provoked by the imagination. By peering into the mysterious corners of human experience and embodying the natural laws of the universe, we want to inspire empathy and curiosity. Through creation, production, commissioning and touring of new dance and multi-disciplinary works and through the Imaginative Body Classes, Blue Ceiling dance uses the poetry of the body and of scientific language to describe our experience of the world through the lens of poetic naturalism.
Blue Ceiling dance was founded by Lucy Rupert in 2004, as an umbrella for her creative endeavours. …
Our biggest project to date premieres January 23-26th, 2020 at The Theatre Centre [Toronto].
Using the length of time it takes light to travel from the Sun to Earth, we launch into 8 overlapping meditations on the physical behaviour of light, the metaphors of astrophysics, and the soul of cosmology, as they brush against a sense of our own mortality. What would you do with your last 8 minutes and 17 seconds before the lights go out?
Choreographed and conceived by Lucy Rupert with additional choreography by Karen Kaeja, Emma Kerson and Jane Alison McKinney, and Michael Caldwell. With text written by Hume Baugh.
The company’s repertoire is diverse and focused largely on science,
Animal Vegetable Mineral is a site-specific work with a naturalist-led hike. Exploring embodiments of each category of matter, the dancers form an ecosystem under stress, and highlight the interconnectedness of all species and our deep need for one another. Audiences explore their local environment and encounter human embodiments in an intimate performance setting.
Originally made for the High Park Nature Centre in Toronto, the piece is adaptable to different ecosystems and environments.
dead reckoning Perplexing, haunting and slightly mischievous, with choreography by Lucy Rupert and international ballet choreographer Peter Quanz. The launching point for this work of dance-theatre is Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated expedition to Antarctica in 1914 and the mysterious experiences surrounding his life-or-death situation. Three linked dances offer three views of an explorer pursued by an enigmatic “other”.
Bye, bye ScienceOnline Vancouver
A ScienceOnline conference and community based in the United States inspired a short-lived but exciting offshoot in Vancouver. With much ado, their first event was held on April 19, 2012. As I recall, by December 2012, it had died.
The volunteers were wildly ambitious and it’s very hard to maintain the level of dynamism and technology they established on their first night. Here’s how I described the first event in my April 20, 2012 posting, ” It was a very technology-heavy event in that there was livestreaming, multiple computers and screens, references to tweeting and Storify, etc.” That’s a lot to do on a regular basis as volunteers. By Christmas 2012, ScienceOnline was gone. It was a great and I’m thankful for it.
Now onto part 2 where you’ll find the visual arts, poetry, festivals, and more.
It’s been a while since I’ve received any notices about upcoming talks from the local Café Scientifique crowd but on May 22, 2019 there was this announcement in an email,
Dear Café Scientifiquers,
Our next café will happen on TUESDAY, MAY 28TH  at 7:30PM in the back room at YAGGER’S DOWNTOWN (433 W Pender). Our speaker for the evening will be DR. CATHERINE JOHNSON from the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences at UBC [University of British Columbia] .
GETTING TO THE HEART OF MARS WITH INSIGHT
Catherine Johnson is a professor of geophysics in the Dept of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences at UBC Vancouver [campus], and a senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, Tucson. She is a Co-Investigator on the InSight mission to Mars, the OSIRIS-REx mission to asteroid Bennu and was previously a Participating Scientist on the MESSENGER mission to Mercury.
We hope to see you there!
I did some digging and found two articles about Johnson, the InSight mission, and Mars. The first one is an October 21, 2012 article by James Keller on the Huffington Post Canada website,
As NASA’s Curiosity rover beams back photos of the rocky surface of Mars, another group of scientists, including one from British Columbia, is preparing the next mission to uncover what’s underneath.
Prof. Catherine Johnson, of the University of British Columbia, is among the scientists whose project, named Insight, was selected by NASA this week as part of the U.S. space agency’s Discovery program, which invites proposals from within the scientific community.
Insight will send a stationary robotic lander to Mars in 2016, drilling down several metres into the surface as it uses a combination of temperature readings and seismic measurements to help scientists on this planet learn more about the Martian core.
The second one is a May 6, 2018 article (I gather it took them longer to get to Mars than they anticipated in 2012) by Ivan Semeniuk for the Globe and Mail newspaper website,
Thanks to a thick bank of predawn fog, Catherine Johnson couldn’t see the rocket when it blasted off early Saturday morning at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California – but she could hear the roar as NASA’s InSight mission set off on its 6½-month journey to Mars.
“It was really impressive,” said Dr. Johnson, a planetary scientist at the University of British Columbia and a member of the mission’s science team. Describing the mood at the launch as a mixture of relief and joy, Dr. Johnson added that “the spacecraft is finally en route to do what we have worked toward for many years.”
But while InSight’s mission is just getting under way, it also marks the last stage in a particularly fruitful period for the U.S. space agency’s Mars program. In the past two decades, multiple, complementary spacecraft tackled different aspects of Mars science.
Unlike the Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars nearly six years ago and is in the process of climbing a mountain in the middle of an ancient crater, InSight is designed to stay in one place after it touches down Nov. 26 . Its purpose is to open a new direction in Mars exploration – one that leads straight down as the spacecraft deploys a unique set of instruments to spy on the planet’s interior.
“What we will learn … will help us understand the earliest history of rocky planets, including Earth,” Dr. Johnson said.
It has been a prolonged voyage to the red planet. In 2015, technical problems forced program managers to postpone InSight’s launch for 2½ years. Now, scientists are hoping for smooth sailing to Mars and an uneventful landing a few hundred kilometres north of Curiosity, at a site that Dr. Johnson cheerfully describes as “boring.”
Does the timing of this talk mean you’ll be getting the latest news since InSight landed on Mars roughly six months ago? One can only hope. Finally, Johnson’s UBC bio webpage is here.
Baba Brinkman brings us up-to-date
Here’s most of a May 22, 2019 newsletter update (received via email) from former Vancouverite and current rapper, playwright, and science communicator, Baba Brinkman,
… Over the past five years I have been collaborating frequently with a company in California called SpectorDance, after the artistic director Fran Spector Atkins invited me to write and perform a rap soundtrack to one of her dance productions. Well, a few weeks ago we played our biggest venue yet with our latest collaborative show, Ocean Trilogy, which is all about the impact of human activities including climate change on marine ecosystems. The show was developed in collaboration with scientists at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, and for the first time there’s now a full video of the production online. Have you ever seen scientifically-informed eco rap music combined in live performance with ballet and modern dance? Enjoy.
Speaking of “Science is Everywhere”, about a year ago I got to perform my song “Can’t Stop” about the neurobiology of free will for a sold-out crowd at the Brooklyn Academy of Music alongside physicist Brian Greene, comedian Chuck Nice, and Neil deGrasse Tyson. The song is half scripted and half freestyle (can you tell which part is which?) They just released the video.
Over the past few months I’ve been performing Rap Guide to Evolution, Consciousness, and Climate Chaos off-Broadway 2-3 times per week, which has been a roller coaster. Some nights I have 80 people and it’s rocking, other nights I step on stage and play to 15 people and it takes effort to keep it lively. But since this is New York, occasionally when there’s only 15 people one of them will turn out to be a former Obama Administration Energy Advisor or will publish a five star review, which keeps it exciting.
What’s Rap Guide to Culture about? Cultural evolution and the psychology of norms of course. I recently attended a conference at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis in Knoxville, TN where I performed a sneak preview and did a “Rap Up” of the various conference talks, summarizing the scientific content at the end of the day, check out the video.
Okay, time to get back to packing and hit the road. More to come soon, and wish me luck continuing to dominate my lonely genre.
Brinkman has been featured here many times (just use his name as the term in the blog’s search engine). While he lives in New York City these days, he does retain a connection to Vancouver in that his mother Joyce Murray is the Member of Parliament for Vancouver Quadra and, currently, the president of the Treasury Board.
I received a December 17, 2018 email from Baba Brinkman, a Canadian rapper who lives in New York City these days and who has often graced this blog. He has an offer for those of us lucky enough to be in New York City from December 27, 2018 to mid-February 2019 ,
If you’re looking for a last minute present for someone you know in New York, get them the gift of thought-provoking entertainment with a Rap Guide Gift Card, good for any one of my three off-Broadway shows set to open on December 27th at the Soho Playhouse. Don’t know if you have any friends in New York? Just type “my friends who live in new york” into a Facebook search and be enlightened.
To recap, in 2011 I moved to NYC to perform Rap Guide to Evolution off-Broadway. The show was a hit, nominated for a Drama Desk Award with a glowing review in the New York Times, and I started working with Soho Playhouse artistic director Darren Lee Cole to develop several new hip-hop theatre productions that tackle major topics in science. A series was born.
In 2015 I had the opportunity to perform Rap Guide to Climate Chaos at the UN Paris Climate Conference, followed by a six month off-Broadway run, and earlier this year we presented RapGuide to Consciousness for an eight-month run, exploring the latest neuroscience research on human thoughts and experiences. This year alone I have performed Consciousness more than 90 times, so I’m ready for a break!
Too bad. The Soho Playhouse recently offered me the chance to present three of my shows in rotation, with 32 performances scheduled through late February. How could I say no?
So all this week I’m in rehearsals, then a brief respite for Christmas cheer, and then next Thursday [Dec. 27, 2018] it’s off to the races. This three show assembly is a grand experiment, designed around the principle that my overall project is more than the sum of its parts. What project is that? Simply the challenge of creatively sharing the findings of science that help us answer the big questions: who are we, where did we come from, and where might we go?
Got any friends who might be interested in that? Send them my way!
Enjoy and to all, a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Solstice, Happy Saturnalia, Happy Kwanzaa, and all other winter celebrations!
I have several bits of news, mostly about upcoming event. Tour bits pertaining to the upcoming Canadian Science Policy Conference, one bit about science rapper, Baba Brinkman and his new album (and some of his upcoming events), and one bit about Art The Science.
Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC)
The 2017 Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) takes place Nov. 1 – 3, 2017 in Ottawa and in the last couple of weeks there have been a number of announcements meant to entice procrastinators or the easily distracted or the somewhat reluctant to register.
(1) An Oct. 10, 2017 announcement (received via email) trumpets an opportunity to have lunch with Canada’s new Chief Science Advisor, Dr. Mona Nemer,
CSPC 2017 is pleased to announce Canada’s new Chief Science Advisor, Dr. Mona Nemer, will be attending the 9th Canadian Science Policy Conference. Dr. Nemer will discuss her insights on her new role as the Chief Science Advisor. The luncheon session will be on Thursday, November 2 , 12:30 PM to 1:30 PM. Don’t miss this opportunity to ask your questions to Canada’s Chief Science Advisor.
For anyone who’d like more information, I posted about Dr. Nemer’s appointment in a Sept. 26, 2017 piece.
(2) Onto the next announcement which arrived in an Oct. 13, 2017 email,
CSPC 2017 is pleased to announce that the Minister of Science, Honourable Kirsty Duncan, will be the guest of the keynote session and will address the delegates on the evening of Thursday, November 2 , after the networking reception. Minister Duncan will also be attending the Evening of Celebration and Inspiration on November 1 and will present the Youth Award of Excellence in Science Policy.
(3) The latest ‘guest’ announcement arrived in an Oct. 23, 2017 email,
CSPC 2017 is pleased to announce that Her Excellency, the Right Honourable Julie Payette [former astronaut], the Governor General of Canada, will deliver remarks at the Evening of Celebration and Inspiration on Wednesday, November 1 .
Join us to celebrate 150 Years of Achievement in Canadian Science at the CSPC 2017 Evening of Celebration and Inspiration. There will be a networking reception at 4:30 PM open to all conference delegates.
The Evening of Celebration and Inspiration will begin at 5:30 PM and is open to all conference delegates who have RSVP’d specifically for the Evening.
Highlights of the evening will include:
Address by the Governor General
Keynote Lecture by Dr. Neil Turok, ‘We Are Innovators’
Youth Award of Excellence Ceremony presented by Hon. Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science
Short remarks by Dr. Art McDonald and Dr. Remi Quirion
Other special program features to be announced soon
A recent poll commissioned by the Ontario Science Centre paints an alarming picture of the public perception of science in Canada (http://www.cbc.ca/beta/news/technology/science-attitudes-survey-2017-1.4298800). 43 percent of Canadians believe that scientific findings are a matter of opinion, while 66 percent agree that false information reported as fact (‘fake news’) is affecting their knowledge of science. The poll does present a silver lining, however. 82 percent of Canadians would like to know more about science and how it affects our world.
For me as a science communicator, these results are both a source of worry and an opportunity. At its core, they speak both to the disconnect between Canadian scientific institutions and the public and to the decreasing value of information in the age of post-truth. In that context, my mission as a science communicator is to facilitate a conversation between science and society to engage the public in Canadian science.
When Nikki Berreth and I founded Science Slam Canada in Vancouver in 2016, we hoped it would offer a new way to make science personal, relatable, and accessible. The speed and energy with which it grew was something we couldn’t have predicted. In the span of a year, it evolved from a fun side project into a multi-city network hosting a range of events and enabling scientists to better connect with their communities.
So what exactly is a science slam? Based on the format of a poetry slam, a science slam is a competition that allows a range of scientific knowledge holders, including researchers, students, and educators to share their science with a general audience. Competitors have five minutes to present on any science topic and are judged based on communication skills, audience engagement, and scientific accuracy. Use of a projector or slideshow is not allowed, but props and creative presentation styles are encouraged.
The slam format provides an informal medium for the public and the scientific community to connect with and learn from each other. Science slams generally take place in bars, cafes, or theaters, which remove scientists from their traditional lecture environments. The lack of projector also takes away a common presentation ‘crutch’ and forces competitors to engage with their audience more directly.
Competitors and judges are chosen through a selection process designed to support diversity and maximize the benefit to speakers and the audience. Past speakers have ranged from students and researchers to educators and actors. Judges have included professors, media personalities, comedians and improvisers. And since the event is as much about the audience as about the speakers, spectators are asked to vote for their favourite speaker.
As moderators for the CSPC 2017 Science Slam workshop, Nikki Berreth and I are excited to give a voice to the local science community. The slam will showcase young scientists and science communicators from the Ottawa area, including graduate students, undergraduate students, and government scientists sharing topics from the treatment of brain cancer to the use of drones for enhancement of wireless connectivity. We promise you an action-packed workshop, an engaging learning experience, and an interactive discussion about science communication in Canada.
There is apparently a Science Slam Canada group of some kind. They had a super slam in May 2017 which was the culmination of a year of science slam events in Vancouver. You can find their Youtube channel here.
Alan Shapiro who is listed as a science communicator and co-founder of both Canada Science Slam and a business, LitScientist, has a science background. Another science communicator who appears to have never taken any training in communication? It puts me in mind of a favourite story about Canadian literary great, Margaret Atwood. Most likely it’s apocryphal but anyone whose heard one of her earlier interviews (she seems to have mellowed in the last few years) can hear her voice. As the story goes, there was a dinner at a tony (upper crust) home in Toronto where Atwood was seated beside a brain surgeon who turned to her exclaiming at his good luck. He was retiring and wanted her advice as he intended to take up writing in his sunset years. Atwood turned to him and agreed it was great good luck as she too was retiring and now intended to take up brain surgery.
It’s lovely to see people get involved in science communication but the field does require discipline, skill, training, and practice. It’s possible Shapiro is a ‘natural’ but even naturals need to work at it eventually.
Baba Brinkman and his consciousness rap
The Rap Guide to Consciousness was released on Oct. 13, 2017 according to an announcement received from rapper Baba Brinkman via email,
Today is the day The Rap Guide to Consciousness hits digital stores, which means if you haven’t heard it yet I encourage you to give the record a listen, and if you’re in a “supporting independent artists” kind of mood, perhaps even pay to download it. But whether you pay or not, please write a review on iTunes or Amazon, where the opinions of others go a long way towards convincing people to give it a chance. Or write me an email reply telling me what you think, and I’ll write back and try to persuade you to post your thoughts online if they are complimentary. Ah, the glorious interplay of human consciousness!
Speaking of consciousness, here’s a thought experiment about what it would be like to live without it, a new music video for one of the songs on the mew album: Zombie. The thought experiment works like this: listen to the rap as I describe the details of what a Zombie is like, and if you think you can imagine what I’m describing, some philosophers think this feat of imagination counts as evidence against a strictly material basis of consciousness. I confess that I can’t imagine what I’m describing in the song, just as I can’t imagine (but can describe) a perfect circle with four corners, but I’m interested to know if you can. Here’s a link to the video [Note: the video is embedded below this notice].
I also continue to tour and perform the show. Here’s a video of a recent event at YouTube Studios here in New York, the 25th anniversary of Skeptic Magazine, featuring Michael Shermer and Deepak Chopra discussing contrasting views of consciousness, and me rapping about it.
This would usually be a simple event announcement but with the advent of a new, related (in my mind if no one else’s) development on Facebook, this has become a roundup of sorts.
Facebotlish (Facebook’s chatbots create their own language)
The language created by Facebook’s chatbots, Facebotlish, was an unintended consequence—that’s right Facebook’s developers did not design a language for the chatbots or anticipate its independent development, apparently. Adrienne LaFrance’s June 20, 2017 article for theatlantic.com explores the development and the question further,
Something unexpected happened recently at the Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research lab. Researchers who had been training bots to negotiate with one another realized that the bots, left to their own devices, started communicating in a non-human language.
In order to actually follow what the bots were saying, the researchers had to tweak their model, limiting the machines to a conversation humans could understand. (They want bots to stick to human languages because eventually they want those bots to be able to converse with human Facebook users.) …
Here’s what the language looks like (from LaFrance article),
Here’s an example of one of the bot negotiations that Facebook observed:Bob: i can i i everything else . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Alice: balls have zero to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to Bob: you i everything else . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Alice: balls have a ball to me to me to me to me to me to me to me Bob: i i can i i i everything else . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Alice: balls have a ball to me to me to me to me to me to me to me Bob: i . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Alice: balls have zero to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to Bob: you i i i i i everything else . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Alice: balls have 0 to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to Bob: you i i i everything else . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Alice: balls have zero to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to
It is incomprehensible to humans even after being tweaked, even so, some successful negotiations can ensue.
Facebook’s researchers aren’t the only one to come across the phenomenon (from LaFrance’s article; Note: Links have been removed),
Other AI researchers, too, say they’ve observed machines that can develop their own languages, including languages with a coherent structure, and defined vocabulary and syntax—though not always actual meaningful, by human standards.
In one preprint paper added earlier this year  to the research repository arXiv, a pair of computer scientists from the non-profit AI research firm OpenAI wrote about how bots learned to communicate in an abstract language—and how those bots turned to non-verbal communication, the equivalent of human gesturing or pointing, when language communication was unavailable. (Bots don’t need to have corporeal form to engage in non-verbal communication; they just engage with what’s called a visual sensory modality.) Another recent preprint paper, from researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon, and Virginia Tech, describes an experiment in which two bots invent their own communication protocol by discussing and assigning values to colors and shapes—in other words, the researchers write, they witnessed the “automatic emergence of grounded language and communication … no human supervision!”
The implications of this kind of work are dizzying. Not only are researchers beginning to see how bots could communicate with one another, they may be scratching the surface of how syntax and compositional structure emerged among humans in the first place.
LaFrance’s article is well worth reading in its entirety especially since the speculation is focused on whether or not the chatbots’ creation is in fact language. There is no mention of consciousness and perhaps this is just a crazy idea but is it possible that these chatbots have consciousness? The question is particularly intriguing in light of some of philosopher David Chalmers’ work (see his 2014 TED talk in Vancouver, Canada: https://www.ted.com/talks/david_chalmers_how_do_you_explain_consciousness/transcript?language=en runs roughly 18 mins.); a text transcript is also featured. There’s a condensed version of Chalmers’ TED talk offered in a roughly 9 minute NPR (US National Public Radio) interview by Gus Raz. Here are some highlights from the text transcript,
So we’ve been hearing from brain scientists who are asking how a bunch of neurons and synaptic connections in the brain add up to us, to who we are. But it’s consciousness, the subjective experience of the mind, that allows us to ask the question in the first place. And where consciousness comes from – that is an entirely separate question.
DAVID CHALMERS: Well, I like to distinguish between the easy problems of consciousness and the hard problem.
RAZ: This is David Chalmers. He’s a philosopher who coined this term, the hard problem of consciousness.
CHALMERS: Well, the easy problems are ultimately a matter of explaining behavior – things we do. And I think brain science is great at problems like that. It can isolate a neural circuit and show how it enables you to see a red object, to respondent and say, that’s red. But the hard problem of consciousness is subjective experience. Why, when all that happens in this circuit, does it feel like something? How does a bunch of – 86 billion neurons interacting inside the brain, coming together – how does that produce the subjective experience of a mind and of the world?
RAZ: Here’s how David Chalmers begins his TED Talk.
(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)
CHALMERS: Right now, you have a movie playing inside your head. It has 3-D vision and surround sound for what you’re seeing and hearing right now. Your movie has smell and taste and touch. It has a sense of your body, pain, hunger, orgasms. It has emotions, anger and happiness. It has memories, like scenes from your childhood, playing before you. This movie is your stream of consciousness. If we weren’t conscious, nothing in our lives would have meaning or value. But at the same time, it’s the most mysterious phenomenon in the universe. Why are we conscious?
RAZ: Why is consciousness more than just the sum of the brain’s parts?
CHALMERS: Well, the question is, you know, what is the brain? It’s this giant complex computer, a bunch of interacting parts with great complexity. What does all that explain? That explains objective mechanism. Consciousness is subjective by its nature. It’s a matter of subjective experience. And it seems that we can imagine all of that stuff going on in the brain without consciousness. And the question is, where is the consciousness from there? It’s like, if someone could do that, they’d get a Nobel Prize, you know?
CHALMERS: So here’s the mapping from this circuit to this state of consciousness. But underneath that is always going be the question, why and how does the brain give you consciousness in the first place?
(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)
CHALMERS: Right now, nobody knows the answers to those questions. So we may need one or two ideas that initially seem crazy before we can come to grips with consciousness, scientifically. The first crazy idea is that consciousness is fundamental. Physicists sometimes take some aspects of the universe as fundamental building blocks – space and time and mass – and you build up the world from there. Well, I think that’s the situation we’re in. If you can’t explain consciousness in terms of the existing fundamentals – space, time – the natural thing to do is to postulate consciousness itself as something fundamental – a fundamental building block of nature. The second crazy idea is that consciousness might be universal. This view is sometimes called panpsychism – pan, for all – psych, for mind. Every system is conscious. Not just humans, dogs, mice, flies, but even microbes. Even a photon has some degree of consciousness. The idea is not that photons are intelligent or thinking. You know, it’s not that a photon is wracked with angst because it’s thinking, oh, I’m always buzzing around near the speed of light. I never get to slow down and smell the roses. No, not like that. But the thought is, maybe photons might have some element of raw subjective feeling, some primitive precursor to consciousness.
RAZ: So this is a pretty big idea – right? – like, that not just flies, but microbes or photons all have consciousness. And I mean we, like, as humans, we want to believe that our consciousness is what makes us special, right – like, different from anything else.
CHALMERS: Well, I would say yes and no. I’d say the fact of consciousness does not make us special. But maybe we’ve a special type of consciousness ’cause you know, consciousness is not on and off. It comes in all these rich and amazing varieties. There’s vision. There’s hearing. There’s thinking. There’s emotion and so on. So our consciousness is far richer, I think, than the consciousness, say, of a mouse or a fly. But if you want to look for what makes us distinct, don’t look for just our being conscious, look for the kind of consciousness we have. …
Vancouver premiere of Baba Brinkman’s Rap Guide to Consciousness
Baba Brinkman’s new hip-hop theatre show “Rap Guide to Consciousness” is all about the neuroscience of consciousness. See it in Vancouver at the Rio Theatre before it goes to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August .
This event also features a performance of “Off the Top” with Dr. Heather Berlin (cognitive neuroscientist, TV host, and Baba’s wife), which is also going to Edinburgh.
Wednesday, July 5
Doors 6:00 pm | Show 6:30 pm
Advance tickets $12 | $15 at the door
*All ages welcome!
*Sorry, Groupons and passes not accepted for this event.
“Utterly unique… both brilliantly entertaining and hugely informative” ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ – Broadway Baby
“An education, inspiring, and wonderfully entertaining show from beginning to end” ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ – Mumble Comedy
There’s quite the poster for this rap guide performance,
In addition to the Vancouver and Edinburgh performance (the show was premiered at the Brighton Fringe Festival in May 2017; see Simon Topping’s very brief review in this May 10, 2017 posting on the reviewshub.com), Brinkman is raising money (goal is $12,000US; he has raised a little over $3,000 with approximately one month before the deadline) to produce a CD. Here’s more from the Rap Guide to Consciousness campaign page on Indiegogo,
Brinkman has been working with neuroscientists, Dr. Anil Seth (professor and co-director of Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science) and Dr. Heather Berlin (Brinkman’s wife as noted earlier; see her Wikipedia entry or her website).
There’s a bit more information about the rap project and Anil Seth in a May 3, 2017 news item by James Hakner for the University of Sussex,
The research frontiers of consciousness science find an unusual outlet in an exciting new Rap Guide to Consciousness, premiering at this year’s Brighton Fringe Festival.
Professor Anil Seth, Co-Director of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science at the University of Sussex, has teamed up with New York-based ‘peer-reviewed rapper’ Baba Brinkman, to explore the latest findings from the neuroscience and cognitive psychology of subjective experience.
What is it like to be a baby? We might have to take LSD to find out. What is it like to be an octopus? Imagine most of your brain was actually built into your fingertips. What is it like to be a rapper kicking some of the world’s most complex lyrics for amused fringe audiences? Surreal.
In this new production, Baba brings his signature mix of rap comedy storytelling to the how and why behind your thoughts and perceptions. Mixing cutting-edge research with lyrical performance and projected visuals, Baba takes you through the twists and turns of the only organ it’s better to donate than receive: the human brain. Discover how the various subsystems of your brain come together to create your own rich experience of the world, including the sights and sounds of a scientifically peer-reviewed rapper dropping knowledge.
The result is a truly mind-blowing multimedia hip-hop theatre performance – the perfect meta-medium through which to communicate the dazzling science of consciousness.
Baba comments: “This topic is endlessly fascinating because it underlies everything we do pretty much all the time, which is probably why it remains one of the toughest ideas to get your head around. The first challenge with this show is just to get people to accept the (scientifically uncontroversial) idea that their brains and minds are actually the same thing viewed from different angles. But that’s just the starting point, after that the details get truly amazing.”
Baba Brinkman is a Canadian rap artist and award-winning playwright, best known for his “Rap Guide” series of plays and albums. Baba has toured the world and enjoyed successful runs at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and off-Broadway in New York. The Rap Guide to Religion was nominated for a 2015 Drama Desk Award for “Unique Theatrical Experience” and The Rap Guide to Evolution (“Astonishing and brilliant” NY Times), won a Scotsman Fringe First Award and a Drama Desk Award nomination for “Outstanding Solo Performance”. The Rap Guide to Climate Chaos premiered in Edinburgh in 2015, followed by a six-month off-Broadway run in 2016.
Baba is also a pioneer in the genre of “lit-hop” or literary hip-hop, known for his adaptations of The Canterbury Tales, Beowulf, and Gilgamesh. He is a recent recipient of the National Center for Science Education’s “Friend of Darwin Award” for his efforts to improve the public understanding of evolutionary biology.
Anil Seth is an internationally renowned researcher into the biological basis of consciousness, with more than 100 (peer-reviewed!) academic journal papers on the subject. Alongside science he is equally committed to innovative public communication. A Wellcome Trust Engagement Fellow (from 2016) and the 2017 British Science Association President (Psychology), Professor Seth has co-conceived and consulted on many science-art projects including drama (Donmar Warehouse), dance (Siobhan Davies dance company), and the visual arts (with artist Lindsay Seers). He has also given popular public talks on consciousness at the Royal Institution (Friday Discourse) and at the main TED conference in Vancouver. He is a regular presence in print and on the radio and is the recipient of awards including the BBC Audio Award for Best Single Drama (for ‘The Sky is Wider’) and the Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize (for EyeBenders). This is his first venture into rap.
Professor Seth said: “There is nothing more familiar, and at the same time more mysterious than consciousness, but research is finally starting to shed light on this most central aspect of human existence. Modern neuroscience can be incredibly arcane and complex, posing challenges to us as public communicators.
“It’s been a real pleasure and privilege to work with Baba on this project over the last year. I never thought I’d get involved with a rap artist – but hearing Baba perform his ‘peer reviewed’ breakdowns of other scientific topics I realized here was an opportunity not to be missed.”
Brinkman isn’t the only performance-based artist to be querying the concept of consciousness, Tom Stoppard has written a play about consciousness titled ‘The Hard Problem’, which debuted at the National Theatre (UK) in January 2015 (see BBC [British Broadcasting Corporation] news online’s Jan. 29, 2015 roundup of reviews). A May 25, 2017 commentary by Andrew Brown for the Guardian offers some insight into the play and the issues (Note: Links have been removed),
There is a lovely exchange in Tom Stoppard’s play about consciousness, The Hard Problem, when an atheist has been sneering at his girlfriend for praying. It is, he says, an utterly meaningless activity. Right, she says, then do one thing for me: pray! I can’t do that, he replies. It would betray all I believe in.
So prayer can have meanings, and enormously important ones, even for people who are certain that it doesn’t have the meaning it is meant to have. In that sense, your really convinced atheist is much more religious than someone who goes along with all the prayers just because that’s what everyone does, without for a moment supposing the action means anything more than asking about the weather.
The Hard Problem of the play’s title is a phrase coined by the Australian philosopher David Chalmers to describe the way in which consciousness arises from a physical world. What makes it hard is that we don’t understand it. What makes it a problem is slightly different. It isn’t the fact of consciousness, but our representations of consciousness, that give rise to most of the difficulties. We don’t know how to fit the first-person perspective into the third-person world that science describes and explores. But this isn’t because they don’t fit: it’s because we don’t understand how they fit. For some people, this becomes a question of consuming interest.
There are also a couple of video of Tom Stoppard, the playwright, discussing his play with various interested parties, the first being the director at the National Theatre who tackled the debut run, Nicolas Hytner: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7J8rWu6HJg (it runs approximately 40 mins.). Then, there’s the chat Stoppard has with previously mentioned philosopher, David Chalmers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BPY2c_CiwA (this runs approximately 1 hr. 32 mins.).
I gather ‘consciousness’ is a hot topic these days and, in the venacular of the 1960s, I guess you could describe all of this as ‘expanding our consciousness’. Have a nice weekend!
I have two news bits concerning science and music.
Music videos and science education
Researchers in the US and New Zealand have published a study on how effective music videos are for teaching science. Hint: there are advantages but don’t expect perfection. From a May 25, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily,
Does “edutainment” such as content-rich music videos have any place in the rapidly changing landscape of science education? A new study indicates that students can indeed learn serious science content from such videos.
The study, titled ‘Leveraging the power of music to improve science education’ and published by International Journal of Science Education, examined over 1,000 students in a three-part experiment, comparing learners’ understanding and engagement in response to 24 musical and non-musical science videos.
The central findings were that (1) across ages and genders, K-16 students who viewed music videos improved their scores on quizzes about content covered in the videos, and (2) students preferred music videos to non-musical videos covering equivalent content. Additionally, the results hinted that videos with music might lead to superior long-term retention of the content.
“We tested most of these students outside of their normal classrooms,” commented lead author Greg Crowther, Ph.D., a lecturer at the University of Washington. “The students were not forced by their teachers to watch these videos, and they didn’t have the spectre of a low course grade hanging over their heads. Yet they clearly absorbed important information, which highlights the great potential of music to deliver key content in an appealing package.”
The study was inspired by the classroom experiences of Crowther and co-author Tom McFadden [emphasis mine], who teaches science at the Nueva School in California. “Tom and I, along with many others, write songs for and with our students, and we’ve had a lot of fun doing that,” said Crowther. “But rather than just assuming that this works, we wanted to see whether we could document learning gains in an objective way.”
The findings of this study have implications for teacher practitioners, policy-makers and researchers who are looking for innovative ways to improve science education. “Music will always be a supplement to, rather than a substitute for, more traditional forms of teaching,” said Crowther. “But teachers who want to connect with their students through music now have some additional data on their side.”
The paper is quite interesting (two of the studies were run in the US and one in New Zealand) and I notice that Don McFadden of the Science Rap Academy is one of the authors (more about him later); here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,
I promised the latest about Baba Brinkman and here it is (from a May 14, 2016 notice received via email,
Not many people know this, but Dylan Thomas [legendary Welsh poet] was one of my early influences as a poet and one of the reasons I was inspired to pursue versification as a career. Well now Literature Wales has commissioned me to write and record a new rap/poem in celebration of Dylan Day 2016 (today [May 14, 20160) which I dutifully did. You can watch the video here to check out what a hip-hop flow and a Thomas poem have in common.
In other news, I’ll be performing a couple of one-off show over the next few weeks. Rap Guide to Religion is on at NECSS in New York on May 15 (tomorrow) [Note: Link removed as the event date has now been passed] and Rap Guide to Evolution is at the Reason Rally in DC June 2nd . I’m also continuing with the off-Broadway run of Rap Guide to Climate Chaos, recording the climate chaos album and looking to my next round of writing and touring, so if you have ideas about venues I could play please send me a note.
You can find out more about Baba Brinkman (a Canadian rapper who has written and performed many science raps and lives in New York) here.
There’s another Canadian who produces musical science videos, Tim Blais (physicist and Montréaler) who was most recently featured here in a Feb. 12, 2016 posting. You can find a selection of Blais’ videos on his A Capella Science channel on YouTube.
It’s about time to catch up with Canadian rapper, Baba Brinkman who has made an industry of rapping about science issues (mostly). Here’s a brief rundown of some of his latest ventures.
He was in Paris for the climate talks (also known as World Climate Change Conference 2015 [COP21]) and produced this ‘live’ rap on Dec. 10, 2015 for the press conference on “Moral Obligation – Scientific Imperative” for Climate Matters,
The piece is part of his forthcoming album and show “The Rap Guide to Climate Chaos.”
On Dec. 18, 2015 Baba released a new music video with his take on religion and science (from a Dec. 18, 2015 posting on his blog),
The digital animation is by Steven Fahey, who is a full time animator for the Simpsons, and I’m completely blown away by the results he achieved. The video is about the evolution of religious instincts, and how the secular among us can make sense of beliefs we don’t share.
Here’s the ‘Religion evolves’ video,
A few days after Baba released his video, new research was published contradicting some of what he has in there (i.e., religion as a binding element for societies struggling to survive in ancient times. From a Dec. 21, 2015 University of Central Florida news release on EurekAlert (Note: A link has been removed),
Humans haven’t learned much in more than 2,000 years when it comes to religion and politics.
Religion has led to social tension and conflict, not just in today’s society, but dating back to 700 B.C. according to a new study published today in Current Anthropology .
University of Colorado anthropology Professor Arthur A. Joyce and University of Central Florida Associate Professor Sarah Barber found evidence in several Mexican archeological sites that contradict the long-held belief that religion acted to unite early state societies. It often had the opposite effect, the study says.
“It doesn’t matter if we today don’t share particular religious beliefs, but when people in the past acted on their beliefs, those actions could have real, material consequences,” Barber said about the team’s findings. “It really behooves us to acknowledge religion when considering political processes.”
Sounds like sage advice in today’s world that has multiple examples of politics and religion intersecting and resulting in conflict.
The team published its findings “Ensoulment, Entrapment, and Political Centralization: A Comparative Study of Religion and Politics in Later Formative Oaxaca,” after spending several years conducting field research in the lower Río Verde valley of Oaxaca, Mexico’s Pacific coastal lowlands. They compared their results with data from the highland Valley of Oaxaca.
Their study viewed archaeological evidence from 700 B.C. to A.D. 250, a period identified as a time of the emergence of states in the region. In the lower Verde, religious rituals involving offerings and the burial of people in cemeteries at smaller communities created strong ties to the local community that impeded the creation of state institutions.
And in the Valley of Oaxaca, elites became central to mediating between their communities and the gods, which eventually triggered conflict with traditional community leaders. It culminated in the emergence of a regional state with its capital at the hilltop city of Monte Albán.
“In both the Valley of Oaxaca and the Lower Río Verde Valley, religion was important in the formation and history of early cities and states, but in vastly different ways,” said Joyce, lead author on the study. “Given the role of religion in social life and politics today, that shouldn’t be too surprising.”
The conflict in the lower Río Verde valley is evident in rapid rise and fall of its state institutions. At Río Viejo, the capital of the lower Verde state, people had built massive temples by AD 100. Yet these impressive, labor-intensive buildings, along with many towns throughout the valley, were abandoned a little over a century later.
“An innovative aspect of our research is to view the burials of ancestors and ceremonial offerings in the lower Verde as essential to these ancient communities,” said Joyce, whose research focuses on both political life and ecology in ancient Mesoamerica. “Such a perspective is also more consistent with the worldviews of the Native Americans that lived there.”
Getting back to Baba, having research, which contradicts or appears to contradict your position, suddenly appear is part of the scientific process. Making your work scientifically authentic adds pressure for a performer or artist, on the other hand, it also blesses that performer or artist with credibility. In any event, it’s well worth checking out Baba’s website and, for anyone, who’s wanted to become a patron of the arts (or of a particular rapper), there’s this Dec. 3, 2015 posting on Baba’s blog about Patreon,
Every year or so since 2010 I’ve reached out to my friends and fans asking for help with a Kickstarter or IndieGogo campaign to fund my latest album or video project. Well now I’m hoping to put an end to that regular cycle with the help of Patreon, a site that lets fans become patrons with exclusive access to the artists they support and the work they help create.
Baba Brinkman, a Canadian-born rapper who’s made a bit of a career in science circles and has been featured here many times for the ‘Rap Guide to Evolution’ and other pieces, will be performing in Vancouver on Sept. 9, 2015 at The China Cloud (524 Main Street) Doors 7:30pm, showtime 8pm, $15 cover.
First: “Off The Top” is a science/comedy hour co-hosted by Baba and Heather [Berlin], exploring the neuroscience of improvisation and humour, and the odd-couple mash-up of science and rap in their marriage. …
Second: After an intermission, Baba will perform his new rap/science/comedy show ”Rap Guide to Climate Chaos”, which explores the science and politics of global warming.
Here’s more from the Off The Top page on Baba Brinkman’s website,
Science rapper Baba Brinkman (Rap Guide to Evolution) teams up with neuroscientist Dr. Heather Berlin to explore the brain basis of improvisation. What’s going on “under the hood” when a comedian or musician improvises? Why are the spontaneous moments of life always the most memorable? Does anything actually rhyme with Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex?
Fringe First Award Winner Baba Brinkman (Rap Guide to Evolution) is the world’s first and only “peer reviewed rapper,” bringing science to the masses with his unique brand of hip-hop comedy theatrics. In “Rap Guide to Climate Chaos,” Baba breaks down the politics, economics, and science of global warming, following its surprising twists from the carbon cycle to the energy economy. If civilization is a party in full swing, are the climate cops about to pull the plug? And what happens if we just let it rage? With scientists, activists, contrarians, and the Pope adding their voices to the soundtrack, get ready for a funny and refreshing take on the world’s hottest topic.
I didn’t find much about The China Cloud but there was this January 20, 2010 article by Bob Kronbauer for vancouverisawesome.com,
Floating above Vancouver’s Chinatown rests the new studio/gallery space, The China Cloud. It is currently the home base to a handful of local bands – Analog Bell Service, No Gold, Macchu Picchu; four visual artists and comedy troupes Man Hussy and Bronx Cheer. This past Friday The China Cloud had its grand opening with an art show, some booze, and musical performances by Sun Wizard, My!Gay!Husband!, Analog Bell Service and Blue Violets. It was wall to wall people, with line-ups all night and a bit more hectic than what the artists behind the event expect it to be for future events – but what a way to step on the scene!
For anyone unfamiliar with Vancouver, The China Cloud is in an area that’s gentrifying but still retains its edgy character.
The article was well illustrated by Marcus Jolly’s photographs.
Finally, Dr. Heather Berlin was mentioned here in a March 6, 2015 post (scroll down about 75% of the way) highlighting International Women’s Day and various science communication projects including hers and Faith Salie’s, Science Goes to the Movies.
ETA Sept. 7, 2015: David Bruggeman gives a brief update on Baba Brinkman’s upcoming album release in his Sept. 5, 2015 posting on Pasco Phronesis.
In honour of International Women’s Day 2015, here are four items about women and science. The first features Canada’s Perimeter Institute (PI) and a tribute to pioneering women in physics, from a Feb. 26, 2015 PI news release,
They discovered pulsars, found the first evidence of dark matter, pioneered mathematics, radioactivity, nuclear fission, elasticity, and computer programming, and have even stopped light.
It’s a fascinating group of women and these four provide a taste only.
The second item about women in science is also from the Perimeter Institute, which is hosting an ‘Inspiring Future Women in Science’ conference on Friday, May 6, 2015. From the PI program page,
Are you interested in turning your love of science into a career? Perimeter Institute is inviting female high school students to participate in an inspirational half day conference on Friday March 6, 2015. The goal is to bring together like minded young women with a strong interest in science and expose them to the rewards, challenges and possibilities of a career in science.
Rima Brek – Rima is a Ubisoft veteran of 16 years and a founding team member of the Toronto studio. There, she was responsible for kick-starting the technology team and helping ship the critically-acclaimed Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Blacklist. She is a sought-after advisor whose guidance and leadership have directly helped Ubisoft Toronto grow to over 300 game developers in just five years.
Dianna Cowern – Dianna is a science communicator and educator. She received her degree in physics from MIT and completed a post-baccalaureate fellowship in astrophysics at Harvard. She then worked on mobile applications as a software engineer at General Electric before beginning a position at the University of California, San Diego as a physics outreach coordinator. She is the primary content creator for her educational YouTube channel, Physics Girl.
Roslyn Bern – As president of the Leacross Foundation, Roslyn Bern has been creating opportunities for women and girls throughout Canada. She has worked on initiatives for over 20 years, as an educator, a business woman, and as a philanthropist. She has focused on developing scholarships and bursaries for girls in under-represented career fields. She has been instrumental on sending teenage girls to the Arctic and Antarctic with Students on Ice, and created a partnership with colleges and corporations to certify STEM women in Electrical engineering. …
By the time this piece is posted it will be too late to attend this year’s event but interested parties could plan for next year in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.
The third item concerns an initiative from the Public Radio Exchange, PRX. Called Transistor; a STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] audio project. From the series page,
Transistor is a transformative STEM podcast, taking the electricity of a story and channeling it to listeners. Three scientist hosts — a biologist, an astrophysicist, and a neuroscientist — report on conundrums, curiosities, and current events in and beyond their fields. Sprinkled among their episodes are the winners of the STEM Story Project, a competition we held for unique science radio.
Much as the transistor radio was a new technical leap, this Transistor features new women voices and sounds from new science producers.
PRX presents Transistor, applying our storytelling and podcast experience to science. The Sloan Foundation powers Transistor with funding and support. And listeners complete the circuit.
PRX is thrilled to announce the launch of a new weekly podcast series Transistor (official press release). Three scientist hosts — a biologist, an astrophysicist, and a neuroscientist — report on conundrums, curiosities, and current events in and beyond their fields. Sprinkled among their episodes are the winners of the PRX STEM Story Project, a competition we held for unique science radio.
Just as the transistor radio was a new technical leap, this Transistor features new women voices and their science perspectives. We’ve launched with four episodes from our three scientist hosts:
Dr. Michelle Thaller, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, who studies binary stars and the life cycles of the stars.
We Are Stardust: We’re closer than ever before to discovering if we’re not alone in the universe. Astrophysicist Michelle Thaller visits the NASA lab that discovered that comets contain some of the very same chemical elements that we contain. Then, Michelle talks to a Vatican planetary scientist about how science and religion can meet on the topic of life beyond Earth.
Dr. Christina Agapakis, a biologist and writer based in Los Angeles. Her research focuses on the intersection of microbiology and design, exploring the symbiosis among microbes and biology, technology, and culture.
Food, Meet Fungus: The microbiome — the trillions of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that live in and on our body — is hot right now. We explore what we do know in the face of so much hope and hype, starting with food.
Dr. Wendy Suzuki, a Professor of Neural Science and Psychology in the Center for Neural Science at New York University, whose research focuses on understanding how our brains form and retain new long-term memories and the effects of aerobic exercise on memory. Her book Healthy Brain, Happy Life will be published by Harper Collins in the Spring of 2015.
Totally Cerebral: Untangling the Mystery of Memory: Neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki introduces us to scientists who have uncovered some of the deepest secrets about our brains. She begins by talking with experimental psychologist Brenda Milner [interviewed in her office at McGill University, Montréal, Quebéc], who in the 1950s, completely changed our understanding of the parts of the brain important for forming new long-term memories.
Totally Cerebral: The Man Without a Memory: Imagine never being able to form a new long term memory after the age of 27. Welcome to the life of the famous amnesic patient “HM”. Neuroscientist Suzanne Corkin studied HM for almost half a century, and gives us a glimpse of what daily life was like for him, and his tremendous contribution to our understanding of how our memories work.
I listened to all four of the introductory programs which ranged in running time from about 16 mins. to 37 mins. All three hosts are obviously excited about sharing their science stories and I look forward to hearing more from them.
Science Goes to the Movies is a new program produced by the City University of New York and sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. … The hosts are Faith Salie, a journalist and host you might have heard before as a panelist on Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me, and Dr. Heather Berlin, a neuroscientist whose research focuses on brain-body relationships and psychological disorders. (In what makes for a small world, Berlin is married to Canadian rap troubadour Baba Brinkman.) …
Hallucinations and black holes vie for the 2015 Oscar. Co-hosts Faith Salie and Dr. Heather Berlin are joined by AMNH astrophysicist Dr. Emily Rice for a look at the science in three of the top films of the year, Birdman, The Theory of Everything, and Interstellar.
Episode 102 featuring Into the Woods and the Imitation Game will première on March 20, 2015,
Science Goes to the Movies looks at The Imitation Game and Into the Woods. With special guest cryptologist Rosario Gennaro, we discuss pattern recognition in the work of both Alan Turing and Stephen Sondheim.
Science Goes to the Movies is made possible by generous support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
Kudos to the Alfred P. Sloan foundation for funding two exciting ventures: Transistors and Science Goes to the Movies.
Getting back to where I started: Happy International Women’s Day 2015!