Mayurika Chakravorty at Carleton University (Department of English) in Ottawa, (Ontario, Canada) points out that the latest pandemic (COVID-19) is an example of how everything is connected (interconnectedness or globality) by way of science fiction in her July 19, 2020 essay on The Conversation (h/t July 20, 2020 item on phys.org), Note: Links have been removed,
In the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, a theory widely shared on social media suggested that a science fiction text, Dean Koontz’s 1981 science fiction novel, The Eyes of Darkness, had predicted the coronavirus pandemic with uncanny precision. COVID-19 has held the entire world hostage, producing a resemblance to the post-apocalyptic world depicted in many science fiction texts. Canadian author Margaret Atwood’s classic 2003 novel Oryx and Crake refers to a time when “there was a lot of dismay out there, and not enough ambulances” — a prediction of our current predicament.
However, the connection between science fiction and pandemics runs deeper. They are linked by a perception of globality, what sociologist Roland Robertson defines as “the consciousness of the world as a whole.”
Chakravorty goes on to make a compelling case (from her July 19, 2020 essay Note: Links have been removed),
In his 1992 survey of the history of telecommunications, How the World Was One, Arthur C. Clarke alludes to the famed historian Alfred Toynbee’s lecture entitled “The Unification of the World.” Delivered at the University of London in 1947, Toynbee envisions a “single planetary society” and notes how “despite all the linguistic, religious and cultural barriers that still sunder nations and divide them into yet smaller tribes, the unification of the world has passed the point of no return.”
Science fiction writers have, indeed, always embraced globality. In interplanetary texts, humans of all nations, races and genders have to come together as one people in the face of alien invasions. Facing an interplanetary encounter, bellicose nations have to reluctantly eschew political rivalries and collaborate on a global scale, as in Denis Villeneuve’s 2018 film, Arrival.
Globality is central to science fiction. To be identified as an Earthling, one has to transcend the local and the national, and sometimes, even the global, by embracing a larger planetary consciousness.
In The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin conceptualizes the Ekumen, which comprises 83 habitable planets. The idea of the Ekumen was borrowed from Le Guin’s father, the noted cultural anthropologist Arthur L. Kroeber. Kroeber had, in a 1945 paper, introduced the concept (from Greek oikoumene) to represent a “historic culture aggregate.” Originally, Kroeber used oikoumene to refer to the “entire inhabited world,” as he traced back human culture to one single people. Le Guin then adopted this idea of a common origin of shared humanity in her novel.
Regarding Canada’s response to the crisis [COVID-19], researchers have noted both the immorality and futility of a nationalistic “Canada First” approach.
I was hoping this would be the concluding part of this series but there was much more than I dreamed. (I know that’s repetitive but I’m truly gobsmacked.)
Astronomy and bird watching (ornithology) are probably the only two scientific endeavours that have consistently engaged nonexperts/amateurs/citizen scientists right from the earliest days through the 21st century. Medical research, physics, chemistry, and others have, until recently and despite their origins in ‘amateur’ (or citizen) science, become the exclusive domain of professional experts.
This situation seems to be changing both here in Canada and elsewhere. One of the earliest postings about citizen science on this blog was in 2010 and, one of the most amusing to me personally, was this March 21, 2013 posting titled: Comparing techniques, citizen science to expert science. It’s about a study by scientists at the University of East Anglia (UK) comparing data collection by citizen scientists with experts. In this particular project where undersea data was being collected and people with diving skills needed, the citizen scientists did a better job than the expert scientists of collecting data. (I’m not trying to suggest that experts can be replaced by amateurs but do suggest that there are advantages to working together.)
Take a look at your car. The bus you take to work. The smart phone you tap on during your commute. They all have one thing in common: science. Science is all around us. It shapes the way we live, the meals we grab on the go and the commute that takes us to school and work.
That is why the Government of Canada is encouraging young Canadians’ interest in science. Research and innovation lead to breakthroughs in agriculture, transit, medicine, green technology and service delivery, improving the quality of life for all Canadians. The outcomes of research also create jobs, strengthen the economy and support a growing middle class.
The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, carried that message to an audience of young students during her first citizen science Google Hangout today. The Hangout, run by Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants, a not-for-profit organization, featured frog exhibits from the Toronto Zoo and a demonstration of the FrogWatch citizen science project by Dr. Nancy Kingsbury of Environment and Climate Change Canada. Toronto Zoo frog expert Katherine Wright joined Minister Duncan at the zoo to share information about frogs that are local to Ontario.
Minister Duncan, Dr. Kingsbury and Ms. Wright then engaged with elementary school children across Canada in a live Q&A session about the frogs in their own backyards. The Minister highlighted the importance of getting young Canadians interested in science fields and talked about ways they can take part in citizen science projects in their communities. Citizen scientists can share their observations on social media using the hashtag #ScienceAroundMe.
“Science is for everyone, and it is important that we encourage today’s youth to be curious. Young Canadians who engage in citizen science today will become the highly skilled workers—engineers, scientists, mathematicians, technology experts and entrepreneurs—of tomorrow. Through citizen science, children can nurture an interest in the natural world. These young people will then go on to discover, to innovate and to find solutions that will help us build a better Canada.” – The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities
“The Toronto Zoo is proud to participate in and encourage citizen science programs, such as FrogWatch, within the community. The Toronto Zoo’s Adopt-A-Pond Wetland Conservation Programme works to engage citizen scientists and deliver impactful conservation-focused research, restoration and outreach that highlight the importance of saving Canada’s sensitive wetland species and their habitats.” – Robin Hale, Interim Chief Executive Officer, Toronto Zoo
NatureWatch, of which FrogWatch is a component, is a community program that engages all Canadians in collecting scientific information on nature to understand our changing environment.
Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants aims to inspire the next generation of scientists, explorers and conservationists by bringing science, exploration, adventure and conservation into classrooms through virtual field trips run by programs like Google Hangout.
The Government of Canada’s Citizen Science Portal is a one-stop shop for science in the community. It showcases science programs, including NatureWatch programs, across the country.
The portal is not nearly as Ontario-centric as the projects mentioned in the news release (in case you were wondering).
Aside: In part 2 of this series, Jesse Hildebrand, founder of Science Literacy Week was mentioned as also being the founder of Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants.
Going to the birds
While bird watching and ornithological studies are not new to the Canadian science culture scene, there were some interesting developments in the 2010-19 period.
Canadian Geographic (magazine) sponsored a contest in 2015, the National Bird Project, where almost 50,000 people submitted suggestions for a national bird. Voting online ensued and on August 31, 2016 popular voting was closed. Five birds attracted the top votes and in September 2016, the Royal Canadian Geographical Society put together an expert panel to debate and decide which would be Canada’s national bird. The choice was announced in November 2016 (Canadian Geographic National Bird Project).
The gray jay (Perisoreus canadensis in Latin, Mésangeai du Canada in French) lives in all 13 provinces and territories — the friendly spirit in Canada’s wild northern boreal and mountain forests. It remains in Canada year-round, is neither hunted nor endangered, and from the Atlantic provinces to the West is an indicator of the health of the boreal and mountain forests and climate change, inspiring a conservation philosophy for all kinds of northern land uses. The gray jay has long been important to Indigenous Peoples, and will draw all Canadians to their national and provincial/territorial parks, yet unlike the loon and snowy owl, it is not already a provincial or territorial bird.
Gray jay is a passerine bird belonging to the family Corvidae. It is mostly found in the boreal forest of North America. The bird is fairly large and has pale gray underparts and dark grey upperpart. Gray jay is a friendly bird and often approach human for food. It is also popularly known as the camp robber, whisky jack, and venison-hawk. Gray jay is listed as Least Concern by the IUCN [International Union for Conservation of Nature]. However, the anthropogenic climate change in the southern range may adversely affect its population. In some Fist Nation cultures, the bird is associated with mythological figures including Wisakedjak who was anglicized to Whiskyjack.
For approximately 200 years, the gray jay was known as “Canadian Jay” to the English speakers. The bird was renamed the “gray jay” in 1957 by the American Ornithologists’ Union. However, scientifically the bird is referred to as Perisoreus Canadensis. The bird is found in almost all the provinces of territories of Canada. the preferred habitat for the species is Canada’s boreal and mountain forests. Gray jay is also one of the smartest birds in the world and has almost the same body-to-brain ratio as human beings.
Canadian Georgraphic offers more depth (and a map) in a November 16, 2016 article, by Nick Walker, titled, Canada, meet your national bird (Note: Links have been removed),
With 450 species in the country to choose from, Canadian Geographic’s decision was made neither lightly nor quickly.
This national debate has been running since January 2015, in fact. But after weighing the opinions and preferences of tens of thousands of Canadians, as well as the expertise of our National Conservation Partners at Bird Studies Canada and other ornithologists and conservationists, as well as cultural experts and Indigenous Peoples, that list was narrowed to five birds. And one finalist best met all reasonable criteria.
We give you the gray jay. …
Not only has the gray jay never been recorded outside of North America, the vast majority of its range is in Canada, with only a small percentage crossing into Alaska and the western mountains of the United States. The species’ preferred habitat is Canada’s boreal and mountain forests — ecozones that stretch from coast to coast and into the North, blanketing nearly two-thirds of the country.
Like the Canadian flag when it was selected in 1965, the gray jay is fresh and new and fitting. To quote David Bird, ornithologist and professor emeritus of wildlife biology at Montreal’s McGill University, we cannot think of a more Canadian bird.
Three sets of bird stamps were issued by Canada Post from 2016-2018 saluting “Canada’s avian citizens.” Here’s more from a July 12, 2016 Birds of Canada blog post on the Canada Post website announcing the first series of bird stamps,
Hatched by designer Kosta Tsetsekas and illustrator Keith Martin, these stamps are the first in a three-year series celebrating Canada’s avian citizens. Our first flock includes five official birds: the Atlantic puffin (Newfoundland and Labrador), the great horned owl (Alberta), the common raven (Yukon), the rock ptarmigan (Nunavut) and the sharp-tailed grouse (Saskatchewan).
On behalf of the International Ornithologists’ Union, Vancouver is delighted to welcome ornithologists from around the world to the 27th International Ornithological Congress (IOCongress2018)! Considered the oldest and most prestigious of meetings for bird scientists, the Congress occurs every four years since first being held in Vienna, Austria, in 1884.
Canada has hosted only once previously, Ottawa in 1986, and Vancouver will be the first time the Congress has been on the Pacific Coast of the Americas. The Congress has broad national endorsement, including from the City of Vancouver, the province of British Columbia, Environment Canada, Simon Fraser University, Artists for Conservation, Tourism Vancouver plus an array of scientific societies and conservation organizations.
The convention centre’s webpage features an impressive list of events which were open to the public,
Stars of the Bird World Presentation (August 19): Dr. Rob Butler, chair of the Vancouver International Bird Festival, presents Flyways to Culture: How birds give rise to a cultural awakening, at look at how the growing interest in birds in particular and nature in general, is a foundation for a new Nature Culture in which nature becomes embedded into a west coast culture. 8:30-10 a.m. at the Vancouver Convention Centre. Admission by donation ($10 suggested).
Festival Opening Ceremony – Parade of Birds and a fanfare by Vancouver Symphony Brass Quintet (August 20): The festival begins with a Parade of Birds and a fanfare by the Vancouver Symphony Brass Quintet. The fanfare “Gathering Flock” was composed by Frederick Schipizky. 3:20 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. at the Vancouver Convention Centre.
Artists for Conservation Show (August 22): Artists for Conservation is the official visual arts partner for the festival and congress, showcasing some of the world’s best nature art through its annual juried exhibit, a collaborative mural, artist demo and lecture series and an artist booth expo. Official opening 6-10 p.m. at the Vancouver Convention Centre.
Nature & Bird Expo (until August 25): The three-day Bird Expo is the showcase of birds and nature in Canada, including exhibitors, speakers, yoga, poetry, art and more. Runs until Aug. 25 at the Vancouver Convention Centre. Check out a full event listing at www.vanbirdfest.com/calendar/nature-bird-expo.
Migration Songs – Poetry and Ornithology (August 23): Migration Songs brings together 11 contemporary poets to consider an array of bird species. Each poet was put in conversation with a particular ornithologist or scientist to consider their chosen species collaboratively. The poets involved include well-known west-coast authors, amongst them Governor General’s Award and Griffin Poetry Prize winners. A short book of these collaborations, Migration Songs, with cover art by poet, painter, and weaver Annie Ross, will be available. 6 p.m. at the Vancouver Convention Centre.
Unveiling of the Silent Skies Mural (August 23): A signature event of the week-long Artists for Conservation show is the unveiling of the Silent Skies mural made up of illustrations of the endangered birds of the world — 678 pieces, each depicting a different endangered bird, will make up the 100-foot-long installation that will form the artistic centrepiece for the 8th annual Artists for Conservation Festival, the 27th International Ornithological Congress and Vancouver International Bird Festival. The unveiling takes place at 6:30 p.m. at the Vancouver Convention Centre.
Stewardship Roundtable 2018 (August 24): A forum and showcase of innovative practices championed in B.C. province and beyond, presented by the Stewardship Centre for BC and Bird Studies Canada, in collaboration with the 27th International Ornithological Congress and Vancouver International Bird Festival. 8:30 a.m. until 9 p.m. at the Vancouver Convention Centre. For more information or to register, visit stewardshipcentrebc.ca/programs/wildife-species-risk/stewardship-roundtable.
Closing Ceremony (August 26): The closing ceremony will include remarks from officials and First Nations representatives, and a Heron Dance by the New Dance Centre from Saskatchewan. 5-6:30 p.m. at Vancouver Convention Centre.
I attended the opening ceremony where they announced the final set of stamps in the Birds of Canada series by introducing people who’d dressed for the parade as the birds in question.
The Canadian birding community has continued to create interesting new projects for science outreach. A December 19, 2019 posting by Natasha Barlow for Birds Canada (also known as Bird Studies Canada) announces a new interactive story map,
The Boreal Region is a massive expanse of forests, wetlands, and waterways covering much of the Northern Hemisphere. In Canada, this vast region stretches for 5000 kilometres from Newfoundland and Labrador through the country’s central regions and northwest to the Yukon.
Over 300 bird species regularly breed here, from tiny songbirds like kinglets and warblers to comparatively giant swans and cranes. The Boreal is home to literally billions of birds, and serves as the continent’s bird “nursery” since it is such an important breeding ground.
While extensive tracts of Canada’s northern Boreal still remain largely undisturbed from major industrial development, the human footprint is expanding and much of the southern Boreal is already being exploited for its resources.
Birds Canada, in partnership with the Nature Conservancy of Canada, has created an interactive story map that details the importance of the Boreal region for birds.
Climate change, ecology, and Indigenous knowledge (science)
There is more focus on climate change everywhere in the world and much of the latest energy and focus internationally can be traced to Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg who turned 17 in January 2020. Her influence has galvanized a number of youth climate strikes in Canada and around the world.
There is a category of science fiction or speculative fiction known as Climate Fiction (cli-fi or clifi). Margaret Atwood (of course) has produced a trilogy in that subgenre of speculative fiction, from the Climate Fiction Wikipedia entry, Note: Links have been removed,
Margaret Atwood explored the subject in her dystopian trilogy Oryx and Crake (2003), The Year of the Flood (2009) and MaddAddam (2013). In Oryx and Crake Atwood presents a world where “social inequality, genetic technology and catastrophic climate change, has finally culminated in some apocalyptic event”. The novel’s protagonist, Jimmy, lives in a “world split between corporate compounds”, gated communities that have grown into city-states and pleeblands, which are “unsafe, populous and polluted” urban areas where the working classes live.
There is some other cli-fi literature by Canadians, notably an anthology of Canadian short stories edited by Bruce Meyer, from a March 9, 2018 review by Emilie Moorhouse published in Canada’s National Observer (review originally published in Prism magazine on March 8, 2018), Note: A link has been removed,
A woman waits in line to get her water ration. She hasn’t had a sip of water in nearly three days. Her mouth is parched; she stumbles as she waits her turn for over an hour in the hot sun. When she he finally gets to the iTap and inserts her card into the machine that controls the water flow, the light turns red and her card is rejected. Her water credits have run out.
This scenario from “The Way of Water” by Nina Munteanu is one of many contained in the recently published anthology of short stories, Cli-Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Change. The seventeen stories in this book edited by Bruce Meyer examine how humankind might struggle with the potential devastation of climate change in the near or distant future. Soon after I finished reading the book, Cape Town—known in precolonial times as “the place where clouds gather”—announced that it was only a few months away from what it called “Day Zero,” the day the city would officially run out of water, making the similarities between fiction and reality more than unsettling. Munteanu’s story is set in a futuristic Canada that has been mined of all its water by thirsty corporations who have taken over control of the resource. Rain has not fallen on Canadian soil in years due to advances in geoengineering and weather manipulation preventing rain clouds from going anywhere north of the Canada-US border.
Indigenous knowledge (science)
The majority of Canada’s coastline is in the Arctic and climate change in that region is progressing at a disturbing pace. Weather, Climate Change, and Inuit Communities in the Western Canadian Arctic, a September 30, 2017 blog posting, by Dr. Laura Eerkes-Medrano at the University of Victoria (British Columbia) for Historical Climatology describes it this way (Note: A link has been removed),
Global climate change brings with it local weather that communities and cultures have difficulty anticipating. Unpredictable and socially impactful weather is having negative effects on the subsistence, cultural activities, and safety of indigenous peoples in Arctic communities. Since 2013, Professor David Atkinson and his team at the University of Victoria have been working with Inuvialuit communities in Tuktoyaktuk, Ulukhaktok, and Sachs Harbour. The main goal is to understand how impactful weather is affecting residents’ subsistence activities, particularly when they are on the water. The project involves site visits, interviews, and regular phone calls with residents.
Inuvialuit residents regularly observe the waves, winds, snow, and ice conditions that interfere with their hunting, fishing, camping, and other subsistence and cultural activities. In this project, communities identify specific weather events that impact their activities. These events are then linked to the broader atmospheric patterns that cause them. Summaries of the events will be provided to Environment Canada to hopefully assist with the forecasting process.
By taking this approach, the project links Western scientific knowledge and traditional knowledge to generate insights [emphasis mine] into how climate change is affecting Inuvialuit activities in the Canadian Arctic. An oversight committee has been established in each community to give direction to the project. This oversight committee includes representatives from each of the main community organizations, which ensures that the respective organizations provide direction to the project and advise on how to engage residents and communities.
Western science learning from and taking from traditional knowledge is not new. For example, many modern medicines are still derived from traditional remedies. Unfortunately, traditional practitioners have not benefited from sharing their knowledge.
It is to be hoped things are changing with projects like Atkinson’s and another one I mentioned in a December 2, 2019 posting featuring a discovery about ochre (a red dye used for rock art). The dye being examined was produced (in a manner that appears to be unique) in the Babine Lake region of British Columbia and the research may have applications for industrial use leading to economic benefits for the indigenous folks of that region. As important as the benefits, the science team worked closely with the indigenous communities in that area.
Canada will finally have its first Arctic university.
This past week [of December 1, 2019], the Yukon legislature passed a bill to make Yukon College a university. It will be an institution with an Indigenous flavour that will make it as unique as the region it is to serve.
“Everybody knows we’re moving toward something big and something special,” said Tom Ullyett, chairman of the board of governors.
The idea of a northern university has been kicked around since at least 2007 when a survey in all three territories found residents wanted more influence over Arctic research. Northern First Nations have been asking for one for 50 years.
Research is to centre on issues around environmental conservation and sustainable resource development. It will be conducted in a new, $26-million science building funded by Ottawa and currently being designed.
Indigenous content will be baked in.
“It’s about teaching with northern examples,” said Tosh Southwick, in charge of Indigenous engagement. “Every program will have a northern component.”
Science programs will have traditional knowledge embedded in them and talk about ravens and moose instead of, say, flamingos and giraffes. Anthropology classes will teach creation stories alongside archeological evidence.
The institution will report to Yukon’s 14 First Nations as well as to the territorial legislature. More than one-quarter of its current students are Indigenous.
“Our vision is to be that first northern university that focuses on Indigenous governance, that focuses on sustainable natural resources, that focuses on northern climate, and everything that flows from that.”
Climate adaptation and/or choices
While we have participated in a number of initiatives and projects concerned with climate change, I believe there is general agreement we should have done more. That said I would prefer to remain hopeful.
A newly launched institute for climate policy research will have a Yukon connection. Brian Horton, Manager of Northern Climate ExChange at the Yukon Research Centre, has been named to the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices expert advisory panel for Climate Adaptation.
The Institute, launched Tuesday morning, aims to bring clarity to Canada’s climate policy choices. The Institute’s initial report, Charting our Course, describes the current climate landscape in Canada and provides recommendations for policy makers and governments seeking to implement more effective policy.
In order to remain grounded in issues of importance to Canadians, the Institute has appointed three Expert Advisory Panels (Adaptation, Mitigation and Clean Growth) to provide evidence-based research, analysis and engagement advice to support integrative policy decisions.
“It is exciting to have a role to play in this dynamic new network,” said Horton. “The climate is rapidly changing in the North and affecting our landscapes and lives daily. I look forward to contributing a Northern voice to this impactful pan-Canadian expert collaboration.”
At Yukon College, Horton’s research team focusses on applied research of climate impacts and adaptation in Yukon and Northwest Territories. Northern Climate ExChange works with communities, governments, and the private sector to answer questions about permafrost, hydrology, and social factors to facilitate adaptation to climate change.
January 21, 2020 | OTTAWA — Dozens of academics and policy experts today launched the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices, a new independent national research body. The Institute aims to bring clarity to the transformative challenges, opportunities and choices ahead for Canada as governments at all levels work to address climate change.
Experimental Lakes Area
This is a very special research effort originally funded and managed by the Canadian federal government. Rather controversially, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government defunded the research but that may not have been the tragedy many believed (from the Experimental Lakes Area Wikipedia entry),
IISD Experimental Lakes Area (IISD-ELA, known as ELA before 2014) is an internationally unique research station encompassing 58 formerly pristine freshwater lakes in Kenora District Ontario, Canada. Previously run by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, after being de-funded by the Canadian Federal Government, the facility is now managed and operated by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and has a mandate to investigate the aquatic effects of a wide variety of stresses on lakes and their catchments. IISD-ELA uses the whole ecosystem approach and makes long-term, whole-lake investigations of freshwater focusing on eutrophication.
In an article published in AAAS’s well-known scientific journal Science, Eric Stokstad described ELA’s “extreme science” as the manipulation of whole lake ecosystem with ELA researchers collecting long-term records for climatology, hydrology, and limnology that address key issues in water management. The site has influenced public policy in water management in Canada, the USA, and around the world.
Minister of State for Science and Technology, Gary Goodyear, argued that “our government has been working hard to ensure that the Experimental Lakes Area facility is transferred to a non-governmental operator better suited to conducting the type of world-class research that can be undertaken at this facility” and that “[t]he federal government has been leading negotiations in order to secure an operator with an international track record.” On April 1, 2014, the International Institute for Sustainable Development announced that it had signed three agreements to ensure that it will be the long-term operator of the research facility and that the facility would henceforth be called IISD Experimental Lakes Area. Since taking over the facility, IISD has expanded the function of the site to include educational and outreach opportunities and a broader research portfolio.
Part 5 is to a large extent a grab bag for everything I didn’t fit into parts 1 -4. As for what you can expect to find in Part 5: some science podcasting, eco art, a Saskatchewan lab with an artist-in-residence, and more.
Part 1 covered some of the more formal aspects science culture in Canada, such as science communication education programmes, mainstream media, children’s science magazines, music, etc. Part 2 covered science festivals, art/sci or sciart (depending on who’s talking, informal science get togethers such ‘Cafe Sccientifque’, etc.
This became a much bigger enterprise than I anticipated and so part 3 is stuffed with the do-it-yourself (DIY) biology movement in Canada, individual art/sci or lit/sci projects, a look at what the mathematicians have done and are doing, etc. But first there’s the comedy.
Comedy, humour, and science
Weirdly, Canadians like to mix their science fiction (scifi) movies with humour. (I will touch on more scifi later in this post but it’s too big a topic to cover inadequately, let alone adequately, in this review.) I post as my evidence of the popularity of comedy science fiction films, this from the Category: Canadian science fiction films Wikipedia webpage,
As you see, comedy science fiction is the second most populated category. Also, the Wikipedia time frame is much broader than mine but I did check one Canadian science fiction comedy film, Bang Bang Baby, a 2014 film, which, as it turns out, is also a musical.
Daniel Chai is a Vancouver-based writer, comedian, actor and podcaster. He is co-host of The Fear of Science podcast, which combines his love of learning with his love of being on a microphone. Daniel is also co-founder of The Fictionals Comedy Co and the creator of Improv Against Humanity, and teaches improv at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. He is very excited to be part of Vancouver Podcast Festival, and thanks everyone for listening!
Jeff is the producer and co-host of The Fear of Science. By day, he is a graphic designer/digital developer [according to his LinkedIn profile, he works at Science World], and by night he is a cosplayer, board gamer and full-time geek. Jeff is passionate about all things science, and has been working in science communication for over 4 years. He brings a general science knowledge point of view to The Fear of Science.
Here’s more about The Fear of Science from its homepage (where you will also find links to their podcasts),
A podcast that brings together experts and comedians for an unfiltered discussion about complicated and sometimes controversial science fears in a fun and respectful way.
This podcast seems to have taken life in August 2018.(Well, that’s as far back as the Archived episodes stretch on the website.)
This is Vancolour is a podcast hosted by Mo Amir and you will find this description on the website,
THIS IS A PODCAST ABOUT VANCOUVER AND THE PEOPLE WHO MAKE THIS CITY COLOURFUL
Cartoonist, writer, and educator, Raymond Nakamura produces work for Telus Science World and the Science Borealis science aggregator. His website is known as Raymond’s Brain features this image,
Much has been happening on this front. First for anyone unfamiliar with do-it-yourself biology, here’s more from its Wikipedia entry,
Do-it-yourself biology (DIY biology, DIY bio) is a growing biotechnological social movement in which individuals, communities, and small organizations study biology and life science using the same methods as traditional research institutions. DIY biology is primarily undertaken by individuals with extensive research training from academia or corporations, who then mentor and oversee other DIY biologists with little or no formal training. This may be done as a hobby, as a not-for-profit endeavour for community learning and open-science innovation, or for profit, to start a business.
A January 21, 2020 posting here listed the second Canadian DIY Biology Summit organized by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). It was possible to attend virtually from any part of Canada. The first meeting was in 2016 (you can see the agenda here). You’ll see in the agenda for the 2nd meeting in 2020 that there have been a few changes as groups rise into and fall out of existence.
From the 2020 agenda, here’s a list representing the players in Canada’s DIYbio scene,
Most of these organizations (e.g., Victoria Makerspace, Synbiota, Bricobio, etc.) seem to be relatively new (founded in 2009 or later) which is quite exciting to think about. This March 13, 2016 article in the Vancouver Observer gives you a pretty good overview of the DIY biology scene in Canada at the time while providing a preview of the then upcoming first DIY Biology summit.
*The Open Science Network in Vancouver was formerly known as DIYbio YVR. I’m not sure when the name change occurred but this July 17, 2018 article by Emily Ng for The Ubyssey (a University of British Columbia student newspaper) gives a little history,
In 2009, a group of UBC students and staff recognized these barriers and teamed up to democratize science, increase its accessibility and create an interdisciplinary platform for idea exchange. They created the Open Science Network (OSN).
The Open Science Network is a non-profit society that serves the science and maker community through education, outreach and the provision of space. Currently, they run an open community lab out of the MakerLabs space on East Cordova and Main street, which is a compact space housing microscopes, a freezer, basic lab equipment and an impressive amount of activity.
The lab is home to a community of citizen scientists, professional scientists, artists, designers and makers of all ages who are pursuing their own science projects.
Members who are interested in lab work can receive some training in “basic microbiology techniques like pipetting, growing bacteria, using the Polymerase Chain Reaction machine (PCR) [to amplify DNA] and running gels [through a gel ectrophoresis machine to separate DNA fragments by size] from Scott Pownall, a PhD graduate from UBC and the resident microbiologist,” said Wong [ Wes Wong, a staff member of UBC Botany and a founding member of OSN].
The group has also made further efforts to serve their members by offering more advanced synthetic biology classes and workshops at their lab.
There is another organization called ‘Open Science Network’ (an ethnobiology group and not part of the Vancouver organization). Here is a link to the Vancouver-based Open Science Network (a community science lab) where they provide further links to all their activities including a regular ‘meetup’.
I have poetry, a book, a television adaptation, three plays with mathematics and/or physics themes and more.
In 2012 there was a night of poetry readings in Vancouver. What made it special was that five poets had collaborated with five scientists (later amended to four scientists and a landscape architect) according to my December 4, 2012 posting. The whole thing was conceptualized and organized by Aileen Penner who went on to produce a chapbook of the poetry. She doesn’t have any copies available currently but you can contact her on her website’s art/science page if you are interested in obtaining a copy. She doesn’t seem to have organized any art/science projects since. For more about Aileen Penner who is a writer and poet, go to her website here.
The Banff International Research Station (BIRS) it’s all about the mathematics) hosted a workshop for poets and mathematicians way back in 2011. I featured it (Mathematics: Muse, Maker, and Measure of the Arts) after the fact in my January 9, 2012 posting (scroll down about 30% of the way). If you have the time, do click on my link to Nassif Ghoussoub’s post on his blog (Piece of Mind) about mathematicians, poetry, and the arts. It’s especially interesting in retrospect as he is now the executive director for BIRS, which no longer seems to have workshops that meld any of the arts with mathematics, and science.
That sadly seems to be it for poetry and the sciences, including mathematics. If you know of any other poetry/science projects or readings, etc. in Canada during the 2010-9 decade, please let me know in the comments.
Karl Schroeder, a Canadian science fiction author, has written many books but of particular interest here are two futuristic novels for the Canadian military.The 2005 novel, Crisis in Zefra, doesn’t fit the time frame I’ve established for this review but the the 2014 novel, Crisis in Urla (scroll down) fits in nicely. His writing is considered ‘realistic’ science fiction in that it’s based on science research and his work is also associated with speculative realism (from his Wikipedia entry; Note: Links have been removed),
Karl Schroeder (born September 4, 1962) is a Canadianscience fiction author. His novels present far-future speculations on topics such as nanotechnology, terraforming, augmented reality, and interstellar travel, and are deeply philosophical.
The other author I’m mentioning here is Margaret Atwood. The television adaptation of her book, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ has turned a Canadian literary superstar into a supernova (an exploding star whose luminosity can be the equivalent of an entire galaxy). In 2019, she won the Booker Prize, for the second time for ‘The Testaments’ (a followup to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’), sharing it with Bernardine Evaristo and her book ‘Girl, Woman, Other’. Atwood has described her work (The Handmaid’s Tale, and others) as speculative fiction rather than science fiction. For me, she bases her speculation on the social sciences and humanities, specifically history (read her Wikipedia entry for more).
In 2017 with the television adaptation of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, Atwood’s speculative fiction novel became a pop culture phenomenon. Originally published in 1985, the novel was also adapted for a film in 1990 and for an opera in 2000 before it came to television, according to its Wikipedia entry.
There’s a lot more out there, Schroeder and Atwood are just two I’ve stumbled across.
I have drama, musical comedy and acting items.
Pi Theatre’s (Vancouver) mathematically-inclined show, ‘Long Division‘, ran in April 2017 and was mentioned in my April 20, 2017 posting (scroll down about 50% of the way).
This theatrical performance of concepts in mathematics runs from April 26 – 30, 2017 (check here for the times as they vary) at the Annex at 823 Seymour St. From the Georgia Straight’s April 12, 2017 Arts notice,
“Mathematics is an art form in itself, as proven by Pi Theatre’s number-charged Long Division. This is a “refreshed remount” of Peter Dickinson’s ambitious work, one that circles around seven seemingly unrelated characters (including a high-school math teacher, a soccer-loving imam, and a lesbian bar owner) bound together by a single traumatic incident. Directed by Richard Wolfe, with choreography by Lesley Telford and musical score by Owen Belton, it’s a multimedia, movement-driven piece that has a strong cast. … “
You can read more about the production here. As far as I’m aware, there are no upcoming show dates.
There seems to be some sort of affinity between theatre and mathematics, I recently featured (January 3, 2020 posting) a theatrical piece by Hannah Moscovitch titled, ‘Infinity‘, about time, physics, math and more. It had its first production in Toronto in 2015.
John Mighton, a playwright and mathematician, wrote ‘The Little Years’ which has been produced in both Vancouver and Toronto. From a May 9, 2005 article by Kathleen Oliver for the Georgia Straight,
The Little Years is a little jewel of a play: small but multifaceted, and beautifully crafted.
John Mighton’s script gives us glimpses into different stages in the life of Kate, a woman whose early promise as a mathematician is cut short. At age 13, she’s a gifted student whose natural abilities are overlooked by 1950s society, which has difficulty conceiving of women as scientists. Instead, she’s sent to vocational school while her older brother, William, grows up to become one of the most widely praised poets of his generation.
John Mighton is a successful playwright and mathematician, yet at times in his life, he’s struggled with doubt. However, he also learned there was hope, and that’s the genesis of The Little Years, which opens at the Tarragon Theatre on Nov. 16 and runs to Dec. 16 .
In keeping (more or less) with this subsection’s theme ‘The Word’, Mighton has recently had a new book published, ‘All Things Being Equal: Why Math is the Key to a Better World’, according to a January 24, 2020 article (online version) by Jamie Portman for Postmedia,
It’s more than two decades since Canadian mathematician and playwright John Mighton found himself playing a small role in the film, Good Will Hunting. What he didn’t expect when he took on the job was that he would end up making a vital contribution to a screenplay that would go on to win an Oscar for its writers, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.
What happened on that occasion tells you a great deal about Mighton’s commitment to the belief that society grossly underestimates the intellectual capacity of human beings — a belief reiterated with quiet eloquence in his latest book, All Things Being Equal.
Mighton loved the experience but as shooting continued he became troubled over his involvement in a movie that played “heavily on the idea that geniuses like Will are born and not made.” This was anathema to his own beliefs as a mathematician and he finally summoned up the courage to ask Affleck and Damon if he could write a few extra lines for his character. This speech was the result: “Most people never get the chance to see how brilliant they can be. They don’t find teachers who believe in them. They get convinced they’re stupid.”
At a time of growing controversy across Canada over the teaching of mathematics in school and continuing evidence of diminishing student results, Mighton continues to feel gratitude to the makers of Good Will Hunting for heeding his concerns. [I will be writing a post about the latest PISA scores where Canadian students have again slipped in their mathematics scores.]
Mighton is on the phone from from Toronto, his voice soft-spoken but still edged with fervour. He pursues two successful careers — as an award-winning Canadian playwright and as a renowned mathematician and philosopher who has devoted a lifetime to developing strategies that foster the intellectual potential of all children through learning math. But even as he talks about his 2001 founding of JUMP Math, a respected charity that offers a radical alternative to conventional teaching of the subject, he’s anxious to remind you that he’s a guy who almost failed calculus at university and who once struggled to overcome his “own massive math anxiety.”
You can find out more about John Mighton in his Wikipedia entry (mostly about his academic accomplishments) and on the JUMP Math website (better overall biography).
It’s called ‘Math Out Loud’ and was first mentioned here in a January 9, 2012 posting (the same post also featured the BIRS poetry workshop),
“When Mackenzie Gray talks about the way Paul McCartney used a recursive sequence to make the song “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” seem to last forever, you realize that part of the Beatles’ phenomenal success might have sprung from McCartney’s genius as a mathematician.
When Roger Kemp draws on a napkin to illustrate that you just have to change the way you think about numbers to come up with a binary code for pi (as in 3.14 ad infinitum), you get a sense that math can actually be a lot of fun.”
Produced by MITACS which in 2012 was known as ‘Mathematics of Information Technology and Complex Systems’, a not-for-profit research organization, the musical went on tour in the Fall of 2012 (according to my September 7, 2012 posting). Unusually, I did not embed the promotional trailer for this 2012 musical so, here it is now,
Since 2012, Mitacs has gone through some sort of rebranding process and it’s now described as a nonprofit national research organization. For more you can read its Wikipedia entry or go to its website.
Acting and storytelling
It turns out there was an acting class (five sessions) for scientists at the University of Calgary in 2017. Here’s more from the course’s information sheet,
Act Your Science: Improve Your Communication Skills with Training in Improvisation 2 hours a session, 5 sessions, every Wednesday starting November 14  …
Dr. Jeff Dunn, Faculty of Graduate Studies, Graduate Students Association, the Canadian Science Writers Association [also known as Science Writers and Communicators of Canada] and the Loose Moose Theatre have teamed together to provide training in a skill which will be useful where ever your career takes you.
The goal of this project is to improve the science communication skills of graduate students in science fields. We will improve your communication through the art of training in improvisation. Training will help with speech and body awareness. Improvisation will provide life‐long skills in communication, in a fun interactive environment.
For many years, Alan Alda, a well-known actor (originally of the “MASH” television series fame), has applied his acting skills and improvisation training to help scientists improve their communication. He developed the Alan Alda Centre for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University.
The training will involve five 2hr improvisation workshop sessions led by one of Canada’s top professional improvisation trainers, Dennis Cahill, the Artistic Director from Loose Moose Theatre. Dennis has an international reputation for developing the theatrical style of improvisation. Training involves a lot of moving around (and possibly rolling on the floor!) so dress casually. Be prepared to release your inhibitions!
The information sheet includes a link to this University of Chicago video (posted on Youtube February 24, 2014) of actor Alan Alda discussing science communication,
Victoria Bouvier, a Michif-Metis woman, is of the Red River Settlement and Boggy Creek, Manitoba, and born and raised in Calgary. She is an Assistant professor in Indigenous Studies at Mount Royal University and a doctoral candidate in Educational Research [emphasis mine] at the University of Calgary. Her research is exploring how Michif/Métis people, born and raised in urban environments, practice and express their self-understandings, both individually and collectively through using an Indigenous oral system and visual media as methodology.
In a technology-laden society, people are capturing millions of photographs and videos that document their lived experiences, followed by uploading them to social media sites. As mass amounts of media is being shared each day, the question becomes: are we utilizing photos and videos to derive meaning from our everyday lived experiences, while settling in to a deeper sense of our self-in-relation?
This session will explore how photos and videos, positioned within an Indigenous oral system, are viewed and interacted with as a third perspective in the role of storytelling.
Finally, h/t to Jennifer Bon Bernard’s April 19, 2017 article (reposted Dec. 11, 2019) about Act Your Science for the Science Writers and Communicators blog. The original date doesn’t look right to me but perhaps she participated in a pilot project.
Neuroscience, science policy, and science advice
The end of this part is almost in sight
Knitting in Toronto and drawings in Vancouver (neuroscience)
In 2017, Toronto hosted a neuroscience event which combined storytelling and knitting (from my October 12, 2017 posting (Note: the portion below is an excerpt from an ArtSci Salon announcement),
With NARRATING NEUROSCIENCE we plan to initiate a discussion on the role and the use of storytelling and art (both in verbal and visual forms) to communicate abstract and complex concepts in neuroscience to very different audiences, ranging from fellow scientists, clinicians and patients, to social scientists and the general public. We invited four guests to share their research through case studies and experiences stemming directly from their research or from other practices they have adopted and incorporated into their research, where storytelling and the arts have played a crucial role not only in communicating cutting edge research in neuroscience, but also in developing and advancing it.
The ArtSci Salon folks also announced this (from the Sept. 25, 2017 ArtSci Salon announcement; received via email),
ATTENTION ARTSCI SALONISTAS AND FANS OF ART AND SCIENCE!! CALL FOR KNITTING AND CROCHET LOVERS!
In addition to being a PhD student at the University of Toronto, Tahani Baakdhah is a prolific knitter and crocheter and has been the motor behind two successful Knit-a-Neuron Toronto initiatives. We invite all Knitters and Crocheters among our ArtSci Salonistas to pick a pattern (link below) and knit a neuron (or 2! Or as many as you want!!)
BRING THEM TO OUR OCTOBER 20 ARTSCI SALON! Come to the ArtSci Salon and knit there!
That link to the patterns is still working.
Called “The Beautiful Brain” and held in the same time frame as Toronto’s neuro event, Vancouver hosted an exhibition of Santiago Ramon y Cajal’s drawings from September 5 to December 3, 2017. In concert with the exhibition, the local ‘neuro’ community held a number of outreach events. Here’s what I had in my September 11, 2017 posting where I quoted from the promotional material for the exhibition,
The Beautiful Brain is the first North American museum exhibition to present the extraordinary drawings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852–1934), a Spanish pathologist, histologist and neuroscientist renowned for his discovery of neuron cells and their structure, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1906. Known as the father of modern neuroscience, Cajal was also an exceptional artist. He combined scientific and artistic skills to produce arresting drawings with extraordinary scientific and aesthetic qualities.
A century after their completion, Cajal’s drawings are still used in contemporary medical publications to illustrate important neuroscience principles, and continue to fascinate artists and visual art audiences. …
Pictured: Santiago Ramón y Cajal, injured Purkinje neurons, 1914, ink and pencil on paper. Courtesy of Instituto Cajal (CSIC).
From Vancouver, the exhibition traveled to a gallery in New York City and then onto the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Mehrdad Hariri has done a an extraordinary job as its founder and chief executive officer. The CSPC has developed from a single annual conference to an organization that hosts different events throughout the year and publishes articles and opinion pieces on Canadian science policy and has been instrumental in the development of a Canadian science policy community.
The magnitude of Hariri’s accomplishment becomes clear when reading J.w. Grove’s [sic] article, Science Policy, in The Canadian Encyclopedia and seeing that the most recent reports on a national science policy seem to be the Science Council’s (now defunct) 4th report in 1968, Towards a National Science Policy in Canada, the OECD’s (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) 1969 Review of [Canada’s] Science Policy, and 3 reports from the Senate’s Lamontagne Committee (Special Committee on Science Policy). Grove’s article takes us only to 1988 but I have been unable to find any more recent reports focused on a national science policy for Canada. (If you have any information about a more recent report, please do let me know in the comments.)
A November 5, 2019 piece (#VoteScience: lessons learned and building science advocacy beyond the election cycle) on the CSPC website further illustrates how the Canadian science policy community has gained ground (Note: Links have been removed),
… on August 8, 2019, a coalition of Canadian science organizations and student groups came together to launch the #VoteScience campaign: a national, non-partisan effort to advocate for science in the federal elections, and make science an election issue.
Specifically, we — aka Evidence for Democracy, Science & Policy Exchange (SPE), and the Toronto Science Policy Network (TSPN) [emphases mine] — built a collection of tools and resources to empower Canadian scientists and science supporters to engage with their local candidates on science issues and the importance of evidence-informed decision-making. Our goal was to make it easy for as many Canadians as possible to engage with their candidates — and they did.
Over the past three months, our #VoteScience portal received over 3,600 visitors, including 600 visitors who used our email form to reach out directly to their local candidates. Collectively, we took #VoteScience selfies, distributed postcards to supporters across Canada, and even wrote postcards to every sitting Member of Parliament (in addition to candidates from all parties in each of our own ridings). Also of note, we distributed a science policy questionnaire to the federal parties, to help better inform Canadians about where the federal parties stand on relevant science issues, and received responses from all but one party. We’ve also advocated for science through various media outlets, including commenting for articles appearing in The Narwhal and Nature News, and penning op-eds for outlets such as the National Observer, University Affairs, Le Devoir, and Découvrir.
Prior to SPIN, the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA; more about them in part 4), issued a 2017 report titled, Science Policy: Considerations for Subnational Governments. The report was the outcome of a 2016 CCA workshop originally titled, Towards a Science Policy in Alberta. I gather the scope broadened.
Interesting trajectory, yes?
Chief Science advisors/scientists
In September 2017, the Canadian federal government announced that a Chief Science Advisor, Dr. Mona Nemer, had been appointed. I have more about the position and Dr. Nemer in my September 26, 2017 posting. (Prior to Dr. Nemer’s appointment a previous government had discontinued a National Science Advisor position that existed from 2004 to 2008.)
The Office of the Chief Science Advisor released it first annual report in 2019 and was covered here in a March 19, 2019 posting.
Québec is the only province (as far as I know) to have a Chief Scientist, Rémi Quirion who was appointed in 2011.
Onto Part 4 where you’ll find we’ve gone to the birds and more.
*The Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC) section was written sometime in February 2020. I believe they are planning to publish an editorial piece I submitted to them on April 20, 202 (in other words, before this post was published) in response to their call for submissions (see my April 1, 2020 post for details about the call). In short, I did not praise the organization with any intention of having my work published by them. (sigh) Awkward timing.
I’ve already written about October 2019 science and art/science events in Canada (see my Sept. 26, 2019 posting), but more event notices for Octoberhave come my way. These events are all art/science (or sciart as it’s sometimes called).
… on the future of life forms … a two-night (Oct./Nov.) discussion in Toronto, Canada
Here’s more from the ArtSci Salon’s October 3, 2019 announcement (received via email)
“…now they were perfecting a pigoon that could grow five or six kidneys at a time. Such a host animal could be reaped of its extra kidneys; then, rather than being destroyed, it could keep on living and grow more organs, much as a lobster could grow another claw to replace a missing one. That would be less wasteful, as it took a lot of food and care to grow a pigoon. A great deal of investment money had gone into OrganInc Farms…” (Margaret Atwood – Oryx & Crake 2003)
In Oryx and Crake Margaret Atwood describes a not-too-distant future where humans have perfected the art of fabricating and modifying a variety of creatures to improve and prolongue their own lives and wellbeing.
As Atwood has stated in various occasions, this is not science fiction.
It is in fact already happening. New forms of life appear not only as the product of lab fabrication or gene editing, but also as the result of toxic pollutants and climate change induced adaptation.
what to make of them?
how to cope with a world where extinction, adaptation and mutation risk to make traditional categories and taxonomies obsolete?
Join us to this two-parts series to discuss the ethics and implications of these transformations with artists, scientists and bioethicists.
Part 1 Thursday, October 17, 6:00-8:00 pm The Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences
Altered Inheritance: extinction, recreation or transformation? a dialogue and discussion on the implications of genome editing on humans and other organisms
with Francoise Baylis – Research Professor, Bioethicist, Dalhousie University
Karen Maxwell – Dept. of Biochemistry, Maxwell Lab, University of Toronto
emergent artists from OCADU [Ontario College of Art and Design University] and YorkU [York University, Toronto]
Part 2 Thursday, November 21, 6:00-8:00 pm The Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences
Classifying the new? why do we classify? what is it good for? what is the limit of taxonomy and classification in a transforming world?
with Richard Pell – Centre for PostNatural History, Pittsburgh, PA
Laurence Packer – Mellitologist, Professor of biology and environmental studies, York University
Stefan Herda – earth science artist
Cole Swanson – artist and educator (Art Foundation and Visual and Digital Arts, Humber college)
Anna Marie O’Brien – Frederickson, Rochman, and Sinton labs, University of Toronto
Françoise Baylis is University Research Professor at Dalhousie University. She is a member of the Order of Canada and the Order of Nova Scotia, as well as a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences. Baylis was one of the organizers of, and a key participant in, the 2015 International Summit on Human Gene Editing. She is a member of the WHO expert advisory committee on Developing Global Standards for Governance and Oversight of Human Genome Editing. Her new book “Altered Inheritance. CRISPR and the Ethics of Human Genome Editing” is published by Harvard University Press
Karen Maxwell is a research professor in the dept of biochemistry at the university of toronto, where she runs the Maxwell Lab. Among other topics, the lab’s three branches “Anti-CRISPR”, “Phage morons” and “Anti-Phage defences” study the interplay of phages with their bacterial hosts, with a focus on phage mediated bacterial virulence mechanisms and inhibitors of anti-phage bacterial defenses.
Richard Pell works at the intersections of science, engineering, and culture. He has worked in a variety of electronic media from documentary video to robotics to bioart to museum exhibition. He is the founder and director of the Center for PostNatural History (CPNH), an organization dedicated to the collection and exposition of life-forms that have been intentionally and heritably altered through domestication, selective breeding, tissue culture or genetic engineering. The CPNH operates a permanent museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and produces traveling exhibitions that have appeared in science and art museums throughout Europe and the United States, including being the subject of a major exhibition at the Wellcome Collection in London.
Laurence Packer is a mellitologist, ie a scholar whose main subject of study is wild bees. his research primarily involves the systematics of the bee subfamily Xeromelissinae – an obscure, but fascinating group of bees, restricted to the New World south of central Mexico. he has also expended considerable energy leading the global campaign to barcode the bees of the world. his work is concerned with promulgating the importance of bees: for genetic reasons, it seems that bees are more extinction prone than are almost all other organisms
Stefan Herda‘s practice explores our troubling relationship to the natural world through drawing, sculpture and video. Inspired by the earth sciences, Herda’s work navigates the space between truth and fiction. His material and process-based investigations fuse elements of authenticity, façade, the natural and the manufactured together. He received his BAH from the University of Guelph in 2010. His work in both sculpture and video has been included in exhibitions nationally and has been featured by CBC Arts and Daily VICE. Recently, Stefan has held solo shows at Patel Projects (Toronto) and Wil Kucey Gallery (Toronto), participated in group shows such as Cultivars: Possible Worlds at InterAccess (Toronto) and was featured as one of 12 artists in the Cabinet Project at the University of Toronto
Cole Swanson is an artist and educator based in Toronto, Canada. He has exhibited in solo and group exhibitions across Canada and throughout international venues in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia. At the heart of recent work is a cross-disciplinary exploration of materials and their sociocultural and biological histories. Embedded within art media and commonplace resources are complex relations between nature and culture, humans and other agents, consumers and the consumed. Swanson has engaged in a broad material practice using sound, installation, painting, and sculpture to explore interspecies relationships.
Anna Marie O’Brien is a post doc in the Frederickson, Rochman, and Sinton labs at University of Toronto, working on duckweeds, microbes, urban contaminants, and phenotypes.her PhD work was at Davis, with thesis advisors Dr. Jeffrey Ross-Ibarra and Dr. Sharon Strauss. she also collaborated closely with Dr. Ruairidh Sawers at LANGEBIO-CINVESTAV in Guanajuato, Mexico.
The first highlighted speaker, Françoise Baylis, has been mentioned here twice before, in a May 17, 2019 posting (scroll down to the ‘Global plea for moratorium on heritable genome editing’ subheading) and in an April 26, 2019 posting (scroll down to the ‘Finally’ subheading, the second paragraph). Both postings touch on the topic of CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) and germline editing (genetic editing that will affect all of your descendents).
Cartooney in New Westminster (near Vancouver, Canada) starting October 18, 2019
I like physics but I love cartoons Stephen Hawking
There you have it from one of the 20th/early 21st century’s most famous physicists. The quote is the opening line for the New Westminster (near Vancouver, Canada) New Media Gallery’s latest event webpage, Cartooney,
The impact of animated cartoons has been profound. In the early 20th century, we began exploiting the possibilities of the animated frame. The seven artists in this exhibition don’t create cartoons, they deconstruct those that already exist; from Looney Tunes, to The Simpsons to Charlie Brown. They exploit this potent material to reveal the inner and outer workings of our human world. The original cartoon is ever-present, haunting us with suggestive content.
The artists in this exhibition reframe our world. Here we are asked to consider the laws, systems and iconographies of the cartoon world while drawing parallels with our human world; physical laws, the laws of gravitation, matter + light, the physics of motion, and societal psychologies & behaviours. We are presented with fascinating catalogues and overlaying systems of symbolic language. The purposeful demolition of expectation in these works, mirrors the instabilities and dreams of modern life. They remind us that the pervasive medium of the cartoon can reflect and influence how we navigate the world. If there is a paradox here, it might be that dismantling a cartoon can throw open the doors of perception.
The New Westminster New Media Gallery’s next exhibition is exploring the impact of animated cartoons.
Cartooney opens at the gallery on Friday, Oct. 18 and runs until Dec. 8 , then again from Jan. 7 to Feb. 2 .
Artist Kevin McCoy, one-half of the duo of Jennifer and Kevin McCoy, will be on hand for an artist talk on opening night, Friday, Oct. 18. The talk will run from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., with a reception and open exhibition from 7:30 to 9 p.m.
Laws of Motion in a Cartoon Landscape, by Andy Holden (U.K.):
In his two-channel audiovisual installation, 57 minutes long, Holden becomes a cartoon avatar, giving both a lecture on cartoons and a cartoon lecture, describing how our world is best now understood as a cartoon. The project incorporates Greek philosophy, Stephen Hawking, critical theory, physics, art, the financial crisis and Donald Trump, while adapting 10 laws of cartoon physics to create a theory of the world and a prophetic glimpse of the world we live in.
CB-MMXVIII (I’ve been thinking of giving sleeping lessons), by Patten (U.K.):
In this multi-screen audiovisual installation, the artist duo Patten subjects Charlie Brown to all the digital stresses, distortions and manipulations available in 2018, testing his plasticity.
“Sampled texts from philosophy, science and critical theory criss-cross the screens and are linked with scrolling images related to the natural world, DNA, systems, multiples; all serving to influence our reading of the cartoon character and the texts,” says the release. The ambient soundtrack is a dramatically slowed down Linus and Lucy theme.
You can find the New Westminster New Media Gallery on the third floor at the Anvil Centre, 777 Columbia St. See www.newmediagallery.ca for more details.
Collisions Festival: Invasive Systems in Vancouver, November 2019
Curiosity Collider, a Vancouver-based not-for-profit organization, will be hosting its inaugural art-science Collisions Festival: Invasive Systems at the VIVO Media Arts Centre from November 8 to 10, 2019. The festival features an art-science exhibition showcasing independent works and collaborative works by artist/scientist pairs, a hands-on DNA sonification workshop, an opening reception with performances, and guided discussions and tours.
Curated by Curiosity Collider’s Creative Director Char Hoyt, the theme of the festival focuses on the “invasive systems” that surround us – from technology and infections, to pollution and invasive species. “We want to create a space to explore the influence of the invasive aspects of our world on our inner and outer lives” said Char. “We will examine our observations from both scientific and artistic perspectives- are these influences beneficial, inevitable, or preventable?” Attendees can anticipate a deep dive into the delicate and complicated nature of how both living and inanimate things redefine our lives and environments – through visual art, multimedia installations, and interactive experiences.
“I am not a scientist and do not come from a family of scientists, but I have always appreciated knowing how things work, how things are connected and how things evolve – collaboration between art and science feel natural to me,” said Vancouver artist Dzee Lousie. “Both artists and scientists are curious, perform experiments and are driven by questions.” Dzee’s work Crossing, an interactive puzzle painting that examines how microbial colonies can impact our behaviours and processes in our body, is the result of a collaboration with UBC PhD candidate Linda Horianopoulos. “As scientists, we often want people to take notice of our work and engage with it. I think that art attracts people to do exactly that,” said Linda.
The sculptural work Invasion by Prince George artist Twyla Exner explores the remnants of technology. “My artworks propose hybrids of technological structures and living organisms. They take form as abandoned technologies that have sprouted with new life, clever artificialities that imitate nature, or biotechnological fixtures of the not-so-distant future,” Twyla shared. Like Dzee, she feels that artists and scientists share the sense of curiosity, experimentation, and creative problem solving. “Both art and science have the ability to tell stories and shape how people see and interpret the world around them.”
The festival is hosted in collaboration with the VIVO Media Arts Centre (2625 Kaslo Street, Vancouver, BC V5M 3G9). It will open on the evening of November 8th, with a reception and a live performance by local sound artist Edzi’u, during which her sculptural installation Moose are Life will be brought to life. On Saturday, artist Laara Cerman will co-host a DNA sonification workshop with scientist Scott Pownall. Their work Flora’s Song No. 1 in C Major – a hand-cranked music box that plays a tune created from the DNA of local invasive plants – will be on exhibit during the festival. The festival will also include tours by the curator at 3:30pm and guided discussions at 4pm on both Saturday and Sunday. Visit https://collisionsfestival2019.eventbrite.ca for festival tickets and http://bit.ly/collisionsfestival2019 for festival information.
Curiosity Collider and VIVO Media Arts Centre gratefully acknowledge the support of BC Arts Council, Canada Council for the Arts, City of Vancouver, Metro Vancouver Regional Cultural Project Grants Program, UBC Faculty of Science, and our printing sponsor Jukebox, for making Collisions Festival: Invasive Systems possible.
About Curiosity Collider Art-Science Foundation
Curiosity Collider Art-Science Foundation is a Vancouver based non-profit organization that is committed to providing opportunities for artists whose work expresses scientific concepts and scientists who collaborate with artists. We challenge the perception and experience of science in our culture, break down the walls between art and science, and engage our growing community to bringing life to the concepts that describe our world.
In this DNA sonification workshop, participants will learn the process of DNA barcoding of invasive plant species, and how to sonify DNA sequences with basic music theory and MIDI freeware. Participants will also get hands-on experience in amplying specific genetic regions in plants through polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a step necessary in preparing samples for DNA barcoding.
This workshop will be led by artist Laara Cerman and scientist Scott Pownall, whose art-science collaborative work “Flora’s Song No. 1 in C Major” will be on exhibit during Collisions Festival: Invasive Systems. Laara and Scott will also share their process of working together, and how decisions were made to arrive at their collaborative work of art and science.
We acknowledge that Collisions Festival and its events take place on the traditional, ancestral, unceded territories of the xwməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), Stó:lō and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil- Waututh) Nations. We are grateful for the opportunity to live and work on this land.
I asked the Curiosity Collider folks (@CCollider on Twitter) if you needed to bring any equipment or have any knowledge of music. The answer was: no, you don’t need to bring anything (unless you want to) and you don’t need to know about music.
Uncorked at Science World at TELUS World of Science in Vancouver on November 14, 2019
This is not a cheap night out. An October 10, 2019 article by Lindsay William-Ross for the Daily Hive website gives you reasons to go anyway (Note: Links have been removed),
A new wine-themed event will have Vancouverites swirling with nerdy glee. Uncorked: A Celebration of the Science of Wine is an evening of sipping and learning that will bring together world-renown winemakers, chefs, and science experts for an unforgettable event.
Participating wineries are:
Mission Hill Family Estate CedarCreek Estate Winery CheckMate Artisanal Winery Martin’s Lane Winery Road 13 Vineyards
The wines will be paired with bites from Chef Patrick Gayler from Mission Hill’s Terrace Restaurant and Chef Neil Taylor from CedarCreek’s new Home Block Restaurant.
Programming for the evening includes seminars on the science of blending wine, the science of aging wine, the role of technology at modern vineyards, and the science of soil and terroir.
Proceeds from Uncorked will support Science World’s On the Road program, which last year brought live science performances to 41,500 students throughout B.C. who otherwise might not have had a chance to visit TELUS World of Science.
Tickets are $89 and can be purchased here. You may also want to reserve some money for the silent auction. Don’t forget, it’s November 14, 2019 from 7 pm to 10 pm at Science World in Vancouver. You can find directions and a map here.
In no particular order, here are some Frankenstein bits and bobs in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s book.
The Frankenstein Bicentennial Project
This project at Arizona State University has been featured here a few times and most recently in a October 26, 2016 posting about an artist using a Roomba (robotic vacuum cleaner) in an artistic query and about the Frankenstein at 200 online exhibition.
A free, interactive, multiplatform experience for kids designed to inspire deeper engagement with STEM topics and promote the development of 21st century skills related to creative collaboration and critical thinking.
A collaborative, multimedia reading experiment with Mary Shelley’s timeless tale examining the the scientific, technological, political, and ethical dimensions of the novel, its historical context, and its enduring legacy.
A set of hands-on STEM making activities that use the Frankenstein story to inspire deeper conversations about scientific and technological creativity and social responsibility.
How to Make a Monster
Kathryn Harkup in a February 22, 2018 article about her recent book for the Guardian delves into the science behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (Note: Links have been removed),
The bicentenary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: or the Modern Prometheus has meant a lot of people are re-examining this brilliant work of science fiction. My particular interest is the science fact behind the science fiction. How much real science influenced Mary Shelley? Could a real-life Victor Frankenstein have constructed a creature?
In terms of the technical aspects of building a creature from scraps, many people focus on the collecting of the raw materials and reanimation stages. It’s understandable as there are many great stories about grave-robbers and dissection rooms as well as electrical experiments that were performed on recently executed murderers. But there quite a few stages between digging up dead bodies and reanimating a creature.
The months of tedious and fiddly surgery to bring everything together are often glossed over, but what virtually no one mentions is how difficult it would have been to keep the bits and pieces in a suitable state of preservation while Victor worked on his creation. Making a monster takes time, and bodies rot very quickly.
Preservation of anatomical material was of huge interest when Frankenstein was written, as it is now, though for very different reasons. Today the interest is in preserving organs and tissues suitable for transplant. Some individuals even want to cryogenically freeze their entire body in case future scientists are able to revive them and cure whatever disease caused their original death. In that respect the aims are not so different from what the fictional Victor Frankenstein was attempting two hundred years ago.
At the time Frankenstein is set, the late 18th century, few people were really thinking about organ transplant. Instead, tissue preservation was of concern for anatomy professors who wanted to maintain collections of interesting, unusual or instructive specimens to use as teaching aids for future students.
She provides fascinating insight into preservation techniques of the 18th century and their dangers,
To preserve soft tissues, various substances were injected into or used to coat or soak the dissected specimen. The substance in question had to be toxic enough to destroy mould and bacteria that could decompose the sample, but not corrosive or damaging to the tissues of the specimen itself.
Substances such as turpentine, mercury metal and mercury salts (which are even more toxic than the pure element) were all employed stop the decay process in its tracks. Killing off bacteria and mould means that some vital process within them has been stopped; however, many processes that are critical to mould and bacteria are also necessary for humans, making these substances toxic to us.
Working in cramped, poorly ventilated conditions with minimal regard for health and safety, the substances anatomical curators were using day in and day out took a serious toll on their health. Anatomical curators were described as emaciated, prematurely aged and with a hacking cough. …
One of the most successful techniques for tissue preservation was bottling in alcohol. …
In the 18th century the University of Edinburgh handed over twelve gallons of whisky annually to the anatomy museum for the preservation of specimens. Possible not all of those twelve gallons made it into the specimen jars. The nature of the curator’s work – the smell, the problems with vermin and toxic fumes – must have made the odd sip of whisky very tempting. Indeed, more than one curator was dismissed for being drunk on the job.
Shelley described Frankenstein working in a small attic room using candlelight to illuminate his work. Small rooms, toxic vapours, alcohol fumes and naked flames are not a healthy combination. No wonder Shelley wrote the work took such a toll on Frankenstein’s health.
The year 1818 saw the publication of one of the most influential science-fiction stories of all time. Frankenstein: Or, Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley had a huge impact on gothic horror and science-fiction genres, and her creation has become part of our everyday culture, from cartoons to Hallowe’en costumes. Even the name ‘Frankenstein’ has become a by-word for evil scientists and dangerous experiments. How did a teenager with no formal education come up with the idea for an extraordinary novel such as Frankenstein?
Clues are dotted throughout Georgian science and popular culture. The years before the book’s publication saw huge advances in our understanding of the natural sciences, in areas such as electricity and physiology, for example. Sensational science demonstrations caught the imagination of the general public, while the newspapers were full of lurid tales of murderers and resurrectionists.
Making the Monster explores the scientific background behind Mary Shelley’s book. Is there any science fact behind the science fiction? And how might a real-life Victor Frankenstein have gone about creating his monster? From tales of volcanic eruptions, artificial life and chemical revolutions, to experimental surgery, ‘monsters’ and electrical experiments on human cadavers, Kathryn Harkup examines the science and scientists that influenced Shelley, and inspired her most famous creation.
The Frankenstein 2018 project is based at Volda University College in Norway, but aims to engage and include people from elsewhere in Norway and around the world.
The project is led by Timothy Saunders, an Associate Professor of English Literature and Culture at Volda University College.
If you would like to get in touch, either to offer comments on the website, to provide information about related projects or activities taking place around the world, or even to offer relevant material of your own, please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What a great idea and I wish the folks at Volda University College all the best.
The Monster Challenge
Washington University in St. Louis (WUSL; Missouri, US) is hosting a competition to create a ‘new Frankenstein’, from WUSL’s The Monster Challenge webpage,
On June 16, 1816, a 19-year-old woman sat quietly listening as her lover (the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley) and a small group of friends — including celebrated poet Lord Byron — discussed conducting a ghost-story contest. The couple was spending their holiday in a beautiful mansion on the banks of scenic Lake Geneva in Switzerland. As the conversation about ghost stories heated up, a discussion arose about the principle of life. Not surprisingly, the ensuing talk of graves and corpses led to a sleepless night filled with horrific nightmares for Mary Shelley. Later, she recalled her own contest entry began with eight words; “It was on a dreary night in November…” Just two years later, in 1818, that young woman, Mary Shelley, published her expanded submission as the novel Frankenstein, not only a classic of 19th-century fiction, but a work that has enjoyed immense influence on popular culture, science, medicine, philosophy and the arts all the way up to the present day.
THE MONSTER CHALLENGE
Commemorating the 200th anniversary of the novel’s publication in 1818, Washington University is hosting a competition open to WU students (full time and registered in fall 2018), both undergraduate and graduate. The submission deadline is October 15, 2018.
The prompt for our own WU “Monster Challenge” is “The New Frankenstein”:
If you learned of a contest today, similar to the one that inspired the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in 1818, what new Frankenstein would you create? Winning entries will be those best exemplifying the spirit, tone and feeling of Frankenstein for our age.
Submissions are eligible in two categories: written (including poetry, fiction, nonfiction and theater; 5000 word limit) and visual (including new media, experimental media, sound art, performance art, and design). Only one submission is allowed per student or student collaboration group. The winners will be determined by a jury of faculty members and announced in the fall 2018 semester. Winning entries will also be featured on the Frankenstein Bicentennial website (frankenstein200.wustl.edu).
Through the generosity of Provost Holden Thorpe’s office, winners will receive a cash prize as well as the opportunity to have their submission read, exhibited, and/or performed during the fall 2018 semester. Prizes are as follows:
WRITTEN CATEGORY VISUAL CATEGORY
Grand Prize: $1000 Grand Prize: $1000
2nd Prize: $500 2nd Prize: $500
3rd Prize: $250 3rd Prize: $250
HOW TO SUBMIT
Please review the guidelines below and download the appropriate submission form … for your project.
All submissions are due by 3 pm on October 15, 2018.
Only one submission is allowed per student or student collaboration group.
Electronic submissions should be emailed to email@example.com along with the appropriate submission form (right).
Non-electronic submissions should be dropped off at the Performing Arts Department in Mallinckrodt Center, Room 312 (specific dates and times to be determined). All applicants submitting work here must also send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with a digital image of the work and the appropriate submission form (right). Entries should fit into a case 74″ w x 87″ h x 23″ d. For exceptions, please contact Professor Patricia Olynyk (email@example.com).
For additional information about the contest, please contact the Interdisciplinary Project in the Humanities: firstname.lastname@example.org.
One of the most famous literary works of the last two centuries, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) permeates our cultural imagination. A man of science makes dead matter live yet abandons his own creation. A creature is composed of human body parts yet denied a place in human society. The epic struggle that ensues between creator and creature poses enduring questions to all of us. What do we owe our non-human creations? How might the pursuit of scientific knowledge endanger or empower humanity? How do we combine social responsibility with our technological power to alter living matter? These moral quandaries drive the novel as well as our own hopes and fears about modernity.
Over the last 200 years, Frankenstein has also become one of our most culturally productive myths. The Black Frankenstein became a potent metaphor for racial otherness in the 19th century and remains so to this day. From Boris Karloff as the iconic Monster of 1931 to the transvestite Dr. Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show of 1975, the novel has inspired dozens of films and dramatizations. Female poets from Margaret Atwood to Liz Lochhead and Laurie Sheck continue to wrestle with the novel’s imaginative possibilities. And Frankenstein, of course, permeates our material culture. Think no further than Franken Berry cereal, Frankenstein action figures, and Frankenstein bed pillows.
Please join us at Washington University in St. Louis as we celebrate Mary Shelley’s iconic novel and its afterlives with a series of events organized by faculty, students and staff from across the arts, humanities and life sciences. Highlights include the conference Frankenstein at 200, sponsored by the Center for the Humanities; a special Frankenstein issue of The Common Reader; a staging of Nick Dear’s play Frankenstein; the symposium The Curren(t)cy of Frankenstein, sponsored by the Medical School; a film series; several lectures; and exhibits designed to showcase the university’s museum and library collections.
This site aggregates all events related to the celebration. Please visit again for updates!
They do have a page for Global Celebrations and while the listing isn’t really global at this point (I’m sure they’re hoping that will change) it does open up a number of possibilities for Frankenstein aficionados, experts, and enthusiasts,
Technologies of Frankenstein
Stevens Institute of Technology, College of Arts and Letters and IEEE History Center
The 200th anniversary year of the first edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus has drawn worldwide interest in revisiting the novel’s themes. What were those themes and what is their value to us in the early twenty-first century? In what ways might our tools of science and communication serve as an “elixir of life” since the age of Frankenstein?
Frankenstein@200 is a year-long series of academic courses and programs including a film festival, a play, a lecture series and an international Health Humanities Conference that will examine the numerous moral, scientific, sociological, ethical and spiritual dimensions of the work, and why Dr. Frankenstein and his monster still capture the moral imagination today..
San Jose State University, Santa Clara University, and University of San Francisco
During 2018, the San Francisco Bay area partners will host The Frankenstein Bicentennial. The novel brings together STEM fields with humanities & the arts in such a way to engage almost every discipline and major. The project’s events will address timely issues of our world in Silicon Valley and the advent of technology – a critical topic with questions important to our academic, regional and world communities. The novel, because it has been so popular for 200 years, lives on in discussions about what it means to be human in a digital world.
Next performance: Monday Feb. 26, 2018; 7 PM
Extended through 2018!
“..it is a success of a show that should be considered
something great in the realm of musical theater.”
“A musical love letter”
– Local Theatre NY
“…infused with enough emotion to send chills down the spine…”
– Local Theatre NY
““ an ambitious theater piece that is refreshingly buoyed up by its music””
– Theater Scene
a new Off-Broadway musical by Eric B. Sirota
based on Mary Shelley’s classic novel
Presented by John Lant, Tamra Pica & Write Act Repertory
at St. Luke’s Theater in the heart of the theatre district
. . . a sweeping romantic musical, about the human need for love and companionship,
which honors its source material.
Performances Monday nights at 7 PM
tickets to performances into March currently on sale
(scroll down for performance schedule)
Contact us for Special Group Sales and Buyouts at: info@TheFrankensteinMusical.com
St. Luke’s Theatre
an Off-Broadway venue in the heart of the theatre district on “Restaurant Row”
308 West 46th Street (btwn. 8th and 9th Ave.)
– Book, Music & Lyrics: Eric B. Sirota
-Additional lyrics: Julia Sirota
– Director: Clint Hromsco
– Music Director: Austin Nuckols
(original music direction by Anessa Marie)
– Producer: John Lant, Tamra Pica and Write Act Repertory
– CAST: Jon Rose, Erick Sanchez-Canahuate, Gabriella Marzetta, Stephan Amenta, Cait Kiley, Adam Kee, Samantha Collette, Amy Londyn, Stephanie Lourenco Viegas, Bryan S. Walton
Eric Sirota developed Frankenstein under the working title of “Day of Wrath”, an Official Selection of the 2015 New York Musical Theatre Festival’s Reading Series
Feb 26, Mon; 7 PM
Mar 5, Mon; 7 PM
Tickets to later dates on sale soon. . .
March 12, 19, 24
April 2, 9, 16, 23, 30
May . . .
Jun . . .
running though 2018
2018 – Frankenstein bicentennial year!
The Purgatory Press*
The Purgatory Press blog’s* John Culbert (author and lecturer at the University of British Columbia) wrote a January 1, 2018 essay celebrating and examining Mary Shelley’s classic,
She was born in 1797, toward the end of the Little Ice Age. Wolves had been extirpated from the country, but not so long ago that one could forget. Man’s only predator in the British Isles was now a mental throwback. Does the shadow of extinction fall on the children of perpetrators? What strange gap is left in the mind of men suddenly raised from the humble status of prey?
In the winter of her sixteenth year, the river Thames froze in London for the last time. The final “Frost Fair,” a tradition dating back centuries, was held February 1814 on the river’s hard surface.
The following year, a volcano in present-day Indonesia erupted. It was the most powerful and destructive event of its kind in recorded history. Fallout caused a “volcanic winter” across the Northern Hemisphere. In 1816 – “the year without a summer” – she was in Switzerland, where she began writing her first novel, Frankenstein, published 200 years ago today — on January 1st, 1818.
Fascinating, yes? I encourage you to read the whole piece.
3–8 April (with special events on 28 March and 27–28 April)
The Science Museum is celebrating the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus with a free festival exploring the science behind this cultural phenomenon.
Through immersive theatre, experimental storytelling and hands-on activities visitors can examine the ethical and scientific questions surrounding the artificial creation of life. Families can step in Doctor Frankenstein’s shoes, creating a creature and bringing it to life using stop motion animation at our drop-in workshops.
In the Mystery at Frankenstein’s Lab visitors can solve puzzles and conduct experiments in an escape room-like interactive experience. Visitors are also invited to explore the Science Museum as you’ve never heard it before in It’s Alive, an immersive Frankenstein-themed audio tour. Both these activities have limited availability so pre-booking is advised.
In Pandemic, you decide how far Dr Victor should go to tackle a virus sweeping the world. Is it right to create new life to save others? You decide where to draw the line in this choose-your-own-adventure experience. Visitors can also see Humanity 2.0, a play created and performed by actor Emily Carding. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, the play examines what could happen if a benevolent AI recreated humanity.
As part of the festival, visitors will meet researchers at the cutting-edge of science—from bio chemists who manipulate DNA to engineers creating artificial intelligence—and discover fascinating scientific objects with our curators which could have influenced Shelley.
The Frankenstein Festival will run daily from 3–8 April at the Science Museum and is supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery. Tickets for activities with limited availability are available from sciencemuseum.org.uk/Frankenstein.
Our free adult-only Frankenstein Lates on 28 March will focus on the darker themes of Shelley’s iconic novel, with the Promethean Tales Weekend on 27–28 April, featuring panel discussions and special screenings of Terminator 2: Judgement Day and The Curse of Frankenstein in our IMAX cinema.
Frankenstein Festival activities include:
An immersive audio tour created by Cmd+Shift in collaboration with the Science Museum. The tour takes 45 minutes and is limited to 15 people per session. Recommended for ages 8+. Tickets cost £3 and are available here.
Mystery at Frankenstein’s Lab
This interactive, theatrical puzzle experience has been created by Atomic Force Productions, in collaboration with the Science Museum. Each session lasts 45 minutes and is limited to 10 people per session. Recommended for ages 12+, under 16s must be accompanied by an adult. Tickets cost £10 and are available here.
Create Your Own Creature
Get hands on at our drop-in workshops and create your very own creature. Then bring your creature to life with stop motion animation. This activity takes approximately 20 minutes and is suitable for all ages.
Humanity 2.0 (3–5 April)
Step into a dystopian future and help shape the future of humanity in this unique interactive play created and performed by Emily Carding. Her full body make-up was created by award winning body painter Victoria Gugenheim in collaboration with the Science Museum. The play has a run time of 45 minutes and is recommended for ages 12+.
Pandemic (5–8 April)
This choose-your-own-adventure film puts you in control of a psychological thriller. Your decisions will guide Dr Victor on their quest to create artificial life.
Pandemic was created by John Bradburn in collaboration with the Science Museum. The film contains moderate psychological threat and horror sequences that some people may find disturbing. The experiences lasts 45 minutes and is recommended for ages 14+. Tickets are free and are available here.
Frankenstein Festival events include:
Wednesday 28 March, 18.45–22.00
Join us for a fun free evening of events, workshops and screenings as we ask the question ‘should we create life’.
Lates is a free themed-event for adults at the Science Museum on the last Wednesday of each month. Find out more about Lates at sciencemuseum.org.uk/Lates.
Artificial Life: Should We, Could We, Will We?
Wednesday 28 March as part of the Frankenstein Lates
A panel of expert scientists and researchers will discuss artificial life. Just how close are we to creating fully synthetic life and will this be achieved by biological or digital means?
Discussing those questions will be Professor of Cognitive Robotics at Imperial College and scientific advisor for the hit movie Ex Machina Murray Shanahan, Vice President of the International Society for Artificial Life Susan Stepney and Lead Curator of the Science Museum’s acclaimed 2017 exhibition Robots Ben Russell. Further speakers to be announced.
Promethean Tales Weekend
Terminator 2: Judgement Day + Panel Discussion
Friday 27 April, 19.30–22.35 (Doors open 19.00)
Tickets: £8, £6 Concessions
Age 15 and above
In part one of our Promethean Tales Weekend celebrating the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, we will be joined by a panel of experts in science, film and literature to discuss the topic of ‘Promethean Tales through the ages’ ahead of a screening of Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
The Curse of Frankenstein and Q&A with Sir Christopher Frayling
Saturday 28 April, 18.00–20.30 (Doors open 17.30)
Tickets: £8, £6 Concessions
In part two of our Promethean Tales Weekend, we are joined by Sir Christopher Frayling, author of Frankenstein: The First Two Hundred Years, to discuss the life and work of Shelley, the origins of her seminal story and its cultural impact.
The screening of The Curse of Frankenstein will be followed by a book signing with copies of Sir Christopher’s book available to purchase on the night.
You can find out more about the festival and get tickets to events, here.
This initiative seems like a lot of fun, from the Frankenreads homepage,
Frankenreads is an NEH [US National Endowment for the Humanitities]-funded initiative of the Keats-Shelley Association of America and partners to hold a series of events and initiatives in honor of the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, featuring especially an international series of readings of the full text of the novel on Halloween 2018.
They have a very open approach as their FAQs webpage attests to,
Why host a Frankenreads event?
Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus appeals to both novice and expert readers alike and is a work that remains highly relevant to contemporary issues. Thus it is perhaps no surprise that (according to the Open Syllabus project) Frankenstein is the most frequently taught work of literature in college English courses and the fifth most frequently taught book in college courses in all disciplines. It is certainly one of the most read British novels in the world. Hosting a Frankenreads event is an easy way both to celebrate the 200th anniversary of this important work and to foster discussion about issues such as ethics in science and the human tendency to demonize the unfamiliar. By participating in Frankenreads, you can make sure that your thoughts about Frankenstein are part of a global conversation.
What kind of event can I host?
You can host any kind of event you like! Below are some suggestions. Click on the event type for further guidance.
Complete Reading — A live, all-day reading (about 9 hours) of the full text of Frankenstein
Viewing — A community viewing on Halloween 2018 of the livestream of the NEH reading or other online events
Other — Whatever other kind of in-person or online event you can think of!
Should I hold in-person events or online events?
Either or both! We encourage you to record in-person events and upload video to our YouTube channel. We will also be providing advice on holding events via Google Hangouts.
When should I hold the event?
You can hold a Frankenreads event any time you like, but we encourage you to schedule an event during Frankenweek: October 24-31, 2018.
Why post my event on the Frankenreads website?
Posting your event on the Frankenreads website enables the Frankenreads team to publicize your event widely, to give you help with your event, and to connect you with others who are holding nearby or similar events.
How do I post my event on the Frankenreads website?
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.
The Canadian science policy and science funding scene is hopping these days. Canada’s Minister of Science, Kirsty Duncan, announced a new review of federal funding for fundamental science on Monday, June 13, 2016 (see my June 15, 2016 post for more details and a brief critique of the panel) and now, there’s a new Parliamentary campaign for a science advisor and a Canadian Science Policy Centre event on science diplomacy.
Petition for a science advisor
Kennedy Stewart, Canadian Member of Parliament (Burnaby South) and NDP (New Democratic Party) Science Critic, has launched a campaign for independent science advice for the government. Here’s more from a June 15, 2016 announcement (received via email),
After years of muzzling and misuse of science by the Conservatives, our scientists need lasting protections in order to finally turn the page on the lost Harper decade.
I am writing to ask your support for a new campaign calling for an independent science advisor.
While I applaud the new Liberal government for their recent promises to support science, we have a long way to go to rebuild Canada’s reputation as a global knowledge leader. As NDP Science Critic, I continue to push for renewed research funding and measures to restore scientific integrity.
Canada badly needs a new science advisor to act as a public champion for research and evidence in Ottawa. Although the Trudeau government has committed to creating a Chief Science Officer, the Minister of Science – Dr. Kirsty Duncan – has yet to state whether or not the new officer will be given real independence and a mandate protected by law.
Canada’s last national science advisor lacked independence from the government and was easily eliminated in 2008 after the anti-science Harper Conservatives took power.
That’s why the Minister needs to build the new CSO to last and entrench the position in legislation. Rhetoric and half-measures aren’t good enough.
Please add your voice for public science by signing our petition to the Minister of Science.
Thank you for your support,
Breakfast session on science diplomacy
One June 21, 2016 the Canadian Science Policy Centre is presenting a breakfast session on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, (from an announcement received via email),
“Science Diplomacy in the 21st Century: The Potential for Tomorrow”
Remarks by Dr. Vaughan Turekian,
Science and Technology Adviser to Secretary of State John Kerry
Tuesday, June 21, 2016, Room 238-S, Parliament Hill
7:30am – 8:00am – Continental Breakfast
8:00am – 8:10am – Opening Remarks, MP Terry Beech
8:10am – 8:45am – Dr. Vaughan Turekian Remarks and Q&A
Dr. Turekian’s visit comes during a pivotal time as Canada is undergoing fundamental changes in numerous policy directions surrounding international affairs. With Canada’s comeback on the world stage, there is great potential for science to play an integral role in the conduct of our foreign affairs. The United States is currently one of the leaders in science diplomacy, and as such, listening to Dr.Turekian will provide a unique perspective from the best practices of science diplomacy in the US.
Actually, Dr. Turekian’s visit comes before a North American Summit being held in Ottawa on June 29, 2016 and which has already taken a scientific turn. From a June 16, 2016 news item on phys.org,
Some 200 intellectuals, scientists and artists from around the world urged the leaders of Mexico, the United States and Canada on Wednesday to save North America’s endangered migratory Monarch butterfly.
US novelist Paul Auster, environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Canadian poet [Canadian media usually describe her as a writer] Margaret Atwood, British writer Ali Smith and India’s women’s and children’s minister Maneka Sanjay Gandhi were among the signatories of an open letter to the three leaders.
US President Barack Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto will hold a North American summit in Ottawa on June 29 .
The letter by the so-called Group of 100 calls on the three leaders to “take swift and energetic actions to preserve the Monarch’s migratory phenomenon” when they meet this month.
In 1996-1997, the butterflies covered 18.2 hectares (45 acres) of land in Mexico’s central mountains.
It fell to 0.67 hectares in 2013-2014 but rose to 4 hectares this year. Their population is measured by the territory they cover.
They usually arrive in Mexico between late October and early November and head back north in March.
Given this turn of events, I wonder how Turekian, given that he’s held his current position for less than a year, might (or might not) approach the question of Monarch butterflies and diplomacy.
I did a little research about Turekian and found this Sept. 10, 2016 news release announcing his appointment as the Science and Technology Adviser to the US Secretary of State,
On September 8, Dr. Vaughan Turekian, formerly the Chief International Officer at The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), was named the 5th Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State. In this capacity, Dr. Turekian will advise the Secretary of State and the Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment on international environment, science, technology, and health matters affecting the foreign policy of the United States. Dr. Turekian will draw upon his background in atmospheric chemistry and extensive policy experience to promote science, technology, and engineering as integral components of U.S. diplomacy.
Dr. Turekian brings both technical expertise and 14 years of policy experience to the position. As former Chief International Officer for The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and Director of AAAS’s Center for Science Diplomacy, Dr. Turekian worked to build bridges between nations based on shared scientific goals, placing special emphasis on regions where traditional political relationships are strained or do not exist. As Editor-in-Chief of Science & Diplomacy, an online quarterly publication, Dr. Turekian published original policy pieces that have served to inform international science policy recommendations. Prior to his work at AAAS, Turekian worked at the State Department as Special Assistant and Adviser to the Under Secretary for Global Affairs on issues related to sustainable development, climate change, environment, energy, science, technology, and health and as a Program Director for the Committee on Global Change Research at the National Academy of Sciences where he was study director for a White House report on climate change science.
Over the recent decade, its treatment of science and technology issues has increased substantially, with a number of cover stories focused on topics that bridge science, technology, and foreign affairs. This thought leadership reflects a broader shift in thinking within institutions throughout the world about the importance of better integrating the communities of science and diplomacy in novel ways.
In May, a high-level committee convened by Japan’s minister of foreign affairs released fifteen recommendations for how Japan could better incorporate its scientific and technological expertise into its foreign policy. While many of the recommendations were to be predicted, including the establishment of the position of science adviser to the foreign minister, the breadth of the recommendations highlighted numerous new ways Japan could leverage science to meet its foreign policy objectives. The report itself marks a turning point for an institution looking to upgrade its ability to meet and shape the challenges of this still young century.
On the other side of the Pacific, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences released its own assessment of science in the U.S. Department of State. Their report, “Diplomacy for the 21st Century: Embedding a Culture of Science and Technology Throughout the Department of State,” builds on its landmark 1999 report, which, among other things, established the position of science and technology adviser to the secretary of state. The twenty-seven recommendations in the new report are wide ranging, but as a whole speak to the fact that while one of the oldest U.S. institutions of government has made much progress toward becoming more scientifically and technologically literate, there are many more steps that could be taken to leverage science and technology as a key element of U.S. foreign policy.
These two recent reports highlight the importance of foreign ministries as vital instruments of science diplomacy. These agencies of foreign affairs, like their counterparts around the world, are often viewed as conservative and somewhat inflexible institutions focused on stability rather than transformation. However, they are adjusting to a world in which developments in science and technology move rapidly and affect relationships and interactions at bilateral, regional, and global scales.
At the same time that some traditional national instruments of diplomacy are evolving to better incorporate science, international science institutions are also evolving to meet the diplomatic and foreign policy drivers of this more technical century. …
It’s an interesting read and I’m glad to see the mention of Japan in his article. I’d like to see Canadian science advice and policy initiatives take more notice of the rest of the world rather than focusing almost solely on what’s happening in the US and Great Britain (see my June 15, 2016 post for an example of what I mean). On another note, it was disconcerting to find out that Turekian believes that we are only now moving past the Cold War politics of the past.
Unfortunately for anyone wanting to attend the talk, ticket sales have ended even though they were supposed to be open until June 17, 2016. And, there doesn’t seem to be a wait list.
You may want to try arriving at the door and hoping that people have cancelled or fail to arrive therefore acquiring a ticket. Should you be an MP (Member of Parliament), Senator, or guest of the Canadian Science Policy Conference, you get a free ticket. Should you be anyone else, expect to pay $15, assuming no one is attempting to scalp (sell one for more than it cost) these tickets.
*’ … on June’ in headline changed to ‘ … on June 21, 2016’ on June 17, 2016.
Joe Berkowitz has written an Oct. 29, 2015 article for Fast Company about Margaret Atwood, creativity, technology, and dystopias (I gather Ms. Atwood is doing publicity in aid of her new book, ‘The Heart Goes Last’; Note: Links have been removed),
In the latest thought-provoking, dystopian parable from noted words-genius, Margaret Atwood, society is experimenting with becoming a prison. The entire population of the unsettling community of Positron, as depicted in The Heart Goes Last, spends half the time as prisoners and half the time as guards. It does not go great. Considering that the story also involves sex-robots and other misfit gadgetry, the central premise serves as an apt metaphor for our occasionally adversarial relationship with technology. …
… One element of this symbiotic relationship Margaret Atwood is especially interested in, though, is the impact new technology has on creativity. The paradigm-shifting author doesn’t merely write about the future, she has also helped bring about changes to how we write in the future. As the creator of the LongPen, she’s made it so that authors can sign books from great distances; and as the first contributor to the Future Library project, she’s become a pioneer of writing novels intended strictly for later generations to read. A master at building future worlds in fiction, Atwood is also doing so in reality.
She has some things to say about the cloud and how the medium shapes the message (thank you, Marshall McLuhan),
… Being a selective early adopter means communicating with the tools one feels comfortable with, and avoiding others.
“I don’t trust the cloud,” she says. “Everybody knows that Moscow has gone back over to typewriters. Anything on the internet potentially leaks like a sieve. So we are currently exchanging scripts by FedEx because we don’t want them to be leaked. Anything you absolutely do not want to be leaked, unless you were a master of hackery and disguise, you should transfer and store some other way, especially since Mr. Snowden and what we know. …
… Being a selective early adopter [Atwood] means communicating with the tools one feels comfortable with, and avoiding others.
“I don’t trust the cloud,” she says. “Everybody knows that Moscow has gone back over to typewriters. Anything on the internet potentially leaks like a sieve. So we are currently exchanging scripts by FedEx because we don’t want them to be leaked. Anything you absolutely do not want to be leaked, unless you were a master of hackery and disguise, you should transfer and store some other way, especially since Mr. Snowden and what we know. …
“Any new technology or platform or medium is going to influence to a certain extent the shape of what gets put out there,” Atwood says. “On the other hand, human storytelling is very, very old. To a certain extent, technology shapes the bite-size of how you’re sending it into the world. For instance, people put writing on their phone in short chapters. So Proust would not have done well with that. We develop short forms because we’re limited in characters but we did that with the telegram. ‘6:15 Paddington, bring gun, Sherlock Holmes.’ Or better, ‘Holmes,’ actually.”
The last time I mentioned Margaret Atwood here was in regard to ‘Canadianness’ in my March 6, 2015 posting where I noted that Atwood is sometimes taken as an American or British author as her status as a Canadian is often omitted from articles about her.
Finally, Marshall McLuhan was a noted Canadian communications theorist who achieved awareness in pop culture during the 1960’s and 70’s with this phrase amongst others, The medium is the message.
I first wrote about Ariel Garten and her Toronto-based (Canada) company, InteraXon, in a Dec. 5, 2012 posting where I featured a product, MUSE (Muse), then described as a brainwave controller. A March 5, 2015 article by Lydia Dishman for Fast Company provides an update on the product now described as a brainwave-sensing headband and on the company (Note: Links have been removed),
The technology that had captured the imagination of millions was then incorporated to develop a headband called Muse. It sells at retail stores like BestBuy for about $300 and works in conjunction with an app called Calm as a tool to increase focus and reduce stress.
If you always wanted to learn to meditate without those pesky distracting thoughts commandeering your mind, Muse can help by taking you through a brief exercise that translates brainwaves into the sound of wind. Losing focus or getting antsy brings on the gales. Achieving calm rewards you with a flock of birds across your screen.
The company has grown to 50 employees and has raised close to $10 million from investors including Ashton Kutcher. Garten [Ariel Garten, founder and Chief Executive Founder] says they’re about to close on a Series B round, “which will be significant.”
She says that listening plays an important role at InteraXon. Reflecting back on what you think you heard is an exercise she encourages, especially in meetings. When the development team is building a tool, for example, they use their Muses to meditate and focus, which then allows for listening more attentively and nonjudgmentally.
Women and startups
Dishman references gender and high tech financing in her article about Garten,
Garten doesn’t dwell on her status as a woman in a mostly male-dominated sector. That goes for securing funding for the startup too, despite the notorious bias venture-capital investors have against women startup founders.
“I am sure I lost deals because I am a woman, but also because the idea didn’t resonate,” she says, adding, “I’m sure I gained some because I am a woman, so it is unfair to put a blanket statement on it.”
Yet Garten is the only female member of her C-suite, something she says “is just the way it happened.” Casting the net recently to fill the role of chief operating officer [COO], Garten says there weren’t any women in the running, in part because the position required hardware experience as well as knowledge of working with the Chinese.
She did just hire a woman to be senior vice president of sales and marketing, and says, “When we are hiring younger staff, we are gender agnostic.”
I can understand wanting to introduce nuance into the ‘gender bias and tech startup discussion’ by noting that some rejections could have been due to issues with the idea or implementation. But the comment about being the only female in late stage funding as “just the way it happened” suggests she is extraordinarily naïve or willfully blind. Given her followup statement about her hiring practices, I’m inclined to go with willfully blind. It’s hard to believe she couldn’t find any woman with hardware experience and China experience. It seems more likely she needed a male COO to counterbalance a company with a female CEO. As for being gender agnostic where younger staff are concerned, that’s nice but it’s not reassuring as women have been able to get more junior positions. It’s the senior positions such as COO which remain out of reach and, troublingly, Garten seems to have blown off the question with a weak explanation and a glib assurance of equality at the lower levels of the company.
I thought it was interesting that InterAxon’s status as a Canada-based company was mentioned nowhere in Dishman’s article. This is in stark contrast to Nancy Owano’s Dec. 5, 2012 article for phys.org,
A Canadian company is talking about having a window, aka computer screen, into your mind. … InteraXon, a Canadian company, is focused on making a business out of mind-control technology via a headband device, and they are planning to launch this as a $199 brainwave computer controller called Muse. … [emphases mine]
This is not the only recent instance I’ve noticed. My Sept. 1, 2014 posting mentions what was then an upcoming Margaret Atwood event at Arizona State University,
… (from the center’s home page [Note: The center is ASU’s Center for Science and the Imagination]),
Internationally renowned novelist and environmental activist Margaret Atwood will visit Arizona State University this November  to discuss the relationship between art and science, and the importance of creative writing and imagination for addressing social and environmental challenges.
Atwood’s visit will mark the launch of the Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative … Atwood, author of the MaddAddam trilogy of novels that have become central to the emerging literary genre of climate fiction, or “CliFi,” will offer the inaugural lecture for the initiative on Nov. 5.
“We are proud to welcome Margaret Atwood, one of the world’s most celebrated living writers, to ASU and engage her in these discussions around climate, science and creative writing,” … “A poet, novelist, literary critic and essayist, Ms. Atwood epitomizes the creative and professional excellence our students aspire to achieve.”
There’s not a single mention that she is Canadian there or in a recent posting by Martin Robbins about a word purge from the Oxford Junior Dictionary published by the Guardian science blog network (March 3, 2015 posting). In fact, Atwood was initially described by Robbins as one of Britain’s literary giants. I assume there were howls of anguish once Canadians woke up to read the article since the phrase was later amended to “a number of the Anglosphere’s literary giants.”
The omission of InterAxon’s Canadianness in Dishman’s article for an American online magazine and Atwood’s Canadianness on the Arizona State University website and Martin Robbins’ initial appropriation and later change to the vague-sounding “Anglospere” in his post for the British newspaper, The Guardian, means the bulk of their readers will likely assume InterAxon is American and that Margaret Atwood, depending on where you read about her, is either an American or a Brit.
It’s flattering that others want to grab a little bit of Canada for themselves.
Coda: The Oxford Junior Dictionary and its excision of ‘nature’ words
Robbins’ March 3, 2015 posting focused on a heated literary discussion about the excision of these words from the Oxford Junior Dictionary (Note: A link has been removed),
“The deletions,” according to Robert Macfarlane in another article on Friday, “included acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture and willow. The words taking their places in the new edition included attachment, block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity, chatroom, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player and voice-mail.”
I’m surprised the ‘junior’ dictionary didn’t have “attachment,” “celebrity,” and “committee” prior to the 2007 purge. By the way, it seems no one noticed the purge till recently. Robbins has an interesting take on the issue, one with which I do not entirely agree. I understand needing to purge words but what happens a child reading a classic such as “The Wind in the Willows’ attempts to look up the word ‘willows’? (Thanks to Susan Baxter who in a private communication pointed out the problems inherent with reading new and/or classic books and not being able to find basic vocabulary.)
David Bruggeman over on his Pasco Phronesis has two postings which highlight different approaches to communicating about science. His Aug. 31, 2014 posting features audio plays (Note: Links have been removed),
L.A. Theatre Works makes a large number of their works available via audio. Its Relativity series (H/T Scirens) is a collection of (at this writing) 25 plays with science and technology either as themes and/or as forces driving the action of the play. You’re certainly familiar with War of the Worlds, and you may have heard of the plays Arcadia and Copenhagen. The science covered in these plays is from a number of different fields, and some works will try to engage the audience on the social implications of how science is conducted. The casts have many familiar faces as well. …
A teenage misfit is coming of age in the comforting glow of late-night horror movies. But when reality begins to intrude on his fantasy world, he realizes that hiding in the closet is no longer an option.
David’s Aug. 26, 2014 posting features Hieroglyph, a project from Arizona State University’s (ASU) Center for Science and the Imagination (Note: A link has been removed),
Next month [Sept. 2014] William Morrow will release Hieroglyph, a collection of science fiction short stories edited by the Director of the Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University. The name of the collection is taken from a theory advanced by science fiction writer Neil [Neal] Stephenson, and a larger writing project of which this book is a part. The Hieroglyph Theory describes the kind of science fiction that can motivate scientists and engineers to create a future. A Hieroglyph story provides a complete picture of the future, with a compelling innovation as part of that future. An example would be the Asimov model of robotics.
Humanity’s lack of a positive vision for the future can be blamed in part on an engineering culture that’s more focused on incrementalism (and VC funding) than big ideas. But maybe science fiction writers should share some of the blame. That’s the idea that came out of a conversation in 2011 between science fiction author Neal Stephenson and Michael Crow, the president of Arizona State University.
If science fiction inspires scientists and engineers to create new things–Stephenson believes it can–then more visionary, realistic sci-fi stories can help create a better future. Hence the Hieroglyph experiment, launched this month as a collaborative website for researchers and writers. Many of the stories created on the platform will go into a HarperCollins anthology of fiction and non-fiction, set to be published in 2014.
As it turns out, William Morrow Books is a a HarperCollins imprint. You can read a bit more about the book and preview some of the contents from the Scribd.com Hieroglyph webpage which includes this table of contents (much better looking in the Scribd version),
LAWRENCE M. KRAUSS vii
PREFACE: INNOVATION STARVATION—NEAL STEPHENSON xiii
INTRODUCTION: A BLUEPRINT FOR BETTER DREAMS—ED FINN AND KATHRYN CRAMER xxiii
ATMOSPHÆRA INCOGNITA—NEAL STEPHENSON 1
GIRL IN WAVE : WAVE IN GIRL—KATHLEEN ANN GOONAN 38
BY THE TIME WE GET TO ARIZONA—MADELINE ASHBY 74
THE MAN WHO SOLD THE MOON—CORY DOCTOROW 98
JOHNNY APPLEDRONE VS. THE FAA—LEE KONSTANTINOU 182
DEGREES OF FREEDOM—KARL SCHROEDER 206
TWO SCENARIOS FOR THE FUTURE OF SOLAR ENERGY—ANNALEE NEWITZ 243
A HOTEL IN ANTARCTICA—GEOFFREY A. LANDIS 254
PERIAPSIS—JAMES L. CAMBIAS 283
THE MAN WHO SOLD THE STARS—GREGORY BENFORD 307
ENTANGLEMENT—VANDANA SINGH 352
ELEPHANT ANGELS—BRENDA COOPER 398
COVENANT—ELIZABETH BEAR 421
QUANTUM TELEPATHY—RUDY RUCKER 436
TRANSITION GENERATION—DAVID BRIN 466
THE DAY IT ALL ENDED—CHARLIE JANE ANDERS 477
TALL TOWER—BRUCE STERLING 489
SCIENCE AND SCIENCE FICTION: AN INTERVIEW WITH PAUL DAVIES 515
ABOUT THE EDITORS 526
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS 527
Good on the organizers for being able to follow through on their promise to have something published by HarperCollins in 2014.
This book is not ASU’s Center for Science and the Imagination’s only activity. In November 2014, Margaret Atwood, an internationally known Canadian novelist, will visit the center (from the center’s home page),
Internationally renowned novelist and environmental activist Margaret Atwood will visit Arizona State University this November to discuss the relationship between art and science, and the importance of creative writing and imagination for addressing social and environmental challenges.
“We are proud to welcome Margaret Atwood, one of the world’s most celebrated living writers, to ASU and engage her in these discussions around climate, science and creative writing,” said Jewell Parker Rhodes, founding artistic director for the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing and the Piper Endowed Chair at Arizona State University. “A poet, novelist, literary critic and essayist, Ms. Atwood epitomizes the creative and professional excellence our students aspire to achieve.”
Focusing in particular on CliFi, the Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative will explore how imaginative skills can be harnessed to create solutions to climate challenges, and question whether and how creative writing can affect political decisions and behavior by influencing our social, political and scientific imagination.
“ASU is a leader in exploring how creativity and the imagination drive the arts, sciences, engineering and humanities,” said Ed Finn, director of the Center for Science and the Imagination. “The Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative will use the thriving CliFi genre to ask the hard questions about our cultural relationship to climate change and offer compelling visions for sustainable futures.”
The multidisciplinary Initiative will bring together researchers, artists, writers, decision-makers and the public to engage in research projects, teaching activities and events at ASU and beyond. The three ASU programs behind the Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative have a track record for academic and public engagement around innovative programs, including the Sustainability Solutions Festival; Emerge; and the Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference.
“Imagining how the future could unfold in a climatically changing world is key to making good policy and governance decisions today,” said Manjana Milkoreit, a postdoctoral fellow with the Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives. “We need to know more about the nature of imagination, its relationship to scientific knowledge and the effect of cultural phenomena such as CliFi on our imaginative capabilities and, ultimately, our collective ability to create a safe and prosperous future.”
Kind of odd they don’t mention Atwood’s Canadian, eh?
There’s lots more on the page which features news bits and articles, as well as, event information. Coincidentally, another Canuck (assuming he retains his citizenship after several years in the US) visited the center on June 7, 2014 to participate in an event billed as ‘An evening with Nathan Fillion and friends;; serenity [Joss Whedon’s tv series and movie], softwire, and science of science fiction’. A June 21, 2014 piece (on the center home page) by Joey Eschrich describes the night in some detail,
Nathan Fillion may very well be the friendliest, most unpretentious spaceship captain, mystery-solving author and science fiction heartthrob in the known universe. The “ruggedly handsome” star of TV’s “Castle” was the delight of fans as he headlined a fundraiser on the Arizona State University campus in Tempe, June 7 .
The “Serenity, Softwire, and the Science of Science Fiction” event, benefiting the ASU Department of English and advertised as an “intimate evening for a small group of 50 people,” included considerable face-time with Fillion, who in-person proved surprisingly similar to the witty, charming and compassionate characters he plays on television and in film.
Starring with Fillion in the ASU evening’s festivities were science fiction author PJ Haarsma (a close friend of Fillion’s) along with ASU professors Ed Finn, director of the Center for Science and the Imagination; Peter Goggin, a literacy expert in the Department of English and senior scholar with the Global Institute of Sustainability; and School of Earth and Space Exploration faculty Jim Bell, an astronomer, and Sara Imari Walker, an astrobiologist. In addition to the Department of English, sponsors included ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Center for Science and the Imagination.
The event began with each panelist explaining how he or she arrived at his or her respective careers, and whether science or science fiction played a role in that journey. All panelists pointed to reading and imagining as formational to their senses of themselves and their places in life.
A number of big questions were posed to the panelists: “What is the likelihood of life on other planets?” and “What is the physical practicality of traveling to other planets?” ASU scientists Bell and Walker deftly fielded these complex planetary inquiries, while Goggin and Finn explained how the intersection of science and humanities – embodied in science fiction books and film – encouraged children and scholars alike to think creatively about the future. Attendees reported that they found the conversation “intellectually stimulating and thought-provoking as well as fun and entertaining.”
During the ensuing discussion, Haarsma and Fillion bantered back and forth comically, as we are told they often do in real life, at one point raising the group’s awareness of the mission they have shared for many years: promoting reading in the lives of young people. The two founded the Kids Need to Read Foundation, which provides books to underserved schools and libraries. Fillion, the son of retired English teachers, attended Concordia University of Alberta*, where he was a member of the Kappa Alpha Society, an organization that emphasizes literature and debate. His brother, Jeff, is a highly respected school principal. Fillion’s story about the importance of books and reading in his childhood home was a rare moment of seriousness for the actor.
The most delightful aspect of the evening, according to guests, was the good nature of Fillion himself, who arrived with Haarsma earlier than expected and stayed later than scheduled. Fillion spent several minutes with each individual or group of friends, laughing with them, using their phone cameras to snap group “selfies” and showing a genuine interest in getting to know them.
Audience members each received copies of science fiction books: Haarsma’s teen novel, “Softwire: Virus on Orbis I,” and the Tomorrow Project science fiction anthology “Cautions, Dreams & Curiosities,” which was co-produced by the Center for Science and the Imagination with Intel and the Society for Science & the Public. Guests presented their new books and assorted other items to Fillion and Haarsma for autographing and a bit more conversation before the evening came to a close. It was then time for Fillion to head back downtown to his hotel, but not before one cadre of friends “asked him to take one last group shot of us at the end of the night, to which he replied with a smile, ‘I thought you’d never ask.’”
*Corrected on February 4, 2020: I originally stated that “Concordia University is in the province of Québec not Alberta which is home to the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta.” That is not entirely correct. There is a Concordia University in Alberta as well as in Québec. However, the Concordia in Alberta is properly referred to as Concordia University of Edmonton (its Wikipedia entry proudly lists Nathan Filion as one of its notable alumni).*
The evening with Nathan Fillion and friends was a fundraiser, participants were charged $250 each for one of 50 seats at the event, which means they raised $12,500 minus any expenses incurred. Good for them!