Author: sciencernrguest

New book for James Beattie

Associate Professor James Beattie is the latest addition to the Science in Society research group at Victoria University. Previously with the University of

James Beattie Dir
Associate Professor James Beattie

Waikato, James is an environmental historian whose research focuses on the Asia-Pacific region and examines the nexus between environmental history, history of science, landscape and garden history, and health history. In addition, James works on Chinese art collecting in New Zealand.

James is a co-editor of a new book, New China Eye Witness, that has received widespread accolades and has been named in the longlist for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards provides a unique insight to the world of museums historical artefacts against a backdrop of international relations and diplomacy. According to Dr Beattie, “The beautifully-captured, yet ‘gritty’ street photographs of everyday life provide fascinating detail about the domestic, political and cultural situation of China in the 1950s.”

Published by Canterbury University Press, New China James Beattie book coverEye Witness provides insight into the diplomacy involved in obtaining Aotearoa New Zealand’s most extensive collection of Chinese art, and provides a fascinating account of the 1956 visit to the People’s Republic of China by a group of prominent New Zealanders. Among them was Canterbury Museum’s Director Dr Roger Duff, whose diary details efforts to secure a collection of antiquities gifted to the museum by long-time China resident, Aotearoa New Zealand–born writer Rewi Alley.

Through Alley’s connections with the highest levels of China’s communist leadership, including Chairman Mao, combined with Dr Duff’s diplomatic skills, they obtained the sanction of the Chinese government to circumvent its own export ban on antiquities. This permitted the gifting of seven crates of treasures that formed the basis for the museum’s Rewi Alley Collection of around 1,400 Chinese artifacts.

“Roger Duff’s detailed and highly readable diary, enhanced by extracts from others on the delegation, provides a remarkable eyewitness account of a rapidly developing China, at a unique time and unprecedented moment in its history,” says co-editor Dr Richard Bullen, Head of the Art History and Theory Department at the University of Canterbury.

The book is part of a larger research project centred on Canterbury Museum’s Rewi Alley Collection, which was supported by a Marsden grant. Chinese translations in the book have been provided by doctoral student Mr Xiongbo Shi from UC’s Department of Art History and Theory. The sumptuous book design is by award-winning designer Mr Aaron Beehre, a senior lecturer in UC’s School of Fine Arts. New China Eyewitness: Roger Duff, Rewi Alley and the art of museum diplomacy, J Beattie and R Bullen, Canterbury University Press (RRP$59.99), will be published in November 2017. For more details, see

James Beattie Outside

New academic home for James Beattie at Victoria University. Photo: Lorraine Taylor


Imagining alternative futures | new book from Tim Corballis

Our Future is in the Air is the latest novel by Wellington author and Science in Society lecturer Dr Tim Corballis. The novel explores an alternative history of the 1970s, triggered by time-travel technology.  Lorraine Taylor talked to Tim about about his new book, his work and the ability of science fiction to ask the questions science can’t.

Set in the past, your book Our Future is in the Air explores an alternative past (or is it a present?) where a certain form of technology that we are all quite attached to (no spoilers!) has been rejected by society to protect its citizens. What were you trying to invite reader to think about?

This book, like a lot of science fiction (sci-fi) has an element of social thinking about science. There’s often a fictional theory or gadget or technology at the heart of sci-fi, which then builds a fictional world around the social consequences of that technology. It gives you a lot of resources to think about how technology works in the world, what effects it has, and how it might work differently, how life would be different if we had or didn’t have a certain technology and so on. And this works not just at the nerdy technical level but at the level of meaning. It can be a way to think about how technology alters the meaning of our lives. In Our Future is in the Air there are technological changes that effect how people think of their geographical place in the world and their relationship to the future – these are profound existential questions that science and technology influences.

Thinking of this alternative past or present – how much of this vision was hope and how much caution?

What the book imagines most clearly is an alternative past. The present, which is the future of the book’s past (confused?) is actually very vaguely evoked. I’m not sure this is about either hope or caution. It’s more about where we look for the seeds of the future, and how we face a future that’s unknown. I don’t think the book provides easy answers either way, though I would like readers to get a sense of openness from the ending – the positive side of that future vagueness or unknowness perhaps.

The work explores a number of social societal constructs as well, beyond science and technology.  How much of Tim Corballis is in this novel?

I’ve said this in other fora too, but I’m a bit of a fan of Ursula LeGuin’s ‘Carrier Bag’ theory of fiction: more or less, that a book is a nice handy bag that you can put a whole lot of stuff into, rather than a neat plot line from start to finish.  So if I’m in the book, it’s because I put in a lot of what I was interested in, what I came across, while I was writing it. For example, the Russian Biocosmists, who believed in the revolutionary necessity of a scientific programme to bring back the dead – and who really existed I should add – they’re in there, largely because I was interested in them at the time and wanted to build something around them.

You have one of the most diverse academic backgrounds I know.  Tell me about your academic whakapapa, and what led you to such variety?

Should I mention carrier bags again? I was a maths and physics geek as a kid, but after studying it a little at university my interest drifted. I think I was excited by the imagination of the world and the universe in those fields, but it just wasn’t there after a few years. Not for me anyway.  I crossed into philosophy via logic, which provides a bit of a bridge from maths. There I discovered versions of aesthetics and existentialism. Writing seemed like an obvious thing at some point, partly out of a sort of embarrassing young man’s existential desire to do something with my life, and partly again chasing that imagination of the world and other worlds. I’ve sort of wavered between writing and academic work ever since, but I’ve been interested in all kinds of subjects and ways of seeing things. My doctorate had elements of sociology, cultural studies, history, environmental humanities, architecture… I think it probably followed on from my philosophy studies, but broader (philosophy can be frustratingly narrow).

You teach within the Science in Society group at VUW.  How does your humanities work influence your understanding of science and how does your obvious scientific obsessions influence your work in the humanities?

I think the humanities, and the social sciences too, offer very good ways to think about how things might appear from other perspectives. They offer ways to think about what science might mean to people, and to put things in terms of the rituals and meanings they accrue around themselves. So, what kind of ritual is science (or the sciences, since I don’t really think there is a singular thing called science)?

I’m also really interested in new sciences – the forefronts of computing, biological sciences and climate sciences are really having profound social impacts, and aesthetic impacts too. So much of our culture obsesses over them, it’s hard not to be interested. So, I think you miss a lot by seeing them just as technical phenomena, or as new knowledge. They’re cultural phenomena too, full of undreamed of ways to imagine ourselves and the universe. I think they offer us amazing visions and stories.

Do you think fiction or literature or even the humanities have a particular way of doing this that science does not?

Literature and the humanities are both hugely diverse, obviously, but I think of them as doing quite particular things. They are both focused on things that science finds hard to measure, even qualitatively: meaning, interpretation, the imagination. And literature of course is free to make things up. Writers of fiction especially aren’t constrained by the need to get anything right. I think it’s really important to keep that sense of imagination unconstrained by boundaries and methodologies. It’s important politically – it allows us to think about how the world might be different. I happen to think it’s also important for science. This might not make me a lot of friends, but I’m a cautious follower of Paul Feyerabend, who argues against the idea of methodology in science too.


Tim Corballis at the launch of Our Future is in the Air at Unity Books. Image by John Duke


Lorraine Taylor is the Centre Manager for the Science in Society group at VUW 

Call for papers: Polar Record special issue on education, outreach & engagement

Polar Record: special issue on polar education, outreach and communication  

Guest editors: Rhian Salmon and Rebecca Priestley

Submission deadline: 31 January 2018

Ten years ago, the International Polar Year 2007-2008 led to an upwelling of Education, Outreach and Communication (EOC) initiatives across the polar research community that have had long-lasting effect. At the 2016 SCAR conference in Kuala Lumpur, the Humanities and Social Science Expert Group identified science communication as a research priority. This special Issue of Polar Record will be dedicated to Education, Outreach, and Engagement related to polar research, and will help to draw scholarly attention to this important, but neglected, aspect of polar research. It will be published in January 2019, in conjunction with the tenth anniversary of the International Polar Year 2007-2008 (which ran from March 2017-March 2019).

Sciecne historia Rebecca Pristley interviews Andrew McMinn wearing an aviation hat in Antarctica

Rebecca Priestley interviews Andrew McMinn, from the University of Tasmania, at a field camp on the sea ice near Turtle Rock, Ross Island, in 2011

The guest co-editors of this issue, Drs Rebecca Priestley and Rhian Salmon invite submissions of Original Research Articles of 9,000-12,000 words in length. Research Notes (peer reviewed short articles up to 3,000 words) and Commentaries (focused, view-point coverage of topics relevant to this special issue topic) will also considered by the editors (but please discuss with the editors if considering this option).

Submission deadline is 31 January 2018

If you would like to discuss your ideas before submitting – and we encourage you to do so – please contact the guest co-editors Dr Rebecca Priestley ( or Dr Rhian Salmon ( directly.

Submission of Papers is through the journal’s online submission centre:

Please choose the special issue: ’10 years of Polar Education, Outreach and Communication initiatives’ from the drop down list, in the ‘special issue question’ on ScholarOne.

All papers will be subject to the journal’s usual peer-review process and submission does not guarantee acceptance. If you have difficulties with the electronic submission process, please contact one of the editors. Accepted papers will be published in FirstView within a month after acceptance with the full special issue due for publication in January 2019.



Journalist Veronika Meduna sits with miscrophone next to 5 emperor penguins

New Zealand broadcaster Veronika Meduna on the sea ice next to group of Emperor Penguins during the International Polar Year

Welcome back to Café Scientifique

After a year’s break the Wellington meeting of Café Scientifique has started with two successful events in July and August.

Jesse Bering, a Dunedin based American evolutionary psychologist, in Wellington to talk to students of CREW352: Creative Science Writing, packed out VK’s Comedy Bar in Dixon Street with his favourite research topics: sex, death and religion.


Jesse at WORD Christchurch 2015

Bering has had enormous success with his honest and humorous style. He writes a regular column, Bering in Mind, for Scientific American online, and his books include The Belief Instinct, about the psychological origins of our desire to believe in something bigger than ourselves, and PERV, which explores the range of human sexual desire and experience. Bering told students in the CREW352 that like many of us his academic interests have followed what he is naturally curious about, and he hopes talking about it is helpful to people struggling with these issues.

Bering’s Café Scientifique event followed a fantastic evening with Alom Shaha, a teacher, science communicator and author, who recently visited New Zealand to be the keynote speaker at SciCon 2016, the annual conference for secondary science teachers.  Shaha has become a teacher of teachers and points out that he does not consider himself to be a scientist, but rather an expert in pedagogy.  We took advantage of his visit to invite him to address students of SCIE311: Science Communication. “The world needs teachers,” says Shaha, “as we are the ones who make the scientists”.   Shaha disagrees with the common expression that children are born scientists. “Science is a range of methods and tools, for a particular way of looking at the world.  It takes years to practice these tools in the way that scientists do,” he said to our SCIE 311 students.



As this was Shaha’s first time in New Zealand, he was keen to understand the religious, cultural and educational landscape of our country.  His book The Young Atheist’s Handbook is part memoir, part philosophy, and part permission for others to wrestle with doubts about their faith.  “Religion is passed on from parents to children at a time when they are not able to think critically for themselves.  Sometimes young people find that it’s just easier to go along with it,” he told his Café Scientifique audience.

Shaha has a new book due to be released in 2017 about science teaching, and we hope to see him back in New Zealand next year.  In the meantime you can check out his Demo: The Movie  a half hour movie encouraging science teachers to use demonstrations to inspire their students look closely at the world.

Café Scientifique is jointly hosted by the Wellington Branch of the Royal Society and Science in Society Group at Victoria University.  Find us on Facebook to hear about our upcoming events

Dispatches from 2016

It’s July! Over half way through 2016, and it’s been a busy time.  Rebecca has launched a new book Dispatches from Continent Seven and Rhian has grown her engagement team for the Deep South National Science Challenge.


Rebecca’s new book Dispatches from Continent Seven: An Anthology of Antarctic Science was launched in March and is getting great rBookeviews.  Unlike most Antarctic anthologies, which focus on narratives written by explorers or writers, this book features accounts by scientists, including biologist George Murray Levick on the sexual habits of the Adélie Penguin, American geophysicist Robin Bell on the mountain ranges discovered beneath the Antarctic icecap, and Rhian’s own piece, Waiting for the Polar Sunrise, which she wrote based on her winter-over in Antarctica in 2002.

Rebecca talks about her book with Kim Hill on National radio and writes in more depth about her own Antarctic experiences on the Stuff news website.  You can also read an interview with Rebecca about Dispatches by Listener writer Mark Broatch. And because you wont want to share you can purchase your own copy from Awa Press.

Ice science

Dispatches featured in Ice Science held at The Embassy in March as part of New Zealand Festival Writers’ week.  While Antarctica is a “continent for science” it has also inspired many artists, writers and poets. Te Radar hosted a panel discussion of Antarcticans – including Rebecca and Rhian – about what drives people to work, and sometimes risk their lives, in this most inhospitable of environments.

Left to right Te Radar, Dr Rhian Salmon, Professor Tim Naish, Dr Rebecca Priestley


The Deep South National Science Challenge is a $24M programme with a mission to enable New Zealanders to “adapt, manage and thrive in a changing climate”. Rhian sits on the management team and leads one of five programmes – on Engagement. This is a major action research programme that will not only deliver a range of engagement activities and research outputs, but is also serving to redefine how engagement with science is conceptualised and delivered in New Zealand.

By far the most substantial work Rhian carried out in 2015 was development of an Engagement Strategy for the Deep South Challenge. This received very positive reviews from an Independent Science Panel, and Board approval in December 2015. This strategy led to $1.68M being committed to work-streams in broad and public engagement, tailored engagement, training and capacity building in engagement, and programme evaluation and is already being used as a resource by several other Science Challenges.

Rhian’s leadership of this Challenge’s engagement programme presents an exciting opportunity to set new precedents in public engagement with science (PES) in New Zealand. By creating opportunities both for funding and capacity building in public engagement, and by setting ambitious engagement objectives – for example that require co-production and evaluation – this programme is substantially bridging the gap between PES theory and practice while also delivering tangible, innovative, and measurable, initiatives that enable New Zealanders to make more informed decisions about climate change. The impact of this programme will therefore be demonstrated not only in publications, but also in the outcomes of the activities that it funds, and associated capacity-building of all involved.

In order to deliver this ambitious programme, Rhian has recently established a “Deep South Challenge Engagement Team” at Victoria University, which includes a Partnerships Director, Engagement Coordinator, and Evaluation Coordinator.


The new 300 level special topic: Antarctic Science and Culture has enjoyed its first semester as part of the SCIE course schedule and will be back in 2017. It may not be too late to enrol for Semester 2 courses in our programme.  But you better hurry!

SCIE212 Energy, Society and the Future

SCIE312 Revolutions in Science

SCIE311 Science Communication

Our courses are also available as continuing / professional education:

SCIE212 Energy Society and the Future

SCIE312 Revolutions in Science

SCIE312 Science Communication


New ‘Antarctica Online’ Course

Cliff interviews Nick Golledge, from the Antarctic Research Centre, while Rebecca hides inside her extreme cold weather gear.

Cliff interviews Nick Golledge, from the Antarctic Research Centre, while Rebecca hides inside her extreme cold weather gear.

Following Rebecca and Cliff’s successful trip to Antarctica in December 2014, the Science in Society team have been working hard to put together a new fully online course called ‘Antarctica Online’.

The course features lectures that were filmed on the ice and examines contemporary Antarctic scientific research, placing it in a wider scientific, historical, social and cultural context. Rebecca and Cliff gathered material over 10 days around Scott Base, McMurdo Station, and the Ross Island historic huts and three days at an Antarctic Research Centre field camp in the Transantarctic Mountains.

As well as filming lectures for their own modules—on Antarctic science history, and Geology and paleoclimate—they also filmed material for a third module, Constructing Antarctica, which will be led by Rhian, and Leon Gurevitch from the School of Design.

Most of us will never get to visit Antarctica, but this course hopes to offer the next best thing.

The course runs from Monday 28 September to Friday 6 November 2015 (6 weeks)

Fee: $120  (There are no prerequisites for this course)  ENROL HERE



The Conversation

The following work is by Matapuku Robati, a student in our Science Communication course. For this assignment, students were encouraged to explore non-written modes of communication. Below is the story of this work…


If I was given the opportunity to communicate something to the world that I actually gave a shit about, what would it be? This notion came to me from Dr Rhian Salmon who described the inner challenge of deciding what to speak about as she was preparing for a TEDx Talk. This was the inspiration that placed ‘The Conversation’ at the forefront of other scientific topics that I had considered for a creative science communication piece. My aim was to communicate the science of climate change to a non-specialist audience by engaging in a continuous two-way exchange of knowledge between specialists and laymen. I am no climate change specialist by any stretch of the imagination, but for this project I assumed that particular position. The role of the laymen was allotted to my teenage daughter (Sanaa), nephews (Isaac, Adam and Te Ahi) and nieces (Daley, Grace, Faith, Tuakana and Missy). However I felt that these roles were frequently interchanged throughout the course of the project as I felt myself being educated about the complexities of the teenage psyche on many occasions. Whilst not addressing a worldwide audience, but definitely a global issue, I felt a moral obligation to address the teenagers in our family, because at some stage they will need to deal with what generations before them have left behind. ‘The Conversation’ is a creative science communication piece that tackles the issue of climate change by drawing attention to its link with our personal energy consumption.

The KidsDaley and Sanaa

A changing climate is upon us and as a result of the human consumption of fossil fuels global surface temperatures have been increasing rapidly since the advent of the industrial age. With the latest electronic socially necessitated devices appearing more frequently on the teenage wish list and communication within households occurring more often via social media than in person, I felt compelled to at least engage in a conversation that would allow us to look at the situation with some degree of objectivity. But first I needed to establish common ground and between myself and the rest of the family – and music is something we all love!! So it was not very difficult to entice the teenage faction within the family to help me write a song. Prior to that invitation a series of casual conversations about climate change unfolded between me, my daughter and several of my nieces and nephews; who knew what? and how we each of us felt about it. Only 1 out of these 9 teenagers I spoke with had some kind of understanding of climate change and how we as individuals are influencing it. I began to elucidate the subject utilizing various forms of information with the intention of allowing those who engaged in the process of writing the song to think intently about the information I presented, whilst considering any barriers in this exchange and how they thought it could be best conveyed. A collective decision was made to portray the different stages of personal opinion and understanding of the conversations that took place in the song. Considerations as to the intended audience, genre, tempo, artistic elements, delivery, video etc… saw these teenagers don the role of multidisciplinary expert, whilst I took note of their views and steered the project to an amicable conclusion. I have since allowed the budding environmental enthusiasts to take ownership of our creation, to see if they can impart what they have learnt to others. For artistic integrity it was decided that ‘The Conversation’ would be posted on Vimeo. My niece, Daley Bishop, who has been a key collaborator in the development of the project, has since been given the opportunity to speak about the project and could possibly get ‘The Conversation’ some airtime on Atiawa Toa FM.

Success for me in this process would be for at least one of these kids to consider the impact of their energy consumption and, more ambitiously, that one would go on to influence the behaviour and culture of society with regards to our impact on the changing climate.


The Conversation

Lyrics:Daley Bishop, Sanaa Tupuivao & Matapuku Robati
Creative contributions: Tuakana Pupuke
Producer: Matapuku Robati
Video & Images: Matapuku Robati;

Pre chorus

Don’t take my device away / it’s my life my everything – x 2

Verse 1:

You say I should care about the world, but I don’t.

I don’t care what you say what you do with your thoughts.

What I own is mine stop wasting your time preaching about a minor thing, it’s not my problem.


I ain’t trying to drag you down/ just want you to look up

You got your head in your phone/ you can’t see that were stuck

We leave devices on charge, the lights left on, we take the car to the shop/hot water until it’s gone

You know we’re using more than ever before/ power bills through the roof and appetites are growing more.

The source ain’t infinite, if we can’t find more/ we need to change right now, we need to take a detour.


We are – x 3

Running out of patience

Whatever man, whatever man.

Chorus 1:

Don’t take my device away / it’s my life my everything – x 2

Verse 1:


Keep your iPod and your phone what I need is your trust/ give me your ears for a second this is bigger than us.

Bigger than who’s rocking the next best big thing/best be better than your average teenage meme right?

Temperatures are rising/a result of the gases emitted from the cars that we driving.

Things we consume, energy we use / 80% still coming from fossil fuels.

Weather patterns changing, sea levels on the rise/ homes in the pacific sitting beneath the tide

Then there’s us sitting at home oblivious/ apart of the cause, but we gotta change or we’re ……..


We are – x 3

Running out of time

And you should know it all matters.

Chorus 2:

Don’t change my skies today / I’m staying far from that energy – x 2

Verse 3:

Every thought on my mind / has no conclusion, resolution.

Not the life I had in sight / over and over constantly moving.

Now I know, now I’m aware/ I will change some habits yes.

It’s just one of those things/ it’s ongoing

And now I know it all matters.

Chorus 2:

Don’t change my skies today / I’m staying far from that energy- x6