Science writing

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.

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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.

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Courtesy alomshaha.com

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

Want to be a science writer?

Ashleigh Young and Rebecca Priestley are teaching CREW352: Creative Science Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters again this year. Past students have included undergraduate science and humanities students, experienced writers and journalists, environmental advocates and practising scientists. Students on the course have written engaging non-fiction stories about science and had these stories published in literary journals such as Sport, Overland and Landfall, in the student magazine Salient, and in industry journals such as Organic New Zealand magazine and books such as Tell You What: Great NZ Fiction 2014. Other students have used the course to kickstart a book-length project.

Here are some links to some online stories you can read that were written and workshopped as part of CREW352.

The albatross in the cupboard by Nina Powles on Te Papa blogs

Four circles by Sarah Bainbridge in Landfall

Simply air vibrating by Simon Gennard in Overland

Is it getting hot in here? By Bronte Ammundsen in Salient

Applications for this year’s workshop close this 21 June. You can find out more about how to apply here: http://www.victoria.ac.nz/modernletters/study/how-to-apply