Category Archives: External work

Human exceptionalism with a human face

This is me on human exceptionalism for Areo, a rather good up and coming digital magazine.

I point out the irony of using super-advanced scientific tools to do studies on crows to prove that they can use tools and that therefore humans are no different to animals. This mirrors the irony of the Anthropocene: it’s supposed to get us to recognise our humility yet it ratifies the fact that our effect on the planet — if nothing else — is exceptional.

I reckon we should accept that as a matter of historical fact we are currently an exceptional species (we used to be less exceptional when closer relatives like Neanderthals were around) and use this to spur environmental action.

Typo: they changed hominin to hominid — what can you do?

Universe Revealed post-mortem

A couple of years back, Jamie and I worked on a failure of an event called “Universe Revealed”. The first hint at why it was a failure may come from the name, but I still believe there was something in the idea.

Picture an all day event in a TED style setup, but where the topics of each talk follow a narrative. The narrative is the grand tale of everything. The plan was to have Briant Schmidt talk about the big bang (this was during the peak of his Nobel prize-winning fame), then discuss inflation, matter, heavy elements, galaxies, solar systems, Earth, Life, all the way to modern ecology. The main idea was that by attending the whole day, a layperson should be be “up to speed” on how the universe was created, and how we all got here. Continue reading Universe Revealed post-mortem

Chaos in the Studio


This is me guest hosting my colleague/friend Meg O’Connell’s program, Bright Pods, on 2XX FM a few months ago. The show had a great format whereby a serious interview with an expert (a “bright pod”) is preceded by an elaborate, absurdist introduction.

I lined up an interview with my mate Mat McGann about chaos theory, which he studies as part of his physics PhD. The interview’s pretty good as a 20 minute digest of a cool topic in an irreverent manner (we’ve both worked as professional science communicators) but I’m particularly proud of the intro. It’s done as a live read with no mistakes, covering some pretty wordy content and is basically the apotheosis of my Micalef-inspired sense of humour; you might not think it’s funny but I do.

Even though we’re generally interested in experimenting  science communication nerds can note a few classic techniques:

  • me playing dumb about chaos theory to position myself with the audience;
  • starting with a framing question rather than a direct one (like, what is chaos theory?); and
  • only asking the expert about their particular speciality at the end because researchers are notoriously boring on their own work and better at the more general stuff (Mat excepted).