7 September 2009

Science role models at the British Science Festival ...via Second Life

Tonight at 6pm I will be a panelist in a discussion on science role models and inspiring the next generation of scientists. In true-to-science form, the event, hosted by the UK Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), will feature an evidence-based approach: introspection about how we ourselves got interested in science will be our platform for exploring how to inspire others.

The event takes place at the British Science Festival in Guildford, Surrey, but the other panelists and I will be participating via Second Life from a BIS office in Westminster (and you can too--sign up here).

I've dabbled in Second Life before: I gave a presentation on Darwin and the Voyage of the Beagle for the launch of Nature's Second Life exhibit Notes from the Voyage (screen capture at right shows a virtual HMS Beagle and my avatar, K2 Snowpaw), and I used Second Life to attend Science Online London 2009 when I was stuck at home with the 'flu. So I'm looking forward to having another go.

I'm also looking forward to seeing my co-panelist and fellow UK Science Tweetup regular the great Dr. Andrew Maynard of Twitter, Mashable and 2020Science fame.

Andrew is way ahead of me in terms of online preparation and build-up; he's written a fantastic blog post in advance of the event called "Hooked on science: ten things that inspired me to become a scientist" ...so fantastic in fact that I've nominated it for inclusison in Open Laboratory 2009.

Though I haven't written down my own thoughts (yet!), I have at least marshalled them and am looking forward to sharing them with the audiences in Guildford and Second Life and exploring how we can better enthuse people about science!

6 September 2009

Charles Darwin to be on the Fourth Plinth!

The Fourth Plinth, on the northwest corner of Trafalgar Square in London, was built in 1841 but was never topped with a statue (insufficient funds, apparently). In 1999, the Royal Society of Arts started the Fourth Plinth Project, which commissioned a succession of works by contemporary artists. More recently, the Greater London Authority has become responsible for the plinth and has started a new series of exhibitions.

From 6 July - 14 October 2009 Antony Gormley's One & Other occupies the plinth; for a hundred consecutive days, 2,400 selected members of the public will each spend one hour atop the plinth doing whatever they feel like doing, and it will all be streamed live. According to Gormley, the point is to 'elevate of everyday life to the position formerly occupied by monumental art'.

Some of us Darwin groupies (stand up and be counted, peeps!) were kind of hoping that Charles Darwin's statue - perhaps even this one - might be selected for Trafalgar Square's Fourth Plinth during 2009 to mark the bicentenary of his birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species. Alas, our dream was crushed by Gormley's selection.

Or was it?

In an event the British Humanist Association has called the Ascent of Darwin ...onto the Plinth, today, in fact, RIGHT NOW, Charles Darwin will occupy Gormley's plinth for one hour. He will answer questions posted to the twitter account @QuestionDarwin.

4 September 2009

Beards 'n' Bowlers: a flashmob proposal

First, a bit o' backstory. The UK Science Tweetup is a quasi-regular meeting of scientists and sci-curious tweeps (twitter + peeps, in case you were wondering) in London, usually on a weekday evening at a pub. The tweetups are organised and followed-up using a hashtag; anyone interested in the tweetups just need bookmark and/or subscribe to a twitter search for #ukscitweetup. All welcome.

Anyways, a fellow #ukscitweetup regular @ayasawada suggested a science flashmob and then @rpg7twit, @steinsky and I jumped on the idea and agreed to discuss it a bit more at the next #ukscitweetup (which I think is happening during and after the Lord Drayson-Dr. Goldacre debate at the Royal Institution on the 16th of September).

I've given it some occasional thought, wondering if we should do some kind of cool citizen-science project like a London bioblitz, but flashmob style, but nothing had really crystallised until...

I saw @QuestionDarwin's very cute Darwin emoticon complete with bowler hat and beard and then...

BOOM into my brain came 'Beards 'n' Bowlers', a flashmob to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species on November 24th, 1859.

The idea is that at an appointed time of day (perhaps 18:59?) on Tuesday, the 24th of November, in a large, public space* with plenty of unsuspecting commuters mixed in with all of us in-the-know flashmobbers, we will suddenly don bowler hats and/or fake beards, open our copies of On the Origin of Species (1st Ed.) and, at some signal, and perhaps following along with someone with a loudspeaker, we will recite, in unison, the last few sentences:
There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

After which, everyone removes their props and disperses.

After the initial giggling came a bit more thinking, and a problem started to bother me: where are people going to get bowler hats? Will not having an easy source of bowler hats and/or beards be a deterrent? So I did some googling (as one does) and was delighted to find Bring Back Bowler Hats, the blog/website of Bowler Hat Day 2009. I kid you not: on Friday 13th February, 2009, half a million City workers (okay maybe not quite all of them) went to work in bowler hats. The event was even covered in the Financial Times.

As I guess you might expect of City-folk, they solved the whence-bowler-hats problem in fashionable and profitable style. They convinced not one but three bowler-hat suppliers to donate 10% of their bowler hat sales to their selected charity, SOS Children's Villages. Their suppliers were http://www.hatsandthat.com/ , for fancy dress felt http://www.madworldfancydress.com/ on Tabernacle Street in the City, or plain old plastic www.onlinejokeshop.co.uk (though we frown on plastic here at the Beagle Project).

So I've sent an email to the address posted on Bring Back Bowler Hats asking them if they want to collaborate with The Beagle Project Blog in this special bowler hat flashmob honouring Charles Darwin and benefitting two charities: The HMS Beagle Project and the Galapagos Conservation Trust. I have yet to receive a reply...

*It can't be the Natural History Museum as it closes its doors at 18:00 - perhaps Charing Cross Station as that's where Darwin would have alighted when he traveled from London from his home in Downe, Kent?

2 September 2009

Send a Grrl to Antarctica

Earlier this summer, we endorsed Beagle Project supporter and science blogger GrrlScientist in a competition to become the official blogger on a trip to Antarctica.

With one month to go, Grrl is in third place, but climbing fast. If you are lacking the motivation to spend the ten seconds or so it takes to vote for Grrl, please consider that in second place is Donny Osmond's son, who is receiving voting support from his father (that world-renowned authority on science communication) and from the Mormons (that world-renowned authority on science communication). If Don wins, we can expect the following gems from Antarctica (excerpted from his contest entry):

Every moment of every breath is a gift give to us, which we should embrace. Live life in crescendo. … Life is a journey, not a destination. Those who embrace this mantra find happiness and adventure in every facet of life.

So there's your reason to vote against Don Osmond, but why should you vote for Grrl? Grrl's been blogging longer than the other contestants - and the thing is, she's good. She's demonstrated for years that she represents and promotes our values (science, conservation, environmentalism) through clear, knowledgeable writing. Her mystery bird series is a reader favourite - and, my friends, it is in need of some penguins!

Follow this link to vote for Grrl.

And remember, one vote per email address (and who has just one?).