Secret Simpsons maths; and science reporting here, Chicago and Korea

Bulletins, Media bulletins

In this bulletin:

  • How many maths PhDs does it take to produce the Simpsons?
  • Bushfires – are we getting better at surviving? AusSMC briefing tomorrow
  • What are the big issues for Australian science in 2014?
  • How to find a scientist in a hurry and other resources for journos

This week in Melbourne, Simon Singh will reveal how the writing team behind The Simpsons and Futurama have smuggled deep maths ideas into both series – from jokes about pi to Homer’s accidental trip into a 3D world. He has time for a few interviews.

We are holding a few media tickets to a talk and reception tomorrow (Tues) evening hosted by AMSI, the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute. All public events are booked out.

Simon is a mathematician, TV presenter and author who loves Fermat’s Last Theorem, cryptography and the Big Bang. His most notorious book, “Trick or Treatment”, put alternative medicine on trial. But then he himself was put on trial by UK chiropractors in a landmark case that has led to reform of UK libel laws.

The Australian Science Communicators conference, from 2-5 Feb, will help anyone with an interest in science and science reporting.

Join Australia’s science leaders and science story-tellers of all stripes in Brisbane for three days of intense networking and professional development.

Jake Sturmer from the ABC and Lyndal Byford from the AusSMC will join me to discuss how science news reporting is changing, and what turns science into news for them.

Other highlights include:

  • The heads of our science agencies on their challenges: a conversation with the heads of the ARC and NHMRC, Aidan Byrne and Warwick Anderson
  • How is the science beat changing? What’s the role of traditional mastheads in breaking science news?
  • Contentious science – evidence vs rhetoric in climate change, fracking, vaccination. What’s balance?
  • What does the community think about science and how do they react to what they’re told?
  • Plus lots of professional development for freelance science writers and feature writers

The Simpsons and their Mathematical Secrets

Meet Simon Singh: mathematician, particle physicist and crusader against alternative medicine

British author Simon Singh is in Melbourne this week to talk about his latest book, on how the writing team behind The Simpsons and Futurama have smuggled deep maths ideas into both series – from jokes about pi to Homer’s accidental trip into a 3D world.

He’s free for a couple of interviews – let me know if you’d like to meet him.

His public talk tomorrow night booked out in a day – which is some measure of Simon’s popularity.

After his lecture tomorrow, he’ll join a private reception hosted by AMSI, the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute. We have a few reserved tickets for both events.

About his book:

You may have watched hundreds of episodes of The Simpsons, but did you know that the writing team is bursting with maths PhDs? And that the series contains enough mathematics to form the basis of a university course?

Simon Singh, former CERN physicist and author of the bestseller ‘Fermat’s Last Theorem’, lifts the lid on how this mathematically gifted team of writers has covered everything from calculus and geometry, pi and game theory to infinitesimals and infinity throughout the extraordinarily long life of The Simpsons.

Some of the references are as plain as day, whilst others are hidden gems – glimpsed only in freeze frame – inviting discovery by mathematically curious viewers. His book reveals how the writers of The Simpsons have made it their subversive mission to smuggle deep mathematical ideas into mainstream popular culture.

Using episodes like “Bart the Genius” and “Homer3” as jumping-off points, Singh brings to life the most profound mathematical concepts. Read about Homer’s Last Theorem, read a digestible history of Apu’s favourite number, pi (3.142…), and meet some great mathematicians from the past.

“Simon Singh’s excellent book blows the lid off a decades-long conspiracy to secretly educate cartoon viewers.” –  David X. Cohen, writer for The Simpsons and Futurama


Bushfires – are we getting better at surviving? AusSMC briefing tomorrow

  • What’s the role of climate change in the future of bushfires?
  • How do land management practices like back-burning impact fire risk?
  • How do we make decisions to stay and defend or leave?

Tomorrow (Tuesday) at 10.30am, the AusSMC are hosting one of their regular background briefings for journalists. It’s your chance to ask experts from the Bushfire CRC to explain the latest in bushfire science.

More on that session at:

The AusSMC is an incredible resource for any journalist – they’ll help you find credible scientists to comment on almost any science-based issue.

They are an independent, not-for-profit service for journalists. If they’re not already in your contact book, they really should be.

If you’re struggling to understand a big issue, the AusSMC will help you get your head around it. They have no agenda other than to inject science into reporting, so they’ll offer scientists on all sides of an issue such as nuclear energy.

And you can get ahead of the science news cycle with their regular bulletins:

  • Rapid reactions – from natural disasters to science policy, they’ll pull together expert comments within hours.
  • Briefings on big issues in science, like climate change or stem cell research
  • Twice-weekly heads-up email on embargoed research from Nature, PNAS, Science and others.

Science writers and journalists in Australia and overseas

In Brisbane next month the Australian Science Communicators is holding its biennial conference – and journalists and science reporters are very welcome.

The ASC welcomes anyone with an interest in science reporting. It’s the peak body for all science story-tellers, and counts Robyn Williams, Leigh Dayton, and Wilson da Silva among its foundation members.

The Australian Science Communicators and our sister organisation the Australasian Medical Writers Association both offer networking and professional development to journalists and communicators.

I think the ASC and the conference are a good resource for anyone whose round includes health, environment, science, agriculture or technology – read more about why journos should be involved in the ASC.

There are also several international organisations which host conferences for science journalists and communicators.

In 2007, you may remember we hosted the World Conference of Science Journalists in Melbourne, and in 2009, the World Congress of Science and Factual Producers.

The next big ones are in Brazil, Korea and China – and there’s a good chance they’ll hook on trips and tours. Last year in Finland for the World Conference of Science Journalists, I explored the lakes of Finland and midnight sauna.

American Association for the Advancement of Science

Chicago, February 2014

Alongside the scientists and engineers, the AAAS annual conference program brings in policymakers, educators and journalists.

It is so big that the press program has just about become a satellite conference. The ABC’s Robyn Williams and Norman Swan are there most years.  This year I’m hosting a dinner for science journalists on 16 February.

Registration is free for journalists.

World Conference of Science Journalists

South Korea, 2015

Melbourne hosted this conference in 2007, and next year it’s coming back to the region – to South Korea.

It usually draws diverse range of journalists from the developed and the developing world.

The ABC’s Natasha Mitchell has just finished a term as vice-president of the Federation.

World Congress of Science and Factual Producers

China, November 2014

Hosted in Beijing this year by CCTV9, China Central Television’s documentary channel, this conference will bring together the world’s documentary makers – science, history and other specialist factual broadcasting.

It’s an industry conference, and they usually have delegates from the big documentary channels and production houses.

Last year’s conference was hosted by the Discovery channel, and in 2009 it came to Melbourne, with the ABC as the host broadcaster.

13th International Public Communication of Science and Technology Conference

Brazil, May 2014

This one’s more for the communicators – they focus on how science can foster social inclusion and political engagement. But there are also some sessions for journalists and writers.

The chair of their scientific committee is an Aussie, Toss Gascoigne.

Australasian Medical Writers Association

The AMWA is a professional association those specialising in health and medical writing, with members from Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia.

They offer mentoring from experienced writers and editors, and a professional development program. If you’re trying to crack it as a freelance science writer, they have lots of resources to support you.

They are a diverse group – like the Australian Science Communicators, they have members who are practicing doctors and nurses, professional communicators, researchers and journalists.

Science in Public – our role

We’re always happy to help. Our work is funded by the science world – from the Prime Minister’s Science Prizes to Nature. We’re keen to suggest interesting people and stories – and not just those of our clients’.

If you’re looking for ideas or people for features we know hundreds of science prize winners past, present, and future and are always happy to chew the fat about the developing themes in Australian science.