No funny business in science communication, and tracking science from the Red Centre to WA and into the world of stories

Inspiring Australia

The Inspiring Australia family has gotten a bit bigger and noisier, with the launch of the new opinion and discussion website, No Funny Business.

This site was created by the Australian Science Communicators and ScienceRewired, with articles provided by Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science at ANU, but it belongs to the science engagement community as a place to share views and ideas on how we do our jobs. So head on over and make your voice heard!

You may have also noticed a grey bar appear at the top of that website and This is our way of connecting to and searching across the rest of our extended family, with links to National Science Week and the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science.

The Prime Minister’s Prizes are of course the biggest event on the IA calendar, and we like to think in Australian science as well. Big congratulations to Professor Terry Speed and all the other winners, who were honoured at Parliament House on 30 October.

From glitz and glamour back to guts and grit, we’re continuing to showcase the science engagement work being done around the country. In this newsletter you can read about what happened in the Red Centre during National Science Week, discover ecological story locations from Tasmania to Arnhem Land, and be inspired by IA’s regional work throughout Western Australia.

Please feel free to pass this newsletter on to your colleagues, and keep an eye on our website and Twitter feed @inspiringaus for more updates. And as ever, if you have news or events you’d like to share, please submit through the website or email me at


Chris Lassig
Science in Public Pty Ltd
In this bulletin:

No funny business here…

Talking about science communication

Screenshot of the No Funny Business website, showing a blog post on optimising formal and informal science education
Can science and politics ever mix? How do we fight the monsters of climate change and the trolls of the internet? Do we need to make science communication more scientific?

So much is happening in science in the world today, much of it very close to where we live. Many around Australia have expressed a desire for a forum where we can hold honest conversations about science in society and how it is affecting us, both now and in the future. With increasing controversy about a number of contested science issues globally, now more than ever, having a national space dedicated to discussing the communication of science matters.

We are delighted to bring to you, a new place for exploring science communication issues, highlighting science communication successes, and engaging your networks and public in online science commentary and events.

We’re aiming to make the site as useful and user-friendly to members of the Australian science community as possible. Our team is continuing to develop tools to both showcase and talk about the communication of science, controversial or not. They are also exploring ways to enable online live events, project showcases and more.

Recent posts to the site include:

No Funny Business is a community owned site managed by team members from three organisations: the Australian Science Communicators, the Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science at ANU and ScienceRewired.

New content is delivered to the site every week by our team, their networks, and you!
Already you can share your view, schedule hosted discussions and include your project for the world to see. The site is shared across a professional network of thousands, providing you a platform for science views that matter.

You can contact the NFB team to find out more at

Mapping the science in Australian stories

Ecological themes in film and literature located online

Moonrise over Moon Plain

Moonrise at The Breakaways, overlooking Moon Plain. Located just north of Coober Pedy, this location features as the post-apocalyptic landscape in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome and it doubles as the Maralinga nuclear test site in Ground Zero.

The Australian environment is the most common recurring character in our books, movies and plays. Now a project called Locating Science is mapping the ways in which stories shape our understanding of the landscape and its ecosystems. Associate Professor Jane Stadler and her team from the University of Queensland have created an online map of story locations to serve as a starting point for digging into the relationship between ecological science and narratives in works ranging from Nevil Shute’s On the Beach to the 2011 film The Hunter.

“Films and novels provide a space in which to dramatise and communicate concerns regarding environmental science,” says Assoc Prof Stadler. “By combining scientific information with cultural representations we’re providing a portrait of the land and its people, and offering a glimpse of some of Australia’s most remote locations in regions that are rich in both natural resources and cultural heritage.”

For Tim Winton’s Dirt Music, for instance, this includes geographically-pinpointed extracts from the novel, along with fact sheets on asbestos mining, commercial fishing and King Sound, which has the second highest tides in the world.

These resources also link to social media, encouraging debate on land management practices that are bound up in our nation’s cultural heritage and their ecological impacts, such as extinctions, erosion and damming waterways.

Locating Science is a showcase feature of the Cultural Atlas of Australia, an interactive digital map that allows students, scholars or travellers to trace the ways in which Australian places and spaces have been represented in plays, novels, and films. Users can search by location, by title or author, or by year.

Find out more at

Evaluation tools from Inspiring Australia

Measuring the success of your science engagement activities

A simple bean poll, where people are asked to put a bean in a bottle labelled Yes or No in response the question Do all plants contain genes?A bean poll is a simple way to get a snapshot of attendees’ response to an event, by asking a single questionEvaluation is an important part of science engagement – how else can you know you’re getting it right? But evaluating can itself be tricky, which is where the new Inspiring Australia online resources can help.

Assistant Professor Jo Elliott and Associate Professor Nancy Longnecker of the University of Western Australia have prepared templates for paper-based and online surveys, as well as tips for observing participants in the wild or getting a simplified view with a “bean poll”.By using these tools you can also contribute to research that will help in the design of future programs. The survey templates use standard questions, and you’re invited to submit your audience’s responses for evaluation of activities across Australia.

The UWA team will then collate these responses and provide you with an evaluation summary. De-identified results will roll up into the larger research program.

You can find all these resources, with advice on setting aims and outcomes, as well as frequently asked questions, online at

Science Week in the Red Centre

Tanya Ha reports from the desertSMART EcoFair

Tanya Ha and Costa Georgiadis in a garden at the desertSMART EcoFair
desertSMART EcoFair guests Tanya Ha and Costa Georgiadis

I love National Science Week. This year, I got to attend the desertSMART EcoFair in Alice Springs, an initiative supported by an Inspiring Australia grant. Along with other environmentally-minded guest speakers, comedians, students and workshop organisers, it gave me the chance to ‘preach beyond the converted.’ The EcoFair has become Central Australia’s premier sustainability event, giving the local community a chance to engage with local scientists and visiting sustainability experts and speakers. It’s organised by the Arid Lands Environment Centre in partnership with the beautiful Olive Pink Botanic Gardens. I was one of several visiting green guests this year, along with comedian and climate change commentator Rod Quantock, Australian Youth Climate Coalition Indigenous Youth Leader Amelia Telford, and academic Bill Gammage, author of ‘The Biggest Estate on Earth’. The ever-popular and effervescent Costa Georgiadis, from the ABC’s Gardening Australia, was also in town for the EcoFair, running ‘The Science of Gardening’ workshops. When I arrived, EcoScience Schools Day was in full swing, with students taking part in hands-on energy, water, waste, science and technology workshops. The experts who ran the workshops were real scientists from organisations like Engineers without Borders, Land for Wildlife and the Department of Land Resource Management. It was great to see school kids learning science is so much more than what they see on The Big Bang Theory. The kids’ enthusiasm was infectious, with many later saying, “I want to be a scientist when I grow up!”

A small bird perched on a metal emu in a bird-attracting garden
Demonstrating bird-attracting gardens, the pretend bird attracts a real one

Next was Café Scientific, the National Science Week Launch, live and on the airwaves via a 783 ABC outside broadcast. Rod, Costa and I had chats with presenter Brendan Phelan about science, climate change and hope. The outside broadcast included a science quiz, with locals testing their knowledge to compete for great prizes, such as a telescope.Rod and I were guest speakers for the desertSMART Gala Event dinner, which also saw the launch of desertSMART Roadmap 2013-2015 – a sustainability blueprint for Alice Springs. It’s a crucial time for eco-efforts in Alice Springs. They’ve come to the end of funding from the Alice Solar Cities and Water Smart initiatives. These funds have put solar panels on the roofs of buildings, improved the energy efficiency of the hospital, trained Energy Champions, implemented water efficiency retrofits and more. The Gala Event was a great opportunity to recognise and celebrate past successes, and to refocus on future challenges.My talk was about communication and collaboration, recognising that we can’t assume the people we engage with think in the same way we do. Funding has put great programs and technology in place in Alice Springs, but it is people power that will drive it to a more sustainable future. We wish them all the best!

783 ABC's Brendan Phelan chats with Jimmy Cocking at an outdoor broadcast
783 ABC’s Brendan Phelan chats with Jimmy Cocking from the Arid Lands Environment Centre

Travelling all over the countryside with Kerry Mazzotti

Meet Western Australia’s Inspiring Australia officer

Inspirer of Western Australians, Kerry Mazzotti

Inspirer of Western Australians, Kerry Mazzotti

A love of meeting people from different backgrounds and a bug for travel are surely essential requirements for Kerry Mazzotti’s challenge of coordinating science engagement across the biggest state in Australia.

Kerry is one of eight state and territory Inspiring Australia Officers who support science communication and engagement projects, help them gain publicity and enable local collaboration.

What is your background?

I did my undergraduate degree in Environmental Science. I realised pretty quickly that I was more interested in talking about research than conducting it so went on to be a Science Circus Scholar in the Questacon Science Circus. After completing a Graduate Diploma in Science Communication as part of that course, I stayed on with the Questacon Outreach team for another couple of years presenting their careers program to high school students right across the country, from Nhulunbuy to Nannup and Rockhampton to Renmark.

With a full blown case of the travel bug, I set off for North America and landed a position in the Community Engagement team at Science World in Vancouver, once again travelling to regional areas across the province to enthuse people about science, this time with the Scientists in Schools program.

With a few detours and pit-stops along the way, I am now based at Scitech in Perth, still focussed on community science engagement including National Science Week and the Inspiring Australia Initiative.

What was your first job?

Check-out chick at Franklins.

What inspires you?

I am continually inspired by nature, and the scientists that study it. Nature was the reason I got into science in the first place, and I believe this is the gateway for many people. Science is about asking how the world works, and before you start asking the bigger questions, you start by asking questions inspired by nature like ‘Why does it smell nice after it rains?’ ‘Why are the sky and ocean blue?’ ‘Why do all of these animals only come out at night?’ And suddenly, before you know, you are a science enthusiast.

What Inspiring Australia initiatives are happening in your area?

In WA, Inspiring Australia supports Regional Community Science Engagement Groups in 6 regional hubs across the state, including Broome, Geraldton, Bunbury, Albany, Esperance and Kalgoorlie, with key individuals and organisations being supported in Karratha.

In this way, a year round calendar of science engagement events, relevant to local communities, is being developed. Examples include the Esperance Science Engagement Group recently running an event based on the science of brewing beer in a local cafe, and a presentation by an archaeologist at Karratha Public Library. These events are put on by the community and for the community, making them popular and relevant. For more examples of past events see

Is there a success story or two that stand out?

Inspiring Australia in WA supported facial anthropologist Dr Susan Hayes to travel the state and share her passion for forensics and anthropology.

Dr Hayes loaded up 18 replica skulls into her white campervan and headed north. While on the road she gave free public talks in libraries, community centres, schools and caravan parks, based on both the forensic and anthropological sides of her work.

She also ran drawing and clay modelling workshops inviting participants into the world of facial approximation.

As well as encouraging our regional science engagement groups to run their own events on the ground, it’s great to be able to link them up with travelling experts such as Dr Susan Hayes. It provides the groups with an extra resource, and also provides the expert with networks in the regional centres. We have also done a similar thing with innovation guru, Dr Ed Sobey, and Whale Shark conservation and education group ECOCEAN.

This one really stands out because Dr Hayes is an inspirational scientist and researcher but also passionate about sharing her science with others. Luckily for us, she is also a keen traveller!

What are the science strengths of your state or territory?

WA is strong across many fields. One example includes astronomy, with our involvement in the Square Kilometre Array, a mega science project aiming to build the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope.

Tell us about your favourite science-related TV show or movie

Does Breaking Bad count?

What are you currently reading?

I just finished a novel called Feed, by M.T. Anderson describing a future where we all have implants to connect us to a Facebook like program that connects us, through status updates and advertising, to the world around us. I love science fiction when it looks at the social implications of advances in technology.

What is the best thing about your job?

The best thing about my job is getting to interact with people from a broad cross section of the community with one thing in common, an interest in science. Whether it be a keen librarian interested in astronomy, an enthusiastic school teacher fascinated by physics or an eager community volunteer who is a budding botanist, my favourite thing is to help them share their passion with others. Curiosity is contagious!

If you could give science communicators one piece of advice, what would it be?

Talk to the people around you. While science communication is a relatively new field, there are still so many resources and so much experience out there for you to tap into. That way you can expend your energy on new and creative ways to engage people in science, rather than re-inventing the wheel.

Read more Questions and Answers with Kerry at the Inspiring Australia website.

Best of the Bytes

The original science LOLcat?
Last time we introduced Inspiring Australia’s first science LOLcat, but it seems this may be a tradition stretching back many years. Below is a picture from the Powerhouse Museum’s online collection, dating back to 1931.

Communication in Science: Pressures and Predators

In their 4 October issue, the journal Science included a special section on “Communication in science: pressures and predators,” covering current controversies and the history of science publishing.

It includes an in-depth investigation into the amount of scrutiny at open-access journals, which as you might expect from the source, finds them wanting. However, this and all the other articles in this section are themselves available for free access.

Read online at:

#onsci – monthly science communication chat on Twitter

In 2011, Bridge8, Sarah Keenihan and Heather Bray decided they wanted to take online their conversations on what’s new and interesting in communicating science. The result was #onsci, and it’s been held roughly once a month ever since.

Discussions take place at 9-10pm Australian Eastern Standard Time (GMT+10), and are announced via the @onsci Twitter account. To be involved, all you have to do is follow and tweet using the #onsci hashtag.

More information at

Twitter: #onsci

Major science events

30 November [VIC] – Communicating (and understanding) future technologies in medicine

As technology changes the world, how do we keep the public on side? How do we communicate the potential of transformative technologies without making promises which can’t be kept? And, as members of the public, how do we check the facts?

Join moderator Dr Shane Huntington (Einstein a go go) and guest scientists Megan Munsie (Stem Cells Australia) and Melanie Thomson (biomedical researcher from Deakin University) for a panel discussion on communicating the potential and pitfalls of future technologies.

When: 3.30 pm

Where: Kaleide Theatre, RMIT University

This session is being hosted by the Australian Science Communicators as a part of the Science, Technology and the Future Conference.

More information at

2-5 February [QLD] – Australian Science Communicators National Conference

Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre

This year’s themes are:

  • Insight – how can we get better insight into audiences, stakeholders and wider contexts?
  • Impact – how do we know we are making a difference?
  • Innovation – how do we do things differently?

Early-bird registrations are open until 15 November 2013.

More information at

Awards & prizes

21 November [WA] – Western Australian Science Awards: Award ceremony

The WA Science Awards recognise and celebrate the achievements of the State’s science community and highlight the important role of science in Western Australia. Award categories include Scientist of the Year, Early Career Scientist of the Year, Student Scientist of the Year, Science Ambassador of the Year and Science Engagement initiative of the Year.

More information at

28 November [National] – The Australian Innovation Challenge:

Award ceremony

The Australian newspaper has partnered with Shell to present the Australian Innovation Challenge, recognising game-changing innovation in fields including minerals and energy, manufacturing and hi-tech design, education, health, ICT, community services, environment, agriculture and food.

More information at

13 December [National] – Unsung Hero of Australian Science Communication:

Nominations close

The Australian Science Communicators (ASC) offer this award to a person, or group of people, whose contribution to science communication has been so significant over a period of time that they should by now have been recognised. The award will be presented during the Australian Science Communicators National Conference.

More information at