Sunday 29 May 2011

Lost in Communication

This is completely unrelated to communicating geoscience, but it does deal with communication.

For the past two years a couple of housemates and myself have been keeping track of stupid things said by a final and two second year (science) students at a British University. Below are a selection of them for your enjoyment:

From Nikki (3rd year Sociology Student)

‘Does it really freak you out sometimes when you fall asleep?’

‘I want a proper big fur coat, like a dead polar bear’

‘You know percent, is it out of a hundred?’

‘You know those people who study chemistry what are they called?’

‘These brownies taste of kitchen’

‘You walk to the top of road turn left, then turn right’       “I can’t picture it”

‘Amy, are you still getting them fatty bits in your teas?

After watching Avatar ‘so they are on another planet’; that makes so much more sense’

Q: ‘So on Guernsey where do you get your drinking water from?’ A:’We’re surrounded by sea’

‘I’m more worried about the fat under my skin’

When Nikki was taking her CATs test her mother brought her a book on cats (feline)

‘Skydiving? What was it like? Like falling?’

While discussing travellers ‘I couldn’t be a gypsy living in a caravan because I don’t like packing suitcases.’

On discussing leap years ‘Oh, It’s a leap year this year – that’s good, I need more time’

Joe: ‘I want to go to Oktoberfest’           Nikki: ‘Is Oktoberfest a real thing?’

‘You exaggerate things by like a million, billion times’

‘I don’t want to watch it, I hate war films, I hate cowboys’

‘Who was Napoleon?’

‘I don’t eat bread, just rolls and toast’

‘Are mongoose real?’

‘That was well hard that where’s Wally?

‘What’s a Sea Snake?’

‘I’ve only drowned once, but I didn’t like it’

‘Abseiling, I thought that was something to do with boats’

‘What’s a manger [Mangeer]?’

When watching a Band of Brothers ‘Where are they fighting – is it Afghanistan?’

‘I was going to buy a poppy, but I didn’t know how to put it on’

‘Do you ever feel you need to re-arrange your face?’

‘She’s got a face like a slapped lemon’

‘Do people really live in the rainforest?’

‘Bananas give your brain energy and make you smart, that’s why monkeys are so clever 
because they eat them all the time’

‘Right, I’m really confused now, Dinosaurs were after Jesus’

Q: ‘Who were the Pilgrim Fathers?’ A: ‘A type of cheese?’

‘Wait. So dinosaurs were before Jesus?’

‘No! Jesus must have been before the dinosaurs because he made them!’

‘What? I thought Spinal Tap were a real band?’

‘They only put it in there to smite me’

‘The Romans went extinct’

‘A: What are the mountains between France & Spain called? N: The Andes. No. The Himalayas. No. The Rockys! ‘

‘Aren’t the Pilgrim Fathers a type of cheese?’

From Tom (2nd year Wildlife Conservation Student): 
The Freezer is too cold’

‘What’s Ice Cream made from?’

‘Route 66? That’s in South Africa isn’t it?’

‘Kabul? Is that in Russia?’

From Adam (2nd year Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology Student)
 ‘It’s been ages since I done bow and arrows’

Adam:  ‘There weren’t Romans around in Jesus time!’

Saturday 21 May 2011

Open House

Today, the University which I attend (although not for much longer!) held an open house day along the theme of ‘Exploration’ and I had the opportunity to take part in on the geosciences contribution towards the event. The outreach we were running (which is designed more to be fun, than educational) was a ‘dinosaur trackway’. Essentially children don on wellington boots with sponge dinosaur feet stuck onto the boots, which are dipped into ink and then children run down a long strip of paper – their stride is calculated and they are compared to a dinosaur – it’s a little more entertaining than I’ve described it; but that’s pretty much the gist of it.

The track way is always popular, I mean, it’s dinosaurs and the potential for mess – guaranteed to make children want to have a go; and although they leave with some knowledge of the geosciences (very limited... basically what dinosaur had a stride the same as theirs) it seems to me that a good opportunity of communicating geoscience is being squandered. Simply; a dinosaur trackway, although it may be appealing for little kids, older children seem to look at you with a look of ‘and... what now?’

I can’t help thinking something vaguely along the exploration line should have been provided – I mean geoscience is the science of finding stuff we need. Some economic minerals are fairly pretty and a fair few sparkle – why not tie in exploration and geoscience in that way? Or have some real bits of dinosaur – posters are all well and good, but something touchable is considerably more exciting and informative.

However, in terms of the actually event,  I noted a couple of things:

Happy children = happy parents: Important at this particular event which was being used as essentially a large PR exercise for the University.
Children want to do something: Maybe why this outreach has such a wide usage, the children are involved in making something and they seemed to enjoy it, which is the main thing.
Knowledge of the staff/volunteers: I am clueless about dinosaurs (in relation to an enthusiastic 7 year old) so when asked more complex questions I struggled a little (defusing the situation with hand gestures) . If you pitch too high– what if the volunteer can’t remember the lecture on oil stratigraphy? Or has never seen a lump of glittering ore?  This factor I guess, allows the trackway, although simple and limited to be used without fear of the cardinal sin of communication – getting something wrong.
It’s knackering: Don’t get me wrong, I love talking about rocks (just ask my girlfriend) but it is pretty exhausting particularly if you don’t really know what you’re talking about – it’s also not a pleasant experience! (the cluelessness, not the talking!)

Looking around the room the essence was more on fun than learning – the maths department had bubbles – and although I am a firm believer in transmitting information at any opportunity, perhaps offering fun for 80% of the time and information for the remaining 20% gave everyone a good experience. Which is what matters.


Friday 13 May 2011

Roman Knows

The Eternal City is still standing, it was not destroyed by a huge earthquake pronounced by Raffaele Bendandi, a self-taught seismologist who died in 1976, quite why people believe self taught ideas, or metaphysical ‘facts’ has long stumped me. After all I wouldn’t trust a self taught heart surgeon so why did the world, pay such attention to the ramblings of Bendandi?

Well, when he was alive he did fairly well, he predicted the January 13, 1915 which killed 30,000 people in Avezzano and also forecast the quake of May 6, 1976 in Friuli which killed 1,000 and left another 45,000 homeless. His prediction for yesterday prompted one in five residents of Rome stayed off work and children were kept out of school over earthquake fears in the end no earthquake (thankfully) materialised  – how then does this lack of earthquake benefit geoscience communication?.

A few months back, the threat of a ‘supermoon’ and the Japanese brought fears of mass earthquakes around the world due to extra-terrestrial events to mainstream attention, neither were connected – but science fiction generated fear and anxiety. Alberto Michelini, (Research Director of the INGV) is glad that these proclamations are made because then people in his field can “take advantage of this moment of fear and psychosis to try to explain what we do.” There is no doubt that when people are scared they are going to act and take in information, exactly how shock tactics for campaigns and charities work; The Italian Government, in a uncharacteriscally logical way, responded to the fears in a brilliant manner;

This generated significant public interest – and we can assume that some of that interest, derived from anxiety and fear percolated facts into people’s minds. In the end, there was no mass exodus from the city, nor any quake,

In the Chinatown area of Rome – residents shut shop and leave – ‘for family reasons’. Image from the Telegraph. Interestingly, China was one of the major predictors of Earthquakes – many of which were real.
The phone numbers also assisted in cooling people nerves, although perhaps concerning the most number of calls were from people enquiring as to what time the quake would strike,. This, to me at least illustrates that the publics’ knowledge of seismics if pretty limited – both that  they felt they needed to call and that they wanted a time to run for the hills. Maybe this false scare from the 70’s will build some knowledge.
In the end, an earthquake in Spain was the only similar event of the day, and my thoughts go out to those affected by that event.

In case you are wondering why there has been a little drought in the number of posts, it is because this blog was originally for a Communicating Geoscience module for my Masters (hence the name). This course has now been completed, so blog posts are playing second (or third) fiddle to my other work, namely 14,000 words on iron ore classification. They’ll be fresh posts periodically...