My talk was Friday morning at 10am, on the title given above. This wasn’t my choice– when I volunteered to be on programming, I said some general areas that I’d be willing to talk about, and left it at that. Somebody else made up the title and description for the talk, which made it very slightly like PowerPoint Karaoke. Happily, this is a topic I can easily discourse about, but I think in the future I’ll try to remember to suggest more specific talk titles…

I’ve posted the slides for the talk on SlideShare, and will attempt embedding them below:

(I hope that doesn’t break the blog…)

This is an image-heavy set of slides, as the last portion of the talk consists mostly of images representing various science-related books and media. You can more or less guess what would be said about them. The “Bunnies Made of Cheese” slide embeds an audio clip of the CNET Buzz podcast dramatic reading of the blog post, which I played on the tablet holding a microphone up to the speaker. The final text in the book is very slightly different, but it gets the key idea across without me having to do the dog voice forty minutes into the presentation.

The talk went very well, I thought (the usual oh-God-there-isn’t-a-projector panic aside– they got it there in plenty of time). I got some good questions afterwards, and continued the discussion out in the hall with a few people, which is always a good sign.

Other than that, Worldcon is, well, Worldcon. Half the freakin’ world is here, but I’ve seen a bunch of people I know, had a couple of good dinners, gone to some good parties, etc.. The “Philosophy of Science” panel is this morning, and Sunday evening is the panel on science blogging, both of which will revisit parts of the material from this talk, I’m sure.


  1. #1 Robert
    August 8, 2009

    I suggest you can learn from a scientist who effectively talked about science to over 600 million non-scientists: Carl Sagan.

    One of Sagan’s objectives was to get more funding for science. But he never told his audience “we need you to give us more funding,” or at least not that I can recall.

    Watch “Cosmos” if you haven’t seen it. If you have seen it, then try to emulate the teaching technique it in whatever way you think is appropriate.

  2. #2 CCPhysicist
    August 8, 2009

    Great talk. I especially liked the way you promoted other good books about science, going back to Gamov. Just because a book is old does not make it bad. Gamov is among the best, both the “Tompkins” books and “123 Infinity”.

    But I would have laughed out loud seeing the quote about “standing on the shoulders of giants” along with Hooke, since it is widely viewed as an Newton’s way of putting a snide insult in his letter to Hooke. Did you mention that and the reason Hooke’s law was first “published” that way?

  3. #3 Jennifer Ouellette
    August 8, 2009

    Fantastic slides, Chad. Sorry I missed the talk! and WorldCon, which sounds like blast…

  4. #4 Ed Martz
    August 9, 2009

    Looks like it was a terrific presentation. Another point in favor of the Galilean method of science dissemination is that is proven so effective for the charlatans who disseminate bad science.

  5. #5 Jonathan Vos Post
    August 9, 2009

    Well done!

  6. #6 Jonathan Cowie
    August 10, 2009

    I concur, we scientists really are a lazy lot. Go to a symposium where the organisers have had a press officer who have asked for half a page synopsis of papers being presented and you will be lucky to get a quarter of the scientists on the programme to respond…

    Your point about making science entertaining is well made..

    I would go further, it is not just ‘understanding’ but ‘enthusiasm’ for science as the latter engenders the former. Here SF helps.

    Anyway, congratulations on the talk.


  7. #7 Philip H
    August 10, 2009

    Fantastic post. Not trying to start anymore fights this week, but I have to ask how is this materially different the Unscientific America? And more to the point, why aren’t you getting all the nagative press for this radical idea that M&K are getting?

  8. #8 Jonathan Vos Post
    August 10, 2009

    Jonathan Cowie makes an interesting point. I’ve chaired sessions, tracks, plenary events at international science conferences, and thus been in the position of having to introduce scientists to the assembled crowd of other scientists, students, government officials, and the press, including several times Nobel laureates. Typically, they have provided me, through staff, and in my own prior email queries, a thumbnail bio and a paper that they are prod of. However, I have found it necessary to spend at least an hour each doing additional preparation, GoogleScholaring them (to exemplify the modern tool) and reading several of their papers, in order to explain in ,y introductory remarks what ELSE they’ve done, and a big picture of how there work relates to the theme(s) of the session and conference. Inevitably, the scientists, audience, and staff praise me for these contextual and bibliographic intros, which often include an entertaining anecdote pried loose. But shouldn’t EVERY scientist have such information available for anyone who asks, and not make it a process of pulling teeth? Gals and Guys — if you don’t self-promote and connect yourself to what excites the audience, you will rarely be bailed out by someone else who cares.

  9. #9 Norwegian Shooter
    August 18, 2009

    Great slides! An excellent example of how to do a presentation: visuals, visuals, visuals! While friends don’t let friends PowerPoint is funny, it simply isn’t realistic. Here’s a best practice – no more than 7 short text lines per slide.

    My comment is that the only way to create a lot more interest in science is to explicitly target an end-audience of kids, say 12 and under. Even if you’re talking to the published crowd, relate it in some way with how to get kids to do science. It will take a long time, but that’s the breaks.

  10. #10 Zephir
    August 18, 2009

    All these imperatives are good – but I’d recommend to make physics logical first. Which is impossible, until physicists understand it at logical level. Which is impossible, until the admit old trivial misconceptions done on behalf of formal, abstract math. In AWT the perspective of simplest logic possible and most exact perspective differs, being dual mutually.