Climate change, exoplanets and Friday 13th

I can’t believe the science festival is finished!  I’ve had a great time for the last 2 weeks.

I didn’t get round to writing about Friday’s events when they happened, so here’s a round-up of the last 3 adult events (a brief write-up of my fun kids’ day on Saturday will be on Clicket tomorrow – I may also write a bit more about it here in a day or two).

I’d been hearing good things about Richard Wiseman’s ‘beginner’s guides’ which were running at lunchtime last week, so I was pleased that I had tickets for Richard Wiseman’s Beginner’s Guide to Climate Change. I really liked the concept – a single interviewee (Stuart Haszeldine) answering questions from Richard Wiseman that started from really simple fundamental ones.  They were a fun double act and I thought they covered the material really well.  Colin Shelbourn’s given a fab cartoonised summary of the talk here – and there’s a brief account by CraftyGreenPoet here.

Climate change talk

I particularly liked the overhead drawings (using one of those pens that copies what you draw on paper) so we could keep track of the discussion.  More use of that please!  I think it also slows down the conversation to make sure it stays understandable.  I knew most of the material covered, but there were a few facts that certainly made me pause, and Stuart Haszeldine was very persuasive about how “we are borrowing quality of life from the future”.  Watch out for the resource crunch and societal breakdown…

The Edinburgh Skeptics had been running the marvellous Fringe of Reason all week (which was fab at the Fringe last year) but I only got round to going on Friday – as did apparently the entire population – some impressive overcrowding (you need to get comfortable with throwing people out, dude, because we’d all feel really stupid if we died in a fire at a talk about Friday 13th).  Friday’s talk was by Stuart Wilson (beer in hand) and was on the psychology of superstition.  It wasn’t quite what I expected, but, for once, this was in a good way.  I expected ‘look at these silly people and the silly things they believe’ and instead got cognitive biases, how our intuitive thinking pathways get things wrong and the explanation that “we are causally hungry” – we like stories not statistics!  Great talk, and Stuart Wilson was pretty good at dealing with the audience participation (this is not an audience that sits politely till question time).

Last night was the final event of the festival – a collaboration between the Royal Observatory Edinburgh and Edinburgh College of Art film students called Wish You Were Here? Searching for Exoplanets.  This event was a premiere of the films, followed by a discussion with two of the scientists featured.

I really enjoyed  the two shorts and I enjoyed how they probed the motivation of the exoplanet scientists (Mr Woodsmoke would have preferred them to have a bit more science).  The first film, Into Deep Space (Anne Milne and Alberto Iordanov), featured observational and theoretical exoplanet astronomers (Grant Miller and Duncan Forgan) and had some really memorable shots – particularly the telescope being reflected in the window in the early shot, and the one of the laughing astronomers all holding globes (that one could have done with being put in context a little more, but it was a great scene).

The second film Close Distance (Stefano Nurra and Florian Schwarz) was an interesting juxtaposition of the life of a professional astronomer (Martin Dominik) and a citizen scientist (Carolyn Bol).  I thought this was a great idea for a film, and it really wrapped up the science festival for me since the first day had Chris Lintott talking about citizen science! I liked the wobbly black-and-white animation and the very down-to-earth setting in the homes of the protagonists.  I’d like to see a longer version of this – I thought it had something interesting to say.

Marek Kukula chaired a really enjoyable and wide-ranging discussion with Martin Dominik and Duncan Forgan covering the making of the films, science communication, exoplanet discovery, exoplanet formation, astrobiology and ‘what’s your favourite planet’ (answers: Saturn, Earth, any one that hasn’t been discovered yet).  My only criticism was that it would have been nice to have a little more time for the many audience questions.  But I am very excited at the prospect of an exomoon being the next big thing to be discovered!  I find it amazing that when I was an undergraduate in 1995-1999 the very first exoplanets were being discovered and each one was amazing, but now there are hundreds.

The films are touring – go and see them when you get a chance!  And let me know if there are any good science things coming up.  I’m going to get withdrawal symptoms!

Note: Clicket gave me a free ticket to the climate change talk.  The others were free to everyone – bargain!  

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