Nathalie Jonsson

Science Writer 

  1. The Search for Female Science Writers

    I present to you: a nice post on the fate of female scientists in the public eye.

    But finding this post wasn’t as straight forward as finding things online usually is.

    When you Google female science writer on science writing the first result is a to a post where a male science writer picks his favourite female writers in honour of some celebratory day.

    The second is a man giving some tips on how to be a good science writer.

    The third results is a post from the Association of Science Writers redirecting to the first celebratory post.

    The fourth is finally a post trying to address the lack of well-known female science writers. Unfortunately, this is a horrendous attempt at starting a debate (not only because the female author apologises for her text within the first 10 lines). The first reason for male bias in science writing is that men have more time than women. Naturally, we are all part-time house wives and don’t have time for twitter like our male counterparts. In the end, there does not seem to be any interest in change. These are some thrown-together reasons for why women can’t be science writers on the same basis as men – now base all your future discussions on that and go out and face the world, woman!

    The fifth is a piece written by a woman about how the Canadian’s a losing touch with local environmental research.

    The sixth result is finally something that I would expect to find having done a search on female science writers. But like so many times before, in my random search for somethings interesting to read, I have stumbled upon something much bigger than that. Next I will look into the Finkbeiner test.

  2. Creating Without An Audience In Mind

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    As part of her job as a judge, my mother provided the legal perspective on cases where offenders with mental illness wanted to be released from mental care. One of these people was an inventor, who had patented and prototyped a tool to wedge key rings open. It was an unexpectedly useful little piece of plastic. My mother and I were both confused by this one individual who had invented a solution to an everyday problem, but also obsessively drew the wolves that he was sure would eat him alive in his dreams.

    Today I find myself thinking: Why not? Just because many of the synapses in this man’s brain got it wrong, does not necessarily mean that they never got it right.

    With this story in mind, I entered the Wellcome Collection’s latest exhibition ‘Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan’, displaying art made by people diagnosed with mental conditions. Until 30 June, outsider art made by 46 untrained artists in mental care is on display after being hidden until recent years.

    It is easy to fall for the temptation of finding traces of mental illness throughout this exhibition. Some of the works were produced through ritual. Komei Bekki’s numerous clay faces were produced in the nude at the same time every day. This could be a part of artistic expression, but due to the circumstances it is easy to attribute it to mental health. It also made me more prone to label other works obsessive, like Norimitsu Kokubo’s impressive cityscapes of places he has never visited. I spent some time reflecting over how obsessive behaviours can be difficult to break since they in many cases provide a sense of control.

    Many of the artists in the exhibition experience difficulty to communicate verbally and have discovered freedom in producing visual art. This is not necessarily unique for these artists, but must be more frustrating than for other artists. Not only if the illness itself makes it hard to put words on feelings, but the fact that treatment often revolves around talking must make these artists feel inadequate and like they are fighting an eternal battle.

    Something that is unique for these artists are the materials used in their works, like Masado Obata’s works on cardboard collected from the care facility he lives in; or Koichi Fujino who can only complete work by saving a quota of ink from an atelier he attends. These both make me think of what materials are at the disposal of the artist, but also the limitation in supplies that are imposed on them due to their particular situation.

    Ironically, for art described as ‘created without an audience in mind’, these works do speak to the viewer and tell compelling stories of these artists. They show the limitations of living with a mental illness, everyday details of a life in care and in a few cases the dark thoughts and fears that haunt them. But, I left with the feeling that humans are truly creative, no matter their mental state and perhaps that producing art, in any way you enjoy, is really good therapy.

  3. How To Stop Your Brain DJ

    Research into the matter of how catchy songs stick in the back of your mind shows that what you do while listening to certain songs can determine whether or not they will haunt you forever.

    That is good, because that also helps us figure out what can be done to escape those songs that play on repeat in your brain, or…er, earworms (ugh!).

  4. The Genes That Cause Cancer

    As predicted by James Randerson, environment and science editor at the Guardian, at yesterday’s masterclass How to be a science journalist, today’s big science news is a huge study looking at the genetic risk of developing some of the most common cancers.

  5. Is Changing The Public Opinion On Science A Mission For Special Agents Only?

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    In science you are often told that there are no stupid questions and that if you don’t ask questions you will never get to know the answers.

    With that in mind, the European Commission thought that best way to find out the publics’ opinion on science was to ask them. And so in 2005, they conducted a EU-wide survey across 25 of the EU countries, where almost 33.000 people were asked about their attitude towards and knowledge about science and technology.

    The numbers vary greatly between countries, but overall the survey sheds light on the current state of science. It has some good news for those trying to report on science and gives valuable insight into the publics’ main problems with science communication.

    The good news is: fortunately, Europeans are quite interested in science and technology.

    A majority (78%) said they were very or moderately interested in both, ‘new inventions and technologies’ and ‘new scientific discoveries’. As perhaps expected, very interested people tended to be: males, younger (15-24 years), students, managers, highly educated and living in large towns.

    Not only were people interested, but many also felt like they were poorly informed about new inventions and technologies (35%) and new scientific discoveries (37%). These are essentially the opposite of the previous category: females, older or retired people, low level of education and living in rural areas. What would be the best and most efficient way to quench these peoples’ thirst for science? How do you engage those who have no previous knowledge and no science degrees? To help answer that question it could be useful to look at what is putting people off science.

    Those who in the initial poll declared to not have any interests at all in new inventions and technologies (21%) and new scientific discoveries (20%), were further probed to give their reasons. Most claimed to not understand (32%), but almost as many said they just didn’t care (31%) and some thought they didn’t need it (16%). And personally, I see the potential to easily sway those reasons (especially the last two) with some clear and exciting facts. I blame the scientists themselves for not being able to persuade the general public that what they do matters. Scientist often present their data to other scientist, often in the same fields and any discussions that arise very detailed, which most likely is why only a small minority (10%) say that they regularly or occasionally attend scientific debates or lectures.

    These results make it apparent that the average science report out there is not working. They are not conveying all of that that interesting information that you, or someone else, spent precious time looking up. People are interested in reading about science and know that there is a lot more to learn, but the essential information about why the science matters or why it is useful to them goes unnoticed. People feel like they don’t understand, think that they don’t need it, or have not yet been persuaded to get involved.

    So, to change what people think of science, let’s change how we write and talk about science.

  6. Can Science In The US Be Saved From Religion?

    Zack Kopplin was only 14 years old in 2008, when the Louisiana Science Education Act passed in Louisiana. The law allows creationism to be taught in public schools and for the current findings on climate to be denied. Apparently, the law was passed to allow teachers who wanted to scientifically challenge evolution to do so, and to teach their students critical thinking in science.

    Which sounds noble, but very much seems like an opportunity root religious beliefs: All research speaks in favour of evolution and the challenging idea that this theory is wrong does not come from within the scientific community. It comes from religion. And the only arguments against evolution are found in holy scriptures.

    Today, Zack Kopplin is a science education activist and student at Rice University in Houston, US and on Friday he shared his struggle to kill similar laws in other states throughout the US in the Guardian.

    He has been successful in many states but has many more states to go. The struggle goes on.

  7. Share Your False Memories

    The 25th Edinburgh International Science Festival starts tomorrow and is held until the 7 April.

    As part of the spectacle, artist AR Hopwood has a touring project entitled False Memory Archive. It is an outcome from his Wellcome Trust funded residency at the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmith’s, University of London.

    The reason for collecting false memories, things that you believe you recollect but later find out never happened, is unknown.

    But I have a feeling that it might be uncovered in Edinburgh in the next two weeks.

  8. Show Me The Money: UK Science Budget 2013

    George Osborne, Minister of Finance in the UK (or more cryptically Chancellor of the Exchequer and Second Lord of the Treasury of the United Kingdom), has been busy lately.

    Yesterday he released the budget for 2013.

    In times of austerity, frozen bank accounts and letters slipping form the UK credit rating, how much future money will go into science? The Guardian took the time to listen to Mr Osborne’s budget speech yesterday and wrote some conclusions for the future of science in the UK.