Particle science for dummies

cover for The particle at the end of the universeWe don’t notice our scientists all that much, especially women scientists. So it was encouraging to see the not so shy and retiring Dr Siouxsie Wiles (of the long pink hair) recently receiving the Prime Minister’s Science Media Communication Prize. It’s great that there are prizes for communication in science.

Here in Christchurch we’ve learnt to value scientists who can explain their field in plain language. Where would we have been without Mark Quigley when we all suddenly developed an intense interest in earthquakes?

The ability to communicate science can be the foundation of a successful career. Stephen Hawking became world famous for explaining the difficult bits of cosmology to us. Now  Sean Carroll, a theoretical physicist has tackled the Higgs Boson (or God) particle, one of the most esoteric of scientific concepts, in his book  The Particle at the End of the Universe.

The book won him the Royal Society’s Winton prize, always a useful in guide to the best in science writing each year. If he can make particle physics into something I can make sense of, he will have certainly have earned it.  The chair of the judging panel says

Carroll writes with an energy that propels readers along and fills them with his own passion. He understands their minds and anticipates their questions. There’s no doubt that this is an important, enduring piece of literature.”

Here in New Zealand we have the Callaghan medal and the Manhire Prize for Creative Science Writing, as well as The Royal Society of New Zealand Science Book Prize. The latter was won this year by the absorbing Moa . The society also provides an inspiring list of previous winners on its website to guide your reading.

If you prefer to just dip into something  Compendiums of the best in science writing are also published every year and they’re  a great way of keeping up with what is happening in the scientific world. Science journals like  New Scientist  are also great to browse and you’ll find plenty of them at the library.

So if you someone who likes to settle into the Christmas break with something to stretch your scientific knowledge (and I know that a lot of you do because our science books race out the door over the holidays) you should have plenty to keep you entertained.

Communications and Mass Media Collection: getting your point across

logoWe all need reasonable communication skills to get through our lives.  Some people need these skills to be sharper than most like:

  • Writers
  • Journalists, editors and publishers
  • Marketing and public relations professionals
  • Graphic artists and advertisers
  • Students of all the above!

With information from journals, books, and multimedia, there is a solution to any communication type question asked – from Facebook privacy issues to punctuation rules – this resource can help.

Communications and Mass Media Collection and many other  electronic resources can be found in the Source.

Access this from home with your library card number and PIN, or at our open community libraries.

Manifesto for a slow communication movement

I have arrived back at work from the Auckland Festival to find around 90 emails waiting for me.  Apparently I should consider myself lucky, according to John Freeman, editor of Granta magazine and author of Shrinking the World – the average office worker sends 200 emails a day.  In 2007, approximately 35 trillion emails were sent and received.  And it’s not just email.  We blog, belong to Facebook and Twitter, receive RSS feeds from everywhere, get all our news online and carry our i-Pods and Blackberries with us everywhere we go.

Freeman began his writing career as a book critic, but when he found he was spending more time reading the emails related to his reviews than reading the actual books he was reviewing, he realised something had to change.  Shrinking the World (US title: The Tyranny of Email) is his manifesto for a Slow Communication Movement, and is one of those deceptively simple little books that can cause a real re-thinking of your life, if you let it.

The desire to feel connected to those around us is a good one, Freeman remarked during Sunday’s session, but the finiteness of life means we must choose what to prioritise – it is physically impossible to have 1500 friends.

The problem, he says, is that email itself represents a form of intermittent reinforcement.  It is an enjoyable habit that is chemically enhanced – we get the reward we want from pushing the button or clicking on the icon, but only every third or fourth time we click.  And increasingly we are living simultaneously in the physical and the virtual world.  In any situation that removes us from electronic communication, we are painfully aware that we may be “missing stuff” – hence people’s reluctance to turn cell-phones off at the movies (or in a Festival session), and the fact that the minute the lights come up, the very first thing people do is lunge for their phones.  Freeman calls it the “electronic fidget”.

He says there is so much information in the world today, and that thanks to instantaneous electronic communication we have access to all of it, but asks, “Do we have the empathic bandwidth for any of this information to be meaningful?”  and again references the ‘1500 Facebook friends’ comment.

He’s not a Luddite, however.  Questions about the degradation of grammar in schoolchildren were met with a shrug and the comment that kids have enough smarts to be able to differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate usage.  He’s also not saying we should not be using these technologies at all.  What he is suggesting is that we step back enough to recognise the damage that is being done to our attention span, our empathy, and our ability to process more than seven seconds of information at a time.

The back of the book offers both the manifesto for slow communication, and what he laughingly refers to as a ’10 step intervention programme’.   I’m going to try at least numbers 2, 3 and 10.  I’m thinking it’s going to be a hard road.

Working with groups – make it easy for yourself

Cover of SpeakoutHave you landed a new job as a community worker who has to consult with diverse groups?

Are you an experienced facilitator looking for a new perspective on working with different cultural groups?

If you are looking for some ideas on how to fine-tune your skills or expand your knowledge, check out these titles.

Speakout by Wendy Sarkissian and Wiwik Bunjamin-Mau explains step-by-step the process of creating an interactive, drop-in style of engagement with community groups. It also gives clear instructions of how to organise, plan and manage community planning workshops, and make sense of the outcomes.

The Art of Community by Jono Bacon looks at strategies to bring your community together, including how you can use social media to engage with your audience.

World Cafe cover

An oldie but a goodie outlining a different approach to group discussions is The World Cafe by Juanita Brown. It’s a way to host conversations about things that matter, to get people talking and engaging, and to harness the collective intelligence, experience and knowledge of the group to move forward.

There’s also wealth of good ideas and further information on the The World Cafe website.