About

I am a  Sr lecturer in Science Communication at the University of Otago. My background is both as an artist, biologist, and academic researcher in both spaces. I hold a BA from the humanities and a PhD from the biological sciences (with research encompassing environmental physiology, molecular ecology and evolutionary genomics). In integrating my background as a scientist, and an artist, much of my research now focuses on philosophical and practical links between the arts and sciences.   (See here for a bit more background.) That’s useful because science communication is one of the most multi-trans-cross-inter-disciplinary games going. It’s all about forging connections across boundaries… breaking down barriers even.

I am particularly  interested in the AESTHETICS OF SCIENCE:

• How aesthetics co-create science, for ex. how do they influence the formation & persistence of scientific paradigms ?

• How does sensory cognition and aesthetics influence knowledge-constrution in all walks from education to communication to science ?

• How can aesthetics be integrated into fostering a deeper science and society interaction?

When we recognize more of the common ground between science and “other” (art, humanities etc) then we can begin to understand science as the human enterprise that it is. And, in so doing, cast science as more inclusive.

 Paradigm shifts in science

My scientific research has addressed several paradigms in biology, from our view of oceans and marine connectivity, to ectothermy and our assumptions of environmental stability, to genome evolution and notions of living fossils and DNA function. This work has queried assumptions and interpretations of science, and in ferreting out the historical drivers of paradigms, I’ve found that in many cases the original paradigms were formed in part by assumptions stemming from an aesthetic. In other words, an aesthetic (often visual) impression of an environment, or organism, or process has often shaped and entrained the hypotheses we have pursued in science. To me this illustrates what bedfellows science and the arts/humanities truly are, and given this two-way interchange, how useful it is to promote their integration in the communication of science. (more)

 Crossing the science-humanities divide (ArtScience):

Visual images can both encapsulate and explore complex scientific associations. Sensorily, they can speed us to an intellectual point we’d be slow to reach through text. For these reasons alone, understanding/doing/communicating science should all involve the arts. Art is not just illustration and, though they are often dichotomized as ‘the two cultures’, it is not the opposite of science. I am interested in the modern and historical drivers of this divide; philosophically I am intrigued by the commonalities of both, and so I am interested in exploring not only their potential for cross-fertilization but also transdisciplinary convergence.(more)

 Understanding & communicating science in its wider historical/cultural & aesthetic context. 

One of the keys to communicating science effectively is finding a common ground without “us vs. them” (public vs scientist) divides. Essential to this is understanding the historical conditions and cultural ideologies that influenced our conceptualization of scientific problems in the first place. This requires a philosophical approach and understanding of our human impact on science and its relationships to society. My background in Human Ecology has fostered long-term interests in integrating the sciences and humanities from both global and local perspectives to question: How has biology and natural science shaped our human history, and visa versa, how has our history shaped our view of biology and our environment? (more) Understanding the boundaries of science is also important: my work frequently focuses on aspects of citizen science and TEK.

 Understanding the processes which shape our scientific knowledge -the very structures of thought and learning- is important to communicating effectively and emotively. (It also presents lots of interesting stories in itself). Key themes I promote in my research and teaching, are to think critically, to draw context (and be inspired!) at an interdisciplinary level, and to hold a responsibility to communicate.