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.

Understanding science in its historical/cultural & aesthetic context

I am interested in participatory aspects of science communication that help find 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 conceptualisation of science in the first place. This requires an understanding of our human impact on science and its relationships to society. My background in Human Ecology has fostered long-term interests in the complexities of our perception of science (what it is, and how it should be valued and applied)- critically this attends to historic and cultural variation in these perceptions. Understanding the basis of scientific practice is important: my work frequently focuses on aspects of citizen science and TEK, aiming to build in more authentic scientific practice in the former and recognise inherent science methodology in the latter.

Paradigm shifts in science

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). 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) 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)

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 learning/knowledge-construction?

• How can aesthetics be better understood and integrated to foster 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, understand science as inclusive.

Crossing the science-humanities divide (ArtScience):

Visual images can both encapsulate and explore complex scientific associations. Sensorily, we can reach 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) Key themes I promote in my research and teaching, are to think critically, creatively and to draw context (and be inspired!) at an interdisciplinary level, and to hold a responsibility to communicate.

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