Astronomical Awesomeness: Profs and Pints at the Flying Scotsman
Last Tuesday night was the final event in a series of public debates hosted by the Flying Scotsman in Mount Lawley and MC'd by Scitech (yes, it's taken me a while to get around to posting this). The series was named "Profs and Pints" and featured local academics and experts in various fields debating with an audience of the general public. The final in the series was titled Astronomical Awesomeness - why we ask why and featured Prof. Cheryl Praeger, mathematician extraordinaire from UWA, Carmelo Amalfi, journalism guru from Murdoch, Carley Tillett, manager of Scitech's planetarium and all-round space enthusiast, and, erm, me. I'd been to the first of these events a couple of months ago as a spectator and thoroughly enjoyed it, but wasn't looking forward to this one as *I* was going to be on the stage as one of the "Profs" (thanks, Duffy).
Anyone who knows me in Real Life will have a pretty good idea just how nervous this made me. One of the reasons I started doing outreach in the first place was my dislike of public speaking - when I started my PhD I was very dismayed to find that talking in front of an audience was something I would have to do if I chose to pursue a scientific career. So I started doing bits in the Visitor Centre and, gradually, I became better at it. I still get *very* nervous (those pterodactyls still play havoc with my guts before I go on stage), and I know I have a long way to go to improve my public speaking (I'll never be anywhere near as good as the likes of Carl Sagan), but I'm getting better.
This event was something a bit different. It was a public debate with a panel on stage discussing, debating and arguing with an audience over a pint or two. Like the other Profs and Pints events, the evening started with a short speech from each person on the couch explaining their take on the evening's topic, followed by throwing it open to the floor with questions, comments and arguments from the audience, both physical and on Twitter.
Despite my trepidation, in the end it seemed to go ok. Topics covered everything from the risks of space travel, private vs public space programs, science funding, whether scientists do a good job of communicating their work, accountability, the quality of science journalism, science blogging, dark matter, aliens, and much more. The initial speech wasn't the most coherent talk I've ever given, but the discussion was a lot of fun. Listening back to it, I still say "erm" a bit too often, but comparing it to recordings from two years ago I am a lot better these days, which is good, but there's still plenty of room for improvement.
The audience was full of questions and the tweeters among them kept the twitterfall full of entertaining comments (the suggestion of sending Justin Bieber into space was one of my favourites). Afterwards I met a few of them in person: @Grendels, @ScientistMags and @Anti_Matt. I didn't know at the time, but @podblack was also there live-blogging the event.
As with the previous events in the series, ABC 720 were podcasting the event and Scitech ran a webcast on UStream. I took my audio recorder too. Should you really want to listen, my recordings of the introduction and the debate are here too.
Thanks to Scitech for putting on these events, to the audience for turning up and having fun with the topic, the other members of the panel who were all astronomically awesome, and to "Prof" Duffy for getting me into it in the first place (cheers, mate).