26 April 2010

Science and the arts (III): Sci-screen

Science in films and on the telly has long been a pet topic on this blog - mostly in thinly veiled attempts to crowbar in reviews of Doctor Who and Torchwood, yes, but a pet topic all the same. So it's pleasing to me to see that science on screen is starting to become "a thing". Check this out:

That's the current programme for Reading SciScreen, a series of film showings, each of which includes "a chat with a scientist in the know". It's supported by the British Science Association.

Now, first let me make clear that I'm not sure how I personally feel about post-show discussions. I once saw a terrible student play at Warwick Arts Centre, after which the audience was invited to comment on the performance and suggest alternative storylines. No one, of course, mentioned the embarrassing over-acting and the only people who spoke up had posh accents and pointless quibbles with the script - show-offs, I thought. I also had the distinct impression that half of the audience (myself included) had failed to realise that this was one of those "interactive" events where we were expected to make a contribution, and really just wanted to leave as quickly and as painlessly as possible.

I do, however, think that SciScreen is an interesting initiative. Besides the fact that the lure of a good science fiction film (Back to the Future!!!) might just be strong enough to entice some "lay" folks into the theatre to discuss science, I think it's kind of wonderful when science meets the realms of fantasy. For where do all the great ideas and hotly pursued dreams in science (invisibility, teleportation, time travel, immortality) come from if not from fiction?

Oh, you will still get the show-offs, and there will the odd nit-picker who wants to see scientists and science faithfully portrayed on screen - the sort of people for whom Fringe and Black Sheep can hold absolutely no enjoyment - but they should only serve to make the whole experience more enlightening. From a science communication perspective, you get discussion of the real science behind the fantasies, as well as discussion of the representation of science in the media/scientific stereotypes. Bonus.

The whole idea of viewing science as a part of culture is, in fact, one that I'm a great supporter of. I doubt, to be honest, you will see me itching to make a point in one of these post-show discussions; just as after the terrible, audience interactive play, I'd rather keep my head down. But I'm in favour in general of making science as much a part of this arguably loathsome tradition as anything else. Bring me the popcorn! I will just sit and silently snigger at everyone else...

  • The Bristol Branch of the British Science Association (of which I am a committee member) is seeking a volunteer to set up a programme of SciScreen events locally. Anyone?
  • The same sort of thing goes on in Cardiff, Edinburgh (I'm told) and Boston (huh).
  • Some thoughts from Iain Morland, one of the experts on a panel at a recent showing of 'A Single Man' at a SciScreen event in Cardiff.

16 April 2010

My ugly appendix

Oh good GRIEF. I have just come across this monster.

This, it seems, is what my giant, dangerously inflamed appendix would have looked like before it so spectacularly burst the other week, apparently flinging bits of gangrenous appendix left, right and centre around my otherwise "nicely peristalsing"* gut.

I've discovered one good thing about having your appendix removed though. When bits of you, like your appendix or fallopian tubes - apparently the ultrasound people aren't too good at telling the difference - get infected, they start accumulating a sort of fat wrapping, which protects the inflamed area. Which must mean that when they take it out, all the fat accumulated from elsewhere comes with it.** Ta-da: liposuction on the NHS!

*As the ultrasound lady noted several times during an hour-long examination of my achy, post-burst belly. It involved much prodding. Which hurt.
**Not scientifically verified, but here's hoping.