News

Astronomers on Q&A



5 August 2015


SIfA astronomers Professor Tim Bedding and Joseph Callingham were selected to ask questions to a panel of scientists and science communicators in a special science-themed episode of the ABC television program Q&A, which aired on Monday night.

Professor Bedding noted that only 21% of NSW HSC Physics students are girls and asked the panel to suggest ways of encouraging more girls to take these subjects. Oncologist Ranjana Srivastava said that more competent and confident mathematics and science teachers were needed so that the subjects would become more appealing to all students, including girls. Science communicator Adam Spencer focussed on the importance of role models, suggesting that 'women, at a young age, have to see really awesomely talented women leading mathematical, physical, computer coding lives and look at them and think "Wow, I want to be her in 20 years".'

'Women, at a young age, have to see really awesomely talented women leading mathematical, physical, computer coding lives and look at them and think "Wow, I want to be her in 20 years".' - Adam Spencer

Joseph Callingham asked how scientists could prevent scientific ideas from becoming politically partisan, giving climate change as an example where acceptance of the scientific consensus by politicians is highly correlated with their position on the political spectrum. Astrophysicist and science communicator Neil DeGrasse Tyson replied that 'one of the great tragedies of modern society is that you have politicians cherry picking science in the interest of social, cultural, political, religious belief systems and that's the beginning of the end of an informed democracy if that's how you're actually going to govern', while Adam Spencer suggested that we need a more scientifically literate community.

Joseph agreed with the panelists' responses, stating that 'producing a scientifically literate population should be paramount to a country's educational policy.' However, he indicated that 'scientists should also become more nuanced in the way they communicate their ideas to the public to gain consensus across the political divide.'

'You have politicians cherry picking science in the interest of social, cultural, political, religious belief systems and that's the beginning of the end of an informed democracy.' - Neil DeGrasse Tyson

The episode was generally praised by critics, with Neil McMahon writing in the Sydney Morning Herald that viewers were 'treated to one of the more enlightening, invigorating episodes of the year - a program packed with challenges and suggestions of opportunity, and filled with thought-provoking discussion of the other-worldly and of the present possibility.'