In case you haven’t heard, the Ivory Embassy is organizing the upcoming Science & Health Informal Talk Show (or simply the S.H.I.T. Show). The event DNA Manipulation: Treating Diseases and Designing Babies with CRISPR takes place in Amsterdam on May 23rd and will highlight the implications of CRISPR-Cas – a new biotechnological tool that can cut and change the genetic information of DNA – on health and society.
We wanted to know a bit more about our own show and decided to ask the two organizers Joana (researcher at the Netherlands Cancer Institute) and Santiago (medical writer) a couple of questions about the show.
To make it clear, we realize that we’re interviewing ourselves, but since nobody else approached us for an interview, we simply rolled up our sleeves and made it happen.
Hi S.H.I.T. Show organizers, maybe you could start off by introducing yourselves and how the S.H.I.T. Show became a reality?
Sure thing, we both first got to know each other while we were both working as researchers at the Netherlands Cancer Institute, in separate labs but the same division. We quickly discovered that we had a similar attraction to music, but also – and this is important for the context – great interest in science communication (SciComm).
At first, we just talked about how cool it would be to create a science outreach event that could trigger curiosity about scientific stuff. Eventually, we started committing more and more to the idea, until finally, it was too late to chicken out.
“Once you have publicly announced a date, it’s kind of too late to change your mind,”
In comes Eileen Daniels, a researcher, and scientific outreach officer at the Amsterdam University Medical Center (UMC), who immediately found the project intriguing. She’s since been part of the event, helping us as the social-media wizard.
What’s the S.H.I.T. Show all about and what can people expect?
The S.H.I.T. Show is an attempt to show the impact of science and the scientific debate on your everyday life. How does it affect you? Our goal is to, in a non-biased and critical way, give you the tools to understand relevant scientific topics in such a way that lets you build an informed opinion about them.
In general, we’ll try to show you three things: that a scientific topic may have both good and bad sides (no matter how polarized the debate is), how to think critically and question stuff, and how to use analytical thinking and approaches to solve problems. Like a good researcher.
No matter if you’re a non-scientist (mortal) or just a curious researcher, we believe that you can get something out of this S.H.I.T.
Who’s your target audience for this event?
We hope to attract people who usually don’t sign up for science events, who are maybe under the impression that that science should be dry. We built the S.H.I.T. Show in a different way than the average science communication (SciComm) event. Instead of a basic scientific presentation, we’ll try to show different angles to our scientific stories and activate your analytical thinking. Science shouldn’t always be dry. #makesciencewetagain
How come you decided to start the event?
At one point, we started realizing our mutual inclination towards SciComm and simplifying complex topics to a broader audience. So, to make a long story short, after talking to a good friend of ours from the Vondelbunker in Amsterdam, we all liked the idea of battling scientific misconceptions from a bunker and started the planning.
To make the story longer, we all know each other somehow through the research world in Amsterdam, and we’ve all been exposed to scientific questions of different flavors from the general public. Most of them are genuinely interesting, but some other remarks, although totally valid, are based on hair-raising, click-greedy, and fear-mongering headlines and news in the media. We see YouTube videos claiming false cancer cures and, unsurprisingly, confusing a lot of people. Combine that with an honest interest in science – vaccines, gene editing, medications, etc. – and we just know that we have a gap that is ours to fill.
After all, your taxes fund a considerable part of the research, so most of you are somehow involved in scientific development. In other words, you should know how your money is spent and maybe even have a saying in how it’s spent. But, for that, you need to be informed. We see a gap between the work of scientists and awareness in society. SciComm plays a critical role in filling these gaps.
Lastly, we also want to challenge ourselves and improve our communication skills through storytelling and conversation. We think that our format stands out among other types of events that rely more on a “lecturing” approach.
Ivory Embassy presents the S.H.I.T. Show that, in turn, presents DNA Manipulation: Treating Diseases and Designing Babies with CRISPR. What’s that all about?
Yes, it might seem confusing, but it’s really not. The Ivory Embassy and the S.H.I.T. Show share the same goals: to reach and activate people to think like the prototypical scientist, that is, critically. The show became part of the Ivory Embassy community, and in our first event, we’re talking DNA manipulation and its implications.
Why do you focus on DNA manipulation for the first event?
DNA manipulation, especially with CRISPR as the leading technology, is a hot topic and has taken the scientific community by storm, based on its apparently infinite possibilities. Check the news about CRISPR, and you’ll see babies being genetically designed, people injecting themselves for all possible reasons, and species are being changed. We’ve reached a point where we can actually challenge Mother Nature and balance the odds to our favor (or disfavor). It’s a technology that will change our lives forever (yes, it’s that important!), so it’s also an emotional topic triggering strong opinions.
Since strong opinions may lead to fear, polarization, and dogmatic thinking, we’ll try to approach the topic rationally and scientifically: distinguishing what’s possible from what’s not and highlighting the inherent spectra. In other words, things are not necessarily either good or bad, black or white, or 1’s and 0’s. We’re not living in a Disney movie yet, so things can also be neutral or both good and bad, depending on the context.
Where’s the show going to be?
This first event will take place in the Vondelbunker in Amsterdam, an autonomous cultural center run by volunteers where everyone is always welcome. One of the reasons that we collaborate with the Vondelbuker is that they are a collective that explicitly respects and welcome all types of opinions.
In other words, it’s the perfect location for our first event! Also, it’s free. Hopefully, this can attract more curious people.
Where can people find more information about the event?
You can find all the information here at the Embassy’s S.H.I.T page and on our Facebook event (show your interest there). You might also run into some of our flyers around Amsterdam. We know for a fact that some flyers appeared in different W.C.’s, including the ones of a well-known environmental organization.
“We try to interpret the fact that our flyers end up in bathrooms as a positive thing,” the duo concluded.