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Darwin Ate an Owl
Darwin Ate an Owl

Episode · 2 years ago

Introduction: What's with the name?

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

A conversation between host Mark Horstman and producer Margo Adler. They discuss where the name of the podcast comes from, the idea behind the show, and their own different experiences of science.

Welcome to Darwin aid an OWL. Hello, Hi Mark, I locked that mission. That's pretty fantastic. Cool. This is interesting. Keeps me out of the gym anyway. It's people. We're going to find it alessly fascinating. Fascinating. Darwin I an OWL. Hello and welcome to Darwin aid an OWL. My name is Margot Adler and I'm a producer on this podcast, so not a voice you're usually going to here, but we thought it might make sense to start out explaining the idea behind the show. So I'm here talking with our host mark Horseman. Hello, Hi Mark. I've got one question to stop with. Sure, Darwin ight an OWL. So when you hear Charles Darwin, Yep, you probably think about evolution. Yep, you might think about his voyage on the Beagle. Yep, ooth whims and sure, the GALOPAGUS. Yes, you probably think about sciency stuff. Yes, but most people don't know that there's this great story about Charles Darwin where, when he was a student at Christ college in Cambridge, a gentleman student, a gentleman student sure, started a club called the Glutton Club, and what they did was eat exotic species. Anyway, one day they ate a brown owl and apparently it was absolutely disgusting and after they ate the owl, the club disbanded and they all swore they'd never eat exotic animals anymore, except for Charles Darwin, who had a lot more exotic animal apparently continue to. Yeah, but the point of the story is that, or the point of having met as the title, is that it's, you know, a story and anecdote, sort of personal anecdote, about a scientist, not so much about their research, more about who they are, and I think that's what we want to achieve with this podcast. Get inside the skins of the scientists and,...

...yeah, kind of unearth some of their more interesting tales, what they did during their PhD, you know what, why they're why they like the weird things they like. Get them to spill their guts. Basically, yeah, exactly. In so many words, I like that mission. Thanks for asking me on board. So I guess that's why I'm here. Thanks for coming on board. So I was so I was so glad when biggest straight, you will biggest street, called me up and said, Hey, what do you think about a podcast? Yeah, but my first or was what the Hell is biggest street? Yeah, right, well, we do events, pub talks, hands on workshops, all sorts of things to get people excited about science, get people chatting to scientists in a really relaxed environment. I have an event called Beaker Street, a team EG which is a pop up science bar and Teamag is that as makes me m museum and Art Gallery? That's right. And you know, the idea is sort of stemmed from my experience as an evolutionary biologist going to conferences around the world. And you go to a conference and you go to a whole bunch of talks and you know they're some of them are interesting, a lot of them are boring, and then after the talks you go out to the bar and that's when everything happens. Those are the really important moments of the conference because that's when you really get chatting with people, make some important connections and learn a lot about people and figure out how you can work with and what people are really working on, not just their flashy results from ten years ago. That they're still enough, eaving questionll yeah, and and, and I wanted to kind of share that experience of the sort of post conference drinking environment. And also scientists drink a lot. I don't know if people realize that, but science and and alcohol sort of go hand in hand, I think, because scientists are...

...often a really socially awkward breed and somehow, you know, the social lubrication of a little bit of alcohol really does help thing Ab help things along. And so the whole point of this pop up science bar is that we get all these scientists to come and they're wearing ledlitt name tags with their research keyword on them and they're just there to have a beer with people. And, you know, we're trying to let people know that scientists are humans. They're people too, and you can sit down and have a chat and have a beer with them and they're sort of interesting sometimes. And that's, I think, also the point of the PODCAST, to to humanize scientists and to really let people see the the human side of science, which is that a lot of the big results that you hear about, the work that goes into those is often really boring and sometimes, you know, you funny things happen and things that you don't expect and you never get to hear that stuff. And so I think that the best way to make science more accessible to people is to let people see that it's really something that normal people work on and that anybody could that's what I look about these podcasts because so I just in the workplace. They do that stuff every day and those humor. You know, it's boring, right, no one would ever find that sort of stuff interesting. I'm always reminding people no matter how Monday and you think it is, we're going to find it it wassly fascinating because sorry, and sometimes, you know, people really just need help figuring out what this what's sexy and what you do and and bring that out a little bit. And I think having a really sort of far reaching, broad conversation with somebody about what they do and what the daily routine is and all of that stuff, sometimes really, really interesting things come out of that that you, the person working on it, would never have thought was worth sharing. Somehow, when you apply the title scientist to a person, it sort of elevates them on in this way...

...that makes them feel a bit unapproachable, I think, to some people. But well, how do you approach that? Because do you called yourself a scientist, your doctor Margo Adler, and being evolutionary biology. Yeah, well, you know, I didn't. I didn't start out thinking I'd go into science. I actually hated science. I as an Undergrad, I avoided every science course I could. The only one I took was the one. You need to take one science class. So I took geology because they called it rocks for jocks and they said it was an easy way to get out of the requirement. And then a few years after I graduated, I wanted to be a journalist actually, and and it just wasn't going away plan and I I did some soul searching and I decided that I wanted to be a dog psychologist instead. That seems a bit of a leap. Yeah, it was literally a Eureka moment, the only one I've ever had in my life. But I sat up in bed in the middle of n I know what I want to do. I want to be a dog psychologist and and I was. My partner at the time thought I was completely nuts. He thought I was having some weird dream. But I wasn't a dream. I just been lying awake thinking. And what do I like? And I like dogs. Looks a coon. Yeah, no, I don't like psychology. I just wanted to help dogs, but I didn't want to be a vet. So anyway, this led me on this long course going through trying to figure out how to do that, and I started taking out on behavior courses, which led me to get really interested in biology, and that's somehow I dropped the dog psychology path, but I ended up at evolutionary biology and, yeah, it wasn't at all where I expected to be. In still, if I ever call myself a scientist, I started to laugh at that because it's so not what I, yeah, ever thought I would do. But yeah, so you used to height science, but what made you like it? Well, I didn't get it. I did it was I really, I think I really understand why people find science boring and unapproachable, because I felt that way for half my life. Yeah, and then when I discovered there's so...

...many cool and interesting things to learn in science and that sciences. It's an extraordinarily broad term, of course, but you know, if you're working in a lab and are you're working in the field and you're doing experiments, it's just it's so much fun. You can just create things, you can say, Oh, I want to answer this question, I'm going to answer it this way, and it's fun. I don't think people get that often enough. So that's the sort of excitement I'm trying to share. Yeah, and that's what motivates me to that's what I really love about these Gemeo that you lift. To their own devices, most people would never you know, scientists won't be able to get their message out to the rest of the world, but I'd really like to assist. Yeah, God, it's a doing fantastic work to get the audience they deserve, because there's so many unsung heroes are they're doing really interesting stuff. MMM, the people need to know about and not in a educational way or an informational way, just a this is cools interesting. So you're a science journalist? I am. That's what I've been doing for the last fifteen years or so, HMM, and I've been talking to scientists for a good part of my life now and I'm a bit of a science voy. You really yes, yes, I like to watch. I'm no great scientist myself, but I do get to watch a lot of scientists at work and and get behind the scenes and in a nerdy way. I really like that. And what? What do you think makes you a good science journalist? I just really like doing this kind of stuff. I like meeting people that I've never met before and you get to know them really quickly. HMM. It's something about a microphone and doing an interview. It's kind of accepted space you know people and if if you can do it, and there's a bit of a challenge there as well. I mean you can do an inter you and just stick a microphone in someone's face and you'll get some information. But I love the thrill of the chase, if you like, where you've got a form enough for poor with someone you've never met quickly...

...and in a kind of bogus environment really MMM, to make it sound like you're having a warm engaging each other. You've known each other for ages and you find out stuff that maybe they haven't told anyone before. I guess if I'm, if I am a reasonably good journalist, it's because I didn't go to it straight from school. I had plenty of life experience before or hand and learned how to shut up and listen. I guess going to work for the KIMBERLAND council straight out of Queensland, brighter and bushytailed, and landing in this incredibly wild landscape with a really intact system of Aboriginal Law and culture and all these elderly professors running around the place and me coming in there with this idea of university sciences is what science is, and people talking about what they knew in a completely different way, their traditional ecological knowledge and and that was fascinating. But I really had to learn to just shut up at listen, you know, not keep telling people what I knew, find out what they knew just by being quiet and just staying calm to I remember the first job I did, the first task I landed at the Kimberly Land Council. I was living in Derby and the first job they said was right, there's thirty elderly people. They're going back to country in the Great Sandy Desert. You're going for three weeks, you're going to map it and you're not taking any water. Right. What? That was the point of that? were mapping their water holes. are going back to find the old water holes about always survived on and I'm thinking that's Tera. What could possibly go wrong? And it was terrifying. So my job was to round up all the troopies and the fuel and the food and like, and not water. I couldn't believe it. But the first day we got out there at nighttime and not who did we not have any water at that stage. But suddenly there was fire everywhere because people started sparking up the spin effects just to clear the camp. And that was my first experience of that. So you know well, feeling...

...hyper responsible, you know, the young White Fella with all this equipment and stuff, and somehow I'm responsible for everyone there and quickly had to learn no, I'm on their country, where you're going to keep me safe. You know, in your life, when you have those, you feel those tectonic shifts in you, in your mind were you suddenly got all right, and I had one of those at that moment, thinking right, this is going to be okay because now I know my place here right. And that's what we did for the next three weeks. Every day we went around, found a water hole, and so you found water. We've had board. It was in the world's tasties water. It was quite brackish. We had to dig it up. There was a bunch of US young people there and we worked crazily to do this. But you dug these old water holes that had been I don't know how many camels thousands of generations they've been used, but you're basically there, are a window to the water table. People recognize where they were because they had the same kind of vegetation around each one. Hey, strangers like I had to be introduced to the snake, the creator spirit that lived Gualbertoo, that lived in each water hole, which kept that water hole alive. I mean these were places of survival. Right the desert. You didn't find any standing water anywhere and if you knew are these water holes where? And so when you started digging, you go down two or three meters and you'd come across these stone steps and then you dig a bit further and the water would break through and all the old people was down around it. Who and it was the water hole coming back alive again. Wows, it was reviving their country. And we did that day after day after day, and eating what we found desert. And I went into the desert feeling absolutely terrified and after a few days felt completely safe and we were living in this boutiful supermarket. And after three weeks people were burning as they went and I was kind of surreptitiously keeping track of where we were in the GPS, but after three weeks we came back out of the desert at exactly the same point. Oh we went in. I could see from the wheel tracks.

I had no idea how people did that because it looked different coming back because it will been burnt. So they must have been navigating by counting sand dunes or something, but it was. That was a really great introduction to a whole other world and I learned lessons from that that I've yeah forgotten. One of those is that there's a bit of science and everybody really hmm, it's not just scientists that have science and have that way of learning. I mean these people I was working within were they were elderly aboriginal people then, but they they'd lived multiple lives. They'd grown up at the Bush, living in the desert and they've been moved off into missions and then they left missions and created their own communities and dealt with land rights and governments and that kind of stuff. They spoke five or six languages. They had this incredibly deep knowledge of country and animals and plants and how to use them, and that was their science and it it kind of set me on a course respecting different ways of doing science and seeing science and knowing the world and that's informed me ever since really, and I think with some of the conversations were not coming up that we've done so far, I think we might see some of that, might hear some of that. I mean, Doan See Anovich, one of my favorite hero scientists. He's he's a bit of a dream really. I'm looking forward. I love that one because we got to spend a day in his office, and his office is well, if you're a listener and you've been a Tasmania very the tallest flowering plants on earth, really higher eclip trees, and he's swinging around in them chasing a captivating yet critically endangered bird, which happens to be the fastest parrot in the world, right, the swift parrot. Yeah, yeah, one of the episodes that I'm really excited about is Angela creane. Oh, yeah, well, we met her at your first biggest street of team Mac oh, that's right. Yeah, so she was there talking about seminal fluid, as you do, as you do, especially if you're a crean and you're obsessed with seven of fluid. She doesn't...

...blink an eye. Most people kind of get a bit about I was feeling embarrassed talking about where you yeah, you seemed. He seemed pretty calm. Well, she certainly got me over that home anyway, so to speak. Yeah, you said seem in that like yeah, during that interview I feel like I finally had the license to say yes, even out loud. Yeah, I said, in front of my kids. Now do you? It's one thing to have your personal life influencing your science, but what I found really fascinating about, and and that she was so open to talk about it, was that how her science influences her changes her personal life absolutely, really in ways that are quite interesting and funny. Even, you know, she talked about her husband. How, you know, knowing how important sperm quality is, that when she was trying to get pregnant, she was really sizing up her husband and wondering what was going on. Yeah, yeah, so the first day even, you're right. And and yeah, using the term seemen and telling him he was just going to have to get used to it. Yeah, yeah, she's at a lot. What I like, too, about this my goes you were able to bring some of your own personal contacts into this podcast. It's like like Russell Bunduriansky, who is my PhD supervisor. So he's up in Sydney, but he was down for a conference and we got to interview him then. And Yeah, he's got some funny stories. He's had a pretty interesting career studying insects. HMM. And he had he had some pretty gross stories, actually didn't. He quite gross. I'm not sure whether we can include all of them, but you know, will showcase the best. There is quite a lot of exploding carry and which is rotting meat. Yeah, and I got the clear impression that he's not. He's a very lockable guy, but he's not the most popular man in the lab. No, I think when he was doing his PhD he said he was extraordinarily hated because of all this rotting meat he was working on and...

...people would slam doors when they saw him walking down the hall. That must have been a tough GIG. Nay, Oh, should I say Dr Adeline? No, you should say mark. Okay, we could be making his podcast from anywhere, but we happy to be making it from how bad, which you know is not surprising because that's where we both leave. But I reckon Hobart's a particularly good place for science. What are you reckon? Absolutely I mean, first of all, Hobart has more scientists per capita than any city in Australia. It is true. It's a science capital in a way is and everywhere you go you meet scientists in the most unlikely places too. So there's a lot of scientists here. So there's it's a nice pool of people. We can talk to you already. But then also we get a ton of conferences in Hobart and so we get to sort of catch those people as they come through, as we did with both Russell and Angela's. They were they were visiting and we were able to they were visiting for conferences and we were able to talk to them while they were down here. And so yeah, I think we're just lucky that we're in such a great location where so much science is happening and so many scientists are visiting. It's true. Where have you got you gotta be careful not to trip overs arentist. You the super market and you rubbing shoulders with someone who's tracking tuna or has just got off the boat from that touching today in the supermarket. Well, you know what I mean. which is good for, you know, hunting for podcast talent, because they think on the ground here. That's right. We should start recording in Willie's. It's been lovely talking to you, Maga. It's been lovely talking to you mark. Should we well, thank you. Should we make you a subject of a podcast? I think you could hold your I don't know. I feel a little bit more comfortable being on the producer side of things, I think, but we'll see what happened. It's been a great introduction and now it's time for you to do the honors. I mean, you broke me into this thing and you've come up with the...

...name and justified it. So okay. Well, now it's time to release Darwin aid an OWL to the wild. Enjoy. Thanks for listening to Darwin aid an OWL, a production of spectral media, Beaker Street and Crowsnest media, with host mark Horseman. Research and writing by me, margot adler and mark Horseman, recording and editing by Fraser Johnston and Andrew Terrell, sound design and music by Nick Sullivan. You can get new episodes automatically and for free by subscribing wherever you get your podcasts. You can get in touch with us on Facebook,.

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