“I F&%#$$*! Love Science” Down Under

The entire universe in blog form
Aug. 19 2013 11:00 AM

Oz Struck

Roo the day
While in Australia, I spent an afternoon at a park where kangaroos were free to roam or pose cheesecakily.

Photo by Phil Plait

I just got back from my adventure in Australia a few days ago, and my body is still reeling a bit from massive time-zone shock—going from +10 UTC to -6 in a single plane flight is a bit disconcerting. But the impact on my brain is even more profound.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

I went to Oz to give a series of talks and panels, with the main event being a Lollapalooza-like event called IFLS Live. That stands for I Love Science, with the F standing for a word that’ll get this blog blocked by a bunch of website nanny filters. IFLS is the brainchild Facebook page of Elise Andrew, who brings snippets of science to more than six million people multiple times per day.

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The panel, held at the wonderful Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, was attended by over 700 people who sat on the floor, stood at the sides, and basically enjoyed the heck out of themselves as they listened to various online science communicators relay why they love science. Elise spoke, as did the brains behind many science YouTube channels and outreach efforts: Derek Muller of Vertasium, Dr. Carin Bondar of Wild Sex, Destin Sandlin of Smarter Every Day, Henry Reich of Minute Physics, and Mitchell Moffit and Gregory Brown of ASAPScience [Update (Aug. 20, 2013): Arg! I forgot to mention Justine Rogers, who does Nerd Nite Sydney!]. I got to introduce my old friend Brian Schmidt (here’s the proof), who won the Nobel Prize for discovering dark energy, and also got to see lots of other friends like Richard Saunders, Jo Benhamu, and Eran Segev of the Australian Skeptics, Karl Kruszelnicki, and many more.

Rather than give too many details, I suggest you peruse the Twitter hashtag #IFLSLive, which has comments and photos galore. I’ll note that the rumors are true: At some point I was helping carry a plushy 15-meter model of a human analogy to barnacle genitalia. A career highpoint for me. Video exists; I leave it as an exercise to the reader to find it.

The day before the panel, we went on a lovely cruise of the Sydney Harbor, and I recorded a short video to capture the moment. Apologies in advance for my giant fuzzy head.

On a more serious note, earlier in the week I also got to meet two of my biggest heroes: David and Toni McCaffery, who tirelessly fight the antivax forces in Australia. Why are they my heroes? Because if I went through what they experienced, I’d have curled up and withdrawn from the world. But they tipped their chins up and used what they went through to help others, to help save babies from dying of preventable diseases, and they are an inspiration to me.

David and Toni McCaffery
David and Toni McCaffery, who lost their daughter Dana to pertussis and have become fighters against antivaxxers.

Photo by Phil Plait

Simply put, far too much happened over the course of a week to properly describe. I have one particular story I do want to tell, which I’ll relegate to its own post shortly, because of its personal nature for me.

But in the meantime, I want to thank Chris Cassella of Science Alert, Griffith University Gold Coast, the RI-Aus Science Exchange, the Australian National University, CSIRO, the Powerhouse Museum, the Sydney Observatory, the new friends I made, and all the good folks who came to see our events (especially the ones who brought Minties and Tim Tams). It was amazing and uplifting. As I said at the time: you all are the Bernoulli effect above my wings.

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