Starmus IV, Day Five: No more facts or reports needed.

So I am going to be really honest: I think my brain is about to revolt. My brain is just so overstimulated at this point. My problem is that this is a mental sprint and a marathon at once, and I hadn’t seen that coming. I don’t think I would ask Starmus to be less than it is despite the overload.

Let´s go to where I started off the day because for me it was a brilliant start and ended with the other session I loved. It´s an interesting thing to sit and hear a premier scientist say no more facts and no more reports are needed to change the tide of those who stand in opposition to climate change…or really any science. Frankly, the same can be said for how we argue politics and religion at current. It isn’t to say she was saying stop publishing, more to stop using reports and studies to bash people over the head as a way to get them to see the light. Or, if not bashing them, assuming their brains are empty of these fact, like a bowl, and then trying to being helpful, pouring facts in like cereal for them to snack on. The thing is, apparently, is there is already cereal in the bowl and we just didn´t recognize it because it doesn’t look like what we think it should. Short and sweet: Stop with the frontal assault.

Katharine Hayhoe´s talk is one I have been waiting for. Having committed the sin of being a liberal pourer of facts into the atmosphere of various social medias (and friend’s heads), I feel like I was combating the issue of ignorance and flat out refusal to learn more. It´s not that people aren´t learning. They are. It just is a different set of facts, figures, or if the same, changed by belief. But how could those beliefs be so different from my own? Because of one thing that I didn’t consider; they are not denying science, they are denying based off of paying a price for changing which they don’t want to pay. It´s about perceived cost; financial, emotional, loss of community and so forth. Another person’s values changing their perception I have always understood, but not in the context that the cost influencing their ability to stand behind that which is true, rational and general consensus.. This isn’t to say that I don’t recognize the politicians saying one thing while knowing better, because of agendas from those paying into their PACs and the like. That has never been an unclear motive for their actions. It´s more the average person I didn’t think of it in that context.

Photo: Kai T. Dragland / NTNU

The idea we need to give value propositions instead of looking as though we are “costing them” something, and assuage fears with what they will gain seemed so logical when explained by Katherine. I don’t if anyone else found themselves thinking “duh!”, but I certainly was. Her proposals of how to laterally communicate were exactly what I have been looking. They are learnable ideas for those who I know mean well but, like myself, are contributing to the overall communication breakdown between believers and deniers. I thanked her most wholeheartedly for the talk. I cannot wait to look up more of her talks online.

There was a rather abrupt change in direction to how little we know of the oceans and how much we know about space with Nancy Knowlton´s talk. It did make me realize that for someone who loves the ocean as much as I do, I don’t think about what is happening to it as much as a I should.  And then it changed directions once more with Emmanuelle Charpentier´s talk on CRISPR. Admittedly this is the point I couldn’t focus and ended up having some conversations with others about how they felt the festival was going.

Photo: Julie Gloppe Solem / NTNU

The attendees are more than thrilled with this whole week´s programming and how amazed they are by the breadth of information, disciplines and all out fun they are having. A few of the staff members from different areas had nice things to say about working with such a diverse group of volunteers and organizations to make this happen. The potential for Starmus from here, as it´s still growing, is completely understood and there are going to be some really sharp minds working on making it an even better experience.

The panel that ended the day was marvelous. A truly fascinating and fantastic conversation. Outreach and education to encourage a more well rounded and deep fundamental understanding of science from a young age is something we cannot talk about enough. Moreover, the idea that we need to critically think about how we allow skeptics and deniers to have equal weight because of “playing fair” in journalism was something I was overjoyed to hear Alex Witze say out loud. Her unapologetic knock-that-off was refreshing and something that is worth repeating everywhere by all of us. We don’t need to give those peddling a bunch of bull their 15 minutes of fame because they think that  freedom of speech or political correctness should dictate it to be so. Applause for her statement was thunderous.

Photo: Thor Nielsen / NTNU

I enjoyed the way the panel discussed using play more, using things that can be taken apart and put back together to encourage curiosity, and as a mean to teach critical thinking without shoving it down as a lecture. Having been a child of the pre-internet age and one who had parents who did not allow cable tv or super commercial toys, I am grateful now for the art supplies, microscopes, real tools, heaps of books and time allowed to be spent dissecting the world. I can enthusiastically and emphatically say the recipe they concocted was entirely the right one, and a childhood all children should get to live.


I did find myself wanting to shout out one thing at the end. When David Eicher, the moderator, asked what the six panelist would tell a 10 year old girl to keep her engaged in STEM subjects no one, despite their rich and encouraging messages, said the one thing I desperately wanted to hear. This applies to both girls and boys looking at going into career fields that are seen as gender biased. The statement is this: Whatever is or isn’t between your legs indicating your physical birth gender, does not affect the quality of, intelligence of, or integrity of what is between your ears.

I have to say though, especially in a world that often says study that which will earn you the most, May-Britt Moser saying follow your passion made me really happy. Norwegians know better than anyone else that following your passion, making that passion what you do and then doing it to its utmost potential is a way to create a well-rounded successful life. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the best lessons we can give the small humans heading into their futures.

Photo: Thor Nielsen / NTNU