I spoke at the Science March Manchester on Earth Day - 22 April 2017 - and here is the text of my talk.
It's amazing to see you all here. But why am I here? Protesting is new to me. I wasn't a protester at college. I wrote a few letters. I signed a few petitions. I got on with the rest of my life. But then things changed. I learned about echo chambers, and people's views on the elite, and on experts. And I started to cling tightly to science, because I understood that when I didn't understand the changing world. But I heard that we were now in post-truth world. I learned about 'alternative facts.
And so I started to feel that I should do something. I crocheted a pussy hat for the women's march in Washington. I moderated a TweetChat for #WomenInScience and met, virtually, some amazing women and scientists.
And in February, I joined a line of protesters for the first time in my life, at the LassWar protest at the Northern Powerhouse conference here in Manchester, protesting about the lack of women speakers at the conference.
So, back to the March for Science. I'm sure you all have different reasons for being here, but mine is simple. I love science, and I always have.
I feel like I have been a scientist as long as I have been alive – I've always loved finding out how things work, growing things and understanding things, taking things apart and putting them back together (sometimes even successfully!). I was really lucky – my mum was a nurse and my dad was an engineer, and they always encouraged me to learn, to find out, and to be curious. And that led me to studying biochemistry and pharmacology, and finally to becoming a science journalist.
I have written on subjects from the science of making cheese to women CEOs in biotech, and from the physics of bubbles to the danger of antimicrobial resistance and the possibility of a post-antibiotic world. I have travelled as far south as Hawaii and as far north as the Arctic Circle to hear scientists talk about the topics they love and how they are going to change the world for the better.
What I love about science is that it gives me a window on the world, from the incredibly tiny to the impossibly huge and the incredibly distant. It gives me a glimpse into my own instruction manual. And it means that I can learn something new every single day. This week I learned that mole rats can survive for over 15 minutes without oxygen, and cope by burning fructose like a plant; that physicists have created a liquid with negative mass; and that a shipworm is a five foot long bivalve. And that was just in one week…
I asked a friend of mine why she liked science and she said: "I think science really allows you to understand so much about everyday things, such as why food goes off, or doesn't; why a lorry needs a longer stopping distance than a small car; how to get curry stains out of clothes; why custard powder behaves in that weird way; what makes fireworks different colours; and how an MRI scanner works, among many other things."
One of the great things about science is that it is all about finding out. Science is about both facts and ideas. It can be about immutable truths, but it can also be about admitting that we just don't know, but that we are working hard to find out.
People might ask you "What has science ever done for us?" Healthcare is science. My mum survived multiple heart attacks and lived until she was 90 because of science. My dad had cancer, and his pain was controlled through science. I can see you all clearly because of science.
Forensic analysis is science. Genetics is science. Climate change is science. Computer programming is science. But so is farming, and cooking, and cleaning, and gardening, and hairdressing, and bird watching and car maintenance. Science is a part of everything.
And science isn't just about science. Science can be art, and it can be philosophy. It can be poetry and fiction and music. Science also teaches us how to think logically, analyse problems, find solutions and argue intelligently. And that's not just in science, but in other areas too, like politics, economics and business, and believe me, those are pretty important at the moment. It unites people around the world and allows them to work together through the common language of science.
We are here because we already know this. But we need to spread the word, and encourage everyone to take an interest, to find out and to learn. We need to influence politicians and policy makers, not from a political perspective but from a scientific perspective. We need to make sure that investment continues in science, and that it's across all sciences, not just the ones with outcomes that are perceived as practical. We need to encourage both boys and girls to study science and to stay in science, even if they don't want to have a career in science, because it will influence their outlook on the world for the better.
We need to tell people that anyone can get interested in science, however young or old, and whether they have formally studied science or not. All it takes is the curiosity to ask why and the desire to learn more about the world. There is some amazing writing and documentary on science out there. But we do also need to remind them that not everything on the internet is true.
We need to communicate that truth matters. That there are no such things as alternative facts. That the world is round, climate change is real and homeopathy isn't. That antibiotics don't work against colds, and microwave ovens don't give you cancer. Lemmings don't commit mass suicide (or explode). Red hair isn't becoming extinct. And vaccines really, really, really don't cause autism.
And finally don't let people tell you that you don't need experts. Experts keep your heart beating, your food safe, and your car's brakes working. Brian Cox is worth listening to. Stephen Hawking is worth listening to. But always remember – you are here because you are a scientist or a supporter of science, and you are worth listening to as well. In this world of fake news and alternative facts, we all need to make ourselves heard.
Writing short fiction, monologues and plays