“If I find I’m crap at it, it will stay secret and I’ll just write a new live show instead.”
This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Mark Lewney
Mark Lewney, aka. The Rock Doctor
Where are you based?
Who do you work for?
1) The Intellectual Property Office
What type of science communication do you do?
Live guitar physics shows.
Who is your main audience?
How did you get into it?
In 2005 I won the first FameLab competition for new science presenters, leading to appearances at science festivals all over the UK and eventually the world. Then in 2008 I did a lecture tour of UK schools for the Institute of Physics, and have been touring schools ever since.
Why do you do it?
I’m a physicist and a guitarist and my shows allow me to combine the two. I am also an insufferable know-all who thinks he’s funny, and let’s be honest, everyone likes a round of applause. The great thing is that most of my sci-com bookings get bigger audiences and pay more than I would ever get as a musician or comedian, without having to work past midnight.
Why do you think science communication is important?
Science makes us all healthier and wealthier and all that, but to only ever ask what practical benefits science can bring is to live the life of an animal in clothes. Scientific understanding improves mental health by providing natural explanations for our existence – a map which tells us where you are and what you are. If you don’t think such explanations are important, existence is probably wasted on you. Democracy requires an informed electorate, and without scientific understanding, we’re as lost and scared as a Homo Erectus in a thunderstorm.
What do you love about science communication?
Science communication is far more culturally and politically neutral than other creative endeavors, such that it can cross otherwise impassable boundaries. If you tell a science story, you’re not just making a rich person richer or flying a national flag. You are giving anyone, anyone at all, insight into their existence. Science stories are universal because they are the stories that the universe itself would tell if it could talk.
What has been your favourite project?
I guess my favourite extended ‘project’ is that I often get to appear at schools hosting a sci-com event for the first time, or cities hosting their first science festival. All it needs is someone with courage and vision to make new, special things happen.
Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?
I’m having a go at what, for me, is a new and completely different creative medium for science communication. If I find I’m crap at it, it will stay secret and I’ll just write a new live show instead.
Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?
KEEP THE F***ING DAY JOB. Seriously, doing this stuff full time is possible, but it’s extremely difficult to avoid burnout after a few years, and there’s no pension. Doing it and something else is the key. Having another means of paying the mortgage makes every traffic jam, ropey Travelodge or class full of ADHDickheads a joy, and I plop myself down into my office chair with a smile for days afterwards.
You can follow Mark on Twitter at @DoctorLewney