Skip to main content

Rebecca Nesbit - Four Way Interview

Rebecca Nesbit studied butterfly migration for her PhD, then worked for a start-up company training honeybees to detect explosives. She now works in science communication and her projects have ranged from a citizen science flying ant survey to visiting universities around the world with Nobel Laureates. Her first novel was published in 2014, and her first popular science book Is that Fish in your Tomato? was published in July 2017.

Why science?

Because truth can be counterintuitive. If we agreed 'facts' simply based on what feels right, we would often be mistaken, so we need evidence to help us out. Take weed control. Intuitively, you would think that ploughing is an environmentally friendly way to control weeds because it is 'natural', yet it releases greenhouse gasses from the soil. The gap between what we feel and what science tells us is even wider when it comes to being human. I feel as if I have rational control over everything I do, but this is an alluring story my brain tells itself. Our beliefs and actions are manipulated by a multitude of factors which our conscious mind doesn't even register. Science can tell us when what seems logical is untrue.

Why this book?

As an environmentally conscious teenager in the 1990s, I was told about the dangers of GM crops in no uncertain terms. However, these strong views were hard to maintain when I studied for my PhD at an agricultural research institute. Here I met researchers working to develop GM crops with environmental goals in mind, and I quickly realised that the full story was more nuanced than the media usually presents. Whilst some of the criticisms of GM crops are valid, they apply to many aspects of our current food system, and GM crops have often become a scapegoat. Amidst the ongoing scaremongering, there seemed to be room for someone to take a look at all the evidence without pushing their agenda. I decided that person should be me. 

What’s next?
I've just finished a novel inspired by a story I read in New Scientist, exploring themes of personal responsibility, criminal justice and family loyalty. Now for the editing...

In terms of non-fiction, my current interest is the Noah's Ark problem. How do we choose the best way to spend our limited conservation resources? I'm having fun debating the relative merits of honeybees and hairworms. 

What’s exciting you at the moment?

Like so many people, I'm particularly excited by genome editing techniques such as CRISPR. The techniques faster and cheaper than genetic engineering, so could potentially open up possibilities for smaller agricultural companies and publically-funded researchers. Perhaps most fascinating will be to see how crops developed through genome editing are regulated and accepted. Countries such as the USA have declared that genome edited crops aren't subject to the same extensive regulations as GMOs, whilst the organic industry has deemed them incompatible with organic agriculture. As for the way they will be received by the EU and most consumers, we shall see.

I'm also excited by promoting my book, and very much enjoy speaking at events.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The God Game (SF) - Danny Tobey *****

Wow. I'm not sure I've ever read a book that was quite such an adrenaline rush - certainly it has been a long time since I've read a science fiction title which has kept me wanting to get back to it and read more so fiercely. 

In some ways, what we have here is a cyber-SF equivalent of Stephen King's It. A bunch of misfit American high school students face a remarkably powerful evil adversary - though in this case, at the beginning, their foe appears to be able to transform their worlds for the better.

Rather than a supernatural evil, the students take on a rogue AI computer game that thinks it is a god - and has the powers to back its belief. Playing the game is a mix of a virtual reality adventure like Pokemon Go and a real world treasure hunt. Players can get rewards for carrying out tasks - delivering a parcel, for example, which can be used to buy favours, abilities in the game and real objects. But once you are in the game, it doesn't want to let you go and is …

Uncertainty - Kostas Kampourakis and Kevin McCain ***

This is intended as a follow-on to Stuart Firestein's two books, the excellent Ignorance and its sequel, Failure, which cut through some of the myths about the nature of science and how it's not so much about facts as about what we don't know and how we search for explanations. The authors of Uncertainty do pretty much what they set out to do in explaining the significance of uncertainty and why it can make it difficult to present scientific findings to the public, who expect black-and-white facts, not grey probabilities, which can seem to some like dithering.

However, I didn't get on awfully well with the book. A minor issue was the size - it was just too physically small to hold comfortably, which was irritating. More significantly, it felt like a magazine article that was inflated to make a book. There really was only one essential point made over and over again, with a handful of repeated examples. I want something more from a book - more context and depth - that …

Where are the chemistry popular science books?

by Brian Clegg
There has never been more emphasis on the importance of public engagement. We need both to encourage a deeper interest in science and to counter anti-scientific views that seem to go hand-in-hand with some types of politics. Getting the public interested in science both helps recruit new scientists of the future and spreads an understanding of why an area of scientific research deserves funding. Yet it is possible that chemistry lags behind the other sciences in outreach. As a science writer, and editor of this website, I believe that chemistry is under-represented in popular science. I'd like to establish if this is the case, if so why it is happening - and what can be done to change things. 


An easy straw poll is provided by the topic tags on the site. At the time of writing, there are 22 books under 'chemistry' as opposed to 97 maths, 126 biology and 182 physics. The distribution is inevitably influenced by editorial bias - but as the editor, I can confirm …