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 Art of Statistics - David Spiegelhalter *****

Statistics have a huge impact on us - we are bombarded with them in the news, they are essential to medical trials, fundamental science, some court cases and far more. Yet statistics is also a subject than many struggle to deal with (especially when the coupled subject of probability rears its head). Most of us just aren't equipped to understand what we're being told, or to question it when the statistics are dodgy. What David Spiegelhalter does here is provide a very thorough introductory grounding in statistics without making use of mathematical formulae*. And it's remarkable.

What will probably surprise some who have some training in statistics, particularly if (like mine) it's on the old side, is that probability doesn't come into the book until page 205. Spiegelhalter argues that as probability is the hardest aspect for us to get an intuitive feel for, this makes a lot of sense - and I think he's right. That doesn't mean that he doesn't cover all …

Six Impossible Things - John Gribbin *****

On first handling John Gribbin's book, it's impossible not to think of Carlo Rovelli's Seven Brief Lessons in Physics - both are very slim, elegant hardbacks with a numbered set of items within - yet Six Impossible Things is a far, far better book than its predecessor. Where Seven Brief Lessons uses purple prose and vagueness in what feels like a scientific taster menu, Gribbin gives us a feast of precision and clarity, with a phenomenal amount of information for such a compact space. It's a TARDIS of popular science books, and I loved it.

Like rather a lot of titles lately (notably Philip Ball's excellent Beyond Weird), what Gribbin is taking on is not the detail of quantum physics itself - although he does manage to get across its essence in two 'fits' (named after the sections of Hunting of the Snark - Gribbin includes Lewis Carroll's epic poem in his recommended reading, though it's such a shame that the superb version annotated by Martin Gardi…

Elizabeth Bear - Four Way Interview

Elizabeth Bear won the John W. Campbell award for Best New Writer in 2005 and has since published 15 novels and numerous short stories. She writes in both the SF and fantasy genres and has won critical acclaim in both. She has won the Hugo Award more than once. She lives in Massachusetts. Her latest title is Ancestral Night.

Why science fiction?

I've been a science fiction fan my entire life, and I feel like SF is the ideal framework for stories about humanity and how we can be better at it. Not just cautionary tales - though there's certainly also value in cautionary tales - but stories with some hope built in that we might, in fact, mature as a species and take some responsibility for things like reflexive bigotry and hate crimes (as I'm writing this, the heartbreaking news about the terrorist attack on Muslim worshipers in Christchurch is everywhere) and global climate destabilization. These are not intractable problems, but we need, as a species, the will to see that we …