#Sciviews #3 Dyani Lewis: Science shouldn't lose to politics.
04 October, 2019

#Sciviews #3 Dyani Lewis: Science shouldn't lose to politics.

This is part three of #Sciviews, a series of interviews with top science story tellers around the world . If you don’t know anything about it, read what got us here.

We’re living in times where ‘science’ is ready to solve a crisis, but the politics just won’t stop.

Our newest edition of #Sciviews was with one such storyteller who too speaks of the amount of  frustration scientists and storytellers face due to lack of political support.

We spoke with the amazing  Dyani Lewis, a PhD in plant genetic and science contributor for Cosmos Magazine who agreed to share her story as a science storyteller and even gave us some interesting insights to science and how she hopes its future to be. Here’s what all we discussed:

1. Needless to say there are countless pitches waiting for journalists every day, how do you pick your stories?

I think it’s really important to tune in to your own sense of wonder at new discoveries. What’s interesting for you will often be interesting for others, too.  

2. You've been a science and tech producer for your college before you turned to science journalism as a profession, is this true? Gradually you developed an interest in topics like evolutionary biology, paleontology, medicine,  environment. How did it all happen? Tell us your story

Yes, that’s true. I was very fortunate to land a job working as the science producer for Up Close, a podcast for the University of Melbourne. It was great experience. I found guests for the show, interviewed them to work out how best to get them to tell their story, and then wrote briefing notes, an episode introduction and questions for whoever was going to be the host of the show. I covered lots of topics – everything from quantum computing and systems engineering, to areas I’m more familiar with, like genetics and evolutionary biology. I also got to host quite a few episodes in the end, which was exhilarating, but rather challenging. I’ve always loved radio – and I’m now a massive podcast addict – so I might go back to it one day. But while I was working on Up Close, I was trying to get my writing career started… very tentatively. I had no idea how to pitch a story or who I could write for, but I slowly got the confidence to write to editors and pitch some ideas. I did my PhD in plant genetics, so biology is somewhat familiar territory. I used to worry that I didn’t know as much about some topics, but I’ve learned that having a niche can be really rewarding. Editors come to know what you cover well, and send work your way. After writing an explainer article on early human evolution, for example, I became the ‘go-to’ writer for any studies on human origins. Having said that, being a freelancer, I can choose to pitch a story about anything that takes my fancy, so I’m not limited to just one beat. This variety is what makes science journalism so endlessly rewarding.

3. Is there anything unique you came across in your career that can be turned into a cool calculator/tool for people to use?

Hmmm… I’m not sure about that one. Certainly one type of calculator that I find very useful is one that translates measurements into everyday objects that people can relate to. For example, comparing an extinct Diprotodon to the size of a small car. These sort of comparisons can seem a bit naff, but they do help people to envisage the scale of things you are writing about, which is especially important when talking about really large things – the human brain can’t easily comprehend big numbers, so a little help is useful.

4. We're among the worst crisis on the planet in all history and it seems to be going downhill. Plastic pollution, heat waves, Amazon fires. It is leading to many discoveries and solutions but what we need is something bigger it seems. What are your hopes when it comes to science and technology over the next few years?

To be honest, my biggest hope is that we get movement on a political, rather than scientific front. It’s no wonder that scientists working on the front line of the climate crisis (and science journalists who cover their work) are frustrated – and grief-stricken – at the state of the planet and the inaction of governments to address the crisis. Here in Australia politicians are still arguing over the reality of the climate crisis, rather than enacting policies that will make a difference.  

5. Though you cover a wide variety of subjects, many of them are very niche and it takes a unique outlook to fully enjoy its stories. Would you recommend a book to make someone fall in love with science, especially in the field you write or talk about? There can be more than one :)

Off the top of my head, one book that I read recently and really loved was Carl Zimmer’s 'She Has Her Mother’s Laugh'. It’s a tremendous read and you discover all of the ways that inheritance is so much more complicated than simply inheriting traits from your mother and father.  

6. What do you think about The Omni Calculator Project, which calculator you would be likely to recommend to your curious science audience? Perhaps you might like some of our Ecology Calculators? Or Health Calculators?

I really like the Flight Radiation Calculator. It’s something I often wonder about and I always forget what dosage of radiation is okay and how that compares to common procedures like X-rays.

7. What’s the weirdest science story you've ever been pitched?

An editor asked me to write about the strange sex lives of animals – Mother Nature delivered! :)

An interesting outlook to mother nature indeed.  Hope this planet continues to surprise us (in a good way) and we hope minds like Dyani are always around to tell its stories.

In case you missed our previous stories check them here:

#Sciviews: The science of storytelling
#Sciviews #1: Signe Dean’s ‘never too curious’ approach to science storytelling.
#Sciviews #2: Neel Patel makes 'staring into space' interesting.