A Science Tarot Deck?

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Earlier this month the kickstarter that Massive Science run to produce a Women of Science Tarot Deck (illustrated by yours truly) was successfully funded. This means that for the rest of the Winter I’m going to spend most of my weekends drawing science-themed symbolic illustrations and I couldn’t be happier about it!

Now, some of you may ask (and have asked) “why are you mixing science and tarot? Isn’t Tarot all about magic/occult stuff?” Initially, when my friend Nadja suggested the idea I asked myself the same question. Like most people I associated ‘tarots’ with divination but – as I have later learnt – the tarot actually started as a playing cards deck, used since the mid-15th century in various parts of Europe.  In fact, in Italy we still use the 4 tarot suits (spades, wands, coins and cups) as regular playing cards, without any magical associations. Only later, in the 18th century, the tarot cards began to be used for divination and magic.

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Milanese tarocchi, c. 1500, artist unknown. Beinecke Library: http://brbl-dl.library.yale.edu/vufind/Record/3835917, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34906134

Part of me is just really excited about updating this ancient tradition for our modern scientific culture. After all, the cards meaning evolved throughout history and I don’t see why we shouldn’t be allowed to do it once more. But, as a science communicator, I also think this is a great opportunity to reach a whole new audience. In particular, I have been thinking a lot lately about how scientists should engage with spirituality (especially after reading this fascinating comic by Jordan Collver and watching this conversation on Stated Casually). I grew up atheist (or religious-free, as I prefer to say) and I always had a pretty aggressive attitude toward any spiritual beliefs. But I now understand the value of a more neutral/grey zone (or ‘decompression chambers‘ to use Jon Perry’s beautiful metaphor). If we require people to reject their whole spiritual identity in order to even start reading about science then we are excluding a whole LOT of readers! A more inclusive science communication should provide some in-between spaces where people feel comfortable exploring science, without feeling immediately challenged or attacked.

I really hope that a science Tarot could play this kind role: a space for people who do not traditionally identify as ‘science geeks’ to engage with scientific concepts in a playful and non-judgemental way. And also, a good opportunity to challenge some stereotypes of what science ‘should be’ and what scientists ‘look like’ by celebrating the pioneering women scientists included in the deck.

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Department of Amphibological Research

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After a whole year spent studying and writing about science communication this month I’m taking a holiday and to compensate I’m doing a bit of science ‘misinterpretation’.

Tomorrow I’m heading to DiNaCon, the digital naturalism conference based in beautiful Ko Lon, Thailand. Together with Undercurrent Design we started a fictional research department which uses image recognition to ‘discover’ imaginary species and produce whimsical illustrations.

We already did some tests and it was a lot of fun, check them out:

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I’m really looking forward to spend some time drawing, relaxing on the beach and meet the other artists on the island. But don’t worry – you can collaborate with us too! We would love to receive submissions from all over the world and maybe even collaborate with other illustrators who want to play this digital game of telephone. Get in touch if you are interest. I’ll be back to real science in a couple of weeks.

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Paratoxodera florita

Massive Science GMOs report

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Last week I made some special illustrations for the first Massive Science report, on Genetically Modified Organisms (in particular on their effects on agriculture and human health). I know this is a very sensitive subject but as a science communicator I think it is something we urgently need to discuss. Especially as the USDA is finally providing guidelines on how to label genetically ‘engineered’ foods, while the public debate around GMOs has become so polarised (and so detached from empirical evidence) that it is almost impossible to have an open-minded conversation about this.

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I’m not an expert myself but as a scientist I have always been skeptic of black and white positions (the truth most often comes in shades of grey) and the proliferation of the ‘non-GMO’ label literally drives me crazy every time I walk into a Whole Foods! This is why I really appreciate the effort by the Massive team to publish clear and reliable information, from scientists who actually understand genetic engineering. I didn’t write any part of the report but I’ll be happy if my illustrations can bring a few more readers to it. Subscribe now to get full access: https://massivesci.com/reports/gmos/ 

March 4 Science 2018

New month, new science poster.

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On April 14th scientists all over the world will march in the streets to celebrate/demand… it’s not quite clear what! The initiative, which started last year amongst much controversy, has still very confused goals and messaging.

In case there were any doubts, I’m all in favour of addressing the lack of diversity and the many other problems afflicting scientific research, but I still think that the M4S is fundamentally a good idea. It provides an opportunity for scientists and non-scientists to get out of their ivory towers, meet each other and share their passion with the rest of the world. My hope is that along the way some of them will also realize that ‘marching for science’ one day a year is not enough. If we want science to be funded and celebrated we  should active steps to make sure that our research is understood and used appropriately. That also means acknowledging that scientists are human beings and – whether we like it or not – our backgrounds, politics and other biases are all intertwined with our research. If you are interested in getting more involved I have some suggestions for you …but this a conversation for another day.

For now I hope you enjoy this the poster and join the march on April 14th 2018!

Brain Awareness Week 2018

Here is an illustration to celebrate Brain Awareness Week 2018.

Brain Awareness Week is a “global campaign to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research”. If you live anywhere near a university chances are that there are going to be some brain-related events this week, I encourage you to look them up and engage with your local neuroscientists.

And if you want to learn more about the beautiful neural networks that hide inside you, my books are always a good place to start. Neurocomic is now available in more than 5 languages and The Senses came out with Nobrow just a few months ago. Also, for Italian-speaking children (and soon also Spanish, Portuguese and Chinese) you can order Cervellopoli from Editorial Scienza.

Have a great week!

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Have a brainy new year

Cervellopoli2018smallDespite everything 2017 was a pretty good year for me, probably one of the best I had. I published two books (Cervellopoli + The Senses) and spent most of my time reading and writing about the science of storytelling, metaphors and visualization. A lot of new ideas are brewing in my brain and I can’t wait to start working on them in 2018. I wish your neurons are fired up too!

Winter is coming

The leaves are starting to turn in New York and so I have decided to dig out this double page spread that I made last Fall.

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This was meant as the opening for a short story about a chlorophyll molecule which, as the season changes, has to abandon the the leaf-farms and embark on a long trip to the tree-castle. I eventually abandoned the project, but in weekends like this I still like the idea of a medieval-fantasy plants biology comic.

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This past year I had less and less time to draw as I focused on my new research project. It’s sad, but I always knew that it would be difficult to combine science and illustration in everyday life. Hopefully the things I’m learning will help me, and many others, to make more and better science comics in the future!

A very welcome exception has been this series of ‘collectable cards’ celebrating women scientists, which I have been developing with Massive Science in the past 2-3 of months. I have made approximately 1 per week and there are now 9 of them, neatly arranged on their Instagram. You can find out more about each one of these pioneering scientists and discover new ones in Our Heroes series on their website:  https://massivesci.com/themes/our-heroes/

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