Last week I made some special illustrations for the first Massive Sciencereport, 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.
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/
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 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.
This week Massive Science published a special story I have been drawing for them over the holidays: Chaos in the Brickyard, a comic based on an allegorical/metaphorical story published by Bernard K. Forscher as a letter to Science in 1963. If you have been following me, you know how much I LOVE metaphors and I always loved this one in particular because I think it captures in a clear and accessible way (although extremely simplified) the process of scientific research, which from the outside may often seem like an obscure, almost mystical, endeavour.
I have been fascinated with this story for many years, since I have first read about it (I think it was in the excellent The Trouble With Scienceby Robin Dunbar). However, in the past few years, because of my work as a science communicator researcher at the Center for Science and Society I have become increasingly interested in the history and philosophy of science and the fundamental questions of what exactly is this thing called ‘Science’?
The letter does not provide answers (if you are looking for those I strongly recommend Real Science by John Ziman) but illustrates the important distinction between data collection and theory building, and what happens when this distinction is lost.
I think this is an important reminder in a world increasingly dominated by Big Tech and Big Data, which seems to value volume of research more than novelty or depth, often confusing ‘predictions’ with ‘explanations’, constantly challenging and undermining the value of the Humanities. I could rant about all of these things for hours… but I prefer to tell stories instead of giving lectures, hoping that they will be passed down the generations and spark a wider debate. So, please, go ahead and read it!
PS: also, if you enjoy allegories about science, On Exactitude In Science by Jorge Luis Borges is one of my all-times favorites (maybe the subject of a future comic?)
Despite 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!
Voice has reached me that some friends of mine still didn’t know I have a new book out, so I guess I’m miserably failing at this whole self-promotion thing. Indeed, I have realized that I had never even announced it here on my blog (but you, dear readers, regularly check my website matteofarinella.com, follow me on the twitter, and all the rest, right?).
Anyway, to avoid any confusion, here we go: I made a new book – GO BUY IT!
It’s called The Senses and it has a warm red cover, full of silver and gold shiny things (FIG. 2) which looks great next to Christmas trees, Menorahs, previous books by the same author, and what have you. Also – SPOILER ALERT – it’s about the brain and it subtly denies the existence of the ‘Soul’ so it’s perfect for your atheist friends too (happy Festivus everyone!).
No, seriously, I have been working on this since early 2015, so it was incredibly exciting to finally hold it in my hands this past October. Nobrow, as usual, made a masterful job with the printing! After some delays with the shipping it looks like it’s finally arriving to bookshops around the globe and I have heard that Amazon is even shipping it directly to your doorstep. I can’t wait for you to read it and I hope you’ll enjoy it.
I’ll be back in the new year with more science comics, thank you all for your support!
Hey, I have a new short comic in the latest issue of LÖK ZINE on the theme of TRIAL/PROVA. It is a sci-fi story about automation, free-will and artificial superintelligence, partly inspired by future scenarios described in Nick Bostrom‘s Superintelligence and partly by a talk I have seen recently about the Three Mile Island incident.
If you are curious about it you should order a copy of LÖK#09. I still haven’t checked out the latest issue but it’s usually packed with experimental comic goodness from all over the world!
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.
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.
This last year I had less and less time to draw as my research project advanced. 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/
I made a quick motivational illustration to promote themarch for science, happening next month on April 22nd. Feel free to repost it, print it, or use it any other way that may help spread this initiative (let me know if you need it in high resolution). I hope it can inspire some scientists to get out in the streets and stand up against anti-science governments!