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/ 

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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!

Chaos in the Brickyard

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.

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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 Science by 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.

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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!

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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?)

Frankenstein Aldini

I have just returned from ASU Emerge, an art and science festival in Tempe, Arizona. The theme of the 2017 edition was Frankenstein, “a 200-year old novel that still motivates us to think critically about our creative agency and scientific responsibility”. I was there mostly to talk about Neurocomic and document the amazing work done by the other participants but since the science behind Frankenstein has interesting connections with the history of neuroscience and a little known Italian scientist from my hometown, Bologna, I decided to make a special minicomic for the occasion (very much in the spirit of the Little Albert Experiment).

Here is a digital version for those of you who couldn’t get a copy at the event. Many thanks to ASU and the organizers for supporting my work!

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PS: as usual you can read this story also on Medium.

Cervellopoli

After more than a year spent working on it I can finally announce that Cervellopoli, my first children’s book, is now published!

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Editoriale Scienza approached me back in 2015, asking me if I was interested in writing an introduction to neuroscience for younger readers. I had no experience in writing children’s books but thanks to their expert guidance (and a lot of help at the colors from my friend Marie De Beaucourt) I can say that I am very happy with the result.

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But the final judgement is now up to my new readers, so if you know a little Italian speaker please consider buying the book for them (I hope to have soon an English edition as well). Thanks!

Christmas (Island) special

Christmas is upon us and I realised that I have been so busy this year (between my new research project and my new books) that I didn’t have time to draw any short stories, which have always been my favourite format. So, when I learnt about the troubles of Christmas Island on the new Planet Earth (and later discovered that the story is even more complicated) I decided that it was time for a little personal project. This short comic is the result, it’s inspired by science – because of course it is – but I hope it can also be read as fiction and enjoyed regardless of the science. However, if you do want to know more of the biology here is all all the info you need. Happy holidays!

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NOTE: Available also on Medium, with larger images.

 

The Djerassi Fog

It has been almost 2 months since I returned from my Djerassi residency and my life in NYC couldn’t have been more different from the peaceful month spent on the Santa Cruz mountains. In the sweltering city I have been rushing to finish my next book, starting my new postdoc and meeting new people.

So here a little souvenir from Djerassi: an intricate visual metaphor in which the beautiful California fog (born by the convergence of evaporation and cold winds) becomes a symbol of what happens at the Scientific Delirium Madness – art and science coming together to create the breeding ground for new ideas.

I left the original page at the residency and I’m happy to announce that a limited edition of 10 signed prints will be sold at their fundraising event on October 16. So if you like this and you want to support a great institution get in touch with them!

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PS: scattered around the illustration you can also find little nods to my fellow residents. They probably won’t make any sense to anyone who wasn’t there with us but it was my way to honour this time spent together.

Visual Narratives For Science Communication

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I have a little announcement to make, so please allow me an unusually long post.

When I decided to become a freelance cartoonist in 2013, after finishing my PhD, I never seriously considered returning to academia. I simply didn’t think there would be an institution that would accommodate – even less support – my strange mix of interests. And probably there wasn’t, until Columbia University created the Presidential Scholars in Society and Neuroscience (PSSN for short) with the ambitious goal of creating:

a new paradigm for interdisciplinary university-sponsored research to advance understanding of mind, brain, and behavior, and the social foundations and consequences of new neuroscientific findings.
I only discovered the program in September 2015, when I first travelled to New York, and I just couldn’t believe my luck. The PSSN postdoc seemed like the position of my dreams and the next round of submission was only a few months away. I immediately started working on a proposal titled ‘Visual Narratives for Science Communication‘ and thinking of ways to bridge the gap between the apparently  distant worlds of science and comics.

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The good news is that my proposal was accepted! This means that I will have the chance to fully develop this interdisciplinary project and explore how we can use visual narratives to communicate science. I think the proliferation of science-inspired cartoons, animations and webcomics already proves their great potential, but as a scientist I want to go deeper and try to understand the cognitive mechanisms behind visual narrative communication.

Because I think scientists need new communication tools and I believe comics can help us. My hope is that soon they will not be considered just some ‘funny’ way to talk about science but an essential tool for science education. I hope one day to see a professional community of science cartoonists just like the community of science journalists we have today.

Finally – and this is one of the main reasons for me to write this post – I want to make clear that I can’t do this alone. We need interdisciplinary answers for interdisciplinary problems. Luckily, over the past years, I have already met many brilliant people, from many different fields, willing to support me. But I’m sure there are more out there who can contribute to this new emerging field. So, if you are interested in this project, whether you are a scientist, a journalist, a cartoonist, a designer, or any combination of these and much more… please DO get in touch. I’d love to hear from you, what you think and how we can collaborate.

I have big plans and more news will follow soon but in the meanwhile thank you all for supporting my work. I hope you will join me on this new adventure.

Ctrl Group

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I made this crowd illustration for Ctrl Group, a research and design company working in the field of digital healthcare and health-related technologies. It was really fun to draw because this is such an exciting (and complex) new world. Health apps, personalized genomics, caretaker robots, brain stimulators… Who knows what the future holds? One thing is sure: these guys are going to design the hell out of it! Keep an eye on them.

Shadow Biosphere

Hey, did you know that you can now preorder the new issue of LÖK ZINE which is all about cryptozoology? Personally, I contributed with a double illustration about the shadow biosphere (also called ‘weird life’) a controversial theory which argues that since we always look for ‘familiar’ life (composed of the usual stuff: proteins, RNA, DNA) we may have completely missed some non carbon-based microorganisms which could have evolved here on Earth! However unlikely I think it’s a fascinating idea, especially as we start looking for extraterrestrial life which may not look at all as we may expect…

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NOTE: the first half of the illustration was inspired by the petroglyphs carved in the so-called ‘desert varnish‘ which has been suggested as a trace of weird life. The second half of course was completely made up (although some sculptures that I have seen at the latest MoMA Picasso exhibition definitely provided some inspiration). Also, I strongly recommend this Mosaic article if you are interested in the ultimate question of “what is life?” (something that has always fascinated me as a biologist).