Geek Manifesto at Reading Skeptics in the Pub

  • Critical thinking is sexy. Geekery is cool.
  • Boffins are back!
  • Science is a curiosity for how the world works – I’ve blogged about this before – here.
  • Science is also a ‘bullshit detector’ (Henderson last night) – always provisional, always improved upon by later knowledge.

Last night (okay a few nights ago now – but I wrote it the next day) I went to hear Mark Henderson, the author of The Geek Manifesto, talk about his new book. The event was hosted by Reading Skeptics in the Pub – a civilised evening lecture series where you can enjoy the talk with a pint of beer or glass of wine in your hand. It was my first time at a ReadingSITP event and there was a great atmosphere.

At Reading Copa

So I’d heard quite a bit about The Geek Manifesto via Twitter. Mainly people saying, ‘just finished Mark Henderson’s Geek Manifesto. Great read. You must buy it’ or ‘send a copy to your MP’. But this didn’t really give me any sense of what it was about, beyond science and politics. I then watched a clip of Mark on YouTube – this clip in fact

– and it was pretty much his lecture last night. So enjoy!

To be clear  – I haven’t actually read The Geek Manifesto yet. So this is all based upon what I heard.

I had no idea who was in the audience, but I did get a sense that there were some scientists from Reading University, as well as people involved in local politics. The questions after the talk attested to this.

What did I make of what Mark had to say? Well, he talked about science as a ‘way of thinking’ – it is not just the end result, or the facts, but an approach. Drawing on the work of Carl Sagan: ‘Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge’ (I got this from a famous quote website – sorry, so rigorous). It is, Mark suggested, an approach that many of us feel an affiliation to without necessarily being professional scientists. We might call ourselves ‘geeks!’ It is a habit of mind and behaviour that should be adopted by our politicians.

He revealed the alarming statistic that only 1 of our MPs has worked as a professional scientist, apparently there are a few doctors etc. too. Mark connected this to a difference between the sciences and humanities, whereby humanities scholars simply have more time to get involved in administration and issues. Speaking via the example of university administration and panels being mainly made up of humanities academics. This got a laugh from the audience.

But anyway – science, as Mark understands it, is a method and approach. A retired science teacher asked a question at the end of the talk – he said, very few people trying to engage politicians and others on the issue of science, rarely actually understand what science is. He commended Mark Henderson’s Geek Manifesto for several pages that summed up neatly what science is, and it isn’t necessarily what is taught in schools. There was mention that a module has been introduced into schools on ‘how to do science’ – but it was felt teachers were inadequately trained to teach it. Hmm. This particular retired teacher pressed Mark for his own ‘science’ experiences – our speaker had to admit his last science lesson was at GCSE and he had read history at Oxford, before going on to become science reporter for The Times.

Mark also used the phrase ‘people like us here’ several times in his talk. This made me feel slightly uncomfortable – and I think this was because it was indicating all of us in the room, i.e. members of Reading Skeptics held similar political views. Indeed, we were the geeks who appreciated science and felt comfortable with the approach. He called for us, geeks, to rise up and challenge our elected representatives on the issues of science, make them accountable politically – make them more scientifically aware. Show that it is not only the ‘Daily Mail’ reading public that vote. I’m not sure if I wrote this statistic down right, but there are apparently 3 million geeks – who could significantly challenge their MPs on the issues. ‘The Geek Manifesto’ was about ‘geeks’ getting politically active. Geeks need to consider their voting behaviour, the party they (we?) support; geeks need to get into lobbying in order to get these issues on the radar. Mark highlighted the CaSE lobbyists (Campaign for Science and Engineering) and for £2.50 a year (or so) geeks could support them. Broadcast over!

What was most interesting for me – was his discussion early on about the influence of social media. I am a firm believer in the power of this medium. You can find me @DrHG on Twitter. You see, Mark argued, before social media, people would gather in groups of friends or groups like Reading Skeptics. But now you can get in touch with hundreds and thousands of people via the Internet who share your views. You can debate, challenge and lobby on a greater scale than ever before and all from your smartphone on the bus on your way to work. Mark asked for hands up who heard about the event via Twitter – there weren’t many hands going up. Now that might simply be because there weren’t very many people in Reading who would come to this event unless they were a member of the group. But it was telling. It said something about how NEW social media still is for many people and how those of us using it often take its power for granted, or perhaps we only hear about the success stories.

My question for Mark related to enthusiasm – of course it would. I spent quite a lot of time during my PhD hung up on semantics – enthusiast? Anorak? Nerd? Rivet counter? Geek? Whilst The Geek Manifesto is a great title for the book – did Mark reflect on the use of the term Geek during the process – I asked him via Twitter. I am waiting for a reply.

In sum, it was great to hear a talk on something close to my own research interests at a pub in my town of Reading. To hear talk of academic communities, PhDs and postdocs was tremendous. Geekery rocks! Just look at this ‘geek’…

This is Artemis. He is an incredibly geeky pooch. He loves his political theory.

One thought on “Geek Manifesto at Reading Skeptics in the Pub

  1. Really enjoyed this post. Thank you. The Geek Manifesto is a book I keep seeing it on the shelf in Waterstones. I’m intrigued – might be good reading for the train to the RGS.

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