Tai Wei Guo tells the tale of a night with Story Collider
You know it’s a good act when a theoretical physicist gets up on stage and belts out “science is bullshit!” in the basement of a Shoreditch bar. This is usually the beginning of a Story Collider show, which host semi-regularly every two or three months in London. The main concept is that people share stories about science in their lives. The catch? At no point should science be taught.
Storytellers included two science writers – Alex Bellos, who writes popular science books and blogs for the Guardian about maths, and Ed Yong, both from parasitology TED talk fame; two scientists; and one of them a former scientist who decided he was tired of putting broccoli in a blender and did other things instead.
The stories had a good breadth of topics. Bellos’ was probably the most informative and TED-talk-ish, concerning a completely non-scientific survey he conducted on what people’s favourite numbers were and why. As it turns out, people really like the number 7 and generally dislike even numbers. Who would have known? But even then, the focus was people, not maths, as he read out some of the 44,000 responses he received, some of them entire stories in themselves.
On the other hand, Suze Kundu shared an inspirational anecdote about learning to dance en pointe as an adult after giving up ballet in her childhood due to a physical condition. A new “ouch pouch” cushioning for ballet shoes had been developed using the latest material science, enabling her to dance without being racked with pain.
Disillusionment with scientific authority figures seemed to be a recurring theme of that night, although I suspect it wasn’t intentional. Brian Wecht’s story seemed only tangentially scientific – he was caught up in a gem scam in Mumbia during monsoon season while on a scientific conference. He and Ben Thompson both talked about the scientific life and seeing renowned scientists drunk, naked, and playing a George H. Bush flight simulator (though not all at the same time). Ed Yong gushed about meeting David Attenborough once, but ended on a sobering note that even David Attenborough is wrong sometimes.
Despite serious moments, all the stories were going on a tangent on the humorous side – the absurdity of all the situations certainly helped. Most of the stories felt like stand-up comedy gigs that happened to involve talks about science as well. Off-key singing and fake Hungarian accents were also involved. The next show is slated for the end of January, and is worth checking out for a break from the factual side of science.
Featured image credit: Ed Schipul