Living Data

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Living Data

2014 Conversations

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"Every interaction is a risk you might be transformed.
Creation is conversation, as is human life."
Jonathan Marshall, Anthropologist


Is science a global language?

Scientist Isobel Cummings explains the value of a global language for understanding climate change.
But who is the science for? How can the science reach more people than other scientists?

Conversation with Isobel Cummings,
Environmental Science honours student,
University of Technology, Sydney (UTS)
Recorded Friday 4th April 2014
Photos, drawings: Isabel Cummings, Lisa Roberts
Camera, editing: Lisa Roberts



It's all part of a concerted global effort, that's all working to the same timetable, if you like.

Yeah. Absolutely. So as an international panel, so climate scientists all over the world have got their data which is compiled by thousands of scientists, has lots of authors contribute to it, and it takes years and years to put one report together, so it's very sound, very reviewed science. So we trust those figures and then compare our research, presuming everyone else is using those numbers, well they are.

So could you describe it as a conversation that you're having with peers around the world, and you're working within a framework and using a language, visual and verbal language, that everybody understands.

Well that's the goal. Yeah, absolutely. And a lot of the scientific language, which is something I really love about it, it's global. A lot of the numbers we use, a lot of the terms we use, are applicable all over the world, which I think is really exciting, because you don't have to try and translate your work to communicate with other people, and there are, especially places that are near coral reefs there is obviously a focus, on that kind of research. And there are lots of other places outside Australia that are like that, so it's good that we can communicate with them. And there is a lot of collaboration. Not with me personally, but I know in UTS and other places, there's collaboration with all over the world. So yeah, yeah, you're absolutely right, in my research here, we'll be able to be understood by everyone, and also hopefully to be applicable to other systems, other reef systems, because we're using the same structure, same numbers.

So would it be safe to say that your aim is to contribute usefully to a very important conversation?

Oh, absolutely. Yeah, very, and a conversation which is really close to my heart. I'm really passionate about the reefs, and these specific organisms [foraminifera Marginopora vertabralis] are from the Great Barrier Reef which is, you know, part of our home, so yeah, it's very important, and you know, I definitely wanted to pick an honours project that would contribute, I thought, helpfully, towards future decisions, future understandings, that's really important to me.


Marginopora vertabralis
Photo: Isobel Cummings

Conversation is a two-way process. Isobel loves that scientists share a common language. When scientists want to reach more people than each other, other languages than science are used as well, that bridge gaps in understanding that exist between people with different training and experience. When scientists use images, animated tones of voice and gestures, they offer sensory depths of meaning to their stories. There's something primal about these that inspir new expressions of understanding, through the many 'languages' of the arts.

In The Tacit Dimension (1966) Michael Polanyi (1891-1976) declares that "we can know more than we can tell" and that all knowledge is rooted in tacit knowledge [what we know through sense, or feeling]".