Connections: your monthly look at what’s been interesting the Cosmos newsroom

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Cosmos is a quarterly science magazine. We aim to inspire curiosity in ‘The Science of Everything’ and make the world of science accessible to everyone.

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The Great Dead Body Teachers: an adventure into the world of anatomy and dissection

Jackie Dent

Ultimo Press, Publish March 8, 2023

Bodies image

Jackie Dent connects her love for conversational language, history, and characters in this highly readable and thoroughly researched book asking why people donate their bodies to science, how it’s done and what happens next.  She explains why dead bodies are important to the medical and scientific process and what they have contributed, and why they can’t be easily replaced with plastics and computer images. Her grandparents donated their bodies and she wondered why. Along the way we enjoy history and discussion about the social forces which first allowed, then prohibited, then allowed donations; memories which “get up off their elbows and knees;” history of dissection; the shortage of cadavers (we import some from the US); the ethics – should medical schools use bodies of prisoners or those who haven’t given permission? – and social mores: atheists and agnostics are more open to donating their bodies. Oh, and dissection…one person describes that “dissecting days started with cockroaches…they had very nice looking white muscles that moved their legs.” Apparently there are plenty of Youtube sites where you can watch dissections: ”Viewer discretion advised.” But Jackie is excavating motivation – many do it to aid science. Anna Astl-Leonhard did it because she thought she had an unusual body scientists might like to explore – “a man’s brain in a woman’s body.” Some do it to avoid the palaver of a funeral; some are control freaks and can’t stand the thought of their family having a final say; most though do it to save money on cremation. (Ian Mannix, Editor Digital News, Cosmos Science)

Email from Bill

New Yorker article, January 10, 1994

E-Mail from Bill | The New Yorker

Email to bill image

The question of what makes a great piece of journalism is something I often ponder, both professionally and privately. What are the elements that allow an article whose job is to be right here, right now to also stand the test of time? The story that does both is a moment of magic for me. You know it when you see it: John Seabrook’s New Yorker article, “E-mail from Bill”, published in December 1993 is a profile of Bill Gates framed by a correspondence over a new form of communication. “electronic mail: to write a message on a computer and send it through the telephone lines into someone else’s computer.”

To read this is to receive a letter from some smarter, more thoughtful version of your past self, looking at how new technologies move from gimmick to game changer and a fascinating insight to a younger Gates, loquacious and open.

This kooky idea, E-Mail. What does it mean?

Seabrook worries that in a future world: “People will be inside more than ever, cut off from their neighbors, watching interactive monster truck contests. Or porno. They will pile up large cable and credit card charges.”

But Bill Gates is more optimistic: “say I am sitting at home wondering about some new drug that was prescribed to me. Or wanting to ask a question to my children’s teacher. Or curious about my social security status. Or wondering about crime in my neighborhood. Or wanting to exchange information with other people thinking about visiting Tanzania. Or wondering if the new lawn mower I want to buy works well and if it’s a good price. Or I want to ask people who read a book what they thought of it before I take my time reading it. In all of these cases being able to reach out and communicate by using a messaging or bulletin board type system lets me do something I could never do before.”

How right they both were. (Gail McCallum, Editor, Cosmos Magazine)

10 Breakthrough Technologies 2023

MIT Technology review

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Here’s a place that propels the reader to a seat at the table of new science where you can be up to date with the most recent important breakthroughs in a variety of important technologies. CRISPR for high cholesterol; AI (Of course); a new chip design that threatens to upend the stranglehold of a couple of global chipmakers; abortion pills and telemedicine; The James Webb telescope. (Ian Mannix)

Book: Little Species Big Mystery

The story of Homo floresiensis

Melb. Uni Press.

By Debbie Argue.

Little species cover

Homo floresiensis, the short thickset member of the Hominini tribe, took the world by surprise in 2004.  Author Debbie Argue is at the School of Archaeology and Anthropology at ANU…the book makes me want to sit in on her lectures! The story of H. floresiensis is fascinating – a couple of chaps, Dr Mike Morwood, Doug Hobbs and Aboriginal elder Jack Karadad, yarning over a campfire in the Kimberley hear that ancient stegodont bones were found in an Indonesian island, they speculated hominins might also be there, and they went to explore. The rest is history.  The surprises from Argue come thick and fast: how they found the original ”hobbit”; how archaeologists work; who they were (note – a surprising number of Australians); their links with regional scientists and the big one that’s a little bit buried – a surprise in the Philippines where they found Homo luzonensis, another small hominin.  And if you, like me, are interested in the enquiring mind, there are plenty of references to the scientific process to inspire. (Ian Mannix)

Science film: My Year of Living Mindfully

98 minutes

Available ($) shannonharvey.comApple TV.

As I start the process of looking through the almost 200 films that have been submitted for the SCINEMA 2023 festival, it reminds me of some of the great films that we have featured over the years.

Winner of Best Film for SCINEMA 2020, My Year of Living Mindfully follows Australian health journalist Shannon Harvey on her year-long journey exploring mindfulness to re-wire her brain.

As Cosmos journalist Imma Perfetto wrote in a piece on this film, “My Year of Living Mindfully is more relevant to our mental health than ever after the historic events of the last couple of years.” The film links personal experience with scientific research to sweep the audience along for a ride to places you won’t expect.

Registrations are now open to watch the SCINEMA 2023 films for free this coming August, and you can also sign up for the SCINEMA Newsletter to keep up to date on all the SCINEMA news. (Chuck Smeeton – Executive Producer, SCINEMA)

Ad Astra

2019 Film, Netflix, directed by James Gray

123 minutes

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Recently, I think due to the promise of Artemis to help us build a colony on the moon, Cosmos Weekly journalists were encouraged to touch on various elements from mining the moon to space helicopters; and how we will grow food, which raises all sorts of dust. In this mindset, and flicking through Netflix one night, I came across Ad Astra (“To the Stars“) a film billed as “psychological science fiction adventure drama film.” Cover notes say James Gray wanted to feature “the most realistic depiction of space travel that’s been put in a movie.” Apparently that will be gentle lift off; long slow, featureless moments, interspersed with occasional mindless activity – mindless because its been dampened down by compulsory anti-depressants and mind altering drugs.

The moon will be a travel hub, and mining centre where nation states and pirates fight over resources. It’s fun to question the ideas – would we be using paper in radio studios on Mars? Why did they take computer print out paper to Neptune to store data? Would primates being used for science testing really be able to kill their handlers and leave nothing behind? Will the drugs really work?  Unfortunately there’s no science about how to get to Neptune in 79 days; how they made immediate communication possible; and why the rings of Neptune are full of dangerous rocks which Brad Pitt surfs through. Cast includes  Tommy Lee JonesRuth NeggaLiv Tyler, and Donald Sutherland.

Performance: Anthropocene in C Major.

Composed by Jamie Perera

Science at Adelaide Fringe

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The latest in a series of works that turn climate change data into sound, Anthropocene in C Major is a immersive journey through 12,000 years of human impact on the earth. 

Performed live, anthropogenic events such as the domestication of cattle, urban settlement, and the industrial revolution are transformed into an orchestral score with an accompanying visual presentation.  

Anthropocene in C Major was recently playing at the Adelaide Fringe.

(Kosette Lambert, Editorial Assistant, Cosmos Science)

More “Connections:” your monthly look at what’s been interesting the Cosmos newsroom

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Credit: Tim Macpherson / Getty Images

January 2023: Feminism, the future; bees, Mars technology, controversy, sex.

December 22: 10 Science books which would make great gifts

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