Robert Winston, fertility researcher and member of the House of Lords, came to Israel to talk about connecting the public to science in a convention that also included a talent show, which was the first of its kind

In a convention about science communication held at the Davidson Institute, in collaboration with the Ministry of Science and the United Nations University, Lord and Professor Robert Winston shared his personal story with the audience. A patient came to him the 1980's requesting a genetic solution to a disease she was a carrier of, so that she does not pass it on to her children. After already giving birth to a sick child, and watching him die in agony, she could not bear the thought of taking that risk again. However, she also did not see herself terminating a pregnancy if the fetus id diagnosed with the disease. He stood up to the challenge, out of curiosity, but mainly because the scientific community claimed it was impossible. However, when he reached the finish line, with the important scientific breakthrough at hand, he was unable to indulge in it, as a frightening thought came to mind. He courageously shared that he speculated whether the genetic manipulation he performed for preventing the birth of children with genetic defects was any different from how the Nazis' performed the Jewish genocide in order to rid society from the "Jewish disease". Winston settled his inner conflict by realizing that his scientific practice respected the person at hand and their wishes.

His reputation precedes him

Many participants in the second annual convention on connecting people to science were very excited towards Winston's talk, who was the key note speaker. Winston is a successful physician and researcher, responsible for some of the breakthroughs in the fertility field, but he is also a well-known figure in the field of science communication. He published science books for children, and appeared on television and radio shows as a prominent, witty and original representative of science. He is mainly known for the documentary Child of Our Time, which follows the life and development of a number of children. He is also a member of the House of Lords, the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and took some time away from his career in science, medicine and media to direct a successful play. In light of his very impressive life achievements, people were looking forward to hearing from the 76-year-old lord about his ideas and perceptions on how to connect the general public to science.

חוקר פוריות, מנגיש מדע, חבר בית הלורדים וגם מדליק נרות. הלורד ווינסטון בכינוס | צילום: אוהד הרכס, מכון ויצמן למדע
Fertility scientist, science communicator, lord and candle lighter. Lord Winston at the convention | Photograph: Ohad Herches, Weizmann Institute of Science

Between the Holocaust and science

Soon enough, it was apparent that Lord Winston did not come all the way from London just to entertain the audience with the exciting demonstrations he performs on his famous online videos. His talk hit some sore spots, demonstrating how ignorance and pseudo-science can be exploited – from eugenics, which was based on a distorted interpretation of the theory of evolution as an excuse for the need to "improve" the human race, and all the way to the Holocaust. Music segments were incorporated in the talk, one of which was the voice of a mother singing to her children as they are being sent to Auschwitz death camp.

Winston successfully engaged the audience, delivering an important message on the dangers of ignorance and pseudo-science. This is reflected not only in global historical events, but also in everyday decisions on medical, environmental and consumption issues. He believes that people who work in communicating science are responsible for transferring the knowledge and having a scientific discussion with everyone and everywhere.

The meeting was unexpected and very authentic. Winston chose to share himself as a person – his fears and moral doubts, his love of music and the respect he has towards people as individuals. Through this his message stood clear – we must connect with people through science. And in deed, he succeeded in doing exactly so.

Lord Winston's talk was the main event of the academic part of the convention. This part opened with a talk given by Prof. Ayelet Baram-Tsabari from the Faculty of Education in Science and Technology at the Technion on science in new media, followed by talks about ongoing online science communication activities from some of the most prominent figures in the field: Maya Silber-Ziv, former admin of the Israeli Educational Channel's Facebook page, and current digital strategy manager of Kan broadcasting corporation, Yomiran Nissan, CEO of the non-profit organization " "Little Big Science" and Yifat Mor, PhD student at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, who studies science on social media.

מנכ"ל מכון דוידסון ד"ר ליאת בן דוד מעניקה את ההמחאה לזוכים בתחרות הכשרונות | צילום: אוהד הרכס, מכון ויצמן למדע
General Director of the Davidson Institute, Dr. Liat Ben David awards the check to the winners of the talent show | Photograph: Ohad Herches, Weizmann Institute of Science

Singing about biochemistry and dancing to physics

At the heart of the artistic part of the night there was a first-ever science communication talent show, the S-factor. Out of the many songs, dances, spoken word and other forms of performance sent to the competition, six contestants made it to the finals, which were hosted by comedian Dudu Erez, who is also the host of the science shows, The Blabbermouths on the Israeli Educational Channel and The Knowledgeable Three on Kan broadcasting corporation.

The first place went to the Troubadours, a band of three scientists – Ayelet Dekel, Nurit Karni and Yannai Gonczarowski. They explained how vaccines work to the melody of Under the Sea from Disney's Little Mermaid. They won a 5000 NIS scholarship to support studies of their choice.

The other contestants to make the finals were the ensemble Quantum Funk, performing an upbeat dance about physics; astronomer David Polishook introduced the solar system in a song, including a story about how an encounter with a lovely alien made drove him  to become an astronomer; soldier Adi Weiss did a spoken word bit on the biology of love; singer Ma'ayan Blevis sang about gravitational waves; and the students of Brenner High School in Petah Tikva performed a chemical dance about redox reactions.

While the votes were counted and combined with the judges' rankings, Prof. Ehud Shapiro and musicians Ye'ela Avital, Noam Shos, Gilad Hildesheim and Evegeni Lisogursky performed a 300-year-old scientific operatic duet, paying tribute to a…distillation device. The final performance was the show "A Light for Love", which is a collaboration between musician Hemi Rudner and geneticist Dr. Liat Yakir, incorporating songs we all know and love with explanations on the science behind love.

The Little Mermaid's vaccines – the song to take first place by the Troubadours:

 

What happens in the brain, heart, skin and eyes? Adi Weiss on the biochemistry of love: 

 

What's that signal that was detected from space in September 2014? Maayan Blevis sings about gravitational waves:

 

Dancing and rapping about quantum mechanics – Quantum Funk:

 

The lovely alien, the solar system and me – Dr. David Polishook sings about his adventures in space:

 

Redox reactions and Nobel Prizes – the dance of the students from Brenner High School in Petah Tikva:

 

The finale – a tribute to laboratory equipment – Prof. Ehud Shapiro and his ensemble in a scientific opera:

 

Translated by Elee Shimshoni

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