The year 2020 can be described as the year of the Covid-19 pandemic. The new virus affected everyone across the world and signaled, once more, the importance of science for our society. During the summer of 2020, a group of young biology students from Pune, India recognized the importance of communication of scientific knowledge to the public and decided to start an e-magazine. They want to make science accessible to everyone, advocating “Science Sans Barriers” and in this interview, they speak here in the Millennial Agora about their first steps into realizing their ambitions.
Q: I would like to welcome you to the Agora, could you please introduce
yourself to the audience?
A: Thanks a lot for interviewing us! The Science Paradox is a digital science magazine for all ages. We are a trio of undergraduate students trying our best to make learning science an easier, more relatable experience. In the fast-paced world that we live in today, effective and efficient communication of scientific news is of paramount importance. Being welcomed into the new year by the ongoing global pandemic, we realized how deficient the society was when it came to scientific knowledge. Having to explain to the entirety of the population about the gravity of the coronavirus disease and the necessary precautions to be taken would have been relatively easy, had there been prior familiarity with basic science. Our magazine thus endeavors to bridge this gap by providing simple, yet reliable information right from the basics.
Q: Why did you name your e-magazine The Science Paradox?
A: Everyone is eager to land an internship during their undergrad years, and all of us were looking forward to gaining more experience from the same as well. We (Urja Kuber, Anushree Krishnamurthy and Luminaa Anandh) applied for a lot of summer internship programs, but we were constantly hitting dead ends, majorly because these internships and research opportunities preferred students who had had prior work experience, and to gain said work experience, one needed an internship. It seemed like quite an “experience paradox” to us, a vicious academic cycle that probably every undergraduate student has been through at some point or the other. However, we did not lose hope and just as we started to see light at the end of a very dark tunnel that we were stuck in, the COVID-19 pandemic destroyed every possibility of accessing the opportunities that we had in our bags.
Now that the whole world was under a lockdown, the paradox of work experience suddenly became redundant and all probability of working together on research projects at our university was thrown out the door. However, sharing a passion for science and the drive to break out of the so-called “experience paradox”, we decided to create a worthwhile experience for ourselves and others who shared our vision. With this in mind, we came up with the name “The Science Paradox”.
Q: Can you also describe to us the makeup of your team?
A: The Science Paradox is co-founded by Urja Kuber, Anushree Krishnamurthy and Luminaa Anandh. Our team is a diverse mix of individuals who are passionate about science and learning. Currently, we house a team of eight writers, five illustrators, three editors, one videographer, one social media manager and a director of operations.
We regularly put out volunteer calls with the aim of promoting The Science Paradox as a creative platform for our readers and other science-enthusiasts.
Q: What exactly motivated you to start this e-magazine?
A: We were welcomed into 2020 with a raging pandemic and a devastating episode of the Australian forest fires. As the coronavirus reached India, we realized that a lot of people did not even know what a virus is, and this dearth of basic knowledge of science made us realize how important it is to relay correct information to them. Furthermore, we wanted a creative vent to show our perception of science in its truest form, and deliver interesting and unique content essentially, creating an opportunity for ourselves.
Furthermore, remembering the time when the Australian forest fires happened, we also noted that there was a lot of misinformation being spread across social media and messaging platforms. I think those two events motivated us to create awareness about and communicate correct science asin the first place.
Q: You are all involved in animal science. Can you tell what it is about and how you connect that to your website?
A: Animal science deals with biology pertaining to the animal kingdom but in our course, we started out by learning all the usual science subjects. We do not just study animals but also other aspects of biology such as taxonomy, molecular biology, and immunology to name a few, and in the process, we thought it would be more holistic to make biology in general more available to the audience. Taxonomy (classification of species) for example holds a reputation in the common opinion,of being a boring subject. We tried to communicate it in a more interesting, less monotonous way. Furthermore, we also desire to introduce other interesting topics like physics and mechanics and how these topics are involved in biology, so we are not only providing the biological perspective, but an interdisciplinary outlook into science as a whole.
Q: What does science mean personally to each of you?
A: We take a lot of things and factors for granted, but I think we should take it more seriously because that can help us to manage different issues that might appear. For me science helps me express myself and it convinces me to explore more. My parents were both academics and I grew up with science around me, science is a way of
living when you are a researcher and for students you do not just learn about the natural phenomena, but you learn also to think and act logically and practically, and science helps me do all of that and live a more productive life. It also excites me even to learn about history and how everything developed, but also what we already can expect from the future. I am really excited about the upcoming breakthroughs.
(Anushree speaking) To me, science is a lot more than just complex concepts, graphs, numbers and research papers. These are just some of the ways science is expressed. In essence, science is my passion, it is my incessant thirst to know and learn more about the world around me. Although I feel that Neuroscience is my calling, the zeal to understand the field from an interdisciplinary standpoint will always prevail. And this love for all things science has driven me to contribute towards building The Science Paradox so that others, young and old alike, may be inspired.
Q: What position does science hold in society? Are we talking about something that only scientists really understand and have an interest about?
A: Speaking about Science in India, on one hand there are a lot of people that are familiar with science and are updated all the time and on the other hand there is a category that have no clue about it at all. So, as a science communication initiative, we try to bridge that gap and bring people on the same page. Furthermore, there are also people that are not informed correctly about science. The general public holds an amount of knowledge, informed by sensationalized news circulating on television or social media, but they are not driven to go the extra mile and read more about it or verify the information, before spreading it to others. A problem that provides also to the gap or also the misinformation is that people do not have the right resources e.g., a laptop to get informed. It is quite difficult to provide such resources since India has one of the biggest populations worldwide. It is also notable, and we have to mention this, that there are a lot of academics and students who are really into science. Research institutes try their best to invoke a change. They are actively involved in making science more accessible.
Q: How difficult is it to communicate scientific topics to parts of the society that are not experts in it?
A: The problem mainly lies in the fact that it is not easy to capture a reader’s attention for long, especially if it is a topic filled with scientific jargon. To tackle this, we try to bring out dry scientific info in different forms, such as illustrious articles and videos.
Another strategy we use is to try comparing articles to everyday incidents to make it more plausible. Of course, we try to use comprehensive language with minimal scientific jargon, without compromising the scientific correctness and relevance of the topic. Since our target audience is of a very broad range, it is also important to start from the basics so that people with amateur knowledge would be able to follow it.
Q: Was there positive feedback from scientists?
A: Some readers are finding themselves in the academic field. They indeed gave as positive feedbacks, but the community is a mixed one. Our topics are understandable by everyone. Since there was no negative feedback until now, this really indicates the good work we are doing, and we are happy about that. One example of positive feedback was when we published our very first topic. We got amazing feedback from academics and my aunt, who is in the pharmacy business, was quite impressed about the good work we made to present it. She is someone who does not have a scientific background and some of her colleagues, who are in pharmaceutical supplying and we won also their interest in this.
Q: Which of your uploaded articles do you find especially interesting and why?
A: It is difficult to just limit our preferences to just one article, but we were very interested in writing about the animal drain and the condition of air in Southeast Asian countries and how this created a decline in animal life. I really liked that article, because I liked the process of converting all the information into the article. Speaking more generally, we all enjoy writing articles, so it is difficult to choose one, but we are also reading the articles of our colleagues to improve our own ones and we love all of them.
Q: What topics would you like to write about in the near future?
A: We have a lot of topics planned, however we are currently looking to write about the broad field of neuroscience, and the articles will pertain to different and unique branches of it, such as cognitive therapy. To realize that goal we found ourselves in the lucky position of being able to collaborate with another youth-led association, called Project Encephalon. They started sometime after summer 2020, but they have members from all over the world, and they communicate neuroscience with the public and other neuroscience enthusiasts. Neuroscience in general is growing as a discipline.
Q: The Science Paradox also offers a podcast series. What inspired you to do that and what is the main difference to just the written articles?
A: A lot of people are actively advertising many topics through podcasts in India. They are literally about everything. The main difference between podcast and the written article is that articles capture information where people would get to understand the topic, through a podcast, on the other hand, you can talk to other scientists like younger researchers, and you talk about current research problems and get to know how they started with it and the motivation behind their goals. It lets the public know the kind of life and problems researchers have. It is like an introductory session for everyone who wants to start in science and is looking for an orientation. Until now we uploaded four podcasts and we covered a lot of interesting topics, while also speaking with established experts of different fields.
Q: What are the topics you are talking about in the podcasts?
A: 1) We talked with Shubhankar Deshpande and Anuj Shinde about the field of herpetology that deals with the study of amphibians and reptiles.
2) Vedang Joshi, a young researcher from the University of Bristol who is currently working in the field of mathematical biology. He deals with mathematical phenomena in biological species. We spoke about why and how he found this particular field interesting and the kind of work he has been a part of so far.
3) Then we spoke with Hrishikesh Wagh about Taxonomy. Hrishikesh studies the leopard-human conflict, an issue that has been persistent for a very long time. He works on diet patterns and behavior of leopards to better understand the issue.
4) R Chaitanya is a software algorithm expert turned taxonomist and molecular phylogeneticist. He shared his journey from bits and bytes to
reptile and about the details of his field.
Q: That is amazing, I am sure you will make more podcasts in the future. Do you have any final things to say also to our own audience about the difficult time many people are facing in their professional fields because of the Covid-19 pandemic?
A: Yes, definitely! Even though the times are tough, one of the best ways to contribute to the welfare of the society and the community that we are a part of is to help each other and communicate our thoughts and ideas. The Science Paradox strives to put its best foot forward in doing the same. Irrespective of the field that you are a professional in, one thing that helped, which just might help you too, is to keep motivating yourself and your coworkers. At the end of the day, teamwork makes the dream work!
Q: Thank you very much for the opportunity to interview you. I am sure we will hear from you also in the near future.
A: Thanks a lot for interviewing us! We hope to reach out to more science enthusiasts and get a step closer to our aim. The Science Paradox is truly grateful to have been featured by The Millennial Agora newspaper.
(The Millennial Agora wants to thank The Science Paradox for the opportunity to have this interview.)