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(Soon To Be) Live From Entomology 2017: Q&A With Hosts of This Week in Science

This Week in Science hosts

Blair Bazdarich, Kiki Sanford, Ph.D., and Justin Jackson, hosts of This Week in Science, will be at Entomology 2017 for a live recording of their long-running podcast. (Photo courtesy of This Week in Science)

Among many highlights on the slate for Entomology 2017—which starts this Sunday, believe it or not—is a live recording of the long-running podcast This Week in Science. Hosts Kiki Sanford, Ph.D., Blair Bazdarich, and Justin Jackson will be onsite for what will be their first-ever episode conducted in the midst of a scientific society conference.

The episode will take place as a Lunch and Learn session at 12:15 p.m. on Monday. Check it out onsite or watch live online (barring any onsite technical challenges). Entomology Today spoke with Sanford and Bazdarich to find out more about what goes into producing a weekly podcast and what entomologists can expect from the podcast on Monday.

Entomology Today: You work at the intersection of science and the public. What’s the biggest challenge in translating science for the general audience?

Sanford: The biggest challenge is that the “general audience” is really made up of many smaller groups of people with very different characteristics. So, the question becomes one more of how you find a way to catch the interest of so many varied interests. What is the common human theme that can make a story engaging?

The specific answer to this might be different for children versus teenagers versus parents versus business people, but there is likely to be a common thread that connects these people through shared humanity. On TWIS we try to reach an audience of the curious, to explain the science, but also hopefully lead people to their own questions and further inquiry.

What advice do you have for entomologists on either hosting or being a guest on a podcast? How does one make insect science come to life over an audio-only medium?

Sanford: For any scientist, whether hosting or guesting, you need to know your audience. Figure out who you are talking to and why. Determine your goal for the show before stepping up to the mic. And then talk without the scientific jargon; or, if the jargon helps, define it before you use it. To really make the audio format come to life, use action words and descriptors (sound effects even!) liberally to paint a rich picture for the audience. Think about the way that your favorite audio programs sound and whether you can copy some aspects of them in your performance.

Bazdarich: Talk about what makes your science so special. Personal accounts, passions, and back stories are always great. I have a soft spot for tales of procedure gone wrong, ghost variables, and unexpected results. Don’t get hung up on needing a perfect, earth-shattering finding (unless you have one). Just tell us a science story! Also, be sure to use lay terms as much as you can and to think ahead of time about things you may have to explain. We have listeners at all levels of science comprehension, from a retiree that watches NOVA to high school students to Ph.D. candidates. Help them feel welcome in the discussion!

Do you have a favorite entomology story you’ve featured on the podcast before?

Sanford: I have to say that, for me, the more gruesome the story, the better. There is something I find mesmerizing and fascinating about the alien world of insects that, when told as such, makes for the best stories. Blair is the host who usually brings up these stories during her “Blair’s Animal Corner” segment, and more often than not she has us cringing or laughing with a just-discovered tale of invertebrate sex or parasitic brain control.

Bazdarich: I have two favorites! One of the first stories I presented when I was just an intern was on the strategies of male spiders and copulatory plugs. It fascinated me because it was the perfect symphony of mate choice, adaptations in life history, and an evolutionary arms race of the sexes. Males were ripping off their own … organ … to distract and satiate the female so they could run away. But why? If he can no longer produce offspring, why would evolution favor this tactic? Such a mystery.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have any story at all about the peacock spider. It has gotten to the point where I will do an interpretation of the peacock spider dance to anyone who will tolerate it. It has transformed my life. Ultimately, it comes down, for me, to the idea that sex is the name of the game, in that we are all just trying to spread our progeny to the world. But it isn’t fun and games in the wild, and in fact love and war are often one in the same. Invertebrates are so special because they have about as many ways to do it as there are colors in the rainbow. It’s poetic and beautiful and savage and disturbing. Just fascinating!

Honorable mention to star-gazing dung beetles, and pollinating mosquitoes! I mean, everything is connected, and all living things have an important job, so I always wondered, where do mosquitoes fit in? Could we even tell if they disappeared? Well, now we know! They are precious pollinators!

Have you ever recorded an episode of your podcast from a science society conference? What do you expect being surrounded by 3,500 entomologists will be like?

Sanford: We have not recorded at an episode at a scientific conference before, so are very excited to make the ESA meeting our first! We have recorded at science and comedy festivals and adults-only nights at science museums where the audience has really been a broad swath of people who fall into the science enthusiast category. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun to dip into the deep end of entomology research for a short while. I am really looking forward to many, many conversations that teach me things I never even considered. Fair warning: I will have lots of questions.

What can attendees expect at your TWIS podcast taping at Entomology 2017?

Sanford: Our 90-minute show will be entomology-focused and full of the things that you expect from the This Week in Science podcast: fun and interesting science news stories, spirited discussions, questionable opinions, questions, rants, and maybe some shin-kicking. We’ll also be interviewing a few chosen entomologists about themselves and their research. Please, let us know if there is some news that we absolutely can’t miss reporting during the show! Since this will be a live show, we will also be inviting some audience participation. So, be ready to get involved. We can’t wait to meet you!

Bazdarich: Definitely a peacock spider dance. And maybe some traumatic insemination (discussion thereof).

Learn More

Lunch and Learn: This Week in Science Podcast Live Taping!

Entomology 2017: Ignite. Inspire. Innovate.

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