Brain Reel #27

'Women stuff' and pseudoscience, get a sneak peek of my book, SEWING

Hey you lot,

Long time no speak! It’s been a bit of a mad 2020 for me so far – a mixture of being pretty bed-bound with flu then a chest infection then tonsillitis (clearly I need more spinach in my life), as well as kicking off a new (secret right now…) podcast, recording the audiobook for Smoke & Mirrors and moving flat..! In short, writing my beloved Brain Reel has had to take a hit.

BUT, here we are. It’s March. It’s less than 2 months until my very first book hits bookshelves. I’m self-isolating my clearly crap immune system in my beautiful new flat. It’s getting (a little more) sunnier. It’s time to get back into writing to you wonderful lot.


🔬 Science Reel 🔬

I *loved* this piece in the New York Times by Farhad Manjoo: ‘Coronavirus Is What You Get When You Ignore Science’. This bit in particular:

Science has always faced threats. Its purpose is to shed light on truth, and there have always been those who would stifle the dangerous facts scientists unearth. But today the stakes are higher. How we’ll fight the gravest threats humanity faces will depend on how governments and citizens understand and interpret the findings and cautions of science.

Oh and this bit:

It may sound paradoxical to plead for divine sanction of scientific pursuit. But these are dicey times for science and for scientists, and they need all the help they can get.

And it got me thinking about how we talk about science, or rather, how we don’t, particularly in female-targeted media. BBC Woman’s Hour recently aired an episode on astrology. A book on ‘manifesting’ money by a prominent female influencer has recently been commissioned by Piatkus. Netflix released a series focused on Gweneth Paltrow’s pseudoscientific wellness brand Goop, clearly aimed at and featuring aspiring/middle-class women.

It pains me to see this. Both from the perspective of misinformation and affecting vulnerable people, but also as I really do think this stuff is far too intertwined with the idea of what ‘female things’ look like. Female intuition seems to be getting confused with untested ‘fixes’ fueling various capitalistic agendas. The ‘female trait’ of being open-minded and more emotion-led than logic-led seems to be getting confused with genuinely baffling, not to mention dangerous, ideas. Women as ‘more accepting’ seems to be getting confused with presenting pseudoscience to audiences who are less likely to challenge and fight back against ideas they’ve been conditioned to believe they don’t have ‘the scientific knowledge’ to understand.

Frankly, I feel like this stuff gives women a bad name – fuelling that historical narrative that women aren’t scientifically literate, that we’re gullible, that we’re incapable of being logical. I feel embarrassed when I see it.

Female-focused media has a responsibility to present good information to their audiences they proclaim to care so much about (and not assume women don’t care about science and thus hardly include it), but women reading and consuming and propping up these narratives also have a responsibility to say ‘this is not what we want’.

📖 Book Reel 📖

I decided to release a preview of the book, to give everyone a sneak peek of what Smoke & Mirrors is all about! All the information is over on my website - go have a read and let me know what you think!

Read the intro of Smoke & Mirrors

We recorded the audiobook a few weeks ago, which was a surreal experience to say the least! 4 and half days in a wee booth reading you own words over and over to get them perfect drives you a little crazy, but luckily I did emerge reminded how proud I am of this book of mine. And now you can listen to my dulcet Scottish tones reading it out to you come April (you can even pre-order the audiobook..! *wink wink*) (Also if you fancy a laugh, I posted the outtakes in which I stumble on both easy and hard-to-say words over and over and over again in a wee story feature thing on Instagram)

For those of you holding off pre-ordering as you want a signed copy (honestly, I was surprised / very flattered by how many requests for this I was getting!) I’ve partnered with this lovely independent online bookshop called Big Green Books which you can order this very thing through! Their website isn’t the most ‘2020’ but Simon who runs it is awesome and ordering through them means you’re supporting a cracking wee business instead of Amazon 🙃 (Also I’ve already had some of my book event partners hold off booking dates in April and May due to COVID-19 so there may not be as many in-person events as I’d like…)

Get me a signed copy!

Pre-order links for ‘SMOKE & MIRRORS: How Hype Obscures the Future and How to See Past It’, released April 23rd 2020: Amazon / Foyles / Waterstones / Blackwells / Wordery / Book Depository

Or if you prefer a big fancy green button:

Pre-order and feel great about life!

🧐 Musing Reel 🧐

So recently I got into sewing. Yep.

My pal Alice inspired me when I visited her flat for the first time and saw all the clothes she was making from scratch; Netflix’s ‘Next in Fashion’ totally got my creative cogs turning again (they’ve felt a little dormant of late); and then I went to a sewing convention (because of course I did) and was totally taken by all the bits and pieces and fabrics and patterns and kinds of people there.

The whole world of finding a pattern (the garment’s recipe, mainly found online these days), adapting it to your sizes, choosing your fabric and notions and extra pockets (cos I will always add extra pockets), and then spending a weekend whiling away the time making something from nothing…well, it feels bloody brilliant. And it reminds me somewhat of the open-source software world.

It also has made me look at my body in a whole new (healthier, more considered and less emotional) way. I finally understand why things bought off the shelf – no matter my dress size at the time – have always hung off me awkwardly (turns out I have a non-standard hip to waist ratio, who knew). I finally understand why fashion hasn’t ever really spoke to me (I’ve never felt a part of it, but MAKING a thing makes me feel very intertwined). And I feel like I look at clothes in a whole new way – snapping photos at shop windows because I think the stitching is beautiful, or trying to work out in my head how the women in the coffee shop’s dress, with its intriguing seams, was put together, or SKETCHING IDEAS in my little ‘fashion design notebook’ as I watch back episodes of Project Runway. It’s like my eyes have been opened, and it’s cracking.

Get involved people.

📌 Tip Reel 📌

Quanta made this CRACKING map of maths, called The Map of Mathematics, and honestly, I have been WAITING on this ever since it became clear my maths degree was not going to provide an overview of the field and a way to follow it. It’s also beautifully designed! Brilliant.

I joined a new Slack group (well, it’s now on Mattermost…but, same thing) by Anna Gat and her amazing new(ish) talent agency / community, the Interintellect. It’s basically now one of the few places online I check every day, and I regularly feel like the stupidest person in the room as it’s filled with so many brilliant minds. I’d get yourself on the waiting list if I were you. (Also we’re hosting the next London Salon at my place in a few weeks and there are only 12 spaces, so I’d follow Anna to get updates on this too if you want to come along to chat ‘Generalists v Specialists’)

I’ve read 7 books so far in 2020, all of which are reviewed on my Instagram, and next on my list are two proofs – Wendy Liu’s ‘Abolish Silicon Valley’ and Jenny Kleeman’s ‘Sex Robots and Vegan Meat’ – as well as ‘Ideas That Matter’ by A.C. Grayling and ‘Play It Again’ by Alan Rusbridger.

➡️ Next Reel ➡️

  • 24-25 March: London - AI UK (chair) [at the moment this is still going ahead]

(All my upcoming foreign travel, and many of the events I had scheduled in London, have been cancelled / postponed as a result of Covid-19…will be interesting to see what happens to the events and conferencing industry over the next few months)

Find me elsewhere on TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoodreadsInstagramMedium, or through my website.

Until next time,
Gemma 🚀

Gemma Milne is a Science & Tech Writer, has her very first book (about hype and idealism in science and tech) coming out April 23rd 2020, is co-host of the Science: Disrupt podcast, and loves a bit of public speaking.