The Science Talent Search and The Skeptics

How do you get people to think a little more critically? How do you encourage an appreciation of science? Those are questions that skeptics ponder.

However, there are such opportunities right under our noses – things that we’ve been doing for years that somehow don’t get much PR, yet generate huge good will. Victoria’s Science Talent Search is a great example.

Australian Skeptics Inc are major supporters of STS and have been involved since 2003. Vic Skeptics committee members are also represented in the organisation and judging.

The good will generated by STS is amazing. Kids get to exercise their passion for science, science teachers get to show off their best and brightest, and the parents are often there proudly supporting their kids; and most importantly of all, it’s the perfect event for Australian Skeptics to get behind and support.

Participants in the Science Talent search need to demonstrate originality, and the ability to meet a number of criteria specific to the category in which they enter. For example, students who perform an experiment must submit a report which contains an introduction, aims, materials used, the method followed, results, a discussion of the results, a conclusion, and a list of acknowledgements and references. On this criteria participants are judged and graded.

Look at this thank you letter from a Junior Primary age participant.

Surely the financial contribution from Australian Skeptics, together with the effort by those on the Victorian Skeptics committee is worthwhile – just for that one letter? But there are loads more of them. (see below).

Victorian Skeptics President Terry Kelly writes:

This was the first Science Talent Search awards day I have attended. I get it. I’m totally on board with this now. Well, I was before but you have to be there to see the value. The money seems so trivial in a way, (I think $70 is the biggest individual prize…down to $35), maybe it buys one or two decent books, but the joy and pride and enthusiasm of the kids, the teachers and the parents was actually uplifting.

You can’t quantify this, you have to see the joy. I think it’s one of the best things the Skeptics do.

I think the sponsorship is worthwhile and great value. Some of them were thrilled to get their photos taken with us. The actual presentations are somewhat tedious in a way, but that only adds to the value of the sponsorship. The name of “Australian Skeptics Incorporated” was repeated over and over (well, 52 times according to my program) and it possibly makes us look bigger than we really are – alongside big names like “BHP Billiton”, “The Royal Society”, “Rio Tinto Limited”, “The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute” etc, etc.

To relieve the tedium of the actual presentations I marked some of the more interesting (to me) Project Titles. If they don’t become Dr John Longs (an earlier winner) or Nobel Prize winners they certainly could get into the Ignoble Prizes… e.g. “The Friction of Different Cricket Grips”; “Which of the Three Types of Chocolate Will Melt the Slowest?”; “The Average Toilet Flushes to the Note E flat: True or False?”; “Which Type of Chocolate Melts Fastest?” (Sponsored by Oz Skeptics); “Rockin’ the Rockpools”; “Super Happy Science Time”; “The Nerd Show”; “Canine Gait Analysis”; “Snail Surveillance”; “Very Vegefully Fruitfal Browning ” (sic)…I don’t get it either but it does stimulate curiosity; “Litho Woman” (sponsored by us); “Which Schmacko Treat do Dogs Like the Best?” (us again); “Which Colour and Brand of Marshmellow Burns Quickest?” (us); “Ouch, That’s Hot”; “The Effects Various Liquids Have on the Burning Sensation Caused by Hot (Spicy) Foods”; “Interpretation and Identification of Human Emotion in Facial Expression”; “Recycled Paper Towels suck”; and, my personal favourite, “The Science of Swing Bowling” by a student of St Kevin’s College, proudly sponsored by Australian Skeptics Inc. ….in the old days the story was that scientists said that it was scientifically improbable/illogical to suggest that cricket balls could “swing” in the air when bowled. Millions of unfortunate batsmen groping into space knew the scientists were wrong. I hope the science behind the phenomenon is now fully understood and explained.

I’ll be there again next year if I can and I’ll arrive really early, like other Vic Skeptics did, to have more time interacting with the kids we sponsored.

To quote REM “Smiling happy people all around…”

The parking meter even broke down and I didn’t have to pay the $5.

Lots of credit to Ken Greatorex and Charles Tivendale who are on the STS committee.

Here are some amazing statistics:

The Science Talent Search has been running for fifty-nine years. It is entirely organised by a Committee of volunteers (mostly classroom teachers) under the aegis of the Science Teachers’ Association of Victoria. A volunteer judging panel of over two hundred teachers is also required.

This year there were entries in ten categories from about three thousand students. Five hundred and ninety-two financial bursaries were awarded, varying in value between $30 and $70, with $250 being awarded to some entries by whole classes of primary students.


(with thanks to and assistance from Ken, Terry and Charles)

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2 Responses to The Science Talent Search and The Skeptics

  1. catherineLd says:

    this is truly brilliant

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