Misconceptions about Astronomy

Alice Sheppard

Tuesday, May 21 2019 at 7:30PM

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Alice Sheppard

What's the talk about?

Alice Sheppard takes us on a whiplash tour of just a few of the misconceptions of astronomy she's encountered as an ambassador of the subject: 

• it’s a waste of money 
• it matters what we call Pluto 
• it can predict the future 
• it's a subject to which men are better suited.

Alice Sheppard is Community Manager at UCL Extreme Citizen Science, which investigates and supports public involvement in science. Alice does not consider herself academic but rather an example of what members of the public can achieve scientifically outside the academic environment. She is also the Citizen Science Officer at the Society for Popular Astronomy. Alice led the Galaxy Zoo forum from 2007-2013, with daily discussions of astronomy.

Entry £5 on the door.

Summary of talk

Alice became interested in astronomy when she discovered Galaxy Zoo, an online project where members of the public help classify thousands of galaxies. She ended up running the discussion forum for this project, called Citizen Science.

During the last
 3 years, Alice has been Community Manager at UCL Extreme Citizen Science, a discipline investigating and supporting the public in involvement and decision-making in science. Previous roles include founding Cardiff and Hackney Skeptics in the Pub groups, teaching assistant and astronomy club leader. She is a regular contributor to the magazine Society for Popular Astronomy and supports women in science.

Alice entertained us with a few examples of common misconceptions that people have about astronomy: confusion with astrology, only boys and men are interested, pseudoscience, etc.
She highlighted the paucity of astronomy in the national curriculum but pointed to other ways we can learn more and become involved: local astronomy club, TV, YouTube.

After a short quiz to show that the general public already know quite a bit about astronomy, she focussed on the Moon, showing how we can navigate using it, the so-called “dark side”, and how it affects us on Earth.

We discussed the naming of Pluto (is it really a planet), the importance of mathematics in astronomy, the female astronomers who helped discover dark matter, the big bang, and whether astronomy is value for money.

Alice ended her talk by considering how some people are excluded from science, referencing her colleague Emily Dawson’s book “Equity, Exclusion and Everyday Science Learning: The Experiences of Minoritised Groups”.

After the break, Alice played us a video clip from Carl Sagan (Pale Blue Dot). She then answered various questions from the audience.
We ended by visiting the GalaxyZoo project, and took part in classifying a few galaxies.

Alice is passionate about science and astronomy and her enthusiasm showed through in her talk.

GalaxyZoo is just one project of Zooinverse, where members of the public contribute to research using the internet.