Episode #25: Middle School Physics: Lame, or the First Step to Becoming A Superhero? (transcript)
Quinn: Welcome to Important, Not Important. My name is Quinn Emmett.
Brian: I'm Brian Colbert Kennedy.
Quinn: This is episode 25. That's a quarter century.
Brian: Quarter of a century of episodes.
Quinn: Yep. Hey, Brian. Today we're asking middle school physics: lame, or a first step on the way to becoming an actual superhero?
Brian: Let's hope the latter.
Quinn: Yep, yep. Man, our guest today is the self-titled "The Physics Girl", Dianna Cowern.
Brian: We got the Physics Girl.
Quinn: I know. Quite the coup. Pretty excited about that. Yeah, man. Wow. You can find her over on YouTube, and everywhere else, but YouTube's the place where I think she has like -- a billion listeners, subscribers.
Brian: With a B.
Quinn: I think it's B.
Brian: One billion.
Quinn: I do believe it's billion.
Brian: Not surprising, because her videos are incredible.
Quinn: Man, it's like the best kind of black hole, you know?
Brian: I'm serious. My whole day is gonna be gone, and I'm pumped about it.
Quinn: It's like the educational version. I just feel like sometimes I click on Wikipedia, and it's like, I'm looking up someone in corporate business's name, and five clicks later, I'm reading about the war of 1812. I'm like, what happened? It's great, though.
Brian: It's so fun.
Quinn: Anyways, she ... I mean, so many followers. She must be so powerful. That's like a real platform for change, or whatever you wanna do. She could do anything with those. I mean, what if she wanted to start advocating for crazy things, like personal submarines, right, or riding dogs to work.
Brian: Just saying "fuck" at the stop sign.
Quinn: Right, or fuck it, yeah. No, fuck stop signs. Fuck those. She would have an army of people, and you would be right online.
Brian: Oh, I would be there for sure. Number one army man.
Quinn: Yeah. Sure. That's the title.
Brian: That's the title, right?
Quinn: That's the rank, yeah. Number one army man. Jesus.
Quinn: Anyways, the good news is at least she's got an education. MIT, Harvard, worked at GE.
Brian: No big deal.
Quinn: As always, and it's getting weird, that's Brian's resume, too.
Brian: I have the same stuff on my resume, and I-
Quinn: In the same order.
Quinn: And you guys never ran into each other.
Brian: Surprising. You think we would have.
Quinn: At any of those places.
Brian: Yeah, yeah, yeah. On the quad. Do they have a quad there? They must.
Quinn: Which one?
Brian: At GE.
Quinn: Yeah, I'm sure GE has a ... Yeah. Jesus. Brian, we recorded that whole podcast, and this intro, and you didn't know that I've got new headphones, Brian.
Brian: Oh, you do?
Quinn: Guess what? Guess what? They're not just new, they are the ones. Little context. Brian and my wife made me stop wearing my other ones that I love so much because my fucking robot vacuum ran them over. Murder. Found them one morning on the floor of my office, and it destroyed them.
Brian: That must have been so sad. Yeah.
Quinn: I kept wearing them because they still worked, but the fabric was just shedding all over me. It looked like I had some form of horrific disease, like they said-
Brian: It was terrible.
Quinn: Yeah, they said no more, even in the comfort of my own office, which is very sad.
Brian: All over your ...
Quinn: Very sad.
Brian: Everywhere. Hair and beard.
Quinn: On the planes. She wasn't happy. Anyways, I reached out to the manufacturer. They're Oppo, O-P-P-O, and what was the first thing I saw? Do you remember? They're fucking out of business.
Brian: Oh, they're done. Right. Right.
Quinn: They're not making anything anymore. But I reached out, and guess what they did? They replaced them for me. I got a new pair, the same ones.
Quinn: So happy. Yeah.
Brian: That just seems crazy that they would do something so nice.
Quinn: So thank you to those guys. I know. So nice.
Brian: It was your fault.
Quinn: I got them back in, like, four days, and I didn't even tell you. I'm so happy. It was totally my fault. Well, it was my fucking vacuum's fault. It's autonomous. It knows what it's doing.
Brian: Flying cars, my ass. We don't even have-
Quinn: Do you know what the first thing I listened to in them was? It wasn't your voice. Do you know what it was?
Brian: Are you sure it wasn't my voice, because that was what I was gonna guess.
Quinn: Yeah. I'm positive, because it's a very different feeling.
Brian: I have no idea.
Quinn: I haven't seen this movie yet, and I don't even know if I'm going to. Have you heard the soundtrack to The Greatest Showman?
Brian: Nope. Nope.
Quinn: You haven't?
Quinn: It will change ... I mean, again, there's a list of, like, three very specific things I've told you would change your life. You won't do this one, either.
Quinn: It will change your life. If you wake up, and you listen to this the first thing when you wake up, and you're not ready to just get out there and change everything, really, about yourself and the world, you're dead to me.
Quinn: It's amazing.
Brian: Track one, The Greatest Show. Who's it sung by. Zac Efron. Oh, I better jump on it.
Quinn: You have no idea. Yeah. You have no idea.
Brian: No, come on. I'll listen to it. You made quite a statement now.
Quinn: I'm gonna ask you. We're recording again in, what, three days?
Quinn: You better have run this thing into the ground by then, and I guarantee you, you listen to it once, you will have. Put it on before you go do whatever the ... What are the workouts you're doing, with a superhero? Who is it?
Brian: It's for Deadpool. I'm doing Deadpool workout.
Quinn: Deadpool. Deadpool workouts.
Brian: Yeah. Yeah.
Quinn: Great. Well, you can find those on our Instagram. Listen to it before and during your Deadpool workouts, and you might finally get through those pushups.
Brian: You think this is seriously a good soundtrack to listen to for working out?
Quinn: I could not be more serious.
Brian: Okay. Okay. I'm going today after this, so I'll be listening to this in no time.
Quinn: If I do get this treadmill desk we talked about offline ...
Brian: Here we go.
Quinn: If I had a treadmill, they say you walk, like, six to eight miles, plus Greatest Showman, I mean, we might not need an extra employee, I might be so inspired.
Brian: I mean, how many times you have to listen to The Greatest Showman soundtrack to equal eight miles of walking?
Quinn: How many hours are in the day? It doesn't matter.
Brian: Wow. You love this thing.
Quinn: You just keep it playing.
Quinn: You just keep it playing.
Quinn: I wanna get into this for a minute. I feel like we could have a whole separate podcast about this, because I'm so fucking upset about it.
Brian: I'm very sorry.
Quinn: We don't usually talk about the guest's Trump book club pick ...
Brian: Ahead of time.
Quinn: ... before, ahead of time, but in putting together the show notes, you revealed to me that you've never read Harry Potter.
Brian: I have not read any of the Harry Potter books. I think I saw three of the movies, maybe four, and I'm not even mad about it.
Quinn: God damn it. How do you not tell me this stuff before we start a professional relationship?
Brian: Let me know what things I need to tell you and not tell you before we get into a professional relationship, and then I will.
Quinn: Hey, Quinn, here's the deal. I've killed people, and I have a few warrants out, and I have unpaid parking tickets, and I've never read Harry Potter. Those are the three things that would disqualify you.
Brian: Right now, I've only got one of those three, though, so can we be cool?
Quinn: How could you ... I mean, by the way, the movies are great, and they get so much better as they go along, because again, they're advancing in sophistication and complexity, and more serious.
Quinn: Don't yeah. You didn't even watch all of them. You don't know. You're just saying that.
Brian: I saw a handful of them.
Quinn: You didn't even finish them.
Brian: Saw a small handful of them.
Quinn: Three is not a handful. A small handful implies a degree, not a number. That would say, like, small hands. Three fingers is not a small handful. That's three fingers worth.
Brian: Well, I have all of my fingers, to be clear.
Quinn: You know what? I'm just too upset to get into it. They don't wanna deal with this. People come to us for light and positivity.
Brian: Not this year.
Quinn: Do they?
Brian: Do they, though?
Quinn: Speaking of light and positivity, there we go. Segue.
Quinn: Let's go talk to the Physics Girl, because no one's ever been more excited about science, and God damn, do we need it these days.
Brian: God, she's so great.
Quinn: Okay. Here we go.
Brian: Let's do it.
Quinn: Our guest today is Dianna Cowern, and together we're asking middle school physics: lame, or the first step on the way to being a superhero? Dianna, welcome.
Dianna Cowern: Yeah, thank you. I don't know-
Brian: We're so pumped to have you here.
Dianna Cowern: I don't know if I'm an expert on middle school physics.
Quinn: You will be by the end of this. Don't worry.
Dianna Cowern: Great.
Brian: Okay, so maybe you're not an expert, maybe you are, but tell us who you are and what you do.
Dianna Cowern: Yeah. I'm Dianna Cowern. I run the channel Physics Girl, so I'm the host and mostly the writer, researcher, creator, curiosity wizard. I don't know.
Quinn: God, that's a great title.
Dianna Cowern: I don't know. We're working on it. I'm the person who created Physics Girl, which is a YouTube channel that just crossed a million subscribers.
Brian: Yeah, I noticed that. Congrats.
Dianna Cowern: Thank you. Yeah, thank you, so a million people, at least, have wanted to know a little bit more physics. It's all about science. I did a physics degree, and was sort of unsure of what I wanted to do with my life, and this was a side project that took off. It's what I do. I'm very thankful for my job.
Quinn: I love that. I think it's important how everyone ... We don't do this with everybody, because we kind of dig into it, but talk to me a little bit about your academic and professional experience that kind of led you to this, because you're not, like us, a couple of hacks who just started a podcast because it's cheap. You actually have a scientific background, and it's kind of bonkers. Can you go into it a little bit?
Brian: Pretty impressive.
Dianna Cowern: Thank you. I've never been described as bonkers, but I will take that.
Brian: It's such a good word.
Dianna Cowern: It is. It's a great word. You know, I started a YouTube channel for the same reason, because it was cheap. It wasn't meant to be a science channel, and I think that's what people are always surprised about, that this was not ... Most YouTubers you talk to ... I'm gonna call myself a YouTuber, and then I'm gonna regret it later.
Quinn: Nice. Nice.
Dianna Cowern: But most YouTubers you talk to started their channels just because they're passionate about the thing that they talk about, or they're into it. They like making videos, they like creating, they like making media around a specific interest, which for me was physics, but I started the channel originally just to blow off steam after a really, really difficult degree in physics, feeling like I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, after having spent four years studying one thing, and then no idea what direction to go with a career path.
Quinn: What was that one thing, for everybody?
Dianna Cowern: Physics. It was physics, yeah.
Quinn: But specifically. Anything that you were really digging into?
Dianna Cowern: I mean, I did some research. I guess, to get super nerdy, I did an optic lab, so we made holograms.
Quinn: Fucking cool.
Dianna Cowern: It was so fun. We did optics, and then I did some research in dark matter, so was doing a little undergrad research experiment, looking for dark matter, which has not yet been found, so I wasn't successful.
Quinn: How's that going?
Dianna Cowern: Yeah, no, no. I wasn't successful. Scientists in general haven't been successful, so I don't feel too bad about my undergrad failure.
Brian: Was that so awesome to study, though? That sounds incredible.
Dianna Cowern: I mean ... Yes.
Brian: Or is it just frustrating because it's not there.
Dianna Cowern: Yes. I think the thing about science is that it's so cool in concept, but the experience of it ... It involves using a lot of wires, and a lot of setting up of experiments, and failure, and looking at a ton of data, sitting a computer much more than you'd expect, so yes. Yeah.
Quinn: Dark matter feels like one of those things. Man, if we find it/slash figure it out, it's gonna change everything, but for now it seems like one of those things you mention and people are like, "Really? Really? That's the thing that makes up this supposedly huge percentage of the universe? That's the best we got?" It's crazy.
Dianna Cowern: Right.
Quinn: It's crazy.
Dianna Cowern: Right, right.
Brian: Can't wait till we find it.
Dianna Cowern: The way I used to think of dark matter is it's like the wind. You can't see it, but you can notice it in other ways. You can't directly observe it, but you can see that it moves your hair, or you can feel it.
Quinn: So wild.
Dianna Cowern: There are these other things. We know dark matter is there because of all these other things that it does, and we have so many different things it does. You know, wind moves the trees, it moves your hair, you can feel it, it makes you colder. There's all these things that tell you it's there, and the same is true with dark matter, but we still haven't seen it.
Quinn: It's so crazy.
Dianna Cowern: It's hard to know what it is.
Brian: I just finished a book called Dark Matter. It was fantastic.
Quinn: Well, it's a great book.
Dianna Cowern: Oh, awesome.
Brian: So good.
Dianna Cowern: Who is that [inaudible 00:13:03].
Brian: Blake Crouch is the author.
Dianna Cowern: Not read it.
Brian: Didn't wanna-
Dianna Cowern: I was too busy doing experiments, I guess.
Brian: I mean, it's just fictional, but it's such a good read.
Quinn: Yeah, it's a good one.
Dianna Cowern: That's fantastic. I'll have to check that one out.
Quinn: All right.
Brian: All right. Let's set up our conversation for today, yes? We are big believers in action oriented questions. Clearly, you are as well, Dianna. Curiosity drives everything, and in this case, we need to drive change. We got some shit to fix.
Quinn: That's a fucking understatement.
Brian: That's gonna be our angle today. Does that sound cool?
Dianna Cowern: Yeah, that sounds great.
Quinn: Awesome. Dianna, to put you right on the spot, we start with one important question to get the [inaudible 00:13:50] of why you're here today. Instead of telling us your life story, which I will fully admit, I just did, we usually like to just ask little one. Why are you vital to the survival of the species? Be bold. Be bold. You've got a million people. You have a congregation, a large congregation of humans, that hangs on your every word, so let's hear it.
Dianna Cowern: Right. I am vital to the survival of the species because I will contribute to the mass convincing of humans that science, and rational thinking, and scientific processes are important for creating new technologies and better our lives.
Quinn: That's amazing.
Brian: Hell yeah.
Quinn: Wait. You pretended like this was gonna be so hard to answer.
Dianna Cowern: I was laughing because that's the kind of question that my mom would be like, "Don't stroke her ego."
Quinn: Oh, we're gonna get into your mom, then. That's pretty awesome.
Dianna Cowern: Oh, she's great.
Quinn: All right. Let's throw down some context for today's topic, which means it's time for a little thing we call Context 101, with totally uncredited Professor Brian.
Brian: Completely. We need a little jingle right there. Right after you say Context 101 with Professor Brian, little jingle.
Quinn: Right. Right. Right. Danger jingle. Again, we always say it's kind of like the book report you threw together at 11PM the night before it was due, on some random classic of American literature you didn't actually read.
Quinn: But that's why we've got dark matter Dianna here to correct us. Brian, talk to us about what we're gonna talk about today. God, I'm a nightmare.
Brian: Let's do it. I'll be worse, and I'll make you look good. All right. Well, we're here to talk about science, and science education is under attack across the United States. Back in episode eight, we actually talked about protecting scientific education standards with a long time educator and a couple of students who successfully fought to keep climate science in the classroom in Idaho.
Quinn: That's right. Oh, geez. These people are just such idiots.
Brian: Fought to keep science in a science book.
Quinn: Right. Sentences we shouldn't have to say.
Brian: Not directly, but certainly not helped by that bullshit, our high schoolers are not [crosstalk 00:16:18].
Quinn: Our America. We're in, like, 70 countries now, Brian.
Brian: Sorry. Sorry. Our in America high schoolers are ranked 25th worldwide in science, 24th in reading, 42nd in math, and for math, we're below average.
Quinn: That's so ... That's ...
Brian: Not good, and, you know.
Quinn: Not great, Bob.
Brian: Why is this important? Well, you know, you'd think being ranked higher would mean our kids would be better educated, and then be able to get better jobs, you know, preferably here, but wherever they want, and contribute to the world in either teaching, or research, or a private role, I don't know, like solving climate change.
Quinn: Right, or, Christ, or like anything else we've talked about, like ... Oh, Jesus. This is the type of thing I go off on, and my wife just walks away from me. Universal flu vaccine. Timely, Lyme disease vaccine. It's super hot out everywhere, and Lyme disease is everywhere. How do we standardize and digitize and analyze decades of completely fucking unreadable health records, and solve disease that way, or make immunotherapy better, or I don't know.
Quinn: I come back to like ... I had these incredible teachers in college, and there were some that were really, really, really smart, and had a hard time passing on that knowledge, and then there were others that were equally skilled at being a teacher, and were able to successfully, efficiently pass on their knowledge and enthusiasm to the next generation, and that is just as important as somebody out there who's making CRISPR able to solve everything. Anyways. Yeah-
Brian: Yeah, and we talk about that all the time when we talk about ... But, you know, we're talking like middle schoolers here, right? Remember when you were in middle school?
Brian: It was shit.
Quinn: Right, the first time you should theoretically be able to get the bug, right?
Brian: Yeah, except it doesn't ... You know, it's lame.
Quinn: What is?
Brian: Science is lame, and reading's lame, and class ...
Brian: School sucks, you know? Well, except for lunch period. Lunch period was awesome.
Quinn: Oh. I love lunch. I did love lunch.
Brian: It's so good.
Quinn: I love science too, but as in most things in high school, except for sports, and that's about it, I failed to apply myself.
Quinn: So instead of contributing to any of those things we just mentioned, as a complete hypocrite, I've got a podcast, so great work, everybody. Anyways.
Brian: Okay, so, how do we make people better than you were, or are?
Quinn: Well, it's a fucking low bar, but let's go.
Brian: Shut up. Yeah, but let's be realistic. I mean, teenagers are going to be teenagers, but clearly we need to get our shit together, and we need and they need to be doing better. Listen, you can't just force teenagers to do anything, obviously. That's not gonna get you anywhere. You know, you apply just enough pressure, and your teenager's got a kid of their own, if you know what I mean. At that point, it's less about physics and more about accounting, and holy shit, why are diapers so expensive, you know?
Brian: Your lifeguard job isn't gonna cover organic baby food, okay, Josh? It's not gonna happen.
Quinn: Who's Josh?
Brian: He's just a regular asshole that needs to apply himself.
Quinn: That was pretty incredible. What's amazing about that is you don't even have kids yet, so yeah, you have no idea the darkness that is how expensive diapers are.
Brian: I can only imagine. Yeah, you should be talking about this, I guess, but ... All right. Let's go. Let's jump that bar, or vault it, or whatever the athletic analogy is, and build some fucking science superheroes.
Quinn: Right. Awesome work. I love that. All right, with that for what we're gonna call context, let's focus on our question. Again, end of fifth grade, going into middle school, which is in some ways the worst period of some people's life. That's when some kids do get the science bug, or just at least the learning bug, and I wanna know how we can better provide for them.
Quinn: Dianna, I ask you, put yourself in the shoes of a seventh grade girl. She's in a decent, but not great, not terrible, public school in America. She's got pretty good teachers, who are, for the most part, trying their hardest with extremely limited resources. She's online all day and night, typically, right, using a device that would have passed for fucking science fiction, like, 30 years ago, and participating in the most connected network in the universe, as far as we know.
Quinn: But let's just say she doesn't recognize or give a shit about all that, and she's not alone in that, you know? School and science are lower on her priority list. Of course, that's all relative, because boys are so far behind, it's not even funny. I mean, they're barely even at school, right? Regardless, what is the thing that's gonna make her try in physics class? What's the catalyst? What can we do to grab her?
Dianna Cowern: Yeah. Oh, that's such a good question, and I think about this all the time, because I think about what was it for me? I obviously got the physics bug.
Quinn: What was it for you?
Dianna Cowern: This is where it becomes obvious that there's no one magical answer, because I think back and I'm like, okay, my parents took me to science museums my entire childhood. They brought me outside. I grew up in Hawaii, so we spent a ton of time outside. Like, let's just go look for bugs.
Dianna Cowern: Let's not be scared of them in the house. Like, let's go look for them. It was my physics teacher, Cathy Jones, in high school, that had tons of cool demos going on during recess, and was like, "Oh my God," like, "this is so cool. Come see this." Her enthusiasm was like the infection that started in a bunch of kids. It was so many different things, but a lot of it was just an introduction to science, an introduction to some questions about the world, some curiosity, and then people who were encouraging enough to be like, "Yo, it's cool to do this. It's interesting to ask questions." I think it came a lot from external encouragement.
Quinn: I mean, I feel like that is so important. I heard somebody, and I've got, like, a legion of small children that I know about, and I try to school them in all this, or even better, lead them in the right direction and see what happens, and I heard somebody say the other day, you know, when they come home from school, instead of saying, "What did you do today?" Say, "Did you ask any good questions today?" Maybe that'll stick with them.
Dianna Cowern: That's great.
Quinn: It does seem like ... Again, you're one specific person, and some people have that one moment, right, or that one teacher in that one moment, but you needed five or six different things, and it does seem like ... Again, I'm not looking for what the ... and I guess I phrased it that way, like, what's the specific thing, but what are a suite of things that we should have out there, or at least support in some way, like your YouTube channel that has made ... things like that have made science so much more accessible, and fun, and cool.
Quinn: Your YouTube videos, they might not have the science teacher who's doing cool experiments during recess as a resource, who was amazing, but they might now be able to hang out the bathroom while they're smoking, watching Physics Girl videos. Everybody wins now. You know, it's like there are all these new platforms, but at the same time, again, you look at this, and Brian, what was our science ranking? Something horrific, like 50 or something?
Quinn: 47, so it does feel like we need to institutionalize some of this in some way.
Dianna Cowern: Yeah, absolutely. I think it's really hard. One of the best things that could be done, I'd say, is for parents to be really involved with their kids, and to introduce them to science demos and science experiments. I mean, the ideal, right, is a parent that the kid comes home, and they're like, "Let's just do some little milk and food coloring surface tension experiment today." Get the kids involved, but what parent has time to look up all these experiments and learn the science behind it?
Dianna Cowern: Look, yeah, I think you're right. I think a lot of it does have to be institutionalized. I think one of the biggest ways ... I'm getting away a little bit from media and heading on into science education reform, but I think that one of the most important things we can do is to introduce hands-on learning in science. I'm talking about not just frog dissection, but if you wanna learn about physics, let's do some experiment. Let's not just do some equations and figure out how is the ball gonna fly, and parabolic trajectory. Let's try it. Let's try to make a guess where the ball's gonna land based on what math I need to do.
Dianna Cowern: That really hands-on type of, they call it project-based learning, I think is gonna be really, really key to getting kids interested and good enough science to where they feel like, "I have achieved something. I'm good enough at this. I could continue on in a STEM career."
Quinn: I love that. I mean, I look at some of your videos. There's one I was talking to Brian about before we called you that felt like ... What was the Leonardo DiCaprio movie about the dreams, with the-
Dianna Cowern: Oh, Inception.
Quinn: The video, we'll put it in the show notes, Why do mirrors flip horizontally (but not vertically)?
Brian: Oh, yeah, yeah.
Dianna Cowern: Oh, yeah.
Quinn: So seems super interesting, and then you click on it, and it occurred to me. I was like, that question has never occurred to me, and now it's all I can fucking think about for the next three minutes. I was just like, "Wait a minute. Why? This is insane." It was insane, and you answered it, and it makes so much sense, but I was just like, "Oh my God. Oh my God." It's insane. But those are the type of things that you would think would ... and clearly you do such a great job of with your 10 million followers.
Dianna Cowern: Well, million.
Dianna Cowern: Let's not get ahead of ourselves.
Quinn: By the time this comes out, you never know.
Brian: 1,050,546, to be exact. No big deal.
Quinn: All right. Brian is 12 of those. You know, but that's what it is. It might not have some practical, everyday application, all of them, but if it gets the enthusiasm going, that's amazing, and by the way, you know, we talk about ... I'm one of those parents, and Brian will be one day, that doesn't have time to do these things, even though I try to. For Christmas, I got my kids these little bug catchers. They're humane.
Dianna Cowern: Awesome. Awesome.
Quinn: You put it on the ground, you slide the little thing underneath, and then there's a built in magnifying glass so they can look at it. Just having those around the house ... I mean, kids are curious, man. You know?
Dianna Cowern: Totally. Totally.
Quinn: Having stuff like that, they can do it inside, they can do it outside. You teach them that when you're outside, you're in the food chain. You're in nature. They're like, "Ah, spiders!" Like yeah, well, fucking spiders live here. They don't live in the house on purpose. They wanna live outside. You know? You're in their domain, and I don't know, I feel like that, to me, sometimes, at least, helps take the pressure off like, I can't do an experiment directly with all three of my children every day after school.
Dianna Cowern: Yeah, absolutely, and you know, there's so, so, so much media out there. I don't wanna say like, "Yeah, put kids in front of a computer. That's gonna get them more interested in science."
Dianna Cowern: But the truth of the matter is that kids are spending so much time on phones, on the internet, in front of screens.
Dianna Cowern: Why not turn that time into time when they could be starting to build their curiosity about science?
Quinn: If they're gonna be on there, right.
Dianna Cowern: Exactly, exactly. There's blog posts. There's even apps that are meant to get kids interested in science. There's YouTube channels. Woo!
Dianna Cowern: All about science. There's tons of material out there that people are designing to be easily accessible for kids to start getting interested in science, so that it doesn't have to come just from a parent who happens to know a ton about science.
Dianna Cowern: I mean, let's be real. If I ever have kids, I'm gonna be like, "Let's do experiments all day."
Brian: Yes, you are.
Quinn: Oh, God, those poor kids.
Dianna Cowern: Experiments on the kids.
Quinn: Yeah. Wait a minute. Yeah. You probably shouldn't say that out loud. No, it's amazing, but you know what, what occurred to me, though, is like, you're right. All right, here's the deal. They're gonna be on their screens. Fine. Meet them where they are. But what if, you know, half their screen time has to be Physics Girl, or something like that, where it's just ... Or even, if you're a parent, take three minutes, and watch the mirrors video, or one like it, and then just ... Hey, look, there's your experiment. You can do it with your kid. You don't have to actually think them up because Dianna thought of all of them for you.
Quinn: Do it, and then you don't have to buy anything new. You literally just stand your kids in front of a mirror with a piece of paper and write, you know, whatever you want on it, and turn it around, and blow their little minds, you know? A lot of the work has been done already by you, but like you said, there are resources to it, it's just how do we structure it a little better?
Dianna Cowern: Right, right. I think what's so hard is when parents feel like they don't have that inherent interest in science. I think it's okay to start feeling comfortable with teaching your kids things that you don't know a lot about. It's almost an opportunity for you to get curious vicariously through your kids, too. You never thought about this mirror experiment. Neither did a lot of people. I actually asked that question before I made that video, the question of why do mirrors appear to flip things horizontally and not vertically, to all of my roommates, who at the time were all physicists, and none of them could answer the question.
Quinn: Oh, that's so wild.
Dianna Cowern: None of them. Does that make you feel better?
Quinn: Yeah, yeah. I mean, slightly, yeah. I mean, honestly, I do the same with my kids, and again, I do a million things wrong here. This is just what I've tried to piece together. They each get to ask me, as they're going to bed at night, they get to ask one question about anything, and I sing the Jeopardy music, and then they get to ask, and I get some questions where they're like, "What does dark matter really look like?" You know, whatever the example is, and I'm just like, "I have no idea. Why don't we look that up in the morning?" I can answer some things, but you know, let them ask the questions, too.
Brian: I would argue that it'd be more fun to learn with each other, like, to learn with somebody, than to have already known it and then taught. It's exciting to learn, and when you know that you're doing it not alone, I think it just makes it even more fun and interesting.
Dianna Cowern: Yeah, exactly. I've almost started trying to change the approach of my channel lately, which is like, the most recent video I made was about how Band-Aids glow in the dark. If you haven't tried this, you have to try it. It's amazing. Yeah. When you open a Band-Aid-
Brian: Band-Aids glow.
Dianna Cowern: Yes. Yes. Open a Band-Aid in the dark, let your eyes adjust first, and you'll see that where the adhesive is peeling apart, you see this really, really ... It's a little bit dull, but it's a very clear blue glow. I didn't know this, but one of my commenters, one of my fans ...
Dianna Cowern: Gotta check out the video, but ...
Quinn: Oh, damn it.
Dianna Cowern: It has to do with the same kind of thing as taking off a jacket, and when you're in dry air, that'll spark.
Brian: Oh, oh, right.
Dianna Cowern: You know, there's a bit of static there. It's similar, it's very similar, but I didn't know this happened, and I also didn't know why it happened, so I'm learning, and I'm trying to show that process on the videos lately, which is like I'm actually learning with you, and the process is really cool because you learn all these other things. You gain so many other questions as you're going and investigating. I think that process of ask a question, find your own curiosity, and then let that guide your learning is so important, and I try to encourage that in kids that are going into college, too.
Dianna Cowern: I try to always tell them, "Look. You're gonna have a teacher who's gonna give you, what is it called, like a syllabus, and it's gonna have this boring list of all the things, just bullet point of what you're gonna learn in the class. Take that, and before you even start the class, write down your own questions, think about what you wanna know by the end of the class. What are the questions you're burning to know, and let that guide your learning through the class. You're gonna be much more interested in the class as you try to sort of treat it like an investigation. Like, I have to figure out these answers, and this class is gonna help me figure out the answers to my own questions."
Dianna Cowern: It's like you're owning your own learning, and parents and teachers can encourage their kids to do that in middle school and high school, when they're still learning how to learn.
Quinn: I think that's great, yeah, and I think you're totally right about the college thing. I mean, again, we can get into this a little bit. You know, I was a liberal arts major, and what's great about that is they're like, "Here's the deal. You're taking one of everything." You learn a lot of really great stuff, which is like how to ask really good questions, and why they're really important, but what's really interesting is ... and plenty of these people don't change, but the people who come to school and they're like, "I'm gonna be a doctor. I've wanted to be since I was 14," and they take one class on the classics, or Hinduism, or Western thought, and they're just like, "Oh, my entire life just fucking changed, because I didn't know this world existed."
Dianna Cowern: Yeah.
Quinn: It can go the other way, too, you know? These people who grow up majoring in Spanish, which is amazing, and then they take a data science class, and they're like, "Oh, the world is unlocked," and then maybe they can apply both of those things, but staying open and staying curious, whether you're going to college or not, because college is not for everybody, bot functionally and philosophically, but also, right now, institutionally, because it's completely unaffordable, but you can apply that in community college or a vocational school, or training doing something else. I mean, you never really know where your questions are going to lead. It's such a formative time of life.
Quinn: I wanted to make one quick shout-out, though. I was trying to think, and I just scrambled and grabbed my iPad. In the limited screen time I give my kids, there is one company that makes these ... I'm sure there's a bunch of them. There's a company called Tinybop, and they make these just excellent games from ages I would say four to 10, 12, and there's all these different ... and they're all basically sort of ecosystems or how things work, and the way you can explore these things. Everyone's like, "Oh, physical books," and I love physical books, but these things didn't exist 10 years ago, and there's one on the human body, the Earth, mammals. You can see breakdowns of all these things and make them interact. Coral reefs, plants, how machines work, homes, the weather.
Quinn: Basically, kids go in, and they can literally, for the human body one, you can feed it food, and you watch the cross-section of the food being eaten, and going through the body, and how it affects everything, or you can make somebody run, and you can see how they breathe, and how they perspire, and how the heat beats, and all this stuff, and it just blows my kids' minds, because-
Brian: That would have been so great to have when we were kids.
Quinn: Yeah, that didn't fucking exist.
Dianna Cowern: Yeah. That does sound awesome.
Quinn: Mr. Rogers did his best, but you know.
Quinn: But that stuff is crazy, that level of interactivity, and how it's dumbed down. Anyways, I just wanna give those folks a shout out, because they do an excellent job.
Dianna Cowern: Oh, that's great.
Brian: Oh, yeah, we'll put that in the notes, too.
Dianna Cowern: Yeah. I've never heard of those. I'm a huge proponent for DIY home experiments. I don't have a ton of these on my channel, because I tend to just sort of talk about whatever's interesting me at the moment, but I have some that are like experiments you can do with materials you just have at home. You probably don't have to buy anything extra. There's ones like just sprinkle some pepper on the surface of water, and then touch it with soap, and the pepper will all quickly ... It doesn't just jump, but it spreads out to the edge of the plate, of your surface of water.
Dianna Cowern: Yeah.
Quinn: What the hell is that all about?
Dianna Cowern: It's really cool. It's surface tension.
Quinn: Oh, God.
Dianna Cowern: Any time anyone asks me a question, like, "How does that work? What does that work?" I'm like, I can't help myself. I'm like, "[inaudible 00:36:57] wanna tell you."
Brian: Seriously, the excitement in your voice is just phenomenal. I love it.
Quinn: I love it.
Dianna Cowern: That's it. That is why I do what I do. I mean, I can't imagine myself in any other job. As soon as it comes to a moment where like, how does it work? That's when I beam, because I'm interested in science, and it's like being able to potentially pass that on to someone else, that's why I do what I do.
Quinn: That's awesome.
Dianna Cowern: But yeah, there's tons of those DIY science experiments, so just even Googling at home experiments with ingredients found at home, there's tons of material out there. I wish that there was one place I could point to, but that's a really quick, easy way to find something that you don't have to purchase anything extra. There's easy to find guides.
Quinn: Just stuff around your house, right?
Dianna Cowern: Yeah, to do these at home experiments.
Brian: That's so great. I just do not remember being so excited about science, and I feel like if I had all of this going ...
Quinn: What were you into, Brian?
Brian: Lunch, mostly.
Quinn: No, I know. We fucking talked about that, but besides lunch.
Brian: Oh. I actually really did like math. I was really into school until I was a junior and senior in high school, then nothing really interested me, but science didn't grab ... The amount of interest I have in science now, even if I just had a little tiny piece of it when I was a kid, I would have been thrilled, and maybe I'd be doing something in science. It's just ...
Quinn: Well ...
Brian: I just mean it's funny how-
Dianna Cowern: I mean, maybe this is a better question for you, then. Do you have any insight for why you stopped being interested, because I think I'm a terrible case study for how to get kids interested in science, because I was encouraged. People showed me things, and I was like, "Yes, this is amazing. I wanna do it," but there are all these other people that, by the time they get to high school, lose interest. Do you have any idea why you did?
Brian: I feel like what you've been mentioning already, which is just the fact that I don't think my parents had enough time to get me pumped for it, and then also in school, I had some fantastic teachers in high school, but my science teachers, across the board, were, now that I think about it, they were just sort of like doing the job, you know? I had other teachers who were much more excited about what they were teaching. I'm not kidding. Across the board in science, in my life, it was just, "Let's just talk about this thing that I have to talk about with you right now for the next 25 minutes."
Quinn: How do we get through the projector slides?
Brian: Yeah, yeah, just not enough passion coming from them. I mean, I was also a punk kid, I guess, so maybe it's half my fault, but if you were as excited as you are right now, just telling us about videos, I can't imagine that if I was getting that much excitement out of my teacher, I would have just been like, "Fuck this."
Quinn: Again, we can't ask every teacher to have that level of excitement, because again, they're getting paid fucking diddly squat, and have no resources. This is a really good moment to mention the website Donors Choose, where you can go and directly contribute to classrooms that need specific things, and it is so fucking incredible, because you literally get handwritten notes back from the children saying thank you for this thing, and it is the greatest feeling on the planet.
Brian: Oh my God.
Dianna Cowern: I mean, if we're talking about institutionalized change, just pay teachers more money.
Brian: Come on.
Dianna Cowern: I mean, I really think that education is the key to advancement in technology, to just our populous making good decisions, and if that's something you care about, then voting for more money in education, or politicians who are gonna give more money to education, just to me seems like an absolute no-brainer, but, ugh, what do I know?
Quinn: Right. Jesus.
Brian: All right. Let's keep this thing going.
Dianna Cowern: Not that I'm frustrated or anything.
Quinn: No. What do you mean?
Brian: No, no, no. Nobody's frustrated.
Quinn: Yeah, no, no, no. Everything's fine.
Brian: Everything's fine.
Quinn: Everything's fine.
Brian: Dianna, on top your built-in smarts, you have clearly worked your ass off to get where you are, and everywhere you've gone, and I wanna keep talking about girls here.
Quinn: That's it. Yeah. That's a good point. Where are we specifically failing young girls and young women with regards to providing or highlighting existing opportunities in science, whether that's literally anywhere from AP classes, where things start to get, I guess, optional or opportunities, which are kind of the same word. When they can start to choose. Where are we failing them, and on the other hand, where are we, in 2018, starting to succeed in providing or encouraging things for young women? Has any of that changed, that you've seen?
Dianna Cowern: You know, every once in a while, when I give talks for the public, and I'm like, "You know, when I was a kid, it was really cool to say that you hated science and you hated math, and I'm hoping that's changing," and if there's ever a middle school girl in the audience, she always shakes her head no. She's like, "It's the same. It's the exact same," and that's what's so frustrating to me.
Dianna Cowern: I don't know exactly where that sentiment comes from, but I think it affects boys and girls, but add that to the fact that, in popular media, we don't see girls as scientists, we don't see women as engineers, we don't see them in these leading science and tech roles. There have been studies that have shown the ... What did they call it? It was that very famous scientist detective.
Quinn: Sherlock Holmes.
Dianna Cowern: No, it was a woman.
Dianna Cowern: Good guess, though. No, she's a-
Quinn: A scientist detective?
Dianna Cowern: Yeah.
Brian: The Carmen Sandiego detective?
Dianna Cowern: Is it Scully, or Scully, or something like that? The X Files?
Quinn: Oh, wait. X Files?
Brian: From The X Files.
Quinn: Yeah. Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah.
Dianna Cowern: I never watched it, so it didn't stick in my head very well. What did she do?
Quinn: She was a fucking alien detective.
Dianna Cowern: An alien detective. Okay, great.
Brian: The coolest detective you could be.
Quinn: Yeah. Scully, dude, Dana Scully. Are you kidding me? It's amazing.
Dianna Cowern: This is totally making my point for a realistic job.
Quinn: Yeah, no, you're killing it right now.
Dianna Cowern: No, but Scully, there's this Scully Effect where I think ... God, now I look like I really don't know what I'm talking about, but basically, like-
Quinn: Welcome to our team.
Brian: I see that it's a thing. The character believed to have initiated a phenomenon referred to as The Scully Effect. The medical doctor and the FBI special agent inspired many young women to pursue careers in science, medicine and law enforcement, and as a result, brought a perceptible increase in the number of women in those fields.
Dianna Cowern: Thank you. Yes. Exactly.
Brian: According to Wikipedia.
Quinn: But it makes so much sense. You're right. I mean, look, there are these crazy stats, and again, just science-specific and then women, when The Martian, the book and then the move came out in 2014, 2015, NASA's applications went up something like 80%, and then-
Quinn: Yeah, something fucking crazy, and then Hidden Figures came out, which it was one of the most incredible movies. I loved that so much. Totally true story, and, you know, you have to think there has to be some sort of Scully Effect from that, and you just look around and go, "Why not more of this?" The one we've talked about on the podcast before is Sherry from Black Panther. Have you seen Black Panther, Dianna?
Dianna Cowern: I haven't. I haven't yet.
Quinn: Oh, God.
Dianna Cowern: It's on the list.
Quinn: You're the worst.
Dianna Cowern: [inaudible 00:44:36].
Quinn: You're gonna love it. If only for the reason that the head scientist, the genius in the whole thing, is the lead character's sister, and she's amazing. Amazing, and you have to think young women, especially young minority women, are watching this and going, "Oh, shit. Look what I could be."
Dianna Cowern: Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. Seeing yourself reflected in the role models that you see on the TV screen is hugely important for kids. I mean, that's sort of where they get their sense for what's cool, right? It's not coming from their parents, it's not coming from their teachers, it's coming from their peers, but what's cool often comes from what they see in the media and what becomes popular across society in current trends and things.
Dianna Cowern: If one thing that you're seeing is like, I don't know, Wonder Woman, or this badass can-do woman character, that's gonna help shape what women think that they can be in the world. Having more of that, and I think that it is changing. I think Hollywood has a lot of pressure on them to make different female characters. There are some media initiatives that are aiming to have variety in what we see as female characters. I think that'll help, but yeah.
Quinn: It's crazy to say, and this is completely oversimplified, to say it doesn't take much, but when you're starting at fucking zero, something like Hidden Figures or Wonder Woman comes on the screen, and you're like, well, where the hell has this been?
Dianna Cowern: Absolutely. Exactly.
Quinn: It's incredible. It's incredible.
Dianna Cowern: Yeah, and you know, it doesn't take much, but the people who are making those decisions, they're so far removed from me as this person who's passionate about getting girls interested in science. My channel's called Physics Girl. I want girls in physics. I want that to happen.
Dianna Cowern: Yeah, you set that idea aside, and then you're like, okay, over here now, we've got this old dude executive of some media company who's making the decisions on what movies get made, what movies get funded, and what kinds of characters are in them, and they're so far removed from ...
Quinn: Yeah, it's not great.
Dianna Cowern: Right, right, from who's actually making the decisions that are gonna affect little girls.
Quinn: Literally, side note related, so my wife is a screenwriter as well, and just sold a TV show to Apple based on this true story. A 10-year-old girl reporter on the East Coast, whose dad was this big reporter, and he covered a bunch of the new town stuff, and it basically made him kind of give up on everything, because it's super dark, and when this little girl, [Hildie 00:47:27], was very young, he took her around to all of his interviews and on all of his investigations, and she got the bug, so much so that when they moved to this quiet, small town, she scooped the local newspaper at nine years old on murder, and it's totally true.
Dianna Cowern: That's crazy.
Quinn: My wife and her friend, who's a producer, found this story, and she'd gotten a bunch of media coverage, and they optioned the rights, and so they're making a whole almost Stranger Things. Basically, my wife promotes it, understandably, as an Amblin movie, but happens to have a girl lead, like ET with a girl, basically.
Dianna Cowern: Yeah. Yeah.
Quinn: They're just like, "Oh, we can put a young, curious, smart, science and investigative girl on screen, because fuck it, nobody else is." You know?
Dianna Cowern: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly.
Quinn: Kids will get to watch that. That's amazing.
Dianna Cowern: The thing is, I'm not a huge proponent for this, like, let's make everything about women in science. There are some really, really fantastic organizations, like Girls Who Code, that are encouraging girls in science, and talking about movements that I think are gonna make a difference, I think these groups really are going to help, but I don't think it just has to be all about, like, let's name a thing Girl in STEM, or Girl in Science, or Girl in Engineering.
Dianna Cowern: Why not just have engineers who happen to be girls? Why not have scientists who happen to be women? Show these things. My channel, I try not to make it be about I am a woman in physics.
Dianna Cowern: I try to make it about like, I love physics, I wanna talk about the physics, it's about the physics, and I also happen to be a woman.
Dianna Cowern: That's the goal.
Quinn: Well, and theoretically, you know, let's say Girls Who Code and Black Girls Code and these other amazing organizations get more women in the ranks, making apps, doing science, then, theoretically, that is what happens. Change just inevitably happens because you're bringing an entirely new perspective to the things that we're interacting with on a daily level, right?
Dianna Cowern: Exactly. Yeah. It's just a much more natural process of having more women to show as scientists and engineers, as there are more women.
Quinn: Right. Right, right.
Dianna Cowern: It's magical.
Quinn: It is magical. Slight pivot here, and I would just love to chat this out with you, which is ... I don't know. I think about it a lot recently. I think a lot of other folks are, but I've mentioned a little bit. I was a liberal arts major that loved, but didn't major in, any sort of scientific discipline, right? Again, like you said, huge push for girls in STEM, and also boys in STEM. Anybody, we're ranked so low, and especially minorities, right? It's so vital to the future, but we've had a few really jarring examples in recent years of nerds, mostly white boy nerds, many of whom didn't even graduate from college, which is fine. Again, college is not for everybody, but these folks are in powerful positions, building tech products, and failing to even think to ask the question, "Should I build or do this?"
Quinn: I've always felt, and maintained, and tried to be much more public, that these startups, that some of whom develop into major corporations, should have a chief liberal arts major, or at least a chief devil's advocate. Someone who can say, or ask why, or why not, you know? I wonder if just girls are the answer here. I mean, boys are just so dumb, and I say that as a boy, and as a father of a couple of boys, and I have nephews, and I've coached them. It's just like, it's a statistic at this point. We just make decisions without wondering about the consequences, and a lot of times, that can be the right stuff, and we end up going to the moon, and it's great, and sometimes it's real bad, and Facebook ruined the world.
Quinn: I don't know. I don't even know really what my question is here, I'm just thinking out loud, because as someone who is so enthusiastic, but your job is literally asking questions. Why do mirrors flip horizontally but not vertically could lead some young person to build the next mirrors on the James Webb telescope that's, one day, gonna go to space, you know? Or would make them stop and say, "Should we do this?" I don't know.
Dianna Cowern: I've got a lot of thoughts around all the issues to do with getting more girls into STEM and encouraging them, especially having very male-dominated tech fields, and in fact, I had a very recent experience with a close friend of mine who ... You hear about these situations, but you never think you're going to come face-to-face with one, but he was hiring an intern, an engineering intern for his company, and ended up with two very equal candidates. One was a guy, one was a girl, in engineering.
Dianna Cowern: It turned out that the girl was just a year behind, so she had a little bit less experience as far as coursework went, and so he was leaning toward the guy because of that, and I was like, okay. Let's put this in perspective, that girls are not introduced to engineering nearly as much. The fact that this girl made it so far to be in engineering in college, and be given this opportunity to get an engineering internship ... She is the one we need to encourage and foster, and the question was like, "Well, yeah, but she's just a year behind," and I'm like, "Okay, your company has only had men for the 10 employees that it's had, and so it's never gotten the perspective of a woman. Every decision that's gonna be made is gonna be made from the perspective of a man, so any products you end up selling to women are not going to have been made or discussed by women at all."
Quinn: Which is bonkers.
Dianna Cowern: That to me was like such a ... I know. I know. It was such a no-brainer. Like, yes, she has a few less courses, so, I mean, on the scale, it would slightly tip toward the guy as far as which candidate's better, quote unquote, but the benefits for having a woman finally in a company to give different perspectives far outweigh just having the slightly better candidate.
Dianna Cowern: I think that's the perspective that needs to change, that having a diverse group of people in your company is going to give diverse voices, it's going to change the decisions you make as a company, it's gonna change the culture of the company, which we all know Uber could have used much earlier on.
Dianna Cowern: I think having these discussions and being aware of these kinds of situations ... He ended up going with the girl, by the way.
Quinn: Nice. Oh, God.
Dianna Cowern: That was the end of the story.
Quinn: That never actually goes that way.
Brian: Yeah. Amazing.
Dianna Cowern: I know. I know. I think it's because he talked to me about it, but ...
Quinn: No, you know, but it's so funny you say that, because the slightest sense of intervention. I don't know, and we are not gonna get into this, if you've interacted with the online dating stuff at all, which at one point was totally crazy. I remember one of my friends was like, this is 15 years ago, was like, "I met somebody on Match.com," and I'm like, "What the fuck is Match.com?" Now it's everywhere, and it's everything, but the story of Bumble is so interesting. It's lead by women who used to be a part of bigger things, and that entire company is sort of built on the ethos of that devil's advocate thing that I mentioned.
Quinn: The technology's all there. Their product is wonderful and very impressive, but it's built on a question, which was what if we had a dating site, but only women could get in touch with the men? On Bumble, men cannot reach out to women, and to me, that's like that question of like, how should this actually work? It makes me think, like, wow, that's incredible, and it makes women feel so much safe, and so much more expressive, and so much more in control, that when you're looking around and seeing all these privacy issues, and these privacy leaks at these companies run by white men who just wanna throw themselves out there, what impact women would have.
Quinn: I mean, you go back to the thing. Apple. We were talking about computers before. I love Apple. Amazing products. Most valuable company that's ever existed on the planet, and when they put out their amazing health platform that started a couple years ago, and it had all these health metrics that you could put in, or you could track from a device, they completely left out menstruation.
Dianna Cowern: Oh, God.
Quinn: And it was just like, how?
Quinn: Literally, it's the one built-in thing that half the world's population deals with every month, and it's because it's a bunch of 60-year-old white dudes, and they're great, but come on. Like you said, just having them there overcomes whatever credits short that that girl is of working at the company.
Dianna Cowern: Absolutely. You think about the one health issue that women have to deal with more than any other, that is it.
Quinn: The one. The one. Everybody's got it, you know? It's like I tell my kid, everybody poops. You know? It's the one thing. It's just crazy, but it does, and that's why ... I don't know. It's lazy and cliché, but I just wish there was, again, like a female devil's advocate in all these companies, because I love the example of Bumble.
Dianna Cowern: Yeah, yeah. That's the thing. In this situation, I don't know whether this is necessarily gonna make or break this company, having this one female intern, but having the conversations I think is the important part. That's what's going to help start changing.
Dianna Cowern: Continuing to have the conversations with everybody that you talk to, no matter what situation. Just bring up women's issues, and that's obviously not where I'm going, but ...
Quinn: No, but again, it doesn't take much.
Dianna Cowern: It doesn't take much, and I think if we do keep bringing up these conversations, then when it comes to male CEOs of tech companies that are making decisions, once they start having daughters, I think they're gonna become even more aware of women's issues, but until that point, having the conversations is gonna help plant the ideas in their mind.
Brian: Dianna, you've been doing the videos for, like ... I think the oldest one says six years, yeah? Six years ago?
Dianna Cowern: Yeah, yeah.
Quinn: That's like the beginning of the internet, basically.
Brian: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So you started the internet. Got it. Have you taken any specific actions, or made any changes, I guess, with your output over the past year and a half or so, with all the shit that's gone down since the dark lord took over?
Dianna Cowern: Oh, God.
Brian: He's not a huge family of women, if you didn't know.
Dianna Cowern: I've gotten that impression.
Brian: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Quinn: It's subtle, but ...
Dianna Cowern: It's been a really hard balance, right, because I think some of the people who need the most encouragement to think scientifically and to be interested in science are not the people who are necessarily watching my videos as much. I wouldn't say that I've taken any different approach on my content. If anything, I've almost just doubled down on this need to be like science is cool, I'm enthusiastic about science, I think about things scientifically, and when it comes to contentious topics like being more sympathetic to the other side, and opening up to conversations that are really uncomfortable. My parents are very conservative, and I've started ... I would even say ... I mean, they may listen to this, but we had a lot of discussions.
Quinn: We can cut out whatever you need us to cut out, to be clear.
Dianna Cowern: We had a lot of discussions around climate change, and it was pretty eye-opening to me because they're so close to me, and they have encouraged me from day one in my scientific careers and everything that I've done, but where they get their information is sharing different quote, unquote "facts" about climate change than where I get my information. I think that's how it became so stark, is like we are getting different information, so it's pretty clear why they would believe different things than I would. But I think what started to change their mind was my passion and my determination to talk to them about it, despite the fact that it was very uncomfortable and very awkward for all of us. For both of my parents. Yeah.
Quinn: Who has initiated most of the conversations?
Dianna Cowern: That's a good question. It's hard to avoid them when it's December after the election, and climate change is so, so important to me, and to our planet. I mean, it really is, but getting angry at them, and cutting them off for all the other reasons I disagree with them is not gonna get anywhere for the progress that I think really, really needs to happen. You can't be like, "I'm gonna get really angry at these people, and I'm gonna keep doing what I'm doing, and fight them."
Dianna Cowern: It's like, no, I need them too. I need to them to see why this issue is so important. I need them to understand why climate change is happening and why we need to do something about it, because I need them to be on the side of fighting for the planet, and it's not my side, it's not like ... I'm just a scientist. I'm just a science communicator who knows why these issues are so important, just based on scientific facts and reality. I need them to talk to me about it.
Quinn: Well, I think that attitude's so important, though. We had a little series, and we're gonna have some more coming up, with folks that we might disagree on a whole bunch of other issues with, but we happen to agree on climate change, whether they're religious or they're conservative for one reason or another, and I think it's ... Nobody likes being yelled at and being made feel less than or stupid or very wrong in something they believe in, and I think it's really important for progressive folks, liberals, democrats, whatever you wanna call it, scientists, however you lean, to make sure that ...
Quinn: A lot of the disconnect does fall on our lap, and it's important for us. Like you I think said so well there, our attitude shouldn't be, "You're wrong. You're ruining everything," as much as we might feel that way. If we approach every one of these interactions that hopefully develop into a conversation with the attitude and angle of, "I need this person to understand," then it will make a difference, because so many people are already on board, but it's just not quite enough, and if we get ...
Dianna Cowern: Right.
Quinn: All these other people, you're just in the bubble, and that's fine, and we can talk about that stuff, and it's comfortable, and it's easy, but getting that last percentage of people on board will make an incredibly huge difference in a serious race against time, and changing our attitude to how we approach them, and, again, hopefully having conversations with them. It's not gonna be the first conversation that gets it done, but changing that attitude and that mindset makes such a difference.
Dianna Cowern: Absolutely, and I think what helps them a lot was this personal conversation, rather than me sending them articles, and arguing from a political standpoint. I think, in fact, I don't ... well, at least up until that point, didn't follow politics too, too closely, and I think they know that I don't get most of my information from the news and from politically leaning sites when it comes to climate change. I get it from scientific papers, from friends who work as climate scientists. Knowing that I'm very integrated in a science community, and I'm coming from a scientific perspective rather than a political perspective I think was really important to them, you know, at least listening to my tearful pleas.
Quinn: Sure, sure.
Quinn: It's hard, man. It's hard.
Dianna Cowern: Yeah.
Quinn: That's awesome, though. I mean, those personal stories and those personal success stories do matter, and I think help mobilize our listeners to take that step. It's super easy. My wife and I were talking about this. It's really easy when you live in Los Angeles and New York to go join a half million people in a march because you know that basically everybody agrees with you, but it's a lot harder, either in your family you've got going on, and I think a lot of people have going on, or your extended families at Thanksgiving or whatever, or on vacation, or just in your town, to go and protest with 10 people, knowing that there might be 20 people on the other side who disagree with you, and just screaming at them is fun, but it doesn't get a lot done.
Dianna Cowern: Yeah.
Quinn: Finding those, and that's why we always try to get pretty specific with this, and build our action steps of things that have worked or could work, to just move the needle, man.
Dianna Cowern: Right. Right.
Brian: Pretty important.
Quinn: Who else should we talk to? Who else do you really love, is someone that ... whether big name, or we love small names, folks that nobody's ever heard of. You know, when we talked to Gautam, Dr. Gautam Dantas, who literally is the guy who discovered that bacteria was eating the antibiotics that we feed them, and that it's not great that that is happening. People wrote to us, and were just like, "Holy shit," but yeah. You know, we wanna talk to, again, existentialists. We wanna answer the questions, or ask the questions, at least, of the things that are facing folks right now or in the next 10, 20 years, that are affecting most of us, or they will be very soon, and bring on someone who can help speak to those things. If you have anybody in mind now or later, that would be awesome.
Dianna Cowern: Yeah. Yeah. Have you guys done anything on CRISPR or gene editing?
Quinn: I've wanted to. I wanna find the right people, but they're a little in demand right now, so if you have any contacts, that would be super.
Dianna Cowern: Okay. I have a great one. My friend, Vanessa, who runs a YouTube channel called BrainCraft, made a 30-minute documentary all about CRISPR, talked to a ton of the scientists behind it. She's a neuroscientist herself, but her documentary was recently featured on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, so [crosstalk 01:06:26].
Quinn: Oh, nice.
Brian: Oh, wow.
Dianna Cowern: Yeah. She has-
Quinn: I would love to talk to her.
Dianna Cowern: She's a great one.
Quinn: I would love to do that.
Dianna Cowern: Yeah. She's also-
Quinn: Digging into that I think will blow people's mind.
Dianna Cowern: Absolutely. She's done a ton of research on it, is very deep in it, and she's Australian, so fun to listen to.
Quinn: Nice. Nice. Upping our international game.
Brian: Such good accents.
Quinn: Thank you.
Dianna Cowern: Yeah. There you go.
Quinn: That's awesome. Thank you, and yeah, if there's anybody else, you can always send it to us later via carrier pigeon or smoke signal. Listen, let's summarize a little bit, and I think we touched on a lot of awesome stuff, what our listeners, and progressives, and, in all our case, parents or teachers can do in general to help take action on this front, which is just ... again, it's great to make super scientific superheroes like you, but to just get people enthused about it. Young, very young people.
Quinn: For parents, it's like, hey, man, put on your little calendar there, do one experiment a week. What's an afternoon or an evening that's not taken up by some fucking sport or extracurricular? Sunday night, after dinner, before dinner. God, man, the experiment can be as simple as like, hey, look, you pour water down a piece of wood, and look how it runs in every different direction and why. I mean, it costs you nothing, and I'm sure there are some resources. Like we said, we didn't know a ton off the top of our heads that are out there. I assume there is a website that is like, "Here's experiments you can do at home that cost no money." The internet always provides, so Brian, find that.
Quinn: I know there's a book, which is definitely a little ... The title's a little sexist, but the content was good. It's like nerd dads or something like that, experiments you can do with your kids, but there's stuff like that that's out there, and just pencil it in, man. It can take 30 seconds or a couple minutes, but let your kids ask the questions. Let them do the experiment. It matters, because like you said, doing the experiments themselves seem to make the big difference, seem to put the hook in.
Dianna Cowern: Totally.
Quinn: Voting for more money in education is always great. Just fucking pay your teachers, people.
Brian: Voting for more sciences, voting for more women.
Quinn: Yeah, exactly, and supporting both women and minorities in exciting positions, but also supporting media, like you said. Blank Panther, Wonder Woman, Hidden Figures, that show women and minorities, even if it's fictional, or a true story, whatever it is, because dollars do make a difference, and these idiots in Hollywood, many of whom are my friends, they're terrified for their fucking jobs, and they just decide on dollars and cents, and for a long time, that meant white guys, and there's been too much of that, and starting with Hunger Games, we started to see some really big movies with women in charge, and these idiots are like, "Oh. They wanna see women. Yeah. Fuck. Jesus." Support it with your dollar, man. Get out there, tweet about it, et cetera, et cetera. Yeah. Am I missing anything?
Dianna Cowern: Yeah, I mean, you know, I assume that a lot of your audience is already calling their representatives, so when they do just slip it in at the end that you want a lot of money toward education, it's really important to you, and you want teachers to be paid more.
Dianna Cowern: Just slip that in.
Quinn: Yeah. Yep, absolutely, and again, you can do that really easily with 5calls.org, folks, or you can just download it on your phone. You literally just read what's on screen, just mash your fingers against a button, or you can check out the Town Hall Project and see when your representative is having a town hall, or if they haven't, and you can go to it and talk to them in person. It's amazing.
Quinn: Take some action.
Brian: Yeah. Let's do it. Let's get to it. We've got a little lightning round of questions, Dianna, if that's cool.
Quinn: Kind of.
Dianna Cowern: Yes.
Brian: Sort of.
Quinn: Kind of. It's my fault. All right, let's just do it. Dianna, when was the first time in your life when you realized you had the power of change or the power to do something meaningful? Pretend I'm Oprah.
Dianna Cowern: Oh, man. First time in my life. I'd say the first time I tutored a kid.
Quinn: What was it in? Physics.
Dianna Cowern: Math.
Dianna Cowern: It was certainly in math, yeah.
Quinn: What was the challenge they were having?
Dianna Cowern: Oh, that's a good ... God, I don't remember. The first time I tutored kids was in, like, sixth grade, so ...
Quinn: Oh, boy. Okay.
Dianna Cowern: Starting early.
Quinn: It might have been me.
Brian: I guess what was it about ... Did you just see that you made that kid better, and smarter, and understand it better, or ...
Dianna Cowern: Yeah. You know, loved tutoring so much, because I was like, okay, this kid is struggling. They don't have that much of an interest. I can, one, be enthusiastic to show them somebody who's interested, and get them ... You know, enthusiasm is pretty contagious, so that helps, and two, by the end of it, they're able to do these problems in a way that they never could, just by having somebody who one-on-one cared enough to make sure that they could sit through and do a problem all the way through by themselves.
Quinn: That's awesome. We should also note that there's a lot of other contagious stuff, too, that's not good, and if you tutor enough kids, you could make someone that helps to solve those things, so everything comes around. Dianna, who is someone in your life that's positively impacted your work in the past six months?
Dianna Cowern: Oh, man. I'm gonna say Simone Giertz. She's the queen of shitty robots.
Quinn: Awesome. Oh, wait, she just had the brain surgery, right?
Dianna Cowern: Yeah.
Quinn: She's incredible. I mean, for so many reasons.
Dianna Cowern: She's amazing.
Quinn: Both what she does, similar to you, but also what she's going through and the way she's documenting it.
Dianna Cowern: I know, and she's one of my best friends, and I feel like ...
Quinn: Oh, that's awesome.
Dianna Cowern: She's younger than me, but has been sort of been that female role model that I never had for things outside of science, for things that are like ... Like how to deal with women's issues in a graceful yet hilarious way.
Quinn: Yeah. She inspires the hell out of me. We'll definitely put that in the show notes, and we're thinking about her in and her recovery as well.
Dianna Cowern: Yeah. She's doing well.
Quinn: That's awesome. That's awesome.
Dianna Cowern: Yeah.
Brian: You talked a bit before about where you do not consume the news, but how do you consume the news?
Quinn: Where specifically? Where can we point people?
Dianna Cowern: I don't much anymore.
Dianna Cowern: But I'd say ... I mean, there's Scientific American, and Physics News, and I consume a lot of university news. As far as science news goes, university press is really cool, so MIT and Harvard and Stanford, sort of their scientific announcements, the big announcements that come out from there, are always really good. They're well-written, they're short, and they're usually really interesting things that are coming out of universities.
Brian: Yeah, that's awesome. Nobody's answered that yet. I like that a lot.
Dianna Cowern: Makes me sound smarter than I am.
Brian: You sound so smart.
Quinn: It's very intimidating.
Dianna Cowern: I don't go there that often. I'm not gonna pretend too hard.
Brian: Okay, next question. If you could Amazon Prime one book to Donald Trump, what would it be?
Dianna Cowern: Oh, good question.
Quinn: Anything. We've had a huge variety of wonderful answers, and so you know, basically we've made an Amazon wishlist, and it's public, and folks can go there, and they have. You can click on a book, and it just send it via Amazon Prime to The White House, so.
Dianna Cowern: I was gonna say Harry Potter, because they're like-
Brian: Hell yeah.
Dianna Cowern: They're very simple lessons of kindness.
Quinn: They even have illustrated ones now.
Dianna Cowern: The difference between good and evil.
Quinn: Yes. Yes. Oh my God. Nobody has ...
Brian: Man, that's good.
Quinn: Has anybody said Harry Potter? I don't think so.
Brian: No, no. I don't think so.
Quinn: It's crazy. My sister's gonna be so excited. I love Harry Potter. I am a huge Tolkien nerd, and so I just totally refused to read Harry Potter at first because I was like, "It's for babies," and she's like, "You're an idiot," which is fair, and then finally, as is usual, she just totally guilted me into it by buying me all of them for Christmas, whatever, 10, 12 years ago.
Dianna Cowern: Nice. [crosstalk 01:14:41].
Quinn: Just looked at me with these puppy dog eyes. I was like, "Fine. Of course," and then I read them all in, like, three fucking days, because they're amazing. I live like-
Dianna Cowern: I am not surprised.
Quinn: Yeah, I live like a mile from the Harry Potter World in Los Angeles.
Dianna Cowern: Oh, wow. Okay.
Quinn: It's amazing. I dress up all the time. It's pretty great.
Brian: I dress up.
Dianna Cowern: With or without the kids?
Quinn: Look, we don't have to get into that, okay? This isn't about them. All right. This has been great.
Brian: So great.
Quinn: Where can our listeners find you online?
Dianna Cowern: Sort of all over the place with the social media, but youtube.com/physicsgirl is the easiest way. Yeah, and then I'm on Twitter, and Instagram, and Facebook and stuff, with other science stuff, @thephysicsgirl for the rest of the stuff.
Brian: The Physics Girl.
Quinn: Awesome, awesome.
Dianna Cowern: Yeah.
Quinn: Well, man, thank you so much for your time today, Dianna, and for all that you do, and will keep on doing. We need you to keep kicking assessment out there, so please do that, if you could.
Brian: Yes, please.
Dianna Cowern: Well, I appreciate the encouragement. It's been fun.
Quinn: Yeah. Well, we're fully depending on you, so it's encouragement, but like groveling, too.
Dianna Cowern: No pressure.
Quinn: Yeah, no pressure.
Brian: I have so many videos to watch now on Physics Girl on YouTube.
Dianna Cowern: Awesome, and then show them to all the kids that you know and you cross in your lives.
Brian: So awesome.
Quinn: Awesome. Brian knows a lot of kids. All right, Dianna. We appreciate it. Thank you so much.
Brian: I just like kids.
Quinn: All right. Let's let her go, Brian. Let it go.
Brian: Oh, yeah, right, right.
Quinn: We'll talk to you soon.
Dianna Cowern: Thanks so much, guys.
Quinn: All right.
Brian: Thank you.
Quinn: See you. Bye, Dianna.
Brian: Have an awesome one. Ciao.
Dianna Cowern: Bye. You, too.
Quinn: Thanks to our incredible guest today, and thanks to all of you for tuning in. We hope this episode has made your commute, or awesome workout, or dishwashing, or fucking dog-walking late at night that much more pleasant. As a reminder, please subscribe to our free email newsletter at importantnotimportant.com. It is all the news most vital to our survival as a species.
Brian: You can follow us all over the internet. You can find us on twitter at Importantnotimp. Just so weird. Also on Facebook and Instagram @importantnotimportant. Pinterest and Tumblr, the same thing, so check us out, follow us, share us, like us, you know the deal, and please subscribe to our show wherever you listen to things like this, and if you're really fucking awesome, rate us on Apple Podcast. Keep the lights on. Thanks.
Brian: You can find the show notes from today right in your little podcast player, and at our website, importantnotimportant.com.
Quinn: Thanks to the very awesome Tim Blane for our jamming music, to all of you for listening, and finally, most importantly, to our moms for making us. Have a great day.
Brian: Thanks, guys.