Anthony Morgan: TV host shares the wonder of science

By Kerry Turner

“Science is not just what you think, it’s how you think,” says Anthony Morgan. “And my goal is to get people to think more like scientists in their everyday lives and have them understand that science is just a tool that you can apply to whatever you want.”

What better outlet for a passionate scientist could there be than hosting the longest-running science television show? In 2024, Anthony Morgan, together with co-host Sarika Cullis-Suzuki, will bring a new perspective to the iconic The Nature of Things. Morgan is an award-winning science communicator, PhD researcher, startup founder and game designer, who for 20 years has worked to change how people see, think and talk about science in their everyday lives.

Morgan has very specific goals as science communicator on The Nature of Things and wants to bring awareness about just what drives scientists. “Many people have this idea of what a scientist is; that’s a lab coat wearing, really serious, dour person who is only focused on the most important things. People may have this misperception that scientists are also not humans, that they don’t have fun and see their friends on the weekend, and can’t be silly and playful. I bring a new focus on not just the profound, but also the playful. To me striking that balance is really important.

“The other thing that I want to bring is a great focus on what science actually is. Science is not what you say, it’s how. I’m not concerned with making sure that people memorize the shape of a pencil molecule or the speed of light. I’m more concerned with how we come to know the things we know about the world.

“Science is very much a process that you go through. When you have a question you don’t know the answer to and you get to understand the world better and make the world a better place − the kind of place you want to live in.”

The mix of playfulness and process focus will help communicate what drives scientists, according to Morgan. “Scientists are compassionate people first and foremost. They do what they do because they are trying to improve quality of life for others. To be compassionate means that you act like the suffering of others matters as much as your own.

Anthony Morgan together with co-host Sarika Cullis-Suzuki. Photo by Jimmy Jeong.

“While we do have prescriptions around how people ought to live their lives, if we all want to see our species and the other species on this planet flourish, we don’t make those prescriptions without an awareness of what it means for people’s everyday lives.”

Paired with that inclusive approach, Morgan also believes that addressing important issues such as climate change effectively will require a different approach, one that involves better communication and a sense of intellectual humility.

“Do I know how to stop climate change and save the world? I think it would be absurd to say that I do. I’m not sure. What I suspect is that we’re going to have to find ways to have better conversations around disagreements, because we all have blind spots. If I think electrification is a great thing or if I don’t, if I think nuclear power is the way we should be going or if I don’t, there are good reasons to be wary and to be excited about all these kinds of options. Walking into conversations with the widest eyes possible and with the least naivity possible is going to be the best way for us to make the wisest decisions.

“People in the sciences have been yelling for a long time about what we should be doing, what individuals should be doing to address climate change. And they’re not wrong. But that’s not the whole picture. We have to understand the real barriers that people are facing when they’re trying to implement some of these changes in their lives. Sometimes it’s comfort, sometimes it’s not. Maybe driving a big truck to work is your only way to get to work and to be able to work.

“I firmly believe the approach that science communication has taken on climate change is maybe not the right one. I think we have been far too righteous and self-righteous at times, even though we’re not wrong. But our rightness does not excuse our rudeness.

“Bringing more compassion to those conversations is a recognition that the changes we’re asking people to make will bring genuine forms of suffering and those forms of suffering matter. We need to figure out ways we can help to ameliorate that suffering without simultaneously destroying our planet.”

Being social

Morgan’s interest in constructive communication and his current PhD work at Toronto Metropolitan University focus on how we can reduce polarization to have better conversations around controversial science. He believes science is the most powerful tool for solving big problems such as climate change, Covid-19, and misinformation, but he has come to the conclusion that the bottlenecks to solving them aren’t technical, they’re social.

“There are things we can do to have better conversations, identifying shared values, practicing curiosity and having more informal contact.” Toward that end, Morgan regularly hosts a conversational pub game called “Freestyle Socials” across the Greater Toronto Area through his company Science Everywhere.

“In a nutshell we show up at a venue. We put tape in the middle of the floor. We ask questions, and then we make our audience pick a side. We tell our audience, ‘You have to decide. What does your gut tell you?’ They’re all surprised. We put a microphone in the middle of the floor, and each of them gets to explain their position to the other. The only rule for the game is if you hear an idea that surprises you or makes you question, you should switch sides.

“It really is just a place where we can practice changing our minds because we’re having kind of a tough time with that right now.”

Career plans

While at Laurentian University studying science communication, Morgan had the opportunity to chat with Dan  Riskin, another Mechanical Business cover personality (see MB archives, January/February 2022 and July/August 2013). It was there that he announced his intention to take science communication to Riskin’s level. “The program at Laurentian included field trips to go and meet professional science communicators and see them in their
natural habitat and watch them work. We got the chance to sit down with Dan at Daily Planet and talk to him, just pick his brains and ask questions. He was also asking us questions. Dan asked us what we thought we’d want to do. I said, I want to do what you’re doing. I’d love to be doing a job just like yours. If I’m so lucky. He took it in the spirit that I intended, I hope.” A few years later the two worked together and had a good laugh about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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