E-Waste Podcast: What we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and why we need to stop


With a bevy of assignments piling up towards the end of this session, I grabbed the BCM bull by its horns and knuckled down like an upstanding, model student. Having already an interest in Amazon due to their imminent Australian debut, I dove into their use of automation for DIGC335. Upon seeing the BCM310 lecture on data centres and their environmental impact, I knew I’d have to look at the way companies manage their e-waste. While it became difficult to identify the methods of individual companies, like Amazon, I found a wealth of information, statistics and exposés on the broader flow of e-waste.

Most concerning, was the realisation that much of the world’s e-waste, corporations’ included, ends up either in landfill or lining the streets of impoverished nations. So, this shaped my focus instead to investigating the status of e-waste worldwide, with an emphasis on international legislation that informs ethical businesses, tied up by looking at the Australian e-waste landscape. Having committed to completing a research report for DIGC335, and not a digital artefact, I thought it might be therapeutic exciting to hone my content production skills with this project instead.

Having overcome one of my early obstacles in hiring a microphone (turns out you just need to say you’ve “borrowed one before”), I set about researching. One key challenge was having to ignore sources due to there being so many available; the Dateline report comes to mind, which I only sampled once in favour of focusing on ABC’s similar story. Another challenge was being only able to digitally ‘rent’ eBooks for 24 hours via UOW’s catalogue Research done and script written, it was time to record my lines. Again and again. Because upon editing them together, I noticed a slurred word here, my phone ‘pinged’ there, and the neighbours running their water audibly shaking the plumbing. These made many lines unworkable. Half an hour and many fits of giggles later, Madelyn’s lines were recorded. Everything was coming together.

Until, of course, I had to delete a thousand words because 2,500 words doesn’t actually equal 9/10 minutes of speech. Hmm. That was soul-crushing another challenge.

I’m very happy of the final product. I believe the podcast medium has allowed me to convey a large amount of information in a more digestible format than a written report, and I’ve comfortably satisfied the assessment criteria. I’m also pleased that I completed it in a more humane, relaxed timeframe, even if that is out of necessity. While I spent a lot of hours editing, mixing, finding appropriate music and generally fussing about, I feel like it was worth it.

Some of the disadvantages, however, include that same requisite pedantry. While there’s formatting involved in written work, it takes much longer for a podcast. Additionally, extra time is taken up in the podcast by acknowledging sources on the fly as opposed to relegating them in citations and references.


ABC, Background Briefing: How did Westpac’s e-waste end up on the worst dump in the world? 2017, Radio programme, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Produced by Vivien Altman, Presented by Rebecca Le Tourneau,
<http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/backgroundbriefing/2017-03-12/8329068 >

Baldé, C.P., Wang, F., Kuehr, R., Huisman, J. 2015, The global e-waste monitor – 2014, United Nations University, IAS – SCYCLE, Bonn, Germany
< https://i.unu.edu/media/unu.edu/news/52624/UNU-1stGlobal-E-Waste-Monitor-2014-small.pdf >

As You Sow, 2016, Amazon.com, Inc. Request: Report on Electronic Waste, viewed 3/5/17
< http://www.asyousow.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Amazon-E-waste-2016-Resolution.pdf >

Hieronymi, K., Ramzy K., Williams, E. 2012, E-Waste Management, ProQuest Ebook Central,
< http://ebookcentral.proquest.com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/lib/uow/detail.action?docID=981726 >

SERI, About SERI 2017, Sustainable Electronics Recycling International, viewed 24/5/17
< https://sustainableelectronics.org/about >

Zhang, K. 2011, Recycling of Electronic Waste II, John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2011. ProQuest Ebook Central,
< http://ebookcentral.proquest.com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/lib/UOW/detail.action?docID=699415 >

Basel Action Network 2010, Country Status / Waste Trade Ban Agreements, Basel Action Network, viewed 24/5/17
< http://archive.ban.org/country_status/country_status_chart.html >

1-800 EWASTE 2012, Monitoring the effects of our obsolete CRT monitors, 1-800 EWASTE, viewed 24/5/17

Planet Green Recycling 2016, Landing Page, Planet Green Recycling, viewed 25/5/17
< http://planetgreenrecycling.com/ >

SBS, Dateline: E-Waste Hell 2011, television programme, Special Broadcasting Service, Produced by Donald Cameron, Presented by Giovana Vitola,
< http://www.sbs.com.au/news/dateline/story/e-waste-hell# >

Bonningston, C 2014, Our E-Waste Problem Is Ridiculous, and Gadget Makers Aren’t Helping, viewed 25/5/17,
< https://www.wired.com/2014/12/product-design-and-recycling/ >

Gunther, M 2015, Amazon, Best Buy and the free rider problem, viewed 5/5/17,
< https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/aug/05/amazon-best-buy-electronic-waste-walmart-recyling >

Gough, M 2016, Australian laws lag on electronic waste management, University of New South Wales Newsroom, viewed 27/5/17,
< http://newsroom.unsw.edu.au/news/science-tech/australian-laws-lag-electronic-waste-management >

AMTA, The Recycling Process, Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association, viewed 26/5/17,
< http://www.mobilemuster.com.au/learn-about-recycling/?gclid=CJ7YlYapj9QCFQwEKgodPgoOpw&gt;

Department of the Environment and Energy, National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme, Australian Government, viewed 26/5/17,
< http://www.environment.gov.au/protection/national-waste-policy/television-and-computer-recycling-scheme >

Dearne, K 2011, Participants fear e-waste recycling scheme has lost direction, The Australian, viewed 26/5/17,
< http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/technology/participants-fear-e-waste-recycling-scheme-has-lost-direction/news-story/f88ddf68d940c69debcdf8eed6081d57 >

Johnston, R 2017, Australia’s E-Waste Problem Is Getting Worse, Gizmodo Australia, viewed 27/5/17,
< https://www.gizmodo.com.au/2016/07/australias-e-waste-problem-is-getting-worse/ >

The Economist Intelligence Unit 2015, Global e-waste systems Insights for Australia from other developed countries, Australia and New Zealand Recycling Platform, viewed 27/5/17,
< http://anzrp.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Global-e-waste-systems-A-Report-for-ANZRP-by-EIU-FINAL-WEB.pdf >

Travers, P 2017, e-waste: What happens to discarded televisions, computers and mobile phones?, ABC Radio Canberra, viewed 27/5/17,
< http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-03-22/e-waste-what-happens-to-old-computers-televisions-and-mobile/8372516 >

Stone, M 2015, A Slimmer Smartphone Means Mountains of E-waste, VICE Motherboard, viewed 27/5/17,
< https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/slimmer-smartphones-mean-more-ewaste >

Electronic Recyclers International, Inc. 2016, Reusing and Recycling: Big Challenges, Big Opportunities, University of Pennsylvania, viewed 5/5/17,
< http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/sponsor/electronic-recyclers-international-inc/ >

Bensound, The Lounge,
< http://www.bensound.com/royalty-free-music/track/the-lounge >

The impending societal ramifications of automation

My last blog post focused on Amazon’s, now confirmed, entry into the Australian market and the potential impact that such a move might have on domestic consumers, retailers and workers. Many of the sources I came across while digging deeper concerned Amazon’s increasing use of automated systems. As such, I’ve decided to shift the focus of my project towards the broader implications of automation on the global workforce. This change means I don’t have to limit myself topically to either Amazon or, necessarily, Australia.

As early as 1967, figures like Marshall McLuhan were criticized (p.237) for believing that ‘total automation is upon us’.  So to did William Gibson poignantly state time and again, that ‘the future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed’. So to that end, let us assess the current status of automation: What systems have been made obsolete by automation? What specific technologies are emerging today, and who is it displacing? Finally; what is on the horizon, and what professions, if any, will be safe from the process of automation creep? These will be the questions that my research report will engage with, and what I’ll be touching briefly upon in this post.


Novelist William Gibson

To talk about automation is to talk about what John Maynard Keynes coined (p.3) in 1930 as ‘technological unemployment’. He described this emerging phenomenon as the unfortunate ‘[availability] of labour outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses for labour’. Keynes added that this is only ‘temporary’, and standards of living will be multitudes better in one hundred years when there’s little work for anyone to do. But it was Keynes belief that ‘everybody will need to do some work if he is to be contented’ (p.6) as work provides meaning to one’s life, a topic for another time.

Since the process of industrial mechanisation saw a decline in production-line jobs that manufacturing industries provided, we haven’t yet seen any mass unemployment from the introduction of new technologies. Aside from the advent of electronic computing decreasing the need for human computers, and automatic exchanges largely making switchboard operators redundant, the workforce has survived. We’re only now seeing the beginnings of the technological unemployment Keynes imagined.

With the introduction of technologies such as the self-checkout machines at supermarkets, many commentators including Barack Obama himself, see automation as ‘relentless’ and  ‘killing traditional retail’ jobs. With robots capable of sorting more than 200,000 packages a day in warehouses, and capable of working on cents worth of electricity instead of minimum wage, it’s hard not to be concerned. But importantly, it’s not just blue-collar industry workers who are at threat. White-collar professions relying on skills like decision making, paperwork, and writing are newly susceptible to automation via learning AI.

Platforms like Quill from Narrative Science can analyse large amounts of data and identify meaningful trends, then output a report reflecting these findings in ‘everyday language’, be it finance or sports results. While it’s been criticized for an inability to ‘discern the relative newsworthiness’ of stories, the unmatched speed and lack of bias that an AI system writes with is undeniable.


In addition to AI software, ‘general purpose’ robots are being developed with an ability to ‘learn’ new tasks. ‘Baxter’, from Rethink Robotics and Roomba creator Rodney Brooks, is being developed to fulfill ‘quality assurance or small assembly’ in factories, but still requires a human to initially ‘teach’ it these functions. This universal robot represents a leap in usefulness comparable to the first personal computers. Baxter is capable of fulfilling whatever task is ‘within his reach‘, but perhaps this is an agreeable compromise; there will still be work available for workers on an assembly line, but it will be less laborious and more about oversight and refinement of process.

Other systems are being designed to take over more skilled professions. IBM’s ‘Watson‘ for example is being touted as an AI doctor, networked to be constantly up to date with the newest research and possessing the ability to instantly access and share your medical records as required. Similarly, Enlitic has a program which can analyse medical imaging results and boasts a ‘false-negative rate of zero’.

The impact that automation makes on employment isn’t always clear until years later, however. The Economist reminds that although automated teller machines briefly reduced the number of human tellers in 1988, bank branches became cheaper to operate and so they grew by ‘43% over the same period’. So, will a technology like self-driving cars destroy the transport and hauling industry, or will new, unprecedented roles appear for the millions employed in those sectors?

While time will tell, I’ve plenty of sources to investigate for my final report in the meantime.

Amazon VS. E-waste: BCM310 Proposal

Project Proposal

This project will focus on the impact that large retailers have on the global problem of ’e-waste’, with a particular interest in how these companies attempt to mitigate their contributions to it. E-waste, which can be defined as any discarded electronic product, is the ‘fastest growing and most hazardous component of the municipal waste stream,’ according to the non-profit foundation As You Sow[1].

Because companies like Amazon, Best Buy and our own domestic retailers such as Harvey Norman and JB-HIFI are ultimately responsible for the sale of most consumer electronics and appliances, some argue that they too should be responsible for the ‘end-of-life management’ of these goods.

‘End-of-life management’ includes either the reselling of second-hand goods after refurbishment, or the responsible recycling of these electronics in compliance with officially sanctioned government or commercial means. In 2014, a United Nations university report on worldwide e-waste found that only 16% of the world’s e-waste was recycled in such a way[2]. The rest, according to Electronic Recyclers International (ERI)[3], is either:

  1. Discarded in landfill or incinerators;
  2. Gathered by individuals or private companies for unofficial recycling systems;
  3. Or is shipped off to the developing world for ‘informal recycling’.

John Lingelbach, executive director of Sustainable Electronics Recycling International, describes ‘informal recycling’ as two different processes. Either an individual who works in unfathomable conditions that pose ‘serious health and environmental risks’, or the more innocuous but unregistered businesses in countries like India that have begun employing people to break electronics down to their individual components and metals. This practice has also been labelled ‘urban mining’, referring to the potential of these recyclable materials, but the impact of the ‘toxic mine’ and its harmful chemicals also needs to be properly accounted for.

With Amazon arriving in Australia sometime next year[4], as mentioned frequently with my blogging this semester, now is an important time to analyse and question the responsibilities of large corporations regarding their relationship to the electronics they and others sell.

In 2009, US electronics chain Best Buy introduced an admirable e-waste recycling program which allowed people to submit their old, unusable or unwanted consumer electronics. Regardless of where the goods were purchased, they could be recycled for free at any Best Buy. Mark Gunther of the Guardian lamented competitors for not offering similar services, stating ‘Best Buy is collecting trash generated by Amazon, Walmart and other competitors’[5]. In 2015, Best Buy dropped the requirement of its recyclers to comply with R2 certification which indicates responsible recycling[6]. Then in 2016, after 7 years of free service, the chain was forced to implement a $25 flat fee for the disposal program. Meanwhile Amazon, writes Gunther, remains a ‘black box’ regarding sustainability and collaboration with industry bodies, whilst being ‘next to impossible’ to assess  in terms of social and environmental impacts.

Australia, for its part, is particularly susceptible to the effects of e-waste mismanagement due to some key factors that UNSW researchers have identified.

  1. Legislation is majorly flawed; the categorisation of e-waste is limited and roles ill-defined.
  2. Low population density and shortage of facilities; some consumers need to travel upwards of 100km.
  3. ‘Auditing, compliance and reporting measures’ are all unsatisfactory; there simply isn’t an efficient, systemic management of recycling.
  4. Different laws for different states; you can’t dispose of e-waste in South Australian landfills, but you can across the border.
  5. ‘Australians are the second largest producers of waste per person in the world’; we’ve an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ problem.

To surmise, I will be looking deeper into the way large companies engage with the typically unspoken issue of e-waste, and how their policies will further impact our country. Amazon’s forthcoming arrival, along with its lack of a recycling program, has the potential to worsen our already overly encumbered e-waste programs. I will make use of the aforementioned United Nations University report and as one of the primary sources of information for my project, as well as a series of five articles that the company Electronic Recyclers International, Inc. wrote for the University of Pennsylvania on their website[7]. These provide a thorough understanding of the state of e-waste globally and the various ways, both legal and otherwise, that companies and countries deal with it.

As for presenting my research, I regularly fall back on writing academic-style reports; however for this project I might instead try producing a single succinct, informative podcast to diversify my portfolio. One key challenge would be sourcing a quality microphone, but surmounting that, a podcast is certainly achievable. Having previously researched Amazon’s policies and operations for a different project, and possessing the knowledge to produce a podcast and embed it on my blog, I’m already partially prepared for the research project proper.


Week 10: Conduct further research. E.g. ‘Where do the likes of JB-HIFI, Harvey Norman and similar rank among Amazon and Best Buy?’

Week 11: Preliminarily enquire at building 25’s AV equipment hire office re: microphone. Receive feedback on proposal, incorporate it.

Week 12: Re-evaluate progress made and ensure I’m comfortable with what I’ve gathered. Begin transferring this information into audio-friendly syntax. Wednesday is my self-imposed deadline to ensure any last-minute problems can be dealt with.

Sources Referenced

As You Sow 2016, 2016 Shareholder Resolution, As You Sow, viewed 3 May 2017,

Baldé, C.P., Wang, F., Kuehr, R., Huisman, J 2015, The global e-waste monitor – 2014, United Nations University, IAS – SCYCLE, Bonn, Germany, viewed 3 May 2017

Electronic Recyclers International, Inc. 2016, Meeting the E-waste Challenge, Knowledge @ Wharton, viewed 3 May 2017

Jager, C 2017, Amazon Is Coming To Australia In 2018, Kotaku Australia, viewed March 30 2017,

Gunther, M 2015, Amazon, Best Buy and the free rider problem, the Guardian, viewed 3 May 2017,

Electronic Recyclers International, Inc. 2016, Electronics Recycling: Competing Certifications Create Confusion, Knowledge @ Wharton, viewed 3 May 2017

Electronic Recyclers International, Inc. 2016, Electronics Recycling: Competing Certifications Create Confusion, Knowledge @ Wharton, viewed 3 May 2017

In-text Citations

[1] http://www.asyousow.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Amazon-E-waste-2016-Resolution.pdf – As You Sow is dedicated to protecting the environment belief in, and advocacy of, ‘corporate responsibility’.

[2] https://i.unu.edu/media/unu.edu/news/52624/UNU-1stGlobal-E-Waste-Monitor-2014-small.pdf.

[3] http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/meeting-the-e-waste-challenge/ – This article and the series it is part of will likely be referenced extensively in final project.

[4] https://www.kotaku.com.au/2017/03/its-official-amazon-is-coming-to-australia-in-2018/

[5] https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/aug/05/amazon-best-buy-electronic-waste-walmart-recyling

[6] http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/electronics-recycling-competing-certifications-create-confusion/

[7] http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/sponsor/electronic-recyclers-international-inc/

‘Coding for Abortion Access’ Analysis

‘Coding for Abortion Access’ (Weigel 2017) was published on the 5th April by journalist Moira Weigel working for The New Yorker (TNY). This publication, as described in their ‘About’ page (2017), reports on matters of politics, popular culture, science and technology, business and the arts to name a few. Founded in 1925, the magazine is still available in weekly print format but, as evident by their ‘video’ and ‘audio’ sections, TNY has seamlessly adapted to the digital renaissance. This no doubt helped their online readership grow 80% in 2011 -2012 (Sasseen, Matsa & Mitchell 2013). PEW Research Centre (2014) indicates that the magazine typically attracts an affluent, primarily female (53%) and left-leaning readership (77% identified as ‘left-of-centre’).

This apparent demographic is reflected by the article in question. Weigel recounts a recent ‘hackathon’ organised and ran by women with the goal of creating software that engages with ‘the issue of reproductive rights’ and coding’s ability to facilitate ‘subversions and workarounds’ to increasingly restrictive state and federal legislation. As such, the article is clearly aimed at a female audience who are tech savvy, have an adequate knowledge of computing jargon, and understand the concept of a ‘hackathon’ as the article doesn’t readily explain what this is.

While the piece does make references to the controversial activity of hacking, it doesn’t grapple with this on an ethical level. Computer science is, more or less, standard textbook science but the article frames the developers as more contentious ‘hackers’ instead. Furthermore, the ‘hacking’ in question revolves around the controversial topic of abortion, with the author taking a stance that’s aligned with the target audience.

Weigel writes in a distinctly third person style which largely relies on quotes from the ‘hackers’ present at the event to frame any politically charged statements, which they refer to as ‘the language of reproductive justice’, suggesting a moral high-ground. This doesn’t, however, prevent her from framing the topic. Weigel remarks that the challenges of accessing abortion services are often ‘insurmountable’, and subtly frames ‘pro-lifers’ as unapologetically obstructing otherwise helpless women.

The subject of the article is of a female-centred ‘hackathon’, which can be defined as ‘a gathering where programmers collaboratively code in an extreme manner over a short period of time’. Generally held to tackle a specific problem, often with similarly philanthropic intentions, these events are a fantastic example of computer science working to benefit society. As Weigel states, the tech industry demonstrates that ‘… even the most intractable problems can be solved if only you break them down into the right set of engineering decisions’ which reflects the programmers’ ‘can-do optimism’. To further commend the event, Weigel reminds us frequently that everyone in attendance were volunteers, most of them women, who worked efficiently as teams under the banner of ‘collaboration, not competition’.

Weigel argues that ‘the tech industry is not known for attending to the needs of women’, but doesn’t offer any examples of this imbalance. Rather, she laments the historic context of abortion and it’s relatively recent (‘1860’s’) criminalization. After a brief account of past cultural practices, she alludes to technology as a phenomenal opportunity to return power and decision to women who ‘once gathered to pass around herbs and vines and illegal diaphragms and D.I.Y. abortion kits’. Now, ‘code’ provides the means to alter the paradigm and re-establish the network of women ‘who share the knowledge they need’ in an environment reminiscent of ‘older feminist gatherings’.

The article continuously praises the wonderful opportunities offered by technology and hackathons, citing the development of ‘bots to search government sites’ for relevant legislation, programs to ‘process… screening clinic volunteers by aggregating and scanning their social media’, and using data mapping tools to ‘identify volunteers who might be able to help women… get a ride to a clinic’ or look after children among other things. As a science communicator, Weigel helps parse their projects for her audience but curiously leaves terms like ‘GitHub’, ‘Slack’ and ‘Ruby on Rails’ to be individually researched.

Weigel’s article is largely devoid of anything that would suggest a passive or explicit belief in there being a literacy deficit with her readership. As aforementioned, there is plenty of terminology in use that someone who is unfamiliar with computing may not understand, but the author is well aware of her audience. In fact, there’s evidence that the article assumes the public has a thorough understanding of this field of science with unexplained quotes like ‘she’s a dev-ops engineer’. Weigel is quick to point out that many of the participants at the hackathon were graduates of various ‘get-girls-to-code boot camps’, many of whom brought along their children. One woman in particular named Lillie was ‘eight months pregnant… [and] had brought yoga blocks’.

Crucially, Weigel reminds us that these women are not all credentialed, traditional professionals that engage in ‘boundary work’. Instead, they occupy an interesting position as individuals who’ve developed an interest in the field of computer science and programming in their own time. As such, they’ve functionally removed the barrier between the ‘public’ and the elusive ‘scientist’. They’ve become mobilised citizen experts who communicate with a largely ‘contingent repertoire’ as Gilbert & Mulkay (1984) would define (Mercer p.12, 2017). As such, these women have circumvented the need for technology companies that have previously ignored the ‘needs of women’. To that effect, a Google representative was concerned that the hackathon was too ‘politically biased’ and so they couldn’t send a representative.

The article itself functions almost as the antithesis of the ‘literacy deficit’ model: grassroots programming workshops demonstrate that previously ‘scientifically unwitting’ women have taken these challenges upon themselves to accomplish, effectively ignoring any theoretical ‘literacy deficit’. The message being communicated states that regular people are very much capable of tangling with the intimacies of science and technology without needing formal training.

Weigel intersperses with her narrative various background histories on abortion and its legality in the States over time. These are crucial cultural narratives that are surely familiar to many of the feminist programmers at the event, and are important historical landmarks in their own right. Narratives like the reference to the Roe vs. Wade decision by the United States Supreme Court  in 1973 which ‘invalidated any state laws that prohibited first trimester abortions’ (Landmark Cases, 2017). Instead, ‘opponents have focused on making abortion more difficult to obtain’ which these ‘hackers’ are directly pushing back against.

Similarly, Weigel brings what could be considered as a developing cultural narrative; the new Trump administration and his pledge to ‘appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade’. In line with those beliefs, Trump’s first week in office saw him sign an order barring the government from ‘funding international organizations that so much as provide information on abortion’ not to mention new bills to ‘require women to provide written permission from the foetus’ father’. Weigel also informs of ‘criminalizing abortion starting as early as six weeks’. These are contemporary actions that will surely become part of the future cultural narrative for feminist groups like those attending the hackathon.

Weigel regrets that the ‘attitudes driving these policies cannot be’ metaphorically ‘…programmed away.’ Similarly, even the concept of a ‘hackathon’ is metaphorically uncertain. The attendees aren’t so much ‘hackers’, or the event a ‘hackathon’, as they’re simply ‘programmers’. They aren’t unlawfully breaking into or modifying existing systems, so has the term ‘hacker’ been itself (ironically) hijacked to mean ‘rebellious’ programming?

Shireen Whitaker, a master’s student in computer science and so not an amateur enthusiast, spent her time ‘researching antis’; an abbreviation this community is clearly familiar with, for anti-abortionists who try to infiltrate abortion clinics. Whitaker’s credentials reflect hackathons propensity for collaboration; participants undertake whatever task is needed regardless of their professional standing.

Undeniably, the article has a political angle intrinsic to the subject matter. Indeed, one participant acknowledged this when two teams unknowingly developed similar applications, exclaiming “No political hackathon would be complete without duplicate effort!” The article is unapologetically political, with reference to attendees’ ‘RESIST’ t-shirts, the presence of vulgar ethical opposition; “We got our first bloody fetus on the hashtag!”, and multiple references to government opposition. These views aren’t unexpected by the audience of TNY however, aligning with their readers’ demographic.

Overall, this article by Moira Weigel from The New Yorker is an effective piece of science communication. As a narrative account of the event, Weigel’s goal was two-fold. Firstly, to document a hackathon that demonstrated the benefits of programming to society and secondly, to tell the story of women who were once members of the supposed ‘ignorant public’ that unexpectedly became technologists. The communicator was acutely aware of her audience and thus didn’t need to overly simplify the message. While there is an underlying political tone, the technical information is delivered effectively with direct quotes from the technical ‘professionals’. Conversely, with the format of a narrative account the author isn’t required to explain the intricacies of the software design that she’s reporting on which significantly lowers her burden of responsibility as a science communicator.

Reference list:

Gilbert, GN & Mulkay, M 1984, Opening Pandora’s Box: A Sociological Analysis of Scientists’ Discourse, Cambridge University Press, London

Roe v. Wade 2017, Landmark Cases of the U.S. Supreme Court, viewed 8 April 2017,

Mercer, D 2017, ‘An Introduction to Some Frequently Used Terms and Concepts in Science Communication’ PowerPoint slides, STS 286, delivered 6 March 2017

About Us 2017, New Yorker, viewed 8 April 2017,

Pew Research Center 2014, Where News Audiences Fit on the Political Spectrum, viewed 9 April 2017,

Sasseen, J & Matsa, KE & Mitchell, M 2013, ‘News Magazines: By the Numbers’, Pew Research Center, viewed 9 April 2017

Weigel, M 2017, ‘Coding for Abortion Access’, New Yorker, viewed 5 April,

Ewe, this food has animal producks in it?

Bet you feel sheepish that you missed that pun, huh? There are actually two, but you probably gnu gnat. Whatever; I had a gaggle giggle.


What am I doing with my life

While looking at the different case studies this week, including Blackfish (2013), we focused explicitly on tangible animals and their presence and framing within our lives. We do this of course in a number of different ways. From viewing them as marginalized ‘monuments of their own disappearance’ in zoos, by anthropomorphize them in all types of media, and to their supposedly natural depiction in wildlife documentaries, we still fundamentally view them as beings with ‘full agency’. Beings that, in some circumstances, are fully capable of consciousness.

But then we looked at some products that were advertised in a way that desired to distance itself from the animal that it comes from. For example, most, if not all, packets of bacon won’t have an image of a pig on it because there’s the average consumer doesn’t want to be reminded that they’re eating an animal, presumably because there’s a minority of people who would then put that packet back in the refrigerator.

Good grief that looks appetizing… Via TESCO

But what we might be less aware of, is how many food products do contain animal products in them without our knowing. PETA has an extensive list of all the types of animal products, and byproducts, that are used as ingredients. Not only are animals rendered as ‘absolutely marginal’ in captivity, but they can absolutely be rendered as margarine. Well, their oils and fats can be anyway. Beyond just foods, animal products can be present in the most unexpected of places, prompting outrage from people who morally object to using animal products.

Mark Carney Makes First Transaction With New Polymer Fiver

New £5 note note made with a hint of animal tallow — Via Gizmodo

The Bank of England confirmed that new £5, some of which are worth 20x that, not only are stronger and feature improvements to help resist dirt for longer, but also have trace amounts of animal fat to reportedly ‘help the currency slip into machines easier’. This presents an ethical issue for many people who strive to avoid using products that have animal products in them. This is considered so reprehensible that more than 135,000 people have petitioned to have the state reconsider the use of tallow in the note (which was scheduled to influence production of £10 and £20 notes too), with some effect. Production of ‘the £20 note has been halted because of the issues that have been raised’ by those who petitioned, and 9 hours from the time of publishing this piece the Bank of England is now considering using palm or coconut oil instead. This, of course, ‘proved controversial with conservation groups’ as palm oil production ‘was responsible for 8% of the world’s deforestation between 1990 and 2008’, which in turn contributed to ‘the near-extinction of the orangutan.’


You just can’t win can you? — Via Pinterest

Business Insider compiled a list of other products that surprisingly feature animal products in them. Among them, plastic bags stuck out to me as particularly unsuspecting. Plastic bags, for example, ‘contain chemicals often referred to as “slip agents” derived from the stearic acid in animal fat’ which prevent them sticking to metal during production, and one another afterwards. The process of refining both white and brown sugar can use bone char from animal ashes (giving white sugar in particular it’s ‘whiteness’). Condoms, nail-polish, cigarettes, crayons, and even some perfumes all represent products that I wouldn’t expect to include animal matter in them. But here we are. I’ll give sugar a pass though, being one of my key components of life.

My glamorous lifestyle that’s contingent on condoms, nail-polish and cigarettes might require some altering though.