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20 November 2017

Sophie Scott Q&A: “I’d like less Brexit – and two more days in the week“

The neuroscience professor talks London Zoo, New Labour, and pictures of thermostats on Facebook.

By New Statesman

Sophie Scott is a professor of cognitive neuroscience at University College London. Her research focuses on vocal communication and emotion. She is this year’s Royal Institution Christmas lecturer, talking about “the language of life”.

What’s your earliest memory?

My dad walking into the kitchen carrying my toddler brother, and announcing that he (my toddler brother) had drunk some engine oil. It was quite the drama.

Who are your heroes?

My headteacher, Dr Joan Bond, who had a PhD and a previous life as a synthetic chemist. I was intrigued by her title, which seemed to solve the Miss/Mrs issue (something I worried about a lot as a child).

My adult heroes are my parents who dealt with bad news and difficulty with grace and determination.

What was the last book that changed your thinking?

Galileo’s Middle Finger by Alice Dreger. It’s an extremely well-written investigation of science and activism. Along with Will Storr’s The Heretics, it addresses the ways that we can marginalise unpopular or difficult science and scientists for reasons that are not purely scientific.

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What political figure, past or present, do you look up to?

I am still amazed that the 1997 Blair government achieved so much, including peace in Northern Ireland, Sure Start, and reducing the terrible poverty rates among older adults. So Tony Blair. Don’t @ me, as they say on Twitter.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

Thermostats. I have joined a Facebook group called Photo of My Thermostat, where people post photographs of their thermostats. I knew social media would prove its value one day.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

I’m not sure I’d get to live there for very long, but I’d really like to see some dinosaurs out and about before one ate me.

What TV show could you not live without?

The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, obviously! But also the children’s show The Adventures of Abney and Teal.

Who would paint your portrait?

Edward Gorey.

What’s your theme tune?

“Sweet Talkin’ Woman” by ELO.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Remember, these are the good days. My partner and I say this to each other to (a) remind ourselves that our small family is here, healthy, alive, etc, and (b) to justify spending as much free time enjoying each other’s company as possible.

What’s currently bugging you?

BREXIT. We shouldn’t be under any illusion about the adverse impact on science.

What single thing would make your life better?

LESS BREXIT. Also, two more days in the week.

When were you happiest?

I’m happy pretty much all the time, because these are the good days. I’m happiest of all when hanging out at London Zoo, while my son tools around.

Are we all doomed?

Well, apparently so. I do love humans but –  man alive! – we’re good at acting against our best interests.

For more about the RI Christmas Lectures, click here

This article appears in the 15 Nov 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The plot to stop Brexit