Mark Brake is a freelance author and communicator of science. He was one of the UK’s first chairs in science communication, and was a professor in the subject between 2002 and 2010. Mark was a founding member of the NASA Astrobiology Institute science communication group between 2003 and 2006, and was one of the academics in the European Science Communication Network.
Mark is best known for his work in popularizing the relationship between science, history, and culture.
Science, History, and Culture
In 1998 Mark received worldwide publicity for developing an undergraduate university course, Life in the Universe, which examined the science and culture of astrobiology. The following year he launched an undergraduate degree in Science and Science Fiction, again widely reported by the world’s media, and which attempted to establish a Third Culture for science teaching in academia. Continuing this work in 2005 whilst a member of the NASA Astrobiology Institute science communication group, Mark launched the world’s first undergraduate degree in Astrobiology. The radical and progressive program recognized not only that astrobiology’s key issues are grounded firmly within scientific disciplines, and its goals represented by a major driving force behind current space programs, but that the subject also had a long history in philosophy and literature, associated with the plurality of inhabited worlds tradition.
Public Engagement with Science
Between 2003 and 2008, Mark was responsible for leading high-profile public engagement initiatives in science, which attracted around £5 million of funding. The RoCCoTO project was a community-based science course for the public, based around a robotic telescope facility, and was one of the largest astrobiology outreach programs in the world. By featuring ideas about science and their cultural context, the project engaged large numbers of the public in Third Culture studies. The RoCCoTO project received a Public Engagement Award from the Astrobiology Society of Britain in 2008. Alien Worlds, an award-winning multimedia website associated with the RoCCoTO project was launched in July 2009. The website is an animated guide to phenomena such as eclipses of the Sun and Moon, and demonstrates Earth’s place in a cosmic perspective through advanced, animated visuals. Another project, with indirect funding from the DTi, delivered science communication activities to schools in the principality, in an attempt to forestall the poor uptake in science subjects as a career.
Between 2006 and 2010, Mark was director and fund-holder for Science Shops Wales. This major public initiative was based on the European Science Shop model of engagement with the public, funded by the Welsh Assembly Government through the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales. A science shop provides independent participatory research support in response to concerns experienced by civil society. By encouraging community organisations to identify and meet their own research needs, Science Shops Wales aimed to be genuinely responsive to, and helpful with, the problems experienced by the citizens of Wales. Science Shop projects also aimed to enable university students and staff to strengthen their links with the community while developing research with real local relevance.
Between 2008 and 2010, Mark was professorial champion for science in the Beacon for Wales. The Beacon was one of six centres for public engagement throughout the UK at the heart of a major new initiative to make universities more welcoming and accessible, and to deepen the social impact and relevance of their work. Along with the University of Glamorgan, the Beacon for Wales included Cardiff University, National Museum Wales, BBC Wales, and Techniquest. From the summer of 2009, Mark had also been developing public engagement links with National Science Museum of Thailand.
Publishing and Media
Over the two decades, Mark has been engaging the public with science, both nationally and internationally, through television, radio, print and electronic media. He has acted as consultant to Microsoft when they launched their Science Fiction Museum in Seattle in 2004; and to Tiger Aspect Productions and the Discovery Channel for their series on science fiction. He was also consultant to Blast! Films for The Martians and Us, a season on the history of British science fiction for BBC Four, and to UKTV for a season of promotion on Doctor Who.
Mark worked as a science consultant for the BBC’s CBBC channel on Space Hoppers, a seven part series on the Solar System, which began its broadcasts in 2010. He also wrote the spin-off book for the series, published by the BBC and MacMillan.
And as one of the associate editors in the UK of the NASA Astrobiology Magazine’s European Edition, Mark helped NASA commission a rap by Jon Chase on the topic of astrobiology, which attracted considerable global media attention in 2008 and 2009.
After acting as consultant to the Science Museum (London) on their The Science of Aliens exhibition, Mark began publishing popular science books. Different Engines: How Science Drives Fiction and Fiction Drives Science was published by MacMillan Science in 2007, claiming to be the first popular science book to explore the relationship between science and science fiction. Mark has also published Alien Life Imagined: Communicating the Science and Culture of Astrobiology, with Cambridge University Press. Since 2016, Mark has worked with Skyhorse Publishing in Manhattan on his series of ‘Science of’ books, including Star Wars, Harry Potter, and James Bond.
In 2010, after receiving years of politically-motivated harassment, along with orchestrated misrepresentation in media outlets, Mark retired from the university sector, which had become increasingly dominated by neo-liberal and corporatist agendas. The harassment included false allegations of misrepresentation in a research grant application. In truth, the grant application was an open process, which involved easily manipulated digital documents, and which had multiple contributory authors.
A second issue revolved around Mark’s support for BBC broadcaster and seven years Series Editor of Timewatch, Roy Davies. Roy’s book, The Darwin Conspiracy – Origins of a Scientific Crime, contended that Charles Darwin received unwarranted credit for the theory of evolution when in fact all the documentary evidence suggests Darwin appropriated the mechanism of natural selection from Welsh-born natural historian Alfred Russel Wallace.