Discussing cane toad eradication methods or the best way to raise an orphaned baby flying fox is all in a morning’s work for postgraduate supervisor and Senior Lecturer in the School of Medical and Molecular Sciences Deirdre Cobbin.
At 9am every Tuesday, Cobbin hosts the 2ser radio show ‘A question of balance’ under the pseudonym Ruby Vincent. Running since 2005, the show aims to demonstrate how we can make a difference environmentally without compromising our standard of living.
Cobbin describes her approach as “water dripping on stone”. She believes, “there’s no point in having a radio show about environmental issues that’s aimed purely at activists – then you’re merely preaching to the converted.
“The community needs unbiased information, and it’s difficult to get that from mainstream media. Scientists have a terrible time trying to get their voices heard, but they’re the people who can help the community develop an appreciation of important issues. If they talk in simple, enthusiastic language about things they really know, they can reach people.”
Avoiding the global doom and gloom, Cobbin focuses on local issues. Research students and scientists from across Australia regularly contribute their expertise and the show is now attracting international attention.
Furthermore, a joint collaboration between Australian, New Zealand and Italian scientists into cognitive behaviour in birds led to the creation of a documentary. The film Thoughtful birds in action: mental feats the avian way, directed by Cobbin, was awarded second place out of over 169 film entries in the American Animal Behavior Society’s annual film festival in 2011.
While Cobbin is more than enthusiastic about the stories she broadcasts, the radio show is, as she puts it, “my hobby, not my day job”. It’s all gratis and forms part of the UTS community outreach program. So how did Cobbin, or Ruby Vincent, become interested in environmental issues?
“When you ‘grow up’, you gradually develop a greater awareness of things other than yourself. Environmental interest came to me when I started keeping chooks. Watching them interact, I started to appreciate the web of life – there’s a lot more to life than human ambition.”
Cobbin’s achievements reflect this intricate web. While completing two doctorates is impressive enough, she’s also been published extensively in a range of fields including biochemical bases of depression, pharmacology and chronic pain management. Cobbin’s most recent research lies in the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) arena. Again, she’s trying to make an often misunderstood subject more accessible to the general public.
“There are many abstract or poorly defined terms in TCM and these need dragging into the 21st century. My aim is to make TCM as clear and scientifically validated as possible so it’s a greater resource to community health. I don’t think there is only one way to approach health – good health care needs input from as many valuable sources as possible.”
Tune into ‘A question of balance’ on 107.3FM Tuesdays at 9am.