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Julia Shaw, Georgie Fleming & Luke Russell: Rethinking Evil

Julia Shaw, Georgie Fleming & Luke Russell at UNSW event Rethinking Evil

There’s something about evil that we find deeply fascinating. True crime stories of sadists and serial killers fill our TV screens and podcast feeds. We are fascinated by monstrous acts and the people who commit them. But do we need to rethink evil and the other labels that we apply to people who do wrong if we want to reduce risk and harm?

The science behind human behaviour paints a much more complex picture of why people commit inexcusable acts. In Making Evil: The Science Behind Humanity's Dark Side, Julia Shaw uses case studies from academia, examples from popular culture, and anecdotes from everyday life to break down concepts like the neuroscience of evil, the psychology of bloodlust and workplace misbehavior. With Natasha Mitchell as host, she will be is joined by philosopher Luke Russell, author of Evil: A Philosophical Investigation and psychopathy expert Georgie Fleming to explore everything from the philosophy of evil to evil actions and what we can do about them.

Rather than looking at the world in black and white, science and philosophy can help inform a conversation on evil, and to understand that it is part of humanity whether we like it or not.

We can justify incredible harm when we stop seeing humans as humans, and we start seeing them as monsters.

Julia Shaw

Behaviour doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and if you try and understand the beliefs that underpin behaviour the behaviour starts to make sense.

Georgie Fleming

Speaking to people who are smart and who disagree with you is a great way to test your morality.

Luke Russell


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Photo credit: Prudence Upton

Chaired by Natasha Mitchell award-winning science journalist and presenter of ABC Radio National’s science and technology program, Science Friction.

This event was part of Sydney Science Festival and was supported by Bendigo Writers Festival and Byron Writers Festival.

Julia Shaw portriat

Julia Shaw

Dr Julia Shaw is a psychological scientist and an honorary research associate at University College London (ULC). She is best known for her work in the areas of memory and criminal psychology. In 2017 Dr Shaw co-founded the memory science and artificial intelligence startup Spot, to help employees report workplace harassment and discrimination. In 2016 she published her bestselling debut book The Memory Illusion, which has been published in 20 languages. Her second book Making Evil: The Science Behind Humanity's Dark Side was released in late 2018. Shaw is regular keynote speaker on the topics of memory hacking, tackling workplace harassment, and artificial intelligence.

Georgie Fleming portrait

Georgie Fleming

Georgie Fleming is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of Psychology. She completed her combined Ph.D./Master of Psychology (Clinical) at UNSW and is a registered psychologist. Georgie’s program of research is concerned with enhancing the accessibility and efficacy of treatment for young children with clinically significant conduct problems. Her doctoral research focused on evaluating the outcomes of Parent-Child Interaction with the ultimate aim of developing a feasible, evidence-based intervention for Australia’s underserved rural populations. Georgie is also keenly interested in the role of callous-unemotional traits in the development of conduct problems, and has worked closely with A/Prof Eva Kimonis to explore how callous-unemotional traits impact the efficacy of treatment for childhood conduct problems. Georgie’s current postdoctoral research focusses on evaluating school-based Parent-Child Interaction Therapy.

Portrait of Luke Russell

Luke Russell

Cultural Knowledge Holder

Luke Russell is a proud Gringai/Worimi man and Cultural Knowledge Holder. Luke's practice and research is focused on learning and passing on the Indigenous knowledge of his Elders. This includes sharing his knowledge of the practice of Kuueeyung, traditional bark canoe-making, and tool making utilising sourced and natural materials. Luke is dedicated to re-awakening the true language, stories, artefacts and practices of the Worimi people, and those within the Kattung language group.

Natasha Mitchell portrait

Natasha Mitchell

Natasha Mitchell is an award-winning science journalist, radio host and podcaster. She presents ABC Radio National’s science and technology program, Science Friction, and previously hosted Life Matters, and was the founding presenter and producer of the popular science, psychology and culture program, All in the Mind. Mitchell served as Vice President of the World Federation of Science Journalists and is currently a member of the Executive Advisory Board of Women in Science Australia, Mitchell was also the recipient of a prestigious Knight Journalism Fellowship at Harvard University (USA) and a Marine Biological Laboratory Journalism Fellowship at Woods Hole (Massachusetts, USA). Her broadcast work has received accolades internationally, including the overall Grand Prize and four Gold World Medals at the New York Radio Festival, four Australian and New Zealand Mental Health Broadcast Media Awards, the Yooralla Broadcast Media Award, the Public Health Association of Australia Media Award, the Australasian Association of Philosophy Media Professionals' Award, among other awards. She was finalist for two Human Rights Awards.