Dr Karl Kruszelnicki: “I was filled with an awe and wonder. And it has never left me.” (Pic: Mel Koutchavlis)
Dr Karl Kruszelnicki: “I was filled with an awe and wonder. And it has never left me.” (Pic: Mel Koutchavlis)

Dr Karl: From refugee to Ig Nobel Prize winner

HIS name is synonymous with knowledge and information. He has a raft of awards. An asteroid is named after him. And the 69-year-old says this was only possible because he refuses to believe his own hype.

I am not smart. Despite all the accolades I've received [including the Ig Nobel Prize from Harvard University for his research into bellybutton fluff] and the degrees I've earned in physics, maths, biomedical engineering, medicine and surgery, I am not very clever at all. My IQ is only 110, so I'm in there with two-thirds of the population whose IQs fall between 85 and 115.

What I am is knowledgeable. I read a lot, and then I turn that knowledge into stories - about four stories every week - and that builds up into a database. If you do four stories a week, that's 200 a year. Over 30 years, which is the length of my media career, that's 6000 bits of knowledge. Once you acquire that knowledge, you can confidently say things like: the Paleo diet is a con; we did go to the moon; global warming is real; and Diet Coke does not give you cancer.

“I’m not smart. What I am is knowledgeable.”
“I’m not smart. What I am is knowledgeable.”

As one of Australia's most trusted sources of information, I take my role very seriously. It can be scary thinking about how much faith people have in me to be correct. I make mistakes. For example, I got it wrong about why it is your fingers and toes get wrinkled when you stay in water for a long time. And it took me 15 years to get the right answer.

There is a lot of disinformation in our society. For example, 25 per cent of Americans do not accept the Earth goes around the sun. That's a quarter of the US population. Australian data would likely reflect the same thing. So even though the best job in my life was being a doctor in a kids' hospital, I can do more good in my role now by providing the community with information such as why they should get vaccinated.

Since I was a kid, I've been curious. I lived in a refugee camp for the first few years of my life - my family came to Australia from Sweden - in a town on the border of New South Wales and Victoria called Bonegilla. All I remember from that time is we used to have one egg a week to eat. My parents wouldn't eat it. They'd give it to me... because that's what parents do.

When I was about seven, someone gave me a book on astronomy. I had no idea how big Australia or the Earth was, how there were all these other planets in the solar system, or how many stars were in the galaxy. It turns out there are 300 billion! I was filled with an awe and wonder. And it has never left me.

Karl, The Universe And Everything (Pan Macmillan, $34.99) is out now.

Dr Karl's tips for how to broaden your knowledge:

1. Regularly ask questions. The old saying goes, "Ask a question, be a fool for a second. Don't ask a question, be a fool forever."

2. Always keep a healthy mind in a healthy body. Eat well, exercise and get lots of sleep.

3. Obey the call of nature, as holding it is literally unhealthy. Free tip: in public buildings, the toilets are usually located near the elevators. Some people never learn this their whole lives. You are learning it right now.