Category Archives: Science Education

The Bezos Scholars Program at the World Science Festival

The World Science Festival is a place where one goes to see the giants of science, many of whom are household names (at least in scientifically inclined households) like E. O. Wilson, Steven Pinker and James Watson, people on top of their game in their scientific fields, as well as science supporters in other walks of life, including entertainment—Alan Alda, Maggie Gullenhal and Susan Sarandon were there, among others—and journalism (see this for an example, or check out more complete coverage of the Festival at Nature Network).

With so many exciting sessions, panels and other events at the Festival, it was hard to choose which ones to attend. One of the events I especially wanted to see centered on the other end of the spectrum—the youngest researchers, just getting to taste the scientific life for the first time in their lives.

On the morning of Saturday the 4th, four high school seniors from New York schools presented their research at the N.Y.U. Kimmel Center. This is the second year that the project, The Bezos Scholars Program, sponsored jointly by the Bezos Family Foundation and the World Science Festival, took place.

Each student starts the program as a high school junior and, with mentoring by a science teacher and a scientist or engineer in the community, spends a year working on the project. At the end of the year, the students get to present their findings at the Festival and also get to meet the senior scientists, attend other events, all expenses paid by the Bezos Family.

The event, so far, has not been broadly advertised by the Festival probably to avoid having crowds in the thousands assembling to give the students stage fright. Still, the room was filled by dozens of local scientists, writers and educators and the students certainly did not disappoint.

It is important to note here that a big part of organization, coordination and coaching was done by Summer Ash (see also).

The projects

To summarize the research projects, I asked Perrin Ireland to provide cartoon versions of the presentations. Perrin Ireland is a graphic science journalist who currently serves as Science Storyteller at AlphaChimp Studio, Inc. She uses art and narrative to facilitate scientists sharing their stories, and creates comics about the research process.

More importantly for us here, unlike most of us who write notes when attending presentations, Perrin draws them. You can find more of Perrin’s work at Small and Tender, and follow her on Twitter at @experrinment.

“Aluminum Ion-Induced Degeneration of Dopamine Neurons in Caenorhabditis elegans”

First up was Rozalina Suleymanova from Bard High School Early College Queens. Her teacher is Kevin Bisceglia, Ph.D. and her mentor is Dr. Maria Doitsidou from The Hobert Laboratory in the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biophysics at Columbia University Medical Center.

Aluminum is found in brain tissues of Alzheimers’ patients. It is reasonable to hypothesize that aluminum can also affect neurons in other neurodegenrative diseases such as Parkinson’s. In Parkinson’s, it is the neurons that secrete dopamine that are affected.

Human brains are large and complex, but the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans has a simple nervous system in which every individual neuron (out of a total of 302) is known – where it is, what neurotransmitter it uses, and what function it performs. It is also an excellent laboratory model organism, with easy husbandry and breeding, short lifespan, and genetic techniques in place.

What Rozalina Suleymanova did was make a new strain of C.elegans in which only the eight dopamine-releasing neurons express green fluoresecent protein which allowed her to see them under a epiflorescence microscope.

She then exposed the worms to different doses of aluminum(III) in the form of AlCl3 either as acute exposure (30 minutes of high concentration) or as chronic exposure (12 days of continuous exposure of lower concentration).

Under the acute regimen, some worms died (how many – depended on the concentration). But the worms that survived showed no changes in the dopamine neurons. Under chronic exposure, all worms survived and only a very small proportion (not different from chance) showed some minor changes in the dopamine neurons. Thus, essentially negative results (hard to publish), but excellent work!

“The Structural Stability of Trusses”

Next up was Matthew Taggart from the NYC LAB School for Collaborative Studies, his teacher and Ali Kowalsky and his mentors Jeremy Billig, P.E., Senior Engineer at McLaren Engineering Group in NYC.

He used a program called Risa3D to build virtual bridges. The program enabled him to test the design of bridges built of iron trusses.

By varying heights (‘depth’) and widths (‘span’) of trusses and applying vertical downward force onto them until they broke, he discovered that it is the height-width ratio, not either one of the dimensions alone, that determines the strength and resistance of this kind of bridge design.

Needless to say, these kinds of calculations are performed during the process of actual design of infrastructure – using computer program first, verifying by hand calculations second, then doing test designs before starting the real construction.

“Identifying Presence of Race Bias Among Youth”

Saba Khalid from the Brooklyn Technical High School was the third student researcher up on stage, accompanied by her teacher Janice Baranowski, and her mentor Dr. Gaëlle C. Pierre from the Department of Psychology at NYU School of Medicine.

She devised a questionnaire, based on some older literature on race perception, and distributed it to the students at her school. Each question showed five pictures of dolls, each with a different skin tone, and asked which of the five dolls is most likely to be working in a particular profession.

Saba Khalid then analyzed the data correlating the responses to the race/ethnicity of the responder, to their socio-economic status and other parameters.

Out of many different responses, Saba Khalid pointed out three examples that are in some way typical. For one, respondents of all races predominantly pointed the darkest doll as a likely employee in a fast-food restaurant. At the other end, most respondents of all races chose the lightest doll for the profession of a pilot. Interestingly, for the profession of a teacher, the answers were quite evenly spread, with some tendency for respondents to pick a doll closest to their own skin color.

“Proactive and Reactive Connection Relevance Heuristics In A Virtual Social Network”

Finally, Tyler A. Romeo from the Staten Island Technical High School took stage. His teacher is Frank Mazza and his mentor is Dr. Dennis Shasha from the Department of Computer Science at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences at NYU.

There are two ways an online service can make recommendations to its users. One method tracks the user’s prior choices and recommends items that are similar in some way. Think of Amazon.com recommending books similar to the books you have looked at or ordered. The other method is collaborative filtering – the site recommend items that other users who are similar to you have liked in the past.

What Tyler Romeo did was to recruit eight volunteers from his school who are active Facebook users, and wrote an app for them to install. The app analyzed prior behavior of these users as to which items they found interesting (by commenting or “Like”-ing) using the type and length (but not content) of the post as a key parameter. Tyler then used a support vector machine to predict which new items on the participants’ Facebook walls would be considered interesting by others.

What Tyler concluded was that a support vector machine may be able to predict which posts users will find interesting. Also, “cleaning up” the Facebook Walls to include only the “interesting” posts improved the overall quality of the posts compared to a random feed, which can possibly lead to an improved experience for the user.

***

After the event, several of us in the audience concluded that the quality of the work we just saw was definitely higher than expected for high school – college level for sure, and the Nematode work probably as good as a Masters project. Also, the way they did the presentations gave us confidence to ask tough questions and not to treat them too gently just because they are so young.

And it is there, during the Q&A sessions, where they really shone and showed that they truly own their research and are not just well coached by Summer Ash and their mentors. They understood all questions, addressed every component of multi-component questions, demonstrated complete grasp of the issues, and always gave satisfactory answers (and yes, sometimes saying “I don’t know” is a satisfactory answer even if you are much older than 18 and not just entering the world of science).

They identified weaknesses in their experiments, and suggested good follow-up experiments for the future. I was deeply impressed by their focus and presence of mind – I know for myself how hard it is to do a good Q&A session after giving a presentation. They are definitely going places – I hope they choose careers in science as they have what it takes to succeed.

***

My first thought, after being so impressed by the presentations, was: why only four students? There must be many more talented students in New York schools, with aptitude for and interest in science and engineering.

Finding the right match between three very busy people—the student, the teacher and the mentor—and then coordinating their times and sustaining the work and enthusiasm for an entire year must be quite a challenge.

I am wondering how much a program like this can be scaled up to include more students. Also, having such a program in a city that is smaller, slower, less competitive than New York City, where fewer such educational organizations may exist but are more likely to see each other as collaborators than competitors, may be easier. It would be interesting to see how well similar programs do in other places. But for now, clearly, New York City takes the lead. Great job!

Stories: what we did at #WSF11 last week

As you probably know, I spent last week in New York City, combining business with pleasure – some work, some fun with friends (including #NYCscitweetup with around 50 people!), some fun with just Catharine and me, and some attendance at the World Science Festival.

My panel on Thursday afternoon went quite well, and two brief posts about it went up quickly on Nature Network and the WSF11 official blog.

But now, there is a really thorough and amazing piece on it, combining text by Lena Groeger (who also did a great job livetweeting the event) with comic-strip visualization of the panel by Perrin Ireland – worth your time! Check it out: All about Stories: How to Tell Them, How They’re Changing, and What They Have to Do with Science

More about the trip and the Festival still to come…

Update: See also coverage at Mother Geek.

Is education what journalists do?

We had a great discussion this afternoon on Twitter, about the way journalists strenuously deny they have an educational role, while everyone else sees them as essential pieces of the educational ecosystem: sources of information and explanation missing from schools, or for information that is too new for older people to have seen in school when they were young. Also as sources of judgement in disputes over facts.

While journalists strongly deny their educational role, as part of their false objectivity and ‘savvy’, everyone else perceives them as educators – people who should know and then tell, what is true and what is false, who is lying and who is not. People rely, as they cannot be in school all their lives, on the media for continuing education, especially on topics that are new. And people are then disappointed when, as usually happens, journalists fail in that role by indulging in false balance, He-Said-She-Said reporting, passionately avoiding to assign the truth-value to any statement, or self-indulgent enjoyment of their own “skill with words” in place of explaining the facts.

Fortunately for you all, you do not have to wade through all the tweets to see the entire discussion, as Adrian Ebsary has collected it all using Storify – read the whole thing (keep clicking “Load more” on the bottom of the page until you get to the end):

Informer or Educator: Defining the Journalist’s Role

As you can see, while there is some snark and oversimplification here and there due to short format, the discussion was pretty interesting and constructive. This is also a demonstration that useful discussions can be had on Twitter.

Whenever someone says “you cannot say anything in 140 characters” I respond with “who ever said that you only have 140 characters?”. To their quizzical look, I add “You are not limited to one tweet per lifetime – if you need 14,000 characters, you can write 100 tweets”. But, by writing 100 tweets, and making sure that each tweet – not just the collection of 100 – makes sense, has punch to it, and is hard to misunderstand or misquote out of context, one has to write and edit each tweet with great care. Twitter does not allow for sloppy writing!

Picking a theme for a few hours or days, and tweeting a whole lot about it during that period, is usually called ‘mindcasting‘. But it is even better when a bunch of other people join in and mindcast together – everyone learns something from the experience.

Now read the Storify and, if you have time and energy, respond with an essay on your own blog, as a continuation of the mindcasting process.

Update: And the first responses are in:

Whose Job is Public Science Education?

Are Journalists Educators? Does It Even Matter?

Scientific Communication all-you-can-eat Linkfest

About a week ago, Catherine Clabby (editor at American Scientist), Anton Zuiker and I did a two-day workshop on science communication with the graduate students in the Biology Department at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC. Here are some of the things we mentioned and websites we showed during those two days.

Links shown by Anton for the personal web page session:

Official homepage of Aaron Martin Cypess, M.D., PH.D.
Stanford Medicine faculty profiles
Web Pages That Suck
Anton Zuiker (old homepage)
Biology: Faculty at Wake Forest
Official homepage of Thomas L. Ortel, MD, PhD
Official homepage of Matthew Hirschey
About.me
Joe Hanson’s About.me page
Jakob Nielsen’s Utilize Available Screen Space
Official homepage of Jacquelyn Grace
Laboratory and Video Web Site Awards
Web Style Guide

Link to the step-by-step page for creating a WordPress blog:

Simple exercises for creating your first blog

Links shown during the social media session:

Anton’s Prezi presentation
Delicious link sharing
Twitter and a tweet
Facebook – you know it, of course. Here’s the fish photo
LinkedIn
Tumblr
Posterous
Bora’s take on Tumblr and Posterous

==========================

From Cathy Clabby:

References:

Good books on writing well:

Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Write by Roy Peter Clark
On Writing Well by William K. Zinsser
Eats Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss.
The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White

Excellent articles on how to avoid gobbledygook when writing about science:

Deborah Gross and Raymond Sis. 1980. Scientific Writing: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Veterinary Radiology
George Gopen and Judith Swan. 1990 The Science of Scientific Writing. American Scientist

Web resources for good-writing advice:

Websites with smart writing advice:

Roy Peter Clark from the Poynter Institute offers these 50 “quick list” writing tools.
Purdue University’s OnLine Writing Lab
Carl Zimmer’s banned words (updated regularly on The Loom, his Blog)

You are what you read:

Newsstand magazines with excellent science writing:

The New Yorker
Discover
National Geographic
Scientific American
American Scientist
Outside

Books featuring clear, vivid science writing:

The Beak of a Finch by Jonathan Weiner
The Map that Changed the World by Simon Winchester
Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher by Lewis Thomas
Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel
The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes
The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee
The Best American Science Writing (a yearly anthology with a changing cast of guest editors)
The Best American Science and Nature Writing (another yearly anthology)

==========================

From Bora:

Workshop on conferences in the age of the Web:

How To Blog/Tweet a Conference:
How To Blog a Conference
On the challenges of conference blogging
What a difference a year makes: tweeting from Cold Spring Harbor

How to present at a conference mindful of Twitter backchatter:

How the Backchannel Has Changed the Game for Conference Panelists
On organizing and/or participating in a Conference in the age of Twitter

Icons to put on your slides and posters:

Creating a “blog-safe” icon for conference presentations: suggestions?
CameronNeylon – Slideshare: Permissions
Andy and Shirley’s new ONS Logos

A good recent blog post about the changes in the publishing industry (good links within and at the bottom):
Free Science, One Paper at a Time

Open Notebook Science:
Open Notebook Science
UsefulChem Project
Open Science: Good for Research, Good for Researchers?

A little bit of historical perspective on science, science journalism, blogging and social media (and you can endlessly follow the links within links within links within these posts):
The line between science and journalism is getting blurry….again
Why Academics Should Blog: A College of One’s Own
The Future of Science
Visualizing Enlightenment- Era Social Networks
“There are some people who don’t wait.” Robert Krulwich on the future of journalism
A Farewell to Scienceblogs: the Changing Science Blogging Ecosystem
New science blog networks mushroom to life
Science Blogging Networks: What, Why and How
Web breaks echo-chambers, or, ‘Echo-chamber’ is just a derogatory term for ‘community’ – my remarks at #AAASmtg
Is education what journalists do?
All about Stories: How to Tell Them, How They’re Changing, and What They Have to Do with Science
Telling science stories…wait, what’s a “story”?
Blogs: face the conversation
Identity – what is it really?
Books: ‘Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science’ by Michael Nielsen
#scio12: Multitudes of Sciences, Multitudes of Journalisms, and the Disappearance of the Quote.

Where to find science blogs (and perhaps submit your own blog for inclusion/aggregation):
ScienceBlogging.org
ScienceSeeker.org
ResearchBlogging.org

A blog about science blogging, especially for scientists – well worth digging through the archives:
Science of Blogging

A blog post about science that was inspired by a previous post on the same blog:
1000 posts!

A blog post about the way a previous blog post put together a researcher and a farmer into a scientific collaboration:
Every cell in a chicken has its own male or female identity
In which I set up a collaboration between a biologist, a farmer and a chimeric chicken

A blog post demonstrating how to blog about one’s own publication:
The story behind the story of my new #PLoSOne paper on “Stalking the fourth domain of life”
Comments, Notes and Ratings on: Stalking the Fourth Domain in Metagenomic Data: Searching for, Discovering, and Interpreting Novel, Deep Branches in Marker Gene Phylogenetic Trees

Another example:
Comments, Notes and Ratings on: Order in Spontaneous Behavior
Paper explained in video at SciVee.tv
Author’s blog and site. See some more buzz.

Collection of links showing how Arsenic Life paper was challenged on blogs:
#Arseniclife link collection

A blog post about a scientific paper that resulted from a hypothesis first published in a previous blog post:
Does circadian clock regulate clutch-size in birds? A question of appropriateness of the model animal.
My latest scientific paper: Extended Laying Interval of Ultimate Eggs of the Eastern Bluebird

A post with unpublished data, and how people still do not realize they can and should cite blog posts (my own posts have been cited a few times, usually by review papers):
Influence of Light Cycle on Dominance Status and Aggression in Crayfish
Circadian Rhythm of Aggression in Crayfish

Good blogs to follow the inside business of science and publishing:
Retraction Watch
Embargo Watch
DrugMonkey and DrugMonkey

Who says that only young scientists are bloggers (you probably studied from his textbook):
Sandwalk

My homepage (with links to other online spaces) and my blog:
Homepage
Blog
Twitter
Facebook

How to find me on Scientific American:
A Blog Around The Clock

Scientific American and its blogs (new blog network, with additional blogs, will launch soon) and social networks:
Scientific American homepage
Scientific American blogs
Scientific American Facebook page
Scientific American official Twitter account
Scientific American MIND on Twitter
Scientific American blogs on Twitter

Cool videos:
Fungus cannon
Octopus Ballet
The Fracking Song

Why blog?
Science Blogs Are Good For You
To blog or not to blog, not a real choice there…
Bloggers unite
Scooped by a blog
Scientists Enter the Blogosphere
“Online, Three Years Are Infinity”
Studying Scientific Discourse on the Web Using Bibliometrics: A Chemistry Blogging Case Study
The Message Reigns Over the Medium
Networking, Scholarship and Service: The Place of Science Blogging in Academia

Great series of post about scientists using blogs and social media by Christie Wilcox:

Social Media for Scientists Part 1: It’s Our Job
Social Media for Scientists Part 2: You Do Have Time.
Social Media for Scientists Part 2.5: Breaking Stereotypes
Social Media For Scientists Part 3: Win-Win

Why use Twitter?

What is Twitter and Why Scientists Need To Use It.
Twitter: What’s All the Chirping About?
Social media for science: The geologic perspective
Why Twitter can be the Next Big Thing in Scientific Collaboration
How and why scholars cite on Twitter
Researchers! Join the Twitterati! Or perish!
Twitter for Scientists
PLoS ONE on Twitter and FriendFeed

Some good Twitter lists and collections/apps:
Attendees at ScienceOnline2012
Scientific American editors, writers and contributors
SciencePond
The Tweeted Times

Some interesting Twitter hashtags:
#scio12 (chatter about ScienceOnline conference, and discussions within that community)
#scio13 (people already talking about next year’s event)
#SITT (Science In The Triangle, NC)
#madwriting (writing support community)
#wherethesciencehappens (pictures of locations where science happens)
#icanhazpdf (asking for and receiving PDFs of papers hidden behind paywalls)
#scimom – scientists and mothers and scientist-mothers.
#scienceblogging
#sciwri – science writing
#sciart – science and art
#histsci – history of science
#IamScience – a great initiative, see: original blog post, Storify, Tumblr, Kickstarter – and see the related Tumblr: This Is What A Scientist Looks Like

The Open Laboratory anthology of science blogging:
The Open Laboratory – what, how and why
The Open Laboratory at Lulu.com
The Open Laboratory 2011 updates
A couple of Big Announcements about The Open Laboratory

ScienceOnline conferences:
ScienceOnline2011
ScienceOnline2012
ScienceOnline2011 programming wiki
ScienceOnline2012 programming wiki
ScienceOnline2012 homepage
ScienceOnline2012 official blog
ScienceOnline2012 coverage blog
ScienceOnline2012 organizing wiki
ScienceOnline2012 blog and media coverage
ScienceOnline2013 organizing wiki
ScienceOnline participants’ interviews

Probably the best and most current book on science communication for scientists is ‘Explaining Research‘ by Dennis Meredith – see the book homepage and the associated blog for a wealth of additional information and updates.

Probably the best book for preparing oral (and to a smaller degree poster) presentations is Dazzle ‘Em With Style: The Art of Oral Scientific Presentation by Robert Anholt.

For posters, dig through the archives of this blog:
Better Posters

Giant Dino exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History, or why I should not be a photojournalist

 

As the Blog Editor at Scientific American, I come to New York City about once a month to work in the office, attend editorial meetings, and prepare the blog network for launch some time in the near future.

This week, I was in town at just the right time to join our intrepid team of reporters on assignment: the press event leading to the opening of the new Giant Dino exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History.

Now that I work in a media organization, it is time for me to stop just criticizing from the outside and actually learn how the media works – from the inside. So, on Wednesday, Katherine Harmon, Eric Olson (picture right) and I met at the office early in the morning, packed all the necessary equipment and made a trek uptown to the Museum for the event. We decided to go by metro as likely faster than the cab at that time of day (though I wonder if there is any time of day on any day of the week when metro is NOT faster than the cab in this town).

My job was really just to tag along, help carry the camera and stuff, watch what they do, and try to take some photos with my tiny little Pentax – a great camera for tourist-y travel, but not good enough for taking pictures in a dark hall – my caffeinated hands cannot hold still long enough for the long exposure such pictures require. But I was going to give it my best shot anyway.

So, while Katie was interviewing people and Eric was shooting video, I was wondering around taking pictures. A few of them are below – you can find the rest of them nicely organized (with running commentary) on Facebook, and also on Flickr where you can download them in a variety of sizes (just link here and credit me if you decide to re-use them on your site, please).

Eric’s video and Katie’s text can be found on the Observations blog – New exhibit reconstructs the very biggest dinosaurs–inside and out – check it out.

I was hoping there would be out-takes and bloopers left over for me to use, but nothing funny happened – everything went smoothly, and the footage was all fine, including the interview with Brian Switek (left), blogger at Laelaps and Dinosaur Tracking, and author of Written in Stone: Evolution, the Fossil Record, and Our Place in Nature. Brian has just signed up with Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux to write his second book, A Date With a Dinosaur. I interviewed Brian twice on my blog – in January of this year, as well as back in 2008 before he became famous.

I wish I knew that Lance Mannion, an old blog friend, was going to be there as we have never met in person before – next time, I promise.

The event started with a press conference in the Hall of Dinosaurs at the Museum – see how nice and docile the dinosaurs are to the members of the press, just standing there politely instead of stomping them all into the floor:

Even T.rex turned away and did not eat anyone:

Here are Eric and Katie again, at the end of the press conference, ready to go and see the new exhibit:

Entering the very, very dark hall where the exhibit is located (on the fourth floor of the Museum), worrying that exposure times would be far too long for taking pictures without a tripod:

We were first greeted at the door by the head of Argentinosaurus, the largest sauropod:

Once inside of the exhibit hall, the panorama is dominated by a life-size replica of Mamenchisaurus, a sauropod with an incredibly long neck:

If you go to any natural history museum, be it the Hall of Dinosaurs at AMNH, or at the Smithsonian in D.C., Field Museum in Chicago, Carnegie in Pittsburgh, or any other, there are usually many mounted dinosaur skeletons. There will be a plate with a little bit of text explaining something about the animal, but most people do not read those signs. The focus is on diversity, large size, and taxonomic relationships of dinosaurs.

But this exhibit is completely different. While several sauropod species are mentioned here and there, the focus is on their biology, not identification. Even the Mamenchisaurus is there not so much as itself but more as a representative of the entire group, used to tell us what we know (and how we know it) about the sauropod ecology, physiology, development and behavior.

See that neck again – underneath the peeled-away skin, you can see neck vertebrae, muscles, an arthery, a vein, the esophagus and the trachea:

The central part of the exhibit is the body of the Mamenchisaurus – it was made somewhat transparent and it showed a projection – with voice-over – of a variety of internal processes occuring there: digestion, respiration and reproduction:

It takes a long time to build such a model. It was unfortunately already too late to make any changes in the Mamenchisaurus when a new study came out a couple of weeks ago showing that there is an entire new muscle along the back side of the hind leg – or, as Brian Switek said in the interview, the beast had much more “junk in the trunk” than it was shown here:

Most of the other parts of the exhibit were very interactive. For example, by pushing on the bellows, one could send air down the long plastic trachea into the large model of the dinosaur lungs (this is probably also the most controversial statement of the exhibit – the evidence that their respiration was exactly like that of modern birds – a flow-through, counter-current system – is not as strong as for all the other biology explained in the exhibit):

Here is our team in action: Katie interviewing Martin Sander, Mark Norell and Brian Switek (scientists, when excitedly talking about science, cannot stand still – thus fuzzy pictures, sorry):

Of course, every good museum exhibit has a part where kids can do something hands-on, here digging the fossils in the sand:

This was clever and sneaky! They included weight-lifting exercises into the exhibit! Good for everyone’s health… on the left is the giraffe neck vertebra and on the right is the equivalent from a sauropod. The dino one is somewhat lighter than the mammalian one due to numerous holes and caverns in it:

Sliders! I love sliders! Measure your femur, slide a slider to that number, and the other number tells you how much you’d weigh if you were a sauropod:

Or you measure some real dinosaur femurs before you go to the slider…

…and then see how much the real dino used to weigh (this is in pounds, but you can choose kilograms as well):

Finally, here is a cute little sauropod hatching out of an egg:

The way exhibit is done and set up is really refreshing, but it also reflects the way the dinosaur paleontology has evolved recently. The rush to discover, describe and mount as many species, or as strange species, or as large species as possible, is a thing of the past. Today, new techniques are available that changed the approach – the focus now is much more on the biology of dinosaurs: how they evolved, how they lived and behaved, and how their bodies functioned. Studying not just bones, but also soft tissues, skin imprints, embryos in eggs (sometimes still inside their mothers), tracks they left in the soft ground, the microscopic bone morphology, chemical traces, the positioning of fossils at the time of death, the environments in which they died… it is a much more mature science today, and this exhibit reflects this very well. If you can make it to NYC between tomorrow’s opening and January, go to the Museum and see it.

American Scientist’s Pizza Lunch – NC FIRST Robotics competition

At American Scientist‘s next Pizza Lunch, it’s time to turn our attention from accomplished scientists to budding scientists. At noon, Tuesday, March 29 come hear Marie E. Hopper, regional director of NC FIRST Robotics, talk about a different kind of science lesson. FIRST Robotics stages competitions among high school students. Kids who sign up design and build remotely operated robots that can succeed in specially designed “games”. Each year, the rules of the games change. Students don’t see the rules until six weeks before the starting buzzer.

Thanks to a grant from the N.C. Biotechnology Center, American Scientist Pizza Lunch is free and open to science journalists and science communicators of all stripes. Feel free to forward this message to anyone who might want to attend. RSVPs are required (for the slice count) to cclabby@amsci.org

Directions to Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society in RTP, are here: http://www.sigmaxi.org/about/center/directions.shtml

On Peer Review Radio

If you missed it earlier this week (i.e., if you do not follow me on Twitter or Facebook), you can catch up now. Adrian Ebsary interviewed Marie-Claire Shanahan, Greg Gbur, Chris Gunter and me for the Peer Review Radio Episode 20: Go Sing it On the Mountain – Communicating Science Online, about science blogging, science writing, teaching, open science and more. Worth a listen (at least for the other three guests – great stuff!).

Sigma Xi Pizza Lunch – ‘ Friends or Foes: Social Relationships Among Female Chimpanzees’ with Anne Pusey

To keep keeping you on your toes, we’ll host Pizza Lunch on a Wednesday again this month, rather than on a Tuesday. And it promises to be another good one.

Come hear Anne Pusey, chair of evolutionary anthropology and a James B. Duke professor at Duke, speak at noon Wed., Feb 23 at Sigma Xi. Her talk: Friends or Foes: Social Relationships Among Female Chimpanzees. Pusey has studied competition, cooperation and social bonds in multiple species. Most of her work focuses on our close evolutionary cousins, the chimpanzees. Early in her career, Pusey observed juvenile and adolescent development under the direction of Jane Goodall at Tanzania’s Gombe Stream Reserve. She still has ties. Her research team maintains and digitizes data collected at Gombe, where Goodall started observing chimpanzees more than 50 years ago.

Thanks to a grant from the N.C. Biotechnology Center, American Scientist Pizza Lunch is free and open to science journalists and science communicators of all stripes. Feel free to forward this message to anyone who might want to attend. RSVPs are required (for the slice count) to cclabby@amsci.org

Directions to Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society in RTP, are here: http://www.sigmaxi.org/about/center/directions.shtml

Sigma Xi Pizza Lunch (if you have stomach to eat at the time): Everything you wanted to know about Bedbugs but were too afraid to ask

You’ve heard the media buzz about bed bugs. But what of the science? Join us at noon, Jan. 25 here at Sigma Xi to hear N.C. State University entomologist Coby Schal offer the facts. He’ll discuss the basic biology of the insects and some of the new research strategies aimed at finding ways to better control them.

Thanks to a grant from the N.C. Biotechnology Center, American Scientist Pizza Lunch is free and open to science journalists and science communicators of all stripes. Feel free to forward this message to anyone who might want to attend. RSVPs are required (for the slice count) to cclabby@amsci.org

Directions to Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society in RTP, are here.

Science Cafe Raleigh: Rain Forests – Going, Going, Gone?

Happy New Year! We are excited to be starting a new year of science cafes. Our January Science Café (description below) will be held on Tuesday 1/18 at Tir Na Nog on South Blount Street. Our speaker for the evening will be Dr. Meg Lowman, Director of the Nature Research Center (a new wing of the Museum of Natural Sciences currently under construction). Dr. Lowman is a world famous canopy researcher. To learn more about her and her work please see the information listed below (be sure to look at her website). We will have a fun and informative discussion about the amazing (and sometimes strange) diversity of life that can be found in the earth’s rainforests as well as how researchers have figured out ways to study sometimes elusive plants and animals. We will talk about the importance of what is being discovered in the rainforests and how these discoveries can affect our way of life. I hope that many of you can come.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

6:30-8:30 p.m. with discussion beginning at 7:00 followed by Q&A
Tir Na Nog, 218 South Blount Street, Raleigh, 833-7795

Every child grows up with a sense of awe about tropical forests — extraordinary creatures including poison dart frogs, sloths, orchids and jaguars representing a veritable treasure-trove of biodiversity. But scientists estimate that more than half of Africa’s rain forests are gone, with at least 40 percent losses in Asia and Latin America and 95 percent in Madagascar. Even with new technologies, measuring tropical deforestation is not easy, and illegal logging is epidemic in many parts of the world. What is the prognosis for the future of tropical rain forests? And how will human beings fare if these vital ecosystems disappear? What essential services do tropical forests provide for the planet, and how can we conserve them for our children?

About our speaker:

Dr. Meg Lowman (www.canopymeg.com) is Director of the Nature Research Center, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and a research professor at NC State University. Over the past three decades, “Canopy Meg” has earned an international reputation as a pioneer in forest canopy ecology, tropical rain forest conservation, and for designing canopy access tools including ropes, hot-air balloons, walkways and construction cranes. Equipped with degrees in biology, ecology and botany, Lowman developed her childhood interest of building tree forts into mapping canopy biodiversity worldwide and spearheading the construction of canopy walkways in tropical forests for conservation. She uses science education to influence government policy and encourage environmental stewardship. Her book, “Life in the Treetops,” earned a cover review in the New York Times Sunday Book Review.

Sigma Xi pizza lunch lecture – Science in the current media environment

Next Tuesday at Sigma Xi:

Hi all. Normally we aim to hold pizza lunch on the 3rd Tuesday of each month. In November, that date conflicts with the ship date of the January-February 2011 issue of American Scientist. So we’ll convene a week later. Still, I think you’ll find the session—something different this time—worth the wait.

Join us on Tuesday, Nov. 23 to hear one of our own, veteran science blogger Bora Zivkovic, talk about the shifting ecosystems within his craft. Zivkovic has had a front seat to much of that change, as author of the influential A Blog Around The Clock, as co-founder (with Anton Zuiker) of the international conference ScienceOnline in RTP, as the former online community manager at Public Library of Science and, now, as the new blog and community editor for Scientific American magazine. For a long time, people spoke of the day when print and online media would converge. In a growing share of the publishing world, that convergence has occurred. And Bora, when it comes to science journalism, has been a catalyst in that change.

Thanks to a grant from the N.C. Biotechnology Center, American Scientist Pizza Lunch is free and open to science journalists and science communicators of all stripes. Feel free to forward this message to anyone who might want to attend. RSVPs are required (for the slice count) to cclabby@amsci.org

Directions to Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society in RTP, are here: http://www.sigmaxi.org/about/center/directions.shtml

Science Café Raleigh: Where Have All the Frogs Gone?

Hi Café Enthusiasts,

This month’s Science Café (description below) will be held on November 16th at The Irregardless Cafe. We will be meeting Dr. Bryan Stuart and discussing the status of amphibian populations around the world. Dramatic changes are currently happening globally with diverse populations of frogs and salamanders. It is a time when many new species are being discovered and simultaneously we are also mysteriously losing many species to extinction. Dr. Stuart will discuss current herpetological research that is helping us understand what is happening with the world’s amphibian biodiversity. I hope that many of you can come – it should be a very informative discussion.

Where Have All the Frogs Gone?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Time: 6:30-8:30pm with discussion beginning at 7:00 followed by Q&A

Location: The Irregardless Café, 901 W. Morgan Street, Raleigh, 833-8898

Since the 1980s, dramatic reductions in amphibian populations (including population crashes and mass localized extinctions) have been noted from locations all over the world. Currently, the loss of these animals (especially frogs) is thought to be one of the most critical threats to global biodiversity. Many of the causes are still poorly understood, and the topic is the subject of much ongoing research. Join us to discuss what is known and what is yet to be known about the global loss of such an important group of animals.

About our Speaker:

Bryan Stuart is currently the Curator of Herpetology at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. In 2006, Stuart received his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois-Chicago working in a collaborative program with the Field Museum. He remains a Research Associate and close collaborator with the Field Museum and also completed a two-year postdoctoral program at UC-Berkeley before joining the Museum staff here in Raleigh. Stuart has authored and co-authored numerous publications about reptiles and amphibians in several prominent scientific journals, such as Herpetologica and Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. He travels often and extensively in Southeast Asia as well as Africa for his current research and study of herpetological biodiversity.

This will be our final science café for 2010, with our next café being held in January 2011.

As always, it helps so much if you can send me an email letting me know if you will be coming to the event (katey DOT ahmann AT ncdenr DOT gov). Having an approximate participant count helps us communicate with the restaurant so that they can be prepared for serving our group.

ZooBorns!

My readers are most likely to know Andrew Bleiman as my SciBling from the Zooillogix blog, a witty and fun blog about animals and curious things they do. You may not be aware that he also runs a blog called Zooborns which highlights the animal babies.

Recently, Andrew teamed up with photographer Chris Eastland and produced two books of Zooborns – one, ZooBorns for a little bit bigger children, and the other, ZooBorns!: Zoo Babies from Around the World, for very little kids. Let’s say the first is for kids who can read on their own, and the latter for kids who need to be read to.

When the books arrived the other day, we read them together, the whole family. Actually, “reading” may be an overstatement. We were loudly oooooohing and aaaaaaahing at each page. Those baby animals are sooooo cute!

Of course, that’s the point! Hook ‘em young with charismatic megafauna! Or even better – with irresistible babies of animals not usually deemed ‘charismatic’. Perhaps they will want to learn more when they grow up – the information provided in the books is a great hook to get them to want to learn more. Or they will grow up being aware of conservation efforts. Or they will keep us elders hostage by constantly nagging us to keep those species around for a couple of decades more so they can go and see them when they grow up!

On that last point, the books can help you a little bit as 10% of proceeds from the sale of every book goes to support the AZA’s (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) Conservation Endowment Fund.

Holidays are coming soon. If you were wondering what presents to get the small and big children in your family, now you know – a bunch of copies of ZooBorns! books!

‘Charles Darwin would have been a blogger.’

‘Charles Darwin would have been a blogger.’ – that was the title of the winning proposal for the Wellcome Trust’s Survival Rival Winners award. You can read the original proposal (PDF) here.

And now, Karen James (website, blog, Twitter) and a group of students and teachers from Scotland are on their trip to Galapagos, live-blogging and tweeting their trip, posting images and videos online and generally doing what Darwin would have done on his original Beagle trip if the technology was available at the time.

As Karen says:

“Now through the 30th of October I am in Galapagos with the Wellcome Trust, accompanying some students and teachers on their trip of a lifetime (in fact, they are accompanying me on MY trip of a lifetime, they just don’t know it). In the spirit of our session at Science Online ’10, my winning application proposed communicating our adventures by twitter, blogs, flickr and youtube, as described here.”

You can and should follow their adventures on the blog (go back in time through the archives to the very first post – fascinating!) and Twitter (actually Twitter list of all the travelers), see their photographs on Flickr and videos on YouTube.

I assume they will also write some final reports after they come back from the trip. And perhaps some of them will come to ScienceOnline2011 with Karen and share their experiences with us there.

Dean Kamen – new science and technology show on Planet Green

Now this is exciting:

Dean Kamen is a globally renowned inventor with more than 400 patents, including the Segway, the insulin pump and the robotic prosthetic “Luke Arm.” This fall, the inventor will play the role of investigator—leaving his private island to jet around the world in search of the technologies of tomorrow. In the world premiere original series Dean of Invention, Planet Green joins Kamen on his quest to find the next scientific breakthroughs that will improve life for all mankind. Dean of Invention airs in Planet Green’s VERGE primetime block at 10/9c beginning on Friday, October 22.

Dean of Invention follows Kamen and correspondent Joanne Colan as they explore the emerging technologies being developed to tackle the most daunting global challenges of today. In each episode, Kamen and Colan encounter the world’s latest cutting-edge creations by embedding themselves with leading scientists, doctors and inventors. From space-age robotics to artificial intelligence to biological breakthroughs, Dean of Invention reveals the visionary scientific advancements that have the ability to reinvent the future.

See the show website

Check out additional video

See the YouTube playlist

Here’s a zany product side site — buy your own bionic hand!

And here’s how to find Planet Green on TV in your area.

And a background story about it: ‘Dean of Invention’ looks at life-changing science:

Dean Kamen was game to do a weekly TV show about science.

Under two conditions, that is:

First, he wanted to keep the focus squarely on science — especially its thrilling possibilities for youngsters who dive in.

Second, Kamen, a world-renowned inventor (maybe you’ve heard of his Segway human transporter), didn’t feel like reinventing himself as a TV personality.

“I can be me. YOU can make it interesting,” he told his new partners at the Planet Green network…..

That’s this Friday, so tune in.

Molecular Insights into Classic Examples of Evolution Symposium Live Webcast

This looks awesome! I’ll be at NASW in New Haven CT at the time (I think my session is exactly at this time – bummer!) but if I could I would watch it. If you can, you certainly should watch it:

“Molecular Insights into Classic Examples of Evolution” Symposium to be Webcast Live from NABT Conference in Minneapolis

Are you interested in evolution, but unable to attend this year’s National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) conference in Minneapolis? Would you and your students like to learn more about how molecular approaches are providing new insights into some of the “classic” examples of evolution you discuss in your class? If so, you will be excited to learn that the annual NABT Evolution Symposium will be accessible via live webcast on Friday, Nov. 5th from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm, Central time.

Teachers and students are encouraged to tune in to all or part of the free webcast for an opportunity to hear internationally renowned researchers discuss their fascinating, cutting-edge work in molecular evolutionary biology. Classrooms all over the world will even be able to submit their questions online and have the speakers respond in real time!

For more information, including speaker names, talk titles and times, please see https://www.nescent.org/media/NABTSymposium2010.php or contact eog@nescent.org.

To view the live, free webcast, simply go to http://dukeuniversity.acrobat.com/nabt2010 at 11 am Pacific/12 pm Mountain/1 pm Central/2 pm Eastern and log in as a guest. (Note: We suggest you do this in advance to test the connection and make sure you can access the site without problems. When you log in successfully you’ll see a “Congratulations” message. If you have problems, please contact eog@nescent.org.)

See the NESCent site for more information:

This year’s Evolution Symposium features four exciting speakers whose research in molecular evolution is revolutionizing our understanding of familiar and compelling examples of evolution. Learn more about Sean Carroll’s work in Drosophila wing coloration and Hopi Hoekstra’s research into the underlying molecular mechanisms of coat color in beach mice. Butch Brodie will present research on the toxin arms race between newts and garter snakes, and Allen Rodrigo will talk about the practical and research value of studies in viral evolution.

A busy week coming up!

Sometimes, everything happens in the same week:

Tuesday at noon at Sigma Xi: Sigma Xi pizza lunch lecture: Images of Darwin and the Nature of Science, talk by Dr.Will Kimler, NCSU.

Tuesday at 7pm at Casbah in Durham: The BlogTogether Birthday Bash.

Wednesday at 8pm at Duke: Waves of Mu (which means I will have to miss Science Cafe Raleigh – March of the Fossil Penguins, at the same time. Ugh!).

Thursday at 9am at Duke: Open Access Publishing panel.

Sigma Xi pizza lunch lecture: Images of Darwin and the Nature of Science

From Sigma Xi:

Join us at noon, Tuesday, Oct. 19 here at Sigma Xi to hear NC State University evolutionary biologist Will Kimler talk about “Images of Darwin and the Nature of Science.” Prof. Kimler researches the history of evolutionary ideas in natural history, ecology, genetics and behavior.

Thanks to a grant from the N.C. Biotechnology Center, American Scientist Pizza Lunch is free and open to science journalists and science communicators of all stripes. Feel free to forward this message to anyone who might want to attend. RSVPs are required (for the slice count) to cclabby@amsci.org

Directions to Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society in RTP, are here

Science Cafe Raleigh – March of the Fossil Penguins

March of the Fossil Penguins

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

6:30-8:30 p.m. with discussion beginning at 7:00 followed by Q&A

Tir Na Nog, 218 South Blount Street, Raleigh, 833-7795

RSVP to kateyDOTahmannATncdenrDOTgov

Penguins are familiar faces at zoos and aquariums, but they evolved long before humans. These fascinating birds have been around for more than 60 million years, during which they survived dramatic changes in climate, wholesale re-arrangements of the continents, and the rise of new mammalian competitors. Thanks to their dense bones, penguins have left behind a rich fossil record that we can use to trace their geographical expansion and morphological evolution. In this Science Cafe we will get to know some of the diverse cast of extinct penguins, including primitive species from the deep past, spear-billed penguins from Peru, and giants that would have towered over today’s Emperor Penguins.

About our Speaker:

Dr. Daniel Ksepka (blog) is a paleontologist at North Carolina State University and a research associate at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. His research focuses on reconstructing the evolutionary tree of birds and understanding the transition from aerial flight to underwater wing-propelled diving in groups like penguins and the now extinct plotopterid birds. Ksepka has traveled to South America and New Zealand to collect and study fossil penguins. He is the author of numerous scientific papers on penguin evolution as well as the science blog “March of the Fossil Penguins.”

For the coverage of Dr.Ksepka’s latest paper, see How the Penguin Got His Tuxedo and Inkayacu – Peru’s Giant Fossil Penguin and the Stories Its Feathers Tell and Giant extinct penguin skipped tuxedo for more colorful feathers, How the penguin got its tuxedo and A fossil penguin gets its colours.

Watch Dr. Ksepka discuss his research: March of the Fossilized Penguins

Insects! Outreach and Three Books (video)

From Joanne Manaster:

Joanne shares information about the University of Illinois’ outreach, BugScope and tells of a yearly event featuring insects called The Insect Fear Film Festival. Awesome! Also, three Featured Books by Sonia Dourlot (Insect Museum), Hugh Raffles (Insectopedia) and May Berenbaum (The Earwig’s Tale) All three books have chapters listed in alphabetical order, but not in the way you would imagine

Journal of Science Communication

Issue 03, september 2010 of Journal of Science Communication is out – always full of articles interesting for further discussion by science bloggers:

Road maps for the 21st-century research in Science Communication:

This is an introduction to the essays from the Jcom commentary devoted to the statute and the future of research in science communication. The authors have a long experience in international research in this domain. In the past few years, they have all been committed to the production of collective works which are now the most important references for science communication research programmes in the next few years.
What topics should science communication research focus on and why? What is its general purpose? What is its real degree of autonomy from other similar fields of study? In other words, is science communication its ‘own’ field? These are some of the questions addressed by the in-depth discussion in this Jcom issue, with the awareness that science communication is a young, brittle research field, looking for a shared map, but also one of the most stimulating places of the contemporary academic panorama.

Notes from some spaces in-between:

Science communication is less a community of researchers, but more a space where communities of research coexist to study and deal with communities of researchers. It is, as a field, a consequence of the spaces left between areas of expertise in (late) modern society. It exists to deal with the fragmentations of expertise in today’s society. In between those fragments is where it lives. It’s not an easy position, but an awareness of this unease is part of how science communication scholars can be most effective; as we examine, reflect, debate and help others manage the inescapable cultural gaps of post/late modern knowledge communities.

Science communication, an emerging discipline:

Several publications have sought to define the field of science communication and review current issues and recent research. But the status of science communication is uncertain in disciplinary terms. This commentary considers two dimensions of the status of discipline as they apply to science communication – the clarity with which the field is defined and the level of development of theories to guide formal studies. It argues that further theoretical development is needed to support science communication’s full emergence as a discipline.

From analogue to digital scholarship: implications for science communication researchers:

Digital media have transformed the social practices of science communication. They have extended the number of channels that scientists, media professionals, other stakeholders and citizens use to communicate scientific information. Social media provide opportunities to communicate in more immediate and informal ways, while digital technologies have the potential to make the various processes of research more visible in the public sphere. Some digital media also offer, on occasion, opportunities for interaction and engagement. Similarly, ideas about public engagement are shifting and extending social practices, partially influencing governance strategies, and science communication policies and practices. In this paper I explore this developing context via a personal journey from an analogue to a digital scholar. In so doing, I discuss some of the demands that a globalised digital landscape introduces for science communication researchers and document some of the skills and competencies required to be a digital scholar of science communication.

Coming of age in the academy? The status of our emerging field:

Science communication is certainly growing as an academic field, as well as a professional specialization. This calls to mind predictions made decades ago about the ways in which the explosion of scientific knowledge was envisioned as the likely source of new difficulties in the relationship between science and society. It is largely this challenge that has inspired the creation of the field of science communication. Has science communication become its own academic subdiscipline in the process? What exactly does this entail?

Open science, a complex movement:

Science must be open and accessible, and diffusion of knowledge should not be limited by patents and copyrights. After the Open Science Summit held in Berkeley, some notes about sharing scientific data and updating the social contract for science. Against the determinist view on technological and legal solutions, we need an explicit reflection on the relation between science and society. Both academic and industrial science seem unable to fulfill open science needs: new societal configurations are emerging and we should keep asking questions about appropriation, power, privatisation and freedom.

Greek students’ images of scientific researchers:

Public images of scientific researchers –as reflected in the popular visual culture as well as in the conceptions of the public- combine traditional stereotypic characteristics and ambivalent attitudes towards science and its people. This paper explores central aspects of the public image of the researcher in Greek students’ drawings. The students participated in a drawing competition held in the context of the ‘Researcher’s Night 2007’ realized by three research institutions at different regions of Greece. The students’ drawings reveal that young people hold stereotypic and fairly traditional and outdated views of scientists and scientific activity. Research institutions are faced with the challenge of establishing a sincere and fertile dialogue with society to refute obsolete and deceiving notions and to promote the role of researchers in society.

The rhetoric of computer simulations in astrophysics: a case study:

This article is a case study and rhetorical analysis of a specific scientific paper on a computer simulation in astrophysics, an advanced and often highly theoretical science. Findings reveal that rhetorical decisions play as important a role in creating a convincing simulation as does sound evidence. Rhetorical analysis was used to interpret the data gathered in this case study. Rhetorical analysis calls for close reading of primary materials to identify classical rhetorical figures and devices of argumentation and explain how these devices factor in the production of scientific knowledge. This article describes how abduction, dilemma, compensatio, aetiologia, and other tactics of argumentation are necessary in creating the simulation of a supernova. Ultimately, the article argues that rhetorical mechanisms may be responsible for making some simulations better and more sound than others.

Pandemic on the air: a case study on the coverage of new influenza A/H1N1 by Brazilian prime time TV news:

In this paper we analyze the coverage of the pandemic influenza caused by the A (H1N1) virus by the main Brazilian TV news. Jornal Nacional (JN) – which can be roughly translated with National News – reaches an average of 25 million people throughout the country daily. We have observed that the attention cycle given to the new flu by JN lasted approximately five months with significant space given to the disease. Most of the news highlighted the number of illness cases and the health measures to control the infection. Only a small amount of news dealt with issues related to research and scientific development, and included scientists as interviewees or as information sources. We believe that the coverage made by JN may have contributed to the dissemination of what some authors refer to as a “pandemic of panic”.

Stick Science cartoons

Stick Science cartoon winners announced – see all the finalists and winners here. My favourite, #6 did not win, unfortunately:

Ira Flatow at Duke

Science Friday Host to Headline Sept. 20 Festival:

The Duke Center for Science Education, a multi-disciplinary effort to “bring science education resources and outreach to the university and the community” is hosting its first-ever Science Education Showcase on Sept. 20.

Ira Flatow, science journalist and host of NPR’s “Science Friday” show will be the keynote speaker at 1:30 p.m. in Love Auditorium, Levine Science Research Center (LSRC). Before and after the talk, students, faculty and staff will be sharing hands-on activities and demos that they’ve developed with CSE. Some of these exhibits will also be making an appearance at the first-ever USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington Oct. 23 and 24. More on that in a later post.

You’ll need a ticket to see Flatow. They’re free, but you gotta have one. And you’d better hurry. Try the Bryan Center Box Office or online: http://www.tickets.duke.edu/

Evolutionary and Developmental Precursors for the Human Mathematical Mind

Now that summer is starting to fade, here is something else to look forward to: The 2010-2011 American Scientist Pizza Lunch speaker series returns next month.

Join us at noon, Tuesday, Sept. 21 here at Sigma Xi to hear Duke University cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Brannon give a talk entitled: “Evolutionary and Developmental Precursors for the Human Mathematical Mind.” In other words, Brannon studies what we all take for granted: our ability to do the numbers. She does it, in part, with studies of human babies and other primates.

Thanks to a grant from the N.C. Biotechnology Center, American Scientist Pizza Lunch is free and open to science journalists and science communicators of all stripes. Feel free to forward this message to anyone who might want to attend. RSVPs are required (for the slice count) to cclabby@amsci.org

Directions to Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society in RTP, are here: http://www.sigmaxi.org/about/center/directions.shtml

BIO101 – Physiology: Coordinated Response

This is the third of three parts of the lecture on physiology and the end of the course. Please fact-check, make it better.

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BIO101 – Physiology: Regulation and Control

This is the second of three parts of a lecture on this topic. Please fact-check, make it better.

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BIO101 – Introduction to Anatomy and Physiology

This is the first of three parts of a lecture on this topic. Please fact-check, make it better.

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BIO101 – Current Biological Diversity

In this lecture, as well as in the previous two, I tackle areas of Biology where I am really weak: origin of life, diversity of life, and taxonomy/systematics. The course is (somewhat intentionally) anthropo- and mammalo-centric, for adult non-science majors, but they do have to give talks about the biology of a plant and an animal later in the course. These are also areas where there has been a lot of change recently (often not yet incorporated into textbooks), and I am unlikely to be up-to-date, so please help me bring these lectures up to standards….

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BIO101 – Evolution of Biological Diversity

In this lecture, as well as in the previous one and the next one, I tackle areas of Biology where I am really weak: origin of life, diversity of life, and taxonomy/systematics. These are also areas where there has been a lot of change recently (often not yet incorporated into textbooks), and I am unlikely to be up-to-date, so please help me bring these lectures up to standards….

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BIO101 – Origin of Biological Diversity

Today, and in the following two lectures, I tackle areas of Biology where I am really weak: origin of life, diversity of life, and taxonomy/systematics. These are also areas where there has been a lot of change recently (often not yet incorporated into textbooks), and I am unlikely to be up-to-date, so please help me bring these lectures up to standards….

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BIO101 – Organisms In Time and Space: Ecology

As you may know, I have been teaching BIO101 (and also the BIO102 Lab) to non-traditional students in an adult education program for about twelve years now. Every now and then I muse about it publicly on the blog (see this, this, this, this, this, this and this for a few short posts about various aspects of it – from the use of videos, to the use of a classroom blog, to the importance of Open Access so students can read primary literature). The quality of students in this program has steadily risen over the years, but I am still highly constrained with time: I have eight 4-hour meetings with the students over eight weeks. In this period I have to teach them all of biology they need for their non-science majors, plus leave enough time for each student to give a presentation (on the science of their favourite plant and animal) and for two exams. Thus I have to strip the lectures to the bare bones, and hope that those bare bones are what non-science majors really need to know: concepts rather than factoids, relationship with the rest of their lives rather than relationship with the other sciences. Thus I follow my lectures with videos and classroom discussions, and their homework consists of finding cool biology videos or articles and posting the links on the classroom blog for all to see. A couple of times I used malaria as a thread that connected all the topics – from cell biology to ecology to physiology to evolution. I think that worked well but it is hard to do. They also write a final paper on some aspect of physiology.

Another new development is that the administration has realized that most of the faculty have been with the school for many years. We are experienced, and apparently we know what we are doing. Thus they recently gave us much more freedom to design our own syllabus instead of following a pre-defined one, as long as the ultimate goals of the class remain the same. I am not exactly sure when am I teaching the BIO101 lectures again (late Fall, Spring?) but I want to start rethinking my class early. I am also worried that, since I am not actively doing research in the lab and thus not following the literature as closely, that some of the things I teach are now out-dated. Not that anyone can possibly keep up with all the advances in all the areas of Biology which is so huge, but at least big updates that affect teaching of introductory courses are stuff I need to know.

I need to catch up and upgrade my lecture notes. And what better way than crowdsource! So, over the new few weeks, I will re-post my old lecture notes (note that they are just intros – discussions and videos etc. follow them in the classroom) and will ask you to fact-check me. If I got something wrong or something is out of date, let me know (but don’t push just your own preferred hypothesis if a question is not yet settled – give me the entire controversy explanation instead). If something is glaringly missing, let me know. If something can be said in a nicer language – edit my sentences. If you are aware of cool images, articles, blog-posts, videos, podcasts, visualizations, animations, games, etc. that can be used to explain these basic concepts, let me know. And at the end, once we do this with all the lectures, let’s discuss the overall syllabus – is there a better way to organize all this material for such a fast-paced class.

Today, we try to cover the vast field of ecology in just an hour, thus just a very basic survey of key terms and principles. Again, I do a lot of drawing on the whiteboard in this lecture, but have not reproduce any of that here.

See the previous lectures:

BIO101 – Biology and the Scientific Method
BIO101 – Cell Structure
BIO101 – Protein Synthesis: Transcription and Translation
BIO101 – Cell-Cell Interactions
BIO101 – Cell Division and DNA Replication
BIO101 – From Two Cells To Many: Cell Differentiation and Embryonic Development
BIO101 – From Genes To Traits: How Genotype Affects Phenotype
BIO101 – From Genes To Species: A Primer on Evolution
BIO101 – What Creatures Do: Animal Behavior

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Continue reading

BIO101 – What Creatures Do: Animal Behavior

As you may know, I have been teaching BIO101 (and also the BIO102 Lab) to non-traditional students in an adult education program for about twelve years now. Every now and then I muse about it publicly on the blog (see this, this, this, this, this, this and this for a few short posts about various aspects of it – from the use of videos, to the use of a classroom blog, to the importance of Open Access so students can read primary literature). The quality of students in this program has steadily risen over the years, but I am still highly constrained with time: I have eight 4-hour meetings with the students over eight weeks. In this period I have to teach them all of biology they need for their non-science majors, plus leave enough time for each student to give a presentation (on the science of their favourite plant and animal) and for two exams. Thus I have to strip the lectures to the bare bones, and hope that those bare bones are what non-science majors really need to know: concepts rather than factoids, relationship with the rest of their lives rather than relationship with the other sciences. Thus I follow my lectures with videos and classroom discussions, and their homework consists of finding cool biology videos or articles and posting the links on the classroom blog for all to see. A couple of times I used malaria as a thread that connected all the topics – from cell biology to ecology to physiology to evolution. I think that worked well but it is hard to do. They also write a final paper on some aspect of physiology.

Another new development is that the administration has realized that most of the faculty have been with the school for many years. We are experienced, and apparently we know what we are doing. Thus they recently gave us much more freedom to design our own syllabus instead of following a pre-defined one, as long as the ultimate goals of the class remain the same. I am not exactly sure when am I teaching the BIO101 lectures again (late Fall, Spring?) but I want to start rethinking my class early. I am also worried that, since I am not actively doing research in the lab and thus not following the literature as closely, that some of the things I teach are now out-dated. Not that anyone can possibly keep up with all the advances in all the areas of Biology which is so huge, but at least big updates that affect teaching of introductory courses are stuff I need to know.

I need to catch up and upgrade my lecture notes. And what better way than crowdsource! So, over the new few weeks, I will re-post my old lecture notes (note that they are just intros – discussions and videos etc. follow them in the classroom) and will ask you to fact-check me. If I got something wrong or something is out of date, let me know (but don’t push just your own preferred hypothesis if a question is not yet settled – give me the entire controversy explanation instead). If something is glaringly missing, let me know. If something can be said in a nicer language – edit my sentences. If you are aware of cool images, articles, blog-posts, videos, podcasts, visualizations, animations, games, etc. that can be used to explain these basic concepts, let me know. And at the end, once we do this with all the lectures, let’s discuss the overall syllabus – is there a better way to organize all this material for such a fast-paced class.

Today, we discuss animal behavior. Note that I tend to do a lot of drawing on the whiteboard in this lecture, which is not seen in these notes. I also show a lot of short YouTube videos that show examples of strange animal behaviors.

See the previous lectures:

BIO101 – Biology and the Scientific Method
BIO101 – Cell Structure
BIO101 – Protein Synthesis: Transcription and Translation
BIO101 – Cell-Cell Interactions
BIO101 – Cell Division and DNA Replication
BIO101 – From Two Cells To Many: Cell Differentiation and Embryonic Development
BIO101 – From Genes To Traits: How Genotype Affects Phenotype
BIO101 – From Genes To Species: A Primer on Evolution

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BIO101 – From Genes To Species: A Primer on Evolution

As you may know, I have been teaching BIO101 (and also the BIO102 Lab) to non-traditional students in an adult education program for about twelve years now. Every now and then I muse about it publicly on the blog (see this, this, this, this, this, this and this for a few short posts about various aspects of it – from the use of videos, to the use of a classroom blog, to the importance of Open Access so students can read primary literature). The quality of students in this program has steadily risen over the years, but I am still highly constrained with time: I have eight 4-hour meetings with the students over eight weeks. In this period I have to teach them all of biology they need for their non-science majors, plus leave enough time for each student to give a presentation (on the science of their favourite plant and animal) and for two exams. Thus I have to strip the lectures to the bare bones, and hope that those bare bones are what non-science majors really need to know: concepts rather than factoids, relationship with the rest of their lives rather than relationship with the other sciences. Thus I follow my lectures with videos and classroom discussions, and their homework consists of finding cool biology videos or articles and posting the links on the classroom blog for all to see. A couple of times I used malaria as a thread that connected all the topics – from cell biology to ecology to physiology to evolution. I think that worked well but it is hard to do. They also write a final paper on some aspect of physiology.

Another new development is that the administration has realized that most of the faculty have been with the school for many years. We are experienced, and apparently we know what we are doing. Thus they recently gave us much more freedom to design our own syllabus instead of following a pre-defined one, as long as the ultimate goals of the class remain the same. I am not exactly sure when am I teaching the BIO101 lectures again (late Fall, Spring?) but I want to start rethinking my class early. I am also worried that, since I am not actively doing research in the lab and thus not following the literature as closely, that some of the things I teach are now out-dated. Not that anyone can possibly keep up with all the advances in all the areas of Biology which is so huge, but at least big updates that affect teaching of introductory courses are stuff I need to know.

I need to catch up and upgrade my lecture notes. And what better way than crowdsource! So, over the new few weeks, I will re-post my old lecture notes (note that they are just intros – discussions and videos etc. follow them in the classroom) and will ask you to fact-check me. If I got something wrong or something is out of date, let me know (but don’t push just your own preferred hypothesis if a question is not yet settled – give me the entire controversy explanation instead). If something is glaringly missing, let me know. If something can be said in a nicer language – edit my sentences. If you are aware of cool images, articles, blog-posts, videos, podcasts, visualizations, animations, games, etc. that can be used to explain these basic concepts, let me know. And at the end, once we do this with all the lectures, let’s discuss the overall syllabus – is there a better way to organize all this material for such a fast-paced class.

Today, we introduce the concept of evolution, mainly via natural selection (sexual selection will come later in the course, and neutral selection etc. are too much for this level). Note that I tend to do a lot of drawing on the whiteboard in this lecture, which is not seen in these notes.

See the previous lectures:

BIO101 – Biology and the Scientific Method
BIO101 – Cell Structure
BIO101 – Protein Synthesis: Transcription and Translation
BIO101 – Cell-Cell Interactions
BIO101 – Cell Division and DNA Replication
BIO101 – From Two Cells To Many: Cell Differentiation and Embryonic Development
BIO101 – From Genes To Traits: How Genotype Affects Phenotype

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BIO101 – From Genes To Traits: How Genotype Affects Phenotype

As you may know, I have been teaching BIO101 (and also the BIO102 Lab) to non-traditional students in an adult education program for about twelve years now. Every now and then I muse about it publicly on the blog (see this, this, this, this, this, this and this for a few short posts about various aspects of it – from the use of videos, to the use of a classroom blog, to the importance of Open Access so students can read primary literature). The quality of students in this program has steadily risen over the years, but I am still highly constrained with time: I have eight 4-hour meetings with the students over eight weeks. In this period I have to teach them all of biology they need for their non-science majors, plus leave enough time for each student to give a presentation (on the science of their favourite plant and animal) and for two exams. Thus I have to strip the lectures to the bare bones, and hope that those bare bones are what non-science majors really need to know: concepts rather than factoids, relationship with the rest of their lives rather than relationship with the other sciences. Thus I follow my lectures with videos and classroom discussions, and their homework consists of finding cool biology videos or articles and posting the links on the classroom blog for all to see. A couple of times I used malaria as a thread that connected all the topics – from cell biology to ecology to physiology to evolution. I think that worked well but it is hard to do. They also write a final paper on some aspect of physiology.

Another new development is that the administration has realized that most of the faculty have been with the school for many years. We are experienced, and apparently we know what we are doing. Thus they recently gave us much more freedom to design our own syllabus instead of following a pre-defined one, as long as the ultimate goals of the class remain the same. I am not exactly sure when am I teaching the BIO101 lectures again (late Fall, Spring?) but I want to start rethinking my class early. I am also worried that, since I am not actively doing research in the lab and thus not following the literature as closely, that some of the things I teach are now out-dated. Not that anyone can possibly keep up with all the advances in all the areas of Biology which is so huge, but at least big updates that affect teaching of introductory courses are stuff I need to know.

I need to catch up and upgrade my lecture notes. And what better way than crowdsource! So, over the new few weeks, I will re-post my old lecture notes (note that they are just intros – discussions and videos etc. follow them in the classroom) and will ask you to fact-check me. If I got something wrong or something is out of date, let me know (but don’t push just your own preferred hypothesis if a question is not yet settled – give me the entire controversy explanation instead). If something is glaringly missing, let me know. If something can be said in a nicer language – edit my sentences. If you are aware of cool images, articles, blog-posts, videos, podcasts, visualizations, animations, games, etc. that can be used to explain these basic concepts, let me know. And at the end, once we do this with all the lectures, let’s discuss the overall syllabus – is there a better way to organize all this material for such a fast-paced class.

Today, I tackle the important but difficult task of explaining why “gene for” idea is wrong and how to think in a more sophisticated manner about the way genes affect phenotype.

See the previous lectures:

BIO101 – Biology and the Scientific Method
BIO101 – Cell Structure
BIO101 – Protein Synthesis: Transcription and Translation
BIO101 – Cell-Cell Interactions
BIO101 – Cell Division and DNA Replication
BIO101 – From Two Cells To Many: Cell Differentiation and Embryonic Development

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Continue reading

BIO101 – From Two Cells To Many: Cell Differentiation and Embryonic Development

As you may know, I have been teaching BIO101 (and also the BIO102 Lab) to non-traditional students in an adult education program for about twelve years now. Every now and then I muse about it publicly on the blog (see this, this, this, this, this, this and this for a few short posts about various aspects of it – from the use of videos, to the use of a classroom blog, to the importance of Open Access so students can read primary literature). The quality of students in this program has steadily risen over the years, but I am still highly constrained with time: I have eight 4-hour meetings with the students over eight weeks. In this period I have to teach them all of biology they need for their non-science majors, plus leave enough time for each student to give a presentation (on the science of their favourite plant and animal) and for two exams. Thus I have to strip the lectures to the bare bones, and hope that those bare bones are what non-science majors really need to know: concepts rather than factoids, relationship with the rest of their lives rather than relationship with the other sciences. Thus I follow my lectures with videos and classroom discussions, and their homework consists of finding cool biology videos or articles and posting the links on the classroom blog for all to see. A couple of times I used malaria as a thread that connected all the topics – from cell biology to ecology to physiology to evolution. I think that worked well but it is hard to do. They also write a final paper on some aspect of physiology.

Another new development is that the administration has realized that most of the faculty have been with the school for many years. We are experienced, and apparently we know what we are doing. Thus they recently gave us much more freedom to design our own syllabus instead of following a pre-defined one, as long as the ultimate goals of the class remain the same. I am not exactly sure when am I teaching the BIO101 lectures again (late Fall, Spring?) but I want to start rethinking my class early. I am also worried that, since I am not actively doing research in the lab and thus not following the literature as closely, that some of the things I teach are now out-dated. Not that anyone can possibly keep up with all the advances in all the areas of Biology which is so huge, but at least big updates that affect teaching of introductory courses are stuff I need to know.

I need to catch up and upgrade my lecture notes. And what better way than crowdsource! So, over the new few weeks, I will re-post my old lecture notes (note that they are just intros – discussions and videos etc. follow them in the classroom) and will ask you to fact-check me. If I got something wrong or something is out of date, let me know (but don’t push just your own preferred hypothesis if a question is not yet settled – give me the entire controversy explanation instead). If something is glaringly missing, let me know. If something can be said in a nicer language – edit my sentences. If you are aware of cool images, articles, blog-posts, videos, podcasts, visualizations, animations, games, etc. that can be used to explain these basic concepts, let me know. And at the end, once we do this with all the lectures, let’s discuss the overall syllabus – is there a better way to organize all this material for such a fast-paced class.

Today, we continue with the cell biology portion of the course – covering the way cells communicate with each other, something that will come up over and over again for the rest of the course. See the previous lectures:
BIO101 – Biology and the Scientific Method
BIO101 – Cell Structure
BIO101 – Protein Synthesis: Transcription and Translation
BIO101 – Cell-Cell Interactions
BIO101 – Cell Division and DNA Replication

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BIO101 – From One Cell To Two: Cell Division and DNA Replication

As you may know, I have been teaching BIO101 (and also the BIO102 Lab) to non-traditional students in an adult education program for about twelve years now. Every now and then I muse about it publicly on the blog (see this, this, this, this, this, this and this for a few short posts about various aspects of it – from the use of videos, to the use of a classroom blog, to the importance of Open Access so students can read primary literature). The quality of students in this program has steadily risen over the years, but I am still highly constrained with time: I have eight 4-hour meetings with the students over eight weeks. In this period I have to teach them all of biology they need for their non-science majors, plus leave enough time for each student to give a presentation (on the science of their favourite plant and animal) and for two exams. Thus I have to strip the lectures to the bare bones, and hope that those bare bones are what non-science majors really need to know: concepts rather than factoids, relationship with the rest of their lives rather than relationship with the other sciences. Thus I follow my lectures with videos and classroom discussions, and their homework consists of finding cool biology videos or articles and posting the links on the classroom blog for all to see. A couple of times I used malaria as a thread that connected all the topics – from cell biology to ecology to physiology to evolution. I think that worked well but it is hard to do. They also write a final paper on some aspect of physiology.

Another new development is that the administration has realized that most of the faculty have been with the school for many years. We are experienced, and apparently we know what we are doing. Thus they recently gave us much more freedom to design our own syllabus instead of following a pre-defined one, as long as the ultimate goals of the class remain the same. I am not exactly sure when am I teaching the BIO101 lectures again (late Fall, Spring?) but I want to start rethinking my class early. I am also worried that, since I am not actively doing research in the lab and thus not following the literature as closely, that some of the things I teach are now out-dated. Not that anyone can possibly keep up with all the advances in all the areas of Biology which is so huge, but at least big updates that affect teaching of introductory courses are stuff I need to know.

I need to catch up and upgrade my lecture notes. And what better way than crowdsource! So, over the new few weeks, I will re-post my old lecture notes (note that they are just intros – discussions and videos etc. follow them in the classroom) and will ask you to fact-check me. If I got something wrong or something is out of date, let me know (but don’t push just your own preferred hypothesis if a question is not yet settled – give me the entire controversy explanation instead). If something is glaringly missing, let me know. If something can be said in a nicer language – edit my sentences. If you are aware of cool images, articles, blog-posts, videos, podcasts, visualizations, animations, games, etc. that can be used to explain these basic concepts, let me know. And at the end, once we do this with all the lectures, let’s discuss the overall syllabus – is there a better way to organize all this material for such a fast-paced class.

Today, we continue with the cell biology portion of the course – covering the way cells communicate with each other, something that will come up over and over again for the rest of the course. See the previous lectures:
BIO101 – Biology and the Scientific Method
BIO101 – Cell Structure
BIO101 – Protein Synthesis: Transcription and Translation
BIO101: – Cell-Cell Interactions

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BIO101: Cell-Cell Interactions

As you may know, I have been teaching BIO101 (and also the BIO102 Lab) to non-traditional students in an adult education program for about twelve years now. Every now and then I muse about it publicly on the blog (see this, this, this, this, this, this and this for a few short posts about various aspects of it – from the use of videos, to the use of a classroom blog, to the importance of Open Access so students can read primary literature). The quality of students in this program has steadily risen over the years, but I am still highly constrained with time: I have eight 4-hour meetings with the students over eight weeks. In this period I have to teach them all of biology they need for their non-science majors, plus leave enough time for each student to give a presentation (on the science of their favourite plant and animal) and for two exams. Thus I have to strip the lectures to the bare bones, and hope that those bare bones are what non-science majors really need to know: concepts rather than factoids, relationship with the rest of their lives rather than relationship with the other sciences. Thus I follow my lectures with videos and classroom discussions, and their homework consists of finding cool biology videos or articles and posting the links on the classroom blog for all to see. A couple of times I used malaria as a thread that connected all the topics – from cell biology to ecology to physiology to evolution. I think that worked well but it is hard to do. They also write a final paper on some aspect of physiology.

Another new development is that the administration has realized that most of the faculty have been with the school for many years. We are experienced, and apparently we know what we are doing. Thus they recently gave us much more freedom to design our own syllabus instead of following a pre-defined one, as long as the ultimate goals of the class remain the same. I am not exactly sure when am I teaching the BIO101 lectures again (late Fall, Spring?) but I want to start rethinking my class early. I am also worried that, since I am not actively doing research in the lab and thus not following the literature as closely, that some of the things I teach are now out-dated. Not that anyone can possibly keep up with all the advances in all the areas of Biology which is so huge, but at least big updates that affect teaching of introductory courses are stuff I need to know.

I need to catch up and upgrade my lecture notes. And what better way than crowdsource! So, over the new few weeks, I will re-post my old lecture notes (note that they are just intros – discussions and videos etc. follow them in the classroom) and will ask you to fact-check me. If I got something wrong or something is out of date, let me know (but don’t push just your own preferred hypothesis if a question is not yet settled – give me the entire controversy explanation instead). If something is glaringly missing, let me know. If something can be said in a nicer language – edit my sentences. If you are aware of cool images, articles, blog-posts, videos, podcasts, visualizations, animations, games, etc. that can be used to explain these basic concepts, let me know. And at the end, once we do this with all the lectures, let’s discuss the overall syllabus – is there a better way to organize all this material for such a fast-paced class.

Today, we continue with the cell biology portion of the course – covering the way cells communicate with each other, something that will come up over and over again for the rest of the course. See the previous lectures:
BIO101 – Biology and the Scientific Method
BIO101 – Cell Structure
BIO101 – Protein Synthesis: Transcription and Translation

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Continue reading

BIO101 – Protein Synthesis: Transcription and Translation

As you may know, I have been teaching BIO101 (and also the BIO102 Lab) to non-traditional students in an adult education program for about twelve years now. Every now and then I muse about it publicly on the blog (see this, this, this, this, this, this and this for a few short posts about various aspects of it – from the use of videos, to the use of a classroom blog, to the importance of Open Access so students can read primary literature). The quality of students in this program has steadily risen over the years, but I am still highly constrained with time: I have eight 4-hour meetings with the students over eight weeks. In this period I have to teach them all of biology they need for their non-science majors, plus leave enough time for each student to give a presentation (on the science of their favourite plant and animal) and for two exams. Thus I have to strip the lectures to the bare bones, and hope that those bare bones are what non-science majors really need to know: concepts rather than factoids, relationship with the rest of their lives rather than relationship with the other sciences. Thus I follow my lectures with videos and classroom discussions, and their homework consists of finding cool biology videos or articles and posting the links on the classroom blog for all to see. A couple of times I used malaria as a thread that connected all the topics – from cell biology to ecology to physiology to evolution. I think that worked well but it is hard to do. They also write a final paper on some aspect of physiology.

Another new development is that the administration has realized that most of the faculty have been with the school for many years. We are experienced, and apparently we know what we are doing. Thus they recently gave us much more freedom to design our own syllabus instead of following a pre-defined one, as long as the ultimate goals of the class remain the same. I am not exactly sure when am I teaching the BIO101 lectures again (late Fall, Spring?) but I want to start rethinking my class early. I am also worried that, since I am not actively doing research in the lab and thus not following the literature as closely, that some of the things I teach are now out-dated. Not that anyone can possibly keep up with all the advances in all the areas of Biology which is so huge, but at least big updates that affect teaching of introductory courses are stuff I need to know.

I need to catch up and upgrade my lecture notes. And what better way than crowdsource! So, over the new few weeks, I will re-post my old lecture notes (note that they are just intros – discussions and videos etc. follow them in the classroom) and will ask you to fact-check me. If I got something wrong or something is out of date, let me know (but don’t push just your own preferred hypothesis if a question is not yet settled – give me the entire controversy explanation instead). If something is glaringly missing, let me know. If something can be said in a nicer language – edit my sentences. If you are aware of cool images, articles, blog-posts, videos, podcasts, visualizations, animations, games, etc. that can be used to explain these basic concepts, let me know. And at the end, once we do this with all the lectures, let’s discuss the overall syllabus – is there a better way to organize all this material for such a fast-paced class.

Today, we continue with the cell – the basic processes of DNA transcription, RNA translation, and protein synthesis. See the previous lectures:
Biology and the Scientific Method
BIO101 – Cell Structure

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BIO101 – Cell Structure

As you may know, I have been teaching BIO101 (and also the BIO102 Lab) to non-traditional students in an adult education program for about twelve years now. Every now and then I muse about it publicly on the blog (see this, this, this, this, this, this and this for a few short posts about various aspects of it – from the use of videos, to the use of a classroom blog, to the importance of Open Access so students can read primary literature). The quality of students in this program has steadily risen over the years, but I am still highly constrained with time: I have eight 4-hour meetings with the students over eight weeks. In this period I have to teach them all of biology they need for their non-science majors, plus leave enough time for each student to give a presentation (on the science of their favourite plant and animal) and for two exams. Thus I have to strip the lectures to the bare bones, and hope that those bare bones are what non-science majors really need to know: concepts rather than factoids, relationship with the rest of their lives rather than relationship with the other sciences. Thus I follow my lectures with videos and classroom discussions, and their homework consists of finding cool biology videos or articles and posting the links on the classroom blog for all to see. A couple of times I used malaria as a thread that connected all the topics – from cell biology to ecology to physiology to evolution. I think that worked well but it is hard to do. They also write a final paper on some aspect of physiology.

Another new development is that the administration has realized that most of the faculty have been with the school for many years. We are experienced, and apparently we know what we are doing. Thus they recently gave us much more freedom to design our own syllabus instead of following a pre-defined one, as long as the ultimate goals of the class remain the same. I am not exactly sure when am I teaching the BIO101 lectures again (late Fall, Spring?) but I want to start rethinking my class early. I am also worried that, since I am not actively doing research in the lab and thus not following the literature as closely, that some of the things I teach are now out-dated. Not that anyone can possibly keep up with all the advances in all the areas of Biology which is so huge, but at least big updates that affect teaching of introductory courses are stuff I need to know.

I need to catch up and upgrade my lecture notes. And what better way than crowdsource! So, over the new few weeks, I will re-post my old lecture notes (note that they are just intros – discussions and videos etc. follow them in the classroom) and will ask you to fact-check me. If I got something wrong or something is out of date, let me know (but don’t push just your own preferred hypothesis if a question is not yet settled – give me the entire controversy explanation instead). If something is glaringly missing, let me know. If something can be said in a nicer language – edit my sentences. If you are aware of cool images, articles, blog-posts, videos, podcasts, visualizations, animations, games, etc. that can be used to explain these basic concepts, let me know. And at the end, once we do this with all the lectures, let’s discuss the overall syllabus – is there a better way to organize all this material for such a fast-paced class.

Today, we continue into biology proper – the basic structure of a (mainly animal) cell. See the previous lectures:
Biology and the Scientific Method.

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BIO101 – Biology and the Scientific Method

As you may know, I have been teaching BIO101 (and also the BIO102 Lab) to non-traditional students in an adult education program for about twelve years now. Every now and then I muse about it publicly on the blog (see this, this, this, this, this, this and this for a few short posts about various aspects of it – from the use of videos, to the use of a classroom blog, to the importance of Open Access so students can read primary literature). The quality of students in this program has steadily risen over the years, but I am still highly constrained with time: I have eight 4-hour meetings with the students over eight weeks. In this period I have to teach them all of biology they need for their non-science majors, plus leave enough time for each student to give a presentation (on the science of their favourite plant and animal) and for two exams. Thus I have to strip the lectures to the bare bones, and hope that those bare bones are what non-science majors really need to know: concepts rather than factoids, relationship with the rest of their lives rather than relationship with the other sciences. Thus I follow my lectures with videos and classroom discussions, and their homework consists of finding cool biology videos or articles and posting the links on the classroom blog for all to see. A couple of times I used malaria as a thread that connected all the topics – from cell biology to ecology to physiology to evolution. I think that worked well but it is hard to do. They also write a final paper on some aspect of physiology.

Another new development is that the administration has realized that most of the faculty have been with the school for many years. We are experienced, and apparently we know what we are doing. Thus they recently gave us much more freedom to design our own syllabus instead of following a pre-defined one, as long as the ultimate goals of the class remain the same. I am not exactly sure when am I teaching the BIO101 lectures again (late Fall, Spring?) but I want to start rethinking my class early. I am also worried that, since I am not actively doing research in the lab and thus not following the literature as closely, that some of the things I teach are now out-dated. Not that anyone can possibly keep up with all the advances in all the areas of Biology which is so huge, but at least big updates that affect teaching of introductory courses are stuff I need to know.

I need to catch up and upgrade my lecture notes. And what better way than crowdsource! So, over the new few weeks, I will re-post my old lecture notes (note that they are just intros – discussions and videos etc. follow them in the classroom) and will ask you to fact-check me. If I got something wrong or something is out of date, let me know (but don’t push just your own preferred hypothesis if a question is not yet settled – give me the entire controversy explanation instead). If something is glaringly missing, let me know. If something can be said in a nicer language – edit my sentences. If you are aware of cool images, articles, blog-posts, videos, podcasts, visualizations, animations, games, etc. that can be used to explain these basic concepts, let me know. And at the end, once we do this with all the lectures, let’s discuss the overall syllabus – is there a better way to organize all this material for such a fast-paced class.

Today, we start with the very beginning – the introductory lecture on Biology and the Scientific Method. Follow me under the fold:

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Periodic Tables: Durham’s Science Cafe – Bonobo Handshake: Love and Adventure in the Congo

From e-mail:

I hope you can join us for our next installment of Periodic Tables: Durham’s Science Cafe! Below are the details for the evening. And remember, try to come early if you want a seat and a bite to eat before we kick things off at 7pm!

——

What: Bonobo Handshake: Love and Adventure in the Congo

“A young woman follows her fiancé to war-torn Congo to study extremely endangered bonobo apes—who teach her a new truth about love and belonging.”

Author and scientist Vanessa Woods will discuss and sign copies of her new book, Bonobo Handshake: A Memoir of Love and Adventure in the Congo. Like chimpanzees, bonobos are related to humans by 98.7%. But in contrast to chimpanzees, who live in male dominated societies where infanticide and lethal aggression are observed, bonobos live in highly tolerant and peaceful societies due to female dominance that maintains group cohesion and regulates tension through sexual behavior. How much of us is chimpanzee and how much is bonobo?

The Regulator Bookstore will be on hand to sell Vanessa’s book after her talk.

Who: Vanessa Woods, Author and Research Scientist at Duke University

Where: Broad Street Cafe, 1116 Broad Street, Durham

When: Tuesday, August 10th @7pm (2nd Tuesday of every month)

Parking: We understand that parking can be tough so please feel free to park at the NC School for Science and Math (catty-corner to Broad Street Cafe)

Additional Info

At the Museum: bonobos and bioluminescence

Two great lectures at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences:

1. Museum hosts presentation on ‘Bioluminescence Below the Bahamas’

RALEIGH ― Join Duke University biologist Sonke Johnsen for a detailed look into the world of marine bioluminescence and its use as an adaptation to help organisms hide, hunt and communicate. Johnsen’s multimedia presentation, “Deep Light: Bioluminescence and Vision 2,000 Feet below the Bahamas,” takes place at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences on Thursday, August 12 at 7pm. Free.

Johnsen is associate professor of biology and director of The Johnsen Lab at Duke, which studies bioluminescence ― an organism’s ability to produce its own light ― and other aspects of visual ecology. He recently participated in an inaugural survey of deep-sea floor bioluminescence and continues to collaborate with Edith Widder, bioluminescence expert and a former curator of GLOW: Living Lights, the first-ever museum exhibit to explore the phenomenon of bioluminescence. Now showing at the Museum of Natural Sciences, this exhibit reveals the world of light-producing terrestrial organisms, from fireflies to foxfire fungus, before traveling to the mid-ocean, where an estimated 90 percent of animals produce light. GLOW runs through September 12.

Adult tickets to GLOW are available at a discounted rate on these evenings, with tickets sold from 5 to 6:30pm. For more information, visit www.naturalsciences.org.

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2. Vanessa Woods to discuss “Bonobo Handshake” at Museum of Natural Sciences

In the midst of the war-torn Congo, there exists a peaceful society in which females are in charge, war is nonexistent, and sex is as common and friendly as a handshake. Welcome to the world of bonobos, a rare ape with whom we share 98.7 percent of our DNA. On Thursday, August 19 at 6:30pm, join author and Duke University scientist Vanessa Woods for a detailed discussion of her new book, “Bonobo Handshake,” at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences in downtown Raleigh. Free.

“For thousands of years, we have wondered what makes us human,” says Woods. “To find the answer, we study our closest living relatives, chimpanzees and more recently, bonobos. Neither species is easy to study, but bonobos are particularly difficult, being the world’s most endangered ape in the world’s most dangerous country. But this makes them all the more important, and bonobos could not only unlock the secret of what makes us human, but also teach us how being a little less human could go a long way.” Woods will be signing copies of her book in the Museum Store prior to her lecture.

Woods is an internationally published author and journalist and is the main Australian/ New Zealand feature writer for the Discovery Channel. She graduated with a Masters of Science Communication from the Centre for the Public Awareness of Science at the Australian National University and has written for various publications including BBC Wildlife, New Scientist, and Travel Africa. In 2003, Woods won the Australasian Science award for journalism. In 2007, her children’s book on space was named an Acclaimed Book by the UK Royal Society and shortlisted for the Royal Society’s Junior Science Book Prize.

Bed bugs and cockroaches: The insects that bug us

Our August Science Café (description below) will be held on Tuesday 8/17 at Tir Na Nog on S. Blount Street.

Just in time to lead up to BugFest the museum’s annual event highlighting the world of arthropods, our café this month will be a discussion about insects (in particular, some species that we are not too fond of… bed bugs and cockroaches!)

I first learned about bed bugs from a television documentary probably a year or more ago. Since that show, and most likely because I work in a natural history museum, I have heard more and more about these pests and how difficult they are to deal with. Because travelers can bring them home in suitcases after staying in infested hotel rooms, it is important for all of us to understand their life history. An interesting website http://bedbugregistry.com/, is a site where the public report bed bugs that they have encountered in hotels and apartments. You can see from the listings that these pests are found throughout our country.

Another pest that people are more familiar with, the cockroach, (found in all 50 states) is also very difficult to deal with — So, we’ve added them to the line up for our evening’s café discussion. Learn how to distinguish one species of roach from another and how to be on the lookout for these unwanted house (or office) guests.

Bed bugs and cockroaches: The insects that bug us

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

6:30-8:30 p.m. with discussion beginning at 7:00 followed by Q&A

Tir Na Nog, 218 South Blount Street, Raleigh, 833-7795

After disappearing from many countries for almost 50 years, bed bugs have made a comeback and are once again sucking our blood while we sleep and stowing away in our luggage when we travel. Cockroaches, on the other hand, have always been a fact of life for people living in the South, but all roaches are not the same — some are part of our outdoor environment and only end up in our homes by accident, while others are only found in buildings and produce allergens that can pose health risks.

In this Science Café, we will explore some of the urban legends related to bed bugs, observe some insects to get an idea of what to watch out for, and discuss how you can keep these tiny vampires out of your home. We will also discuss do-it-yourself options for cockroach control as well as give you some cockroach identification tips.

About Our Speaker: Richard Santangelo is a research specialist in the Entomology Department at North Carolina State University. His work focuses on urban pest control aspects of entomology, including pesticide resistance monitoring of cockroaches and bed bugs, product testing of commercial insecticides for pest control, and allergen intervention in low income housing and hog farms. Santangelo has also worked on a Colorado Spider Survey with the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and biological control of cotton pests in Arizona.

Science Blogging Networks: What, Why and How

Continuing with the theme from my ‘farewell to scienceblogs‘ post, I want to do some more thinking, out in public, about the current changes in the science blogging ecosystem. This post is probably going to end up being just a set of meandering thoughts and I hope people continue the discussion in the comments.

So, let’s start with history and then see how it may illuminate the present.

Inception of the Scienceblogs.com model

In 2006, Scienceblogs.com grew from initial 14 to about 45 blogs. At the time, there were only a couple of hundred science blogs written in English. Thus, the proportion of science blogs that were on Sb was huge, perhaps as many as 10% of them all were hosted on the network.

In 2006, one could argue that blogs on Scienceblogs.com included some or most of the “best” blogs, as well as a representative sample. Seed certainly targeted blogs that were well written and reliable. And Seed definitely tried to collect a diversity of topics, formats, styles and voices.

But Seed also biased their sample in two important ways:

First, they, initially at least, invited bloggers who already, for the 2006 standards, had large traffic. This was definitely a good strategy – the one that made them an instant success in comparison to other (some even older) networks who tried to get non-bloggers to become bloggers (and popular at that) over night. By joining the Seed’s network, these already popular bloggers brought their readers with them, immediately increasing the visibility of the network and immediately increasing the readership of the other blogs on the network. In 2006, some (though not all) science bloggers with the largest traffic, got to be popular by regularly tackling controversial topics (medical woo, pseudoscience, creationism, politics, religion, global warming, etc.) or by giving voice to groups that were up till then invisible in the society and mainstream media (e.g., female scientists, graduate students and postdocs revealing how the world looks like from their perspective, atheists, etc.). Those topics are very important, but are not representative of the broader science blogosphere any more.

Second, Seed initially invited the bloggers who posted frequently. It is not a bad idea, when starting a new network, to make sure there will be plenty of new content appearing all the time. But that kind of frequent blogging style is more of an exception than the norm. Very few bloggers naturally post with the frequency of PZ Myers, Ed Brayton, Grrrlscientist, Greg Laden or myself. And especially in science blogging, writing a detailed, high-quality post about science takes some time, research and effort which most of us cannot summon every day, let alone multiple times a day.

The popularity and visibility of Sb led many people to think “Hey, I can do this” and today there are thousands of science blogs out there. This means that even with 80+ blogs on the network (as of couple of weeks ago, now around 60), the SciBlings represented only a tiny sliver of the science blogosphere, perhaps around 0.1% (totally inventing the numbers here, but these things – what is an active science blog, for example – are very difficult to define, track and calculate).

Over the four years, the science blogging ecosystem changed. Many of us blogging at Scienceblogs.com also changed. Some noticeably reduced their posting frequency (perhaps moving some of the formerly bloggy material over to Twitter or Facebook). Others changed their interests and topics – this is normal as people change and their blogs evolve. These days I blog about scientific papers quite rarely, but blog often about the ways the Web is changing the world of scientific publishing, science journalism, science communication and science education. I completely understand that people who were reading my blog four years ago may not find my current blogging interesting any more (and vice versa).

Thus, in 2010, the Scienceblogs.com stable is even less representative than in 2006. And with thousands of science blogs out there, many of them excellent, nobody can claim that the blogs on Sb are “the best” any more. Some are among the best, but there are many more “best blogs” in the world not on Sb. But as the Scienceblogs.com network was huge, and hugely visible, and hugely respected, and hugely watched by MSM, all those wonderful science blogs outside the network were essentially invisible, living in the shadow of Sb and hoping we’d link to them sometimes (which we tried to do often, but that is not enough). It is like in the Mesozoic – all those tiny little shrew-like mammals hiding in underground burrows and foraging for seeds at night, being unable to spread into any other niches because the big, dangerous dinosaurs are roaming around the land.


[Image source]

But as the ecosystem was changing, the dinosaurs started feeling a little ill (at least for the past year or so). And then at one point, a giant asteroid (with a Pepsi logo on it) hit the Earth and the giant dinosaurs went extinct.

Now, looking at what is happening at Sb today, I feel that the network will survive, at least for a while. But it will be a smaller, more nimble network in which bloggers have a much bigger voice. The series of defections, followed by the blogger strike, and the management’s response to it suggest that from now on bloggers will be very much calling the shots, as they are the only viable part of the enterprise. Bloggers on the network are all experts in (self)promotion or they would never have ended on Sb in the first place. They can come up with fascinating ideas how to promote the network – and themselves as a part of it – that no traditionally trained PR person can even imagine. So, if the new model for Scienceblogs.com will be more along the lines of Workers’ self-management (also see), then we may see a continued evolution and continued high relevance of this network in the future – after all, dinosaurs are still around us, and they are very beautiful and nimble, though small: we now call them ‘Birds’.

But in the meantime, while Sb is rethinking itself, it is obvious that its size and reputation is smaller. This suddenly opened up the space for many other players to come in. An adaptive radiation of mammals after the K-T boundary, if you will….


[Image source]

The Present

So, there is an awful lot of evolutionary experimentation going on right now. Existing networks are expanding and changing their technological architecture to accommodate the growth. Individual blogs are turning into group blogs. Group blogs are turning into blogging networks. Brand new networks are being built. There will be successes and there will be failures, but when everything settles down, we will probably see a very different environment. Instead of one large island, there will be an entire archipelago of smaller islands. And the new ecosystem requires a new behavior in it, and a new way of thinking about it.

Take a look at my Blogroll on the right – most of that list are various science blogging networks. Some are run by big newspapers (The Guardian), several by popular magazines (National Geographic, Wired, Scientific American, Psychology Today, as well as Burda in Germany), some by university programs for science journalism (Scienceline, Elements), some by scientific publishers (Nature), some by scientific societies (American Chemical Society) and several are self-governing blogger cooperatives (interestingly, often aggregated around a single topic). Each of these networks thus has a somewhat different goal, and a different ‘business model’.

What worries me is that so many of these networks are trying to copy what Seed did in 2006. Now, don’t get me wrong – as I stated in my farewell post, Seed did many things right. Christopher Mims who conceptualized, started and then ran the network for the first six months was a visionary – some of the things he did with scienceblogs.com are now so “normal” that nobody can think how it could possibly be done any differently. It is certainly a good idea for all the other networks to analyze what Seed did right and what Seed did wrong, then to apply those lessons to their own goals and concepts. But they should also realize it is not 2006 any more. Four years are a millennium in Internet Time. The world has changed.

What is the overall goal?

My assumption is that most science blogs are tools for communication, popularization and education of science. The goal is to turn the world (including the individual nations in it) into a “scientific” world, aka, into a reality-based world.

If you think of science communication as a series of concentric circles, at the center are data. The only readers capable of understanding raw data are computers. Once computers analyze and visualize data, those can be understood by experts. But just like dumping reams of data online by WikiLeaks does not make an impact, raw data in science also do not make an impact on their own. Just like WikiLeaks outsources story-telling to the Media, so data need someone to turn them into a story. Those stories, the next bigger concentric circles, are scientific papers, readable (as of now, but this may change) mainly by other people in the same scientific field. The discussions going on in the comments on the papers (and this will, over time, become more common-place as more journals adopt the practice and people get used to seeing it everywhere) are the next circle.

The next big step is to translate those papers and discussions into something that can be understood by people outside of the narrow discipline – the lay audience. That lay audience is also stratified. A scientist in one field is lay audience for another field, but is highly educated and tends to think like a scientist. Then there are generally well educated people who are interested in science. And then there are people who don’t even know if they would be interested in science. Thus, there need to be several different levels of presenting science to the lay audience. And there need to be both “pull” (for interested audience) and “push” (for not yet interested audience) strategies for disseminating scientific information.

The “pull” outlets are science-specific, e.g., dedicated science pages in newspapers, science channels on cable TV, science programs on radio, popular science magazines, popular science books, and science blogs. They are seen by people with interest in science, and easily avoided by those who don’t care. Such outlets span a range of levels, from kids to scientists in other fields. Communication in this outlets is generally pretty good, with bloggers doing a great job at pitching to somewhat higher levels – the educated audience that is very interested in science (including scientists in other fields). This is also the level that is not at all covered by any of the legacy media, and has been missing until recently.

The “push” outlets are general media that may throw a science story into the mix. Such stories can be in papers, magazines, radio, TV, movies, eclectic websites, etc. Such stories tend to be written by general reporters, not specialist science journalists, and thus tend to be awful. But it is the bloggers who do a great job correcting such stories and ‘schooling’ journalist who make mistakes (who may, if their egos allows them, listen and learn and get better).

Both the push and pull versions of the traditional media have a large audience. But bloggers still don’t. Congregating into networks is what turns bloggers into Media, makes them highly visible to the legacy media that will spread stories (or correct their own) and make their spread and reach much wider. Building blogging networks is an application of the use of the ‘network effect’ to make this effort more efficient, by giving the bloggers greater visibility both to casual Web surfers and to the traditional media. Just like WikiLeaks is a global, non-national, crowd-sourced media organization that needs legacy media to make an impact with their stories, so blogging networks are also global, non-national (usually), crowd-sourced media organizations that need to be visible by legacy media in order to have their stories spread widely enough to make an impact.

The mindset that the world is a competitive place, where one company or organization will win and the others will go bankrupt (think of VHS beating Betamax and V2000), is a 20th century mindset. Yes, Google is the best and most popular search engine, but there are others and those others still are used by millions of people who have their own, often good, reasons for making that choice. Today, an ecosystem in which multiple, perhaps many, producers of the same thing, coexist, collaborate, co-depend, is becoming more and more of a reality in more and more areas of life, from globalization of the world (One Remaining Superpower model is gone, if you have not noticed), to industry, to publishing, to the Web. And so it is with science communication, which includes, among else, science blogging networks – many, not just one.

Instead of one huge network, there will be a couple of dozen smaller ones. Sharing similar goals, the networks should be collaborative, not competitive. Each network should display widgets showcasing the most recent posts from all the other networks. There should be a central place that sends people to all the networks. There should be common offline events. There should be actions that all networks participate in. Any network that decides to stay out of these things would self-isolate. And just like the world itself is now interconnected and being isolated does not work for you very well (think: North Korea), so blogging networks are interconnected and being isolated will not work for you either – nobody pays attention to you, and when they do they do not say nice things about you, you cannot control your own message and cannot respond to other people’s messages.

What does it mean to be a blogger these days?

Four years ago, one’s blog was the main and probably only way to communicate online. Blogging networks being blogging networks made perfect sense.

But today, there are many other ways to communicate online. One may exchange information on Twitter, discuss it on FriendFeed, keep social connections alive with friends (and blog fans) on Facebook, post shorter ideas on Posterous, cartoons and videos and quotes on Tumblr, upload videos on YouTube, podcasts on Imeem, slideshows on Slideshare, travel photos on Flickr or Picassa, art on DeviantArt, sell art on Etsy or swag on Zazzle (or CafePress), publish books on Lulu.com, submit scientific manuscripts to PLoS journals, edit Wikipedia, review books on Amazon or Shelfari, and use the blog only for longer, original, well-researched or more thoughtful pieces.

Different people will use their blogs in different ways, for different purposes, but in most cases the blog is not the only means of communication. If you go to an independent blog, you will often see not just the content of the blog but also a whole host of buttons and widgets showing that person’s online (and offline, including professional) activities elsewhere. I just started playing with WordPress, but you can already see on the right sidebar my latest tweets, the FriendFeed widget, links to ScienceOnline and to the Open Laboratory books, and to the homepage where you can find all sorts of buttons leading you to other places I can be found online.

For some people, their blog is their central place and all the other activity is satellite. For others, the focus may be on their MSM work, or their books, or activity on Twitter, and blog is just one of many “other places” where they sometimes do something interesting.

I think new blogging networks have to take this reality into consideration. Be networks of interesting people, whatever they do, not just networks of blogs. Help them showcase everything they do, not just blogging. And if, for technological or managerial reasons, an individual blogger is not capable of showing exactly where the blog sits in their own online work, they will not like it, and they will leave. No way to put all those widgets on the sidebar? The blog then feels isolated from the rest of that person’s work instead of as an integral part of it. The person will feel as giving up too much of their own personal ecosystem for the good of the network’s ecosystem.

Accommodate people who are infrequent bloggers, but do other interesting stuff (i.e., no frequency requirements at all). Promote their videos, podcasts, photography, art, books… Have an easy-to-find list of all of your bloggers’ Twitter feeds.

But serious content, the kind people put on blogs, still needs to be central to the project. Otherwise, it is just another social network (one of several dozen failed “facebooks for scientists”). While networking is important, good content is more than important: it is essential. I am watching Science 3.0 these days – less than a month old, thus no established blogs there as yet, but an interesting concept of putting together everything the members do.

Also, consider a way to preserve some of the content longer than the fleeting moment of a blog post. Collect “Basics” posts in one place, or have the bloggers collaborate on building so-called “explainers” on various topics. Such explainers would contain material at different levels – from kids to expert and everything in-between, including raw data and scientific papers, all clearly marked as to who the intended audience is. Such explainers would be updated (perhaps by editing, wiki-style, with preserved history of editing) as new information comes in. Such pages would also contain links to all the blog posts that the network has produced on that topic, and bloggers would likely send their readers to the Explainer page whenever they blog about that topic again. Build something more lasting out of the bloggers’ work.

Mobility and Exclusivity

This is a unique moment in the history of science blogging networks. This is the only time when people leaving a network are regarded as “hot property” and are actively courted by other networks. Being a SciBling has a certain element of reputation that other networks are now trying to capitalize on. At least six or seven networks have talked to me so far and I have yet to give a strong Yes or a strong No to any one of them. May even go solo for a little while longer.

Also, until now, it was difficult to leave the network – you leave Sb to go where? Into the dark abyss of anonymity and invisibility. Thus many people hung on….

But once there is an archipelago of networks, each roughly equally visible and respected, it will be easy to move from one to another. You join one, try it out for a month or two and, if you don’t like it, move on to another one. Networks should anticipate this, and implement a mechanism for easy move of bloggers in and out.

While networks will provide visibility and traffic, they will not automatically turn a blogger into a hot-shot any more. It is like good peer-review (or good editorial decisions in the media) – a blogger on a network has a seal of approval that s/he is OK, not spouting non-scientific nonsense, but there is no guarantee that the person is one of the elite best. For actual reputation, being a member of a network will not be sufficient any more – that, you will have to build for yourself, as an individual.

The exclusivity of the networks (“you can blog with us and nobody else”) has been eroding for quite a while now. At the beginnings of Scienceblogs.com we were expected to close our old blogs and move them to the network. Razib had quite a problem for continuing to run Gene Expression Classic. It is much more common now for bloggers to contribute to multiple personal, individual, corporate or group blogs, and even to have blogs on two or more networks. This will become even more common in the new ecosystem and any network that asks for exclusivity will not find many bloggers willing to join.

Building and Maintaining Community

With the ease of movement from one network to another, and with the ease of having a blog on multiple networks, how does any individual network get to keep anyone on board? How does one build loyalty? After all, each network is now just one node in the network, and many bloggers will feel a loyalty to the broader community but much less loyalty to the particular network they are on. It is also much easier to be a solo blogger today, as RSS is everywhere (no need to use Google Reader for it – RSS imports are on every social networking platform and more), social networking sites are busy, and multituded of networks will have to pay more attention to them now, if nothing else scouting for new talent.

One obvious way is money. If the business model allows it, and if finances allow it, pay more than the other networks, and this will persuade at least some people to come and to stay for quite a while. Bloggers on networks are media, thus they should be paid for their work, just as if they were journalists in a more traditional outlet.

Don’t pay by page-view. This creates internal hierarchies. This also creates pressures (even if there is no formal frequency minimum requirement in the contract) to post often and to post controversial stuff and to post silly stuff, diluting the science content on the network. Every month when you calculate the earnings and deduct the costs, share the rest equally among all members of the community, regardless of how much they contributed either by frequency of posting or by traffic.

Another obvious way is the opposite – promise never to have ads, never to have corporate interests involved, and never to pay anyone for anything. This is definitely appealing to some bloggers who draw salaries elsewhere and for whom complete editorial freedom and complete perception of ethical purity are essential.

Another way is to have kick-ass technical support. This is a big reason some bloggers like to be on the networks. They may have too large a traffic to be able to deal with it on their own. Or they may be too busy to deal with it. Or they may be great writers but with essentially zero technical skills. Reliable technology is a big plus. And rumors and gossip about the quality of tech support on various networks spread fast and wide.

Also, use platforms that are easy for bloggers to use and customize. These days, multi-blog WordPress seems to be in the lead. Drupal is great for developers and for making parts of the site that bloggers will not touch, but is non-intuitive and cumbersome for the non-techie users. MoveableType4 got clunky over time and requires tech support with high level of expertise and seems to be hard to be flexible with – you are building a site not just for 2010 but also a site that can nimbly change as the Web changes. One day Scripting2 will be available for everyone, and it is perfect for bloggers like me who write long posts – the asides, explanations of the basics, references, link-lists, things I inject into my posts as full paragraphs now can be hidden at first read and revealed by those who want to see them by a single click.

If you combine clunky tech-support, and no access to traffic data, with limits to editorial freedom, you get a revolt on your hands and people start leaving. If business ideas trump everything else, you’ll run afoul of the bloggers’ ethics and they willl leave really fast.

Make sure that blogs on your network have a good mobile version. Design good apps for iPhone and Ipad. Make sure your bloggers get them for free.

Provide cool swag. I have collected four Sb mugs over the past four years, one for each member of the family, and they are our favorites – I am actually drinking coffee from one of them right now. I have a t-shirt that says “Coturnix” on the back, with an Sb logo. Seed has provided, in the early years, swag for us to give to readers in contests. That is cool stuff.

Provide backchannel forums. Any platform will do, though I personally prefer Groupsite.com (formerly known as Collective X) as there is a possibility for exchanging large files, having rich profiles, having easy-to-find documents (e.g., How-To manuals for tech questions), having forums for organizing synchronized action, etc. Count on some members not participating there – there are some SciBlings who never logged into the back forums and thus never really felt like members of the community (and were also wildly uninformed about what is going on). Thus, if a network is too small (e.g., 10 or less), you’ll end up with three people chatting in the forums – that is not a community. Be a part of that forum yourself, regularly. Continuous conversation between bloggers and overlords is essential for developing trust, and thus loyalty.

Organize common actions. DonorsChoose drive every October was a great community-building activity on Scienceblogs.com, for an example.

See how your company/organization can help your bloggers’ careers. For example, if yours is a media company, you can help bloggers write for and get published in your magazine. If they publish a book, promote it. Promote the network and the individual bloggers in your promotional materials, in your magazine, on your website, etc. Also, ask bloggers to promote the network wherever they may be – especially if they go to conferences. Give them swag and let them spread the word about you.

Bloggers who come from a journalistic background want to learn how to use all these newfangled online tools. Bloggers who came from other (mainly scientific/academic) backgrounds want to widen their toolbox to include some of the traditional media. Help both groups as much as you can.

Organize offline events. Blogs are a means to finding people to do rhythmic things with. The two SciBlings meetups in 2007 and 2008 in NYC were amazing events! We gelled so well together as a group. We shared several meals, drank a lot, sang karaoke, met with our readers, met Adam Bly and others in the management, visited Seed offices, took group pictures, got tons of swag. It was a blast. It did wonders for our sense of identity as a group. Likewise, the 1.000,000th Comment parties were awesome – the NC event was at the Asheville Zoo with several SciBlings and several readers, followed by dinner.

And for the building of a broader community that includes all the networks, just come to ScienceOnline every January (the 2011 version is likely to be heavily invested in the building of the new ecosystem, so don’t miss it!), send your Overlords and a bunch of your bloggers, send swag, put up posters, moderate sessions, do a Demo of your network, promote Open Laboratory (and your own bloggers’ posts that made it into the latest edition) on your site, be a generous part of the new ecosystem and your own bloggers will love you for it.

Diversity

Make your network attractive to bloggers, feeling welcome there. If The Usual Suspects invite other Usual Suspects, A-listers invite other A-listers, a bunch of buddies who are all white men invite each other, you will have a problem. The first thing the blogosphere will notice, within the first millisecond of unveiling your network, is that there is no diversity on your network, just an Old Boys Club and an Old Clique. Instead of enjoying the attention, you will have to immediately switch into the PR disaster management mode.

Thus, make sure that at least 50% of your starting line-up are women. And hopefully not everyone’s white and middle-aged either. This will also change the internal dynamics of the community – male-dominated groups are much more competitive, and you want to foster a cooperative activity.

If you spent last few years mainly schmoozing with your buddies in science, or tech, or your neighbors in Silicon Valley, and you have no idea what women, minorities, seniors and youngsters to invite, you are a few years too late for this. If you decide to invite some of them to your network, they will probably be very polite in saying No, but to themselves they will be saying something like “Who the hell are you? What planet did you just fall from? I have never heard of you, you never read my blog, you never commented on my blog, so why this sudden interest in it, eh? You don’t follow me on Twitter, we are not Facebook friends, I am not on your blogroll, so why do you want me now? As a token to put on your pretty new network so you can add another notch on your “diversity” belt? Well, no, sirree!” And they will be perfectly correct in thinking that way.

But if you have started years ago, when science blogosphere was young, always looking around for new voices, reading the new blogs because they are fun, commenting not because it’s good for business but because you are personally motivated to say something, ask something, say Hello, than you are OK. Just by chance, half of these blogs will be written by women, some by older people, some by younger people, some by non-white people.

You would be reading them because their writing is great. You would be commenting, and blogrolling them, and linking to them, and promoting them because you love what they do, not for political motives. You would try to meet them in person when you travel, and you would invite them to conferences you organize. You would make fast friendships this way, without any ideas that this would potentially turn into anything like a business deal.

And then, if such an opportunity arises and you can start a new network, you will have a pool of hundreds or even thousands of cool bloggers to pick from, people with whom you already have a genuine friendship and mutual trust. And you would be VERY familiar with their work as you have followed it for years. Thus you will have plenty of choices who to invite in order to have a diversity of topics, formats, styles and voices – and pure statistics will ensure that about half of them will be female and a few of them non-white and non-middle-aged. No need to do anything artificial, or to do something out of the ordinary in order to get “proper balance” – it will just happen.

Later, once the network is live and kicking, you can do more stuff to promote diversity and especially to promote new and young bloggers. For example, you can make an “incubator” blog to which you invite a very new and young but talented blogger (or even a group, e.g., friends from a science journalism school) to guest-blog on for one month (Seed did that with a photoblog for a while). There is no guarantee, or even expectation that any of those guest-bloggers would ever be invited to join the network as individual bloggers, but that one month would be great training, great experience and great exposure to them, so once their month is over they can take their audience with them wherever they go, feeling confident in their blogging skills. You may specifically ask the readers to be “nice to the n00b” and ask your senior bloggers to keep an eye – be there to teach, to advise, and to defend against nasty commenters. And if an individual blogger really kicks butt, drawing a lot of traffic and comments with brilliant content, then you can certainly consider invitation for a more permanent slot on the network. In other words, be a factor in growing the community of science bloggers, not just defending your own turf.

Coda

There are many other ideas I have, and other people have. Each network will have to see what their goals are, what ambitions, what resources they have, etc.

I could have kept all of the above to myself, and charged a single network $100,000 to advise them and help them set up. But that would not work – it only works if most or all networks think about this the right way and do the right thing. A lone network doing it right cannot survive in the interconnectedness of the archipelago if all the other players adopt outdated ideas. It is a network or networks, and I hope that people who run or build networks right now read this, talk about it with each other, and come to ScienceOnline2011 to hatch a common strategy, because we have a common goal, and need to collaborate on reaching it.

New World-Science Forum – The Origins of Kindness

The Origins of Kindness:

Listen to our interview with science historian Oren Harman. He’s our guest in this Science Forum discussion.

Harman is a professor at Bar Ilan University in Israel.

If evolution favors the survival of the fittest, how did kindness and selflessness evolve? The search for that answer is the subject of Harman’s new book, The Price of Altruism.

It tells the story of George Price, a scientist who developed an equation that explains how natural selection can favor altruistic behaviors.

As Harman writes, George Price’s life and work were full of contradictions.

Disappointed by his findings, because they implied that seemingly selfless behaviors are in fact selfish, Price decided to prove his own science wrong. He became an evangelical Christian and gave away everything he owned to the poor and homeless.

Price took his own life in 1975.

Oren Harman is taking your comments and questions. Come join the conversation. It’s just to the right.

UC Berkeley Genetic Testing Affair: Science vs Science Education – guest post by Dr.Marie-Claire Shanahan

Marie-Claire Shanahan is an Assistant Professor of Science Education at the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. As a former science teacher, she was always surprised by the ways that students talked themselves out of liking science – and she decided to do something about it. She now researches the social and cultural aspects of science and science education, especially those related to language and identity.

Marie-Claire and I first met online, then also in Real World when she attended ScienceOnline 2010, after which I interviewed her for my blog. You can check out her website and follow her on Twitter. Very interested in her scholarly work, I asked her if she would write a guest-post on one of her topics, and she very graciously agreed. Here is the post about the Berkeley genetic testing affair.

Outside of issues related to teaching evolution in schools, the words controversy and science education don’t often come into close contact with one another. It would be even rarer to be reporting on legislative intervention aimed at halting science education activities. So what’s going on with the UC Berkeley genetic testing affair?

News started to surface in May that Berkeley was going to be asking incoming first year and transfer students to send in a DNA swab. The idea was to stimulate discussion between students as part of the yearly On the Same Page program. A heated debate ensued that has ultimately lead to proposed state legislation that would bar California’s post secondary institutions from making unsolicited requests for DNA samples from students. Both the controversy and the legislation are excellently reported by Ferris Jabr at Scientific American here and here.

It would be reasonable to assume that this seems controversial because it involves genetic testing and therefore personal information. But is there more to it than that?

I chatted informally with some friends about the issue. One expressed her divided feelings about it saying (roughly quoted) “It seems like they [university admin] have addressed the ethical concerns well by being clear about the use of the swabs and the confidentiality but something still just doesn’t feel right. There’s still a part of me that shivers just a little bit.”

What is the shiver factor? Genetic testing and the idea that institutions might have access to our DNA do conjure some imaginative science fiction possibilities. So that could be causing the shivers. But from my perspective as a science education researcher, I think there’s also an underlying issue that makes this particular situation feel controversial: despite having science education goals, this looks and feels a lot more like science. That look and feel leads to confusion about how this initiative should be judged both from an ethical perspective and an educational one.

Science and science education are not the same thing (nor should they be). One way to think of them is through activity analysis, paying attention to who is involved, what are their objectives and what are the artefacts (e.g., tools, language, symbols), actions, and rules that those involved generally agree are used to accomplish the goals of the activity. Studies in activity theory emphasize the importance of shared understanding for accomplishing and progressing in any activity. I would argue that science and science education are different (though obviously related) activities. They have, in particular, different objectives and different artefacts, rules and actions that guide and shape them. As participants in one or the other (or both), teachers, parents, students, researchers, administrators have both tacit and explicit understandings of what each activity entails – what are the rules, the acceptable tools and practices and the appropriate language.

This is where the Berkeley project places itself in a fuzzy area. The objectives of the project are clearly stated to be educational. From the On the Same Page website: “we decided that involving students directly and personally in an assessment of genetic characteristics of personal relevance would capture their imaginations and lead to a deeper learning experience.” Okay, that sounds like the same reasons teachers and professors choose to do many activities. Sounds like science education.

But what about the tools? Testing students’ blood type or blood pressure uses tools commonly available in high school labs (or even at the drug store). The tools used here though are not commonly available – these samples are being sent to a laboratory for analysis. Participants don’t therefore have a shared perspective that these are the tools of education. They seem like the tools of science.

What about the language? One of the main publically accessible sources of information is the On the Same Page website, in particular an FAQ section for students. It starts with the questions: What new things are going on in the scientific community that make this a good time for an educational effort focused on personalized medicine? and Why did Berkeley decide to tackle the topic of Personalized Medicine? These are answered with appeals to educational discourse – to academic strengths, student opportunities, and the stature of Berkeley as an educational center. The agent or actor in the answers to these questions is the university as an educational institutional: “This type of broad, scholarly discussion of an important societal issue is what makes Berkeley special. From a learning perspective, our goal is to deliver a program that will enrich our students’ education and help contribute to an informed California citizenry.”

Beside these educational questions, however, are questions that are part of the usual language and processes of science: Will students be asked to provide “informed consent” for this test of their DNA? What about students who are minors? How can you assure the confidentiality and privacy of a student’s genetic information? What will happen to the data from this experiment? Has this project been approved by Berkeley’s Human Subjects Institutional Review Board? These questions are the questions that appear in human subjects information letters. They make this sound like this is science. The answers to these questions take a different perspective to the ones above. The technical terms are not educational ones but scientific ones. The actor in these responses is neither the educational institution nor the student as an educational participant but the student as a research object: “All students whether they are minors or not will be asked to provide informed consent. They will read and sign a detailed form describing exactly what will be done with their DNA sample, how the information will be used and secured for confidentiality, how this information might benefit them, and what the alternatives are to submitting a sample.”

Anyone who has done human subjects research will recognize this language is almost word for word from typical guidelines for informed consent documents. My consent forms usually don’t deal with DNA samples (usually something much less exotic, such as student writing or oral contributions during class) but the intent is the same. This language sets out the individuals under consideration as the objects of scientific research.

The overall effect is one of a mixed metaphor – is this research or is it teaching? Are the students actually acting in the role of students or are they the objects of research? What standards should we be using to judge if this is an appropriate action. The materials posted by UC Berkeley suggest that they believe this should be judged as an educational project. But the reaction of bioethicists and advocacy groups (such as the Council for Responsible Genetics) suggests that it be judged by research standards.

Why does it matter? Because the ethical considerations are different. As I said above, I don’t usually deal with any materials that would be considered very controversial. I research the way people (including students) write, read, speak and listen in situations related to science. When dealing with students, many of the activities that I use for research could also be used for educational purposes. For example, in a project this year I distributed different versions of scientific reading materials. I asked students to read these in pairs. I tape recorded their conversations and collected their written responses to the text. As a classroom teacher, these are strategies that I have used for educational purposes. Tape recording students allows me to listen to the struggles they might have had while reading a text. Collecting their written responses allows me to assess their understanding. Parents would not object to their child’s teacher using these tools for these purposes. When I visit a classroom as a researcher though, I am judged differently. Parents often do not consent to me collecting their children’s writing. They object, especially frequently, to my requests to videotape or photograph their children. This is because they rightfully understand educational research as a different activity from education. They use different judgments and expect different standards.

From the sequence of events, it sounds as if Berkeley admin started this project with their own perspective that this was clearly educational without adequate consideration that, from an outside position, it would be judged from a research perspective. I don’t want to suggest that this whole thing is a simple miscommunication because there are serious ethical implications related to asking for DNA samples. As people try to figure out how an educational idea ended up in the state legislature, though, I just wanted to add my perspective that some of the controversy might come from that shiver factor – something just doesn’t feel right. One aspect of that feel might be that this challenges the boundaries of our understanding of the activities of science and science education. The language and the tools and the objectives are mixed, leading to confusion about exactly what standards this should be judged against. As tools that have traditionally been associated with laboratory science become more accessible (as genetic testing is becoming) this boundary is likely to be challenged more and more. Those making the decisions to use these tools for educational, rather than research, purposes need to understand that challenging peoples conceptions of the boundaries between science and science education can and will lead to conflict and that conflict should be addressed head on and from the beginning.

Oxygen (video)

Science Café Raleigh – A Nuclear Renaissance

Our July Science Café (description below) will be held on Tuesday 7/20 at Tir Na Nog on S. Blount Street. With the disastrous BP Gulf oil spill now continuing into its third month, every day we are reminded of the challenges our country faces with regards to our energy production and consumption. Can nuclear energy be a viable answer for some of our energy needs? Our café speaker for the evening will be Dr. David McNelis, the Director of the Center for Sustainable Energy, Environment, and Economic Development at UNC’s Institute for the Environment. It should be an interesting evening for all of us to learn more about the pros and cons of nuclear power, and about how our choices about energy will impact our present and future world.
A Nuclear Renaissance
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
6:30-8:30 p.m. with discussion beginning at 7:00 followed by Q&A
Tir Na Nog 218 South Blount Street, Raleigh, 833-7795
From its development in the 1950s and ’60s to the protests against its use in the 1970s and ’80s, commercial nuclear energy in the United States has always been surrounded by debate. Opponents of its use have presented possible risks to the environment and human health. Meanwhile, proponents cite it as a sustainable energy source that reduces carbon emissions and eases dependence on foreign oil. In February 2010, the federal government approved a loan guarantee for the construction of two nuclear reactors in Georgia, which would be the first plants to start construction in the U.S. since the 1970s. What does this renewed commitment to nuclear power mean to our energy future? What will it mean for our environment and our health? Come to our café and join in on a discussion of a Nuclear Renaissance.
About the Speaker:
Professor David N. McNelis has more than 45 years of environmental sciences and engineering experience in federal government, university and industry settings. He served in research and research management positions with the U.S. Army, the U.S. Public Health Service and the Environmental Protection Agency; with the Department of Energy’s prime contractor for the Nevada Test Site; and with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He now serves as the Director of the Center for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economic Development in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Institute for the Environment and as President of Nuclear Fuel Cycle Technologies, LLC. In addition to being a Research Professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering at UNC, he is also an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Nuclear Engineering at NCSU. Currently Dr. McNelis specializes in conventional, alternative and nuclear energy systems and technologies and the nuclear fuel cycle (including partitioning, transmutation, repository capacity and nuclear non proliferation).
This café is sponsored by Progress Energy.

Virtual ‘Frog Dissection’ iPad app (video)

I can see this as instructional material while dissecting a real frog, getting a feel for its texture, smell, seeing the individual differences between the way multiple frogs look on the inside, but not as a replacement of the real thing. What do you think?

Seven Questions….with Yours Truly

Last week, my SciBling Jason Goldman interviewed me for his blog. The questions were not so much about blogging, journalism, Open Access and PLoS (except a little bit at the end) but more about science – how I got into it, what are my grad school experiences, what I think about doing research on animals, and such stuff. Jason posted the interview here, on his blog, on Friday, and he also let me repost it here on my blog as well, under the fold:

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