Making Your Science Matter
Jul28

Making Your Science Matter

This guest post is by Chris Creese, a member of the “Eco Comm Crew” behind the upcoming “Beyond the Written Word” science communication workshop (#15) at ESA’s Annual Meeting in Sacramento. See previous posts from EcoComm Crewmates: “Parachuting In: Writing that Drops Readers into the Field of Ecology” by Clarisse Hart, “From Oceans to Mountains, it’s all about Ecology…Communication!” by Holly Menninger, and “3 Reasons Why We Should Tell Stories about Scientists, Not Just Science” by Bethann Merkle. Get ready for some tough love, but I promise this will ultimately uplift you and your science. How many people know about your research? Is that number even based on hard data or is it wishful thinking? Excluding parents, partners and colleagues… how big is that number now? With about 2 million science papers published a year1, the question is, who’s really reading them. According to one study, up to half of all papers are never read by anyone other than their authors, referees and journal editors2. That could mean an audience of three, folks! Surely all your toil in the lab and field is worth more than that. Some of us might be feeling a bit smug knowing we’ve got more than a few followers. Well, cheers if you’re in this group, but keep reading because I’m going to share how you can still massively amplify that number. Those of us feeling a touch defensive might decide it doesn’t matter how many people follow our work because science isn’t about ego. I agree, it’s about contribution. The act of generating new information carries some innate value, but a greater sense of contribution comes from knowing where that information goes and what it accomplishes. “Impact” is more than a hook for your next NSF grant. So how do scientists better communicate their findings to make sure results have legs and reach more people? Journalists and press officers will tell you that a multimedia toolkit (and knowing how to use it!) is one of the answers. It’s also the focus of our ESA workshop taking place August 10th in Sacramento. This workshop gives you a taste of the different media opportunities available to share your science in compelling ways. By popping in for a few hours of training you’ll be ready to experiment with how to tell your story through photography, audio video (AV), illustration and writing. Are you ready to capture the imagination of the masses? The trick, says BBC Science producer Helen Thomas, is to create a “gawk” moment. When you drop jaws with arresting images it’s a lot easier to get your message across. She wasn’t kidding – she...

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ESA2013 Science Cafe Prize — call for submissions!
Jun01

ESA2013 Science Cafe Prize — call for submissions!

Have you ever wanted to escape the conference center during the ESA Annual Meeting and talk science with the locals? This August at the 98th Annual Meeting in Minneapolis, we are launching a Science Café – a chance to tell local pub-goers about your ecological passions in a casual environment.

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“Race, Intelligence, and Genetics For Curious Dummies”
May23

“Race, Intelligence, and Genetics For Curious Dummies”

  Last week, a cicada-like re-emergence of “Bell Curve” claims of a genetic determinacy between intelligence and race surfaced in a Heritage Foundation special report on immigration. The report drew on Jason Richwine’s Harvard dissertation, “IQ and Immigration Policy.” Amid the furor, the Atlantic’s Ta Nehisi Coates was ready with the history. He wrote in response to Richwine’s apologists, who were arguing that science must boldly investigate taboo topics in the face of social pressure: “It is almost as though the “dark arts of race and IQ” were an untapped field of potential knowledge, not one of the most discredited fields of study in modern history. We should first be clear that there is nothing mysterious or forbidden about purporting to study race and intelligence. Indeed, despite an inability to define “race” or “intelligence,” such studies are one of the dominant intellectual strains in Western history,” For those who are unfamiliar with that history, Coates provides a crib sheet. Coates asked a geneticist to bring the scientific perspective to the table. In essence, Neil Risch, director of the Institute for Human Genetics at University of California San Francisco, agrees that race and intelligence are fuzzy concepts; race is a very imperfect proxy for ancestry, as IQ is a slippery proxy for certain kinds of intelligence. Correlations between IQ and race are not convincing evidence of underlying biology. The social and environmental differences between the groups we define as races have more influence than the genetic differences. One last question. Your paper on assessing genetic contributions to phenotype, seemed skeptical that we would ever tease out a group-wide genetic component when looking at things like cognitive skills or personality disposition. Am I reading that right? Are “intelligence” and “disposition” just too complicated? Joanna Mountain and I tried to explain this in our Nature Genetics paper on group differences.  It is very challenging to assign causes to group differences.  As far as genetics goes, if you have identified a particular gene which clearly influences a trait, and the frequency of that gene differs between populations, that would be pretty good evidence.  But traits like “intelligence” or other behaviors (at least in the normal range), to the extent they are genetic, are “polygenic.”  That means no single genes have large effects – there are many genes involved, each with a very small effect.  Such gene effects are difficult if not impossible to find.  The problem in assessing group differences is the confounding between genetic and social/cultural factors.  If you had individuals who are genetically one-thing but socially another, you might be able to tease it apart, but that is generally not the case. Risch...

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Learning the lingo of science communication that resonates

This post contributed by Terence Houston, ESA Science Policy Analyst Many political observers would liken the current climate on Capitol Hill to a virtual total breakdown of civil communication where differing sides have become increasingly entrenched in their own ideological philosophies, either unwilling or incapable of meeting in the middle. The latest calamity concerning the failure of the so-called “supercommittee” to “go big” and come up with comprehensive deficit reduction legislation further reinforces this perception. Past major budget agreements in modern history, specifically the 1990, 1993 and 1997 balanced budget agreements collectively included a mix of spending, entitlement cuts and revenue increases. Two of the three agreements were passed during a time when the White House and Congress were controlled by separate parties. The failure of current political leaders to come to agreement on significant revenue and entitlement reforms, which could reduce the nation’s debt by trillions of dollars, makes it all the more likely discretionary spending, including federal investments in science, will be significantly diminished in coming years. The current gridlock can partially be attributed to an unwillingness by opposing sides to understand the perspective of their colleagues on the other side of the aisle, a failure to adhere to the concept of “meet me halfway.” This lack of comprehending or acknowledging the virtues or commonalities within the arguments made by the opposing side becomes the main reason each of the two parties are increasingly not talking to one another, but talking past one another in negotiations and legislative debates. The talking-past-one-another-syndrome is also a failing that scientists unaware of or inexperienced in effective communication practices can easily fall prey to. Consequently, the art of effective communication is one that scientists need to master if they hope to garner any success in advancing (or preserving) policies that are important to them. Hence, if scientists are to affect change in policy, they need to learn to speak the language of the entity they are talking to, inform through the use of concepts or ideas of mutual importance or interest. The Aldo Leopold Leadership Program (ALLP) intends to improve environmental scientists’ ability to communicate effectively and persuasively beyond the world of academia, with a specific focus on the public policy realm. The program was created in 1998 by Jane Lubchenco, who now heads the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, Hal Mooney and Paul Risser, all former presidents of the Ecological Society of America. In the most recent edition of the Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, Elena Bennett, Assistant Professor for the Department of Natural Resource Sciences and McGill School of Environment at McGill University in Montreal, Canada discusses her experiences with the...

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Sharing ecology online

It is no secret that the world is becoming increasingly digital. The evening news has less of a role in disseminating leading headlines than a friend or colleague does. That is, social media outlets have become primary sources of news—in general, stories vetted by friends, coworkers and family members have gained more credibility than a random, syndicated news report. This change in interactive networking brings with it challenges and a unique potential to broaden and simultaneously deepen conversations about science. As a result, the Ecological Society of America, has launched a new Facebook page as part of its efforts to initiate dialogue about the Society and ecological research, policy engagement, education and other initiatives in general. The new Facebook page allows you to Like ESA, post on the wall, view or add photos and start a discussion. You can also subscribe to the new Facebook page on your phone or as an RSS feed to receive ESA news and updates from the ecological community. ESA also provides updates on Twitter @ESA_org. And during this year’s annual meeting in Austin, Texas, tweeting enters meeting attendees into a drawing for the new ESA t-shirt, “Ecologists Do It in the Field.” Use Twitter and Facebook to share your thoughts on Earth Stewardship—in addition to networking with colleagues and receiving real-time meeting and Society announcements. Join the conversation about Earth Stewardship using #earthsteward on Twitter and mentioning “Earth Stewardship” on ESA’s Facebook wall. All responses will be automatically entered into the daily drawing. To share information about the annual meeting in general, use #ESA11 on Twitter. The theme of this year’s meeting, “Earth Stewardship: Preserving and enhancing the earth’s life-support systems,”will be explored in the numerous presentations and discussions during the conference.  The Society hopes some participants will also use the Society’s social media venues to share opinions, ideas, insights and suggestions. With your help, these contributions can help ESA formulate the best approaches to enhancing Earth Stewardship. Participants MUST be attending the annual meeting in order to collect the prizes. Winners will be announced on Twitter through ESA’s Twitter page, using the @mention feature to notify the winner. They will also be announced on ESA’s Facebook wall. Prizes will be picked up at the ESA booth in the exhibit hall. Photo Credit: Karl-Ludwig...

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Shrew poo and worm goo are science too

Last week I had the pleasure of being a speaker at Buck Lodge Middle School’s Career Day. Several public schools in Maryland, where Buck Lodge is located, and other states organize important events like these to get students thinking about future opportunities. Do you remember what it was like to be in middle school? To the middle school me, a career seemed distant, vague and, frankly, too overwhelming to really think about. But the big question was always on my mind: What do I want to be? As I told the students at Buck Lodge, at the time, I knew I enjoyed writing and painting and found science fascinating, but that was the scope of my “career path.” I chose a high school and college known for their science programs—seemingly small decisions that actually said quite a bit about my true interests. But it wasn’t until a couple years into college that my advisor told me about a career in science writing; the more I learned about it, the more I knew it was the right fit. I was able to learn about the latest research and share it in creative ways. As I tried to express to the students, this is why I chose science: It can be fun, weird and important all at once, and it can show you a side to the world you never knew existed. So when I explained my career to the students at Buck Lodge, I wanted to show my excitement about the two main components of my job: science and writing. The science part was, naturally, what the students found most entertaining. At the beginning of each class, I asked the students how many of them liked “science, any kind of science.” Usually a sprinkling of hands rose. Then when I asked how many students liked animals or bugs, the hands shot up. “That is what I do,” I said, “I write about animals, bugs, plants, bacteria and how they all interact with each other and their environment. This science is called ecology.” The students inevitably wanted to know about the “coolest” or “weirdest” thing a (ecological) scientist has studied. I asked them if they had heard of the water bear. In one class, the students logically guessed a water bear is a bear that is particularly good at swimming. But the room erupted in “Ew!”s and “Gross!”s when I explained that the water bear is a microscopic animal living in mosses and wet environments all over the world—that they may have actually touched a water bear and not even known it. The students continued to comment on its translucent cuticle...

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Marine film festival returns with a splash

This post contributed by Ashwin Bhandiwad, marine biologist and filmmaker When my colleague and good friend Austin Gallagher told me he was thinking of starting a film festival focused on science and conservation, I relished the opportunity. Austin and I are graduate students and share a passion for the marine environment. Like all graduate students, we have had many conversations about how our work is woefully underappreciated and about how a fundamental lack of communication exists between researchers and people outside their field. This is why last year’s Beneath the Waves Film Festival was so appealing. Finally, here was a chance to break free of sometimes monotonous ten to twelve minute PowerPoint presentations with the requisite black and white graphs. Here was a chance to show, rather than tell. I was at Duke University at the time and had recently talked to a faculty member about a conservation issue facing North Carolina. There was a fight raging over beach access to the picturesque Outer Banks. Conservation groups, like the Audubon Society and Defenders of Wildlife, were fighting to restrict driving on the beach, contending that off-road vehicles and SUVs on the beaches disrupted and destroyed nesting behaviors of turtles and seabirds in the area. Beach access interest groups claimed that the disruption was minimal  and that beach restrictions would decimate the local economy. The U.S. National Park Service had provided management plans that could be debated by the public in order to reach a middle ground, but few people knew about it. I decided it would make a great topic for a short documentary, one that would highlight regional conservation issues through the lens of behavioral ecological data (see below video). Shifting Sands: The Fight for the Outer Banks from Ashwin Bhandiwad on Vimeo. The festival itself was impressive. They ranged from natural history descriptive studies (a squid spawning event in San Diego) to global conservation issues (shark finning and turtle egg poaching) to short animated films about invasive species. Each film was remarkable in scope and breadth and showed creative prowess. The panel of judges, comprised of both filmmakers and academics, were surprised to see such diversity and passion in filmmaking. This year, I am happy to be an organizer and judge at the Second Annual Beneath the Waves Film Festival at the 40th Benthic Ecology Meeting in Mobile, AL from March 16-20, 2011. Even though our call for submissions was released only a month ago, we have received a deluge of strong entries. The spirit of the festival is even more pronounced , with entries from researchers as well as avid naturalists and divers highlighting, not only...

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Climate Change: What Broadcast Meteorologists Believe

When it comes to information about climate change, we want to believe that most people make rational, informed decisions based on a careful analysis of data. The truth for many people, though, is that their main source for climate change information is their local broadcast meteorologist. Unfortunately, this information often comes in the few seconds before or after a weathercast when a news anchor might ask the meteorologist if an unusually warm winter day is a “sure sign of global warming.”

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