Posts Tagged blogging

why paper cuts hurt Alison Campbell Feb 16

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I suppose one of the benefits of e-readers & ‘paperless’ offices (haha) is a reduction in the risks of paper cuts. Because those cuts jolly well hurt! Part of that may just be because they usually involve fingers & those are in use so much that our attention is constantly drawn to the afflicted part. But there’s more to it than that, and this video from Scientific American explains why:

The comments thread over on youtube is rather fun!

widening the definition of scientific outputs Alison Campbell Oct 29

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This was first posted over on TalkingTeaching.

This blog post at SkepticalScalpel really struck a chord. Entitled “Should social media accomplishments be recognised by academia”, it compares the number of citations the author’s received for published papers with the number of hits on a blog post reviewing original research. And finds there’s no contest:

Three years ago, I wrote “Statistical vs. Clinical Significance: They Are Not the Same,” which reviewed a paper on sleep apnea …

That post has received over 13,400 page views, certainly far exceeding the number of people who have read my 97 peer-reviewed papers, case reports, review articles, book chapters, editorials, and letters to journal editors.

The SkepticalScalpel author also notes that this sort of on-line peer-review and discussion of data can have rapid, effective results:

Last year, some Australians, blogging at the Intensive Care Network, found that the number needed to treat stated in a New England Journal paper on targeted vs. universal decolonization to prevent ICU infection was wrong. They blogged about it and contacted the lead author who acknowledged the error within 11 days. It took the journal 5 months to make the correction online.

PZ Myers has also advocated for such on-line, social-media-mediated, peer review, pointing to microbiologist Rosie Redfield as a great example of how this works. (The discussion at that last link shows ‘open’ peer-review in operation – and posts like that will have attracted a far wider audience than the original paper.)

But wait, there’s more! At Scientific AmericanSimon Owens writes about Kathleen Mandt: a scientist who’s become part of probably the biggest two-way stream of communication between scientists and the general public in the world, via Reddit.

R/science is a default subreddit, meaning it’s visible to people visiting even if they aren’t logged in. According to internal metrics, r/science draws between 30,000 and 100,000 unique visitors a day. It’s arguably the largest community-run science forum on the Internet. And starting in January r/science officially launched its own Science AMA series, and very quickly scientists who are producing interesting, groundbreaking research but not widely known to others outside their fields began answering questions on the front page of a site that is visited by 114 million people a month (this includes registered and casual visitors.).

Most scientific research is published in expensive journals, some of which are not available in smaller libraries. And the vast majority of findings never receive media coverage. “Really, the only way people get to find out about new research is if they have journal access or if they read the short-form news story that can be skewed by whatever journalist is covering it,” says Chris Dawson, another r/science mod. “If you had questions about the study then there wasn’t a good way to get them answered, and now you can.” Virtually overnight, Reddit had created the world’s largest two-way dialogue between scientists and the general public.

Of course there are limitations to this mode of communication. Questions may be off the point, ie not directly related to the research under discussion. This is hardly surprising, but it’s something that a good science journalist can avoid. (However, good science journalism, in the mainstream media, is a fairly rare beast.) And the r/science moderators do have to make some careful decisions around which researchers to invite into the forum.

But overall, in terms of getting information out there with the potential for meaningful, rapid interaction with one’s audience, and a much bigger audience at that, science blogs and venues like Reddit’s r/science probably win hands-down over more conventional modes of publication. As Owens says,

This year’s Science AMAs overall reveal that r/science fulfills a public need that’s unforeseen, unknown, unaddressed or not fully embraced by the scientific community. In a world where the general public often finds it frustratingly difficult to access scholarly journals, demand remains for a way to connect scientists and their work with nonscientists. With the rise of MOOCs and other digital tools such as Reddit, science communication has expanded well beyond its traditional confines in the ivory tower.

So is it time, as Skeptical Scalpel says, for measures of scholarly output to be broadened when it comes time for promotion?

one of the largest living insects? Alison Campbell Jul 23

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If you don’t like spiders then you probably wouldn’t like this either: from China come reports of what’s claimed to be the largest known aquatic insect. (I can’t find any actual published scientific descriptions of the creature; it will be nice to see the claim confirmed – or denied! – as it’s a pretty impressive specimen.


My first thought on seeing this image was, a dobsonfly! I’ve not ever seen an adult specimen, but the aquatic larvae I encountered when running a macroinvertebrate lab class (way back in my Massey days) have equally impressive mandibles – hence the nickname of ‘toe biters’. Given that the adult Megalopteran pictured here has a 21cm wingspan (!), I wouldn’t care to encounter its larvae when paddling in a stream.

Becky Crew has a great take on this creature on her Running Ponies blog, including some fascinating info on other giants of the insect world.

acapella science does eminem Alison Campbell Jul 17

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It’s not biology but this video is too good not to share :) I’ve always had a soft spot for acapella singing, & acapella science is just wonderful as an example of combining music & science communication. (Those who want the lyrics will find them here at Scientific American.)

a bunch of fascinating animals you’ve never heard of… Alison Campbell May 30

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… unless you’ve been following this blog for a while, in which case you may already have read about the sarcastic fringeheads (who are not members of a rock band, despite the wonderful name!).

The dumbo octopus, the pacu (a fish with teeth like nutcrackers, an attribute that has given rise to an urban myth guaranteed to alarm men), the pink fairy armadillo – yes, really! – visit the IFLS webpage and read all about them!

most excellent epiphytes Alison Campbell Mar 28

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A couple of years ago I spent a lovely afternoon in the huge domed glasshouses of Singapore's "Gardens on the Bay". The 'cloud forest' was my favourite – both for the concept & for the wonderful range of epiphytes on show there.

Singapore cloud forest mountain.jpg

So you'll understand that I enjoyed reading about it again on this blog, written for the New Zealand Epiphyte Network. Anyone with even a passing interest in New Zealand's native plants should drop by the site. And maybe sign up to be part of their citizen science project while you're there?

Go on, you know you want to :)

drawing fractals Alison Campbell Aug 27

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I’ve just stumbled across this rather lovely video on mathematical doodling. Learn to draw fractals, maths snowflakes & more. Even dragons! What’s not to like? YouTube Preview Image

a cheer for saccharomyces cerevisiae Alison Campbell Mar 17

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Here’s another of those catchy science-based ditties – & definitely one I’ll be adding to my collection for showing in class :) (I would have embedded it, but MT is not doing what it should today…later edit: thank goodness for IT wizards!)


And a happy St Patrick’s day!

artistry Alison Campbell Feb 13

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We are in full enrolment mode at the moment – for some reason a lot of students have left re-enrolling &/or seeking advice until the Very Last Moment – so I have little time for serious blogging. (It’s always the same at this time of year, only this year more of the same.) But I still have an eye for lovely biological images. So how’s this for a combination of artistry and science?

They’re from the Science is Awesome FB page:

They’re the work of Italian artist Guido Daniele, who uses hands as his canvas. One hand can take up to ten hours.

Ah, well, back to the grindstone.Your turn, Grant :)

what might a ‘science for citizens’ curriculum look like? Alison Campbell Feb 02


That’s the question blog-buddy Michael Edmonds asked some of us last night, & it got me thinking.

Sir Peter Gluckman raised the idea of a ‘science for citizens’ curriculum back in early 2011, in his report Looking ahead: science education for the 21st century. Included in that report was a brief list of some skills, knowledge, & abilities that all children need to have (characterised as ‘citizen-focused objectives’):

  • a practical knowledge at some level of how things work;
  • some knowledge of how the scientific process operates and have some level of scientific literacy
  • enough knowledge of scientific thinking as part of their development of general intellectual skills so that they are able to distinguish reliable information from less reliable information.

As I said at the time, the tricky thing is to work out how to deliver this, & the sort of learning experiences we might use in the classroom (& out of it!)

The ability to distinguish ‘reliable’ from ‘less reliable’ information is essential, given that we are now in a time when that information is only a few mouse clicks away. Students need to be learning how to do this right from the start of their time in our education system. And the tools to do it are pretty much part of the scientific process, so learning about one complements gaining knowledge in the other.

If we’re going to offer two ‘streams’ of science education, as proposed by Sir Peter, when should that start? Or should we simply take the ‘science for citizens’ from the start, hopefully keeping as many students as possible ‘turned on’ to science for as long as possible, & then split off an ‘academic’ stream – for potential scientists & engineers – later in the piece?

And what would this mean for students who might come late in the day to realising that science/engineering is where they want to be? Split into the streams too early, & we risk closing the door to those young people. We need to lock in the flexibility to allow students to change course mid-stream, as it were.

(We need to provide them with good advice, too. Wearing one of my other hats for the moment, just now I’m seeing quite a few young men & women who want to study engineering but who are weak in physics, or maths. Or who dropped maths in year 12. And in at least some cases, they seem to have gained the impression that ‘you can just pick that up at uni.’ I can generally work out a pathway for them, but it means they’ll take longer to complete their program; time that would have been saved by better choices earlier on.)

What about content? I mean, we can’t deliver process skills in a vacuum? Personally I’d go for more human biology in the curriculum. Children tend to be fascinated by how their bodies work, & such knowledge is important when making decisions that affect health, for example. And I’d like to think that a good grounding there would help people to recognise when they’re being offered sound advice as compared to some of the significant volume of health pseudoscience that’s out there these days.

And I’d also go for developing awareness of our place in the global ecosystem. Yes, there’s a lot to learn about our local environments & how to care for them, but our 21st-century science-literate citizens understanding of our large-scale impacts is also necessary if their world is to remotely resemble ours.

What would you like to see in this curriculum?


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