Archive September 2012

What would you have as a replacement for ‘Close Up’? Grant Jacobs Sep 27


There’s talk that long-running New Zealand current affairs program Close Up is to close up.* Cease to be, that is.

On sciblogs, we talk about what we’d like to see media do a fair bit. Naturally our concerns mostly relate to science stories but these issues apply more widely, too.

What would readers like to see in a replacement of Close Up? (Let’s assume it’ll be news, rather than be replaced by reality TV or what-have-you.)

Here’s a short selection from the comments at Stuff. (I’m not endorsing these! Many comments there focus on the host; my including these examples is for the remarks on technique, not the man.)

Max: “Would it be that hard to have a serious current affairs show that doesn’t just go for sensationalist stories?”

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Survey – communicating earthquake-related science Grant Jacobs Sep 26

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Join a survey aiming to improve the science communication of natural disasters.

What do you believe is important when the science of earthquakes and ways of minimising earthquake-related disasters are being communicated?

The survey is looking for adults of all ages and walks of life, from NZ or overseas so head on over and take part. Full details on the survey are in the appendix below.

It’s painless and you’ll help University of Otago geology student Vivienne Bryner with her Ph.D. studies at the Department of Geology and the Centre for Science Communication. The survey should take approximately 10-20 minutes, depending on the detail participants choose to give. Responses are anonymous.

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Fast access to biological databases from your web browser Grant Jacobs Sep 24


By adding Biobar to Firefox, you can get quick access to searching more than 45 biological data collections via a drop-down menus on your web browser. Click on the Biobar link, you’ll be taken to the Mozilla Add-ons page for Biobar, click on the big green ‘+ Add to FireFox’ button. Wait for the download (it won’t take long), then press ‘Install Now’. You’ll need to restart the browser for the new add-on to be taken up.

Once you’re done you’ll see a new bar added to the browser (boxed):

The search menu on the left gives you access to a wide range of databases, Read the rest of this entry »

Last week for nominations for World-Class New Zealander Awards Grant Jacobs Sep 24

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Among the categories are ‘science, technology and academia’:

  • New Thinking
  • Life Sciences
  • Creative
  • Investment & Business
  • Information & Communications
  • Manufacturing, Design & Innovation
  • Science, Technology & Academia

If you’ve got someone you think that might fit the bill, get to it! Nominations close September 30th.

Nominations are by email, using a template they supply,

Please send your nomination to with the nominee’s first name, last name, position, phone, email, organisation, award category / categories and your reasons for nomination as well as your own contact details – click here for an email template.

See their website for email addresses with the template needed to submit your nomination.*

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Living photographs Grant Jacobs Sep 21

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Zachary Copfer creates living pictures by spreading bacteria on nutrient agar, then selectively irradiating them to kill some.

He’s done a series of full head-and-shoulders portraits of famous scientists. Einstein is shown in the agar plate above; everyone should recognise the esteemed gentleman to the right. He even has glowing galaxies using fluorescent bacteria.

Check his website for more.

Other articles at Code for life:

Fainting kittens – feline myotonia congentia?

What kind of vegetable or fruit describes this NZ Herald article?

Media reporting of subsequent findings

A plastic ocean

Friday picture – molecular modelling of the cytoplasm

On vetting TED(x) events – a suggestion Grant Jacobs Sep 20


In an earlier article, Do TED lectures need better vetting?, I pointed to recurring ‘slips’ in TED(x) events where unsound material were being presented and asked if better vetting of speakers and their material might be needed, especially for the independent local/regional TEDx events.

TED editor Emily McMagnus joined the discussion and invited suggestions. I’ve copied my latest reply to her here as a separate post to give it a wider readership and to invited readers to offer their thoughts and suggestions, as the original is currently buried in the comments of an old post. (I’d encourage interested readers to read the original discussion as it offers some background to how TED and TEDx events are hosted and run.)

Being pushed for time I’ve presented my comment verbatim, bar some very light editing and removing the first paragraph as it would be out of context here.[1] Some less-then-ideal grammar or phrasing remains! Readers should take care to distinguish TED and TEDx events.



As I see things TED has successfully introduced what we might describe as an ‘intellectual entertainment’ venture, which aims to have high standards.

When products that state aiming to high standards succeed, then is often push-back from the customer base if they perceive it as falling short of it’s aims. This is true, for example, of some higher-end electronic goods. It seems to me that this comes with the territory!

I perceive that the core product ( will be concerned about events or talks that embarrass the TED brand, in much the same way that an electronics company might have concerns over product flaws in an higher-end devices.

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The Panic Virus Grant Jacobs Sep 18


…is the bold title of Seth Mnookin’s exploration of the ‘vaccination debate’.[1]

The Panic Virus® is a ruminative, thoughtful, exploration of vaccine history and, in particular, how people come to think the things that they do.

Not too many popular science books are headlined with the support of Nobel laureate – if you look closely you’ll see Peter Doherty’s praise for the book at the top of the cover to the left.

It surveys key events – without minutiae that you might get from an historian. It draws on the reader to do their own thinking slightly more than Offit’s Deadly Choices but is lighter than Allen’s Vaccine, which at 500+ pages is a much more lengthy affair.

I especially appreciated that the material seemed well-balanced with negative points in public health, for example, presented plainly without excuses and criticism given where it seemed deserved.[2] Vaccination is a topic that’s easy to polarise or to stick to one side of the fence. Mnookin does pretty well to see it both ways.

He touches on some of cognitive dissonances involved, where some of the poor thinking arises from and these emerge as a key underlying themes.

This from the blurb,

“Wakefield eventually lost his medical licence, yet the myth that vaccines cause developmental disorders lives on. In The Panic Virus Seth Mnookin examines how the anti-immunisation panic spread and looks at a controversial Australian case that exposed the claims and tactics of the movement to new scrutiny. Sorting fact from rumour, he confronts fundamental questions: with more facts at our fingertips than ever, why is our trust in science so fragile? Has the internet made us better informed, or simply enabled panic to spread more quickly? And how might we balance fact and intuition when it comes to decisions about children’s health?”

The book, in part, tracks the author‘s personal exploration into parents and their relationship with vaccination information starting from his own new parenthood and dinner parties,

“The more I pushed my friend, the more defensive he grew. Sure, I said, there had to be something tangible, some experiment of epidemiological survey, that informed his decisions. There wasn’t I was even more taken aback when he said he likely would have done the same thing even if he’d been present with conclusive evidence that the MMR vaccine was safe.” (From the Introduction, p11.)

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What kind of vegetable or fruit describes this NZ Herald article? Grant Jacobs Sep 17


(Occasionally I just have to point out silly nonsense…)

Being such a short piece, I hope the NZ Herald can forgive my quoting most of the body of Top five: Foods matched to your body in full, which advises that readers should “Match foods to parts of the body for optimum health benefits”, going on to suggest:

1. Healthy Bones: Bony-looking foods such as rhubarb, rich in vitamin K, and celery, rich in silicon, are both good for bones and healthy joints.

2. Heart to Heart: Tomatoes have four chambers and are red, just like the heart and they are proven to reduce the risks of heart disease. Unlike many other fruits and vegetables, they are even better for you when cooked.

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Outreach sections for research papers? Grant Jacobs Sep 17


Chris Gunter and Anne Osterrieder in writing A modest proposal for an outreach section in scientific publications (in Genome Biology) suggested:

We propose that scientific publications include a short section, akin to the acknowledgments at the end, which lists several outreach activities related to the paper. These could be new resources that the authors have created, or existing resources that are related to the paper’s subject(s) – the goal is to reach out across that gap and help non-expert readers understand the work.

This could provide a space to tie the formal publication and the out-reach efforts together, which might both aid readers from outside the research environment and perhaps help tie outreach efforts into academic credit more readily. (As the authors noted, it would provide a means to verify the outreach was done.)

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Roll up, roll up – the ScienceOnline2013 programme is out Grant Jacobs Sep 15


Come and get it folks!

The ScienceOnline2013 programme is out. Browse it, pick sessions and line yourself up for registration, which kicks off Monday 17th September. Be warned that registration is, apparently, like fashionistas queuing the door of their fav store for the sale to open. A truly mad register-dot-on-the-hour thing. Those from outside the USA in particular should note carefully the registration times. Registration is $US200, $US100 for students.

This unconference features on-line science in all it’s forms and draws in a broad range of people interested in science communication from high school students to old-hand science writers who have dozens (hundreds?) of articles or several books to their name. Both science communication professionals and scientists with an interest in science communication are present.

As you’d imagine it’s well networked. You can follow them on Twitter, @scio13 or use the #scio13 hashtag, FacebookFriendFeed or Google+.[1] Enough? Even more is in links at the end of Bora’s unconference article - recommend reading if you’re interested in the meeting, as it backgrounds the event.

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