Michael Edmonds

Dr Michael Edmonds has 20 years research experience in organic and analytical chemistry most of which has involved the synthesis and analysis of biological molecules with interesting properties. Some of this work involved developing a new approach to preparing novel fluorinated organic compounds. Since 2010 he has been in a management role and is currently Head of Engineering & Architectural Studies at Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology. Over the past few years he has also realised the importance of science communication, and as such started this blog along with giving a range of public talks. Science communication is important for not only encouraging the public to understand and enjoy the benefits of science, but also to immunise them against the purveyors of pseudoscience and anti-scientific sentiments.

Cosmic Genome - Molecular Matters

Oct 13, 2013

I came across The Incomplete Map of the Cosmic Genome yesterday, an iTunes app which contains interviews with over 50 scientists, performers and communicators all talking about why they are interested in science. It also contains a series of talks on various fascinating subjects including dark matter, the nature of vocalisation, discovering epigenetics. Some of those interviewed are well known names – Ben Goldacre, Brian Cox, Simon Singh, Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss, for example. But everyone has something interesting to say. My favourite quote so far is from Dr Lucie Green, a solar scientist who said “I think actually being a scientist is about someone who doesn’t stop playing, who doesn’t stop wanting to look around them, touch the objects, interact with them and find out what will happen if I do this” The only two gripes I have … Read More

Best Mathematics Achievement Standards for an Engineering Future? - Molecular Matters

Oct 13, 2013

At work recently we have been discussing which achievement stands best prepare students for careers in engineering (and the physical sciences). Some of this discussion comes out of the fact we often have students applying for entry to study in engineering* programmes with what, superficially, looks like the right number of credits – however, when we dig a bit deeper the standards that they have are less than ideal for moving comfortably into engineering related study. As a result of such discussions our mathematics team came up with the following list of achievement standards as best preparing students:   Level 2 AS91261 Apply algebra methods in solving problems External 4 credits AS91262 Apply calculus methods in solving External 5 credits Plus at least one of the following AS91259 Apply trigonometric relationships in solving problems Internal 3 credits AS91269 Apply systems … Read More

Should those with Scientific Backgrounds be More Assertive? - Molecular Matters

Oct 08, 2013

A colleague of mine was at a social gathering when he was told by a naturopath that our skin is like a 3rd kidney. This caught him off guard and for the sake of not arguing he let it slide. And I can understand why – sometimes when you challenge pseudoscientific ideas you can get a very negative response, often based around the whole “everyone’s beliefs are equally valid”. But I think we do need to be more assertive when confronted with strange ideas for several reasons. First, people may be entitled to their own beliefs (although I would argue some beliefs also need to be challenged) but they are not entitled to their own facts. Second, if such beliefs aren’t queried and corrected where necessary, then they tend to propagate. If I were to meet a mechanic at a … Read More

Changes to University Councils – the Good, and the Bad - Molecular Matters

Oct 06, 2013

Steven Joyce’s plans to change the constitution of University Councils has provoked some reaction from the Tertiary Education Union (TEU) but otherwise there does not seem to have been much of a reaction from the overall university academic community. Mr Joyce has claimed that the main reason for these changes is to reduce the size of councils, something that in itself is not a bad thing. I’ve found that when committees exceed more than about 12 members they become cumbersome, discussions drag on for longer, and some members can get away with contributing anything. Many university councils are getting close to 20 members. However, the dangerous (in my opinion) part of this new approach is that the changes make it possible to eliminate staff and student members from the council. This will remove valuable voices from the table, capable of … Read More

Worms & Science Related Urban Myths - Molecular Matters

Oct 02, 2013

A week or two ago I was listening to MoreFM when radio host Simon Barnett discussed something he had read on a “science” related website about how to tell which end of a worm is which. Apparently you put the worm in flour and wait until it farts. This sounded strange to me, and even to my partner who has no science background asked “Don’t worms burp then?” But we laughed it off without much further thought. Yesterday a scientist named Charlotte rang More FM and told them that what Simon had described is actually an old joke and that there are much simplier ways to determine which end of a worm is which: 1) To put it down and see which direction it moves in (worms don’t reverse) 2) To look for bristles at the mouth end ?? (Couldn’t find any … Read More

Why I Like Magicians… - Molecular Matters

Sep 29, 2013

Dynamo is one of the latest magicians (or perhaps illusionists is a better term) to appear on TV. I enjoy watching his show, not just to see if I can guess how he performs his tricks, but because I am genuinely impressed by his showmanship. It is interesting to see how some people respond to his tricks – some just seem to just accept something amazing has happened without trying to work out how it happened. This seems strange to me, I always like to try and work out how things work. And that is one of the wonderful things about watching Dynamo – not being able to explain how a trick works does not mean that it is magic, it simply means I have not yet discovered the solution – a good thing to remember when it comes … Read More

Building Pseudoscience on Pseudoscience - Molecular Matters

Sep 05, 2013

One of the things that has been observed at various times on sciblogs is that pseudoscientific beliefs often cluster – for example, those who believe in homeopathy may also be antivaxxers, or those who argue against climate change may also argue that the moon landing was faked. This can lead to rather appalling “mash ups” of different pseudoscientific beliefs/conspiracy theories, for example this website where the author links autism to a global conspiracy where vaccines are the tools of a  “New World Order toward which we are being herded through intentional social, political and genetic manipulation consistent with the genocidal aspirations of the globalists and their horrifying Agenda 21.” Truly worthy of a double face palm! In order to prevent too much damage from having to face palm myself too often, I thought it might be useful to try … Read More

Scientists & Engineers on Company Boards - Molecular Matters

Aug 11, 2013

As Fonterra continues to deal with the fall out from the botulinum contamination scare, it has been suggested that New Zealand companies such as Fonterra might benefit from having scientists or engineers on their Boards of Directors. In an interview on The Nation this weekend Professor Jacqueline Rowarth, Professor of Agribusiness at the University of Waikato, spoke about Fonterra’s recent challenges, and how scientific representation on their Board might have been an advantage – having someone who could quickly understand and explain the difference between bacteria, spores and toxins, for example. Over the past 5 years, Fonterra have faced a number of science related challenges – the melamine scare, detection of DCD in milk powder and now the botulium spore incident. In the wake of these issues perhaps a little science & engineering at the top, to complement the … Read More

What's the Difference between Science and Pseudoscience? Part 2 - Molecular Matters

Jul 10, 2013

In a previous blog I suggested that one difference between science and pseudoscience is that pseudoscience can’t move on when evidence comes along which disproves its’ ideas: science does. Another difference is that science attempts to, and is usually successful, in working out the underlying mechanism to explain the evidence. Take for example the field of medicine. Early explanations of disease tended to blame it on vengeful gods, evil spirits or on “bad air”. When various herbal or mineral medicines were found to have some beneficial effects, the treatments were thought to work by either pleasing the gods or repelling the evil spirits or bad air, and were often administered with incantations. As time progressed, observations seemed to suggest that many diseases resulted from disruptions within the body itself. Using the limited knowledge of the time disease was viewed … Read More

What's the Difference Between Science & Pseudoscience? - Molecular Matters

Jun 30, 2013

What’s the difference between science and pseudoscience? Pseudoscience can’t move on when evidence comes along to disprove its ideas; science does. Consider homeopathy, virtually unchanged over the past 200 years. Homeopathy was developed during a time when medicine was anything but evidence based, when common treatments were to bleed the patient or treat them with toxic metal compounds, treatments which are now also be considered sheer quackery. Given the choice between pseudoscience which makes you sicker and pseudoscience which does nothing, the later seems the better choice, so homeopathy was able to establish itself as a reasonable treatment. However, much progress has been made in medicine over the past 200 years. We now know that some diseases are caused by micro-organisms, others by genetic diseases, and yet others by environmental poisoning. And based on our better understanding of disease we … Read More