What Leonard Nimoy and Spock meant to me as a Jewish conservation biologist

BloggingFebruary 27, 20154

Earlier today, the New York Times reported that actor Leonard Nimoy had died at the age of 83. Coming just two days after the death of Genie Clark, this means that I’ve lost two of my childhood heroes in one week. I’ve already briefly written about what Genie meant to me and to my friends here and here and am quoted here, but Leonard Nimoy’s impact on me  is a little harder to explain. I hope our readers will indulge me in an unusually personal post.

I’ve been a big fan of science fiction, something I’ve always loved sharing with my mother, since I was a kid. A world where science and intellect and technology, not brute force, are used to solve problems holds obvious appeal. To a kid who grew up struggling with some anti-Jewish discrimination, the diversity featured on shows like Star Trek was inspiring. People that were different didn’t have to hide their differences and lay low and try to avoid standing out in a crowd of people different from you, like I did. Not only did the main characters not tease and attack each other because they were different, but this behavior was actively portrayed as a problem on several episodes. The Federation wasn’t successful despite including different cultures and religions and even species, they were successful because of it.  The environmental conservation message in Star Trek plotlines like “the Voyage Home” made a budding young conservation biologist relate to it even more.

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Fun Science FRIEDay – Ocean Acidification, More Than Just pH

climate change, ecology, Fun Science Friday, marine science, Natural Science0

You have probably heard that as the global climate changes due to human influence the sea surface is going to rise and the oceans will get warmer and more acidic. The bit about the oceans increasing in acidity is particularly troubling because it implies calcium carbonate based organisms (oysters, snails, corals, etc.) will simply dissolve in this future dystopian acid-ocean (that is a bit of an oversimplification, but you get the idea).

Ocean acidity is determined by measuring the pH, which relates acidity based on the number of hydrogen ions found in the water. So long story short, as more and more carbon dioxide (CO2) is emitted into the atmosphere, it in-turn fluxes into the oceans forming carbonic acid which results in the release of hydrogen ions lowering the pH. Simple logic would suggest that this spells bad news for calcifying organism (poor Mr. Snail).

Healthy Pretopod shell (left) and degraded Pteropod shell due to ocean acidification (right). (Photo credit: NOAA [climate.gov])

Healthy Pretopod shell (left) and degraded Pteropod shell due to ocean acidification (right). (Photo credit: NOAA [climate.gov])

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Set research free with IGoR!

Citizen Science, Natural Science, ScienceFebruary 26, 20150

Dr. Mickey von Dassow is a biologist who studies how biomechanics affects development-environment interactions. He received his PhD in Integrative Biology at UC Berkeley, studying how fluid flow affects colonial marine animals. As a postdoc (U. of Pittsburgh), he studied the mechanics of tissue movements that shape amphibian embryos. Currently he is a guest research scientist at the Duke Marine Lab, and works primarily on sea urchin embryos.


"IGoR! Fetch me a protocol!" Provided by Michelangelo Von Dassow.

“IGoR! Fetch me a protocol!” Provided by Michelangelo von Dassow.

Can everyone do scientific research? I hope to convince you the answer is “yes.” I’m trying to develop an online platform (http://IGoR.wikidot.com) to help amateur scientists and other science enthusiasts do their own scientific research, while at the same time helping experienced scientists tap into the skills and creativity of a broader community. I hope you’ll love the idea and want to help me spark IGoR to life*.

Currently, the vast majority of scientific research is done by professionals supported by big institutions, such as universities, government labs, or corporations. It’s difficult for even a trained and experienced scientist to find the resources and time to do research without this backing. There are pockets of science where amateurs frequently make substantial contributions (e.g. amateur astronomy and taxonomy). However, it wasn’t that long ago that the majority of science was done by people – such as Darwin and Wallace – who were outside academia. In fact, the great intellectual revolutions that created modern science were not started by trained scientists: there were no trained scientists at the time!

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#SciSpends : Scientists are paying to do their jobs

UncategorizedFebruary 25, 20152

edd_headshotDr. Edward Hind is a marine sociologist who specializesin the research of local ecological knowledge. He has spent the last five years investigating how the knowledge of fish harvesters may support marine management in both Ireland and the Turks and Caicos Islands. He was recently a lecturer at the School for Field Studies and is the current Communications Officer of the Marine Section of the Society for Conservation Biology. Having returned to his native UK, Edd is currently looking for new teaching and research opportunities. He has authored peer-reviewed papers in a number of fisheries management and marine policy journals. Follow him on twitter here

My name is Edd and I’m a postdoctoral academic. In the last 12 months I have spent (US)$307 on conference travel, $300 on conference fees, $76 on printing a conference poster, $150+ on non-alcoholic food and drink whilst at conferences, $60 on memberships of professional societies, $35 on academic software, and almost $100 on academic books. That’s over $1000 of my own money. I have a problem. If you’re a scientist, I bet it’s your problem too.

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Fun Science FRIEDay – Evolution, what’s it good for?

evolution, Fun Science Friday, Natural Science, Science, UncategorizedFebruary 20, 20150

It is widely accepted that the world around us is changing, and as a result the organisms that exist adapt with that change or are resigned to the fossil record. Evolution, it’s a fact of life… or is it? UCLA paleobiologist J. William Schopf, and colleagues,  have discovered an organism that has remained relatively unchanged over a 2.3 billion year period. Meh, who needs evolution? These bacteria were discovered in the muddy sediments of the deep sea and represent the greatest lack of evolution ever seen!

1871 editorial cartoon depicting Charles Darwin as an ape. (Photo credit: Unknown artist in 1871 from The Hornet newspaper - no longer in publication)

1871 editorial cartoon depicting Charles Darwin as an ape. (Photo credit: Unknown artist in 1871 from The Hornet newspaper – no longer in publication)

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Hail hydra ! Taking a super villain approach to conservation #scicomm

Conservation, Popular Culture, Science Life, Social Science, UncategorizedFebruary 19, 20150

Hydra

Rarely do conservation or environmental issues solely deal with just one group of homogenous people. Most who deal with “on the ground” conservation realize that typically issues have multiple, often conflicting, groups with multiple view points and values. So why do so many attempts as conservation science communication just have one line of attack?

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Bioshock Oceanographic: The Problem with Buried at Sea

Popular CultureFebruary 18, 20150

Previously on “Andrew takes a piece of pop culture and over-analyzes it to death“: we went to Rapture, the city under the sea in Bioshock and Bioshock 2 (and, briefly, Bioshock Infinite) to figure out exactly where and how deep the city was. In the end, I came up with a respectable if underwhelming, maximum depth of 150 meters. Deep, but not crush-your-sub, deep.

And then I played Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea 2 and Glomar Challenger, we have a problem.

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How will the FAA’s proposed rules impact drone use for research and conservation?

ConservationFebruary 16, 20150

This weekend, the FAA released its proposed rules regulating the use of small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (drones). Today, I worked through the full, 200-page document, so that you don’t have to. These regulations, which are 3 years in the making and soon to be open for public comment, would determine who could fly, what licensing is required, and what limits would be imposed on drone flights. The regulations are pretty fair and leave open plenty of room for amateur enthusiasts while charting a way forward for commercial operators, but there are some glaring oversights and some unnecessary (and ineffective) security steps. I’ve written extensively on the used of drones for marine science, so my big question is: How will these rules impact drone use for research and conservation?

How many times are you going to use this image, Andrew?

How many times are you going to use this image, Andrew?

Before I get into specific research and conservation applications, here is my general impression of this proposal. Overall, I think it’s good. Most of the suggestions are reasonable and not unnecessarily onerous. I particularly like that there could be a special exemption for microdrones, so your tiny Hubsan x4 wouldn’t be treated like the massive and mighty Aerotestra IVAN. I’m a big proponent of ensuring drone operators have the proper knowledge base, so I actually like the requirement for a comprehensive knowledge test, which will be separate from and less expensive than a full pilot’s license. I like that there’s no requirement to certify the “airworthiness” of drones as if they were 6000+ pound aircraft (the certification process take 3 to 5 years and drone tech moves so fast that by the time one was certified, it would be several generations obsolete).

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To co-author or not to co-author?

Life in the Lab, Personal Stories, Science LifeFebruary 13, 20150

Writing an academic paper with multiple authors can be problematic at times (for examples see this article and comments on the article), but when do you even make people a co-author?

There are problems across scientific fields with co-authors being added who did not contribute significantly to papers, for example heads of labs or departments, or prestigious individuals (so- called “honorary authors”). Some laboratories even have a policy of adding everyone in the lab who even passed by a manuscript, in order to bulk out resumes.

Individuals who warrant co-authorship, but who are left off the publication (so called “ghost authors”)  are also an issue. One of the most common examples of this is when an ambitious faculty member leaves off a student who conducted majority of the work (or who possibly even came up with the idea) because they want first (or possibly sole) authorship for the paper so that they can further their academic career. In the biomedical field ghost authors are often pharmaceutical industry representatives who may rewrite sections of manuscripts to show their product in the best light, but exclude themselves from authorship and thus obfuscating conflicts of interest. Such conflicted ghost authors are not unique to the biomedical field though, and industry, military or governmental ghost authors have frequently been known to substantially rewrite (and change the conclusions of) marine environmental science papers, especially when they deal with controversial topics.

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Fun Science FRIEDay – I can SEE what you’re thinking!

Ethical Debates, Fun Science Friday, Science Life0

Humans are edging closer and closer to telepathic communication where one human communicates with another purely from thinking. Wait… what’s that you say? We are already there?! Like something out of a sci-fi thriller neuroscientists in Europe and America demonstrated the viability of direct brain-to-brain communications in humans.

"Brain-to-brain (B2B) communication system overview. On the left, the BCI subsystem is shown schematically, including electrodes over the motor cortex and the EEG amplifier/transmitter wireless box in the cap. Motor imagery of the feet codes the bit value 0, of the hands codes bit value 1. On the right, the CBI system is illustrated, highlighting the role of coil orientation for encoding the two bit values. Communication between the BCI and CBI components is mediated by the internet." (Photo credit: Grau et al. 2014)

“Brain-to-brain (B2B) communication system overview.
On the left, the BCI subsystem is shown schematically, including electrodes over the motor cortex and the EEG amplifier/transmitter wireless box in the cap. Motor imagery of the feet codes the bit value 0, of the hands codes bit value 1. On the right, the CBI system is illustrated, highlighting the role of coil orientation for encoding the two bit values. Communication between the BCI and CBI components is mediated by the internet.” (Photo credit: Grau et al. 2014)

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