What kind of scientist do you want to – and should you – be?

Natural Science, Science Life, Social Science, UncategorizedSeptember 2, 2015

Last month, I had the great privilege of attending the 100th Ecological Society of America meeting. This meant there were many opportunities to reflect upon the last century of ecological science and think about what worked, what didn’t, and where we go from here. As with many of the sciences, this involved a lot of hypothesizing about what a future successful scientific career will look like. Almost unanimously agreed upon was the fact that the rigid and one-track paths of the past are crumbling around us as we speak. Ecology also has much to teach the world, in an age of trying to deal with global issues of climate change, food security, and ecosystem service conservation.

In one of these sessions, a number of the speakers pointed to a book written about 1990’s scientific practice by Donald Stokes called Pasteur’s Quadrant. While an old reference now, the speakers encouraged us that we haven’t truly taken the message to heart yet, and that the type of inward gaze on scientific culture is exactly what we need today. In short, Stokes classified scientists into four types, depending on whether their mission was to advance understanding of the universe, help solve real-life issues, both, or neither. He then aligned some well-known scientists with each category.pasteur_quadrant


In the ecological world and the talks at ESA, the lower right quadrant was occupied by natural historians – people with deep local knowledge but without much practical use. Each person who presented the quadrants included a different natural historian, which made the general point: no one remembers people who work in this quadrant, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not important or that folks in other quadrants don’t rely on their work regularly.

More generally, the conversation of who goes where brings up an overlay of professional rewards. People who win Nobel prizes, or MacArthur awards in ecology, almost all fit in the Bohr quadrant. People remembered popularly by members of the public over centuries  almost all fit in the Edison quadrant. However, potentially the most impactful (if unappreciated) work falls within Pasteur’s quadrant, where it can meet the needs of both scientific and public audiences. Stokes went on to say that more people should be trained and rewarded for use-inspired research.

In the coming century of ecology, and all science, we are tasked with advancing our knowledge of the universe while also contributing to some very large global issues. Pasteur and others like him are living proof that achieving both goals simultaneously is possible. Not everyone can be Pasteur, as we rely on workers in all four quadrants to put together a complete scientific profile. But we could help out future generations by redefining one kind of success as use-inspired theory building. By cutting down the basic/applied divide and admitting that doing applied work does not make you a lesser scientist. And remember to give credit to your natural historians.

Three ways to support Southern Fried Science and Ocean Outreach

BloggingAugust 24, 2015

Every year, Southern Fried Science and our related outreach campaigns churn out hundreds of articles about marine science and conservation, coordinate innovative, multimedia outreach campaigns, and produce both educational tools and actual open-source hardware to help protect the ocean. These efforts aren’t free and our authors volunteer their time and expertise to help make Southern Fried Science one of the most visited marine science and conservation websites on the internet. Server costs run in excess of $3,000 per year, and that not including tech support and website development, all of which are voluntary and occasionally offset by funding campaigns. We don’t run ads. We don’t charge for access to our content.

So how can you help support Southern Fried Science?

  1. Read, discuss, and share our blog posts, videos, articles, tweets, and other projects. That’s why we do this.
  2. Contribute to Andrew’s Patreon. Website Overlord Andrew David Thaler runs a Patreon page to help offset the bulk of the cost of running Southern Fried Science, cover his tech support time, and fund new and interesting projects. The big stuff – keeping the website running, developing open-source hardware, buying capital equipment – all happens through support from his Patrons. This year, two peer-reviewed publications are slated to come out acknowledging financial support from Patreon.
  3. Use our Amazon Affiliate links. On some projects that involve buying hardware (or book reviews), we provide links to the parts we use. These links are Amazon Affiliate links, a small percentage of you purchase through that link goes back to us. It’s a simple, no fuss way to show you support.

You could also buy one of Andrew’s books – which are outreach efforts in their own rights, but those profits aren’t directly earmarked for Southern Fried Science.


Thanks for buying David Shiffman (A.K.A. me) a less ugly pair of sunglasses!

UncategorizedAugust 21, 2015

In April, Andrew introduced the “Buy David Shiffman less ugly sunglasses” crowdfunding campaign, a campaign which included several amazing donor perks like 3D printed megalodon teeth. All funds raised in excess of the cost of a new pair of prescription sunglasses would go towards ongoing shark conservation research and outreach projects. After a month of campaigning, we raised $2,440 from 92 donors!


Once the funds had been transferred, I spent an extremely amusing afternoon at my neighborhood LensCrafters asking the staff and customers (along with my Facebook fans and twitter followers) to vote on which pair of sunglasses I should get. A few days later…. my new, improved, less ugly sunglasses arrived in the mail:


Oarfish: The true tale of the fish we can’t seem to get enough of

BloggingAugust 19, 2015

IMG_0355Dr. Misty Paig-Tran is Assistant Professor at California State University Fullerton. Her laboratory (Functional Anatomy, Biomechanics, and Biomaterials) studies how animals feed and move, among other things. Her research is focused on big filter-feeding animals (Sharks and Manta rays) and mid-deep water fishes – you know, the scary looking ones. You can learn about her research hereand you can follow her on twitter

Today I sit at my computer totally aghast that the media seems to have gone into a frenzy once again about the latest oarfish that washed up on Catalina yesterday. I get it. I too, as a marine biologist and self-admitted fish nerd, get totally excited any time a cool fish washes up. And I get extra excited about the oarfish in particular. Of course I do, I am currently studying the fish in my lab at Cal State. What’s not to like? It’s huge, silvery, and looks like a dragon. Myths about this fish are old and salty. However, there has been a ton of misinformation printed about this fish and now it’s my chance to set some things straight. So I will try to rectify this now. Ahem.





One of the world’s rarest birds is also the squee-est

#OceanOptimism, Conservation, ecology

Introducing the spoon-billed sandpiper:

(c) Roland Digby/WWT/PA Wire, originally published http://www.westerndailypress.co.uk/world-s-rarest-birds-hand-reared-experts-returned/story-27630995-detail/story.html#ixzz3jFOW6Q43

(c) Roland Digby/WWT/PA Wire, originally published here.

Spoon-billed sandpipers are migratory wader birds that breed in the sub-Arctic and winter in southeast Asia.  Best estimates point to less than 100 breeding pairs left in the wild due to a decrease of breeding habitat in the Arctic and increase of bird-hunters in Asia.  Don’t worry, this is a story about #OceanOptimism…


Ocean Kickstarter of the Month: Recycled Fishing Net Sunglasses

ConservationAugust 18, 2015

Yesterday on twitter, I discussed what I look for when assessing ocean-themed crowdfunding projects. Before I fund a crowdfunding campaign, I do quite a bit of due diligence, looking at the past success of the creators, the soundness of the project, and whether or not the goals, rewards, and timelines are reasonable. My criteria are:

1. Is it sound, reasonable, and informed by science?

2. Is there a clear goal, timeline, and budget; and are they partnering with the people who have experience hitting those marks?


3. Do some of the parties involved have a successful record with other crowdfunding projects and experience delivering on rewards.

It seems a shame to go through all that work and not pass it on to the rest of Team Ocean. Rather than keep it to myself (or, more likely, just tweet it out), once a month I’ll highlight my favorite ocean crowdfunding campaign. These campaigns are vetted in accordance with the above criteria, are likely to succeed, and are likely to result in a net positive for the ocean. Unsurprisingly, this month it’s the campaign that inspired this post:

The Ocean Collection – Recycled Fishing Net Sunglasses by Bureo 

Can we turn discarded fishing nets into something meaningful? This project is both simple and elegant. the ocean is filled with discarded fishing nets, most of which have decades left on their material usefulness. Nets are durable and malleable, so why not collect and reform these nets into something of value.

Is it sound, reasonable, and informed by science? Yes. Bureo has already demonstrated that recycled nets can be formed into usable products, discarded nets are a real problem and this is a reasonable solution which can have a measurable, if potentially only small and localized, impact. Plus, they have a vision for end-to-end recycling. Once your sunglasses reach the end of their useful life, you can send them back to the company to have them re-recycled. (more…)

How to NOT get ahead in advertising – what many conservation NGOs are doing wrong

#OceanOptimism, #SciComm, Conservation, EducationAugust 17, 2015

This year’s International Congress for Conservation Biology had a special double symposium on conservation marketing. What is conservation marketing I hear you ask? Well it’s using the tried and tested techniques from the advertising field, behind which there is a significant amount of research, to increase public awareness and especially change public behavior to aid conservation. Conservation marketing is already being used by several NGOs and initiatives – RARE for example. The Society for Conservation Biology has recently set up a working group for Conservation Marketing and Engagement* as it’s believed that this technique could help highlight many endangered species and highlight important conservation issues.

In this symposium myself and several colleagues had a presentation on why the advertising campaigns of conservation NGOs are doing things wrong – specifically these campaigns are often geared towards fundraising, telling members and especially donors what a great job they’re doing, launching surveys or petitions that do little to help conservation, oh and more fund- raising. The general public has a dire understanding of the need for biodiversity conservation or endangered species, and instead of increasing awareness and getting the public to change their behavior to act in a more pro-conservation manner, NGOs are instead concentrating on …hey did I mention fund-raising?!

As the result of many requests for copies of the presentation slides, I’ve decided to make them available for Southern Fried Science. Most of the slides are self explanatory. Feel free to copy and steal memes you like and count up the number of geeky references ….


The difference between animal welfare and animal rights

Animal welfare, Conservation, Underrepresented Issues in Marine Science and ConservationAugust 11, 2015

I have just attended a big international conservation meeting for the past week and there was a lot of discussion about the “Cecil the Lion Phenomenon.” In many discussions, the terms animal welfare and animal rights were brought up frequently, and it was very clear that many conservation scientists do not know the difference between the terms, or the differences between those who advocate on issues that are more about individuals than species or populations. When the term “welfare” was brought up, it was often with scorn and PETA was almost always the organisation that was given as an example. This really does show a fundamental lack of understanding about advocates and organisations that represent individual animals, and that could be major (even essential) assets and allies in conservation.

The terms “welfare” and “rights” cover a wide spectrum; lumping them together is like lumping Democrats (left wing liberals) and Republicans (right wing conservatives) together and making no distinction because they are both political parties. There are nuances, but as a basic primer, here are some (very) approximate distinctions:


How I am fixing the internet


black white headshotAlex Zrenner is a 2015 Kenan Summer Fellow and rising junior at Duke University. She is from St. Louis, Missouri and is pursuing a major in economics with a math minor. Each summer, the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University supports undergraduate Kenan Summer Fellows, a program meant to help students explore what it means to live an ethical life. Portions of this post were originally published on the Kenan Institute for Ethics’ website. Alex has written weekly updates about her project here, and is also creating video blogs for the project that can be seen here.

My name is Alex Zrenner, and I am fixing the Internet. Well actually, I am researching the Internet. I have spent the past six weeks studying the ethics of cyber harassment and free speech as one of this year’s Kenan Summer Fellows.


A 3D-printable, drone and ROV-mountable, water sampler

Education, Life in the Lab, Natural Science, oceanography, Open Science, ScienceAugust 10, 2015

IMG_20150809_160734584_HDRThe Niskin bottle, a seemingly simple tube designed to take water samples at discrete depths, is one of the most important tools of oceanography. Coupled with a CTD, an array of Niskin bottles fit into the rosette, a Voltron-esque amalgamation of everything an oceanographer needs to profile the ocean. Niskin bottles are neither cheap nor particularly easy to use. A commercial rosette requires a decent-sized winch to launch and recover, which means you need a vessel and a crew to deploy. For Rogue Ecologist and citizen scientists, getting a high-quality, discrete water sample is a perpetual challenge. With tools like the OpenROV and the soon-to-be-completed EcoDrone, I wanted a Niskin bottle that was light weight and capable of being mounted on both underwater robots and quadcopters with ease.

Until now. 

After a few months of brainstorming and planning, I sat down this Friday and began building a 3D printable Niskin bottle that could be hand deployed or mounted on an OpenROV or drone. While this version is designed around a 1.25 inch acrylic tube, the trigger mechanism can be expanded to fit any size pipe. The trigger is driven by a waterproof servo developed by the good folks over at OpenROV. Everything else can either be purchased off-the-shelf or printed on you home 3D printer. Later this month, I’ll be taking my prototypes out on the RV Blue Heron for field testing in Lake Superior.

Bill of Materials (more…)

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