Geese, snakeheads, and the ones that got away: Southern Fried Science Book Club, week 5

BloggingJuly 27, 2015

Fortunately, it turns out last week’s chapter was a fluke, and we come down the home stretch of Eating Aliens with some of the strongest sections since the beginning. Canadian Geese was particularly fascinating, as it’s clear this is the species Landers has the most experience talking about. Te chapter is rich with the details, backstory, and information that I was hoping to find throughout the book, with less cynicism about the role of local and national government than we’ve seen previous. If you haven’t caught up yet, I recommend just skipping Nutria and going straight to Canadian Geese.

Then we’re back in the water with numerous marine and freshwater invasives, many from the aquarium trade. Plecos and armored catfish, released by amateur aquarists, are booming in Florida’s warm, protected waters, while tilapia is a holdover from the aquaculture industry. Frankly, there wasn’t much new in these chapters, other than the species–at this point introduced fish are old news, and while the details of each animal are slightly different, the causes and consequences are often the same. Personally, I don’t think I’d eat a pleco, but it doesn’t sound particularly unpalatable. Even though the story is pretty much the same–Landers struggles to catch anything, hijinks ensues, they finally eat it–this was a fun part of the book.


Is peer-review best left to academic journals?

Challenging the Conventional Narrative, fisheries, policy, Science, Science LifeJuly 21, 2015

If you have ever dealt with scientific data, you’ve probably encountered one of the shadier sides of science: academic publishing. While they’ve stood, in some cases, for centuries, as the official record of scientific advancement safeguarded under the watchful eye of peers, modern journals live in a modern world. Millions of words have already been spilled on the subject, so that’s not what this article is about. Instead, I’m left asking whether academic publishing is the only means of getting the stamp of peer-review these days?

The reasons leading me to ask this question are many, but primarily through working in a management arena lately. One example, in particular, highlighted many of the disconnects between the need for verified scientific data and the incentives of journals. This moment was at a Chesapeake Bay Program Sustainable Fisheries Goal Implementation Team meeting (for those of you not in the Chesapeake region, that’s a consortium of regional fisheries managers), where a room full of decision-makers needed a verified stock assessment of blue crabs to move forward with their management planning. Peer-review is the time-tested, well-understood, and arguably easiest means of verifying data. (more…)

Build a dirt cheap, tough-as-nails field computer in a Pelican case

Life in the Lab, Science

IMG_20150720_233502091Fieldwork is tough. You’re in the elements, facing wind, rain, and salt spray, sometime on an open boat far out in the Atlantic. You and your gear takes a beating. But you’re out there because there’s science that need to get done.

But your equipment is controlled via computer, and your data entry mandates a computer, which means your precious laptop needs to come with you. For graduate students and early career scientists, this can be a dilemma. I’ve see the calculations happen as my colleagues prepare for the field–do I take my one and only computer out into the field and risk damaging it, or do I leave it brute-force my way through sampling without it. That is, if they’re lucky enough to have alternative methods they can employ. For some gear, there’s no choice but to take the computer.

This equation is, counter-intuitively, getting worse. Our sensors, sampling devices, and scanners are getting cheaper and lighter. Rather than buying a $20,000 piece of equipment, you can get a $20 chip, but there’s a trade off, and the trade off is that chip based systems rely on external processing power, they need a general computer, and that means your laptop is coming with you.

I don’t like going out on the water with my laptop. Losing it would be frustrating and time consuming. It’s tough, but it’s not tough-as-nails. And it’s definitely not cheap.

So I tapped into the wealth of Maker experience I’ve accumulated over the last few years and build a new one, using a single board computer, some extra peripherals, and a 3D printer. And I shoved the whole thing into a Pelican case. Say hello to the BeagleBox, a dirt cheap, tough-as-nails field computer for about $200.


Hacking the Tractor: what the future of farming means for open science

Life in the Lab, ScienceJuly 20, 2015

I took a gamble when I bought the tractor mower. It was old, but well-cared for and ran well, but it was wearing out. Still, I couldn’t get a quarter as much machine for twice the price. Two months later, the mower deck cracked, rusted out from ten years of hard use. A replacement deck would run into the thousands of dollars, there were no options for just the shell, a cheaper, but still pricey option, and there were no off-brand decks to be found. Those three facts alone should tell you that we’re dealing with a John Deere, here.

John Deere made headlines earlier this year when Wired ran an impressive (and rare) expose on farm tech: New High Tech Farm Equipment is a Nightmare for Farmer. Deere followed up with a rebuttal letter, declaring that farmers did, in fact, own their equipment, while simultaneously outlining all the ways in which they didn’t: John Deere: of course you “own” your tractor, but only if you agree to let us rip you off.

Here’s the short version: Tractors are complicated and increasingly controlled by onboard computers. These computers use proprietary software, and that software is protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The software itself is encrypted to prevent copying or modding. Those encryption are also protected by the DMCA. Breaking that encryption is illegal, regardless of the state of the software. If you have to decrypt the software to remove it, you’re breaking the law.


Tweets from the American Elasmobranch Society 2015


The American Elasmobranch Society is the world's oldest and largest professional association of shark and ray scientists

The American Elasmobranch Society is the world’s oldest and largest professional association of shark and ray scientists

This year, there were 3,680 tweets with the American Elasmobranch Society meeting hashtag #AES15, approximately 1,000 of these from me and the rest from another approximately 20 members who attended the conference. In contrast, the Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, of which AES is a small part (approximately 1/6th of the talks), had a smaller total 3,395 tweets, and between 10 and 25% of those were from AES sessions.

These tweets allowed at least a dozen members who could not attend the meeting to follow along with the information shared here. They also lead to at least one request for a collaboration.


Twitter Analytics estimates the total impressions (one tweet being in one person’s timeline is one impression) for my tweets as approximately 700,000. This does not include anyone’s tweets but my own (twitter analytics only gives you access to your own data).

A selection of tweets from each session have been organized into Storify transcripts, easily readable by members who are not familiar with twitter. Some Storify transcripts are larger and therefore multiple pages, please hit the blue “next page” button at the bottom to continue reading.

Links to Storify transcripts:

AES Secretary Jen Wyffels’ plenary address on diversity issues, “the changing face of AES” 

Conservation and management

Reproduction and genetics

Gruber Award/ Best student presentations

Symposium: Integrative Elasmobranch Biology

Ecology, Morphology and Physiology


American Elasmobranch Society announces new initiative to promote diversity in marine science

BloggingJuly 16, 2015

The American Elasmobranch Society is the world's oldest and largest professional association of shark and ray scientists

The American Elasmobranch Society is the world’s oldest and largest professional association of shark and ray scientists

The American Elasmobranch Society, the world’s largest and oldest professional society focusing on shark and ray research, announced a new diversity initiative today. The new Young Professional Recruitment Fund will identify and contact students, postdocs and early career professional from historically underrepresented minority groups and from developing countries whose research focuses on elasmobranchs. Additionally, if you are (or know of) a student, postdoc, or early career professional from a historically underrepresented minority group or a developing country, please feel free to reach out to us.

The Young Professional Recruitment Fund will be used to inform these early career scientists of the benefits of joining the American Elasmobranch Society. To welcome them to the Society and encourage their long-term participation, it will cover the costs of their Society membership for one year. Additionally, in cooperation with, the fund will be used to give these scientists specialized professional development training, networking opportunities, and mentorship.

This fund is the latest in the American Elasmobranch Society’s continuing commitment to fostering diversity and inclusiveness in marine science. More details will be released soon. For more information, please contact Society Editor David Shiffman( WhySharksMatter at gmail dot com.)

Chasing the Elusive Nutria: Southern Fried Science Book Club, week 4

BloggingJuly 14, 2015

I’m going to have to start with an apology. I intended to get to this chapter before #JacquesWeek kicked off and sucked up all of my time, but I just couldn’t. This chapter was… not fun and not particularly informative.

In the longest chapter of the book, Jackson’s fails to hunt Nutria for 90% of the story. This chapter drags on. It could have easily been 70% shorter without losing any of the actual information. I get that Jackson is a hunter and like to wax poetic about the process, but much of that process has already been covered at length. If this were a standalone story, and I get the feeling it was originally written as such, that extra detail would have been welcome, but here it just feels redundant.

I just don’t have much more to say. The anti-government stuff common in other chapters was subdued because local authorities were more interested in killing nutria than following the letter of the law and I would have loved to read more about the history of Nutria and the fur trade, but those details were sacrificed to make more room for complaints about his photographer and how many cottonmouths he found.

In the end, the chapter wasn’t great, but if it’s the worst of Eating Aliens, I’m not going to be too disappointed. Next week, catfish!

Shark Week 2015 episode reviews

marine science, Natural Science, Science, sharksJuly 13, 2015

sharkThese reviews were all posted on my Facebook Fan Page the night each special aired, and are stored here for easy retrieval.

Here’s my review of Shark Week Night 1!

1) Shark Trek! The latest in a series of good specials about Dr. Greg Skomal’s research on great white sharks in New England. Last year they upped the ante by adding an underwater robot that followed and filmed sharks, and I wasn’t sure how they could top that. This year, they added an adorable ten year old shark-o-phone named Sean, and brought Greg down to Florida. He also went diving with several other species of sharks, including my favorite, the sandbar shark! We also got to see Bulls, blacktips, a great hammerhead, and a tiger. A solid natural history and science documentary. A-

2) Island of the mega shark. This special was…not good. It chronicled the efforts of non-scientists doing what they referred to as scientific research. They claimed that no one had ever used a clear shark cage before, but it’s even been shown on past Shark Week specials. Also, this cage was apparently not safety tested before they put someone in it around great whites- he couldn’t close the door! They also had a silly floating shark-shaped ruler, which is not useful in measuring sharks unless they swim right next to it. They referred to a fat shark as “clearly pregnant,” when in reality this method is about as reliable for sharks as it is for humans. On the plus side? No wildlife harassment and no completely made up nonsense. D-

3) Monster Mako. This special focused on efforts by the Texas A&M Center for Sportfish Research to study the world’s fastest shark. Some needlessly dramatic narration, but the content was great! Lots of amazing footage of makos and of spinner sharks, including an amazing breach! I’d happily watch a version of this special for dozens of other shark species. Another solid natural history and research documentary! A-/B+ (some marks off for goofy narration).

Shark species seen so far: 8

Female scientists seen so far: 1

Megalodons seen so far: 0

Conclusion: So far? Shark Week 2015 is much better!


A mega-Storify of Shark Week 2015 tweets

marine science, Natural Science, Science, sharksJuly 12, 2015

sharkI’ve collected 1,000 Shark Week 2015 tweets from myself and other marine biologists and conservationists. They include fact-checks, commentary, reviews of each special, and suggestions for improvement. I’ll post my own more detailed reviews of each special tomorrow.


Up your underwater robot skills with OpenROV Dive Debriefs

Science LifeJuly 10, 2015

Over the last few months, I’ve been putting together short tutorial videos on how to pilot an OpenROV or other MicroROV. The forth installment, Seagrass: Friend or Foe, just went up, so now ia a good time to take a look back at the playlists. Enjoy!


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