A decade of failures in Science Communication.

Eleven years is a long life for a science blog. Southern Fried Science was born in 2008, when the main writers were all graduate students. Over the last decade the online landscape has changed. Science Communication changed with it, adapting and evolving to meet an ever-shifting ecosystem. Looking back on the last decade and thinking about the next, it’s becoming easier to see where we went wrong. It’s not quite as easy to determine what we need to correct the course.

This is not a scientific assessment, this is my own personal observations from the last decade of running Southern Fried Science, from teaching Social Media for Environmental Communications for the last 7 years, from working with Upwell, one of the most dynamic and visionary ocean NGOs ever conceived, from helping build and launch multiple online platforms, dozens of novel programs, and hundreds of outreach campaigns, and from spending a lot of time since November 2016 reflecting on what we’ve done wrong.

That Hideous Deficit

Do we really need another 200 words on how bad the deficit model is and why it needs to die?

Apparently, yes.

The basic premise: that science perception and policy is shaped by an information deficit and that if we just make good science education content and spread it, we can combat the spread of misinformation, people will learn, and everything will get better.

It doesn’t work. It never worked. And it ignores the reality that misinformation is manufactured for political and financial gain, with tremendous incentives and, often, far better funding than science outreach campaigns. But beyond that, multiple studies have shown that, when confronted with information that challenges their fundamental world view, people don’t throw out their worldview, they reject the science, creating a more entrenched and intractable audience.

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Probing the submerged caves of Bermuda with Trident

Dr. Blanco-Bercial pilots the Trident ROV in one of Bermuda’s submerged caves.

Conservation research in submarine caves is among the clearest and most compelling use-cases for a small observation-class ROV like Trident, which is why, last week, we delivered the very first ROV for Good Sofar Ocean Trident to Dr. Leocadio Blanco-Bercial at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences to study the hidden biodiversity in Bermuda’s Anchialine Caves.

Dr. Blanco-Bercial is a marine biologist who studies the diversity and evolution in invertebrates, especially those in marine cave ecosystems. Bermuda is home to a network of anchialine caves (caves connected to the sea through underwater passageways) which are home to a diverse array of rare and ancient arthropod lineages, many of which are unique to Bermuda. These species are under threat from land development and other human activities.

“From the science standpoint,” says Dr.  Blanco-Bercial, “the Trident will give us independence from specialized divers availability, and will simplify the logistics associated with the sampling process – the Trident is easy to carry even by a single person – and sampling attachments and other gear is easily transportable by another colleague.”

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We want to give you an ROV!

Sofar Ocean Trident
What will you explore?

If you have access to a small, observation-class remotely operated vehicle to explore the ocean, where would you go? Would you use it to discover something new about marine ecosystems? Would you give students the opportunity to journey beneath the waves and learn about their local waterways? Would you hunt for lost lobster traps, track ocean plastic, deliver sensor payloads down into the mesophotic zone, or identify and protect critical spawning habitats?

Or would you undertake an expedition so novel that it has yet to be conceived?

Conservation X Labs in collaboration with Schmidt Marine Technologies and Sofar Ocean is delivering 20 Sofar Ocean Trident ROVs to researchers (both formal and informal), educators, citizen scientists, and ocean conservationist to help further projects to study, understand, or protect the marine environment, with a broad focus on marine conservation. Grant recipients will receive a Trident ROV with all the fixings!

Sofar Ocean Trident represents the next-generation of underwater drone. It is an out-of-the-box solution for ocean stakeholders that can perform many of the same functions of major research ROVs for a fraction of the cost and with no specialized training. Small enough to be stored in carry-on baggage, the ROV is extremely portable and has been deployed from vessels ranging in size from small kayaks to ocean-class research vessels to Polynesian voyaging canoes. Trident is fast, with simple controls. It is rated to 100m. The vehicle provides live video footage to the pilot through a kevlar-reinforced tether which can also serve as a recovery line. It has a series of ventral M3 mounting points that allow users to affix a variety of sensors, collectors, and payloads to expand its utility. It is one of the few consumer accessible vehicles capable of performing scientific research, documentary observation, conservation monitoring, and exploration from the surface of the ocean down into the mesophotic zone.

The application is simple and streamlined to get you out exploring the ocean.

Apply today and let’s discover the ocean together!

The next generation of low-cost, open-source oceanographic instruments is here! Meet the OpenCTD rev 2!

Four generations of OpenCTD. Left to Right: Prototype 2, which went through sea trials in Lake Superior, rev 1, rev 1 in the smaller form factor (this one was deployed in Alaska), and OpenCTD rev 2.

In 2013, Kersey Sturdivant and I embarked upon a quixotic quest to create an open-source CTD — the core tool of all oceanographic research that measures the baseline parameters of salinity, temperature, and depth. We weren’t engineers; neither of us had any formal training in electronics or sensing. And, full confession, we weren’t (and still aren’t) even oceanographers! What we were were post-doc marine ecologists working with tight budgets who saw a desperate need among our peers and colleagues for low-cost alternatives to insurmountably expensive equipment. And we had ties to the growing Maker and DIY electronics movements: Kersey through his work developing Wormcam and me through my involvement with OpenROV. 

We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. 

The very first OpenCTD prototype.

Seven years and five iterations later, we are releasing the long anticipated OpenCTD rev 2 as well as the comprehensive Construction and Operation Manual! OpenCTD rev 2 builds on over half a decade of iteration and testing, consultation with oceanographers, engineers, developers, and makers around the world, extensive coastal and sea trials, and a series of workshops designed to test and validate the assembly process. 

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Finding the best dirt-cheap, field-tough 3D printer for science and conservation work: six months later.

A fully upgraded Ender-3.

Four years ago, I had the chance to lead a research cruise on Lake Superior to explore the potential of low-cost, open-source tools for marine field work. This was the proving ground for the OpenCTD, the Niskin3D, the OpenROV 2.7, and the idea that, rather than packing cases and case of gear, we could put everything we needed on a flash drive and print it at sea. 

During that cruise, as my trusty Printrbot, was churning out Niskin bottles, we caught a wave and the 3D printer was thrown to the ground. I came down hours later to find it upside down on the floor of a retrofitted fish hold, happily chugging along. I picked it up, put it back on the counter, and went back to sleep. The print didn’t even fail.

That is the kind of beast we need. 

Over the years, whenever someone asked me what the best 3D Printer for field work was, the answer was always the same: The Printrbot Simple Metal. But Printrbot is gone (for now) and we needed a replacement.

Half a year ago, we completed an exhaustive review of the cheapest 3D-printers on the market, with an eye towards low-cost, robust tools that would endure the rigors of field work without blowing our grant budget. We wanted 3D printers that were workhorses. They didn’t have to be pretty, they didn’t have to produce perfect prints, they just had to spit out strong serviceable parts with minimal fuss. They had to be reasonably portable. And they had to be able to take a beating and keep on printing.

We never found a replacement for the absolute tank that is the Printrbot Simple Metal, but after months of testing, settled on a pair of good alternatives (notably for a fraction of the cost of the Printrbot when it was still in production): for those who need big build volumes, the Creality Ender-3. For those who need portability above all, the Monoprice Mini-Delta

But that was six months ago. I promised to put these two machines into heavy use. After several hundred hours of printing, we’re ready to update our review of both machines. 

Executive Summary. My recommendation still stands, both both printers need a few modifications before you can call them the ultimate field machine. 

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