Lions, Whales, and the Web: Transforming Moment Inertia into Conservation Action

I have a new paper out today with an incredible team of co-authors: Naomi Rose, Mel Cosentino, and Andrew Wright.

Thaler and friends (2017) Lions, Whales, and the Web: Transforming Moment Inertia into Conservation Action. DOI: 10.3389/fmars.2017.00292.

In it, we look at three case-studies of online and offline reactions to the deaths of specific, charismatic animals, and discuss how preparation, planning, and tactical thinking can be used to promote effective conservation messaging in the wake of these haphazard events. We talk about how outrage, empathy, and curiosity play a role in the global conversation and how to effectively mobilize this attention into conservation action.

Conservation activism following moment inertia is a balancing act between strategic planning and a quick, tactical response. When the catalyst is moral outrage, it is important to allow people to be angry, rather than to try and curb such responses. In these circumstances, it is possible to leverage predictable moral signaling into tangible conservation gains.

Regardless of the emotional reaction—outrage, curiosity, or empathy—the general guidelines for conservationists leveraging moment inertia are the same. First, planning for pseudorandom events is essential to produce meaningful outcomes. Second, understanding the limitations of campaigning on an inertial moment will help establish and achieve concrete, realistic goals. Third, the call to action must be informed by the local context, address local cultural values, and be delivered by those who can connect with the public. Finally, it is critical to maintain a factual basis while acknowledging the emotions involved.

With foresight, a focus on concrete goals, and an understanding of the strengths and limitations inherent in moment inertia, these events can be harnessed to help achieve lasting conservation successes.

Thaler and friends (2017)

What is Moment Inertia: Moment Inertia is a phenomenon that arises from focus of attention around a single, clarifying event, or moment, which propagates, undirected, through media unless acted upon by outside forces.

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What makes high school girls love sharks but avoid science

A shortened – and less ribald – version of this post was published 24-07-2017 in the International Business Times.

Ah, the transition from middle school to high school… the one part of adolescence no one reminisces about fondly.  It’s the time in our lives where mental and physical changes happen at pace without any apparent continuity, and we feel compelled to blend in.  This is the same time when most young girls’ interest in STEM stops, and in my educator/zoologist opinion, these events are related.

What does our culture gear teenage girls to prioritize?  Making varsity teams, growing boobs to the correct size and at the correct time, and completing enough social jostling to earn the superhuman prom date.  Most of the STEM-geared young girls I have worked with couldn’t care less about the above – but the attitude of their peers changes by the end of 8th grade.

http://subtubitles.tumblr.com/post/30828711121

Students of both sexes in 6th grade will happily discuss how rainbows are made and share their mutual wonder if the natural world, but those conversations quickly become “immature” when the puberty plague takes hold.  It’s also in 8th grade when boys enter a race to the bottom of inappropriate jokes fueled by mutual insecurities.  Suddenly, STEM-interested pupils find that their friends are segregating, fashion forward girls to one side and crude boys to the other, leaving a handful who want to discuss the space/time continuum floundering somewhere in the middle.

Then, regardless of where you sit on the social divide, hormones kick in.  This critical time is when young people figure out how to create partnerships, what constitutes a good or bad relationship, and the physics of copulation.  In addition to this, obtaining a socially higher-ranking partner becomes an unconscious priority.  Guess what most young men think is unattractive in women?  Intelligence (unless you’re beautiful enough to compensate).  YOU READ THAT CORRECTLY.

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Welcome to #JacquesWeek 2017!

Jacques Week begins this Sunday, July 23, 2017! Join us for a week of celebrating classic Jacques Cousteau Documentaries, discussing ocean science and conservation, and celebrating all things Big Blue! Most of these films are available online. Some will require purchase. We’ve provided links to the for-purchase options and alternates if you can’t find them. Links to all available films can be found at the JacquesWeek2017 YouTube playlist.

Sunday, July 23

  • 20:00 EST – The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau: The Water Planet
  • 21:00 EST – The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau: Beneath the Frozen World

Monday, July 24

  • 20:00 EST – The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau: The Incredible March of the Spiny Lobster
  • 21:00 EST – The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau: Blizzard at Hope Bay

Tuesday, July 25

  • 20:00 EST – Southern Fried Science Discussion: Introduction to the Silent World
  • 20:15 EST – The Silent World (alternate: World without Sun)
  • 22:30 EST – Southern Fried Science Discussion: Understanding the Silent World

Wednesday, July 26

  • 20:00 EST – The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau: Life at the End of the World
  • 21:00 EST – Jacques Cousteau Odyssey: The Nile, Part I (alternate: The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau: Those Incredible Diving Machines)
  • 22:00 EST – The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau: The Desert Whales

Thursday, July 27

  • 20:00 EST – Jacques Cousteau Odyssey: The Nile, Part II (alternate: The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau: The Legend of Lake Titicaca)
  • 21:00 EST – The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau: 500 Million Years Beneath the Sea
  • 22:00 EST – #ThrowbackThursday: Jacques Cousteau on Atlantis and Cognac

Friday, July 28

Jacques Week is not associated with any of the Cousteau organizations. It is a purely grassroots celebration of the man who brought ocean adventure, science, and conservation to the world.


Hey Team Ocean! Southern Fried Science is entirely supported by contributions from our readers. Head over to Patreon to help keep our servers running and fund new and novel ocean outreach projects. Even a dollar or two a month will go a long way towards keeping our website online and producing the high-quality marine science and conservation content you love.

How I talk about science in fiction.

The science of Aquaman. How deep is Rapture? The ecology of Middle Earth. Here at Southern Fried Science, we love taking a hard-science detour into some of our favorite works of fiction. It’s good practice projecting known phenomena into hypothetical universes and figuring out how the mechanics of those worlds shape and are shaped by the principles of ours. And it’s darn fun, to boot.

But diving into “The Science of…” series comes with some pretty huge pitfalls. Not the least of which is the wet blanket nature of criticizing a work of fiction for scientific inaccuracy. Push too far in one direction and you’re left with a dry dissertation on why an obviously fictional world couldn’t work. It’s like being the kid in the room pointing out that professional wrestling isn’t real. No kidding?

There’s a craft to commenting on the science in fiction. After walking this line for a few years, here the simple set of guidelines I use when constructing a commentary.  Read More

When I talk about Climate Change, I don’t talk about science.

Climate Change is real. It’s happening now. And the best available data points to us as the cause.

That the foundational science is settled is a point of unending frustration to scientists, science writers, and policy advocates who face continuous partisan push back, from whitewashing government websites to threatening scientists with legal repercussions for reporting the data.  During my International Marine Conservation Congress keynote last year, I argued that Climate Change denial is not a science literacy problem, but rather a product of increasing political bifurcation. Political ideology is a much stronger predictor of Climate Change understanding than science literacy.

The term “Climate Change” is now loaded with so much political baggage that it becomes almost impossible to hold a discussion across political lines. In stakeholder interviews, people generally understand and acknowledge the impacts of climate change on local and regional scales, as long as you don’t call it “Climate Change”. This has been my experience working in rural coastal communities, which tend to be strongly conservative and intimately connected to the changing ocean.

Which is why, when I talk about Climate Change, I don’t talk about science.  Read More

Bachelor contestant wears a shark costume and calls it a dolphin costume

Last night was the premiere of the Bachelor, which is just about the only reality TV show that I do not watch. However, an incident occured on last night’s episode that several of you brought to my attention. Apparently, one of the contestants wore a shark costume for the entire episode…but kept referring to it as a dolphin costume. (While not everyone can reasonably be expected to know the difference between a shark and a dolphin, this contestant stated that she wants to be a dolphin trainer.)

Here is a screenshot:

Screenshot from the Bachelor season 21 premiere, H/T Buzzfeed

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New TV show: Deep Sea Mysteries with Paul Clerkin premieres tonight!

dsc_5896-for-print-twoPaul J. Clerkin is a graduate researcher at the Pacific Shark Research Center of Moss Landing Marine Laboratories in Moss Landing, California. Clerkin specializes in rare and deep-sea chondrichthyans and is focusing on new species descriptions and life histories of poorly understood sharks species. His thesis work is with Dr. David A. Ebert studying sharks encountered during two surveys in the Southern Indian Ocean in 2012 and 2014, a total of 126 days at sea. He has also conducted research for other projects aboard ships in the Bering Sea, South East Atlantic, Philippine Sea, and across the Pacific. He was featured in the “Alien Sharks” series on Shark Week.

This week, Travel Channel is airing a pilot for my new series, Deep Sea Mysteries (“like” our page on Facebook!). In the course of research, I visit extraordinary fishing communities to find and study rare, poorly known and even undescribed species. This show is the first of its kind, different from the Shark Week programs I’ve done in the past. It continues a focus on sharks and other deep-sea animals, but is notably (and pleasantly) more educational. There are more species, more facts, more science, and an emphasis on conservation effort.

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Also, as a travel show, the series combs through the beautiful regions, interesting people and unique stories behind each expedition.

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