#JacquesWeek Debrief: The Silent World

Last night, as part of #JacquesWeek, we watched The Silent World. The Silent World was Cousteau’s first feature film, was released to wide critical acclaim in 1954, and quickly vanished in a puff of weird copyright shenanigans. Most USians, even die-hard Cousteau fans, have never seen the Silent World.

It’s a tough watch. In order to help prime the #JacquesWeek audience for what was coming, I hosted a pre-viewing briefing, via Facebook live.

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The Silent World is an important moment in the history of marine conservation. It represents the birth of a more general public awareness about life beneath the waves. A the time, it was the vast majority of people’s first experience seeing what life looks like underwater. But it also features Cousteau’s team killing a baby whale, attempting to harpoon others, riding sea turtles and land tortoises, and slaughtering sharks. It’s a hard watch. Some of our viewers had to cut out half-way. Even I conveniently got up to mix a stronger drink during some of the worst bits.

After the show, we also hosted a debrief to talk a bit more about the Silent World, put it in context, and talk about how the film fits into the history of ocean conservation:

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If you missed this last night, you can still watch The Silent World at your own pace, and I highly recommend that you do. It’s an important film and should be taken, warts and all.

Reflections on the Boundary of Science and Policy

People have dedicated their careers and spilled much ink on bettering relations across the science – policy divide. In recent years, whole institutions have sprung up in order to better communicate and work across this boundary, the kind of institution formally called a boundary organization. In short, the people who work at such places must know the language and culture of both sides, be able to navigate around the sensitivities of each, and serve as a trusted person in moving a conversation along. These people are often called “honest brokers” because of the importance of the trust they must gain and hold. As someone who’s now working on the boundary for a number of years in the marine conservation world, I have some reflections of how exactly that role is not so simple. Hopefully my top 10 reflections will be helpful in building the next generation of boundary spanners. Read More

The Importance of Scientific Discovery and Communication for a General Science Audience

The impetus for this piece was an essay I wrote for iBiology a year or so ago discussing the importance of scientific discovery for a a general science audience (i.e., our science peers who are not in our respective field). I was excited to write the piece because a lot of the Science FRIEDay articles I write focus on relatively recent scientific discoveries, and this article is more of an opinion piece. So why is scientific discovery important for an audience of science peers who do not explicitly work in our specific field?

It is easy to marvel at the wonders that exist on our planet and in the surrounding universe, the known discoveries. As a natural scientist, I also appreciate the beauty in the hidden mysteries of the natural world, those processes, behaviors, and functions that we have yet to elucidate. The notion and concept of scientific discovery is romanticized as a purist’s deed. Edwin Hubble said it best, “Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls that adventure Science.” A scientist’s basal desire is to further the state of knowledge, but equally we crave information about the fields of knowledge that are expanding around us, of which we are not explicitly involved. We aspire to understand the “99%”, at the very least surficially. The importance of this desire explains why scientific conferences play a major role in our profession, and journals such as Science and Nature are so popular. Yes, we as scientist want to share our new discoveries, but we are also equally as intrigued about what others have accomplished; we want to know how science is progressing outside of our bubble, especially those really groundbreaking feats. These coupled characteristics are a necessary component of science. Hearing and learning about the work of others fuels one’s own scientific passions to go and do more, and can often challenge an individual to think more creatively about their own research ideas and approaches. To a general audience of our scientific peers, sharing scientific discovery temporarily satiates the yearning that scientists have about the progression of knowledge, but also can serve as motivation and inspiration.
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Title is the new abstract

There are an increasing number of scientific articles being produced and posted at a frantic rate. How can you make your paper stand out and be memorable amongst this plethora of publications? Moreover, if your work is conservation-related, how do you ensure that the people who matter see and remember your work?

The one part of your paper all readers see and read is the title. From my own experience as an editor of scientific journals, as well as from the page-view statistics I have seen, the percentage of people that go on to read your abstract is less than a tenth of those that read the title. The percentage that read beyond the abstract to look at the whole article is a tenth of that again.

This why I have entitled this blog “Title is the new abstract“. You want to maximize the amount of information in the title of your paper.

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Behaviour Bites: The uncomfortable truth about that penguin video

A brilliant thing about the internet is how natural events are immediately accessible to the world-wide public.  Someone can record a cheetah jumping onto their safari car and I can watch it in my Netherlands office less than 24 hours later.  Sadly, most animal videos that go viral are ones that feature animal behaviour that we think directly relates to us, humans – the real stars of the show – but rarely does the behaviour (or the animal in the video, for that matter) have anything to do with us.  Attributing human-like characteristics to non-human things is called “anthropomorphism.”  It’s a natural part of our psyche and explains why we find Elvis in potato chips or Kate Middleton in jelly beans.

Those who genuinely study animal behaviour (ethologists) first learn to recognize anthropomorphism, no matter how subtle, and then train for years to view situations from a strictly behavioural standpoint.  You may look at a dolphin and say it’s “smiling.”  An ethologist will look at that same dolphin and say it simply has its mouth closed.  You may say the dog is “laughing,” an ethologist will say the dog associates small high-pitched barks in quick succession with a reward.  Does this mean that ethologists view animals coldly and without emotion?  No.  It means that ethologists want to decode what the animal is saying, rather than force our meanings or motives into their mouths.  We just see the potato chip.

Now, I hate to also be a wet blanket, but I often get terribly, terribly vexed when I see these videos, so I have decided that when I am not singing about science, I will explain the real behaviour featured in these popular videos.  Warning, this video cannot be unseen:

If you have a video suggestion for the next behaviour bites, please leave it in the comments!

On Naming Boats, or why we love Boaty McBoatface.

My first personal research vessel, a 20′ runabout with a huge staging area, was name ‘Black Smoker‘. It was an homage to the hydrothermal vents I study (via a much larger vessel), but also a reference to the nasty old Force 125 outboard, that burned oil like it had just driven the Seleucid Empire from the Temple Mount. My second boat, was small, but lighter, faster, and much more aggressive. I sailed it in some seriously marginal seas. I named it ‘Iffy’.

The French named two different research vessels ‘Pourquoi Pas?’ (literally “Why not?”) which, in addition to being hilarious, is also the answer to the question: Why did you name your ship Pourquoi Pas? The University of Wisconsin-Madison has been studying  Lake Mendota for over 6 years via the research platform ‘David Buoy’. And though the Celtic Explorer was given a strong and noble name, an engine incident on one fateful cruise led many in the Irish research community to informally rechristen it the Celtic Exploder (true story: I once reviewed a proposal that referred to it as the Exploder, throughout).

Giving a research vessel a silly name is a deep and abiding tradition within the marine research community. And, frankly, even if a vessel has a Very Serious Name (TM), the crew is still going to call it something else.

I think Boaty McBoatface is a perfectly good name for a ship, and I agree with Craig McClain that it is a great science outreach opportunity. Did you know the U launched Sikuliag last year? Or that the British christened the Discovery in 2013? No? Well I bet you know about Boaty McBoatfaceRead More

Singing Science: Weather vs. Climate with lyrics for teachers

The month of February 2016 just broke a global temperature recordpreviously held by… January…2016.

While the Trubama climate plans are being praised, the comments section of this Guardian article was still inundated with “Well, it’s cold where I am” posts.  Perhaps we need to create more awareness about the difference between weather and climate…

I know, I’m not supposed to talk about this, but I love to sing.  Every neighbor, flat mate, and unwilling car passenger knows this.  In fact, the only thing I love as much as singing is teaching science, but the metaphorical light bulb didn’t come on until I attended a SciComm workshop in Portugal.  Why not sing about science like many others?  Maybe even weather and climate??

Adele songs were the obvious choice, both for singability and availability of karaoke versions on YouTube, so I began my research.  I asked facebook if this would be a valuable addition to the internets, or best not to talk about it ever again, and the response was significantly positive.  Thus, #SingingScience was born and with it a commitment to do more of these when I have free time.

Enjoy, Weather vs. Climate set to Adele’s “Hello”

**Note (because evidently it’s not obvious):  This is not real meteorological data.

Here are the lyrics for any science teachers who would like them: Read More

Pushing back against technological puritanism in ocean conservation.

By now, you’ve almost certainly seen this photograph, making the viral rounds, of a Franciscana dolphin in South America, attached to headlines like the following: Endangered baby dolphin dies after swimmers pass it around for selfiesA Baby Dolphin Died Because Tourists Wanted Selfies With HerA selfie mob in Argentina may have killed a dolphin.

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I hate these news stories, but not for the reasons you might think.

These stories represent a kind of technological puritanism in ocean outreach, where we draw weirdly unfounded conclusions about the way humans relate to their tools to somehow absolve us of social responsibility. It’s not people mistreating a dolphin, it’s a selfie-crazed mob. We chuckle and move on, because we don’t take aggressive selfies. We’re better than that.

This is not correct. Read More

For science communication, hashtag games are a scientist’s secret weapon.

#ExplainAFilmPlotBadly, #StupidCommonNames, #LOTRyourResearch.

Hashtag games. A few times a week, these weird, funny, quirky wordplay challenges explode across twitter, driving the most serious, and sometimes even super-serious, tweeters to pause for a moment of levity and let you know what they think Jaws is really about.

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Goofy, whimsical, and extremely silly, one might wonder why scientists and science communicators would want to jump into these games, potentially compromising the reputation they’ve built up as a Serious Scientist (TM), unswayed by such foolishness.

The answer is simple: Playing hashtag games makes you a better communicator of science.

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Scanning the Sea: How I create 3D printable ocean objects using a smartphone and free software.

Trilobites!

Trilobites!

From simple sand dollars to life-sized hammerhead shark skulls, 3D printable ocean objects present an incredible opportunity for ocean outreach. Many commercial biological models are expensive, fragile, and often overkill for educators’ needs, where simple, robust, and easily replaceable anatomical models suffice. Over the last year, I’ve been honing my 3D printing skills, learning how to design 3D-printable objects, and mastering 3D scanning using free software and the now-ubiquitous smartphone. My designs, along with the open-source objects used for Oceanography for Everyone, can be found on my YouMagine profile (though Patreon supporters get early access to most prints).

Earlier this year, I wrote about how the ability to essentially photocopy a three dimensional object in a matter of hours revived my Ocean Optimism and opened up a whole new world of outreach possibilities. Since then, I’ve been working behind the scenes on some bigger projects that depend on 3D printing, one of which, Oceanography for Everyone launched last month. It’s a big ocean out there, and one person can’t possibly come close to producing a comprehensive collection of ocean objects. With several successful 3D scans under my belt, I think it’s time to share the process and invite the rest of the ocean-loving world join me in my efforts to scan the sea.

123D Catch, the software that powers it all.

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