April 1 on Southern Fried Science

BloggingApril 1, 2016

For the last several years, we’ve made an effort to produce a silly, though not particularly pranky (because pranks are a whack way to be mean to people who ostensibly trust you), article for April 1.

Today, our own David Shiffman defends his thesis.

Make of that what you will.

Good luck David! And may your snake be small and non-venomous. 

Why scientists sometimes need to be a bit more Sith and a bit less Jedi

Academic life, Personal StoriesMarch 31, 2016

 

Darth Maul

Being a scientist can be very frustrating, even infuriating. It might well be because of the inequalities and unfairness of academic life (such as incompetent administrators, a lack of funding, poor career prospects, or academic bullying and harassment ). However, if you work in the conservation field, the frustrations will positively abound. In addition to the depressingly high likelihood that you will see your study habitat or species disappear before your eyes, there  are potentially the vexing roadblocks of your science being ignored  – or being actively distorted  – by policy makers, other scientists actively working against your efforts – either through their naivety or by deliberate design  – or being attacked by crazy whacktivists because they think your approach is the wrong one .

Stress is often high among scientists, especially those involved in conservation. However, I have found one of easiest solutions to relieve the stress is to write about your problems. Putting all the anger and frustrations down on paper (or on screen) can be sublimely cathartic. You can feel your blood pressure literally dropping points with every word you write.

(more…)

Behaviour Bites: The uncomfortable truth about that penguin video

#SciComm, Animal welfare, Uncategorized

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!

A funny thing happens when you point out ocean scams.

Blogging, Ocean KickstarterMarch 29, 2016

Last Friday I pointed out that, based on the science presented and the behavior of the team involved, Triton Gills is almost certainly a scam. You can read that post and the linked articles for more details.

We do a bit of ocean debunking here at Southern Fried Science, though less and less every year, in part for the reasons listed below. While I find it vital for the ocean community that we push back, especially, about outright fraud, there are a few things that happen which make the entire process enormously frustrating. So much so that you come away disinclined to bother doing anything the next time a fraudulent project comes around.

1. Everyone expects you to be as outraged as they are. I get it, people don’t like being defrauded, people don’t like seeing others defrauded, and everyone feels a sense of self-righteous justice when they find something to rail against in real time. But I’m not the ShittyCrowdfunding Avenger. I saw a bad project, I wrote about the bad project, I gave some interviews to journalists about the bad project. I’m not in the business of doggedly pursuing one crowfunding campaign to extinction. I also don’t assume people are idiots. Whenever you back any crowdfunding campaign, you have to do your due diligence. We make an effort here to make our due diligence public and easy to find so that other can benefit from it.  (more…)

A journey across Titan’s largest methane sea.

Popular Culture, Science FictionMarch 28, 2016

You asked for a map the clarify the journey of Calliope, the Salvager, and others as they sail, fly, and walk across Kraken Mare, Titan’s largest methane sea. Here, for your pleasure, is a map of the journey across Kraken Mare from A Crack in the Sky above Titan.

titanmap

Read A Crack in the Sky Above Titan, available now. 

 

Check out the first chapter, here: What is it like to sail across Titan’s methane seas?

The 8 Most Ridiculous Shark Moments in Comics

Aquaman, Popular Culture

It’s a very special week. No, not that week. It’s David Shiffman defends his PhD thesis week! In honor of this auspicious event, here are the 8 most ridiculous shark moments in comic books.

Aquaman talks to fish.

Justice League #4

Justice League #4

Reason 652 that “can talk to fish” is still the best super power ever.  (more…)

Ocean Anti-Kickstarter of the Month: Triton Gills is almost certainly a scam

#OceanOptimism, Blogging, Ocean KickstarterMarch 25, 2016

Triton Gills. From their crowdfunding campaign.

Triton Gills. From their crowdfunding campaign.

I wasn’t going to review Triton Gills, currently racking up $700,000+ on IndieGogo. I hate being the wettest of wet blankets when it comes to new ocean innovations and I’m much happier boosting the profile of good, scientifically sound, ocean projects. But I was curious about Triton after a few journalists asked me to comment about it. On their Facebook page, I asked them to respond to the following articles:

Both of which raise important, salient questions and concerns voiced by experts in the field, including the research director of the Divers’ Alert Network, our friend Al Dove at Deep Sea News, and myself.

Their response? They deleted the comment and banned the Southern Fried Science account from their page.

Oof.

I was willing to write Triton off as a team of hopeful idealists and wish them well on their quixotic quest. I’m certainly not one to audit what other people choose to support through crowdfunding. It’s always a gamble, and that’s fine. But now, having dug far more deeply into their proposal than I ever wanted to, I’m no longer willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Triton Gills is almost certainly a scam.  (more…)

A selection of space nerdery from your favorite ocean blog.

Blogging, Popular Culture, Science Fiction

coverTitanThis Monday I launched A Crack in the Sky above Titan, a science fiction adventure framed around the seemingly simple question: What is it like to sail across the methane seas of Titan?

While Southern Fried Science is all about ocean science and conservation, we do make the occasional foray into space. From celestial navigation on Mars, do diving robots on Europa, to exploring other (fictional) worlds to learn something about our own, we haven’t shied away from the ‘other’ final frontier. So, in honor of A Crack in the Sky above Titan (available now on Amazon*) here is a selection of our favorite space nerdery from Southern Fried Science.

(Note: Some of these are from our month of ocean science fiction. While the framing for these pieces is fictional, the science itself is sound)

The Extraterrestrial Ocean: Could OpenROV Trident explore the seas of Europa?

Our planet is an ocean, and it is almost entirely unexplored. OpenROV, and their new Trident underwater drone is one of many tools that will help change that by democratizing exploration, conservation, and ocean science. We are poised atop the crest of a wave that may change how humans interact with the ocean as profoundly as the invention of the aqualung.

Earth is not the only body in our solar system that hosts an ocean. As we (slowly) venture out into the stars, could OpenROV Trident dive in extraterrestrial seas?

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On Naming Boats, or why we love Boaty McBoatface.

#SciCommMarch 23, 2016

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 McBoatface(more…)

What is it like to sail across Titan’s methane seas?

Blogging, Popular Culture, Science FictionMarch 21, 2016

coverTitanA simple writing prompt–what would it be like to sail across Titan?–has taken me on a 20,000-word journey through the intricacies of life on Saturn’s largest moon. Join the Salvager on a journey across Kraken Mare to land the score of a lifetime, if the rest of the universe doesn’t get in their way. Discover the weird, wonderful world of Titan and her coastal colonies and confront the challenges of sailing across an alien world.

A Crack in the Sky above Titan takes a lot of the ideas developed during Field Notes from the Future and extends them out into the extremely distant future. At what point do humans, heavily augmented with hardware and software, stop being human? What rights are retained when a person contains no human parts? How does art evolve in a future obsessed with technology? And how exactly do you sail via celestial navigation with no polar star and an atmosphere of dense haze.

In honor of this new launch, my other novella, Prepared, an adventure in doomsday prepping, seasteading, and catastrophic sea level rise, is free to download all week long.

A Crack in the Sky above Titan.

 

Read an excerpt from my latest novella, below: (more…)

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