Help crowdfund shark research: Quick(silver?) stingrays

marine science, Natural Science, ScienceJune 10, 2016

KadyKady Lyons is a Ph.D. candidate whose research focuses on the intersection of physiology, ecology and toxicology.  Her Master’s at Cal State Long Beach with Dr. Chris Lowe got her involved in elasmobranch toxicology.  She is interested in how elasmobranchs respond to anthropogenic contaminants and how contaminants can be used as another tool to study ecology.  Currently, her Ph.D. is examining how accumulation of these man-made contaminants influences round stingray growth and reproduction. As part of her Master’s work, she began to investigate mercury accumulation and body distribution of mercury, a potent neurotoxin, in elasmobranchs using the round stingray as a model species. She is continuing to work on this project and will be raising funds to finish this research as part of The Experiment’s Sharks Grant Challenge beginning June 8th and running through the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week.

Mercury concentrations in the earth’s atmosphere have significantly increased with human activities such as mining and fossil fuel burning.  Mercury can be transformed into its more dangerous form (methylmercury) and this form is what becomes concentrated in animals’ tissues.  For animals that occupy higher positions in the food web such as elasmobranchs (sharks, skates and rays), mercury can bioaccumulate to high levels due to their long life and carnivorous behavior.

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Trading blue collars for scarlet robes, my working-class experience of academic life

Academic life, Life in the Lab, Personal Stories, Science, Science Life, Underrepresented Issues in Marine Science and ConservationJune 9, 2016

small-title

More people are going to college, graduate school, and obtaining PhDs in STEM fields than ever before (Figure 1), and a growing minority of these PhD candidates are non-traditional or not white affluent males. While we celebrate this change, let us not forget that academia was built by – and for – the “traditional” student. My favourite analogy to explain this type of ingrown privilege is bicycles on USA streets. Bicycles are legally allowed to be on streets, some streets even have extra space just for bicycles, but streets were designed for automobiles. You may be allowed and, in some areas, encouraged to get on the street with your bicycle, but biking a street is going to be intrinsically more difficult than if you were driving a car.

fig1

Like Marconi and La Bamba in a city built on rock and roll, you will inevitably end up in situations that conflict with your way of life. You will not receive a warning before you stumble upon these bumps, and you will be judged by how quickly you accept traditional standards (if you can).  I remember a conversation with traditional tenured and tenure-track scientists discussing proposals for a large grant scheme. One tenure-track scientist was lamenting the process of shopping for editors for his proposal. He talked about it freely, how there were two companies that charged different rates and he was in talks with one but that company felt a conflict of interest that he had worked with another rival editing company. The rest of the traditional scientists nodded in mutual understanding. Finding good, cheap editors to improve your work is hard. My working-class ethos was busy screaming inside my head.  How can hiring someone to edit and improve written works that you will ultimately be rewarded for be so blithely acceptable? You’re not allowed to hire editors for any task throughout your training. You learn how to write from earning disappointing grades (or failing grant applications). You read more, you study written works, you develop a voice, and you try again. The results get better until you are at an appropriate level to move up another notch on the ladder, right? Not for traditionals.

Here are some more bizarre “traditional” customs you should expect if you are biking down the academic street:

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Dive the Wreck of the Steamship Tahoe with OpenROV!

A Renewed Sense of Wonder, Education, Oceanography for EveryoneJune 6, 2016

OpenROVOne-hundred-fifty meters hardly seems like anything at all.

Standing in the parking lot of OpenROV, I pace out 150 meters. The small sign, hanging against the wall of the battered warehouse, pointing visitors towards the entrance, is clear.

One-hundred fifty meters is less than half a lap around a standard running track. It’s the height of Old St. Paul’s Cathedral, the tallest building in the world, 700 years ago. The fastest man in the world could cover 150 meters in 14 seconds.

On land, 150 meters is barely noteworthy. Plunge into the sea and 150 meters is the wine dark deep. It is the edge of the photic zone, a world of eternal twilight. It is three times deeper than most SCUBA divers will ever venture. At 150 meters, the water pushes down with the weight of 16 atmospheres.

And, if you climb high into the Sierra Mountains and descend into the frigid alpine waters of Lake Tahoe, just off the coast of Glenbrook, Nevada, lying on a steep glacial slope at 150 meters depth is the wreck of the Steamship Tahoe.

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

#SciComm, Challenging the Conventional Narrative, Education, Natural ScienceJune 3, 2016

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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Fun Science FRIEDay – The worlds largest sponge.

biodiversity, biology, Conservation, deep sea, Fun Science Friday, marine science, Natural Science, Science

Recently a team of scientists on a deep sea expedition in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands aboard the R/V Okeanos Explorer made a monumental discovery… pun intended. While exploring the depths of the seafloor in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, with their remotely operated vehicles (ROV) Seirios and Deep Discover, they discovered and documented the largest sponge ever observed on this planet… or any planet for that matter.

Large hexactinellid sponge found in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (Photo credit: NOAA's Office of Exploration and Research)

Large hexactinellid sponge found in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (Photo credit: NOAA’s Office of Exploration and Research)

Lateral view of a large hexactinellid sponge found in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (Photo credit: NOAA's Office of Exploration and Research)

Lateral view of a large hexactinellid sponge found in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument
(Photo credit: NOAA’s Office of Exploration and Research)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Title is the new abstract

#SciComm, publishing, Science publishingJune 1, 2016

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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Please do not hug the dangerous wildlife …!

Animal welfare, Basics of the Human Dimension, Public perceptions of wildlife

Danger sign

This week social media was afire with news that a child fell into a gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo, with the result that a male lowland gorilla was shot to protect the child. This is the third time a toddler has fallen into a gorilla enclosure. Comments on social media blamed the parent for not minding their child, the zoo for shooting the gorilla, and a few also blamed the zoo for not building a safer enclosure, which would prevent toddlers from being able to enter. I did not notice, however, any comments on how the public often perceives potentially dangerous wildlife – as something that is safe, and not actually life-threatening.

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The decline and fall of the literature review

Academic life, publishing, Science publishingMay 16, 2016

I’m currently doing an annual review of environmental impacts on whales and dolphins for the International Whaling Commission, which involves assessing, reading and potentially summarizing almost everything that’s published on cetacean conservation. Every year this exercise gives me an ulcer because: (a) climate change and pollution threats are accelerating; (b) reiterated recommendations from scientists from many, many previous years have yet again gone unheeded; and (c) some endangered species get closer and closer to extinction, yet most of the funding goes to research questions whose answers we really already know rather than to practical conservation. It’s all rather depressing …

end-is-near

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A precautionary approach to health, safety, and conservation while 3D printing in the home.

Conservation, Education, EnvironmentalismMay 13, 2016

3D printers are awesome.

A Printrbot in the home.

A Printrbot in the home.

That sentiment really shouldn’t surprise anyone who follows this blog. From oceanographic equipment, to farm tools, to just things around the house, over the last year I’ve made 3D printing a standard part of my toolbox.

A conversation last week on Twitter got me thinking again about 3D printers, safety, and disposability. On one hand, by allowing us to fabricate intricate custom parts at home, 3D printers can help us reduce the amount of waste produced and allow us to extend the life of otherwise disposable items. On the other hand, 3D printers produce their own plastic waste, particularly if, like, me, you develop a lot of new projects from scratch.

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Six thoughts about Greenpeace’s attack on Ray Hilborn.

Conservation, policy, Science

Update: Both the University of Washington and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences have reviewed Greenpeace’s claims and concluded that Hilborn did not violate their disclosure policy.

First, some background:

Or, just read Trevor Branch’s timeline.

1. The idea that scientists should declare every source of funding over the history of their career on every scientific paper is impractical and wholly unnecessary in a connected world where anyone can effortlessly access a researcher’s CV. Non-profit NGOs only need to file one financial disclosure statement every year, not attach it to every press release, and that is also perfectly adequate.

2. Transparency in funding is important. Claiming that a researcher is failing to disclose funding information when that information clearly is available and accessible erodes public trust in science and makes everyone’s job harder. Greenpeace didn’t send a team of stealth lawyers on an o’dark thirty raid of the UW mainframe, they asked for the information and were given it.

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