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.

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)








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.


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.


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 …



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.


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.


Build your own BeagleBox 2!

Life in the LabMay 9, 2016

A more comprehensive build guide, along with the 3D printer files, can be found in the BeagleBox GitHub Repository. 


The BeagleBox 2 is a dirt-cheat, tough, versatile field computer built from 3D-printed parts, off-the-shelf hardware, and a single board computer. You can read all about it here: The BeagleBox 2: a dirt-cheap, tough-as-nails, 3D-printed, versatile field laptop.

Let’s build one!

The Brain of the BeagleBox 2

The Brain of the BeagleBox 2


Introducing Field School: A Resource for Marine Science Research and Education

Citizen Science, Conservation, Education, fisheries, marine science, Natural Science, Science, sharks

julia_staffJulia Wester  is the Director of Program Development for Field School. She received her PhD from the Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy at the University of Miami in 2016. Her dissertation studied the psychology of decision making about the environment, specifically with regard to limited water resources. She also received a Msc with Distinction in Biodiversity Conservation and Management from Oxford University and worked as a Legislative Aide in South Florida, focusing on environmental policy. She has consulted with nonprofit programs to evaluate their educational programs and assisted with training staff to conduct effective public outreach.

Field School logoThe folks at Southern Fried Science, as part of their commitment to research and education, have generously given us this platform to talk about our educational start-up, Field School. (Thanks, SFS!). They’ve also been kind enough to get excited about working with us to develop and test new research techniques, study awesome animals and ecosystems, and improve marine science field education—so stay tuned for some of those upcoming collaborations!

What is field school? 

Field School is a hybrid company on a mission to support field research in marine and environmental science, and create high-quality educational and training opportunities for students and the public. We offer hands-on, research focused courses on a variety of topics, from corals to sharks, on our 55’ custom live-aboard research vessel.

Field School offers researchers and students opportunities to engage with and study tropical marine ecosystems. Photo credit: Kristine Stump

Field School offers researchers and students opportunities to engage with and study tropical marine ecosystems. Photo credit: Kristine Stump

Part of what makes Field School special is the team we’ve brought together. Our captain and crew all have doctoral and/or masters degrees in marine or environmental science, have authored numerous scientific publications, and have a combined 25 years of experience in field education and outreach. We have developed short- and long-term training and mentoring opportunities for students, teach highly reviewed and award-winning university courses, and work with partner non-profits to create outreach programs for the public. We collaborate closely with our scientific advisory board and partner universities to develop the conservation and research projects our students work on, ensuring their time in our courses is professionally relevant and meaningful.


The BeagleBox 2: a dirt-cheap, tough-as-nails, 3D-printed, versatile field laptop.

Life in the Lab, Science

The BeagleBox 2

The BeagleBox 2

Last year, as part of Oceanography for Everyone, we debuted the BeagleBox, a small, cheap, tough, basic field computer powered by a BeagleBone Black. The first BeagleBox didn’t promise much, it was designed for basic field work and, most importantly, to be cheap enough that researchers (particularly grad students) wouldn’t be too worried about damaging it. It wasn’t designed to be your only computer but to replace your more valuable computer when participating in fieldwork.

In the last year, the single board computer landscape has changed, with new systems running off tiny, powerful 64bit ARM chips. One of the first of this new breed of SCB to hit the market was the massively Kickstarted, and rocky-launching Pine64. I received my 1GB Pine64 late last week, and immediately set to work redesigning the BeagleBox to house this larger board (and correct for some other annoyances in the original design). So here it is, an even beefier, cheaper, tougher field machine.

Yes, it will run an OpenROV. It will not run it well.

Yes, it will run an OpenROV. It will not run it well.


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