Disaster in Mauritius. Mauritius, a small island nation off the coast of Madagascar, has declared a state of emergency following a massive oil spill. The MV Wakashio bulk carrier ran aground on the island’s fringing reef, spilling thousands of tons of fuel oil into the fragile ecosystem. Strapped for equipment, Mauritius is now soliciting hair donations (human hair will absorb oil, but not water) from its residents in a last ditch effort to get as much oil out of the wreck as possible before it breaks apart.
Collapsing Milne.Canada’s Milne Ice Shelf has collapsed. The last intact ice shelf in Canada split apart in the days leading up to August 2. The satellite images released by Planet Labs are truly astounding.
The only thing you should care about this Shark Week. Dr. Catherine Macdonald writes for Scientific American on the dark side of being a woman in shark science. Critical reading for anyone working or thinking about a career in marine science.
Upwelling (the part where Andrew gets on his soapbox)
Earlier this week, we got news of a Evangelical missionary flying into the highlands of Papua New Guinea to preach to an “uncontacted” tribe. Now, I’m just a humble country deep-sea ecologist, but I did teach a robotics class through the University of Papua New Guinea and I have more than a few contacts out there who were happy to point out that the uncontacted tribe was making fun of this dude on Facebook, but it makes me furious that during a pandemic, ostensibly religious folks would put their own personal need for pride and attention ahead of the health and safety of a relatively secluded group of people. We have the potential to be better than the worst of us.
I wasn’t able to watch live this year, but I DVR-ed all 18 specials and watched them eventually! Here are my reviews, ratings, and thoughts. I did not watch the feature-length movie, which they claim is the first fictional entertainment content they’ve ever produced… causing me to stare in megalodon. Overall, this was not a strong year for science, facts, or diversity (of either sharks or shark researchers).
As a reminder, I grade on the following aspects of a show: is there actual science or natural history educational content / is there made up nonsense, are actual credentialed experts with relevant expertise featured or are they self-proclaimed “shark experts” who say wrong nonsense all the time, what species are featured (with bonus points for species we rarely or never see), and do they feature diverse experts or just the same white men (reminder: my field is more than 50% women)? It’s not a perfect rubric, but it’s better than this actual system for ranking shark news introduced this year in “sharks gone wild 2:”
The 30th anniversary of Shark Week was the biggest ever, with 22 episodes. It was, as usual, a bit of a mixed bag, though nothing was anywhere near as bad as the bad old days of Megalodon, and there was some pretty good stuff. As has become tradition here at Southern Fried Science, here are some overall thoughts on this year’s Shark Week, as well as reviews for each episode (not counting the clip shows, which I didn’t watch- even I have limits).
I heard more references to shark conservation this year, though almost exclusively offhand references to how the Bahamas is a Shark Sanctuary (there was one mention of shark fin trade bans in the Shark Tank show).
There were more women scientists and non-white scientists than I can remember, but still some major issues with diversity of scientists. (The white male scientists were still treated differently, including being given their full titles, and in one case a white male with a Masters was called Dr. while a woman with a Ph.D. was not called Dr.).
22 shows is too many shows. I may be the only one in the world who actually tried to watch them all and I had to skip the clip shows because even I have limits.
Rather than organizing episode reviews in chronological order or air date, this year I’m going to organize them by theme.
Many aspects of science-ing are not explicitly taught, and scientists become accustomed to mastering the deep end. While this tactic can make you stronger, there are situations where the deep end is a vulnerable place where nasty critters are very happy to take advantage.
One such area? How to handle being contacted by “producers.” In my experience, for every 1 exceptional producer you speak with, you will be contacted by at least 4 scammers. Scam producers will particularly target naïve early-career scientists, just like white sharks and seal pups. In light of this week, I’ve put together a guide to aid YOY scientists rising in the ranks of popularity and make the deep end a little safer. Here are 13 ways to spot scam shark documentary producers, with a few 🚩🚩:
In Act I I discussed the underlying structure that frames narrative storytelling, but now I want to talk about how we can use the tools available to us on the internet to transform that narrative into something even more potent.
But before we can do that I have to tilt at some windmills.
When we talk about good outreach, we often look to people like Neil deGrasse Tyson, like Bill Nye, like David Attenborough, and like Carl Sagan. These are the paragons of scientific outreach, the icons that we often hold up as examples for what constitutes good outreach. We talk about things like Cosmos, both Sagan’s and deGrasse Tyson’s, Bill Nye the Science Guy and his more recent work combating climate change, or David Attenborough and his astounding Nature Documentaries. Read More