UW Student Scientists Connect Individual Research with Local Murals
Press release - January 25, 2018 - read release below or view release on UWyo News.
Scientists have long appreciated the arts and used art forms in their practice. And, even though scientists strive for objectivity, they bring their own perspectives and preconceptions to public art, according to a University of Wyoming research scientist.
UW graduate students enrolled in last fall semester’s science communication class, “The Art of Science Communication,” did just that.
Dan Albrecht-Mallinger, a UW doctoral student, who studies birds, stands with artist Talal Cockar’s “Tierra y Libertad” mural in downtown Laramie. Albrecht-Mallinger, through a science communication class assignment, developed a 60-second audio guide relating the feeding behavior of the birds he studies to the mural’s depiction of cultivation and abundance. (Doug Eddy Photo)
Doctoral candidates -- specializing in topics ranging from soil science, birds and bees to black holes, frogs and trees -- were tasked with selecting pieces from the seven downtown murals in the Laramie Mural Project and connecting them to their research, says Bethann Garramon Merkle, an associate research scientist with the Wyoming Migration Initiative on the UW campus.
Garramon Merkle, the class’s lead instructor, says, by researching, writing and recording audio guides for a selection of public artworks in downtown Laramie, the students learned how to take their research “beyond science, connecting it with something integral to the Laramie community -- our murals.”
Author: Chris Petranek, a PhD candidate studying bumble bee physiology
"That some scientists’ social media following outstrips their citation count should not imply a lack of credibility. If all scientists were more Kardashian-like in their ability to influence the public, we might not
be living in a “post-truth” era."
For better or worse, carefully curating an internet presence is a key component of any professional career in 2017. This wholesome avocation can range from maintaining a savvy personal website to merely making sure your Facebook profile won’t preclude an interview. Social media outlets are a great way for others to collect information about you, so you may as well use them to your advantage. For most, that means leveraging personality and interesting content to advertise a product or advocate for a desired outcome. If you know the ropes, social media platforms are great for getting your message to reach content consumers worldwide.
Such an inexpensive means for distributing information widely seems especially well suited to scientists seeking to engage the public. To this end, social media can be so effective some scientists are concerned that online presence is overshadowing the importance of quality research. Thus, the “Kardashian Index”, for pitting online communication reach against citation count.
Neil Hall proposed the "K-index" in 2014 to measure scientists' social media fame (# of twitter followers) with respect to their scientific renown (approximated by citation count).
Reassuringly, these preliminary data suggest one’s social media popularity is correlated with their popularity in the scientific community. However, that some scientists’ social media following outstrips their citation count (“Kardashians”) should not imply a lack of credibility. If all scientists were more Kardashian-like in their ability to influence the public, we might not be living in a “post-truth” era.
“Post-truth” refers to the salient observation by nerds nationwide that lay-audiences are not swayed by torrents of numerical observations. There is thus ongoing debate in the scientific community about whether celebrity influencers are useful for communicating science issues broadly via social media. Some say that the ends justify the means, but others are hesitant to have non-specialists speak out about pressing issues in science (Galetti & Costa-Pereira 2017, Mojarad 2017).
Author: Heather Speckman, PhD candidate studying big data and tree physiology
Most rappers don't rap statistics.
Most rappers don't rap neuroscince.
Most rappers don't rap natural selection.
Most rappers aren't Baba Brinkman.
I don't usually listen to rap. But when I do, it's Baba Brinkman.
When having a Bachelor's degree isn't enough, Baba Brinkman went the extra mile for a Master's -- in literature of all subjects! Strange hobby for a guy who spent his years planting trees and studying primatology and human evolutions. And then he went and married a neuroscientist!
For the last decade Baba Brinkman has map a living rapping about all sorts of subject from Canterbury Tales, evolution, climate change, Bayesian statistics, religion, DNA, and psychology.
You know, it seems strange for me to tell you about a showman. So I'm just going let Baba Brinkman about genetics and heterozygote advantages:
Author: Daniel Beverly, PhD candidate studying plant physiology
"One of the most challenging components of science communication is developing the
ability to modify levels of complexity based on response and cues from the target audience."
This seems to be a significant challenge due to variable reasons but two major ideas are evident.
Firstly, scientist rarely receive training in such skills as the academic dogma of publish or perish diverts interest away from the public when conveying scientific results.
Secondly, academics are well versed in the defense of their research on a professional stage but reframe from defending their findings in public due to fears of losing academic credibility of crossing over into advocacy or political figures.
Moves to train scientist to communicate science are becoming more relevant with increased competition for funding, transparency of research, and science advocacy across disciplines.
Further, scientist are tired of being punching bags in the political arena. Scientist are becoming frustrated getting their data and results misinterpreted or mis-conceptualized, fitting a story favoring partisan agendas. Thus, a large effort has been made to increase the transparency into a scientist’s life by engaging a broader audience and defending their findings before media outlets can misconstrue the fundamental stories.
Communicating contentious science ideas is most effective with an integrative and non-threatening stance incorporating community involvement.
Author: Daniel Beverly, PhD candidate studying plant physiology
"Abstract concepts need to be explained at local community level producing memories, not factoids."
Scientists need to get back to interacting and communicating at the local level with informative and positive messaging and reattaching themselves as local figures. Connecting to the community increases the science networks that stimulate speculative conversations on science removing the obstacle of science does not influence me. A large issue on this disconnect appears to be product of poor fundamental education and not physically being able to see or touch some of the more abstract mechanisms in the world around us.
This year one of the most-witnessed events may have been the kick-start science communication needed. The Great American Eclipse was one of the greatest results of science communication that I can ever recall.
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