Hello, my name is Heather Speckman I will be your blog master for this week! Where to start talking about me…. Yes, I am a scientist, but I feel that term comes with such stereotypes and frankly…. Frankly it’s Friday and I’m not in the mood for stereotypes. So I hereby dub this "Stereotype Slaying Friday"!
Let’s talk about what a scientist actually is and is not.
Stereotype Number #1: Scientists wear lab coats.
Well, I’m a scientist and I do have a lab coat…. I wear it like twice a year when I need to bleach things. Here’s some other gear I use:
I shoot trees for science. Shooting is the best way to the top branches down from trees. We use these branches to measure how much photosynthesis the tree is doing and how droughted it is. Understanding forest health is especially important in the wake of the bark beetle epidemic. Bark beetles slaughtered trees throughout North America, decimating over 10 million acres. However, some trees did survive. And today those trees are thriving, soaking up all that readily available sun and water. In fact, even though there are fewer trees, today’s forest does the same amount of photosynthesis and uses same amount of water as it did before the bark beetle epidemic.
Stereotype #X: Scientists are old white guys with beards---
That’s actually my husband, and our little girl. Yes, I’m a girl and a mom on top of it. My husband is my best friend and a fantastic stay-at-home dad, supporting me in my career. Not all scientist are guys, in fact 50% of them should be women. Sadly, we as a society are still working on overcoming old stereotypes and prejudice that says women shouldn’t be scientists. My good friend, Ellen Corano has a great project addressing that very issue:
I'd highly recommend checking out her stuff here: http://thebeardedladyproject.com
Stereotype Number #3: Scientists make things go “boom!”
…. Ok, that one’s true…. Some times we even do it on purpose. For all those other times…yeah…
That was us trying to measure how much water can move through a tree’s stem. We do this all the time in branches-- it tells us know how quickly it can move water for growth and how resistant they are to drought. We decided to step up our game and try the whole tree trunk… yeah that didn’t work.
How do you fill a canister with foam? Well, what you do NOT fill it with “instant set” spray foam. I got foam every where except in the can--- the inside of that thing is totally hollow! This is part of our giant centrifuge we use to test how resistant a plant is to drought: spin the stem ‘round and ‘round at 20,000 rpm and see if it’ll still conduct water after all that pressure. If it does, then it’s pretty resistant to drought and we need to spin it even faster!
And that brings us the conclusion of this Stereotype Slaying Friday. Ya’ll have good weekend and I’ll see you on Monday.
If you're interested in getting involved with a citizen science project but don't know where to begin, I can give you some tips. A quick Google search for "citizen science projects" brings up hundreds of results. It gets really overwhelming really quickly. You can narrow your search by what field or topic you're interested in, but you'll still have dozens to choose from. If you're just getting started, I would recommend checking out Zooniverse.
Zooniverse is a fantastic one-stop-shop website to get involved in a citizen-based research project. They have a huge range of fields that they actively conduct research in: Arts, Biology, Climate, History, Language, Literature, Medicine, Nature, Physics, and Social Sciences. As you can see, they go beyond just the sciences and into the humanities, so whatever your interest is they are bound to have something for you!
Public engagement is a huge component of how scientists communicating their research to the public, and I hope that by finding a citizen science project you will join the community and engage in scientific research.
As my favorite childhood character, Tigger, would say: TTFN!
"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."
-- Carl Sagan
I knew at a very young age that I wanted to pursue science. I liked it, I was good at it, I was always asking questions anyway -- it just made sense. Not everyone is as fortunate as me, finding their passion at the age of 9. However, some are, but they know 100% that they do NOT want to do science. More power to you, we need passionate people in all fields, regardless of what it is! But for everyone in between -- for those who like science but aren't "good" at it, for those who "couldn't compete" in classroom, for those who enjoy the findings of science but have no desire to sit in a lab all day -- there is a fabulous and simple way for you to get involved.
I present to you: CITIZEN SCIENCE! We are in the era of enormous data sets. Technology has surpassed the human ability to keep up with it all, yet human analysis will always be superior to a machine (in my humble opinion). Scientists found the answer -- get more people! But getting more specialists is a difficult and expensive endeavor, so scientists have turned to the general public. Non-experts can sift through the data as a first pass and flag anything interesting. The flags are reported to specialists, who then make that particular data a priority for analysis. This is a zero-pressure and fun way to get involved. If you're wrong, no biggie. If you're right, you just helped with a scientific discovery! And you can do this all from the comfort of your own home. No lab coats, no writing code, no wandering the landscape looking for a specimen, no staying up all night gathering data. Just you, your computer, and your sweatpants.
Stay tuned for more ways for you to get involved with a citizen science project!
"The Universe is a pretty big place. If it's just us, seems like an awful waste of space."
-- Carl Sagan
Or, in regular English: Hello World! My name is Michelle and I'll be running our SciComm blog for the next week. I've loved math and science my whole life and I hope I can share some of that love with you.
Third grade science class is what really started me off on this journey. We were learning about all 9 planets in the Solar System (back before Pluto was demoted) and I decided right then and there that I simply had to learn everything about the Universe. Literally. Everything. Ah, youth... so much energy, ambition, and naivety. But can you really blame me? The Hubble Space Telescope produces the most outstanding pictures of the Universe. Then, to top it off, Contact (the movie) came out and my fate was sealed. Don't get me started on the scientific inaccuracies of that movie, but 3rd grader me neither knew nor cared. Space was beautiful and amazing, and I needed to know more.
I landed myself a spot at UC Berkeley (Go Bears!) and graduated with a double major in Astrophysics and Planetary Sciences. As an undergraduate I worked on multiple research projects. From detecting supernovae to detecting dark matter, I was always looking to the cosmos for more answers. What I ended up with was more questions, but such is the nature of science.
For the next week I don't want to tell you, or even show you, about science and how we communicate it. I want to involve you. I will bring you different citizen science projects that you can get involved with at home. No experience necessary! It's never too late to get involved and contribute to scientific findings.
The Universe is so vast and full of unsolved questions that there's never a bad time to start investigating its mysteries.
“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”
-- Carl Sagan
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.
Students learning how to measure photosynthesis on sagebrush (Photo: Daniel Beverly)
Moves to train scientist to communicate science is 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 misconceptualized, 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.
People from all around the world enjoyed science during the August total solar eclipse in western Wyoming. (Photo: Daniel Beverly)
This community science communication is seen at varying levels from teaching young children topics of planets to plants or citizen science outreach involving adults hobbyists interested in birds. Getting the excitement back into the science as opposed to the political debate starts with the scientist. Scientist are opportunistic creatures and must maximize their efforts. The August solar eclipse opened the door for many creative and novel methods for collecting information of the natural world via citizen engagement. Keen observers were asked to submit the unusual animal behaviors they witnessed, while others deployed audio recording devices to capture the shift in human and animal activities; and a select group of retired scientist could not help themselves with collecting the activity of the solar corona for the greater benefit of science (Nature, Witze 2017). Science and the scientist must bring back the pleasurable aspects of getting people interested and invested in science and the benefits of research.
Witze, A. (2017). Eclipse promises to reveal mysteries of Sun’s corona.
A blog and website by graduate students from science disciplines and departments throughout the University of Wyoming. We hope you connect with our science communication and engagement efforts. Please let us know what you think of the site!