Communicated, not classified: The importance of collaboration in science (Science behind-the-scenes)

By Molly Kozminsky

Close your eyes and picture a scientist. What do you see?

In 1983, David Wade Chambers published results from a study conducted on 4,807 children as they progressed from kindergarten through fifth grade in the United States and Canada. The test? To draw a scientist. In what must rank as one of the most adorable research experiences ever, the drawings were scored for seven indicators of a “standard image of a scientist:”

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Defending human health: A thankless job

By Ellyn N. Schinke

Growing up, I was an avid soccer player. But, I never wanted the glory of being a team’s leading scorer. Defense was my home. That is until I scored my first goal. I was elated, but quickly realized that I had never in my time on defense received anywhere near the validation that I had for that goal. I could save goals or shut down the other team’s star player, but that usually went unnoticed. If anything, I was typically criticized for something I didn’t do more often than I was praised for something I did. This experience taught me something important – defense is a thankless job.

The same pattern that I saw in my soccer experience happens all the time with public health.

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Science behind-the-scenes: Correlation and causation

By Bryan Moyers

When talking about scientific issues, the phrase “Correlation doesn’t imply causation” is sometimes thrown around.  But what does it mean?  Science makes statements about cause and effect.  Smoking causes lung cancer.  Carbon emissions cause climate change.  Higher temperatures cause increased violence.  Clearly, scientists have some way of inferring causal relationships.  But how do they grapple with the idea that “Correlation doesn’t imply causation”?  If they don’t use correlation, what tools do they use to infer causation?

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Science behind-the-scenes: “And that is a scientific FACT!”

By Bryan Moyers

In the film Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, there is a scene where the quartet of male leads is screaming at their boss.  They are outraged over the hiring of a woman for the position of news anchor.  At one point, David Koechner’s character leans forward over the desk and announces:

“It is anchorMAN, not anchorLADY, and THAT IS A SCIENTIFIC FACT!” Continue reading “Science behind-the-scenes: “And that is a scientific FACT!””

Science behind-the-scenes: (Almost) Everything grade school taught you about science is wrong

By Bryan Moyers

Do you remember being taught the “Scientific Method” in school? There were always slight variations, but it went something like:

  1. Ask a question
  2. Do background research
  3. Form an educated guess (hypothesis)
  4. Test your hypothesis by doing an experiment
  5. Analyze your data and draw a conclusion
  6. If your hypothesis is wrong, return to step 3 with a new hypothesis.
  7. Communicate your results

These steps seem like a great tool to introduce students to science.  They’re simple and easy to understand once the teacher explains words like “hypothesis” and “experiment”.  If you’re like me, perhaps you remember it seeming straightforward—scientists follow a linear set of steps that produce powerful results. Teachers drilled that method into us grade after grade.  If only they weren’t completely wrong. Continue reading “Science behind-the-scenes: (Almost) Everything grade school taught you about science is wrong”

Escaping the bunker mentality, part II…

By Kirsti Ashworth

Last week, I introduced the process of transdisciplinary research: an iterative, co-operative approach that brings communities and researchers together to collaborate at all stages of the research process. But given the difficulties of finding funding for traditional scientific research, can this kind of research become a reality? There are plenty of examples out there that suggest it can.

There are already signs of change: many scientists are starting to consider the practical implications and applications of their research, looking beyond the narrow confines of their discipline, and engaging with local stakeholders. International institutes, science co-ordinators, and funding agencies are actively promoting inter- and transdisciplinary research. The field of sustainability is a prime example. Continue reading “Escaping the bunker mentality, part II…”

Escaping the bunker mentality

By Kirsti Ashworth

Save the date! 2016 is the Year of the Future.

A future that’s bright, a future that’s transdisciplinary…

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Image credit: Arnaud Bouissou/MEDDE/SG COP21

On December 13th 2015, the world’s leaders reached a rare consensus and ratified an historic accord designed to limit climate change to 2°C. January 1st 2016 marked the official launch of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the start of the next Assessment Report for the IPCC. These events have shifted the emphasis from investigating and reporting the physical science behind the unprecedented changes we’re seeing on our planet to identifying and implementing strategies to avoid further change (mitigation) or to minimize their impacts (adaptation).

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It’s a zoo out there: Breaking down communication barriers

By Alisha John

Despite countless trips to zoos across the country, there is one elusive species I have never encountered: Scientia normalis. This species is more often referred to by their common name, scientists. Scientists are not normally seen in public, often preferring to remain in their native habitat of the laboratory. Because of this, stereotypes dominate the perception of the entire species and are often reinforced in popular culture and the media. These stereotypes depict a species of mostly older males with unruly hair, glasses, a white lab coat, and a vial of brightly colored liquid. (*cough* Albert Einstein *cough*) Recently, however, there has been an effort to remove some of the mystery surrounding this species and correct the outdated stereotypes.

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Scientia normalis archetype. Image source

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Health literacy — It ain’t just about education

By Silver Lumsdaine

Literacy Drug_Package_Insert
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration – Drug Package Insert (FDA 115)

“The great enemy of communication…is the illusion of it.” –William H. Whyte

What if 9 out of every 10 Americans had trouble understanding and responding to ordinary traffic signs? It would be a national emergency, of course. Imagine the chaos, the crashes, and the loss of life that would occur if people didn’t know how to interpret stop signs, one way signs, do not enter signs, speed limits, and sharp curve ahead warnings. The public’s health and safety would be in grave danger and immediate action would be required.

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How fireflies illuminated our understanding of the world

By Noah Steinfeld

In the early 1950s at Johns Hopkins University, William E. McElroy, a young professor, wanted to figure out what makes fireflies glow. He would pay a quarter to children in the Baltimore area for every 100 fireflies they brought him. McElroy was regarded as a curiosity in the community: the stereotype of an eccentric scientist. But what these people didn’t know was that as a result of this research, McElroy would one day create a tool that would revolutionize the way scientists do biological research.

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