Category Archives: sscience education

Science literacy and illiteracy according to the US National Academy of Sciences

Phys.org is hosting a commentary by Mike Klymkowsky on the recent report (Science Literacy: Concepts, Contexts, and Consequences) published the US National Academy of Sciences in an Oct. 18, 2016 news item,

Scientific literacy – what it is, how to recognize it, and how to help people achieve it through educational efforts, remains a difficult topic. The latest attempt to inform the conversation is a recent National Academy report “Science Literacy: concepts, contexts, and consequences.”

While there is lots of substance to take away from the report, three quotes seem particularly telling to me. The first is from Roberts [D. A. Roberts] that points out that scientific literacy has “become an umbrella concept with a sufficiently broad, composite meaning that it meant both everything, and nothing specific, about science education and the competency it sought to describe.” The second quote, from the report’s authors, is that “In the field of education, at least, the lack of consensus surrounding science literacy has not stopped it from occupying a prominent place in policy discourse” (p. 2.6). And finally, “the data suggested almost no relationship between general science knowledge and attitudes about genetically modified food, a potentially negative relationship between biology-specific knowledge and attitudes about genetically modified food, and a small, but negative relationship between that same general science knowledge measure and attitudes toward environmental science.”

"Flat Earth” The Flammarion engraving (1888) Wikipedia [downloaded from http://blogs.plos.org/scied/2016/10/16/recognizing-scientific-literacy-illiteracy/]

“Flat Earth” The Flammarion engraving (1888) Wikipedia [downloaded from http://blogs.plos.org/scied/2016/10/16/recognizing-scientific-literacy-illiteracy/]

The commentary was originally published on Klymkowsky’s Oct. 16, 2016 posting on Sci-Ed, a Public Library of Science (PLOS) blog where you find a list of references including one for D. A. Roberts at the end of the post,

… what is added when we move to scientific in contrast to standard literacy, what is missing from the illiterate response.  At the simplest level we are looking for mistakes, irrelevancies, failures in logic, or in recognizing contradictions within the answer, explanation or critique. The presence of unnecessary language suggests, at the very least, a confused understanding of the situation.[3]  A second feature of a scientifically illiterate response is a failure to recognize the limits of scientific knowledge; this includes an explicit recognition of the tentative nature of science, combined with the fact that some things are, theoretically, unknowable scientifically.  For example, is “dark matter” real or might an alternative model of gravity remove its raison d’être?[4]

For me, one of the more intriguing ideas Klymkowsky explores is scientific illiteracy in the scientific community (from the Oct. 16, 2016 PLOS posting),

There are also suggestions of scientific illiteracy (or perhaps better put, sloppy and/or self-serving thinking) in much of the current “click-bait” approach to the public dissemination of scientific ideas and observations.  All too often, scientific practitioners, who we might expect to be as scientifically literate as possible, abandon the discipline of science to make claims that are over-arching and often self-serving (this is, after all, why peer-review is necessary).

A common example [of scientific illiteracy practiced by scientists and science communicators] is provided by studies of human disease in “model” organisms, ranging from yeasts to non-human primates. While there is no doubt that such studies have been, and continue to be critical to understanding how organisms work (and certainly deserving of public and private support) – their limitations need to be made explicit, while a mouse that displays behavioral defects (for a mouse) might well provide useful insights into the mechanisms involved in human autism, an autistic mouse may well be a scientific oxymoron.

Discouraging scientific illiteracy within the scientific community is challenging, particularly in the highly competitive, litigious,[5] and high stakes environment we currently find ourselves in.[6]  How to best help our students, both within and without scientific disciplines, avoid scientific illiteracy remains unclear, but is likely to involve establishing a culture of Socratic discourse (as opposed to posturing). ….

I recommend reading the commentary in its entirety. You might also want to check out Klymkowsky’s website here.

Finally, the US National Academy of Sciences report, Science Literacy: Concepts, Contexts, and Consequences is available as a free download.

Oil company sponsorships: Science Museum (London, UK) and Canada’s Museum of Science and Technology

Wonderlab: The Statoil Gallery opened in London’s (UK) Science Museum on Oct. 12, 2016 and it seems there are a couple of controversies. An Oct. 17, 2016 article by Chris Garrard outlines the issues (Note: Links have been removed),

What do you wonder?” That is the question the Science Museum has been asking for many months now, in posters, celebrity videos and in online images. It’s been part of the museum’s strategy to ramp up excitement around its new “Wonderlab” gallery, a space full of interactive science exhibits designed to inspire children. But what many have been wondering is how Statoil, a major oil and gas company with plans to drill up to seven new wells in the Arctic [emphasis mine], was allowed to become the gallery’s title sponsor? Welcome to Wonderlab – the Science Museum’s latest ethical contradiction.

In Australia, Statoil is still considering plans to drill a series of ultra deepwater wells in the Great Australian Bight – an internationally recognised whale sanctuary – despite the decision this week of its strategic partner, BP, to pull out. …

The company’s sponsorship of Wonderlab may look like a generous gesture from outside but in reality, Statoil is buying a social legitimacy it does not deserve – and it is particularly sinister to purchase that legitimacy at the expense of young people who will inherit a world with an unstable climate. This is an attempt to associate the future of science and technology with fossil fuels at a time when society and policy makers have finally accepted that that it is not compatible with a sustainable future and a stable climate. As the impacts of climate change intensify and the world shifts away from fossil fuels, the Science Museum will look ever more out of touch with the words “the Statoil gallery” emblazoned upon its walls.

The Science Museum has previously had sponsorship deals with a range of unethical sponsors, from arms companies such as Airbus, to other fossil fuel companies such as BP and Shell. When Shell’s influence over the Science Museum’s climate science gallery was unearthed last year following Freedom of Information requests, the museum’s director, Ian Blatchford, sought to defend the museum’s engagement with fossil fuel funders. He wrote “When it comes to the major challenges facing our society, from climate change to inspiring the next generation of engineers, we need to be engaging with all the key players including governments, industry and the public, not hiding away in a comfortable ivory tower.”

In reality, Blatchford is the one in the ivory tower – and not just because of the museum’s ties to Statoil. Wonderlab replaces the museum’s Launchpad gallery, a hub of interactive science exhibits designed to engage and inspire children. But unlike its predecessor, Wonderlab comes with an entry charge. Earlier this year, the science communication academic Dr Emily Dawson noted that “charging for the museum’s most popular children’s gallery sends a clear message that science is for some families, but not for all”. Thus Wonderlab represents a science communication mess as well as an ethical one.

While the museum’s decision to offer free school visits will allow some children from disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity to experience Wonderlab, Dawson argues that “it is not enough to use school visits as a panacea for exclusive practice”. Research recently undertaken by the Wellcome Trust showed that likelihood of visiting a science museum or centre is related to social class. Entry charges are not the only obstacle in the way of public access to science, but perhaps the most symbolic for a major cultural institution – particularly where the primary audience is children.

Garrard does note that museums have challenges, especially when they are dealing with funding cuts as they are at the Science Museum.

The sponsorship issue may sound familiar to Canadians as we had our own controversy in 2012 with Imperial Oil and its sponsorship of the Canada Science and Technology Museum’s show currently named, ‘Let’s Talk Energy‘ still sponsored by Imperial Oil. Here’s more from my June 13, 2012 posting,

They’ve been going hot and heavy at Canada’s national museums in Ottawa this last few months. First, there was a brouhaha over corporate patronage and energy in January 2012 and, again, in April 2012 and now, it’s all about sex. While I’m dying to get started on the sex, this piece is going to follow the chronology.

The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) website has a Jan. 23, 2012 posting which notes the active role Imperial Oil played in a November 2011  energy exhibit (part of a multi-year, interactive national initiative, Let’s Talk Energy)  at the Canada Science and Technology Museum (from the CBC Jan. 23, 2012 posting),

Imperial Oil, a sponsor of the Museum of Science and Technology’s exhibition “Energy: Power to Choose,” was actively involved in the message presented to the public, according to emails obtained by CBC News.

The Ottawa museum unveiled the exhibition last year despite criticism from environmental groups like the Sierra Club, which questioned why it was partly funded by the Imperial Oil Foundation, which contributed $600,000 over six years.

Apparently, CBC reporters got their hands on some emails where the Imperial Oil Foundation president, Susan Swan, made a number of suggestions,

In an Oct. 3 [2011] interview on CBC Ottawa’s All in a Day, host Alan Neal asked exhibit curator Anna Adamek whose idea it was to include in the exhibit a reference that says oilsands account for one-tenth of one percent of global emissions.

“This fact comes from research reports that are available at the museum, that were commissioned by the museum,” Adamek told Neal.

But earlier emails from Imperial Oil Foundation president Susan Swan obtained by Radio-Canada through an Access to Information request show she had recommended that information be included back in May [2011?].

Swan, who also served as chair of the advisory committee to the project, also asked that information be included that the oilsands are expected to add $1.7 trillion to the Canadian economy over the next 25 years.

Not all of Swan’s requests made it into the final exhibit: in one point, she asked that an illustration for Polar Oil and Gas Reserves be changed from red to blue, arguing red “has a negative connotation” bringing to mind “blood oil.” The change was not made.

Personally, I love Swan’s semiotic analysis of the colour ‘red’. I wonder how many graphic designers have been driven mad by someone who sat through a lecture or part of a television programme on colour and/or semiotics and is now an expert.

If you’re curious, you can see the emails from the Imperial Oil Foundation in the CBC Jan. 23, 2012 posting.

A few months later, Barrick Gold (a mining corporation) donated $1M to have a room at the Canadian Museum of Nature renamed, from the April 24, 2012 posting on the CBC website,

Environmental groups are upset over a decision to rename a room at the Canadian Museum of Nature after corporate mining giant Barrick Gold.

Barrick Gold Corp., based out of Toronto, purchased the room’s naming rights for about $1 million. The new “Barrick Salon” is the museum’s premier rental space featuring a circular room with glass windows from floor to ceiling.

The decision had activists protest at the museum Tuesday, a few hours before the official naming reception that includes Barrick Gold executives.

“It’s definitely not a partnership, it’s a sponsorship,” said Elizabeth McCrea, the museum’s director of communications. “We’re always looking at increasing self-generated revenue and this is one way that we’re doing it.” [emphasis mine]

Monarchs and wealthy people have been funding and attempting to influence cultural institutions for millenia. These days, we get to include corporations on that list but it’s nothing new. People or institutions with power and money always want history or facts * presented in ways that further or flatter their interests (“history is written by the victors”). They aren’t always successful but they will keep trying.

It’s hard to be high-minded when you need money but it doesn’t mean you should give up on the effort.

STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) at Marvel Comics

Thanks to David Bruggeman’s Aug. 20, 2016 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog for this tidbit from Marvel Comics (Note: A link has been removed),

This week Marvel announced that several of its titles will have STEAM-themed variant covers.  Readers are likely familiar with the STEM acronym – science, technology, engineering and math.  STEAM adds art to the acronym, and can be favored by some advocates (who are generally objecting to the crowding out of many subjects in American education).

In November [2016] Marvel will issue variant covers for five of its titles, each one corresponding to a category in STEAM. …

An Aug. 19, 2016 article by Xavier Harding for Popular Science provides more information and preview images for the covers,

Marvel heroes are no strangers to science. Characters like Bruce Banner, Peter Parker, Reed Richards and many more all have ties in science as either part-time, or full-time, scientists. Keeping with their science-based roots, Marvel’s latest crop of characters are engaging in the science fun as well.

In an attempt to spark interest in math and the sciences amongst readers, Marvel will introduce STEAM variant covers. Each cover will represent one of the themes relating to science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. The education-themed Marvel covers will hit stands November 2016.

In a statement issued by Marvel, senior vice president of sales & marketing David Gabriel mentions how Marvel’s characters have inspired fans for ages. “With our new STEAM variants, we plan to continue to motivate our fans to explore their passions in the fields of science, technology, engineering, art, and math,” said Gabriel, “and present these disciplines through some of our favorite young heroes who are doing just that – following their dreams and preparing for the challenges that await them ahead.”

Moon Girl: Science

Moon Girl Marvel STEAM cover

Marvel

The Moon Girl, Lunella Lafayette, covers Marvel’s STEAM-branded issue.

*Iron*-Man Cover: Engineering

Ironheart

Marvel

Invincible Iron Man

Riri Williams will be know known as Ironheart

Champions Cover: Arts

Marvel STEAM branded cover

Marvel

Marvel STEAM branded cover

Starring Spider-Man, Ms. Marvel, Nova, Incredible Hulk, Viv and teenage Cyclops, this cover offers the Arts in STEAM.

I miss the days when you could find comic books at drugstores. In order to find these, I’ll have to make a special effort.

*’ron’ changed to ‘Iron’ on Sept. 14, 2016.

Dear Science Minister Kirsty Duncan and Science, Innovation and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains: a Happy Canada Day! open letter

Dear Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan and Minister of Science, Innovation and Economic Development Navdeep Bains,

Thank you both. It’s been heartening to note some of the moves you’ve made since entering office. Taking the muzzles off Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada scientists was a big relief and it was wonderful to hear that the mandatory longform census was reinstated along with the Experimental Lakes Area programme. (Btw, I can’t be the only one who’s looking forward to hearing the news once Canada’s Chief Science Officer is appointed. In the fall, eh?)

Changing the National Science and Technology week by giving it a news name “Science Odyssey” and rescheduling it from the fall to the spring seems to have revitalized the effort. Then, there was the news about a review focused on fundamental science (see my June 16, 2016 post). It seems as if the floodgates have opened or at least communication about what’s going on has become much freer. Brava and Bravo!

The recently announced (June 29, 2016) third assessment on the State of S&T (Science and Technology) and IR&D (Industrial Research and Development; my July 1, 2016 post features the announcement) by the Council of Canadian Academies adds to the impression that you both have adopted a dizzying pace for science of all kinds in Canada.

With the initiatives I’ve just mentioned in mind, it would seem that encouraging a more vital science culture and and re-establishing science as a fundamental part of Canadian society is your aim.

Science education and outreach as a whole population effort

It’s facey to ask for more but that’s what I’m going to do.

In general, the science education and outreach efforts in Canada have focused on children. This is wonderful but not likely to be as successful as we would hope when a significant and influential chunk of the population is largely ignored: adults. (There is a specific situation where outreach to adults is undertaken but more about that later.)

There is research suggesting that children’s attitudes to science and future careers is strongly influenced by their family. From my Oct. 9, 2013 posting,

One of the research efforts in the UK is the ASPIRES research project at King’s College London (KCL), which is examining children’s attitudes to science and future careers. Their latest report, Ten Science Facts and Fictions: the case for early education about STEM careers (PDF), is profiled in a Jan. 11, 2012 news item on physorg.com (from the news item),

Professor Archer [Louise Archer, Professor of Sociology of Education at King’s] said: “Children and their parents hold quite complex views of science and scientists and at age 10 or 11 these views are largely positive. The vast majority of children at this age enjoy science at school, have parents who are supportive of them studying science and even undertake science-related activities in their spare time. They associate scientists with important work, such as finding medical cures, and with work that is well paid.

“Nevertheless, less than 17 per cent aspire to a career in science. These positive impressions seem to lead to the perception that science offers only a very limited range of careers, for example doctor, scientist or science teacher. It appears that this positive stereotype is also problematic in that it can lead people to view science as out of reach for many, only for exceptional or clever people, and ‘not for me’. [emphases mine]

Family as a bigger concept

I suggest that ‘family’ be expanded to include the social environment in which children operate. When I was a kid no one in our family or extended group of friends had been to university let alone become a scientist. My parents had aspirations for me but when it came down to brass tacks, even though I was encouraged to go to university, they were much happier when I dropped out and got a job.

It’s very hard to break out of the mold. The odd thing about it all? I had two uncles who were electricians which when you think about it means they were working in STEM (science, technology,engineering, mathematics) jobs. Electricians, then and now. despite their technical skills, are considered tradespeople.

It seems to me that if more people saw themselves as having STEM or STEM-influenced occupations: hairdressers, artists, automechanics, plumbers, electricians, musicians, etc., we might find more children willing to engage directly in STEM opportunities. We might also find there’s more public support for science in all its guises.

That situation where adults are targeted for science outreach? It’s when the science is considered controversial or problematic and, suddenly, public (actually they mean voter) engagement or outreach is considered vital.

Suggestion

Given the initiatives you both have undertaken and Prime Minister Trudeau’s recent public outbreak of enthusiasm for and interest in quantum computing (my April 18, 2016 posting), I’m hopeful that you will consider the notion and encourage (fund?) science promotion programmes aimed at adults. Preferably attention-grabbing and imaginative programmes.

Should you want to discuss the matter further (I have some suggestions), please feel free to contact me.

Regardless, I’m very happy to see the initiatives that have been undertaken and, just as importantly, the communication about science.

Yours sincerely,

Maryse de la Giroday
(FrogHeart blog)

P.S. I very much enjoyed the June 22, 2016 interview with Léo Charbonneau for University Affairs,

UA: Looking ahead, where would you like Canada to be in terms of research in five to 10 years?

Dr. Duncan: Well, I’ll tell you, it breaks my heart that in a 10-year period we fell from third to eighth place among OECD countries in terms of HERD [government expenditures on higher education research and development as a percentage of gross domestic product]. That should never have happened. That’s why it was so important for me to get that big investment in the granting councils.

Do we have a strong vision for science? Do we have the support of the research community? Do we have the funding systems that allow our world-class researchers to do the work they want do to? And, with the chief science officer, are we building a system where we have the evidence to inform decision-making? My job is to support research and to make sure evidence makes its way to the cabinet table.

As stated earlier, I’m hoping you will expand your vision to include Canadian society, not forgetting seniors (being retired or older doesn’t mean that you’re senile and/or incapable of public participation), and supporting Canada’s emerging science media environment.

P.P.S. As a longstanding observer of the interplay between pop culture, science, and society I was much amused and inspired by news of Justin Trudeau’s emergence as a character in a Marvel comic book (from a June 28, 2016 CBC [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation] news online item),

Trudeau Comic Cover 20160628

The variant cover of the comic Civil War II: Choosing Sides #5, featuring Prime Minister Justin Trudeau surrounded by the members of Alpha Flight: Sasquatch, top, Puck, bottom left, Aurora, right, and Iron Man in the background. (The Canadian Press/Ramon Perez)

Make way, Liberal cabinet: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will have another all-Canadian crew in his corner as he suits up for his latest feature role — comic book character.

Trudeau will grace the variant cover of issue No. 5 of Marvel’s “Civil War II: Choosing Sides,” due out Aug. 31 [2016].

Trudeau is depicted smiling, sitting relaxed in the boxing ring sporting a Maple Leaf-emblazoned tank, black shorts and red boxing gloves. Standing behind him are Puck, Sasquatch and Aurora, who are members of Canadian superhero squad Alpha Flight. In the left corner, Iron Man is seen with his arms crossed.

“I didn’t want to do a stuffy cover — just like a suit and tie — put his likeness on the cover and call it a day,” said award-winning Toronto-based cartoonist Ramon Perez.

“I wanted to kind of evoke a little bit of what’s different about him than other people in power right now. You don’t see (U.S. President Barack) Obama strutting around in boxing gear, doing push-ups in commercials or whatnot. Just throwing him in his gear and making him almost like an everyday person was kind of fun.”

The variant cover featuring Trudeau will be an alternative to the main cover in circulation showcasing Aurora, Puck, Sasquatch and Nick Fury.

It’s not the first time a Canadian Prime Minister has been featured in a Marvel comic book (from the CBC news item),

Trudeau Comic Cover 20160628

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in 1979’s Volume 120 of The Uncanny X-Men. (The Canadian Press/Marvel)

Trudeau follows in the prime ministerial footsteps of his late father, Pierre, who graced the pages of “Uncanny X-Men” in 1979.

The news item goes on to describe artist/writer Chip Zdarsky’s (Edmonton-born) ideas for the 2016 story.

h/t to Reva Seth’s June 29, 2016 article for Fast Company for pointing me to Justin Trudeau’s comic book cover.

Music videos for teaching science and a Baba Brinkman update

I have two news bits concerning science and music.

Music videos and science education

Researchers in the US and New Zealand have published a study on how effective music videos are for teaching science. Hint: there are advantages but don’t expect perfection. From a May 25, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily,

Does “edutainment” such as content-rich music videos have any place in the rapidly changing landscape of science education? A new study indicates that students can indeed learn serious science content from such videos.

The study, titled ‘Leveraging the power of music to improve science education’ and published by International Journal of Science Education, examined over 1,000 students in a three-part experiment, comparing learners’ understanding and engagement in response to 24 musical and non-musical science videos.

A May 25, 2016 Taylor & Francis (publishers) press release, which originated the news item, quickly gets to the point,

The central findings were that (1) across ages and genders, K-16 students who viewed music videos improved their scores on quizzes about content covered in the videos, and (2) students preferred music videos to non-musical videos covering equivalent content.  Additionally, the results hinted that videos with music might lead to superior long-term retention of the content.

“We tested most of these students outside of their normal classrooms,” commented lead author Greg Crowther, Ph.D., a lecturer at the University of Washington.  “The students were not forced by their teachers to watch these videos, and they didn’t have the spectre of a low course grade hanging over their heads.  Yet they clearly absorbed important information, which highlights the great potential of music to deliver key content in an appealing package.”

The study was inspired by the classroom experiences of Crowther and co-author Tom McFadden [emphasis mine], who teaches science at the Nueva School in California.  “Tom and I, along with many others, write songs for and with our students, and we’ve had a lot of fun doing that,” said Crowther.  “But rather than just assuming that this works, we wanted to see whether we could document learning gains in an objective way.”

The findings of this study have implications for teacher practitioners, policy-makers and researchers who are looking for innovative ways to improve science education.  “Music will always be a supplement to, rather than a substitute for, more traditional forms of teaching,” said Crowther.  “But teachers who want to connect with their students through music now have some additional data on their side.”

The paper is quite interesting (two of the studies were run in the US and one in New Zealand) and I notice that Don McFadden of the Science Rap Academy is one of the authors (more about him later); here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Leveraging the power of music to improve science education by Gregory J. Crowther, Tom McFadden, Jean S. Fleming, & Katie Davis.  International Journal of Science Education
Volume 38, Issue 1, 2016 pages 73-95. DOI: 10.1080/09500693.2015.1126001 Published online: 18 Jan 2016

This paper is open access. As I noted earlier, the research is promising but science music videos are not the answer to all science education woes.

One of my more recent pieces featuring Tom McFadden and his Science Rap Academy is this April 21, 2015 posting. The 2016 edition of the academy started in January 2016 according to David Bruggeman’s Jan. 27, 2016 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog. You can find the Science Rap Academy’s YouTube channel here and the playlist here.

Canadian science rappers and musicians

I promised the latest about Baba Brinkman and here it is (from a May 14, 2016 notice received via email,

Not many people know this, but Dylan Thomas [legendary Welsh poet] was one of my early influences as a poet and one of the reasons I was inspired to pursue versification as a career. Well now Literature Wales has commissioned me to write and record a new rap/poem in celebration of Dylan Day 2016 (today [May 14, 20160) which I dutifully did. You can watch the video here to check out what a hip-hop flow and a Thomas poem have in common.

In other news, I’ll be performing a couple of one-off show over the next few weeks. Rap Guide to Religion is on at NECSS in New York on May 15 (tomorrow) [Note: Link removed as the event date has now been passed] and Rap Guide to Evolution is at the Reason Rally in DC June 2nd [2016]. I’m also continuing with the off-Broadway run of Rap Guide to Climate Chaos, recording the climate chaos album and looking to my next round of writing and touring, so if you have ideas about venues I could play please send me a note.

You can find out more about Baba Brinkman (a Canadian rapper who has written and  performed many science raps and lives in New York) here.

There’s another Canadian who produces musical science videos, Tim Blais (physicist and Montréaler) who was most recently featured here in a Feb. 12, 2016 posting. You can find a selection of Blais’ videos on his A Capella Science channel on YouTube.

A ‘Candy Crush’ like video game for malaria

Yesterday*, April 25, 2016 was* World Malaria Day and the launch date for a new video game according to an April 25, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily,

Shoot bubbles while helping research against malaria? It is possible with MalariaSpot Bubbles, an online game that launches on April 25, World Malaria Day. Players analyze digitalized images of parasites to differentiate between the five species that cause malaria. They do it while having fun shooting at mosquitoes and bubbles. It is an application to learning through play and to contribute to the research of new diagnosis methods. MalariaSpot Bubbles has been developed by researchers of the Biomedical Imaging Technologies Group at the Technical University of Madrid — International Excellence Campus Moncloa.

An April 25, 2016 Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (Technical University of Madrid) press release, which originated the news item, describes the game and the goal in more detail (Note 1: A link has been removed; Note 2: I believe this text was originally in Spanish and then translated by machine resulting in a few unusual grammatical structures),

MalariaSpot Bubbles is an educational tool to research how young students acquire skills through gaming. During World Malaria Day thousands of students will participate in “Olympic Malaria Videogames” playing MalariaSpot Bubbles, a video game that uses images of digitized blood samples. During this day school teams will compete to become the best virtual hunters of malaria parasites.

“Digital natives around the world spend millions of hours a day playing video games. MalariaSpot Bubbles is an experiment to explore this potential as a new solution to global health problems” says Daniel Cuadrado, MalariaSpot developer and researcher at the Technical University of Madrid.

Diagnosis for everyone by everyone

MalariaSpot Bubbles not only allow players to learn, but also to participate in the research of new tools for collaborative diagnosis online. Malaria is diagnosed by observing a blood smear with a microscope and looking for parasites. Part of the diagnostic protocol is to identify which of the five different species that cause malaria is present in the blood. “This is especially important to provide the proper treatment to the patients”, says María Linares, researcher at Hospital 12 de Octubre and MalariaSpot biomedical specialist. The aim of MalariaSpot Bubbles is to research if remote diagnosis could be performed collectively by non experts, expanding the concept initiated four years ago with the first version of the game MalariaSpot. This project has been recently featured in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet.

Here’s a video introduction to the game,

And, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper in Lancet,

Gamers join real-life fight against malaria and tuberculosis by Leonore Albers. Lancet Volume 16, No. 4, p418, April 2016 DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S1473-3099(16)00136-5

This paper is behind a paywall.

Should you wish to play, the MalariaSpot Bubbles website is here.

*Oops! ‘Today’ changed to ‘Yesterday’ and ‘is’ changed to ‘was’ since today is April 26, 2016.

Results in for Generation Nano: Small Science, Superheroes contest

The Generation Nano: Small Science, Superheroes contest last mentioned in my March 31, 2016 posting has ended and the placement of the winners, in a field of three finalists, announced at the 2016 USA Science and Engineering Festival according to an April 18, 2016 US National Science Foundation news release,

On behalf of the National Science Foundation (NSF), actor Wil Wheaton and legendary superhero creator Stan Lee yesterday announced the winners of the Generation Nano: Small Science, Superheroescompetition, sponsored by NSF and the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI).

The competition challenged high school students to think big — or, in this case, small — to create superheroes that harness their powers from nanotechnology.

Wheaton applauded the students’ creative storylines, noting that when he was Wesley Crusher on the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation, such plots were only imaginary. “It is amazing what is today plausible due to the power of nanotechnonlogy,” he said.

In a video introduction before Wheaton announced top prize winners, Stan Lee said it was “great that I can virtually join you today.” He remarked on the winners’ “creativity, ingenuity and initiative.”

“From one superhero storyteller to the next, congratulations,” Lee said.

The winners

  • First Prize: Eric Liu from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Virginia, for his “Nanoman,” who fights the malignant crab-monster “Cancer.”
  • Second Prize and the People’s Choice Award: Madeleine Chang from Bergen County Academies in New Jersey, for her superhero “Radio Blitz,” who disposes of local waste.
  • Third Prize: Vuong Mai from Martha Ellen Stilwell School of the Arts in Georgia, for her protector “Nine,” who dons a nanosuit for strength to save a kidnapping victim.

All weekend, the students displayed their superheroes and described the nanoscience behind them to thousands of attendees at the 2016 USA Science & Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C.

“All three finalists immersed themselves in the worlds of nanotechnology and art, told a great story, entertained and educated — all at the same time,” said Lisa Friedersdorf, deputy director of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office. “Their creations will surely motivate additional students to imagine and learn more about what is possible with nanotechnology.”

Top award winners in this competition show that with imagination and nanotechnology, possibilities abound, said Mihail C. Roco, NSF senior advisor for science and engineering and a key architect of NNI.

“These school students have aimed higher than ever in their lives, pushing their abilities in novel domains where seeds for their high-tech future may germinate,” Roco said. “We need a constant regeneration of new talent to exploit this general purpose science and technology field to its outstanding potential. These students are well on their way.”

Competition details

NSF and NNI challenges students to submit written entries explaining their superhero and nanotechnology-driven gear, along with a one-page comic or 90-second video. A panel of judges from academia and multimedia platforms selected semifinalists and finalists, from which the public selected Madeline Chang as its People’s Choice winner.

Top prizes were determined by judges Elise Lemle, director of special projects at Two Bit Circus; Lizabeth Fogel, director of Education for the Walt Disney Company and Chair of the Board for the Partnership for 21st Century Learning; and James Murday, director of physical sciences at the University of Southern California’s Washington, D.C., office of research advancement.

Visit the Generation Nano competition website for competition details such as eligibility criteria, entry guidelines, timeline, prizes and videos/comics from the finalists and semifinalists. And stay tuned for information on next year’s competition.

Here’s a photo of Wil Wheaton officiating at the ceremony,

Actor, writer and blogger Wil Wheaton hosted the Gen Nano competition award ceremony.

Actor, writer and blogger Wil Wheaton hosted the Gen Nano competition award ceremony. Courtesy of the NSF.

Honestly, this could be anyone but there are videos of the ceremony featuring Wil Wheaton, each of the winner’s pieces, and Stan Lee attending the ceremony virtually (five videos in all).

A science communication education program in Australia

Alan Alda (US actor and science communicator) was invited to celebrate the opening of the Australia National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science (CPAS) on Tuesday, March 8, 2016 according to a March 8, 2016 CPAS press release (Note: Links have been removed),

Actor Alan Alda, best known for his starring role in the television series M*A*S*H, opened new facilities for CPAS today [March 8, 2016].

Mr Alda, US Ambassador to Australia his Excellency John Berry, ANU [Australian National University] Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt, and CPAS Director Professor Joan Leach opened the new building with speeches in the greenery of University Avenue, followed by ribbon cutting at the new CPAS office.

The opening follows a new partnership agreement between CPAS and the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, based in Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism in the United States.

Mr Alda is a visiting professor in Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism and was a founding member of the Alda Center in 2009. His vision was to teach scientists the skills he had mastered as an actor to help them communicate better with policymakers and the public.

Mr Alda said it was time for CPAS and the Alan Alda Centre to join forces and to start collaborating.

“It couldn’t be better. We both have something to offer the other,” Mr Alda said.

“The Centre here has an extraordinary grasp of the history and theory of science communication. We have in turn innovative ways of teaching the actual skills of communication.

“We have turned many people who are not comfortable facing an audience, or even worse comfortable facing an audience but making an audience uncomfortable facing them, we’ve turned them into master communicators, and they are happy about it and their science is reaching the pubic.”

Professor Schmidt said the new facilities celebrated the partnership between ANU and the Alan Alda Center and he looked forward to seeing the result of the new collaboration.

“CPAS is one of the jewels in the crown of ANU,” Professor Schmidt said.

“The centre is Australia’s oldest and most diverse academic science communication centre, and it was formed in 1996. It took very special people to come up with the vision for CPAS, and its development blazed a trail that has been emulated since by other institutions.”

The event was completed by a two hour workshop for CPAS students and stuff run by Alda Center Associate Director, Dr Christine O’Connell, and Mr Alda. The workshop was the first taste of the collaborative exchange yet to come between the two institutions.

There is a March 10, 2016 interview/chat with Alan Alda by Rod Lambert and Will Grant featuring text and audio files on The Conversation.com (Note: Links have been removed),

Rod: Did you experience any particular kinds of resistance to try to sell this message that scientists should communicate more?

Alan: Ten or 15 years ago, when I began trying to sell this idea, I did get plenty of resistance. I don’t know how many universities I talked to, it was just a handful, but I didn’t get any enthusiasm until I talked to Stony Brook University in New York, and they started the Center for Communicating Science there, which I’m so thrilled is now collaborating with the National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science. It’s like a dream come true, you’re our first international affiliation.

Rod: You’re welcome. Obviously there’s nothing in it for us, we’re just doing this out of the kindness of our hearts (laughs).

Alan: Ha ha ha, well you’ve got all this experience. We’ve got some pretty innovative ideas that we’ve been working on. We kind of use the Stony Brook University setting as our laboratory and we then spread what we’ve learned around the States.

Now we will be sharing it with you and we hope to get your innovations and ideas, and help to share them because we now have the network that’s growing. Every month, it gets a little larger.

We have 17 universities and medical schools and institutions in America that are hooked into this network. We’re going to be sharing all the things, all the creative ideas that come out of each of these places.

That really appeals to me because the people who really want to see communication thrive, the communication of science, they get so enthused about it. It’s hard to get them to stop working night and day on it because you see the results blooming and it makes me very happy.

They also cover Alda’s disinterest in becoming a doctor (ironic given that he’s probably best known for his role as a doctor in the MASH television series) and his presence at the March 9 – 13, 2016 World Science Festival in Brisbane.

For anyone who may recognize the World Science Festival name, it’s the progenitor for this event in Australia (from the World Science Festival in Brisbane About page),

The World Science Festival began in New York in 2008 and is an annual weeklong celebration and exploration of science. Through gripping debates, original theatrical works, interactive explorations, musical performances, intimate salons, and major outdoor experiences, the Festival takes science out of the laboratory and into the streets, parks, museums, galleries and premier performing arts venues of New York City.

The World Science Festival brings together great minds in science and the arts to produce live and digital content that presents the wonders of science and the drama of scientific discovery to a broad general audience. Hailed a “new cultural institution” by the New York Times, the Festival has featured scientific and cultural luminaries including Stephen Hawking, Maggie Gyllenhaal, E.O. Wilson, John Lithgow, Sir Paul Nurse, Glenn Close, Harold Varmus, Yo-Yo Ma, Steven Weinberg, Philip Glass, Eric Lander, Steven Chu, Chuck Close, Richard Leakey, Bobby McFerrin, Sylvia Earle, Anna Deavere Smith, Oliver Sacks, Liev Schreiber, Mary-Claire King, Charlie Kaufman, Bill T. Jones, John Hockenberry, Elizabeth Vargas among many others. The annual Festivals have collectively drawn more than 1.3 million visitors since 2008, and millions more have viewed the programs online.

World Science U is the Foundation’s online education arm where students and lifelong learners can dive more deeply through artfully produced digital education content presented by world-renowned scientists.

The World Science Festival is a production of the World Science Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation headquartered in New York City. The Foundation’s mission is to cultivate a general public informed by science, inspired by its wonder, convinced of its value, and prepared to engage with its implications for the future.

WSF Brisbane

The inaugural World Science Festival Brisbane will bring some of the world’s greatest thought leaders to Queensland, showcase local scientists and performers from around the Asia Pacific region, and host the brightest and the best from previous events in New York.

At the World Science Festival Brisbane, the biggest stars of science will present the beauty, complexity, and importance of science through diverse, multidisciplinary programming that is the World Science Festival signature. The inaugural World Science Festival Brisbane will take place between 9 and 13 March 2016 and is presented by the Queensland Museum.

Queensland Museum is located at South Bank in the heart of Brisbane’s Cultural Precinct, and is the most visited museum in Australia*. Permanent attractions include: the Sciencentre, which offers a wealth of interactive science and technology experiences; the Discovery Centre, the Lost Creatures: Stories from Ancient Queensland Gallery; and the Dandiiri Maiwar Aboriginal and Torres Islander Centre.

The Museum also regularly hosts national and international travelling exhibitions and offers a range of public and educational programs and activities, which attract more than 1 million visitors to the Cultural Precinct each year. Queensland Museum exhibits and stores a significant proportion of the State Collection and houses several research and conservation laboratories.

A little digging resulted in a few more details about this WSF Brisbane undertaking in a Media Kit for the 2016 inaugural event.

Exclusive rights have been granted to the Queensland Museum to present the event in the Asia-Pacific region for the next six years.

The inaugural World Science Festival Brisbane will bring some of the world’s greatest thought leaders  to Queensland, showcase local scientists and performers from around the Asia-Pacific region, and host the brightest and the best from previous events in New York.

The inaugural World Science Festival Brisbane will take place over four days and five nights across the South Bank Cultural Precinct from Wednesday 9 to Sunday 13 March 2016.

More than 100 scientific luminaries from nine countries will gather for the inaugural World Science Festival Brisbane at venues across the Cultural Precinct and South Bank.

Some of science’s brightest stars making special appearances at the festival include Emmy award-winning actor, author, science enthusiast and World Science Festival board member Alan Alda; Nobel Laureatephysicist  Brian Schmidt; pioneering marine biologist Sylvia Earle;  celebrated astronaut Andy Thomas; renowned physicist, best-selling author and festival co-founder Brian Greene, and many more.

Tracy Day, Co-Founder and CEO of the World Science Festival remarked, “By recasting science with art, music and story, we’re shifting science toward the centre of culture. We’re touching all those people  who love the arts but run the other way, when it comes to science.

Over 100 events (free and ticketed) make up the World Science Festival Brisbane program from Wednesday 9 – Sunday 13 March 2016. Highlights include:

• Celebrating the recent 100th Anniversary of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, two premiere performances and a deep dive into the science, impact and unresolved mysteries of Einstein’s most profound discovery:

− Light Falls – a new theatrical work featuring festival co-founder Brian Greene and an ensemble cast; written by Greene and created with composer Jeff Beal (“House of Cards”) and the 2015 Tony-award winning team from 59 Productions (An American in Paris);

− Dear Albert – a reading for the stage written by Alan Alda, featuring Jason Klarwein as Albert Einstein, with Anna McGahan and Christen O’Leary;

− Relativity Since Einstein – an illuminating exploration of Einstein’s ground-breaking insights, moderated by Greene and featuring a line-up of top thinkers in the field.

• Street Science! – a free two-day extravaganza for the whole family featuring everything from live turtle hatching, drones, coding workshops and robot combat to gastronomic demonstrations, taxidermy exhibitions and science-adventure storytelling

• New York Signature Events: The line-up for the inaugural WSF Brisbane includes six Signature Events straight from New York. Provocative, entertaining and accessible, these fast-paced programs explore ground-breaking discoveries, cutting-edge science and the latest technological innovations, guided by leading thinkers from around the world, including:

− Dawn of the Human Age – are we entering a new geological epoch: the Human Age?

 − Alien Life: Will We Know It When We Find It? Scientists across disciplines – astronomers, astrophysicists, and astrobiologists – are intensely studying the evolution of life on Earth and listening for signals from outer space to help identify life in the universe.

− The Moral Math of Robots – Can machines learn right from wrong? As the first generation of driverless cars and battlefield warbots filter into society, scientists are working to develop moral decision-making skills in robots. Break or swerve? Shoot or stand down?

• Diverse and uniquely fascinating events for general audiences and students that showcase scientists, researchers, philosophers, artists, authors, inventors and more, exploring and debating questions about the universe, our changing world, and the role science plays in some of the most urgent issues of our time. Including:

− Can We Save our Reefs in Time? – Global ideas that may help preserve our amazing natural reefs are on the agenda when leading experts discuss revolutionary scientific measures that could assist marine scientists and biologists determine exactly what’s happening to the Great Barrier Reef, and indeed reefs all over the world.

− Chasing Down the Comet – landing a spacecraft on a comet at 40,000 k mph, with scientists from the European Space Agency and NASA who actually did it.

− Catching up with the Jetsons: Cities in 2050 – world renowned scientists, urban planners, and futurists consider the future of the city.

−The Martian film and talk – a once in a lifetime opportunity hear an astronaut and a NASA scientist discuss whether the blockbuster movie gets the science right, with Andy Thomas and Pamela Conrad.

• Salon events that dive deeper into the science of specific topics with informal discussions challenging participants to consider their shared passions from a fresh perspective.

• Hands-on workshops where budding scientists can spend time with working scientists, learning about their fascinating work in fields as diverse as genetics, art conservation, biology, the environment, ichthyology, game design, zoology, palaeontology, robotics and sports engineering.

Congratulations to the organizers for pulling together an exciting programme. BTW, the original World Science Festival will be taking place June 1 – 5, 2016 in New York.

Getting back to CPAS and for anyone interested in it (the only institution that I’ve seen offering science communication degrees for undergraduates, masters, and PhDs), there’s more from their History page,

The roots of CPAS started to grow in the 1980s, when two ANU academics – physicist Dr Mike Gore (now Professor), the founder of Australia’s National Science and Technology Centre, Questacon, and biologist Professor Chris Bryant, then ANU Dean of Science – started up a Graduate Certificate in Science Communication program. They established it as a formal training program and recognised qualification for groups of postgraduate students who had been performing outreach science shows with Questacon since the early 1980s. That program has become the Master of Science Communication Outreach degree, still run by CPAS, which is the host program for the Shell Questacon Science Circus, still run by Questacon.

In 1996 the ANU employed Dr Sue Stocklmayer (now Professor) as a new science communication academic to work full time on developing the program and other science communication teaching and research ventures at the University. It was she who proposed the establishment of a Centre for the Public Awareness of Science. Professor Bryant was the first CPAS Director, but stepped aside in 1998, when Dr Stocklmayer took the reins. She remained the Director until 2015. In 2016, Professor Joan Leach assumed the role of CPAS Director.

The ibis was chosen as the CPAS mascot because it was the totem symbol of the Egyptian god Thoth, God of Science and Wisdom and Scribe of the Gods. The Ibis is also a ubiquitous travelling bird.

The opening ceremony for CPAS was performed by Professor Richard Dawkins, the first Charles Simonyi professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford. After receiving an honorary degree (Hon D Litt) from the University he spent the rest of the afternoon at CPAS, in its old quarters of what is now the Peter Baume Buiding. There he cracked a ceremonial ‘ibis egg’ and mixed with members of the university. Photos of the event can be seen below.

Since its humble origins CPAS has become a world class science communication centre, growing in staff and student numbers, offering science communication education at all levels from undergraduate to PhD, building a comprehensive research program, and engaging in diverse science outreach and policy activities. CPAS staff regularly travel to numerous countries across the world, offering science communication education, training and support to science communicators, science centre staff and science teachers. In 2000 CPAS became an accredited Centre for the Australian National Commission for UNESCO. CPAS also boasts current partnerships with Questacon, Shell Australia, the National University of Singapore, the Government of Vietnam, the Australian Government’s Inspiring Australia program, the Science Communication Research and Education Network, and the Science Circus Africa initiative.

That’s all, folks.