Category Archives: science communication

Science for your imagination

David Bruggeman over on his Pasco Phronesis has two postings which highlight different approaches to communicating about science. His Aug. 31, 2014 posting features audio plays (Note: Links have been removed),

L.A. Theatre Works makes a large number of their works available via audio. Its Relativity series (H/T Scirens) is a collection of (at this writing) 25 plays with science and technology either as themes and/or as forces driving the action of the play. You’re certainly familiar with War of the Worlds, and you may have heard of the plays Arcadia and Copenhagen. The science covered in these plays is from a number of different fields, and some works will try to engage the audience on the social implications of how science is conducted. The casts have many familiar faces as well. …

You can find the Relativity Series website here where the home page features these (amongst others),

COMPLETENESS

Jason Ritter and Mandy Siegfried star in a new play about love between gun-shy young scientists.

BREAKING THE CODE

The story of Alan Turing, an early pioneer in computer science, and his struggle to live authentically while serving his country.

THE DOCTOR’S DILEMMA

A respected physician must choose between the lives of two terminally ill men in George Bernard Shaw’s sharp-tongued satire of the medical profession.

THE EXPLORERS CLUB

It’s London, 1879, and the members of the Explorers Club must confront their most lethal threat yet: the admission of a woman into their scientific ranks.

THE GREAT TENNESSEE MONKEY TRIAL

The Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925 comes to life as William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow square off over human evolution and the divide between faith and science.

PHOTOGRAPH 51

Miriam Margolyes stars as Rosalind Franklin, whose work led directly to the discovery of the DNA “double helix.”

DOCTOR CERBERUS

A teenage misfit is coming of age in the comforting glow of late-night horror movies. But when reality begins to intrude on his fantasy world, he realizes that hiding in the closet is no longer an option.

David’s Aug. 26, 2014 posting features Hieroglyph, a project from Arizona State University’s (ASU) Center for Science and the Imagination (Note: A link has been removed),

Next month [Sept. 2014] William Morrow will release Hieroglyph, a collection of science fiction short stories edited by the Director of the Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University.  The name of the collection is taken from a theory advanced by science fiction writer Neil [Neal] Stephenson, and a larger writing project of which this book is a part.  The Hieroglyph Theory describes the kind of science fiction that can motivate scientists and engineers to create a future.  A Hieroglyph story provides a complete picture of the future, with a compelling innovation as part of that future.  An example would be the Asimov model of robotics.

Heiroglyph was first mentioned here in a May 7, 2013 posting,

The item which moved me to publish today (May 7, 2013), Can Science Fiction Writers Inspire The World To Save Itself?, by Ariel Schwartz concerns the Hieroglyph project at Arizona State University,

Humanity’s lack of a positive vision for the future can be blamed in part on an engineering culture that’s more focused on incrementalism (and VC funding) than big ideas. But maybe science fiction writers should share some of the blame. That’s the idea that came out of a conversation in 2011 between science fiction author Neal Stephenson and Michael Crow, the president of Arizona State University.

If science fiction inspires scientists and engineers to create new things–Stephenson believes it can–then more visionary, realistic sci-fi stories can help create a better future. Hence the Hieroglyph experiment, launched this month as a collaborative website for researchers and writers. Many of the stories created on the platform will go into a HarperCollins anthology of fiction and non-fiction, set to be published in 2014.

As it turns out, William Morrow Books is a a HarperCollins imprint. You can read a bit more about the book and preview some of the contents from the Scribd.com Hieroglyph webpage which includes this table of contents (much better looking in the Scribd version),

CONTENTS
FOREWORD—
LAWRENCE M. KRAUSS vii
PREFACE: INNOVATION STARVATION—NEAL STEPHENSON xiii
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS xxi
INTRODUCTION: A BLUEPRINT FOR BETTER DREAMS—ED FINN AND KATHRYN CRAMER xxiii
ATMOSPHÆRA INCOGNITA—NEAL STEPHENSON 1
GIRL IN WAVE : WAVE IN GIRL—KATHLEEN ANN GOONAN 38
BY THE TIME WE GET TO ARIZONA—MADELINE ASHBY 74
THE MAN WHO SOLD THE MOON—CORY DOCTOROW 98
JOHNNY APPLEDRONE VS. THE FAA—LEE KONSTANTINOU 182
DEGREES OF FREEDOM—KARL SCHROEDER 206
TWO SCENARIOS FOR THE FUTURE OF SOLAR ENERGY—ANNALEE NEWITZ 243
A HOTEL IN ANTARCTICA—GEOFFREY A. LANDIS 254
PERIAPSIS—JAMES L. CAMBIAS 283
THE MAN WHO SOLD THE STARS—GREGORY BENFORD 307
ENTANGLEMENT—VANDANA SINGH 352
ELEPHANT ANGELS—BRENDA COOPER 398
COVENANT—ELIZABETH BEAR 421
QUANTUM TELEPATHY—RUDY RUCKER 436
TRANSITION GENERATION—DAVID BRIN 466
THE DAY IT ALL ENDED—CHARLIE JANE ANDERS 477
TALL TOWER—BRUCE STERLING 489
SCIENCE AND SCIENCE FICTION: AN INTERVIEW WITH PAUL DAVIES 515
ABOUT THE EDITORS 526
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS 527

Good on the organizers for being able to follow through on their promise to have something published by HarperCollins in 2014.

This book is not ASU’s Center for Science and the Imagination’s only activity. In November 2014, Margaret Atwood, an internationally known Canadian novelist, will visit the center (from the center’s home page),

Internationally renowned novelist and environmental activist Margaret Atwood will visit Arizona State University this November to discuss the relationship between art and science, and the importance of creative writing and imagination for addressing social and environmental challenges.

Atwood’s visit will mark the launch of the Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative, a new collaborative venture at ASU among the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives, the Center for Science and the Imagination and the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. Atwood, author of the MaddAddam trilogy of novels that have become central to the emerging literary genre of climate fiction, or “CliFi,” will offer the inaugural lecture for the initiative on Nov. 5.

“We are proud to welcome Margaret Atwood, one of the world’s most celebrated living writers, to ASU and engage her in these discussions around climate, science and creative writing,” said Jewell Parker Rhodes, founding artistic director for the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing and the Piper Endowed Chair at Arizona State University. “A poet, novelist, literary critic and essayist, Ms. Atwood epitomizes the creative and professional excellence our students aspire to achieve.”

Focusing in particular on CliFi, the Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative will explore how imaginative skills can be harnessed to create solutions to climate challenges, and question whether and how creative writing can affect political decisions and behavior by influencing our social, political and scientific imagination.

“ASU is a leader in exploring how creativity and the imagination drive the arts, sciences, engineering and humanities,” said Ed Finn, director of the Center for Science and the Imagination. “The Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative will use the thriving CliFi genre to ask the hard questions about our cultural relationship to climate change and offer compelling visions for sustainable futures.”

The multidisciplinary Initiative will bring together researchers, artists, writers, decision-makers and the public to engage in research projects, teaching activities and events at ASU and beyond. The three ASU programs behind the Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative have a track record for academic and public engagement around innovative programs, including the Sustainability Solutions Festival; Emerge; and the Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference.

“Imagining how the future could unfold in a climatically changing world is key to making good policy and governance decisions today,” said Manjana Milkoreit, a postdoctoral fellow with the Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives. “We need to know more about the nature of imagination, its relationship to scientific knowledge and the effect of cultural phenomena such as CliFi on our imaginative capabilities and, ultimately, our collective ability to create a safe and prosperous future.”

Kind of odd they don’t mention Atwood’s Canadian, eh?

There’s lots more on the page which features news bits and articles, as well as, event information. Coincidentally, another Canuck (assuming he retains his citizenship after several years in the US) visited the center on June 7, 2014 to participate in an event billed as ‘An evening with Nathan Fillion and friends;; serenity [Joss Whedon's tv series and movie], softwire, and science of science fiction’. A June 21, 2014 piece (on the center home page) by Joey Eschrich describes the night in some detail,

Nathan Fillion may very well be the friendliest, most unpretentious spaceship captain, mystery-solving author and science fiction heartthrob in the known universe. The “ruggedly handsome” star of TV’s “Castle” was the delight of fans as he headlined a fundraiser on the Arizona State University campus in Tempe, June 7 [2014].

The “Serenity, Softwire, and the Science of Science Fiction” event, benefiting the ASU Department of English and advertised as an “intimate evening for a small group of 50 people,” included considerable face-time with Fillion, who in-person proved surprisingly similar to the witty, charming and compassionate characters he plays on television and in film.

Starring with Fillion in the ASU evening’s festivities were science fiction author PJ Haarsma (a close friend of Fillion’s) along with ASU professors Ed Finn, director of the Center for Science and the Imagination; Peter Goggin, a literacy expert in the Department of English and senior scholar with the Global Institute of Sustainability; and School of Earth and Space Exploration faculty Jim Bell, an astronomer, and Sara Imari Walker, an astrobiologist. In addition to the Department of English, sponsors included ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Center for Science and the Imagination.

The event began with each panelist explaining how he or she arrived at his or her respective careers, and whether science or science fiction played a role in that journey. All panelists pointed to reading and imagining as formational to their senses of themselves and their places in life.

A number of big questions were posed to the panelists: “What is the likelihood of life on other planets?” and “What is the physical practicality of traveling to other planets?” ASU scientists Bell and Walker deftly fielded these complex planetary inquiries, while Goggin and Finn explained how the intersection of science and humanities – embodied in science fiction books and film – encouraged children and scholars alike to think creatively about the future. Attendees reported that they found the conversation “intellectually stimulating and thought-provoking as well as fun and entertaining.”

During the ensuing discussion, Haarsma and Fillion bantered back and forth comically, as we are told they often do in real life, at one point raising the group’s awareness of the mission they have shared for many years: promoting reading in the lives of young people. The two founded the Kids Need to Read Foundation, which provides books to underserved schools and libraries. Fillion, the son of retired English teachers, attended Concordia University of Alberta [no], where he was a member of the Kappa Alpha Society, an organization that emphasizes literature and debate. His brother, Jeff, is a highly respected school principal. Fillion’s story about the importance of books and reading in his childhood home was a rare moment of seriousness for the actor.

The most delightful aspect of the evening, according to guests, was the good nature of Fillion himself, who arrived with Haarsma earlier than expected and stayed later than scheduled. Fillion spent several minutes with each individual or group of friends, laughing with them, using their phone cameras to snap group “selfies” and showing a genuine interest in getting to know them.

Audience members each received copies of science fiction books: Haarsma’s teen novel, “Softwire: Virus on Orbis I,” and the Tomorrow Project science fiction anthology “Cautions, Dreams & Curiosities,” which was co-produced by the Center for Science and the Imagination with Intel and the Society for Science & the Public. Guests presented their new books and assorted other items to Fillion and Haarsma for autographing and a bit more conversation before the evening came to a close. It was then time for Fillion to head back downtown to his hotel, but not before one cadre of friends “asked him to take one last group shot of us at the end of the night, to which he replied with a smile, ‘I thought you’d never ask.’”

Oops! Concordia University is in the province of Québec not Alberta which is home to the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta.

The evening with Nathan Fillion and friends was a fundraiser, participants were charged $250 each for one of 50 seats at the event, which means they raised $12,500 minus any expenses incurred. Good for them!

For anyone unfamiliar with P.J. Haarsma’s oeuvre, there’s this Wikipedia entry for The Softwire.

The next megathrust earthquake at Vancouver’s (Canada) August 26, 2014 Café Scientifique

Vancouver’s next Café Scientifique is being held in the back room of the The Railway Club (2nd floor of 579 Dunsmuir St. [at Seymour St.], Vancouver, Canada), on Tuesday, August 26,  2014 at 7:30 pm. Here’s the meeting description (from the August 19, 2014 announcement),

Our speaker for the evening will be Dr. Carlos Ventura,the Director of the Earthquake Engineering Research Facility (EERF) at the University of British Columbia.  The title of his talk is:

A Megathrust Earthquake in the West Coast – The clock is ticking

The theme of the talk is about the effects of megathrust earthquakes in the last ten years in the built environment, and the lessons that we have learned from them.  These are helping us understand better what would be the possible effects of the “big one” on the West Coast of BC.  Some of the research that we are doing at UBC to better understand the effects of this type of earthquake will be discussed.

From Dr. Carlos Ventura’s UBC Faculty webpage,

Dr. Carlos Ventura is currently the Director of the Earthquake Engineering Research Facility (EERF) at UBC and has more than 30 years of experience as a structural engineer.  Dr. Ventura’s areas of research are in Structural Dynamics and Earthquake Engineering. He has been conducting research on the dynamic behavior and analysis of structural systems subjected to extreme dynamic loads, including severe ground shaking for more than twenty years. His research work includes experimental studies in the field and in the laboratory of structural systems and components.   Research developments have included development and implementation of performance-based design methods for seismic retrofit of low rise school buildings, novel techniques for regional estimation of damage to structures during earthquakes, detailed studies on nonlinear dynamic analysis of structures and methods to evaluate the dynamic characteristics of large Civil Engineering structures. …

You can find out more about the Earthquake Engineering Research Facility (EERF) here.

Nominations for the 2014 John Maddox Prize (standing up for science) open ’til Aug. 20, 2014

The UK’s ‘sense about science’ organization is requesting nominations for its John Maddox Prize (or the ‘standing up for science’ prize). Its John Maddox Prize webpage provides some information about John Maddox and the prize (Note: A link has been removed),

The John Maddox Prize for standing up for science rewards an individual who has promoted sound science and evidence on a matter of public interest. Its emphasis is on those who have faced difficulty or hostility in doing so. Nominations of active researchers who have yet to receive recognition for their public-interest work are particularly welcomed.

Sir John Maddox, whose name this prize commemorates, was a passionate and tireless champion and defender of science, engaging with difficult debates and inspiring others to do the same. As a writer and editor, he changed attitudes and perceptions, and strove for better understanding and appreciation of science throughout his long working life.

The judges recognise that ‘standing up for science’ is likely to be controversial in the eyes of some. The prize will be awarded for specific achievements, and the decision will be final and not open to appeal. The winner is chosen by the judging panel. …

The prize is a joint initiative of Nature, where Sir John was editor for 22 years; the Kohn Foundation, whose founder Sir Ralph Kohn was a personal friend of Sir John’s, particularly through their Fellowship of the Royal Society; and Sense About Science, where Sir John served as a trustee until his death in 2009.

As for details about the nomination process, here’s more from the 2014 John Maddox Prize webpage,

The deadline for nominations is 11:59pm on 20th August 2014 BST.

The prize is open to nominations for any kind of public activity, including all forms of writing, speaking and public engagement, in any of the following areas:

Addressing misleading information about scientific or medical issues in any forum.
Bringing sound evidence to bear in a public or policy debate.
Helping people to make sense of a complex scientific issue.

The prize: £2000. The award is presented in October and an announcement of the winner will be published in Nature.

You may want to check out the 2014 nomination webpage further but the enthusiastic and/or impatient can find the nomination form here.

Colombia, copyright, and sharing a science thesis

You’d think that posting a thesis online while giving full attribution to the author would be considered laudable. Apparently, there’s one person in Colombia that disagrees. And, since many educational institutions ask for copies of a student’s thesis for inclusion in their academic libraries you might believe the making said thesis more widely available (most students would be thrilled at the attention to their work) wouldn’t pose a problem. Apparently the Colombia legal system disagrees as it is preparing to take a student to court (and possible to jail) for sharing scientific information.

While the story seems to be popping up everywhere, this Aug. 1, 2014 article by Kerry Gren for The Scientist acted as my first notice (Note: Links have been removed),

Three years ago, Diego Gómez, a conservation biology student at the University of Quindío in Colombia, posted another scientist’s graduate thesis online. “I thought it was something that could be of interested [sic] for other groups, so I shared it on the web,” Gómez wrote on the website of Fundación Karisma, an education advocacy group in Colombia. “I never imagined that this activity could be considered a crime.”

But the author of the thesis disagreed, and last year complained to the Colombian police about the posting. Gómez now faces up to eight years in jail and at least $6,000 in fines for violating copyright. His case highlights the plight of scientists in certain parts of the world who are less able to access and share scientific information.

This wouldn’t have gone far in a US court at all,” said Michael Carroll, the director of the Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property at American University’s Washington School of Law. [emphasis mine] “I’m really upset about this case,” he added. “It bothers me when copyright law gets in the way of scientists doing their science.” [emphasis mine]

While I too am bothered by copyright law being used to subvert science or, in this case, science sharing, Carroll’s comment about US courts (an indirect reference to US law) seems ironic after reading Tim Cushing’s July 28, 2014 Techdirt posting on the case (Note: Links have been removed),

Upload a document to Scribd, go to prison for at least four years. Ridiculous and more than a bit frightening, but in a case that has some obvious parallels with Aaron Swartz’s prosecution, that’s the reality Colombian student Diego Gomez is facing. In the course of his research, he came across a paper integral to his research. In order to ensure others could follow his line of thinking, Gomez uploaded this document for others to view.

According to Gomez, this was a common citation practice among Colombian students …

To be clear, Gomez did not try to profit from the paper. He also wasn’t acting as some sort of indiscriminate distributor of infringing works. But under Colombian law, none of that matters. But to really see who’s to blame here for this ridiculous level of rights enforcement, you have to look past the local laws, past the paper’s author and directly at the US government.

[Gomez] is being sued under a criminal law that was reformed in 2006, following the conclusion of a free trade agreement between Colombia and the United States. The new law was meant to fulfill the trade agreement’s restrictive copyright standards, and it expanded criminal penalties for copyright infringement, increasing possible prison sentences and monetary fines.

More details on the awfulness of Colombia’s law (spurred on by US special interests) are available in the EFF’s [Electronic Frontier Federation] earlier coverage. Colombia gave the US copyright industry everything it wanted in order to secure this free trade agreement… and then it just kept going. …

This bill was hastily passed as a welcoming gift for President Obama, shoved through the legislative process in order to get out ahead of the administration’s appearance at a Colombia-hosted conference. This deference to the US government could cost Gomez at least four years of his life.

While Colombia seemed very eager to take the worst parts of US copyright law (and make them even more terrible), it was less inclined to take any of the good. …

Beneath all of this lies the ugly reality of the academic research market. Just as in the US, plenty of useful information is locked up and inaccessible to anyone unable to afford the frequently exorbitant fees charged by various gatekeepers. Copyright’s original intent — “to promote the progress of science and the useful arts” — isn’t served by this behavior. …

Erik Stokstad’s July 31, 2014 article for ScienceInsider offers more details such as these,

In 2011, Gómez came across a master’s thesis, completed at the National University of Colombia in 2006, that would be useful for identifying amphibians he had seen in protected areas. He posted the thesis on Scribd to allow it to be easily downloaded by other researchers and students. At the time, the downloads were free. When Scribd started charging unregistered users $5 per download, Gómez removed the thesis.

The author of the thesis, a Colombian herpetologist, however, had already notified police that it had been posted without his permission. After being contacted by police, Gómez cooperated with the investigation. In April 2013, a criminal complaint was filed. This past fall, he learned that the office of the attorney general was going to bring the case to trial. Gómez “was in a panic,” says Carolina Botero, an attorney at Fundación Karisma, a digital rights advocacy organization in Bogotá, which is advocating on his behalf.

The Electronic Frontier Federation’s July 23, 2014 posting by Maira Sutton places this incident within an international context and outlines Colombia’s legal framework as it pertains to this case.

Diego Gomez has written about his situation (English language version and Spanish language version) as per some July 2014 postings.

As for Aaron Swartz mentioned in the excerpt from Tim Cushing’s Techdirt post, anyone unfamiliar with the case can find all the information they might want in this Wikipedia entry.

Rachel Carson (Silent Spring), the Royal Society, and men

Silent Spring, the book by Rachel Carson, has had an extraordinary impact in Canada, the US, and many other parts of the world. The 1962 publication of the book effectively launched the environmental movement.

Carson died two years after publication with the consequences that 2014 is the 50th anniversary of her death. Britain’s The Royal Society in partnership with the Royal Society of Literature is marking this anniversary with a public lecture and panel discussion on Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014 (6:30 – 7:30 pm at The Royal Society, London). This is an astonishing event for reasons to be discussed after reading a description: Writing Wrongs,

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Rachel Carson, the American conservationist responsible for putting the environment on the political agenda. When her masterpiece Silent Spring was published in 1962, she was attacked as savagely as Darwin on the publication of The Origin of the Species, but the book spurred a reversal in US pesticide policy and led to a ban on DDT and other pesticides. But does Silent Spring persuade because of the strength of its arguments, or the beauty of its language? And have Carson’s warnings been sufficiently heeded? John Burnside FRSL is a prize-winning poet, short-story writer and novelist. A passionate environmentalist, he contributes a regular nature column to the New Scientist. Professor John Pickett FRS is Scientific Leader of Chemical Ecology at Rothampstead Research, and a world authority on pest control. In a conversation chaired by Damian Carrington, Head of Environment at the Guardian, they will discuss the complementary roles of literature and science in saving the planet.

This event is free to attend and open to all. No tickets are required. Doors open at 6pm and seats will be allocated on a first-come-first-served basis.

Speech-to-text interpretation will be provided at this event.

If you require British Sign Language (BSL) interpretation please contact the events team no later than 2 weeks prior to the event and we would be happy to arrange an interpreter.

A live video will be available on this page when the event starts and a recorded video will be available a few days afterwards.

You’ll note that this is an all male panel, which is astonishing, given the number of female scientists working in the fields of environmental science and female writers of all stripes, especially in light of the raw sexism Carson was subjected to at the time her book was published. Victoria Johnson in her Aug. 7, 2014 posting on the Guardian science blog network supplies some context for concern not only about this particular event but others too (Note Links have been removed),

The problem is, Writing Wrongs has an all-male panel.

Debates about gender-balanced panels at conferences and public events are not new. In 2009 the group Feminist Philosophers set up a Gendered Conference Campaign, challenging the prevalence of all-male conferences in their field. In 2011, a group of gender equality advocates and activists pledged to boycott events with all-male panels. Then, in early 2013, journalist Rebecca Rosen took the rather novel step of asking men to sign a pledge to refuse speaking at or moderating events dominated by male contributors. More than 300 people signed the online pledge. But, within hours, it had to be anonymised because of the torrent of abusive comments.

Johnson then focuses specifically on Writing Wrongs event (Note: A link has been removed),

Earlier this week I wrote to the Royal Society asking why Writing Wrongs had an all-male panel. I even offered some suggestions for female speakers they might like to ask. My argument was that Carson is not only the most famous environmentalist and nature writer of the 20th century; she was also a female scientist who faced gender-based slurs from the mainstream media and naturally, vested interests, on the publication of Silent Spring. Keen to discredit the conclusions of her detailed analysis they dismissed her as a hysterical woman, unable to conduct objective research.

Not only was it strange to see an all-male panel, especially when I knew plenty of female science writers, academics and environmental journalists who would have been equally qualified to speak, it seemed entirely inappropriate given who had apparently inspired this event.

The Royal Society responded to my email. They’d asked a female chair, but she was unavailable. I was then told they were looking into other female speakers, but had needed to proceed with promotion of the event. Is it really that hard to find a female science writer or a leading academic working on pesticides? Not if you live in the 21st century and know how to use the Internet, write an email or operate a phone. I was then reassured, that sometimes; the Royal Society does have female representation on at important events. This was followed by some blurb and a link to their Equality and Diversity policy. Unfortunately, whenever I have challenged other event organisers on the lack of gender-balance, I have pretty much had the same response.

To get a sense for the quality of the vituperation that Carson experienced in 1962, there’s this from her Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),

Carson and the others involved with publication of Silent Spring expected fierce criticism. They were particularly concerned about the possibility of being sued for libel. Carson was also undergoing radiation therapy to combat her spreading cancer, and expected to have little energy to devote to defending her work and responding to critics. In preparation for the anticipated attacks, Carson and her agent attempted to amass as many prominent supporters as possible before the book’s release.[54]

Most of the book’s scientific chapters were reviewed by scientists with relevant expertise, among whom Carson found strong support. …

American Cyanamid biochemist Robert White-Stevens and former Cyanamid chemist Thomas Jukes were among the most aggressive critics, especially of Carson’s analysis of DDT.[60] According to White-Stevens, “If man were to follow the teachings of Miss Carson, we would return to the Dark Ages, and the insects and diseases and vermin would once again inherit the earth.”[61] Others went further, attacking Carson’s scientific credentials (because her training was in marine biology rather than biochemistry) and her personal character. White-Stevens labeled her “a fanatic defender of the cult of the balance of nature”,[62] while former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson—in a letter to former President Dwight D. Eisenhower—reportedly concluded that because she was unmarried despite being physically attractive, she was “probably a Communist.”[63] [emphasis mine]

Many critics repeatedly asserted that she was calling for the elimination of all pesticides. Yet Carson had made it clear she was not advocating the banning or complete withdrawal of helpful pesticides, but was instead encouraging responsible and carefully managed use with an awareness of the chemicals’ impact on the entire ecosystem.[64]  …

In the US (and elsewhere), an accusation of being a ‘communist’ particularly in the late 1950s and early 1960s could destroy your career.

Getting back to the modern day, having organized panels in the past, I appreciate how very challenging it is to get a diverse set of people on a panel but as Johnson notes, it shouldn’t be all that difficult in 2014.

Abandoning the effort to find a female speaker after what was apparently a single attempt seems a bit chicken-hearted. Were the event organizers concerned about avoiding rejection? If so, they should perhaps consider other job or volunteer activities as rejections are pretty common when trying to attract panel members.

Should the organizers try again, I have some advice: “Try to get more than one female speaker on your panel as cancellations are also common in these endeavours.” Of course, the organizers may end up with an female panel in the end as bizarre things can happen at the last minute to your carefully planned panel. I wish the event organizers good luck!

Animating nanoparticles

It’s always good to find new tools for explaining/describing the nanoscale and this July 28, 2014 news item on Nanowerk, which highlights animation that simulates interactions between nanoparticles, helps to fill the bill,

Panagiotis Grammatikopoulos in the OIST [Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology] Nanoparticles by Design Unit simulates the interactions of particles that are too small to see, and too complicated to visualize. In order to study the particles’ behavior, he uses a technique called molecular dynamics. This means that every trillionth of a second, he calculates the location of each individual atom in the particle based on where it is and which forces apply. He uses a computer program to make the calculations, and then animates the motion of the atoms using visualization software. The resulting animation illuminates what happens, atom-by-atom, when two nanoparticles collide.

A July 25, 2014 OIST news release by Poncie Rutsch, which originated the news item, details the process Grammatikopoulos follows, (Note: A link has been removed)

Grammatikopoulos calls this a virtual experiment. He knows what the atoms in his starting nanoparticles look like. He knows their motion follows the laws of Newtonian physics. His colleagues have seen what the resulting particles look like after collision experiments.  Once his simulation is complete, Grammatikopoulos compares his end products with his colleagues to check his accuracy.

Grammatikopoulos most recently simulated how palladium nanoparticles interact, published in Scientific Reports on July 22, 2014. Palladium is an expensive but highly efficient catalyst that lowers the energy required to start many chemical reactions. Researchers can make palladium even more efficient by designing palladium nanoparticles, which use the same mass of palladium in tinier pieces, increasing surface area. The more surface area a catalyst has, the more effective it is, because there are more active sites where elements can meet and reactions can occur.

However, shrinking a material to only a few nanometers can change some of the properties of that material. For example, all nanoparticles melt at cooler temperatures than they would normally, which changes what happens when two particles collide. Ordinarily, two particles will collide and release a small amount of heat, but the particles remain more or less the same. But when two nanoparticles collide, sometimes the heat released melts the surface of the two particles, and they fuse together.

Grammatikopoulos simulated palladium nanoparticles colliding and fusing at different temperatures. He determined that each time the particles fused, their atoms would start to crystallize into orderly rows and planes. At higher temperatures, the particles fuse into one homogeneous structure. At lower temperatures, the products look like classic snowmen, with a few parts that had crystallized with different orientations.

“The simulation gives you an understanding of physical processes,” said Grammatikopoulos. Before his research, Grammatikopoulos could not explain why all the palladium nanoparticles his lab created had a crystalline structure. Furthermore, he noticed that many palladium nanoparticles grew protrusions, giving the particles a lumpy shape. “Since the protrusions stick out, they bond more easily with other molecules,” Grammatikopoulos explained. “I’m not sure yet if it’s beneficial, but it’s definitely affecting the catalytic properties.”

Here’s an image illustrating the process,

Grammatikopoulos simulated two palladium nanoparticles colliding at different temperatures. The hotter the temperature, the more homogenous the resulting product, and the further the atoms in the particle crystallize. Courtesy: OIST

The news release goes on to explain the impact this information could have,

This study establishes some ground rules and explains certain properties of palladium nanoparticles. Understanding these properties could help design other nanoparticles out of other materials that would rival palladium’s abilities as a catalyst.  Palladium plays a role in thousands of important reactions, from making drugs to creating new biofuels. For example, Prof. Mukhles Sowwan’s Nanoparticles by Design Unit and Prof. Igor Goryanin’s Biological Systems Unit at OIST are working with palladium-catalyzed reactions to improve the efficiency of microbial fuel cells. Better palladium nanoparticles will propel this research forward.

“We need to understand the basic science,” explained Sowwan, who is Grammatikopoulos’ advisor. Sowwan says that the field of nanoscience is only starting to move towards applying the research, because there is still so much to learn about the properties of nanoparticles. “If you build something without understanding the basics,” Sowwan said, “you will not be able to explain the results.”

The researchers have made videos available, here’s a video of palladium crystallization at 300K,

As per the information provided by OIST,

Published on Jul 24, 2014

Grammatikopoulos created this simulation of palladium nanoparticles colliding at 300 Kelvin, or about 27 degrees Celsius. The nanoparticles meet, then fuse, then crystallize in orderly planes.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Coalescence-induced crystallisation wave in Pd nanoparticles by Panagiotis Grammatikopoulos, Cathal Cassidy, Vidyadhar Singh, & Mukhles Sowwan. Scientific Reports 4, Article number: 5779 doi:10.1038/srep05779 Published 22 July 2014

This is an  open access paper.

British Columbia Day (in Canada) kickoff with Baba Brinkman’s Kickstarter campaign and a science rap

This year’s BC (British Columbia) Day is today, Aug. 4, 2014*. In celebration I am posting a number of fun items, all to do with science and none with nanotechnology, although one item does feature ‘nano’ in the title.

First off, BC-born, Baba Brinkman reports back from the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe Festival where he is previewing his new ‘science’ rap,

Greetings from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival! Today I performed my second Rap Guide to Religion preview at the Gilded Balloon, and this afternoon I launched my Kickstarter campaign to fund the creation of an animated rap album by the same name. I already have eight songs written and recorded, and I want to create another 6-8 for the full album, and then commission animators to produce a series of animated shorts to bring the story to life. The campaign will run for precisely 40 days and 40 nights, and I’m excited to see that we’re over $1K already, just 12 hours in!

The Rap Guide to Religion is my latest “peer reviewed rap” album and show, detailing the story of how religion and human evolution coincide. I’m summarizing work from the field of “evolutionary religious studies” in rap form both because I find it fascinating and also because I think an appreciation of how and why religion evolves can help to rebuild some burnt bridges between religious groups and between believers and nonbelievers.

You can stream three of the first eight songs from my site at music.bababrinkman.com, and all eight comprise a short “album preview” EP I put together for the fringe, which will be exclusively available to Kickstarter backers. The opening track “Religion Evolves” offers a pretty good overview of my personal perspective as well as the questions I want to explore with the record. …

Before moving on to the Kickstarter information, here’s what David Bruggeman had to say about the new work and about supporting Baba’s projects in a July 31, 2014 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog,

… You can also listen to two tracks from the album (if you contribute, you will receive downloads of all eight tracks).  My favorite of the two is “Religion Evolves”.

The usual assortment of rewards (copies of the album, t-shirts, custom raps) is available for whatever you’d be willing to contribute.  My past experience with supporting his projects allows me to say that he will deliver.  If you want proof, look for me at 2:53 in his video for “Artificial Selection”

Baba’s Kickstarter campaign titled: The Rap Guide to Religion (Animated Rap Album) has a goal of $20,000,

An animated rap album about the evolutionary origins of religion. It’s time to eff with the ineffable!

Have you ever helped to crowdfund a rap album? How about a rap album that communicates SCIENCE? Or an ANIMATED rap album about the scientific study of RELIGION? Well, that’s what I’m working on right now, with the help of some friends.

Theologians and philosophers have sought the meaning and purpose of life for thousands of years, often finding it in religion. Then Darwin’s theory of evolution turned the world upside down. The supernatural was discarded as the source of answers to the natural world and replaced by the blind force of evolution. And now, with decades of scientific research on hand, we can finally make sense of religion using the tools of evolutionary thinking.

The field is called “Evolutionary Religious Studies” and I’m using my talent and love of rap and science to share this research with a wide audience by recording a rap album on the subject. I’m also teaming up with an amazing group of animators and illustrators led by Dave Anderson from http://bloodsausage.co.uk to create a series of animated shorts (approximately 20 minutes long in total) based on the album, so we can make the songs maximally entertaining and accessible.

There is a nine second sample of an animated music rap from the Rap Guide to Religion Album on the campaign page. Surprisngly, Baba and his colleague have not made the sample available for embedding elsewhere so you’ll have to go there to see it.

* I failed to properly schedule publication (I forgot to change the date) of this post and so it bears an Aug. 1, 2014 publication date. Today is Aug. 15, 2014.

Science advice tidbits: Canada and New Zealand

Eight months after the fact, I find out from the Canadian Science Policy Centre website that a private member’s bill calling for the establishment of a parliamentary science officer was tabled (November 2013) in Canada’s House of Commons. From a Nov. 21, 2013 article by Ivan Semeniuk for the Globe and Mail,

With the Harper government facing continued criticism from many quarters over its policies towards science, the opposition has announced it wants to put in place a parliamentary champion to better shield government researchers and their work from political misuse.

In a private member’s bill to be tabled next week the NDP [New Democratic Party] science and technology critic, Kennedy Stewart, calls for the establishment of a parliamentary science officer reporting not to the government nor to the Prime Minister’s office, but to Parliament as a whole.

The role envisioned in the NDP bill is based in part on a U.K. model and is similar in its independence to that of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. The seven-year, one-term appointment would also work in concert with other federal science advisory bodies, including the Science, Technology and Innovation Council – which provides confidential scientific advice to the government but not to Parliament – and the Council of Canadian Academies, which provides publicly accessible information related to science policy but does not make recommendations.

Speaking to a room mainly filled with science policy professionals, Dr. Stewart drew applause for the idea but also skepticism about whether such an ambitious multi-faceted role could be realistically achieved or appropriately contained within one job.

Stewart was speaking about his private member’s bill at the 2013 Canadian Science Policy Conference held in Toronto, Ontario from Nov. 20 – 22, 2013.

More recently and in New Zealand, a national strategic plan for science in society was released (h/t to James Wilsdon’s twitter feed). From a July 29, 2014 Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor media release,

With today’s [July 29, 2014] launch of A Nation of Curious Minds, the national strategic plan for science in society by Ministers Joyce and Parata [Minister of Science and Innovation, Hon Steven Joyce, and Minister of Education, Hon Hekia Parata ], Sir Peter Gluckman, the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor,called it an important next step in a journey. Sir Peter was Chair of the National Science Challenges Panel that recommended Government take action in this area, and was Chair of the Reference Group that advised on the plan.

Sir Peter noted that a stand-out feature of the plan is that it does not simply put the onus on the public – whether students, families, or communities – to become better informed about science. Rather, there is a clear indication of the responsibility of the science sector and the role of the media in making research more accessible and relevant to all New Zealanders. “It is a two-way conversation,” said Sir Peter. “Scientists can no longer assume that their research direction and their results are of interest only to their peers, just as the public and governments need to better understand the types of answers that they can and cannot expect from science.”

The plan also calls for a Participatory Science Platform. Curiosity aroused, I chased down more information, From p. 31 (PDF) of New Zealand’s national strategic plan for science in society,

The participatory science platform builds on traditional concepts in citizen science and enhances these through collaborative approaches more common to community-based participatory research. [emphasis mine] Participatory science is a method of undertaking scientific research where volunteers can be meaningfully involved in research in collaboration with science professionals (including post- graduate students or researchers and private sector scientists) and builds on international models of engagement.

The goal is to involve schools/kura and/or community-based organisations such as museums and associations in projects with broad appeal, that have both scientific value and pedagogical rigour, and that resonate with the community. In addition, several ideas are being tested for projects of national significance that would integrate with the National Science Challenges and be national in reach.

The participatory science platform has the potential to:

›offer inspiring and relevant learning opportunities for students and teachers
›engage learners and participants beyond the school/kura community to reach parents, whānau
and wider communities
›offer researchers opportunities to become involved in locally relevant  lines of enquiry, where data can be enriched by the local knowledge and contribution of citizens.

The participatory science platform is built on four core components and incorporates mātauranga
Māori:

1. A process that seeks ideas for participatory science projects both from the community (including early childhood education services and kōhanga reo, schools/kura, museums and other organisations, Kiwi authorities or community associations) and from science professionals (from post-graduate students to principal investigators in both the public and private sectors
2. A managed process for evaluating these ideas for both pedagogical potential (in the case of schools/kura) and scientific quality, and for ensuring their practicality and relevance to the participating partners (science sector and community-based)
3. A web-based match-making process between interested community-based partners and science professionals
4. A resource for teachers and other community or learning leaders to assist in developing their projects to robust standards.

The platform’s website will serve as a match-making tool between scientists and potential community-based partners seeking to take part in a research project by offering a platform for community-initiated and scientist-initiated research.

A multi-sectoral management and review panel will be established to maintain quality control over the programme and advise on any research ethics requirements.

All projects will have an institutional home which will provide a coordination role. This could be a school, museum, zoo, science centre, iwi office or research institute, university or other tertiary
organisation.

The projects will be offered as opportunities for community-based partners to participate in scientific research as a way to enhance their local input, their science knowledge and their interest,
and (in the case of schools) to strengthen learning programmes through stronger links to relevant learning environments and expertise.

Once matches are made between community-based partners and scientists, these partners would self-direct their involvement in carrying out the research according to an agreed plan and approach.

A multi-media campaign will accompany the launch of programme, and a dedicated website/social media site will provide a sustained channel of communication for ideas that continue to emerge. It will build on the momentum created by the Great New Zealand Science Project and leverages the legacy of that project, including its Facebook page. [emphasis mine]

To enable more sophisticated projects, a limited number of seed grants will be made available to help foster a meaningful level of community involvement. The seed grants will part-fund science professionals and community/school groups to plan together the research question, data collection, analysis and knowledge translation strategy for the project. In addition, eligible costs could include research tools or consumables that would not otherwise be accessible to community partners.

I admire the ambitiousness and imagination of the Participatory Science Platform project and hope that it will be successful. As for the rest of the report, there are 52 pp. in the PDF version for those who want to pore over it.

For anyone unfamiliar (such as me) with the Great New Zealand Science Project, it was a public consultation where New Zealanders were invited to submit ideas and comments about science to the government.  As a consequence of the project, 10 research areas were selected as New Zealand’s National Science Challenges. From a June 25, 2014 government update,

On 1 May 2013 Prime Minister John Key and Hon Steven Joyce, Minister of Science and Innovation, announced the final 10 National Science Challenges.

The ten research areas identified as New Zealand’s first National Science Challenges are:

Ageing well – harnessing science to sustain health and wellbeing into the later years of life …

A better start – improving the potential of young New Zealanders to have a healthy and successful life …

Healthier lives – research to reduce the burden of major New Zealand health problems …

High value nutrition – developing high value foods with validated health benefits …

New Zealand’s biological heritage – protecting and managing our biodiversity, improving our biosecurity, and enhancing our resilience to harmful organisms …

Our land and water  – Research to enhance primary sector production and productivity while maintaining and improving our land and water quality for future generations …

Sustainable seas – enhance utilisation of our marine resources within environmental and biological constraints.

The deep south – understanding the role of the Antarctic and the Southern Ocean in determining our climate and our future environment …

Science for technological innovation – enhancing the capacity of New Zealand to use physical and engineering sciences for economic growth …

Resilience to nature’s challenges – research into enhancing our resilience to natural disasters …

The release of “A Nation of Curious Minds, the national strategic plan for science in society” is timely, given that the 2014 Science Advice to Governments; a global conference for leading practitioners is being held mere weeks away in Auckland, New Zealand (Aug. 28, – 29, 2014).

In Canada, we are waiting for the Council of Canadian Academies’ forthcoming assessment  The State of Canada’s Science Culture, sometime later in 2014. The assessment is mentioned at more length here in the context of a Feb. 22, 2013 posting where I commented on the expert panel assembled to investigate the situation and write the report.