Tag Archives: David Suzuki

A jellyfish chat on November 28, 2017 at Café Scientifique Vancouver get together

Café Scientifique Vancouver sent me an announcement (via email) about their upcoming event,

We are pleased to announce our next café which will happen on TUESDAY,
NOVEMBER 28TH at 7:30PM in the back room of YAGGER'S DOWNTOWN (433 W
Pender).

JELLYFISH – FRIEND, FOE, OR FOOD?

Did you know that in addition to stinging swimmers, jellyfish also cause
extensive damage to fisheries and coastal power plants? As threats such
as overfishing, pollution, and climate change alter the marine
environment, recent media reports are proclaiming that jellyfish are
taking over the oceans. Should we hail to our new jellyfish overlords or
do we need to examine the evidence behind these claims? Join Café
Scientifique on Nov. 28, 2017 to learn everything you ever wanted to
know about jellyfish, and find out if jelly burgers are coming soon to a
menu near you.

Our speaker for the evening will be DR. LUCAS BROTZ, a Postdoctoral
Research Fellow with the Sea Around Us at UBC’s Institute for the
Oceans and Fisheries. Lucas has been studying jellyfish for more than a
decade, and has been called “Canada’s foremost jellyfish
researcher” by CBC Nature of Things host Dr. David Suzuki. Lucas has
participated in numerous international scientific collaborations, and
his research has been featured in more than 100 media outlets including
Nature News, The Washington Post, and The New York Times. He recently
received the Michael A. Bigg award for highly significant student
research as part of the Coastal Ocean Awards at the Vancouver Aquarium.

We hope to see you there!

You can find out more about Lucas Brotz here and about Sea Around Us here.

For anyone who’s curious about the jellyfish ‘issue’, there’s a November 8, 2017 Norwegian University of Science and Technology press release on AlphaGallileo or on EurekAlert, which provides insight into the problems and the possibilities,

Jellyfish could be a resource in producing microplastic filters, fertilizer or fish feed. A new 6 million euro project called GoJelly, funded by the EU and coordinated by the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research, Germany and including partners at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNNU) and SINTEF [headquartered in Trondheim, Norway, is the largest independent research organisation in Scandinavia; more about SINTEF in its Wikipedia entry], hopes to turn jellyfish from a nuisance into a useful product.

Global climate change and the human impact on marine ecosystems has led to dramatic decreases in the number of fish in the ocean. It has also had an unforseen side effect: because overfishing decreases the numbers of jellyfish competitors, their blooms are on the rise.

The GoJelly project, coordinated by the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research, Germany, would like to transform problematic jellyfish into a resource that can be used to produce microplastic filter, fertilizer or fish feed. The EU has just approved funding of EUR 6 million over 4 years to support the project through its Horizon 2020 programme.

Rising water temperatures, ocean acidification and overfishing seem to favour jellyfish blooms. More and more often, they appear in huge numbers that have already destroyed entire fish farms on European coasts and blocked cooling systems of power stations near the coast. A number of jellyfish species are poisonous, while some tropical species are even among the most toxic animals on earth.

“In Europe alone, the imported American comb jelly has a biomass of one billion tons. While we tend to ignore the jellyfish there must be other solutions,” says Jamileh Javidpour of GEOMAR, initiator and coordinator of the GoJelly project, which is a consortium of 15 scientific institutions from eight countries led by the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel.

The project will first entail exploring the life cycle of a number of jellyfish species. A lack of knowledge about life cycles makes it is almost impossible to predict when and why a large jellyfish bloom will occur. “This is what we want to change so that large jellyfish swarms can be caught before they reach the coasts,” says Javidpour.

At the same time, the project partners will also try to answer the question of what to do with jellyfish once they have been caught. One idea is to use the jellyfish to battle another, man-made threat.

“Studies have shown that mucus of jellyfish can bind microplastic. Therefore, we want to test whether biofilters can be produced from jellyfish. These biofilters could then be used in sewage treatment plants or in factories where microplastic is produced,” the GoJelly researchers say.

Jellyfish can also be used as fertilizers for agriculture or as aquaculture feed. “Fish in fish farms are currently fed with captured wild fish, which does not reduce the problem of overfishing, but increases it. Jellyfish as feed would be much more sustainable and would protect natural fish stocks,” says the GoJelly team.

Another option is using jellyfish as food for humans. “In some cultures, jellyfish are already on the menu. As long as the end product is no longer slimy, it could also gain greater general acceptance,” said Javidpour. Finally yet importantly, jellyfish contain collagen, a substance very much sought after in the cosmetics industry.

Project partners from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, led by Nicole Aberle-Malzahn, and SINTEF Ocean, led by Rachel Tiller, will analyse how abiotic (hydrography, temperature), biotic (abundance, biomass, ecology, reproduction) and biochemical parameters (stoichiometry, food quality) affect the initiation of jellyfish blooms.

Based on a comprehensive analysis of triggering mechanisms, origin of seed populations and ecological modelling, the researchers hope to be able to make more reliable predictions on jellyfish bloom formation of specific taxa in the GoJelly target areas. This knowledge will allow sustainable harvesting of jellyfish communities from various Northern and Southern European populations.

This harvest will provide a marine biomass of unknown potential that will be explored by researchers at SINTEF Ocean, among others, to explore the possible ways to use the material.

A team from SINTEF Ocean’s strategic program Clean Ocean will also work with European colleagues on developing a filter from the mucus of the jellyfish that will catch microplastics from household products (which have their source in fleece sweaters, breakdown of plastic products or from cosmetics, for example) and prevent these from entering the marine ecosystem.

Finally, SINTEF Ocean will examine the socio-ecological system and games, where they will explore the potentials of an emerging international management regime for a global effort to mitigate the negative effects of microplastics in the oceans.

“Jellyfish can be used for many purposes. We see this as an opportunity to use the potential of the huge biomass drifting right in front of our front door,” Javidpour said.

You can find out more about GoJelly on their Twitter account.

Late to the Stand Up for Science party/protest of Sept. 16, 2013

It’s not the first time I’ve missed a party and I have to say thank you to my US colleagues (David Bruggeman’s Oct. 3, 2013 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog and Glyn Moody’s Oct. 3, 2013 Techdirt posting) for insuring I found out about the Sept. 16, 2013 series of cross Canada protest rallies, Stand Up for Science, regarding the ‘muzzling’ of science communication in Canada.

Suzanne Goldenberg’s Sept. 16, 2013 article for the Guardian provides a good overview of the situation. I have excerpted the bits that are new to me (Note: Links have been removed),

Researchers in 16 Canadian cities have called protests on Monday against science policies introduced under the government of Stephen Harper, which include rules barring government researchers from talking about their own work with journalists and, in some cases, even fellow researchers.

“There a lot of concern in Canada right now about government scientists not being allowed to speak about their research to the public because of the new communications policies being put into place,” said Katie Gibbs, director of a new group, Evidence for Democracy, which is organising the protests.

This year, [2013] Canada’s department of fisheries and oceans released a new set of rules barring scientists from discussing their findings with the public or publishing in academic journals.[emphasis mine]

The new guidelines required all scientists to submit papers to a departmental manager for review – even after they had been accepted for publication by an academic journal.

The proposed rules became public earlier this year after American scientists on a joint US-Canadian project in the eastern Arctic took exception at the new conditions.

The government was accused this month [Sept. 2013] of delaying its annual report on greenhouse gas emissions – usually released in mid-summer – because it was universally expected to show a double-digit rise in carbon pollution.

The government is actually trying to bar people from having their work published in academic journals? Well, brava to Katie Gibbs and Evidence for Democracy for organizing the Sept. 16, 2013 rallies and their predecessor, the Death of Evidence Rally (for more info. about that previous event there’s my July 10, 2012 posting announcing and discussing the ‘Death of Evidence’ and my July 13, 2013 posting which featured a roundup of comments regarding the 2012 rally).

Interestingly the Evidence for Democracy’s (E4D) Board of Directors seems to be largely comprised of biologists (from the Who We Are webpage),

E4D’s Board of Directors

Katie Gibbs

Dr. Gibbs recently completed a PhD in Biology from the University of Ottawa and has a diverse background organizing and managing various causes and campaigns.

Scott Findlay

Dr.Findlay is an Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Ottawa and former Director of the University of Ottawa’s Institute of the Environment.

Kathryn O’Hara

Ms. O’Hara is an Associate Professor of Journalism at Carleton University and holds the CTV Chair in Science Broadcast Journalism.

Susan Pinkus

Ms. Pinkus has a M.Sc. in conservation biology and community ecology and is a senior staff scientist at Ecojustice.

By pointing out the concentration of biologists within the E4D board, I’m trying to hint at the difficulty of communicating across disciplinary boundaries (biologists network with other biologists partly because it’s easier to find people who belong to the same organizations and attend the same conferences). When Canada’s geography is also taken into account, the fact that the group managed to organize events in 17 cities (also listed on the E4D Stand Up for Science webpage; scroll down about 40% of the page) across the country), according to Ivan Semeniuk’s Sept. 16, 2013, article about the rallies for the Globe and Mail newspaper, becomes quite laudable.

Matthew Robinson’s Sept. 17, 2013 article for the Vancouver Sun gives a BC (the city of Vancouver is located in the province of British Columbia,Canada) flavour to the proceedings,

David Suzuki [biologist], Alexandra Morton [biologist] and other prominent B.C.-based scientists rallied on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery Monday to decry what they called the continued muzzling of federal scientists and to reason for broadened science funding. ….

Separate from the protests, NDP science and technology critic Kennedy Stewart [Member of Parliament from BC] tabled Monday [Sept. 16, 2013] a motion for federal departments to permit scientists to speak freely to the media and the public.

The motion would, among other things, allow federal scientists to present personal viewpoints and prohibit elected officials, ministerial staff and communications officers from directing scientists to suppress or alter their findings.

Gibbs said the timing of the NDP motion was not co-ordinated.

Meanwhile, another group, Scientists for the Right to Know, has been emerging. From the About us page,

In 2012, a Working Group of Science for Peace started to look into the muzzling of science and scientists in Canada. Muzzling is a broad process that may be carried out by governments, industry, universities, and others. However, we quickly realized that the current federal government is actually waging a war on basic science. While other Canadian governments have engaged in muzzling as well, we have never witnessed the type of systematic attack on basic science that is happening right now in Canada.

We therefore decided to focus at present on the muzzling of science on the part of the federal government. We also decided that we needed to find a means to engage the public at large. The focus of our work shifted, then, from researching the issue to advocating for unmuzzled science. It became clear that the work the group was envisaging would exceed the mandate of Science for Peace –  education. We decided to form a new organization frankly devoted to advocacy.

The inaugural meeting of Scientists for the Right to Know took place in April 2013. We are currently in the process of incorporating as a non-profit organization. …

 

The organization has an executive comprised of three people (from the About us page),

 

President – Margrit Eichler

 

Treasurer – Phyllis Creighton

 

Secretary – Sue Kralik

 

Margrit Eichler is Professor Emerita of OISE/UT. She received her PhD in Sociology from Duke University.  She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and of the European Academy of Sciences, and  she received an honorary doctorate from Brock University. She has remained an activist during her entire  academic career.

 

Phyllis Creighton is a translations editor with the renowned Dictionary of Canadian Biography/Dictionnaire biographique du Canada. She holds an MA in history from the University of Toronto. An ethicist and author — and Raging Granny–, she has long worked for peace, nuclear disarmament, human rights, social justice, conservation, and environmental protection. She holds the Anglican Award of Merit, the Order of Ontario, and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal.

 

Sue Kralik is a graduate of the University of Western Ontario and earned a Master of Education degree at the University of Toronto. Sue recently retired as a school Principal. While working as a Principal, Sue led school based anti-war and social justice initiatives and remains committed to working for peace, social justice, and respect for the environment.

Interestingly, Scientists for the Right to Know has sprung forth from the Humanities and Social Sciences communities.

It’s  an exciting time for Canadian science culture;, I just wish the communication between these groups and other interested groups and individuals was better. That way, I (and, I suspect, other Canadian science bloggers) wouldn’t be left wondering how they managed to miss significant events such as the inception of the Evidence for Science group,and of the  Scientists for the Right to Know group, and the Stand Up for Science cross Canada rally.

Nature of Things’ series: The Nano Revolution (Episode 3); Will Nano Save the Planet?

I’m never thrilled with titles of this ilk, Will Nano Save the Planet? Refreshingly, this episode featured some work being done by Canadian scientists (two of them) although the average Canadian could be forgiven for thinking that it’s the only nanotechnology research taking place in Canada.

It’s a little puzzling that they chose this final episode for a description of the term nanoscale. David Suzuki, the host, mentioned the ridges of skin on your fingers and noted that a nanoparticle is 80,000 times smaller than the distance between the ridges. (If you want a really good description of scale, I recommend listening to Professor Ravi Silva’s audio interview with Alok Jha on the (UK) Guardian’s Oct. 14, 2011 Science Weekly podcast.)

In general, I found the descriptions of the science in this episode were not of the same standard as the previous two, which were very good.

The vignettes, as always, were problematic largely since they were internal monologues of some character who’s grappling with ethical issues and other social impacts of these technologies. Interestingly, men starred in the vignettes where the ‘big’ issues are covered: ethics of health care; longer life; access to energy sources; pollution from nanotechnology-enabled products; etc. The woman who starred in the vignettes from episode one (as I noted in my review) was concerned with cleanliness, tidiness, shopping, and privacy. I guess things don’t change that much in our future, especially in 2050 where nanotechnology protestors are putting up banners, spraypainting, and leafletting (almost as if it were 1968) to express their opposition (in episode three).

There was some interesting work being covered. They profiled Professor Ted Sargent, based at the University of Toronto, who’s doing some exciting work with solar cells (he wants to make them flexible and, even, paintable). His latest breakthrough is mentioned in my Sept. 20, 2011 posting.

Professor Vicki Colvin, Rice University in Texas, is working to purify water. The project is in Mexico and highlights the difficulties when water supplies are contaminated, in this case, with arsenic. (Here in the Pacific Northwest we tend to forget that access to fresh clean water is not easy in many parts of the world.) Colvin and her colleagues are working on a simple solution that can be implemented with some sand, gravel, a tube, and active nanoparticles. (Her work with the Environmental Nanoscience Initiative; a UK/US collaboration was mentioned in my Jan. 28, 2011 posting.)

The third project was focussed on soil remediation and a team from the University of Western Ontario headed by Professor Dennis O’Carroll. I have not come across O’Carroll’s work previously so this was a find for me. As you may or may not know, there are many sites with contaminated soil throughout North America and elsewhere. If successful, O’Carroll’s technique promises to remediate (rehabiltate) the soil without having to move massive amounts of soil and use big  equipment.

This episode featured more discussion about the risks and uncertainties associated with nanotechnology and its use. Unfortunately, I did not recognize the names and (one of my major pet peeves with this series) they either didn’t write out the names on screen or they flashed them briefly which meant that unless I recognized the names it was difficult to find out more about the experts.

I did recognize the mesocosm project at Duke University, which was featured here in my August 15, 2011 posting. The researchers are trying to understand what impact silver nanoparticles have on life. They spray silver nanoparticles in various mesocosms (they look like raised plant beds) and then track what happens to the plant, the soil, and the water supply as the silver nanoparticles cycle through.

There’s work in the UK examining air and the nanoparticles released through the use of internal combustion engines (cars/trucks) as well as our newly engineered nanoparticles. I’m glad to see this material in the episode, perhaps it will finally motivate some public discussion in Canada.

Aftershocks from the May 2010 public science conference in Gatineau, Québec

The first of this year’s two policy conferences on science in Canada (described on this blog here) has resulted in some after-the-fact media coverage. An article by Elizabeth Church, Presto, change-o: A Reformer, reinvented in the print edition (or Preston Manning: Proselytizer of science in the online edition) of the May 15, 2010 Globe and Mail focused on Preston Manning, one of the conference’s keynote speakers. (Manning has been interviewed for this blog, part 1 and part 2). From Church’s article,

…  Mr. Manning shared the stage with broadcaster and environmental icon David Suzuki at a conference in Gatineau, Que., organized by the union representing professional federal workers. He and Dr. Suzuki were paired up to show different perspectives on science policy, a spokeswoman for the event said, and to see how the two sides might meet.

“There are a lot of things that we agree on,” Dr. Suzuki said. “Our big disagreement is he thinks the free market is going to solve everything, which is total bullshit.”

Asked about his deep Christian convictions, Mr. Manning said they do not put him offside with scientific thought. One can think that genetic mutations and natural selection have something to do with the development of life, he explains, and also believe there is a direction to things that comes from God.

“Science explains what is going on,” he said.

Church’s article suggests a more lively interaction than Léo Charbonneau’s article (Bringing science to bear on policy) about the talk, written for University Affairs,

Mr. Manning was the founder of the Reform Party and a Member of Parliament from 1993 to 2001. David Suzuki is a scientist, well-known environmentalist and popular broadcaster.

The two were appearing in the opening keynote session at the second Science Policy Symposium organized by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada and being held in Gatineau, Quebec, across the river from Ottawa, until tomorrow. The symposium has as its aim to strengthen science policy in Canada, an extremely important issue that deserves greater attention by the public, policy makers and government.

I admit I was hoping for perhaps a bit of fireworks between the two speakers, but they addressed each other politely, if somewhat formally, and mostly avoided any overt provocation.

Amongst other nuggets in Charbonneau’s article, Manning is calling for a national science communication conference.

It’s encouraging to see the coverage of the first of this year’s two Canadian science policy conferences and I hope the organizers of the second conference (taking place this October) experience as much or more success.

Cookie cutters; agility vs. rigidity; 2010 Canadian Science Policy Conference; Kate Pullinger GG 2009 award winner for fiction

Ever wonder about all that talk about critical thinking? Supposedly that’s what education does for you, i.e. encourages critical thinking. I mention it because there’s a great little essay on The Black Hole blog about critical thinking in higher education. It’s called, Science is like Baking: The Rise of the Cookie Cutter PhD. I did have one minor quibble,

Together, these forces do what I think we should be very very scared of… they apply pressure to churn out PhDs faster, with more papers, with less flexibility in ideas and more rigid (read publishable) research project designs. So, in the end, little effort goes into helping the PhD students think critically about their field – and while I don’t believe this style of training is as far gone in the Humanities… I think it’s coming, so get yourself ready!

Sadly, I believe that the process is already gaining momentum in the humanities.

Rob Annan at Don’t Leave Canada Behind has a very pointed (scathing) analysis of a pre-budget submission from the SSHRC/NSERC/CIHR tri-council to the House of Commons Standing Committee.  [SSHRC = Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council; NSERC = Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council; CHIR = Canadian Health Institutes Research] From his posting,

… What does this mean? Sounds to me like stable, long-term funding is to be sacrificed at the altar of increased flexibility. And what exactly is a “dynamic approach” to funding research? This bureaucratic nonsense speak could have real consequences for researchers. Does agility, dynamism, and responsiveness mean that the agencies will be rapidly changing funding priorities from year to year? Will the agencies just start chasing the hottest trends?

Annan’s concern about “agility, dynamism and responsiveness” as a funding agency priority would seem to contradict The Black Hole’s essayist’s concern “with more papers, with less flexibility in ideas and more rigid (read more publishable) research project designs.”

In fact, we could end up with a situation where both apply. Imagine this. (1) A researcher applies for a ‘trendy’ area of research thereby fulfilling the funding agency’s dynamic, responsive funding requirement. (2) The researcher or PhD student’s academic institution or employer constrains the researcher to pump out multiple papers from a rigid research design under the funding agency’s the rubric of being responsive and agile.

Frankly, I’d like to see a little more agility and dynamism but I’d like it see it applied effectively. Sadly, I believe that my little scenario is more likely than not. The funding agencies are scrambling for money and, with the best of intentions, will do what it takes to get more so they can fulfill their mandate of supporting research. Meanwhile, the academic institutions will pay lip service to agility and dynamism while they apply the principles of rigidity and conformity used in production lines to pump out more product (publishable papers, awards, etc.) so they can maintain themselves and provide (their raison d’etre) education.

On other notes: there is a 2010 Public Science in Canada | Strengthening Science and Policy to Protect Canadians conference coming up in May. The keynote speakers are Stephen Lewis in an as yet untitled talk and [David] Suzuki and [Preston] Manning on Science: A Public Dialogue.  (Is there a Canadian science conference or science event where Preston Manning isn’t giving a keynote address?) More details can be found here.

On a personal note, congratulations to the Governor General’s latest fiction award winner, Kate Pullinger for the Mistress of Nothing. She was one of the leaders and teachers in my master’s programme (Creative Writing and New Media) at De Montfort University in the UK. I’m grateful that I had a chance to study in the programme (which was canceled after its 3rd year). I was able to experiment with creative writing techniques and science writing and that was a privilege.