A visual compendium of glowing creatures

I find biology to be one of the most visually stunning disciplines luckily I’m not alone. An artist from Seattle (Eleanor Lutz) has started a year-long infographic design project.

Her first installment is visualizing bioluminescent organisms (see below, or check it out here).


This Thanksgiving, Be Thankful for Science

In a deeply divided country, some people are dreading going home for the holidays. The anticipation of political conversation, about who voted for who, and about the racist, misogynist bigot who is planning to soon lead the United States.

So instead of talking through some of these issues (although I encourage civil discord!), the New York Times has given us a list of science and health stories from 2016 that you can discuss instead!

You could talk about how science views fat and what we know about weight loss! Or instead of talking about fleeing the country, perhaps consider a move to Mars instead! Or you can talk about dogs, and what science knows about their relationships! 

Or you can talk about climate change, funding rates, the importance of teaching evolution and minorities in STEM! Not recommended by the NYTimes but always recommended by NiB.

Also, consider subscribing to the New York Times.


Defend the Role of Science in the New Political Era

The Union of Concerned Scientists has posted a statement worth reading (here):

Defend the Role of Science in the New Political Era

Independent science is critical to decisions on everything from climate change to lead poisoning to drug safety. But we are concerned that transition team members and those in administration leadership positions have a history of attacking and censoring science. We are concerned that an emboldened Congress may bring back legislation that rejects science and rolls back existing public health and environmental protections. And we are concerned that government scientists may not get the resources they need to carry out their agencies’ missions.
Please join Nobel Laureates, prominent scientists, and fellow experts on a statement outlining expectations for the use of science in the Trump administration.

Add your name to the statement today.

We will share this powerful statement with decision makers, opinion leaders, journalists, and others who will be charged with holding the Trump administration accountable for respecting the role of science in policy making.

Learn more about what the Trump presidency will mean for American science policy, and check out our blog series on the Trump administration.


When talking about phylogenies, don’t use words like “basal”

Over at the blog “For the love of treesStacey Smith has recently posted an interesting (and somewhat twitter controversial) post about how to correctly talk about evolution and phylogenies.

For starters, don’t use the word basal. She states that by her estimation the term “basal” is misused ~90% of the time, and it perpetuates a number of misconceptions about how evolution works.

Intrigued? Go check out the post. Or enjoy this phylogeny of basil posted by Maggie Schedl (which is the most basal basil?!?)

The Basil-Lineage problem: which is the #mostprimitivebasil

The Basil-Lineage problem: which is the #mostprimitivebasil


How to write Science for the Public (Non-scientists)

One of our reasons for starting this blog was to write a biology blog for the general public. I think one of the biggest concerns in the US is scientific illiteracy, and we as a collaborative group, wanted to combat that.

My friend recently posted this comment on facebook, and it really stuck me:

“Tritrophic is not a real word. Your reader does not know the words tritrophic, ecological assemblage, genomics or parthenogenesis. That is not because your reader is dumb. It is because scientists made up those words and never told anyone but other scientists. Don’t underestimate the intelligence of your readers. Readers can be very clever, but it is not their job to know all of the words that you and the twelve people you call colleagues made up.”

Rob Dunn

This caused me to seek the source, and it’s an EXCELLENT blog post about how to write science for the public. We tend towards dry, complex sentences that convey information. While we shouldn’t necessarily be making things up (please) we as scientist should do a better job of conveying our passion and enthusiasm. And Rob’s blog post is an excellent set of rules for how to do that. CHECK IT OUT HERE!



Battling the Mistrust of Science

Atul Gawande is a multitalented man, surgeon, father, and exceptional writer and author (check out his books here).

He recently gave the commencement address at the California Institute of Technology, and it was so interesting/well said that it was subsequently published in the New Yorker.

He address how science is mistrusted, the inherent bias of people (including scientists), what science is and how we as a scientific community can combat this mistrust.

Read it here!


Introducing a new resource for ecology and evolutionary biology

Gina Baucom and Meghan Duffy noted and lamented the lack of female scientist getting the big ecology and evolution awards.

And then they decided to do something about it.

I give you DiversifyEEB, a list of female and/or underrepresented minority researchers in Ecology and Evolution. The idea is to have a go to list of minorities in the scientific community who are willing to give a talk at conferences or seminar series. So if you’re organizing a conference and thinking “How can I make my invited speakers more diverse?”, consult this list. There is now a way.

Go read all about the motivation and the list itself over at Dynamic Ecology.



Crowd-funding a Joshua tree reference genome

(Flickr: jbyoder)

(Flickr: jbyoder)

Remember Joshua trees? If you read this blog, you probably do. They’re an ecological keystone species — and a cultural icon — in the Mojave desert, and they have a fascinating, co-evolving relationship with yucca moths. Some contributors to this very blog, have been studying that pollination relationship and its evolutionary consequences for a decade, building on natural history research that goes back to the time of Charles Darwin.

Up to now, though, modern genetic tools have been of limited use for Joshua trees, because no one has assembled the complete DNA sequence of a Joshua tree. Having a “reference genome” would let those of us who study the trees identify specific genes involved in coevolution with yucca moths, compare the evolutionary effects of that pollination mutualism to natural selection exerted by the harsh environments in which the trees grow, and even use genome-scale data to inform Joshua tree conservation planning.

Well, we’ve decided it’s time to do all of that, and we’re asking for help. A team of folks with expertise in Joshua trees’ natural history, Mojave Desert ecology, and genomic data analysis launched the Joshua Tree Genome Project a couple weeks ago, with a crowd-funding campaign on Experiment.com to pay for part of the DNA sequencing we’d need to assemble a reference genome.

We’re approaching 50% of our funding goal, and leading a competition among projects based at undergraduate universities to recruit the most donors, which could win us $2,000 in matching funds — so even if you give as little as $1, you’re providing a big boost to the project. Go check out the Joshua Tree Genome Project website, and then head on over and pledge your support.

A semester long chalk talk

cropped-beaconMeetingPanoramaLike many instructors, all of my lectures are power point slides. I have spent 3 years crafting, refining, and finding the optimal photos for them.

However, one comment I get consistently from students is that there is “too much information”, “The slides go too fast”.

So I was pleasantly surprised by this excellent blog post about Michigan State University Professor Chris Waters, and his experimental abandonment of power point slides for a semester. Instead, he essentially does each lecture as a chalk talk.

While this sounds like it might be difficult for the first time you teach a class, I think it sounds like an excellent way to engage students.

Check it out over at BEACON!