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!

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The Global Solution to Extinction

From the Pulitzer price winning author, and all around naturalist/biology champion E.O. Wilson wrote another thoughtful piece in the New York Times.

He writes about the history of discovering species, and finding out too late that we are killing them all off.

If you are interested, think that the NSF shouldn’t have stopped funding collections (herbaria and museums) or just generally want to ready E.O. Wilsons eloquent prose read it here!

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Reflections on getting your first publication out the door

I know friends who celebrate every paper they submit. I think that is awesome.

But by the time I get a paper submitted, back for revisions, revised, submitted again, accepted and final edited, I hate that paper. I have seen it so many times, and written each sentence with exacting intention that I never want to see it again.

Which is why a post over at the blog “Ecology B1ts” entitled Reflections on my first first-author pub (and the seven years it took to get there) was so interesting to me. Margret Kosmala talks about how life, mentorship and rejection can all influence getting a paper published.

Well worth the read!

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Museums: The endangered dead

Across the world, natural-history collections hold a multitude of species, some of which have never been identified. In fact, scientists are currently finding more new species by sifting through decades-old specimens than by surveying tropical forests and remote landscapes.

Additionally, museum collections are becoming increasingly valuable thanks to newly developed techniques (ancient DNA anyone?) and databases.

But just as these collections are increasing in value, they are falling into decline.

Read about it over at Nature!

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Ricardo Moratelli examines bat specimens in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC. (Photo by Chris Maddaloni/Nature)

 

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!

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Academic publishing companies make how much?!

Academic publishing is a 25.2 billion dollar a year industry. I’m not kidding.

Long ago in a land far far away, Forbes predicted that the academic publisher Elsevier’s relevance and lifespan in the digital age was going to be short. “Cost-cutting librarians and computer-literate professors are bypassing academic journals- bad news for Elsevier” the article proclaimed.

But here’s the thing. Elsevier hasn’t been run out of town. In fact, it’s thriving. So are Springer, Taylor & Francis, and Wiley. In fact, Elsevier in 2013 had a higher profit margin than Apple Inc.

Why is this? Brian Nosek, a professor at the University of Virginia and director of the Center for Open Science, has an idea:

“Academic publishing is the perfect business model to make a lot of money. You have the producer and consumer as the same person: the researcher. And the researcher has no idea how much anything costs. I, as the researcher, produce the scholarship and I want it to have the biggest impact possible and so what I care about is the prestige of the journal and how many people read it. Once it is finally accepted, since it is so hard to get acceptances, I am so delighted that I will sign anything — send me a form and I will sign it. I have no idea I have signed over my copyright or what implications that has — nor do I care, because it has no impact on me. The reward is the publication.”

Read more about it over at SAS Confidential.

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Biology is Has a Public Relations Problem

Here on NiB we often mention the problems that science is having with public perception. From controversies over biological collections, to finding extra terrestrial life in the octopus , to more basics like teaching evolution and vaccinations.

We as a group have trouble relating to the public what we do and why we do it. And it truly is a shame.

In response a recent post on Yale Climate Connections made a desperate call for scientists to do just that. 

The article also introduces “Grad Slam“. Started in the University of California system, it asks graduate students to take years of academic toil and work and to present it free of jargon or technical lingo. In just three short minutes. It’s like a Ted talk, an exit seminar and an elevator speech had a love child. Check it out below, and consider throwing one of your own.