Category: Andrew Maynard

Benjamin Franklin and his ipad #3 750x400

Why do people read science blogs? Surprisingly, we don’t have a good answer to this.  There’s a vibrant online community of people blogging about science, and talking about blogging about science, and blogging about blogging and talking about science.  But we don’t know that much about the people that science blogs and bloggers set out to serve. This is a problem from a science communication perspective, because if we don’t know who we’re engaging, and why they’re engaged, it’s very difficult to communicate effectively. To address this rather vital knowledge gap, Dr. Paige Jarreau – one of the foremost researchers on science blogging – has a plan.  Working with 60 bloggers, she will be conducting a large-scale survey of science blog readers to map out who reads these blogs, and why. To my knowledge, it’ll be the largest systematic survey of it’s type, and will provide extremely valuable insights into the effectiveness of science blogging as a way of communicating and engaging on science with non-expert audiences, as well as indicating how science blogging can become an even more effective communication platform.  However, there is a catch. Research costs money, and this project is no exception.  Rather brilliantly though, Paige is raising some of the money needed for the study through crowdfunding. What excites me about this is that it gives the online science community the chance to have skin in the game.  It enables community members to demonstrate their support for, and dedication to, the effective communication of science through blogs.  And it enables the data collection and analysis that will help them better-achieve their science communication aims. And of course, being a science-based community, they understand the importance of data and evidence in guiding decisions and actions, so there’s a rather elegant symmetry to them supporting the work that will generate the data that helps them in their work.

Continue Reading →

Back in 2011 – while I was Director of the University of Michigan Risk Science Center – I was part of a larger team exploring the possibility of conducting a full-blown assessment of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) possibilities and pitfalls in Michigan.  We were interested in applying the Integrated Assessment methodology developed at the University of Michigan to a growing challenge – the sustainable development and use of fracking. Four years later, the final report from the resulting program on high volume hydraulic fracturing in Michigan has just been published. This represents three intensive years of research and analysis by University of Michigan experts in evaluating fracking options across multiple dimensions, and developing options for proceeding sustainably. While the report focuses on Michigan, the analysis is broadly applicable to other states and beyond, and provides a deep and broad analysis of fracking. The program  set out to explore the best environmental, economic, social, and technological approaches for managing hydraulic fracturing in the State of Michigan.  Today’s final report presents options for moving forward sustainably that cover public participation in decision making, use of water resources, chemicals use policies.  It also provides a comprehensive introduction to fracking, and the challenges and opportunities it presents. Complimenting the final report are seven technical reports that address the technology of fracking; the geological/hydrological context of fracking; environment and ecology considerations; public health issues, policy and law aspects of fracking; the economics of fracking; and public perception around fracking. Together with today’s report, these provide an exceptionally comprehensive overview of the multidimensional challenges presented by fracking, and the options available to develop sustainable uses of the technology. While I’m no longer at Michigan, I’m proud that the Risk Science Center and its members were able to contribute support and expertise to this initiative, as part of helping enable informed decisions on risk within society. Feature image: Process of

Continue Reading →
Microbeads the science behind the risk

There’s a new viewpoint article in the Journal Environmental Science and Technology that calls for a ban on the use of microbeads, based on available evidence, and that has been causing something of a stir. The authors argue that the number of microbeads being washed into the environment from personal care products raises sufficient concerns to justify replacing them with alternative materials, or removing them from products altogether. These small beads of plastic – usually polyethylene – are added to many personal care products products like facial scrubs, shampoos, and even toothpaste – as an exfoliant.  The problem is, they are designed to wash down the sink, where they get into environmental water systems.  And because they don’t degrade, they accumulate, and eventually enter the food chain. More worryingly, they have a tendency to adsorb toxic materials such as dioxins – making them even more worrisome. Totally serendipitously, the latest video from Risk Bites takes a look at the science behind microbead risks. – worth watching as a quick and understandable primer on the issue. The video was made in collaboration with Ana Sophia Knauf, who is the author of a new series on cosmetics, health and the environment on  It also had valuable input from Professor Sherri (Sam) Mason at the State University of New York at Fredonioa – a leading expert on microbead contamination. One comment from Sam that isn’t highlighted particularly in the video – but is important – is that microbeads are just one segment of the growing issue of microplastics in bodies of water.  These millimeter-sized fragments of plastic are what becomes of the masses of plastic products we discard into the environment and that make their way into our rivers, lakes and oceans.  Sam pointed out that, because these fragments are often odd sizes, they have

Continue Reading →
Reporters- don't do this to scientists

Update 9:47  PM Sept 17.  It turns out that the reporter at the Sydney Morning Herald didn’t receive the three emails I sent on the 15th, and therefore did not realize that I had responded.  We have since exchanged emails, and the SMH article has updated to remove the statement that I wasn’t available for comment.  Bottom line – if things get messy, reporters, please do do this, and thanks to SMH and the article’s writer for responding positively.   Effective science reporting depends on a relationship of trust between journalists and scientists. Breach that trust, and effective reporting and science communication suffer. Journalists need to know they can call on scientists to provide accurate, understandable, and often rapid, information on topics.  Scientists need to know their help and input will be used with respect and honesty.  Without trust on both sides, things get messy fast. This morning, my name appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald.  But not against a quote or as a source. Instead, this is what I read: “Fairfax Media contacted … leading risk expert Professor Andrew Maynard at the University of Michigan. They were not available for comment.” Where an organization or person is being held accountable for their actions in an article, it’s sometimes necessary to state when they weren’t available for comment – it establishes due diligence on the reporter’s end, and makes a strong statement abut the stance and attitude of the organization/person under scrutiny. Experts who are approached for further insight, context, or background information on a piece are different. Scientists work with reporters for a number of reasons.  Most often though, they do so because of a personal and professional sense of responsibility to help people understand their worlds through the lens of science. If, as a reporter, you call out a scientist for not commenting on something, you erode the implicit relationship

Continue Reading →
For tech innovation to succeed, we need parallel innovation in how we think about risk

In October 2014, Google announced it was working on an innovative nanotechnology-based approach to avoiding and managing disease. The idea was to create a pill that would deliver magnetic, functionalized nanoparticles from the gut to the bloodstream. Once there, they would circulate — presumably for days, or longer — picking up biomarkers of disease along the way. The particles would then be remotely interrogated directly by the patient, perhaps using a wrist-mounted monitor. In effect, the plan was to create the ultimate in wearable tech: a personal device that could give you up-to-the-minute information on health and wellness, much as wrist-worn devices provide feedback on fitness today. Google’s nanosensor concept is certainly audacious. Its success though will depend on overcoming a number of challenges — not least, addressing potential risks. Based on what is currently known about nanoparticle behaviour, the technology faces a plethora of possible health and environmental challenges. Failure to address these could leave the company with a non-starter on its hands. Yet the probability of causing harm is not the only risk that could prevent these nanosensors from becoming a reality. In the expanded list of potential risks, there is also the chance of outmoded or overly restrictive regulations blocking progress; or the possibility of investor ambivalence, consumer suspicion, or social media backlash. These hint at a much larger and murkier risk landscape that emerging technologies will have to navigate to be successful. Google’s nanoparticle sensors are indicative of a growing number of technologies that are facing increasingly complex risk-related challenges. Recently, the Future of Life Institute awarded close to US$7 million for research aimed at ensuring the robust and beneficial development of artificial intelligence — funding prompted by how unexpected risks could undermine the technology’s development. Earlier this year, published research into using the gene-editing technique

Continue Reading →
Facebook: An effective platform for science communication ?

Is Facebook an effective platform for science communication? If you’re interested in reach, and engaging content, a quick look at the followers and likes somewhere like the IFLS Facebook page would suggest that this is a phenomenally successful platform.  However, I suspect that these mega-sites are the exception rather than the rule, and don’t reflect the reality of using Facebook pages that most people experience. So how useful is this platform if you’re a niche, writing-in-your-spare-time science blogger? There’s been a 2020 Science Facebook page for several years now, but I’ve never really used it in earnest.  Over the past several weeks though, I’ve brushed it off, given the page a facelift, and been experimenting with regular posts. I was especially interested in how posting to the Facebook page compared to writing for the blog.  As a result, I’ve been posting short pieces there 3 – 4 times a week.  It’s been an interesting experiment (one that’s continuing), and I’d be interested in your thoughts – either here or over on the page itself. So far, I like the informality and immediacy of Facebook – if I see something that catches my attention, or I want to capture a thought or idea, it’s easy to put a short post up quickly in between everything else that’s clamoring for my time.  In a schedule where a free 15 minutes is a luxury, this has enabled me to put up links and comments that would never find their way into a blog,simply because of the extra time needed to craft a clear, solid narrative. I’ve also found the page a great way to informally curate links and ideas, and to add brief commentary around them. However, I have found that it seem something of a lottery who actually sees or reads a post.  The Facebook feed algorithm evidently decides which posts

Continue Reading →
Thank You Postcard Underground

In this age of public outrage and social media shaming, small acts of private kindness sometimes don’t seem to count for that much.  Yet even though they may not have the social cachet of jumping on the hashtag du jour, to the individual who receives them, they can still mean a lot. Anyone following this blog will know that I’ve been working with YouTube as a medium for science communication – and specifically risk communication – for a few years now.  The channel – Risk Bites – has been moderately successful, and is approaching 100 short videos on risk and science designed for a non-expert audience.  Yet as any content creator will tell you, sometimes it’s hard to continue without affirmation from your audience that they value what you do. Which is why I was both deeply humbled and massively buoyed up earlier today to be on the receiving end of some rather unusual acts of private kindness. The “acts” came in the form of a series of postcards – each hand written by an anonymous writer, and each expressing their thanks for what I do with Risk Bites. The postcards were from members of the Postcard Underground.  From what I’ve been able to glean – which isn’t a lot – this is a group of individuals who collectively decide to inundate an inspiring person (or group or organization apparently) kind words.  Via snail mail. On postcards. It’s an incredibly generous act, and one that is the antithesis of so much that takes place on social media these days. I have no idea who these postcard writers are.  But whoever you are – thank you. I only wish I could reciprocate by joining the legion of shadowy Postcard Underground members.  On the other hand,  you don’t need to be part of a covert group to anonymously send

Continue Reading →
Characterizing nanoparticles in the 1880s

On May 29th, there were 52,000 nanoparticles per cubic centimeter of air measured at the top of the Eiffel Tower. This may not seem the most compelling opening to an article, until you realize that the measurement was made in 1889 – over 100 years before nanotechnology and nanoparticles began hitting headlines as one of the most talked about emerging technologies in recent decades. The particles were measured by the Scottish scientist John Aitken, using his newly developed device for counting airborne dust particles.

Continue Reading →
A call to proactively support Women in Science

The past few decades have seen a substantial and positive shift in attitudes towards women in science and engineering.  And yet, they continue to face an uphill struggle against ingrained attitudes and actions that create barriers to having a full, rewarding, equitable, and respected career in fields encompassed by science, technology, engineering and math. Athene Donald – a long-time advocate of women in science, and Professor of Physics at the University of Cambridge Cavendish Laboratory – recently suggested that people commit to “taking one action, just one, in their local organisation to counter the local brand of disadvantage that women may be facing.” Athene went on to suggest a (non-exhaustive) list of actions that she encourages people to commit to (below).  It’s a good list, and one that I will be acting on as well as encouraging others to. Athene is further encouraging people to show their commitment by using the hashtag #just1action4WIS on Twitter. It would be great to see the #just1action4WIS commitment gain traction – not only on Twitter, but more importantly, in everyday actions and attitudes. COMMIT TO TAKE JUST ONE ACTION Counter the “local brand” of disadvantage women in science around you may be facing • Call out bad behaviour whenever and wherever you see it – in committees or in the street. Don’t leave women to be victimised; • Encourage women to dare, to take risks; • Act as a sponsor or mentor (if you are just setting out there will still always be people younger than you, including school children, for whom you can act); • Don’t let team members get away with demeaning behaviour, objectifying women or acting to exclude anyone; • Seek out and remove microinequities wherever you spot them; • Refuse to serve on single sex panels or at conferences without an appropriate level of

Continue Reading →
Should indoor tanning be banned?

Just how dangerous is indoor tanning? A couple of weeks ago, colleagues from the University of Michigan published an article with a rather stark recommendation: an immediate age limited ban on indoor tanning in all U.S. states, followed by a five-year phase-in ban for all commercial tanning.

Continue Reading →
I'm A Scientist USA

In an innovative science education initiative, five scientists vie for popularity with school-age students from across the US by answering their questions online, and in real-time chats, in an effort to be the “last scientist standing”

Continue Reading →
Lubchenco - delivering on science's social contract

In 1998, then-president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Dr. Jane Luchenco called for a “New Social Contract with science”. She argued that, in the face of emerging challenges, scientists needed to rethink their roles and responsibilities within society. Next Wednesday she will be examining how far we’ve come – and how far we still need to go – on delivering on science’s social contract, at the University of Michigan meeting on Academic Engagement in Public and Political Discourse.

Continue Reading →
Step by step guide to making a Risk Bites video

Just for the fun of it, I decided to live-tweet the making of the previous Risk Bites video (Five things worth knowing about nanoparticles and sunscreens – posted June 15 2014). [View the story “Making a Risk Bites video” on Storify] The whole six and a half hours from finalizing the script to posting the finished video can be relived at Storify –

Continue Reading →

After nearly two years and four hundred posts, the science communication course at the University of Michigan that feeds the Mind The Science Gap blog is coming to and end.  In between running a department, directing a research center, teaching, and actually doing research, something had to go.  And sadly, Mind The Science Gap was it.  The existing posts will remain, but there won’t be any new ones.  Sorry!  And thank you so much to everyone who has written for, promoted and commented on the blog – you have always been deeply appreciated.

Continue Reading →

This is a piece I had hoped not to post – at least so soon – and still feel uneasy about, as it refers to events that will probably cause hurt to some people.  But as I have been called out on Twitter and discussion around the events is gaining some momentum, a little clarification is probably in order.

Continue Reading →

From Risk Sense: Six months ago, Risk Bites launched as a somewhat quirky YouTube experiment in science communication. Twenty-seven videos on, how are things going?

Continue Reading →

On Monday, the National Institute for Occupational Safety released new data on the potential role multi-walled carbon nanotubes play as a cancer-promoter – a substance that promotes the development of cancer in the presence of a carcinogen.  In the study, mice were injected with methylcholanthrene – a cancer initiating agent – and subsequently exposed to airborne multi-walled carbon nanotubes. Compared to a control group, the methylcholanthrene and carbon nanotube-exposed mice were significantly more likely to develop tumors than a control group, developed more tumors, and developed larger tumors.  The study provides a strong indication that this particular form of carbon nanotube material can synergistically increase the likelihood and severity of cancer in the presence of a carcinogen.

Continue Reading →

The World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Emerging Technologies has just published its annual list of the top ten emerging technology trends.  Based on expert assessment from council members and others, the list provides insight into technologies that have the potential to have a significant economic and social impact in the near to mid term. This year’s list includes:

Continue Reading →

Cross-posted from Risk Sense This week’s Risk Bites video takes a roller-coaster ride through some of the hottest topics in risk science. Admittedly this is a somewhat personal list, and rather constrained by being compressed into a two and a half minute video for a broad audience. But it does touch on some of the more exciting frontier areas in reducing health risk and improving well-being through research and its application. Here are the five topics that ended up being highlighted: BIG DATA   Despite pockets of cynicism over the hype surrounding “big data”, the generation and innovative use of massive amounts of data are transforming how health risks are identified and addressed. With new approaches to data curation, correlation, manipulation and visualization, seemingly disconnected and impenetrable datasets are becoming increasingly valuable tools for shedding new insights into what might cause harm, and how to avoid or reduce it. This is a trend that has been growing for some years, but is now rapidly gaining momentum. Just four examples of how “big data” is already pushing the boundaries of risk science include: High throughput toxicity screening, where rapid, multiple toxicity assays are changing how the potential hazards of new and existing substances are evaluated; “Omics”, where genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, exposomics and similar fields are shedding new light on the complex biology at the human-environment interface and how this impacts on health and well-being; Risk prediction through the integrated analysis of related datasets; and Designing new chemicals, materials and products to be as safe as possible, by using sophisticated risk data analysis to push risk management up the innovation pipeline. CLOUD HEALTH, or C-HEALTH   Hot on the tails of mobile-health, the convergence of small inexpensive sensors, widespread use of smart phones and cloud computing, is poised to revolutionize how risk-relevant

Continue Reading →

2020 Science is the personal blog of Andrew Maynard - Director of the Risk Innovation Lab at Arizona State University. More ... 

Andrew can be found on Twitter at @2020science and on YouTube at Risk Bites


TWITTER: @2020science

YOUTUBE: Risk Bites

FACEBOOK: 2020 Science



Follow me on Twitter

Please enter your email address to receive notifications of new 2020 Science posts by email.

Join 43 other subscribers