Category: Engagement

Want to uniquely inspire kids about science

Between April 25 – May 6, I’m A Scientist USA will once again be pitting some of the country’s smartest young scientists against middle and high school kids, in the quest to be the Last Scientist Standing. If you’re up for the challenge, you have until April 4 to throw your hat into the ring! I’m A Scientist is an online competition that allows school kids of all backgrounds and abilities to engage with scientists in ways that they would never usually have the chance to.  It’s open to scientists from academia, industry and the public sector. I’m admittedly a little biased here as a member of the I’m A Scientist USA Advisory Board, and a winner in the original UK competition (where it all started). That said, I would rank this as one of the most exciting, rewarding and transformative experiences you can take part in if you’re a young scientist with a passion for inspiring others – especially middle and high school students. Why I’m A Scientist is different What makes I’m A Scientist different from many other “communication opportunities” is that the kids call the shots – with a little help from their teachers and the I’m A Scientist team. As a contestant (and be warned – competition’s fierce to get accepted) – you are placed in a “zone” with four other scientists (“the competition”), and assigned to a group of school classes. Over the competition’s two weeks, your kids (and you’ll get to know some of them pretty well), post questions to the zone, sometimes directing them to you personally.  These can be about pretty much anything – from why’s the sky blue, to what makes a black hole, to what do you do all day (and even what’s your favorite food). You’ll also have a few incredibly intense live chats with

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Public universities must do more

The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, has been in the national headlines for months, culminating in its central role at a recent debate in the city when Democratic presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton slammed government officials for dismissing the health of residents. Sadly, not every marginalized community can depend on a political debate to highlight its cause. But in the absence of media frenzies and heavy-hitting politicians, to whom can beleaguered citizens turn? Before Flint’s water issues hit the big time, help arrived from two unexpected sources – Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, an assistant professor at Michigan State University and director of the Pediatric Residency Program and Hurley Medical Center, and Professor Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech. Their interventions put the Flint water crisis on the map, ultimately leading to the national attention it’s received. Hanna-Attisha and Edwards both work for large public universities. Yet it was their personal actions – not those of their institutions – that gave the citizens of Flint a voice. How much more could have been achieved if public universities themselves had spearheaded efforts to address the water crisis in Flint from the get-go? This is a question I’ve grappled with for some time – both in my current position at Arizona State University (ASU) and previously. At the University of Michigan, for instance, I led a center that sought to connect academic research on risk to ordinary people who could use it. We were successful, although the only record of that now resides on the Internet archive site Wayback Machine. Even with this success, there were many times that I felt it was despite the institution we were a part of, rather than because of it. ‘Costs of doing science’ for the public good Unfortunately, as I’ve experienced firsthand, there’s a stark disconnect

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What if we approach risk like entrepreneurs approach innovation

If you’ve been following this month’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), you’ll know with absolute certainty that the future is cool, shiny and stuffed to the brim with “must-have” gadgets. Reading the ebullient reports, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything other than overflowing optimism for how technology will transform our lives. And admittedly, it’s hard to imagine how smart shoes or a rollable TV screen could possibly be bad for us. From virtual reality so “there” you can almost touch it, to the Internet of every imaginable thing, we’re being dazzled by the seemingly infinite possibilities that modern tech has to offer. But I wonder whether, in all the buzz and hype, we’re in danger of losing sight of the darker side of technology innovation. CES and similar expos represent the glitzy face of deeper trends that could be destructive if developed without a sophisticated appreciation of potential risks. All technologies come with risks With the uncritical enthusiasm around CES, it’s easy to ignore the potential consequences of irresponsible technology innovation. It’s even easier to turn a blind eye to the challenges we face in developing technologies that are good for society as a whole, and don’t just enrich those who create them. Take for example robotics, artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) – three trends that were amply represented at the show. While each holds the potential to profoundly change our lives for the better, these technologies are by no stretch of the imagination intrinsically safe. Fears over the consequences of irresponsible AI development have already been widely voiced, and the rapid rise of the Internet of Things threatens to make everyday objects vulnerable to cyber attacks. And all three have the potential to widen the gap between the privileged and the disadvantaged. In today’s evolving social

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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Politics don't always play a role in attitudes toward science issues 750x400

Comments provided for GENeS on the launch of the Pew Research Center attitudes survey on Americans, Politics and Science Issues (July 1 2015) Political leanings are frequently associated with attitudes toward science and technology in the U.S.  Yet as the most recent poll from the Pew Research Center on Americans, Politics and Science Issues shows, public attitudes toward science and technology depend on a far more diverse and complex set of factors. This latest survey uses tried and tested statistical approaches to assess the degree to which different factors predict attitudes toward science, technology and engineering related issues amongst American adults.  As well as investigating attitudes as a function of ideology and political party, the survey also looks at the influence of age, education and science knowledge, gender, race and ethnicity, and religion or religious activities. These factors are mapped onto 22 areas covering climate and energy, government funding of science and technology, evolution, biomedical research and applications, food safety, animal testing, and space research and exploration.  For each area, the analysis assesses how strongly or weakly each factor predicts public attitudes. As with all statistical analyses, there are some uncertainties surrounding the results.  However, the approach used enables different influences to be disentangled from one another, allowing a clear picture to emerge of how different factors influence attitudes.  Within the caveats that apply to any such assessment, the survey paints a nuanced overview of factors influencing American attitudes toward the development and applications of science, technology and engineering. As might be expected, the survey shows attitudes toward climate change and fossil fuel use to be strongly associated with political affiliation and ideology.  In contrast, acceptance of evolution due to natural processes is not strongly associated with political allegiances; rather, age and religion are stronger predictors of whether someone accepts

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Using animations in science communication - arsenic in food

Can short animations be used for effective science communication, asks guest-blogger Queen Alike, Public Health Specialist at the National Institutes of Health National Library of Medicine (NLM).

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New EdX course offers unique training in science & engineering photography

I’ve long been a fan of Felice Frankel’s work. I was thrilled therefore to discover that she is part of the team offering a unique edX course on making science and engineering pictures, starting on June 15.

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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”

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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.

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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

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Hot on the heels of yesterday’s announcement on the Higgs Boson, some of YouTube’s most viewed science communicators have been burning the midnight oil to explain why this is so exciting.  Wrapping up this series of posts on YouTube, I thought I would call out three prominent YouTubers who were at VidCon this last week, yet still found the time to pull together a video following the news. First out of the blocks was Brady Haran with this video on the SixtySymbols channel, following the CERN seminar surrounding the announcement: Next came Vi Hart’s “Sonnet on a Higgs-Like Particle” And at 9:00 AM promptly this morning, Henry Reich of MinutePhysics posted his much-anticipated piece on the Higgs Boson: What interests me especially with all three videos is how fast they were pulled together and posted, how effectively they connect with a broad audience, and how many views they have already had (not to mention the comments).  Vi Hart’s and Brady Haran’s are well over 30,000 views at the time of writing (around 24 hours after posting), while Henry Reich’s video had over 1600 likes and 450 comments within the first couple of hours of going up.  Compare this with the more mainstream (but still excellent) video from Cara Santa Maria at Huffington Post: At the time of writing (2 days after being posted), it had 2,580 views and 19 comments.  Not shabby by any means.  But it’s clear who had the further reach here! Update: Henry Reich pointed out that Cara gets most of her views on the Huffington Post video channel, not YouTube.  You can check out her HuffPo Higgs Boson video here [link] And while I’m at it, here’s a late-breaking entry from Derek Muller (Veritasium on YouTube)

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I‘m over half way through the first day at VidCon 2012, and thought I would jot a few notes down on the science scene here.  OK, so maybe 7,000 people haven’t come to the Anaheim Convention Center to hear the latest on the Higgs boson and other interesting science stuff (although you’d be surprised by how many of them are interested), but after last year, I’ve become increasingly interested in how YouTube is developing as a platform for science communication, education and engagement. After last year’s experience of a distinctly counter-culture nature, I wrote this: Next year, VidCon will be held at the Anaheim Convention Center in LA, and I suspect will attract a much larger crowd than this year.  As planning gets underway for the event, it would be really good to see participation from some of the big names in science communication on YouTube, and a greater integration of science and technology YouTube communities into the program. I doubt very much that Hank Green – the driving force behind VidCon – is a sufficiently avid reader of 2020 Science that he read this and acted on it.  But nevertheless science has clearly moved up the agenda this year.  This in part reflects a massive increase in science content and viewership on YouTube over the past year – including the launch of Hank’s own channel SciShow.  It also reflects the fact that grass roots and alternative science communicators on YouTube are – not to put too fine a point on it – smokin’ it when it comes to connecting with today’s youth. In this morning’s opening main stage session, Henry Reich (MinutePhysics) gave a packed audience in the Anaheim Convention Center Arena a quick lesson in quantum mechanics and the paradox of Schrödindgers cat.  And it went down a

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Having been initiated into the alternative world of teen YouTube culture last year, I am once again being dragged along to VidCon – the Comic-Con of the online video community.  This year – the third year for VidCon – promises to be bigger than better than ever with around 6,000 signed up for a two day extravaganza next week at the Anaheim Convention Center.  And it looks like science communicators and video-makers are going to have a greater presence than in the past.  Given the size, median age and enthusiasm of the participants, this is rather exciting. I’ll be there with my daughter and a fellow vlogger from their YouTube channel Fellowshipofthening (highly recommended btw), one of a gaggle of bemused parents.  But I’ll also be on the lookout once again for how the YouTube community is intersecting with science engagement and communication. Particularly exciting this year is the increased presence of science types at the jamboree.  Derek Muller (creator of the video blog Veritasium) is a speaker at the event, and Brady Haran of the phenomenally popular Periodic Table of Videos will be there.  Also attending (hopefully) will be Joanne Manaster, who writes for the PsiVid blog at Scientific American as well as her own video-rich blog Joanne Loves Science. Actually, a  bit of a plug here – as Joanne is self-financing the trip, she’s looking for donations to help make it happen.  If you care about kids and science, please throw a few dollars her way – here’s where you can do that. Then of course there is the mastermind behind the whole VidCon shebang Hank Green, who launched the SciShow YouTube channel earlier this year.  It already has nearly 200,000 subscribers and close on ten million video views – not bad! I’m sure there will be many

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Not in the technical sense I’m afraid, but thought it would be fun to post this image of nano-branded M&Ms.  They were used as part of a recent NanoDays session with local school kids exploring the broader implications of nanotechnology. The only substantive link they have with real nano-enabled products as far as I can tell is the cost – they’re not cheap!

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Here’s an introduction to the “wonders and worries of nanotechnology” that I think is rather brilliant: It’s part of a series being produced by the Science Museum of Minnesota for the Nanoscale Informal Science Education network (NISE Net). The series is designed to stimulate discussions addressing the societal and ethical implication of nanotechnology – but in an accessible and non-threatening way. Keep your eyes peeled for further episodes with Mindy and Denny – having read through some of the draft scripts, I think you will enjoy them!

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

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