A friend and I were discussing our tendency to hedge our bets when writing about science, for example: “The effect is somewhat observed“, “Our results are relatively consistent with”, “We conclude that our writing predominantly sucks”. These vagaries pollute our prose and muddle the mind of our readers. But is it necessary? Let’s start by addressing why scientists feel the need to be so inconclusive. First, science really is uncertain, and nobody wants to give an audience full of braniacs, geeks, and know-it-alls, a reason to think they don’t realise this. Second, writing is an act of psychology, because you don’t know what your readers know or don’t know, so you have to pre-empt the inevitable knowledge gap between you and them. The problem is that it’s impossible to determine the size of this gap and so the default position is to assume a chasm.
One of the many events held this year as part of the National Science Week was a collaborative project between scientists and artists. It was called Co-Lab: Science meets Street Art, and it is exactly what it sounds like: scientists and artists pair up, scientists have to explain their project in human terms and artists have to then paint their view of that project on a wall. Exciting, right?! I thought so too.
Earlier this year I was lucky enough to get to go over to California for a few days all in the name of science. We stayed up in the hills behind Berkeley, a short walk away from the instrument we were using. The view from our hotel room was pretty amazing with views across San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Pacific Ocean.
Could there be anything more frustrating to a climate scientist than an educated, seemingly reasonable person declare they don’t believe in climate change?
To me it feels a bit like this:
The science is now overwhelmingly clear on climate change; it is happening and humans are responsible. Yet, in 2013 60% of Australians thought that ‘there are too many conflicting opinions for the public to be sure about climate change’ (The Climate Institute, 2013).
It seems like we are back to the good old science communication problem.
Last week the leaders of almost 200 nations came together in Paris for the 21st UNFCCC Conference of Parties. On Saturday, 12 December 2015 these leaders reached an agreement that will signal the end of the use of fossil fuels, with the aim of rapidly replacing coal, oil and gas with clean energy sources worldwide.
Climate change is a global problem that requires all nations to come together to be a part of the solution. Australia equates to 5.15% of the world’s landmasses and 1.3% of greenhouse gas emissions, the 13th largest emitter in the world per capita out of 195 nations.
The 196 parties of the UNFCCC are coming together next week with the aim of stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will likely keep global warming below 2˚C. Check out my last blog post on COP21 for more information.
What I learnt from talking in front of tons of people.
By Hannah James
Back in June this year, Kelsie and I attended the official launch of the 3 minute thesis (3MT) competition for 2015. Previous contestants spoke and an inspirational video was played and the whole thing seemed cool. We were sucked in.
After attending as many of the training sessions as possible to give us an idea of what the hell we were meant to do and to take full advantage of free food, we had the RSES school round. After 9 minutes of exceptional entertainment, all three of us (Veronika, Kelsie and I) luckily made it through to the college round.
Over the last week space science got a lot of publicity thanks to Rosetta and its sidekick Philae. ESAs successful attempt to land a spacecraft on a comet was all over the news. Apart from the news coverage, which the mission got thanks to the landing, you could and can follow Rosetta on Twitter or on the Rosetta blog, ESA is providing detailed information about the mission on their website and last but not least the use of videos explaining Rosettasmission and the ingenious short-movie Ambition got a lot of people excited about the mission. A pathetic hysteria raging over a scientists sense of fashion aside, it was an excellent example for science communication well-done. Or was it?
Last week I started talking through the process of applying for positions in the Australian Public Service Graduate Programs. To recap, I covered some considerations for addressing the selection criteria. I applied to three departments; Department of A, Department of B and Geosciences Australia. All three had selection criteria, with the first two also requiring a written test, then all three a panel interview. In my opinion I did really poorly on the two written tests, partly because I was very used to writing in a different style and partly because I was losing the plot. As far as the interviews go I interviewed really well for two departments and the other SO badly that I actually started laughing part way through…In my defence I had finished writing my thesis at 2am and that particularly interview was at 10am, however even so I was such a loose cannon I’m surprised they didn’t have security escort me out. And herein lies the ‘how not to’ part of the post 🙂
Just recently I was given a healthy reminder that some stereotypes are really hard to break. I am very open about the fact that I was always interested in science, however when I hit 16 I was more interested in being cool. Unfortunately I had no role models that were cool scientists which led me to make some decisions that would lead me away from science* for over a decade**. And so during my time at the Research School of Earth Sciences I have gladly been involved with the university’s Equity and Diversity Unit, that most recently included participating in their ‘Who are scientists?’ workshop that was held for 14 year olds from regional school along the coast.
The 8 representative ‘scientists’ were jumbled in with other staff from our coastal campus, and when singled out the 120 kids were asked to stand if they thought that person was a scientist. Of 120, guess how many stood for me……
To continue on from my last post, I am regaling you all with stories of my thesis submission. As Evanpointed out, having a hard deadline is really important because you could go on refining the document for years, for a life time in fact. My carrot at the end of a stick four years long was the opportunity to participate in the Simpson Desert Paleontological Survey. The site was so remote that the only way we could access it….was by walking in with camels. I ask you, who wouldn’t stay up until all hours, forget to include both their acknowledgements page and to reference their own paper, as well as missing a typo in the final sentence*, for such an opportunity? Not me, that is for certain.
I’ll talk more about the dig in next week’s post, this week I’d like to focus on the trek, on the camels, and losing yourself to both. Today, we are walking with purpose.
It has been so very long since I wrote a blog post I barely know where to start. In this instance, I feel compelled start at the end…
I SUBMITTED MY THESIS!
The first article I ever posted was called ‘M’ is for Midterm and finally, two and a half years later, I get to write ‘F’ is for Finished! I have learned so many things since that first post, about blogging, about research, probably most importantly about deep-sea coral (that was* after all my PhD topic) and an AWFUL lot about myself; some things that I shall carry forward and a few things that I shall gladly leave behind. The whole process of doing a PhD is often described as a roller coaster, which was most definitely the case for me. The extreme highs were coupled to some rather uncomfortable lows. So perhaps I was naive to think that the ride ended on the day of submission, and I was not entirely prepared for how strange it would be to put my feet back on the ground. Like the astronaut returning from space readjusting to earth’s gravity, I discovered on my own re entry, that perspective on Planet PhD was so different to that on Planet Earth that I needed some time to learn how to walk again.
I’ll save my survival tips for another post, although I will say that Evan pretty much covered most of them in PhD: Epilogue. What I’d like to tell you about is the incredibly surreal period that culminates in the days leading up to (my) submission, and in my next post, the days that follow **.
We all know the saying “Bad News are Good News”, usually used by/for the media, referring to the phenomenon that “Bad News” normally get much more attention than “Good News”. Over the course of the last few weeks the plane disasters in Ukraine, Taiwan and Mali and the subsequent media coverage attest to this.
If our loved ones are on a trip, we might rather think of the saying “No News are Good News”, especially if they travel in region that doesn`t allow them to have 24/7 access to Facebook and Twitter.
When it comes to do a job, the principle is again a bit different. And while “Good News are Good News” is hardly a saying, it pretty much sums up the desired outcome that everyone hopes for when there is work in progress. Science is no different in this respect.
As a scientist you want to announce the discovery of the Higgs Boson, rather than explain to the citizens of several european countries that they paid 7.5 billion Euro for a machine that created a black hole that is now swallowing up Switzerland.1
As a scientist you want to announce, that the planet your curious rover is driving on has some interesting features. In the best case something that can be interpreted as possibly indicating that there was an environment on this planet that could in theory have hosted life. You don`t want to tell them that your orbiter crashed on the same planet, because someone thought “pound-seconds” is a sensible unit.2
As a scientist you want to tell your boss that you created a cure for Alzheimer, rather than a virus that will wipe out most of the human population, while at the same time creating highly intelligent apes, that will wipe the floor with the few human survivors. (Figure 1)
A few weeks back I wrote about the “epicness” and literary quality that is hidden behind the technical terms in which scientific ideas (i.e. hypotheses or theories) are presented.
“A picture is worth a thousand words“, so a good way to present your scientific idea to the community are figures. Of course, figures in scientific papers (e.g. data plots, model visualisations, maps) are subject to the same modus of presentation as a scientific text:
Anxious to be accurate, clear and as plain1 as possible.
I often come across figures in papers, which not only tell their part of the story very well, but also look like they were done by a professional designer.
Up to and through my master thesis I always used a combination of Excel and relative simple graphic programs to create my figures. Consequently, they often looked like I let my 5-year-old self do the job.
To be able to create better looking figures in the future I started using Adobe Illustrator a while back. To get a feeling for the program and to learn the basic tools2, I decided to create a map of the Apollo 16 landing site, from which most of my samples are coming from.
Using images taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera at different times of the day and a Traverse Map of the Apollo 16 mission I created Figure 1. I marked different craters (red), added the traverse of the astronauts during the mission (orange) and marked the sample locations of the samples I`m working on with different colored dots.
Not very impressive, but a start. The nice thing with Illustrator is, that you can save every detail separately and change their appearance later. So I hope, when I learn to handle to program better, I can go back and improve the figure more and more.
But now to the fun part: As I mentioned, the program is new to me. So I started browsing through the menu and play around with the different options. And there are a lot of options – probably more aiming at people doing professional graphic design.
Nevertheless, I started applying different filters, graphic features etc. to the various layers of my figure. The result (Figure 2) can`t probably count anymore as a geological map of any sort, but looks quite “arty”.
I guess a lot of you have some nice Illustrator files lying around. So if you want to let your creative site out for a walk, dig up some files and Art’em’Up!
If you are pleased with the result, feel free to send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will display them here.
1 That doesn`t mean scientific figures can`t be detailed. They just eradicate every unnecessary detail.