Category Archives: Science Communication

Science haiku

Haiku is one of the quickest and most fun forms of poetry to write. It’s also perfect for Twitter (which I recently joined). At some point, I intend to do some longer palaeontological poetry but for now, I have written a few haiku (mostly in the shower). I decided to tweet them all and am going to attempt to embed the first post here (I’ve never embedded a tweet before). They are mostly about the Ediacaran biota, with a few about palaeontology in general. Also birds. One of the challenges of writing a haiku about science, especially palaeontology, is the structure which limits the number of syllables one can use; a word like palaeontologist, for example, is too long for the first or last line and takes up a lot of allocated syllables when used in the second line. I had fun with that.

 

This first tweet was about Charnia, the important and puzzling Ediacaran fossil. The next one was about another Ediacaran organism, Dickinsonia. They are all on Twitter as well.

Dickinsonia
Your fossils are confusing
Reveal your secrets

For the next organism, I took a more tongue-in-cheek approach to its appearance.

Oh dear, Spriggina
You look like a used condom
Ribbed for her pleasure

And how could I leave out Kimberella?

Look, Kimberella
Maker of fossil scratch marks
Is that the back end?

I took a look at Ediacarans as a whole in these three:

Ediacarans
Are those animals, maybe?
A lively debate

Ediacarans
Where do you fit on life’s tree?
Pesky Rorschach tests

Precambrian life
Always called “enigmatic”
A truthful label

And onto the Cambrian:

Things got complex in
The Cambrian Explosion
But what was the cause?

I wasn’t as keen on that one as it seems to suggest a singular cause. I had written a different final line in my head but it has sadly disappeared. The next three were about palaeontology as a whole:

Wonderful life, dead
Palaeontologists find
Minds put flesh on bone

The rocks hold within
Secrets for us to unveil
Remnants of deep time

Life of distant pasts
Myriad deep connections
Try to uncover

And, finally, I thought I would hammer one particular point home:

Birds are dinosaurs
Birds? Yes, they are dinosaurs
Living dinosaurs

If you enjoyed these, drop me a message or comment on Twitter, I’d be happy to write some more.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Cambrian, Cambrian Explosion, Ediacarans, Palaeontology, Science Communication

Is Jurassic World Evolution useful for science communication? An open question

I’d love for this to be an in-depth discussion about the merits of the soon-to-be-released Jurassic World Evolution game, however, it is not (my apologies if you wanted some actual insight). It’s something I’d like to see investigated and it opens up a broader question: do video games geared towards entertainment have the potential for education? Testing a person’s knowledge of dinosaurs before and after the game could yield some interesting results.

Before I say any more, check out one of the trailers for the game:

Recently, a friend of mine who is extremely excited about the game added me to a Facebook group (aptly named Jurassic World Evolution!) geared towards discussion about the game. His intention was to get me interested in playing it, which would have worked if I actually played computer games; it looks right up my alley. What I found was mostly discussions about possibilities in the game, which I found tedious. In amongst the game-speak was genuine discussions about dinosaurs, with some of the commenters displaying some quite in-depth knowledge about dinosaurs (and, of course, lots of arguments about Spinosaurus vs Tyrannosaurus). Even simple questions asking which dinosaurs the gamers wanted to see elicited some responses which sent me to Google, looking up dinosaur names which I had ashamedly never seen before or about which I had limited knowledge. The possibility that a game like Jurassic World Evolution, which is purely meant for entertainment and to make money off of a popular franchise, could educate people about dinosaurs excited the budding science communicator in me and put a smile on the palaeontologist’s face (he’s in there too).

It wasn’t all good news. Many misconceptions popped up in the discussion threads. One particularly egregious example was the frustratingly often mentioned “T. rex was a scavenger” argument which should have died long ago. Some people seemed resistant to the idea that some dinosaurs had feathers, whilst the idea that birds are dinosaurs seemed completely lost on some of the people I encountered. I got the sense that they weren’t getting their information from the game and that perhaps when the game conflicted with other information they had in their head, they perceived the game as taking creative liberties (much as the films did to an extent).

As an example of how uninformed some of the fans were, see the screenshot below. Those are responses to the question, “What is your favourite dinosaur of all time?”

Dinosaur fans don’t like dinosaurs much

As you can see, there are some decent answers. In this screenshot alone, there are Therizinosaurus and Acrocanthasaurus, both examples which are not obvious choices. The thread also included Herrerasaurus, Suchomimus, Shantungosaurus, Gualicho, Gastonia, Corythosaurus, Saichania, Saurophaganax, and even Irritator (and more but I think the point is obvious). Some great, more obscure choices in amongst the usual Tyrannosaurus, Velociraptor and other typical Jurassic Park fare.

Also present were Tapejara, Sarcosuchus, Dimorphodon, Pteranodon and Mosasaurus, none of which are dinosaurs. If games like Jurassic World Evolution do have the potential to teach people, then obviously some of the basics about dinosaurs are passing some of the gamers by.

I’m drawing no conclusions from this very brief and simple look into the world of Jurassic World Evolution fandom, except that I would love to see a study on its impact or the impact of games in general.

Also, I will hopefully soon be reviewing Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, if I manage to see it. I still have a number of half-written blog posts reviewing Jurassic World as I hated the film so the same could happen with Fallen Kingdom. I have, however, thrown around quite a few opinions on the franchise.

Leave a comment

Filed under Science Communication

MyOneScienceTweet – my top two

Over on Twitter (where I’m not a member), the hashtag #MyOneScienceTweet has been trending amongst scientists. The science side of the site was asked, “If you could have the entire world know just one thing about your field of study, then what would it be?” It’s a goldmine filled with interesting soundbites, frustrations and humour, from which I have selected two which stood out for me.

The first is this one, particularly as social media is full of posts being shared declaring to have a cure or treatment for cancer, whilst the print media is little better whenever they report on cancer treatments.

 

The second is this one, simply because it highlights the often amusing side of science.

Leave a comment

Filed under Science Communication

Blue Planet II is smashing the viewing figures

In one of the most reassuring signs this year, the cutting edge nature documentary series Blue Planet II, narrated by Sir David Attenborough, is dominating in the ratings here in the UK. On the night of the season premiere on the 29th of October, Blue Planet II was watched by an average of 10.3 million live viewers, compared to 9,6 million for the Strictly Come Dancing viewers (which was on before), and 4.3 million for X-Factor. I end up watching the show on a Monday, whilst many others watch it through the week, apparently bringing the figures up to 14.01 million.

For the second episode, set in the darkest depths of the oceans, 10.8 million watched live – a figure which will rise when the full viewing figures come in. Last year’s Planet Earth II never dipped below 11 million viewers per episode, peaking at 13.14 million, so Blue Planet II looks to be surpassing it already. I’d love to know how much of the audience is young people potentially being inspired both to study and protect their planet. I’d also like to review each episode, but that’s not going to happen.

If you’ve not managed to watch the show already, enjoy the trailer.

Leave a comment

Filed under Science Communication, Uncategorized

This year’s worst science headline was an obituary

In September this year, palaeontologist Mike Getty sadly died whilst out in the field, a man whom a friend of mine described as the best field palaeontologist they had ever met. The Daily Mail website, surprisingly, had some rather well-researched information about his life which would have made for a good obituary, however, there was one big problem. They decided to go with a headline stating that Getty’s colleagues have denied that he died from exposure to ancient bacteria. They didn’t simply pull this headline out of their arse, which is where they got the whole idea about ancient bacteria in the first place, they also went through the effort of pestering his grieving friends and colleagues for soundbites to confirm their egregious speculation. I did a search back when this article first came to light and found nothing to suggest that this bizarre idea came from anywhere but the messed up minds of the Daily Mail staff. (Part of me does not want to link to this because I don’t want to increase traffic to the site, but here it is anyway.)

I don’t expect accuracy from the Daily Mail but I am shocked that they would post such bullshit when someone has died. Someone has perhaps watched too much Fortitude and studied very little palaeontology.

For a much better article written after his death, see here.

RIP Mike Getty

Leave a comment

Filed under Science Communication

The best headline about Dickinsonia, ever?

Dickinsonia is one of those pesky Ediacaran mysteries which persistently defies classification. Think of an animal group and someone has suggested that Dickinsonia belongs to it. Think of a group outside of Animalia and there’s a decent chance that Dickinsonia has been placed there too. In more recent years, there has been a tendency to see it as a potential placozoan – the simplest of animals – often in a very cautious manner, or at least that it is at the same grade of complexity (for an example of the case for a placozoan affinity, see here, for insight into just how difficult it has been to classify Dickinsonia, see here). A recent study into the development of Dickinsonia claims to provide strong evidence that it is indeed an animal, though without assigning it to any particular group. It effectively states that Dickinsonia is an animal, so let’s put aside the claims that it is not and focus on where it fits on the animal evolutionary tree. See for yourself, here.

This gained a lot of press coverage back in September, though one, in particular, stood out to me. The Week decided to go with the brilliant headline “550-million-year-old thingamajig determined to actually be an animal”. I honestly can’t express how much I love that Dickinsonia has been labelled a “thingamajig” as it is perfect. Dickinsonia is head-scratchingly confusing, it is rightly considered to be a Rorschach Test for palaeontologists, it is, quite simply, a baffling thingamajig. It’s just a shame that the term has no taxonomic value.

Leave a comment

Filed under Ediacarans, Palaeontology, Science Communication

Misquoting Darwin – mimicry is common

Recently, I had a university assignment which involved providing a method for delivering science. I had chosen the theory of evolution as the science I wished to communicate, which I was aiming to help GCSE biology students learn (16-year-olds, pretty much). It covered a number of topics which are linked to evolution and, for the adaptation section, I decided to add a well-known quotation from Charles Darwin. Variations are easily found in meme form:

I found this particular iteration here: https://www.tes.com/lessons/IUuOv0S0tZBD7Q/charles-darwin

To my surprise, Darwin never actually said these words. Over the years, I’ve come across all sorts of quotations misattributed to Darwin and quotations taken massively out of context, and have undoubtedly typed the words “Darwin never actually said that” enough times to consider it some sort of punishment. Yet there I was, about to pass on an apocryphal quotation to impressionable minds.

This particular quotation originates from a Professor of Management and Marketing, Leon Megginson, in 1963, which has since taken on its own life (you can read more about this specific quotation here, and about some other misquotations here). Attributing a quotation to Charles Darwin gives it a certain credibility when it comes to anything evolution-related, making mimicry a common result.

Leave a comment

Filed under Evolution, Science Communication