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Science as Leisure

Liz Marchio

I am a trained ichthyologist interested in what gets people interested in natural history, biological sciences, and science careers. My passion is to find out what fuels curiosity for the natural world.

Biology-related serious leisure activities can impact people's interest in ecology, biology, and natural history. Do these activities promote biological understanding? If so, how does that progress and to what level does it progress to? 

If you're interested in a starting a dialogue, please feel free to contact me. If you're curious about how I got here, my story can be found on the About Me page.


Science Outreach - It's a science, y'all!

This post is about Twitter science outreach and its lack of scientific assessment.

I spent some time on Twitter and joined the ranks of the scientists who do outreach on the platform. I didn’t have a focus or a plan, so my science communication (or “scicomm”) went under the radar of most non-scientist tweeps.

Twitter became a time suck during my Ph.D. and I thus discontinued my activity. Instead I focused on my research and finishing my degree. While I found many benefits to my Twitter activities, specifically publishing an essay in the Working Life column of Science, as a whole it was a major source of anxiety and irritation. I suggest any graduate student who does not have a plan of action for their participation on social media, to discontinue its use when anxiety rears its ugly head.

When I returned to Twitter with my newly acquired expertise in interviewing, survey design, and communication, I saw a LOT of major problems with how my “friends” were going about their science communication on the platform.

For one, many did outreach without a plan. Or their plan was not congruent with their posts. For example, some Tweeps would spend an extraordinary amount of time talking about a publication they had written which was marketing rather than science communication. It was indeed communicating science, by selling a book about science. There was no actual science content. This is completely fine, to push your pubs, but it alters your communication, from education to marketing something about education. These are very different.

Some scientists also correlate their follower count to how well their science communication was landing with the people. That’s a rudimentary way to assess outreach. Essentially, it shows popularity and the size of the echo chamber, not the success of outreach. The main issue here is there is no definition of “science communication” by the communicator. There are no variables of assessment besides “follower count” or “retweets”. Outreach can be assessed if there is a theoretical foundation and a scientifically done assessment.

There are plenty of academic papers that outline outreach assessments, which are quantitative in nature. This is just one aspect of social science - the science of understanding humans. Interestingly, the vast majority of scientific outreach on social media seems to be by natural scientists who have overlooked the science of assessing their outreach work. They don’t seem to realize they are wasting their time and energy by not assessing the work they do on social media. Outreach is a science. It can be assessed. Science communication is only successful if you can quantify it, not just point to follower counts, retweets, or publication views/sales.

I encourage natural scientists to look at science as a theory and practice, not just the study of organisms or whatever their interest is in. It is a way to assess the world, and collaborating with social scientists can make a world of difference.

Note: I have pointed these facts out on Twitter and been bullied by those with high follower counts (this means my words to them in a conversation were retweeted out of context so their followers would barrage my notifications with angry messages - this is social media bullying). Thus, I am not posting Tweets or members of Twitter to support these arguments. I encourage you to sit and think, or better, pick up a book on the science of science communication to broaden your perspective on the topic.

In Defense of my Love for Adam Sandler Movies

Adam Sandler movies were once a staple in my movie-diet. There was nothing better than sitting with a group of friends, quoting the best lines and joking about the absurdity of it all. 

That absurdity earned Sandler a "goofball" status. And as a teen/20yo, that goofiness is what I identified as my interest in his work. 

Then Punch Drunk Love came out. I was sideswiped by the deep level of absurdity involved, where the goofiness took a completely scary form. I later found out this movie can be thought of as a life history of Superman. His uncontrollable sisters drive him to do uncontrollable things with his, then, uncontrollable super powers. ANYWAY... it became obvious Adam Sandler was not just a goofy, one trick pony. 

Alas, he eventually goes back to do other movies, and those after 2004 I am less familiar with. But after much reflection about the absurd movies, I realize Adam Sandler stereotyped himself. Maybe people call this "typecasting", but with Happy Madison productions, and Sandler producing the movies, it is absurd to think he would typecast himself.... OR WOULD HE? 

While I have no idea about his intentions, I think Adam Sandler movies, pre-2004, allowed Adam Sandler to be typecast as the silly, irresponsible, bad-with-women, bachelor... which concurrently allowed his supporting cast OUT of being stereotyped or typecast in a role. We all focused on the repetative nature of Adam Sandler, we didn't realize he was allowing absurd characters to break sterotypes. 


That's my opinion, anyway. What's yours? 

A Primer for Scientists on Passionate, Scientific Outreach

There are a lot of ways a scientist can do scientific outreach. This is how I've done my version; I hope it helps in finding your outreach niche!

Since 2012 I have done 13 science-oriented invited speaking presentations to non-scientists across the U.S. Each presentation averaged approximately 30 people for a total impact of 390 people. That's ~80 people a year.



Different Platforms, Scales, and Impact of Outreach: I am hardly an established scientific personality thus the scale of my outreach is not as grand as a Bill Nye or a Neil deGrasse Tyson. I also don't use the same platform for outreach that a Nye has access to or the passion for. Television as a platform for communication is wonderful for general [aesthetically pleasing] information. While I consider myself a good public speaker, I have identified ways outside of television to use those skills.

Think about the platform and its merits and limitations.

 For another example, using Twitter as a platform for outreach: I can't just tweet an awesome fish fact and reach thousands, or tens, of people. I first need to amass followers or seek out people to interact with.

Dr. David Steen (@alongsidewild) does a great job of literal Twitter outreach - he seeks out tweets about snakes and tweets to that person the identification of the snake and maybe a fun fact. Because he REACHED OUT to the community he was able to connect with people on their level and encourage them to join his community of snake-lovers. Because of this [tedious] work, Dr. Steen is a regular Twitter personality and has saved innumerable numbers of snakes from being killed through misidentification and misunderstanding. Maybe Twitter outreach is for you. Maybe not. Think about the platform and be OK with starting on a small scale.

Scientific Reach Out; not Outreach

Scientific Reach Out; not Outreach

Small is not bad. A small scale allows the outreach to be much more personalized and experiential. Television, while a popular vehicle for outreach, is a dangerously inactive activity to promote. Why promote watching television if television watching keeps people from being actively involved in something? Just because you can reach millions doesn't mean you're helping them or your own outreach interest [i.e. science]. For more on television's impacts on American society, check out Tuning in, Tuning out: The strange disappearance of social capital in America; Putnam 1995.


The black circle indicates a large scale but at a relatively insensitive/general outreach potential. The red dots indicate acute, sensitive outreach potential.; i.e. smaller but higher quality doses. [don't use MS Paint for image editing, btw]

The black circle indicates a large scale but at a relatively insensitive/general outreach potential. The red dots indicate acute, sensitive outreach potential.; i.e. smaller but higher quality doses. [don't use MS Paint for image editing, btw]


So now you're aware that there are different platforms for communicating science and that not all of them will work for you or the information you want to share. My skill set, for example, is decidedly showcased best in person. My personality does not convey itself well across computer-based platforms; I do best meeting people and interacting with them. Play to your strengths. 

Next- Find your 'True' Passion: The platform I decided to use is in-person presentations to enthusiasts of a science-oriented leisure activity. If you don't know what a scientific leisure activity is, I have a paper coming out soon (Introducing the science as leisure model; Marchio et al. 2017. In Review) or you can check out these blog posts now.

To find a passionate topic to talk with non-scientists about, this is what I did: I (1) identified all my leisure pursuits, (2) identified those that involve [explainable] scientific processes, (3) chose one leisure activity to focus on, and (4) REACHED OUT to connect with that community. 

I identified that I was a passionate aquarium-keeper before I became an ichthyologist (fish-scientist). Tying science to something that people are already doing and enjoy doing is key. They're already predisposed to be interested in what you have to talk about! Do not underestimate the usefulness of your information.

I identified different scientific processes that occur in the aquarium-keeping experience; many REQUIRED to maintain an aquarium long-term. Thus aquarium keeping has attributes I can identify as scientific, important to the hobby, and explainable to others. Many aquarists understand these scientific attributes, but a large number of novices do not. Novice aquarium keepers can be thought of as novice scientists- they just need education.

There you go, a perfect audience for scientific outreach!

Do not forget: Education by one of their own community members and someone who they trust is important. Being able to identify a scientific leisure activity and explainable attributes is one aspect, joining the community is the other. Both must be  present at some level for a good outreach outcome. No one will listen to an elitist who talks above them. Being a part of the community means speaking to people on their level, with words they are familiar with, and not being a dick about it. You started as a novice too; be kind.

By speaking above people you are maintaining the boundary between scientists and the public. Sthap.

It is evident there is some boundary maintenance being upheld. This happens between scientists and the public as well as between scientists. Scientists have the outreach platform or specific scientific knowledge may not want to 'share' that with others. Scientists are a territorial bunch, don't forget! We partition our research niches as well as our outreach niches. Check this paper out for more information on boundary-work and maintenance:

Sometimes you get to choose the scientific topic you want to talk about. For example, the aquarium hobby has a large number of science and conservation-related issues. Once I'm an accepted part of their community, I can talk about varied scientific topics (e.g. taxonomy of fish, lighting requirements of coral and why they need light, physics of water movement in an aquarium, etc.) or I can specialize in one aspect. Read the needs of the community you're working with. 

Even if you communicate only one topic, you can always add a bit of science-spice. Some topics don't look science-y but remember science is not just a whole process, there are parts/steps. Not everyone completes the entire scientific process when they participate in science. Scientists rarely do either; at least not in a short time frame. A Ph.D. takes 5+ years of completing the steps to the scientific method. Novice scientists (i.e. the public) can take their time and complete the process (or not) in parts.

I believe this is one of the major takeaways from my work with scientific outreach to aquarists and my research on citizen science: The discrete steps of the scientific method count as doing science. Just because you aren't doing a whole experiment with a citizen, explaining a part of the scientific method (i.e. importance of observation, replication, communicating results, etc) can be just as important as explaining the entire scientific method. Plus much less boring.


  1.  Science is a process of discrete scientific steps. Many leisure activities involve science. Identify a leisure activity you're passionate about and find the science. 
  2. Find and join the community. Do not underestimate the importance of social capital in doing outreach. If they don't know you, go to them.
  3. Make the topic matter to the people you're communicating with. Identify their interests; play to them while playing to your strengths. Find the right match.
  4. Don't worry about scale as much as worrying about quality. Small outreach events are more personable and connect people better than global/general events. To be seen as a part of the community and not just an academic, connect to people. 
  5. Not every platform is good for you. Find one that works with your strengths. Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, in person talks, seminars, and so on. Be creative. 
  6. Out reach requires reaching out. Get off your duff and go to people. 

Thanks for reading and I hope you found this useful. 

Science as Leisure: A Leisurely Primer

Many people ask me to explain my concept of "Science as Leisure".

It's pretty simple:

If you're taking part in a leisure activity that requires an understanding of activity-related scientific concepts to continue in said leisure activity, you're doing science as leisure. 

Science itself is a "way of knowing". You can also know by faith or other methods, but most of those have risks and pitfalls if you're trying to do one of these science as leisure activities. 

Take, for example, fish-keeping. To keep a fish alive, it's actually pretty complex. These animals do not live on land so their requirements and ways of living are vastly different than our own. Someone attempting to keep a fish alive in an aquarium doesn't only need to understand a baseline level of fish biology (e.g. (most) fish have gills) but also ecological processes. An aquarist needs to understand various concepts in biology and ecology for a fish to live. Aquarium keeping is thus a science as leisure activity. 

So what happens if the aquarist doesn't learn science?

Well, their fish dies.

This is  Paracheirodon innesi , the neon tetra. It is a species that is highly colored and thus highly sought after by aquarists. It is also the most commonly murdered aquarium resident (per. obs.). Luckily, that pressure lead to captive breeding and more careful vetting of aquarists during purchases (all ethics pushed by industry, not government). If you want to poo-poo the trade, please fund IUCN's fisheries assessment team. This fish, which is sold to aquarium stores by the hundreds, has not even been assessed! Photo:  Rachel O'Leary

This is Paracheirodon innesi, the neon tetra. It is a species that is highly colored and thus highly sought after by aquarists. It is also the most commonly murdered aquarium resident (per. obs.). Luckily, that pressure lead to captive breeding and more careful vetting of aquarists during purchases (all ethics pushed by industry, not government). If you want to poo-poo the trade, please fund IUCN's fisheries assessment team. This fish, which is sold to aquarium stores by the hundreds, has not even been assessed! Photo: Rachel O'Leary

And here is where things get sticky. Many aquarists will give up after this initial attempt at keeping a fish in captivity. After all, who wants to kill cute little neon tetras? But others persevere and continue after having been, essentially, a fish murderer. The fish must be taken care of by the owner or it won't live; if it dies, it's most likely you're fault.

This is, however, a very important learning experience. A fish's death is feedback to the aquarist. "AHhhhh... I did something wrong! I wonder what it is?"... and BOOM, we have a budding scientist right there. Next steps: Observation, Hypothesis, Data Collection, Analysis, Results, Conclusion. Of course most aquarists do not keep a log of this, or even think of their aquarium or their learning process in this manner. But that doesn't mean it isn't happening.

To keep an aquarium, the aquarist must understand a baseline level of scientific concepts, be able to implement them, and reformulate after failure to try again. This is a science as leisure activity and it only exists when the participant understands activity-related scientific concepts.

science as leisure

Attention Percula Clownfish Breeders!

I'm in need of:


Data collected from clownfish breeders will be used to create an economic model for this purpose:


Private breeders, responding to market forces, are responsible for a surprising amount of conservation of endangered exotic species occurring within the United States. Tropical birds, African ungulates, and marine fish are being raised to provide animals for pets and wild game hunting.  These private actions can play a critical role in biodiversity protection, supplementing conservation in native habitats and zoos. Breeders who are active in these markets, however, have often complained that the Endangered Species Act (ESA) can create obstacles that make breeding uneconomic, actually increasing the likelihood of extinction. In this paper we consider the conditions in which ESA and ESA-like regulations can have perverse impacts, harming prospects for ex-situ conservation without meaningfully impacting wild animal populations.

Motivation and Three Cases:

The paper is motivated by three cases (hyacinth macaw, antelope, clownfish)  in which breeders play a role in protecting endangered species, but the economic viability of those enterprises is threatened by proposed or existing policy.

I need data to run this model! 

If you are willing to share information on your percula clownfish breeding operation, please fill out this survey with as much information as you can. It is understandable that some people may not want to share their secrets to success, but hopefully these are fairly benign questions.

The information you provide will be used to create an economic model that, in turn, will start a few publications on the complex nature of the ESA and captive populations of fish bred by aquarists.

Again, the survey can be found by clicking this link: SURVEY

Thank you for your consideration!



As someone who studies the intersection of science and leisure, I feel the need to participate in those leisure activities. When a friend and comic creator on Twitter (@BlackMudpuppy) started the #TinyTankCahllenge, I had to join in. 

The rules of the challenge are to create an aquarium that is equal to or under 5.5 gallons of water and costs $100 or less to set up. Quite the challenge!

To follow our progress, please consider checking out our collective blog at Parlour Oceans and checking out the hashtag on twitter: 


Amateur Hour: Fish Drawings Desired

I'm creating an online collage of people's renderings of fish! 

So, if you have a spare few minutes:

  1. Think of fish. What do image pops into your mind?
  2. Attempt to portray that image on paper or an app (whatever works for you).
  3. Send me your fish image and...
  4. Send me any information regarding your familiarity with fish. For example, do you study them? Keep them? Fish them? Eat them? Whatever helped you think of an image of a  "fish", let me know! 

Send to: or @LizMarchio on Twitter.

Beautiful Trash: Sea Glass Beaches

Human society has a knack for holding beautiful things in higher regard, whether that thing be a beautiful person or an attractive organism. Beautiful things get a "pass" when we attempt to hold a standard. For example, we all know that attractive person in our life that just gets away with so much more than others; they are just too attractive to be treated poorly, or so it seems.

This behavior is evident in our general treatment of organisms as well. For example, unattractive plants in our yards are considered "weeds". Sometimes these are non-native and we cull them from wild areas; however, some are just ugly natives.

We desire to have attractive things around us.

Similarly, we desire to go see attractive things. We pay to travel and visit beautiful places or see beautiful organisms. Sometimes we even pay to see attractive people (e.g. movies, concerts).

Attractiveness can outweigh anything else.

This accepting behavior goes for beautiful places as well. Sea glass beaches are a great example of an unnatural but beautiful place. However...

 Sea glass is trash

It is glass that has been literally dumped into the ocean instead of a landfill. As it drifts through the current and against rocks and reefs, it is tumbled  and forms small, rounded pebbles of translucent color. Hundreds of thousands of tiny glass (i.e. trash) particles are strewn across beaches all over the world. In some places, like Ft. Bragg in California, a beach of sea glass can be found downstream from a historical trash dumping site. The online history of this beach is littered with information stating: this is trash.  But people intentionally go there to look and collect the sea glass.

An example of green seaglass collected on a beach of sea glass. Beautiful trash. Image from

An example of green seaglass collected on a beach of sea glass. Beautiful trash. Image from

People spend their time and money traveling to sea glass beaches to look at and collecting sea glass (i.e. trash). They are tourist attractions and some prohibit the picking up of trash (i.e. sea glass) off the beach. Some places are actively promoting the creation of more sea glass by dumping trash into the ocean! 

Of course a beach covered in other, less attractive, trash is condemned. Plastic strewn across beautiful white sand beaches is a "tragedy" and "pollution", but if it's colorful and attractive like sea glass, it's a treasure, a wonder, and a beautiful tourist attraction. 

Beautiful trash? This is tumbled plastic.  Photo from .

Beautiful trash? This is tumbled plastic.  Photo from

So, what does this hypocrisy mean? It means we, humans, are sometimes blinded by beauty. We don't always see the forest through the trees or the hypocrisy of a situation. Sometimes it's just easier to look the other way and sometimes it's just more beautiful to. 

Sea Glass Beach in California. 

Sea Glass Beach in California. 

What do you think? 

New Fish Named after a Fish Hobbyist

Science can be a profession or a leisure activity. 

Anyone can be a scientist, anyone can observe and discover new things.

One aquarium hobbyist, Gary Lange,  has been at the forefront of finding new, exciting species of rainbowfish from Australia and New Guinea. It started out as a leisure activity: keeping fish and catching them while abroad. Then, it became a passion. As Gary progressed through the aquarium hobby, he became more interested in science and scientific discovery- I remember meeting Gary and trading rainbowfish eggs for scientific literature on describing species.  He really wanted to learn taxonomy and reach the pinnacle of both his natural history and his fish keeping interests.

While I don't think Gary has described a species himself, he was honored in a recent publication in the Fishes of Sahul, a publication of the Australia New Guinea Fishes Association. The honor consisted of describing a new species of rainbowfish after Gary, Melonotaenia garylangi.

Photo of  Melonotaenia garylangei  from  .

Photo of Melonotaenia garylangei from .

While I am not a fan of naming fish, or any species, after people... I'm proud to be hypocritical here. It's a much deserved honor and one that I hope many hobbyists will strive for. 

Congrats to Gary! 

7 Ways Twitter is for Scientists

 Social media is good at taking over lives but it can be beneficial too. 

liz marchio

I've told science colleagues I am on Twitter and gotten about a 90% rate for reproachful looks. I'm guessing they consider it to be a place for movie stars to push their interests to the masses. Well, it can be; however, I have found it to be surprisingly helpful. 

Sure, there are self-serving people on Twitter and it may even make you self-serving as well. But yet, there are 7 positive attributes I consider to be great equalizers:

  1. Communicating with the public: I can cast my net wide and promote my ideas and research to a wider community of people. Not only this, but I learn to follow trends which allows me to communicate more effectively with the public. Scientists are not the best communicators so any practice I can get is beneficial. 
  2. Networking: The open access of Twitter promotes networking with people. I've met many new and potentially unapproachable scientists through Twitter. Through "Tweet-ups" at conferences and meeting people at professional meetings, it's a way to get involved.
  3. Immediate news: I used to use Facebook (FB) for my real-world and research news. Now, I rely on Twitter for the most up to date information. This includes up to date science! New papers, research, and ideas. It is exciting to be on the outer limits of knowledge!
  4. Less doom and gloom: I found FB and perhaps my day-to-day experience to be full of negativity. This negativity was affecting my disposition and causing me to be disappointed in humanity & depressed. Twitter isn't always *happy* but I found the negatives are outweighed by the positives, especially stories on activism (e.g. people doing something rather than watching it happen).
  5. Less biased/More diverse information: I don't just get a "snow-ball effect": only seeing the news and information that my friends and family pass on through FB. Because of the short character limit I can follow a more diverse crowd and get more types of information. "Trending" stories round out my viewing. 
  6. Practice being concise: Most of your life you're taught to write excessively in order to make a page limit... but grad school wants clear and concise. Twitter helps me cut out unnecessary adjectives and description in order to keep it under 141 characters. I also get feedback: my Tweets aren't read or retweeted unless they are also clear. Overall, good practice for keeping it short, sweet, and interesting! 
  7. Writing and Funding opportunities: I have been published in the Working Life section of Science because of a writing opportunity I saw on Twitter. Also, I've applied for several unique funding opportunities seen on Twitter. I feel good applying for them since they are unique and potentially have a higher award rate per cost of time spent applying. 


 I really cannot stress this enough. Every single day I see at least one job opportunity posted that is potentially applicable to me. I'm mainly on Twitter only in very short, but regular, bursts (i.e. bathroom breaks) so there's a lot going on Twitter.

 These are the reasons I have found Twitter to be a good use of my limited time. If you're a scientist and find these 7 reasons potentially helpful, join the community!

And make sure to follow me @LizMarchio

Why you need to memorize science facts in school

From science-focused college undergraduates I have heard the same repetitive criticism of coursework, "All I do is memorize facts!" 

Are we in fact making a generation of fact-regurgitators, people who could slay on Jeopardy but can't function as real scientists? Or is there some other reason for this fact-memorizing methodology?

That face indicates he probably isn't ready to move up the ladder...

That face indicates he probably isn't ready to move up the ladder...

Science education is a knowledge pipeline and you need to learn the basic fundamentals before you move to the next level. Well... perhaps it's a ladder rather than a pipeline. Or maybe it's all one gigantic and challenging test to push you to your limits. After all, to get the highest academic position in any program, you have to be the best of the best and prove yourself worthy. We wouldn't want doctors who don't know fundamentals like anatomy, right? Why would we want a scientist who doesn't know the basic concepts science is built upon, like the scientific method and other basic science facts? 

Science is an intellectual activity and you need to master the fundamentals of science and those are facts. As a science-focused college undergraduate you also need to pick your science path... so you take all kinds of science classes to figure it out. From physics to chemistry to biology... you are forced to cast your net wide!

 The earlier you focus, the more you could potentially funnel yourself into more advanced (and less fact-oriented) work. This kind of work is skill oriented, where you apply your facts and your proven perseverance to do real science. You can't just skip to this level! [You don't want to skip to this level!] 

I think of it like this:

 To get towards the top of the science ladder, you must master the core, fundamental knowledge rather than the skills.

Skills you learn later under the tutelage of a science sensei! 

You may move up to working with a science sensei once you have proven yourself worthy. Then guess what? You must continue to prove yourself through tedious, monotonous tasks.

You may move up to working with a science sensei once you have proven yourself worthy. Then guess what? You must continue to prove yourself through tedious, monotonous tasks.

While you're with your sensei, you must hone your science skills. This takes time and practice.

While you're with your sensei, you must hone your science skills. This takes time and practice.

Once you have mastered the facts and some skills during research credits, you may graduate to working on your own. This may be a job, a Master's degree which you work with another sensei and hone yet more skills, or a PhD which is a more advanced form of tutelage with a bit more freedom [i.e. risk of failure]. 

Once you have mastered advanced science skills through a Master's or PhD, you may challenge your sensei for the final test: The Defense! This is not recommended for those holding down jobs... 


Once you've finally proven yourself worthy during the defense,  you can move on to doing science on your own! With the facts and skills you've learned along the pipeline/ladder, you can take on the world!


Remember, you have to start somewhere, and in science that means FACTS! 

Dead man charged $985.61 for an ambulance ride

It's finals week and I'm a graduate student. That means I'm trying to finish A LOT of important work that can make or break my career. I don't have time for regular baths let alone dealing with being taken advantage of. Today is the straw that broke the camel's back. I am again asking myself this question:


My grandfather, my best friend, passed away almost exactly 2 months ago today. I've come to realize his untimely passing may have been painful for me but a blessing for him. It was an almost immediate death, painless, and quiet. He was filling out paperwork at his regular doctor at Mt. Carmel East (Columbus, Ohio) and just slumped in his chair. [We didn't have an autopsy done so I can't say exactly what caused his death. I think some kind of aneurysm since it was so quick and painless.]  Eventually his immobilized body was noticed in the waiting room and he was given CPR. But... he was gone.

The doctor's office called an ambulance since you can't just call a morgue or the family (or can you? Not exactly a social norm for family to transport deceased loved ones...). Of course the ambualnce and medics couldn't revive him and he was transported NEXT DOOR to the ER. 

My deceased Grandpa took an ambulance from the yellow square to the red square and it only cost $989.15! 

My deceased Grandpa took an ambulance from the yellow square to the red square and it only cost $989.15! 

Two months later, my mother received a bill for $989.15. Here it is: 

The bill  is not really itemized in a logical manner and includes codes that I had to research to figure out. Surprise. 

My pronounced-dead-at-the-scene grandfather was billed $985.61 for an "ALS 2" which is, according to this website, "A0433 Advanced life support, level 2 (ALS2)". He was dead at the scene and had been for an unknown amount of time so I'm not sure why he was not only driven to the ER in an ambulance but done so under an elevated emergency level (Level 2 vs. Level 1). 

The other $3.54 charge was for the mileage to the ER from the building next door. The bill does not tell you what that mileage is, unless "000" is it. It probably is 000 miles, just look at the map! 

So, can someone please tell me how my dead grandfather was charged $989.15 for a level 2 emergency ambulance ride to the building next door? I understand there are flat rates for things, but for an ambulance ride?! For a dead man?! This is repugnant. 

If you agree, can you please get the word out about this? I am taking time away from my studies to write this in an attempt to stick up for what is right. I'm tired of being so busy with my life that I let unfair, disgusting, and monetarily draining things like this slide. Please consider passing this on, if not to help then for simple awareness. 

Thank you. 

Note: I want emergency medics and doctors to get a fair and above average wage. Furthermore, I understand the system may "work" in many circumstances but this doesn't seem to be one of them. 

Feral Cat Colonies & Crazy Cat Lady Syndrome

We've all heard about the negative effects feral cats have on wild bird populations. It's a fact that cats are hunters and they're good at it. After all, there are probably millions of barn cats employed because of their wonderful work ethic! 

Image from

Image from

The most interesting thing about the feral cat issue taking place in our society today is the straight up crazy conflict over the situation. We all know cats kill other animals. We know they do it well and whenever they can. Regardless of what we all know, take a look at any social media post regarding feral cats killing birds and you see the cat defenders come out and swat away those negative cat statistics. 

Why would spay/neuter help keep cats from eating? This is a common argument of cat-defenders .

Why would spay/neuter help keep cats from eating? This is a common argument of cat-defenders.

Above you can see the cat-defenders using several different tactics to defend wild/feral cats. Strategies include an appeal to emotion, appeals to humanity, placing blame, offering (biased) information to support pre-determined decisions, logical reasoning, and threats. It's intense and flies in the face of the information we all know: cats are killers and bird populations are on the decline because of it. So why defend cats so vehemently?

Enter: Toxoplasmosis. 

Toxoplasmosis gondii. Photo from Wikipedia.

Toxoplasmosis gondii. Photo from Wikipedia.

Toxoplasmosis is a parasite that is found in cats and cat feces. It is also found in rats. Basically, an infected rat is eaten by a cat (yay barn cats!), which then infects the cat. The cat does what all cats do, and poops. The feces house Toxoplasmosis and make it "available" to the environment. Uninfected rodents can get infected via fecal contact and so can people.

So, if you have a cat and you clean its box, or the cat gives you "the brown eye"... you may have Toxoplasmosis. 

Up to 80% of people could have Toxoplasmosis! 

This isn't even the scariest part. I haven't told you what the parasite can do... 

In rats, it has been shown to cause a reduction of fear. This is a "plan" by the parasite! If eaten, especially by a cat, the parasite can continue its life cycle. If the host rat doesn't fear cats, then cats get Toxoplasmosis. Here's a video to help explain:

This lack of fear response could also be an affection response.

It's well known by most people that people who keep a cat have an increased propensity to own another cat... and so on... and so on... This can lead to hoarding and an intense, self-destructive affection towards cats. 

This is Crazy Cat Lady Syndrome and it involves Toxoplasmosis.

 If social media stories on feral cat issues have replies/comments that are made up of 50% cat-defenders, are 50% of the people replying to that story "suffering" from Toxoplasmosis?  

After all, they are defending cats based on a reduction of fear and a strong, almost insatiable,  emotional attachment towards cats. 

Perhaps the feral cat issue can be aided by research in the "suffering" of Toxoplasmosis in the public? If people who will not aid bird conservation by limiting the number of cats in the wild actually have a disease and cannot act any other way towards cats... maybe there can be some middle ground forged? 

No one wants to know they're a part of a parasite's plan, or life history, so I doubt this gets much attention, but damn, isn't this at least interesting?

5 Reasons YOU Should Engage in Citizen Science!

If you don't identify as a scientist, do you sometimes want to learn more about a science subject? Maybe get more involved? Taking part in "citizen science" might just be for you! 

If you do identify as a scientist, do you want more data? Reach more people with your work? Communicate better with non-professional scientists? Then guess what?? Taking part (involving) "citizen scientists" might be right for you! 

DATA! Photo credit: Kelsey Neam

DATA! Photo credit: Kelsey Neam

So just what is this "citizen science"? Check out my colleagues' work in Central America to see how they engage citizen scientists and what positive outcomes stem from that inclusion. Here is their blog post on the subject:

The only photo you get from a sloth is a butt-shot. Photo by Kelsey "Sloth Lover" Neam

The only photo you get from a sloth is a butt-shot. Photo by Kelsey "Sloth Lover" Neam

Want to get more involved in science? Send me an e-mail and I can point you in the right direction! 

Also, check out twitter #citsci for the most up to date information and news about citizen science! 

Part 2: What is a species: Hybrids

My last blog post covered the biological species concept and some of the issues surrounding its use. This post builds on that introduction to "species".

At the end of the last post, I asked: What is another issue surrounding the use of the biological species concept (BSC)? 

A major problem with the BSC is it stipulates that species cannot interbreed. However, we see consistent examples of interbreeding across species. Here are a few examples of crosses, or "hybrids":

A lion x tiger cross = "Liger" or "Tigon". Photo credit:

A lion x tiger cross = "Liger" or "Tigon". Photo credit:

Horse x donkey cross = mule. These are yearling mules out of saddle and draft mares. Photo credit:  Deb Kidwell,  Lake Nowhere Mule and Donkey Farm  (Thanks, Deb!) 

Horse x donkey cross = mule. These are yearling mules out of saddle and draft mares. Photo credit:  Deb Kidwell, Lake Nowhere Mule and Donkey Farm (Thanks, Deb!) 

Trimaculatus cichlid x ??? x Parrot cichlid = "parrotfish" Photo credit:

Trimaculatus cichlid x ??? x Parrot cichlid = "parrotfish" Photo credit:

I don't know about you, but I definitely see a horse as a different species from a donkey and a tiger definitely different from a lion!

So, what's the deal?

If we define species by the BSC, where "species cannot interbreed"... are these seemingly distinct species actually ONE? Are lions and tigers one species??

As with ALL science, rules are hard to make for nature! 

If we rely on the biology of one "species" to differentiate it from others, there are always exceptions to the rule! In science as a whole, there are almost always exceptions to the rules!

Maybe that leaves a bad taste in your mouth. How do we know anything then? What's the point of science if it can't answer "basic" questions??

Well, yeah... How do we know anything? The answer is, we don't know anything for sure. A scientist will never tell you they are 100% sure of anything. We are humans and we are making the world around us into understandable parts. We see the diversity of life on earth and we want to name and categorize things. To do that, we use a system. Unfortunately, time does not stand still and things are always changing. The biological species concept does not take into account these kinds of things. There are other species concepts who do (evolutionary and phylogenetic species concepts, for example), but even those are flawed.

Maybe we get ligers and tigons because they are really closely related and haven't been separate species long enough. It takes TIME, lots and lots of time, for these kinds of changes to "be set in stone".

But, hey, that's one of the most amazing things about studying life on earth! There is no creation of a species. There is no "BAM!" you're a tiger and will always be a tiger.

We are trying to figure things out as we go. We are making theories and testing them. And, interestingly, we are hanging onto theories such as the biological species concept even though there are obvious exceptions. 

So what are your thoughts?

What is a species?

You know what a species is, right?

Duh, yeah, of course you do! 

OK, let's put it into words. A species is: a... uh... group of animals, er, I mean organisms, that can interbreed and make fertile babies. 


So, this definition of species is actually one of many.

Yep. One of many! Is your mind blown yet? 

It is true that many organisms pick out others "of their own kind" to mate with. We see this all around us; we hear frogs calling, birds chirping, and crickets... uh... cricketing. This "selection" for a mate is done by either the male or the female and they make sure their potential mate has certain attributes or characteristics. Some of these attributes help identify those of the same species; for example, a certain call or smell. However, some species can't select a mate because they do not have males and females!

Ever heard of an asexual? An asexual ('a' = without; 'sexual' = gender) can be thought of an individual without gender, or it can be thought of as one that just does not need a mate to reproduce! 

Perhaps you've heard of asexual-ness and "virgin births" from tabloids or other reading material. It's not just a story, it can actually happen. These "virgin births" as a result of parthenogenesis ('parthenos' = virgin; 'genesis' = creation or genesis). Believe it or not, this process occurs in fish, lizards, and of course the creepier crawlies such as daphnia ("water fleas"). The process of parthenogenesis can be divided into further types, but to keep it simple, here is daphnia's parthenogenic process:

Daphnia's default lifecycle is "virgin birth". If necessary, they can produce males.  That's right, males just are not necessary...! Photo from"

Daphnia's default lifecycle is "virgin birth". If necessary, they can produce males. That's right, males just are not necessary...! Photo from"

With our definition of species above, are parthenogenic organisms actually "species"?

 They violate the definition after all! 


It turns out that the definition I gave is one under the "biological species concept". This is basically what we, the entirety of the United States (and maybe the world), uses to describe species. There are other species concepts that I can go over later but this gives you a good idea of just how complex describing a species is! We straight up ignore the fact that daphnia, and other pathenogenic organisms, don't follow the rules. Did you even know about this? Pretty crazy!

There is another glaring issue with the biological species concept. Can you figure out what it is? 

Academic Papers: Aquarium Species v1

As an academic I need to stay on top of my field. To do this, I subscribe to updates through Google Scholar.

This subscription allows me to send myself new publications on papers I *should* find relevant. 

I get a lot of new papers I can't really use but know others who may find the material interesting, even if it is just the abstract. So, I am going to try to post some links to BRAND NEW information on aquarium species of fish, mainly. 

If you're interested in more information on each paper, please contact me

Here is v1:

1: Evaluation of decompression and venting and its affect on stress and mortality in the Yellow Tang (Zebrasoma flavescens). Click here for the abstract. 

marchio yellow tang fish aquarium

2: The relationship between the numbers of spot, sex and size of the spotted barb, Puntius binotatus was investigated in order to develop a phenotypic sex identification method for the broodstock management of this species.  Click here for the paper (I think this will work) 

marchio barb aquarium fish

3: Ecological and Evolutionary Applications for Environmental Sex Reversal of Fish DNA. Click here for the abstract.


3: Barcoding in Pencilfishes (Lebiasinidae: Nannostomus) Reveals Cryptic Diversity across the Brazilian Amazon. Click here for the PAPER! Yes, open access! 

Photo by  Rachel O'Leary

4: Growth of mycotal fungus on carp eggs in differing environments. Click here for the PAPER!



Well, I hope this was helpful! Please give me feedback in the comments or via e-mail

Starting an Aquarium uses SCIENCE!

I've told people how I became a scientist and that a lot of it has to do with keeping aquariums.

science bitch.jpg

So... What does science have to do with keeping an aquarium?! 

Here is a teeny, tiny illustration of this phenomenon:

First of all, an aquarium is an ecosystem. Period. Accepting this is absolutely a key to success- if you cannot think of the aquarium or "tank" as a small slice of a wild counterpart (ocean, swamp, river, etc.), you're going to fail over and over.

Aquariums are biological recreations of the real world. 

Sometimes aquarists accidentally accept this fact. They may not recognize the hobby as "science" or that utilizing science will help them succeed; however, interestingly they actually use the scientific method of falsification in order to obtain success- another form of science in the hobby! Simply put, falsification is hypothesis testing: You make a prediction and if it fails, you know that's not right and you alter your prediction and try something else. Eventually you get a billion and one ways of doing something wrong and you forge a tiny little path into success. If aquarists stick to falsification long enough (have enough cash to blow, are stubborn, etc.), they eventually "accept" the ecosystem phenomena, whether they know it or not.

The hobby, accepted as science or not, utilizes it to just keep fish alive in an aquarium.

Other times, repetitive failure ends in quitting the hobby. And, of course, it's not this simple... understanding the hobby as science won't immediately make you succeed at keeping fish in a tank, but I bet it will get you there faster. Part of the hobby is figuring it out, taking chances, doing something crazy and seeing how it works. Failure keeps it challenging.

As I said, the hobby uses science just to keep fish alive in an aquarium. Another important and major science-understanding obstacle of keeping an aquarium is what aquarists call, "The Cycle". This concept may strike fear into a newbie- there are a lot of big, strange words. In the end, this cycle is the core of keeping aquatic animals alive in captive environments. The concept is important and its utilization essential

nitrogen cycle.png

The cycle is basically answering "where does the poop go?". Maybe when you flush the toilet, you never think about your own "creation" and where it goes... but when you keep an aquarium, you not only have to think about poop (a lot), you have to physically remove it with your mouth. 

Wait, what?? With your mouth? 

Yep. Well, it is one way to remove waste from an aquarium. And, technically, you aren't removing poop; you're removing nitrate (see image above). 

As you can see, just getting an aquarium started takes you through a lot of science concepts and can accidentally make you more science literate.

I'll post more science-phenomena about aquariums in another installment. I hope this was informative and enjoyable. Have a bone to pick with me about this? Please send me an e-mail and let's talk. 

The Environment is Caching in on Geocaching

When I was a kid I really liked playing in the woods. I climbed trees and played hide and seek with my friends. Once, I found a small wet box with little trinkets inside. My imagination told me this was most certainly a treasure! 

Little did I know that yes, this was a treasure! A treasure for a scavenger hunt!

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

This scavenger hunt is global game called "geocaching" ("geo" = earth; "caching" = hides).

When you join the game, you use clues, namely GPS coordinates, to locate caches. You sometimes have to walk far distances, climb over logs, look under and inside natural objects, and always, always keep your eyes open and searching. There are urban caches as well, hidden in plain view.

I'm sure you've passed by multiple caches every single day.

How crazy is that?!

Check out the introductory video from

As with most leisure activities, you can "get serious" and advance. As you progress you get better at finding caches, you create your own for others to find, and you may even join in geocaching events. Many advanced geocachers participate in CITO® events, which means "Cache In, Trash Out" which is exactly what it sounds like. You go in for the cache and you bring trash in the area out. Literally, bags of trash are brought out by geocachers with the ultimate goal of keeping the environment clean and giving back to the local communities they use. 

The geocaching website states, "Cache In Trash Out® is an ongoing environmental initiative supported by the worldwide geocaching community. Since 2002, geocachers around the world have been dedicated to improving parks and other cache-friendly places. Through these volunteer efforts, we help preserve the natural beauty of our outdoor resources!"

Now, is geocaching itself to blame for this trash? Are the caches really just hidden trash? Of course some people may see the negatives in the game and understandably so. That's critical thinking, right? Well, there is, with everything, always a trade off... if getting people outside helps improve environmental concern and stewardship (which CITO does), it seems the positives outweigh the negatives. National parks deal with the same kinds of issues; a recent article tells how the hot springs in Yellowstone National Park have been discolored by humans simply visiting the site. Carlsbad Caverns National Park regularly has volunteers go through and pick fuzz off formations. So what do we do? Ban people from nature? 

One of the best things I think we can do is promote environmental stewardship through leisure activities that get people invested and involved in the environment. Makes sense, right? Well... now it's your turn. After reading this blog, head over to, make a free account, watch some tutorials, download the app to your smartphone (or use a GPS), and go out into the world to explore, invest, and get involved! I promise you will find places you never knew existed. 

NOTW: Mark Valen, a man of many naturalist hats

 This NaturalIst of the Week has been written by guest blogger: Katie Wedemeyer

Sometimes when you meet some people for the first time, you can tell right away that they’re special. Mark is one of those people.

Mark and I got hired around the same time at the Living Coast Discovery Center (formerly the Chula Vista Nature Center) at San Diego Bay in Chula Vista, California. I was hired for education and Mark as the lead horticulturist (“hortus” = garden; “cultúra” = cultivation). I knew right away Mark had a lot to teach me, as a colleague and a human being in general.

Mark, a man of many naturalist hats showcasing a Yucca flower pruning. (photo credit: Mark Valen) 

Mark is the epitome of a naturalist: 

Every aspect of his life shows appreciation and awe at the natural world  - and a profound respect for it that is contagious. His enthusiasm spreads to those who are lucky enough to learn from him, young or old.  

Mark in his natural habitat (photo credit: Mark Valen)

His list of naturalist-related accomplishments is impressive, and steadily growing. He currently is in a Masters of Liberal Arts in Sustainability and Environmental Management through Harvard, while also working as the Horticulturist and Facilities Lead at the Living Coast Discovery Center. Did I mention he also is adjunct faculty in the San Diego Community College District and the Southwestern Community College Districts, teaching about sustainable landscaping and urban agriculture? 

Through his work at the Discovery Center, which reaches many underprivileged schools, and through working at the Community Colleges, Mark is directly impacting and inspiring students who may not have the same “top tier” opportunities as those from more “privileged” (i.e. funded) neighborhoods.

In his free time he serves as commissioner on the City of Chula Vista's Resource Conservation Commission that advises the City Council on environmental decisions. As an undergraduate at UC Santa Cruz he not only helped develop his own sustainability major he also created and taught classes for it. There’s a reason he is the NOTW of many hats!

Despite so many accomplishments, Mark is the most Down to Earth (pun-intended), sincere nature lover out there. Each time we interacted at work I was always paying close attention, excited to learn something new, to gain a new appreciation for plants.

As a scientist, I always appreciated plants for giving me oxygen but lost interest after that – until Mark presented them as fascinating organisms with incredible adaptations.

His lessons may have been geared towards the 7 year olds attending summer camp but I was hooked! 

Mark inspiring (and blowing minds of) some of the Living Coast Discovery Center campers (photo: Living Coast Discovery Center facebook page

Did you know that pickleweed (Salcornia virginica) lives near the brackish (salt + fresh water mixed) water of the salt marsh It lives so close to the water’s edge that it can actually “drink” salt water! What? How cool is that!  Have you ever accidently ingested salt water? Did it quench your thirst or make you thirstier? It makes me thirstier! Several marine animals (like sea turtles, sea birds, and marine fish) have adaptations for drinking salt water, but it turns out that plants do too! Pickleweed, which gets its name from its pickle-like shape and salty taste, is generally green in appearance except for its red tips where it concentrates the salt it has sucked up and when the tip becomes saturated with salt, it turns red and falls off. By getting rid of the excess salt it can hold onto sufficient freshwater to help it grow and survive! What a cool adaptation!

Pickleweed! (Photo credit:

Mark was a key component of many of the education programs I created at the Living Coast Discovery Center, always eager to contribute to educating the youth and getting them out to play in the dirt.

We had several campers compost and the looks of amazement on the kids’ faces were priceless as they held worms for the first time, their eyes fascinated, moving quickly along with the squiggly movements of these often underappreciated creatures. 

For the first time they realized that worms have an important job: mixing different layers of the compost and aerating it simply by burrowing through it. They couldn’t wait to dive in to the compost pile to find more! 

Mark teaching a composting class at the Living Coast Discovery Center (photo credit Living Coast Discovery Center facebook page)

He has, without a doubt inspired thousands of individuals, from children through senior citizens, to get out in nature and not be afraid to dig in the dirt and to appreciate all of nature’s contributions to the beauty and function of our everyday lives.

For these reasons, Mark is our NOTW and our naturalist of many hats!

To contact Mark, send him an e-mail or just go visit the Living Coast Discovery Center (or at least visit their Facebook page)! Bring the kids, bring the wife! Get Dirty! 

For more information on our guest blogger, Katie Wedemeyer, please follow her on twitter @krwedemeyer and visit her website!

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