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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.

 

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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

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. 

BONUS #8: JOB OPPORTUNITIES! 

 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

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: gwzoo.com

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

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: practicalfishkeeping.co.uk

Trimaculatus cichlid x ??? x Parrot cichlid = "parrotfish" Photo credit: practicalfishkeeping.co.uk

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?


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