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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.

 

Filtering by Tag: science

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. 

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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

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... 

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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!

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


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. 

BOOM. DONE. 

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"    www.ansci.wisc.edu

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

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? 




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.

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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. 


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: ballonafriends.org)

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!


NotW: Rachel O'Leary - The Mohawk Aquarist

Sometimes you just know you've come to the right place.

That's how I felt when I met Rachel O'Leary.

We were both invited speakers and since I hardly see women at these events, I knew Rachel was going to make an impression. And boy, did she! 

                                               Rachel in her natural habitat- her fantastic fish room! 

                                               Rachel in her natural habitat- her fantastic fish room! 

Rachel O'Leary - The Mohawk Aquarist & Naturalist

Rachel epitomizes a lot of qualities that I respect (and wish I had the balls enough to do). She travels the country doing fish club talks, she is her own scientist and natural historian, published author, and an aquarium-related icon. Maybe it's the mohawk? Nope, this woman knows her fish, loves her hobby, and one of the most down to Earth people I've ever met. 

I remember sitting in her aquarium-club talk on dwarf shrimp and being impressed with the amount of information she knows and is completely up to date on. For example, the dwarf shrimp genera (Caridina, Neocaridina, etc.) are currently in flux taxonomically, and she has her finger right on the pulse. Frankly, the only thing that could hold her back from being more knowledgeable is the lack of Open-Source scientific publications (hint hint). 

Not only is Rachel knowledgeable, she is willing to take a lot of time to educate others. She is also willing to stand up and tell people "No" when they want to buy organisms that are inappropriate for their aquarium set-up:

Rachel imports fish and invertebrates to sell to fellow aquarists; sometimes it's a demanding job. But the following she has supporting her decision not to sell (65+ likes, 80+ comments) shows she is indeed making a difference and a leader in the hobby.

Rachel imports fish and invertebrates to sell to fellow aquarists; sometimes it's a demanding job. But the following she has supporting her decision not to sell (65+ likes, 80+ comments) shows she is indeed making a difference and a leader in the hobby.

Aquarium keeping has gotten and will continue getting a lot of flack for irresponsible pet ownership issues, but people like Rachel are making a difference, once teeny tiny seemingly insignificant step at a time. 

Kudos to you, Rachel, our Mohawk Aquarist and Naturalist of the Week! 

Check out Rachel's website, her book, and her aquarium talks

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Accidentally Went Viral: Embrace the Mistake

So sometimes we, as humans, make mistakes.

Yeah, duh, right?

And sometimes those mistakes get made fun of and gossiped about...

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But looks like that ain't nothin' now. Gossip the "old fashioned way" was verbal and or on paper; the new gossip is immediate and akin to a wildfire. If you're on the wrong side of this phenomenon, good luck.

A simple mistake can turn into a HUGE, GLOBAL mistake. 

So, what is there to do about this? Well, we could always be a bit better about consuming and regurgitating these viral mistakes. Spreading the snapshot of an editing mistake instead of notifying the editor is snarky and pretty nasty. Yeah, geeze, seeing something dumb is funny, I agree- but at what cost? You spread the viral mistake and become "internet famous" at the expense of someone else. So, those of us who like attention, and that's all of us, we need to be a bit more mindful. 

So, yeah, us consumers of media could be mindful, but is that really going to happen to the masses? Probably not. So, what do you do if you're on the other end of the viral mistake? The one who MADE the mistake? Well... good question. If you cower and hide you're likely to become a larger target (bullies love to feel the power, right?). My suggestion is:

Embrace the Mistake!

We all make mistakes and those who deal with them with dignity and honesty can actually become role models. So what if you left something stupid in a document and the WHOLE WORLD saw it? The whole world saw YOUR document! You're on stage now!

Take advantage of it and embrace the mistake! 

"Going viral" can be good or bad, depending on how you deal with the situation. 

"Going viral" can be good or bad, depending on how you deal with the situation. 

Now, let's see how the ESA comet shirt guy deals with his...



Introducing Scientist and Blogger, Sarah Flanagan

While I will still be highlighting Naturalists on my NotW series, this week I would like to highlight a fellow scientist and graduate student, Sarah Flanagan. 

Sarah has lived all over the world and just wrapped up a field season in Norway and Sweden collecting pipefish for her dissertation. She studies this group of fish and sexual selection, population genomics, and evolutionary biology.  

Not only is Sarah a great scientist (just as NSF; she has been awarded accolades and money for her work), she is working on scientific outreach. Check out her most recent blog post, which mentions Natural History, here. You can also follow Sarah on Twitter here: @sarahpf19

She also created the citizen science project, Pipefish World, where you can submit your own collection photos, GPS, and information on pipefishes! Join the fun!

Interested in studying pipefish, seahorses, sexual selection, and evolution? Check out the Jones Lab at Texas A&M where Sarah is currently studying! 

 

NotW: Dr. Luiz Rocha - The Deep Sea Naturalist

Welcome to another installment of Naturalist of the Week (NotW)!

This week's featured naturalist is the "Deep Sea" Naturalist, Dr. Luiz Rocha.

Dr. Luiz Rocha giving young ichthyologists a tour of the collection at CalAcademy! 

Dr. Luiz Rocha giving young ichthyologists a tour of the collection at CalAcademy! 

Luiz is an ichthyologist ("ich" = fish; "-ologist" = study) from California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, CA.  He studies the generation and maintenance of the extremely high biodiversity in tropical coral reefs. Sounds awesome, right?! So, how did Luiz get into this field?

Well, I asked him myself and he said he was interested in the natural world since at least third grade! In third grade, I too was passionate about animals and life on Earth. It must be a formative time period! 

At this age, Luiz kept a homemade ant farm, mayonnaise jars with jumping spiders, a box of caterpillars waiting to metamorphose into butterflies, and.... fish tanks! He started out the aquarium hobby with a large tank of guppies and a few small tanks with bettas.

He says he just never grew out of being a naturalist. 

New species of Grammatonotus (collected by Brian Greene; 470 feet) in  May 2014 . 

New species of Grammatonotus (collected by Brian Greene; 470 feet) in May 2014

Today, Luiz's most exciting work includes scubadiving deep into mesophotic reefs which extend from 100 to 330 feet (up to 500 ft in tropical regions), have low light, and lots of sponges, algae, and low-light photosynthetic corals. And awesome, cool, and rare fish!

He and his team finds new species of fish in every dive and see species that were previously only seen and/or collected by submarines!

Check out/like the CalAcademy Ichthyology Facebook page if you're as geeked as I am about new species of marine fish! 

And, as you can see from his photo on the top of the page, Luiz does some very important outreach to formative young students- our future naturalists and ichthyologists! Other outreach opportunities he participates in includes: public events at CalAcademy, blog contributions (this one is on fish sex), Twitter (@CoralReefFish), and giving talks to marine aquarium clubs in North America (such as the 2014 MACNA).

Luiz and Brian Greene (slowly) bringing up some deep water fish, including a NEW species of  Liopropoma  (candy basslet)! Photo by Bart Shepherd.

Luiz and Brian Greene (slowly) bringing up some deep water fish, including a NEW species of Liopropoma (candy basslet)! Photo by Bart Shepherd.

In light of the recent hubub regarding the proposed listing of Amphiprion percula (Percula clownfish, AKA Nemo) on the Endangered Species List as well as other media implicating the marine aquarium hobby in major ecological and environmental issues (i.e. release of lionfish and other non-natives), the marine aquarium hobby seems to be a tipping point.

I asked Luiz what he thought of the aquarium hobby.

He stated, "I think the educational benefits brought by the aquarium hobby far outweigh its impacts. Aquarium fish collection is not the same as food fish collection. You need a much larger infrastructure for aquarium fish because you need to keep them alive, so prices must remain high to support the industry. And for the prices to remain high, the supply has to be kept at a certain level. If supply is too high, prices drop and the industry stops making money, so I think it is somewhat self-regulating. Food fish on the other hand, have a much higher demand, so food fish industry tries to collect every single fish they can."

What do you think? 

Whatever your stance on the aquarium hobby, Luiz is utilizing it as a vehicle to educate the public about fish, ecology, and nature as a whole. He has taken it upon himself to be a leader in professional ichthyology to reach out to non-professionals. 

Kudos to you, Dr. Luiz Rocha, our Deep Sea Naturalist, for all the time you invest in the people who are starting out in ichthyology- those who can and will make major impacts on the world with their attitudes and behaviors. 

If you're interested in deep water fishes, ichthyology, and other science related news, please consider following Dr. Luiz Rocha on Twitter (@CoralReefFish) and his work at the California Academy. Thanks for reading and if you haven't already, follow me on Twitter (@LizMarchio).

Homophonophobia: Big Science-y Words Strike Again!

For those who have read my previous post I mentioned that big, science-y words can be broken down into smaller, more manageable and understandable chunks. This avoids confusion, right?

Well....

In a story that is making rounds on Facebook under "I can't believe this is not satire!" headlines, a man who teaches English to students who are learning it as their second language was FIRED for blogging about homophones

So... let's try breaking down the word "homophone" to see what the big deal is:

 

HOMOPHONES:

"homo" which comes from "homos" = same

"phone" = representing vocal sounds

 

Hmmm... well... I guess someone was fired over "words that sound the same"? Like "their", "there", and they're? Uhhh....

so the real story is...

It turns out, to some people:

the word homophone is a homophone for homosexual.

 

Are you still with me here? Someone was fired because they were adequately teaching English and someone misunderstood that the big, obviously quite scary science-y word (i.e. homophone) sounded too "gay". The boss man explicitly stated "Now our school is going to be associated with homosexuality". Sounds like he is suffering from "homophonophobia":

 

HOMOPHONOPHOBIA:

"homo" which comes from "homos" = same

"phone" = representing vocal sounds

"phobia" = excessive or irrational fear of

 

...OR WILL THEY!? 

...OR WILL THEY!? 

The Loss of SciDiversity...?

With increasing interest in technology, the realm of biological sciences may be losing its academic diversity.

Taxonomy in Decline? 

Bird specimens at Louisiana State University. Birds collected from all over the world aid in research on bird biodiversity and speciation. Those who utilize these collections are namely taxonomists.

Bird specimens at Louisiana State University. Birds collected from all over the world aid in research on bird biodiversity and speciation. Those who utilize these collections are namely taxonomists.

Taxonomists are people who name new species and many test the organism's place on the Tree of Life.

They know every tiny character in their organism of interest- whether that be fish, bird, mammal, etc. These people are natural historians and hold an unimaginable wealth of information about their study organisms. 

Their training is incredibly difficult and time consuming- I tried to be a taxonomist myself and found it extremely intense. These people lay the foundational knowledge about the species they study. Without knowing what the animal looks like, what bone is connected to what, what their eggs and babies look like, etc., it's extremely difficult to effectively utilize technology to aid in identifying species successfully.

DNA work and taxonomy are two sides to the same very important coin. 

The importance of taxonomy and taxonomic studies does not end with the identification of new species. Taxonomists are rarer now than ever before because the antecedents to wanting to learn about animals in this detail are being filtered out of our culture. Ask a taxonomist how they got into it- it starts with playing outdoors, having a mentor, and taking part in leisure activities that incorporate science. These activities are being replaced with other, more indoor, activities. 

Taxonomists are in decline and it starts in childhood.

But, make your own decisions- here's the article that got me thinking.

What do you think?

Here is what a museum based on DNA would look like. WOW such color, much peaks, very BORING.   

Here is what a museum based on DNA would look like. WOW such color, much peaks, very BORING.

 

Utilize DNA/technology, but don't lose sight of the importance of the organisms! 

 

Also, as soon as I posted this blog story, I heard the lone, but very awesome, fish taxonomist at Texas A&M, Dr. Kevin Conway, just discovered something cool in clingfish... All because he was looking at the tiny, anatomical details! Story: Tiny, tenacious, and tentatively toxic

The Joy of Science-ing

During debates over the value of science, the words "it's just a theory" is thrown around quite a bit. Try as they might, brave souls such as Bill Nye try to explain scientific theory and why it has value, even if we can't be 100% positive we know what is going on. After all, how can we know every single thing about even a tiny part of the world? 

However, sometimes theory is shown to be a valid foundation to our understanding of the world. These are dream events that are often never seen by those who laid that groundwork. Darwin never saw his theory of natural selection popularized... we now have specific degrees in evolutionary studies! A life's work... a satisfaction he never got. 

The life of a scientist. 

Sometimes, just sometimes, advancement in a field of study can happen unexpectedly.  That is exactly what happened this week: the first direct evidence for the ultra-rapid expansion at the dawn of the universe was found. The Big Bang.

Besides the immense social and scientific impacts of this finding, one man who laid that groundwork was able to see his theory confirmed. His life's work is not only supported theoretically, but with undeniable proof. The satisfaction of a job well done was caught on video here: Andrei Dmitriyevich Linde's Inflationary Universe Theory is Confirmed

The true joy of being a scientist, professional or novice, is the exploration and discovery of something new and amazing. 

As Andrei Dmitriyevich Linde states at minute 1:46 of the video:

"I leave with this feeling, what if I am tricked?... what if I believed [my theory] just because it is beautiful?"

He then thanks the young scientist who gave him the news because now he knows the theory isn't just beautiful, it's true.

Link to the research: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/03/17/290866227/scientists-announce-a-big-bang-breakthrough

Results of their analyses: http://bicepkeck.org/

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