Yes more AAB, but more general sci comms stuff too

Obviously Ask A Biologist has sucked up much of my time for the last few days with the relaunch being more successful than I could have hoped. I’ve been inundated with offers of help and the site is overflowing with new questions (almost literally – we have jsut got it down to under 100 unanswered questions). However, two things have struck me that are quite heartwarming as 1) they show how healthy science communciation can be and 2) I can be insufferably smug as they seem to reinforce things I have said before about these issues. Clearly both patterns are influenced by the enormous word of blog campaign that has spread out this time around (thanks again) that went onto many blogs by or for scientifically literate people. Even so, I think the pattern shown here are relevant and likely indicative of wider effects.

AAB has always been available to all, even if we specifically tried to direct the site at kids to get them (or keep them) interested in science/ biology. Now however we are seeing a huge flood of questions from people who clearly know their stuff and want to know more. There are very detailed and techncial questions appearing the display an obvious depth of knowledge and understanding of some complex areas of biology. There really is a wide audience out there with a real interest in science who know a lot and want to know more, and presumably either are not being given that information, or at least want extra options and access to more form the researchers.

Secondly there are also obviously a large number of scientists both willing and able to engage in science communication but whom have either been stifled in their attempts or perhaps lacked the spark of interest or a platform to do it. It’s noticable how as soon as AAB has reached a wide audience, offers have been pouring in and people have been rolling up their collective sleeves and getting stuck in. It’s great to see.

In short then, scientists want to communicate their work to the public and the public want to be communicated to. Why is this proving so difficult? There are many answers to that, but I would argue that AAB has helped brige part of one gap at least and I’m delighted to see both sides taking full advantage.

8 Responses to “Yes more AAB, but more general sci comms stuff too”


  1. 1 Nancy Thompson 22/04/2010 at 11:12 am

    Thank you for answering my question on ask a biologist. I just uploaded pictures to a shutterfly website so that you can see what I’m trying to identify. Thank you very much for your help. I know you’re busy. There is no rush.

    http://nthom8910sharedphotos.shutterfly.com/pictures/8

    • 2 David Hone 22/04/2010 at 11:37 am

      I’ve just been looking at it, it’s a tricky one. I’ll wait for one of the fish people to take a go, but it looks like it’s the braincase and part of the top of the skull of quite a large fish or possibly a shark.

      Glad you are enjoying the site!

  2. 3 220mya 22/04/2010 at 1:36 pm

    C’mon Dave – that’s no shark you’ve ever seen! (perhaps your comp. vert. anatomy and/or vert paleo notes are getting a bit rusty?) Its definitely a derived teleost skull. Very typical teleost skull where many of the facial bones are reduced, and the parasphenoid becomes really elongate. I’m not a fish expert, but a bit of time with Gregory (1933) should at least narrow it down to the “family-level” clade.

    Gregory, W.K. 1933. Fish skulls: a study of the evolution of natural mechanisms. Transactiosn of the American Philosophical Society 23(2):75-481. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3231917

    • 4 David Hone 22/04/2010 at 1:47 pm

      Oh yeah, not a shark and quite obviously, sorry.

      And Randy, *what* comparative anatomy? My entire anatomy education was some 9 hours (count them!) of dissection (one pigeon chest, one skate skull and then drawing a horse and dog skull, really) when I was a 1st year undergrad ages 18.

      We don’t really go in for that in the UK, even in zoology classes, so I’ve had to pick up what I could during my PHD. That’s why I’m not very good outside of pterosaurs and some theropods (and many would rightly say not very good at them, either).

  3. 6 220mya 22/04/2010 at 2:23 pm

    That’s disappointing that anatomy gets such little attention. There are (sadly) plenty of biology undergraduate majors here in the US that never get any comparative anatomy too. However, one thing I like about the US-style graduate system is the course requirements, which allow students to fill in potential weaknesses in their education, and can even include specialized courses such as “Vertebrate Skeletal Morphology” – basically a comparative osteology course. I think its important for all folks being trained in paleontology to have a broad understanding of the basic anatomy across many clades. Sadly, as you point out, there are many that don’t get the chance and have to pick it up on the fly.

    Of course – the best way to learn the anatomy of a taxon/clade is to describe a specimen for publication!

    • 7 David Hone 22/04/2010 at 3:55 pm

      Yeah, that’s it, you guys get a longer and more rounded education. My BSc was 3 years and so was my PhD (the latter of which had no taught section). Obviously it’s not like I didn’t learn anything – what I lost in anatomy I made up in behaviour, ecology and other areas. Of course, I was then intent or pursuing more behavioural stuff so while I could have done a bit more anatomy I didn’t think I’d have any use for it and focused on other area. Still, I came out of my degree with quite a bit more anatomy than friends in other places. All swings and roundabouts really.


  1. 1 Ch-ch-ch-changes « Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week Trackback on 28/04/2010 at 4:28 pm

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