Ask A Biologist, an appeal

Regular readers will know that in many ways, the Musings is my ‘second’ project for science communication with Ask A Biologist being my first (and I think) best effort to bring science to the public. For the half dozen of you who have missed it,this is a site where people can leave their biology based questions and a team of researchers from all over the world will pitch in and try to answer. There’s no middle man, no filter of journalists, precis, reviews or anything else, you ask us, we answer.

And really answer in some cases, discussions of detailed or intricate questions have run to days or weeks over dozens of posts. We seem to operate a less formal peer review with people correcting each others’ errors, discussing points of taxonomy and definitions, philosophy of science and more. It’s a great introduction to the workings of academia and all the while bringing first hand information and knowledge to those who want it.

I really set the site up as it was the kind of thing I wanted as a child. I could read my books and watch TV shows but there would always be unanswered questions that I wanted answers for and had no way of finding. My parents, teachers and books (despite their best efforts) couldn’t provide them and I was left frustrated. Now the internet solves that problem, but with such a multitude of sources it’s hard to know who to trust. One quick glance at Yahoo questions should be enough to put anyone off ever putting something up there, but you might not realise this. Science by popularity is not a good idea. So enter AAB.

However, the site is run on the goodwill of the researchers giving up their time to help out and inevitably, despite some start-up money from PalAss, funds were tight. That is behind us now, thanks to a series of new grants and AAB is set for a relaunch with numerous new features, it’s more user friendly, with better archives, new images, new sections and more. While we have answered nearly 2500 questions and had over half a million readers in the last few of years, we are only as good as the people who use us. In short, if we don’t get many questions, we can’t answer them.

Time then, to spread the word. We are having our official re-launch on the 19th of April. If you like science and like learning about science then this should be a site for you, to read, to ask questions, to help out. Whether you are an academic biologist, a student, a teacher, an interested amateur or a 5 year old who loves worms, then we can help (or you can help us). Please then, on the 19th spread the word. E-mail your friends and colleagues, put a post on your Blog, Twitter, FaceBook or whatever, let your local school know or whoever.

We want to help and we can help, so let us help.



And here’s some pretty banners and logos to help you:

17 Responses to “Ask A Biologist, an appeal”

  1. 1 Francisco Gascó 07/04/2010 at 3:38 pm

    Hi Dave!
    I’ll share this information in my blog! We’ll spread the word!

  2. 2 knirirr 07/04/2010 at 3:52 pm

    I would be happy to mention this.

  3. 4 Peter 07/04/2010 at 5:14 pm

    Big fan of AAB, been using it for years! Looking forward to the revamp. Will do my best to spread the work.

  4. 6 Traumador the Tyrannosaur 07/04/2010 at 10:53 pm

    I’ve just completed time stamped posts for the 19th on all 3 of my blogs.

    I’ve also told my educator instructors at my old university about it, as I know this year’s lot of student teachers just started their science cirriculum circuit (I’m a primary teacher myself).

    That might be a good tactic for everyone is to alert their local teacher training programs about Ask a Biologist, espeically as I know new teachers without a science background tend to shy away from teaching science as it often overwhelms them. Having a site like this at their disposal can only help (though government enforced cirriculums need to push science more too!)

    • 7 David Hone 08/04/2010 at 7:31 am

      Perfect thanks. We will take anything from anyone, but of course we really want to encourage kids to get interested in science / biology so schools and undergrads are a particular target.

  5. 8 Tom 08/04/2010 at 6:49 am

    I’ll use this for sure. As an amateur paleo artist, I have plenty of unanswered questions.
    I can also advertise this on a couple of paleontology forums.

    • 9 David Hone 08/04/2010 at 7:32 am

      We have had a number of palaeoart questions before and the new site will allow people to upload images as part of their questions which should really help out on that front. Thanks for the promotion!

  6. 13 Francisco Gascó 08/04/2010 at 4:18 pm

    Just blogged! 😉 We’ll remember our visitors on April 19th!

  7. 14 David Hone 08/04/2010 at 6:03 pm

    Thank you all. Any promotion is good promotion, but do please make sure you repeat this on the 19th when the new site is up and we can try and get some blanket coverage going.


  8. 15 Mindy 18/04/2010 at 8:39 am

    I’ll definitely put the word out on the 19th – I’m a Media Producer at the American Museum of Natural History, and have only recently found your site, which sounds wonderful! Have you considered setting something up on Facebook? That way you can collect fans and send them regular updates – you can arrange it to update them automatically whenever a new topic is posted, for example. It’s a great way to reach large numbers of people – Witmer Lab uses it very effectively (

    Good luck!

    • 16 David Hone 18/04/2010 at 9:40 am

      We do have a group on Facebook with a couple of hundred members, but that’s about it. Thanks for promoting the site, we do have some tenuous links with the NHM in London too, but anything with the AMNH would be great.

      AAB does offer something very useful for museums I think. People (and especially kids) get inspired by them, but in my experience (and I’ve had similar reports from friends, parents and teachers etc.) it can take a few days for the ideas to ferment. That means that by the time they do have a question about something they saw, they are not at the museum any more and have no signs to consult or anyone to ask, and then we can really step in to help.

      Any help or promotion you can offer would be wonderful thank you. We try to do the best job we can, but as I’m fond of saying, we are only as useful as the questions we get, so every bit helps out.

  1. 1 Ask A Biologist « Zygoma Trackback on 19/04/2010 at 6:35 pm
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