Archive for the 'Science Communication' Category

Terrible Lizards – a new dinosaur podcast

With a near global lockdown and people stuck at home there’s been a rash of new podcasts forming (or at least a rash of jokes about everyone starting new podcasts while they are stuck at home) and here is the latest (and by extension, greatest) – Terrible Lizards. In my defence, I’m no stranger to podcasts and actually this one had been in the works since January and the lockdown has merely hastened its arrival rather than being its origin.

I’m no stranger to podcasts having been interviewed for loads of them at various times, but I’ve certainly never run one so this is a big step up. It is something I’d been considering for quite some time but there were various barriers to getting it going (not least time and some real expertise) when a chance meeting with an old friend suddenly made everything viable.

At a mutual friend’s Christmas party, I couldn’t help but spot the distinctive figure of Iszi Lawrence who I’d not seen in nearly 15 years so went over to say ‘hello’. Iszi was starting out as both a stand-up comedian and an undergraduate student in Bristol back while I was doing my PhD and we lived in the same block of flats. We got on well and hung out a bit and then I jetted off to Germany and we lost touch (this was before Facebook and other things like that) and as so often happens that was the end of a small friendship.

However, as also so often happens, meeting again it was like no time had passed and we were soon chatting nineteen to the dozen and catching up. She’d continued on the comedy circuit and also now runs and hosts several podcasts and radio shows (as well as writing childrens’ books and doing other stuff – find it all here) and we talked about me doing a guest spot on one of the history ones to talk about the early days of palaeontology and cover people like Mary Anning and Gideon Mantell. This though quickly morphed into doing an actual, proper, new and dedicated dinosaur podcast and so here we are.

There are of course, plenty of natural history podcasts, those on palaeontology generally, dinosaurs specifically and all kinds of others. I don’t think there’s real competition between them since it’s not like people can’t listen to them all, but it does immediately beg the question of what’s different or special about this one. I think the answer there is that we are trying to reach a truly lay audience – this isn’t a podcast that’s aimed at dinosaur geeks and nerds or students and academics, or even children – but one for people who like science but may know little more than the names Tyrannosaurs, Triceratops and Diplodocus.

We try and delve into a different subject in each episode and this is aided, in the best possible way, by Iszi’s ignorance. She can steer me to what needs to be said and explained and given context and of course her wit is there to stop me rambling on about gastralia excessively.  Her experience and expertise also means she generally knows how to host and edit one of these things so against all odds I even end up sounding vaguely professional, it’s quite a marvel. If all of the wasn’t incentive enough, we’ve managed to secure a special guest for each episode so alongside comedian Jo Caufield, Richard Herring and Alice Fraser we have historian Tom Holland, podcaster Dan Schreiber, dino-nerd and cake-maker Ralph Attanasia and legendary biologist Chris Packham to ask me some obscure, odd and downright naughty (Richard Herring, inevitably) questions about dinosaurs.

Obviously readers on here won’t normally fit our key target audience but I’d still hope it would be enjoyable to listen to and you’d learn something from it. There’s so much to talk about and explore and recover that it should be appealing no matter your existing levels of knowledge. Do though please share this to anyone who might want a listen and might enjoy it, reaching out well beyond the dino aficionados is a key part of this and you can make a huge difference with a like and share and tweet and whatever. The first two episodes are up right now here on iTunes and on here website here and we’ll be adding one a week for the next few weeks. This is something of an experiment so if we don’t get a good number of followers and subscribers this may be a short series (so consider that either a warning or a blessed relief).

Do give it a try and do give it a share. First episode? Well it could hardly be anything else, could it?

 

Books to read to become a palaeontologist

Despite (or because of) writing a long piece on ‘how to become a palaeontologist’, I still get loads of questions from people who want help and advice about getting into this field. While I encouraged people to read a lot, I didn’t get too specific since everyone has different backgrounds and areas they want to get into, and books (especially on dinosaurs) come out in a huge flurry and tend to date quickly. However, a recent query and some pondering led me to realise that actually there’s a core group of books I would recommend which is likely to be a useful starting point years or even decades from now (and indeed, many of the books are already decades old).

What may surprise people is that basically there’s no dinosaurs on the list and not really any palaeontology. This is because people who want to learn about palaeontology, whether just because they are interested, or because they have an active plan to becomes one, tend to get really obsessed with facts. Learning lists of formations and dates and faunal lists and how many teeth a species have are useful, but this use is limited. This stuff constantly changes and gets out of date and if you don’t know it or forget it, you can always look up the answer. What is infinitely more useful, is understanding – a knowledge of the principles at play and the fundamental basis of how organisms and systems work, and how we obtain and apply that knowledge.

In other words, reading dinosaurs books is a poor way to learn about palaeontology (in some ways, I’m obviously not suggesting someone who wants to work on dinosaurs shouldn’t read books on dinosaurs or learn about them). So with that in mind, here’s my list of ten books to read to get into palaeontology. I should stress that this is very far from exhaustive and it’s skewed to books in areas that I am interested in, and as a result there’s not a lot of geology in there. Still, at least ¾ of this list will be useful for anyone wanting to embark on a palaeontological career or just getting a better understanding of the field, or for that matter almost any are of biology.

These are presented in a rough order in which to read them where I think they would most benefit and build on each other, though equally that is far from important and it wouldn’t really be an issue to read them in a random order.

 

  1. Charles Darwin – Origin of Species

If I’m honest, it’s pretty tedious and repetitive as a book to read (the Victorian style of popular science writing doesn’t necessarily hold up too well 150 years later) but it can hardly be avoided. It’s so fundamental to the basis of modern evolutionary theory as well as being so important historically that even if it’s a slog to get through, any wannabe biologist of any stripe should read it.

  1. Richard Dawkins – Selfish Gene

A modern classic and important to understand the role and important of genetics in evolution. As such it’s an important successor to The Origin and is also something of a period piece for the state of biology and evolution when it was written.

  1. Carl Zimmer – Evolution

A few years old now, but an excellent introduction to modern evolutionary theory and its foundations and a very good place to start for anyone wanting to learn anything in depth about biology.

  1. Bill Bryson – A Short History of Nearly Everything

For me the best ever popular science book. This is a brilliant grounding in both the basics of science (geology, physics, chemistry and biology) as told through the history of those fields with input from a huge number of respected authorities in their fields. I reread it every year or so.

  1. Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner – Freakonomics

Something of a wildcard this, it’s not without issues, but it’s a very entertaining read and it shows well that with careful thought you can make the most of almost any dataset to say something meaningful about a subject. With data at a real premium in palaeontology, a book on creative analysis (which is also a lot of fun) from limited informationis something rather useful.

  1. Ben Goldacre – Bad Science

All the examples might be medical, but this really is an exemplary book on how experiments should be set up and how things should be analysed. It’s a wonderfully easy read and while it’s not about statistics per se, it does really get to the root of preparing and planning your work and understanding what you can and cannot grasp from data, as well as how people mishandle and misinterpret results.

  1. Armand Marie Leroi – Mutants

An absolute favourite of mine and the book that got me to be interested in, and understand, development. A wonderfully written book and deeply engrossing and linking together human biology, development, genetics and history.

  1. Paul Colinvaux – Why Big, Fierce Animals are Rare

This book is slowly aging but as an introduction to population ecology it’s still excellent and provides an excellent foundation for understanding so much of the pressures that influence organisms.

  1. Matt Ridley – The Red Queen

A brilliant and perennially popular book on sex and sexual selection and its importance in shaping evolution, diversity anatomy and behaviours. A must read if you want to understand a selective driver than can be even more powerful than natural selection.

  1. Neil Shubin – Your Inner Fish

The closes this list probably comes to palaeontology, this book explores the world of EvoDevo and the increasingly important role palaeontology plays in other branches of biology to understand evolution and deep time. It also covers some major palaeontological discoveries and advancements in the field so is rather a 2 for 1 in that sense.

 

And an extra bonus number 11 that is actually (a bit) on dinosaurs

  1. Deborah Cadbury – The Dinosaur Hunters

Wonderfully written book on the story of the origins of palaeontology as a science and featuring Owen, Mantell, Buckland, Anning and plenty of others. This is pretty much a historical book, but having an appreciation for the origins of the field and science of the time is important and useful to know and this is a very compelling read.

A simple, but important, request to all readers

I’ve now been blogging for over 10 years and I’ve also written plenty of other news articles, appeared on TV, radio and in podcasts, and done whole rafts of talks and events as well as writing a book (here’s a huge list of links to things I have done) and consulted for plenty more too. I do this because I enjoy it and I think it’s very important for scientists to help engage with the public and explin what they do and what they have learend and why (and even more so when it’s research based on public money). It’s nice to get recognised for this kind of work but it is not why I do it.

However, at least some of this work is now undertaken as part of my job at Queen Mary University and so I need to try and get a handle on what I am actually achieving. So, as a result, I have a small but very important request. If you have literally 1 minute and have read my book, seen one of my talks, read a blog or article I’ve written, listened to a podcast I did, saw a TV show I consulted on, sent me an e-mail that I replied to, chatted to me at  science festival, or really anything at all from my outreach programs, please do fill in this tiny form. It’s really important for me and does take seconds. Please also share this far and wide with friends and family, I know I have hundreds of subscribers to this blog but my book has sold over 10 000 copies and some of my videos or podcasts I know have had audiences in the 100 000s so I really hope this message can spread far and wide and reach those who do not read this blog.

I don’t ask for much on here, so please spare me a minute of your time to fill this in and to share the link, retweet it, post it to a messageboard, or anywhere else some people may see it who like their dinosaurs.

A new venue

Becuase writing the Musings annd being on Twitter (and perviously doing the FLugsaurier blog and pages, and Ask A Biologist, and The Lost Worlds for the Guardian) isn’t enough, I finally decided to start up a proper page on Facebook. So if you want to follow me there and post soem dinosaur stuff and get more involved in discussions and research then hope over here to Dave Hone’s Dinosaurs page.

I’m still doing other outreach things like talks, consultations for documentaries and podcasts (here’s a very recent one on pterosaurs) and I’m writing a second book so there’s still lots more going on. But this new page will, I hope, allow me to engage with a different audience in a different way so do please go over there and like the page and share it around.

 

The Tyrannosaur Chronicles is here!

Well it’s been coming of course but today sees the publication of my first book. I’ve always wanted to write one and now it’s done and I can (sort of) relax. There’s lots of PR stuff ahead and the official book launch tomorrow, but there’s not much to do now except let it go free and hope that most people enjoy it.

I’ve been writing about dinosaurs and palaeo one way or another for nearly 10 years now between various blogs and ventures as well as the odd review paper and book chapter that are for more of a general audience than a typical paper, but this is obviously a much bigger and rather different undertaking. It’s also rather different in that I was writing for something of a different audience (certainly compared to here where I generally assume readers know at least a little anatomy, what a phylogeny is, what the main time periods were etc.) and over a long book you want to introduce quite a few topics and aspects of not just tyrannosaurs, but also their contemporaries and major issues like behaviour, anatomy, local environments, extinction and more. It turned out to be a lot to cover and while trying to keep it interesting for the reader.

Hopefully, I’ve managed that but it is nervy letting this out into the wider world with little control over it. That may sound odd given how much I’ve written online, but with a blog (either here, on Pterosaur.net or on the Guardian) you have a fair idea of who your audience is likely to be, and people will soon leave if they don’t like it. Getting someone to pick up and be immediately drawn to, and then stick with, a whole tome is rather different so obviously I am nervous and curious as to how it goes from here.

The book is very much in the popular science mould and so while I would hope even some academics and researchers would get something from it and enjoy it, really it is aimed squarely at the general public and those with little or no knowledge of dinosaurs or paleontology and even biology in general. As a result, despite the fact that the book is around 85 000 words long, it really doesn’t delve into the tiny details of but tries to cover a broad spectrum of tyrannosaur origins, evolution and their biology. Given my interests there’s quite a lot on ecology and behaviour and there’s a few bits of informed speculation or suggestions that I hope are novel and interesting, but also clearly flagged as such.

It was a huge effort to write all of this while keeping up with a full time academic job and try and keep my other blogs ticking over, and it was also important to try and update things. The last few years have seen a near endless stream of new tyrannosaurs being named and some parts of the book I changed a half dozen times to reflect the addition of new species, and with the book going to print in February, it’s inevitably already out of date thanks to the most recent addition to the ranks of this clade, despite my efforts. Still, I have tried to make this a modern take on tyrannosaurs and I hope I have managed to overcome a few of the more persistent anachronisms and misconceptions about these animals. Anyway, enough of the (brilliant) text and its (brilliant) author, and time to talk about some other aspects of the book and to give a minimal amount of credit to other people.

The book is illustrated by Scott Hartman and there’s around a dozen figures of his scattered through the book, with lots of skeletals (especially of tyrannosaurs, but also various other dinosaurs too) and other little bits, a number of which were done especially for the book, but will be popping up on his website if they haven’t already. I’m obviously especially grateful to Scott for finding the time to do these and putting so much time and effort into them, the book benefits enormously from it.

There is also a colour section in the middle with numerous photos of various specimens and some reconstructions. Plenty of these have been in print in various places before but there are some novel shots and views of various things and I’ve been blessed with the generous assistance of numerous colleagues and friends who have sent in pictures and allowed me to use them. While I’m on the subject therefore I must thank Peter Falkingham, Jordan Mallon, Larry Witmer, Xu Xing, Lu Junchang and Phil Currie for providing various images and also the Royal Tyrrell, LACM, IVPP, Hayashibara, Mongolia Palaeontological, Royal Sasketchewan, Carnegie and New Mexico Museums, and also Don Brinkman, Mark Loewen and Matt Lamanna for helping me negotiate to get a couple of the images. Finally I must also thank Darren Tanke and Chisaka Sakata for the photos of me that are on the covers of the paper- and hardbacks respectively.

Finally with regard to the text I had a series of editors and assistants at Bloomsbury though most especially I want to thank Jim Martin for commissioning the damned thing in the first place and also in particular for supporting my campaign for the colour scheme of the cover. Several friends of mine including Marc Vincent (yes, that one) read through an early draft for me and provided useful feedback and special mention goes to Tom Holtz for reading through it looking for errors (and mercifully he found only one, so I’m happy to blame him for any others that slipped through). A whole host of other friends, collaborators, coauthors and colleagues are thanked in the acknowledgements for sharing their knowledge of tyrannosaurs with me over the years and I hope this book helps do justice to these amazing animals.

Well, the book is out now (actually I’ve had reports of it being on sale since Monday) and while I’ve always wanted to say it’s available in all good bookshops actually I have no idea. It is available online (including direct from the publishers Bloomsbury) and it’s in at least a few physical places. I know it’s available in hardback (paperback coming next year) and e-book versions and there’s an audio version coming via Audible, and hopefully a few translations too. The US have to wait till early June, but not long for you to wait and in the meantime you can enjoy me talking about the book here. Hopefully many people will find it one way or another (such as in charity shops for £2 in a few weeks) but more importantly I do hope people enjoy it. Happy reading.

The Tyrannosaur Chronicles actually exists!

So the official publication date is drawing near (21st of April) of my first book and I actually have a physical copy in my hands! Oooh! It’s got nice pictures and photos and words and everything!

Obviously I’m very pleased but I am also rather nervous about the whole thing – people will be paying actual real money and I really don’t want to let them down. I know you can’t please everyone and even the greatest books will not appeal to every person that picks up and reads even a few pages but despite the years of blogging and outreach stuff this is a new style and form and it’s rather more global in spread than even online media. So, lots of nerves my end.

However, anyone who does buy it and hurls it across the room a few hours later in frustration may at least be mollified by having paid 30% below the cover price thanks to a discount being offered by the publishers. If you order direct from the publishers Bloomsbury before May 31st and enter the promo code ‘DINOSAUR’ at the checkout, it should be reduced. (This has only just been set-up, so do leave a comment if this doesn’t work, or indeed if it does to let me know it’s working!).

Finally, if you are in and around London there is a small formal book launch on the 22nd of April. Tickets are free (but you need to reserve them here in advance). It won’t be long or special, I’ll talk about the book for a bit, answer some questions and sign any copies going (available for sale there, and also at a hefty discount).

Hope to see some regulars there and I do hope you enjoy the book.

 

 

 

The Tyrannosaur Chronicles

Chronicles cover

So I’ve been keep this quiet for a while, but for the last year or so I’ve been writing what will become my first (and hopefully not only) book. It’s a popular science book with Bloomsbury Press and their new Sigma range of titles, all of which are science / natural history and it’s due out in early 2016. Obviously it’s a dinosaur effort and this is focused squarely on the tyrannosaurs. It tries to cover everything from their origin to extinction and that means evolution, taxonomy, anatomy, physiology and mechanics, and in particular my areas of special interest in ecology and behaviour. It’s not quite wall-to-wall dinosaurs since there’s the context of their environments, competing carnivores and potential prey and that means some other things do at least get a look it.

As will be obvious from the cover, Scott Hartman has been involved and in addition to the skeletals adorning it, there’s a bunch of his renditions inside too. (Those who read his blog might have spotted the recent plethora of tyrannosaurs and this book is part of the reason for his push on them). So that means at least some bits of the book will be accurate and in a desperate attempt to make sure the text isn’t too littered with errors, Tom Holtz has been good enough to plow through the entire thing for me (so I’ll blame any remaining mistakes on him going too fast). More seriously, I really can’t thank them both enough.

Right, that’s enough shameless self-promotion for now, so I’ll return to editing the thing and watching the Mexican standoff between my geckos. Thanks for reading the blog, and hope you might read the book.

 

Edit: it’s available for preorder at Bloomsbury here, assuming anyone is desperate / foolish enough to order it sight unseen. 🙂

Jurassic World and Science in the Cinema

This post is pretty much just an appeal. With a colleague of mine in the Queen Mary psychology department I’ve designed a survey about attitudes to science in sci-fi and other fiction films. The survey takes about 5 mins to complete and as an incentive there’s Amazon vouchers to be won (you can also complete the survey anonymously, though naturally then, you don’t get to be in the draw).

Please do go HERE and fill it in, and also please do share this as widely as possible and ping it to people who have seen the film. Obviously promoting it around I’m hitting lots of dino-fans and palaeo people and while there’s nothing wrong with that, I’m keen to reach a) more people generally, and b) more ‘non-experts’ / ‘general public’, so passing this on to friends, family, colleagues etc. is a huge deal for me.

Thanks a bunch!

 

 

More outreach and communications

So once more I’ve been doing outreachy stuff that’s not just the Musings and so want to spread the word on the off-chance that some of my readers will want still more Hone-generated ramblings.

First off, The Lost Worlds over at the Guardian still keeps on going and I’m still posting material there regularly. However, they have just updated their name and so any old links may no longer work and so you’ll be wanting to use this link now and update any you have on your own blogs etc.

Second, I recently did an interview for the Jersey Boys Hunts Dinosaurs site, talking about my research and the advice for students and young researchers hoping to break into palaeo.

Finally, I recently sat down the people from Faculti Media. This is an interesting new concept where they create short videos of researchers talking about their work to provide a platform for outreach. It was great fun to do (but tricky, although edited, it was close to being live with only a couple of takes at the thing) and I think it offers a new approach with nice little bite-sized chunks of science explained by the researchers. In my case, it was on sexual selection and socio-sexual signaling in dinosaurs and it’s come out quite well, (though clearly the camera was focused on the background, not me, whoops!).

 

Reddit

I’m about to launch a Reddit ‘Ask Me Anything’, with the screen name of ‘davehone’. Obviously I’ve answered tons of questions here before, but here’s a chance for something different. Cheers.

A fifth anniversary tyrant

The next few days are likely to be very busy for me and this weekend I’m off on holiday, so I very much doubt I’ll be blogging on next Monday. This is a bit of a shame as those who occasionally glance at the bottom half of the sidebar on the Musings will realise that it pretty much marks the 5th anniversary of the blog. Of course very longtime readers will know I was going for some months on the old Dinobase site before cranking up this version on wordpress, but this has for most people always been the home of my pronouncements, even if there is also now Pterosaur.net, the Lost Worlds, and various bits on other parts of the web too.

So I’m naturally really rather pleased to have reached this mark, having also not too long past gone over 1.25 million hits and 1250 posts on here. It has, obviously, been a lot of work. While naturally there have been plenty of short posts (even one liners, and those of just a single image) and a fair number of guest pieces, I’ve obviously poured a huge amount of time and effort into this over the years, and I’d like to think it’s made a fair impression on a goodly number of people. Plenty of great dinosaur blogs by interesting and talented researchers seem to have fallen by the wayside, so if nothing else I can claim a fair bit of persistence.

Right, well to ‘celebrate’, here’s some pictures of a Tyrannosaurus mount from the Tyrrell that I was going to post anyway (so hardly the greatest party ever thrown really). Still, it’s hardly an inappropriate thing to include as I have done my share of tyrannosaur work and this is a neat mount. Oddly, I wasn’t too happy with the photos originally, you can’t see too many details, but I rather like the way this looms out of the murk with the animal trailing off into darkness.

IMG_2151

IMG_2153

Although the skull looks great from either side, once you get a shot up the nose, it’s rather clear how distorted this is. There’s quite a bit of difference between the two sides and it’s obvious there’s been a fair amount of squishing to the bones to give this rather asymmetric appearance.
IMG_2152

Well, that’s it for now. Not sure if there will be another 5 years, but I’m not planning on stopping just yet and I’ll be annoyed at least if I don’t reach 1500 posts having gone this far, though with my other commitments, it may take a good long while yet.

All my circuits papers

Regular Musings readers might have noticed that I do, technically, have a research page on Google. I set it up a few years ago more or less as something a bit more formal to hold records of what I’d published etc. in the days before Google Scholar metrics and which was more public than an Academia.edu profile and rather less blog-like that, well, this. I have updated it from time to time, but never found much use for it, and didn’t have the nous or time to turn it into a more ‘proper’ (and at least nice looking) site.

Doing an update the other day, I spotted a file upload option which I must have either overlooked or ignored previously. I have a for a while been looking out for a way to make my papers publicly available but really didn’t have the incentive to start yet another site just for that, and if I’d realised I could have done it on the Google pages I’d have done it years ago. Still, water under the bridge, they’re now all up.

So, if you go here and scroll to the bottom of the page you can download (nearly) all my papers. Some are still ‘in press’ so I don’t actually have anything I can upload, though as a bonus, there’s a couple of extended abstracts and unreviewed comment-type papers in there too. Hopefully it’s pretty clear what they all are, but regardless, the real issue is that they’re now accessible so go ahead and read ’em.


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