Posts Tagged 'education'

More Tyrrell Tyrannosaurs

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As you might have already guessed, the Tyrrell is not short of tyrannosaurs and this blog is going to be heaving with them by the end. I mean, this is the second post and I’m still on all the life reconstructions! (and no, we’ve not got to the murals yet, let alone the actual mounts and specimens). First off is this great rendering which stands outside at the main entrance, and it’s one I really like and probably prefer to the set I covered in the last post. The pose is really cool and a colours are great (though perhaps a bit faded in the sun), but it really is a great way to welcome people to the museum and stands atop the Tyrrell logo which is, well, you guessed.

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The second one is not easy to see as it’s in the education centre and so not always visible to the average visitor, which is a shame as it is absolutely great. It looks like a bronze statue from a distance, but in fact appears to be made of metal plates welded together, with the details picked out with blobs of metal that I assume were welded or soldered on. It’s mounted on a plinth with seats built into one side, and a glass case containing a partial skull on the other. While it’s a shame not everyone gets to see these, I’m sure it’s a real thrill for the kids that they get to see some bonus stuff the adults can’t and it’s a superb sculpt. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything quite like it, and welding can’t be the easiest medium, yet the result is brilliant.

IMG_2408Coming next? Oh, I don’t know. I still have several hundred images to sort through and much exam marking to complete. I’m sure I can find something exciting though. Probably with tyrannosaurs, whether I intend to or not.

From the horse’s mouth

Yesterday I was able to get out and into a school in Dublin to do some direct communication to the kids there. I genuinely do like doing this kind of direct outreach as while the Musings and AAB can reach vast numbers of people, there really is noting to match direct interactions with people and be able to talk to them and engage in real conversations and discussions. It’s certainly nice when you can see you have piqued an interest and get some great questions.

I was hosted by Humphrey Jones who runs the superb ‘Frog Blog‘ which is basically a science news feed for kids and even gave a small write up to the event, as well as posting a gallery of images here. My thanks to him and his school.

To help or best left alone?

I’ve recently spent a bit of time on a variety of dinosaur / palaeo sites frequented by kids and those with no more than a very casual interest in the field. One common feature of these is the often profound lack of accuracy heralded by various posts and comments (though often to a very enthusiastic reception). As someone who obviously works on dinosaurs, but moreover has a strong interest in science communication and the public understanding of science this leaves me with some questions about what, if anything I could (or should) do about this. I thought therefore I’d pen this little note and see what people think and especially ask about experiences you had in building towards an interest in the field.

I’m not advocating any strategy myself. I’ve recognised this issue for a while and have done nothing partly out of not being sure if I should even do anything, but also a lack of time to invest in any potential intervention. I’m simply trying to lay this out as what I see as a dilemma and use that as a springboard for further discussion. As I see it there are two obvious and basic things that can be done and each has its problems and benefits.

The issue is that these people (and mostly young-ish kids through to teens as far as I can tell) are often badly misinformed (for whatever reason) about the real facts of dinosaurs and / or research. They don’t have access to the literature (or are even aware it exists) and are reliant on intuition and whatever sounds good over what is right (or probable). While there are good books out there and obviously blogs and websites where anyone can engage with real practicing scientists, these sites tend to be rather enclosed with people only interacting with each other and so getting endless positive reinforcement for their ideas with no real outside input or criticism.

Now I don’t expect them to be scientists (hell, I wasn’t aware the literature existed till I was an undergraduate, and didn’t know what it really meant for some time after that). However, if they are as interested as they seem to be, it would seem to me a good thing for me (or people like me) to try to intervene and help them along the road towards more knowledge and a better understanding. However, that is likely to be a lot of work (answering a colossal number of questions, trying to boil down difficult concepts, arguing over points etc.) and this is likely to do little more than upset many of them or put them off science and scientists. Maybe I’m not imaginative enough but it seems hard to try and do this without divesting them of a huge mountain of nonsense and beloved theories etc. and that’s not likely to go down well. They might be much better off being left alone to mature and develop and if they have a real interest in the subject, they will come to read deeper and better and come around to a better understanding and real picture of dinosaurs and research.

On the other hand, starting them off early with some real information and ideas about science might get them there much sooner. Some, even many, might be inspired and interested and advance much faster. They might also drop some of the negativity that I can often experience in occasional blog comments etc. when people come over with very fixed ideas that must-be-right-because-they-say-so type things.

In short, it is better or worse to try to help out / intervene / interfere?

Will they be put off and annoyed by big-shot scientists pointing out their ideas are nonsense (however nicely), or will they be thrilled to engage with real experts and push themselves to do better? Will they get better on their own eventually or should they be helped? And if we do this, will it be a huge amount of work for little thanks or benefit, or really bootstrap a few to a new level of interest and understanding?

Obviously this is going to vary from person to person, but I’d be most intrigued to see what people think, and what experiences they have had at various times in their lives as experts, or with encountering experts. Did this help or hinder? Were your ideas well received or did they result in tears and tantrums? Did you grow up isolated from real experts and found your ideas changing as you learned more, or were you stuck in a rut till someone helped you see the light?

Some ‘Ask A Biologist’ outreach

My once ‘little’ project, Ask A Biologist is now grown fat on well over 4000 questions and continues to grow ever bigger. However, that rate of expansion has never been quite what I hoped for and I continue to try and push it in ever bigger and more effective ways. This has to be done on a budget, what with this being basically a voluntary and unfunded organisation and all. Still, we recently did splash out a bit of money to have some professionally made posters and leaflets produced. These look rather better in their These look rather better in their PDF forms (available to download below) than the included jpegs but I am eager to get them out there so here they are.There’s a poster (that should be good up to A3) and two flyer designs (A4 double sided). Flyer A has a ‘reversed’ front page so it can be folded as a nice small leaflet to distribute, and the type B has not so that it can be folded, or just left as a single A4 flyer.

Also included below are a bunch of various poster designs and logos or banners. Please take any and all of these and print them up, post them online, e-mail them around or whatever. Just get them to people or give them to people, kids, teachers, educators, whatever. Obviously we simply want to promote the site as far as possible and we think we are doing a good job, but with more people finding us, we can do a better one and you can help.

Anyway, download, link-to, post, print, encourage and enjoy. Thanks.

Flyer A

Flyer B

AAB Poster

Exploring and explaining Ask A Biologist

By now I expect all of my regular readers are familiar with my Ask A Biologist site and the general aims of increasing science education and communication to the general public by professional researchers and experts. While this has now been ticking over and doing pretty well (as far as I’m concerned) for four years (wow, that has flown by) it has never really grown substantially. This is a bit annoying but not the end of the world, there are limitations to what you can do on a shoestring and relying on the goodwill and time of your contributors and friends and colleagues. All things considered, I think we’ve done a superb job, even if I am saying so myself on my own blog.

The latest step we have taken is to write up our experiences and the pros and cons of such a site and it’s machinations and we have been able to publish in the recently launched Evolution: Education and Outreach journal. It’s an obvious outlet since they are really all about science communication and bridging the gaps between academic research and teachers (and by extension the classroom)and that is what we are trying to do ourselves.

(As a quick aside, it was very quick and easy to publish here and I thoroughly recommend it. If you have burning sci comms issues you want to get out there and reach a big audience properly, it’s excellent. So get on and do it).

The paper is a short one and tracks the history of the site and what we have learned and experienced through running it. We are a bit unusual in that we are really independent of any university or society and don’t have any formal organisation as such. Things kinda just get done and if things don’t get done, either someone picks up the slack or complains till other people pitch in. This of course means we do have complete freedom to run the site as we see fit and it keeps costs down and stops time getting wasted on meetings and updates etc. On the downside, group apathy can set in and some things really don’t get done if they are never that urgent or that important, and it’s easy for a few of the more active people to dominate proceedings.

Even so, we think this is a successful model for others to follow. The whole site has been set up, run (and undergone a major redesign and facelift) for four years for just over 3000 pounds – that’s an incredible return. We have provided a real service which is slowly becoming more widespread in it’s influence with other sites now making use of our answers as a source of information and more teachers coming to us to help with questions from their pupils and for bits of information for their own lesson plans. We seem to be having the effect we always wanted and that’s a good thing. Hopefully this paper will go a little way to help push that still further and help us reach a still larger audience.

Of course you dear reader can help with that too with a bit of judicious blog posting, linking, mentioning this to your kid’s school, cousins’ science teacher, local nature club, or whatever. We are making a small difference and you can help us make a slightly larger one, so please help if you can.

Hone, D.W.E., Taylor, M.P., Wynick, D., Viscardi, P. & Gostling, N. 2011. Running a Question-and-Answer Website for Science Education: First-Hand Experiences. Evolution: Education and Outreach, in press.

This is utterly, utterly awesome…

and should be read by anyone who cares about science at all in any way at any level. It’s a genuine shame that this is not plastered over the media in 20 ft high letters but instead I spotted it from a link on Facebook. This is who you get kids engaged in science and understanding science and must be the easiest and most entertaining paper to read in many a long decade. It’s freely available here, so settle down, read, enjoy and appreciate the genius behind this. Very well done to all concerned.

This is why I worry about the perception of science

OK, so I’ll dash this off while I’m in a bad mood and then maybe I won’t feel so bad later, but this has really annoyed me. As I’ve noted on here before I do realise that comments on the internet are not the best medium of communication humans have come up with and tend to be exaggerated and problematic etc. etc. and while I typically eschew talking about such issues I’ll do so here if only to get it off my chest.

Science communication is a good thing. Researchers taking time to communicate to the public is a worthwhile exercise and the public is interested in science and helping them stay informed about our work is good when it comes to things like getting their support for important issues among other issues. Good journalists will help this of course, and the main point here is that people can be reached and many want to be reached. We can and should therefore make an effort to do just that. There will be those who will not and cannot be reached, but even influencing those around them and being able to swamp their nonsense with good science is I think valuable, being part of the silent majority is not always a good thing.

So onto the subject of my wrath / annoyance. Yes, as noted, it’s an internet comment but it encapsulates all that is wrong with the apparent anti-science / anti-intellectualism of some and in perhaps the fewest words possible. It was on the Times website on a story on dolphin intelligence and says (all of it) “Dolphins are wonderful creatures, certainly highly intelligent, but please don’t confuse the issue by telling us what ‘scientists’ think.”

Right, so who exactly should be talking about this issue apart for, to pick a non-random example, the highly trained and qualified and experienced researchers who have been studying dolphin intelligence? Oddly enough, I can’t think of any. How can the issue possibly be confused by people voicing a qualified opinion, especially one that basically consists of ‘dolphins are smart and should be protected’. Is that really too complex an idea? Surely people should be contributing ideas and information to a debate on animal intelligence / protection? Also, given that this issue (in the context of the article) was raised by these researchers then how exactly are they supposed to butt out of the debate they started (and / or how is the journalist supposed to avoid mentioning them)? And finally and obviously, why the ‘  ‘s around the word scientists? I assume it’s a simple snide attack to imply that there is (or should be) no such thing as a scientist and blah blah blah they make it all up etc. but it’s pretty lame all round.

Ugh. That’s it really. Not much beyond a mild whinge from me really, but it does so annoy me that people somehow seem to think that all science is wrong or that somehow years of study and research make you unqualified to talk about something, or that a lack of this education makes you as qualified. I’d be genuinely interested to find out exactly how a mind like that operates that increasing education / research / learning on a subject somehow makes you less qualified, but I can’t help but think that it would be very painful to find out.

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The complete ‘how to’ guide for young researchers (so far)

It seems that recently some of my various ‘how to’ posts have been found by various search engines and readers and since I don’t have much to write about today and that these are, I think, some of the most important and beast things I have written, it seemed a pertinent time to resurrect them under a single banner for any more recent followers who have yet to0 find them. For those who have missed out, I wrote an extended series of posts covering all the basic skills of research such as writing and reviewing papers, giving talks, editing work and so on. These I hope have been and will continue to be of use to students and young graduates trying to break into science or generally improve their skills during their education, so here I have bundled them all up into one single slot to make it more accessible and easier to link to as well as hopefully bring this to the attention of new Musings readers.

Basic advice to young researchers

How to complete a PhD

How to get hold of papers

How to write a paper (and get it published)

How to contribute to a paper

How to review a paper

How to edit a volume of papers

How to write a conference abstract

Things to do at a meeting

How to give a talk

How to make a scientific poster

How to arrange a meeting

A ‘how to’ summary (contains various updates and links to other sites)

And finally don’t forget the ‘science basics‘ section on here which contains all of these and more.

Do make use of these and feel free to pass them on to your colleagues / friends / students and do add comments to help keep them thorough and up-to-date. The feedback I have had on these has been very good, so I’m happy to be confident that they are doing some good.

The importance of science communication

I am really hot on science communication, obviously. In addition to Dino Base (moderator, general discusser and blogger) and Ask A Biologist (admin and overlord) I am working on another new site (details will be announced at the right time). When I can, I contribute to other forums, blogs and send off the odd article to some of the popular dino and palaeo magazines, and while back in the UK I would go out of my way to go along to schools and talk about dinosaurs and zoos and conservation etc. to try and engage kids a bit more beyond looking down a microscope occasioanlly. With a few obvious exceptions (some bloggers just never stop – like the phenomenal PZ Myers) I probably do more than probably 99% of scientists. And for me, that is actually a big problem.
Continue reading ‘The importance of science communication’


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