Southern Fiddler Ray

These stingrays are found at the Sea Life Melbourne Aquarium. Children are encouraged to touch them as they swim along.

[Video: Loop of a Southern Fiddler Ray swimming in a shallow human-made pool]

Source: The Other Sociologist.

A Whale of a Time

The beauty of wandering around the Australian Museum in Sydney! There is much to see on the natural sciences but the social sciences are also abound in the Pacific Spirit and First Australian galleries currently hosting two mind expanding exhibits, which I’ve previously written about (Garrigarrang: Sea Country and Bayala Nura: Yarning Country).

In this gallery, it’s hard to miss the massive sperm whale skeleton! It was acquired in 1871 when the whale became beached in Woolongong, New South Wales. The whale’s skeleton was later suspended in 1910.

[Photo: aerial view of the Museum’s natural science collection, with the whale skeleton in the top half of the photo. Below people sit in groups and stand in front of various glass displays.]

Source: The Other Sociologist.




Here are a few of my favorite historical women naturalists.

Niles wrote a book called Bog-trotting for Orchids, so I gave her some lady’s slippers. Traill is from Canada, so she’s looking at Canada wild ginger. Furbish is standing in front of the Furbish’s lousewort, a rare plant that bears her name.

Original on my site | Patreon


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Why Ecology and Environmental Science is Everyone’s Business

I’ve summarised one of our Science on Google+ Hangouts on Air. Our guests discussed three fascinating fields of ecological study: air quality; marine life; and extreme weather events.

Our most recent Science on Google+ Posterside Hangout on Ecology and Environmental Science was excellent and well worth watching in full. It highlighted the intersections between climate change the social consequences of environmental damage. The presentations covered the measurement of air quality; disease outbreak amongst fish; and the relationship between extreme thunderstorms and global warming. Below I give a detailed summary of the points I was most interested in as a social scientist (I will do the same for our previous hangouts).

I urge you to watch the presentations in full and comment on the talks from your perspectives. I am particularly interested in different social science reactions to these talks: how can we make a contribution to weather and marine sciences using the ecological frameworks and methods described by the presenters?

Environmental advocacy is truly an interdisciplinary endeavour that requires both critical public debate and empirical solutions. This includes improved data collection and innovative responses that connect scientific theory to social policy and practice. A collaborative and proactive approach to climate change is not assured. Australia recently changed Government and one of the first tasks our new Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, put into effect was to dismantle the Climate Change Commission, which was led by eminent scientist Tim Flannery. (Thankfully the work continues thanks to crowd-source funding.) Abbott also removed the position of Science Minister (along with other adverse social policy shifts). Climate change policies in some other countries are in a better state, but many nations remain reactionary to environmental disasters. For these reasons, ecology and environmental science require our full participation.

Continue reading Why Ecology and Environmental Science is Everyone’s Business

The overall motivation for my desire to see more Black women as mentors in science is not self-centered. I believe that science needs the perspectives, ideas, and creativity that can only result from diversification. As more underrepresented women and men of color are offered positions, more of them will take up roles as PIs, research advisors and administrators, and I am certain that more of my needs and those of others like me will be met. In order to navigate a career that I love, but that requires years of exhaustive training and that comes with no guarantee of financial reward, I have to be thoughtful of what will ensure my success. This applies to everyone.

American biology student Stephani Page is undertaking her PhD research. She argues that there is a dire need to introduce diversity within the upper ranks of scientific leadership. As Page notes in her guest post in Nature’s Soap Box Science blog, it is rare for Black research students to encounter other Black women scientists while they undertake science degree. As she recounts, Page has had wonderful mentors who are White – but where are the diverse role models for Other students to aspire towards? The lack of diversity in science vexing and important topic for all disciplines. Sociology is not immune. While sociology is attracting more diverse students, these students are less likely to get jobs within academia.

Autism Research Discussion Live on Air Today

I’m one of the moderators for Science on Google+. I curate the social science stream. Our community is co-hosting a discussion on autism research live on air, in around an hour’s time (2pm Australian time or 10pm USA EST or 3am UTC/GMT). Our co-host partner is Autism Brainstorm, a research-led community of practice that puts families in touch with experts and resources of support.

Join us to hear experts discuss the latest developments in education, policy and biomedical treatments. Some of our experts are diagnosed on along the autism spectrum disorder and all researchers are advocates of research-led community support services.

You’ll have a chance to post questions ahead of the panel discussion as well as while we’re live on air. You can also join us live on air if you’d like to talk directly with the panel if you get in early enough. Otherwise, the Hangout will stream live on air so you can just watch along and still submit written questions. 

In the mean time, if you’d like to see the latest research and recommendations on autism to USA Government,  have a read of the Updated Strategic Plan. Among other issues, the key research informing this plan identifies:

  • International data are showing an increase in diagnoses pertaining to the autism spectrum. Studies have shown a rise in diagnosis amongst minority youth and adults from lower socio-economic backgrounds (especially those living alone). Researchers suggest there may still be more people who do not have access to services to receive adequate diagnosis and support
  • Brain imaging, neuro-physiology, molecular and phenotyping, and immunity research into autism has improved, providing new insights on the neural connectivity affecting autism. Biological research has also made progress in examining other conditions and disorders that co-exist and affect autism experiences such as epilepsy
  • Gaps in biomedical research include genomic, immunity and gender differences. These areas raise bio-ethical issues that researchers must be trained in. This requires that the research community develop comprehensive research and policy guidelines
  • While more studies have emerged in the past couple of years studying genetic and environmental factors, problems remain. Prioritisation of diagnosis is an issue, given there are windows of time in which diagnosis is most crucial, and so research on these areas is paramount. For example, the preconception and prenatal periods
  • Community intervention is also time-sensitive with respect to early behaviour. Research finds that young children who receive more hours of intervention (therapies, specialised education) generally have better outcomes. Enhanced research on biomarkers would also greatly improve the medical treatments available
  • Sociological issues require research-based policy intervention. This includes access and payment of affordable healthcare. International research shows that minority children (specifically Latin children in the USA) as well as children living in rural areas experience up to 1.5 times more difficulty getting an autism diagnosis, or a delay of up to 6 months in some. This means that While middle-class children living in urban areas have a better chance of accessing diagnosis and treatment, while other disadvantaged groups suffer. There is a broader institutional problem in helping families and communities support people with autism. Children with autism are more likely to wander  off alone in public and become exposed to danger. Schools are also inadequately managing autism. One study by the U.S.A. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights finds that 70% of cases where a child has been restrained at school involved autistic children. People experiencing autism also have a higher mortality rate but this is connected to co-occurring conditions like epilepsy. Young adult and adult interventions is a growing area that requires further research and funding. Community-based care would better help families managing these sociological and health factors

Our on air discussion today will speak to some of these issues. Join our discussion via this link where you’ll also find the speaker bios and links to their research.

Social Networks of Hermit Crabs

Photographer Steve Simonsen has captured this astonishing video of hermit crabs at Nanny Point at St. John in the Virgin Islands. Read this interesting research from Tufts University which shows that hermit crabs exhibit social networking behaviour. Sometimes there aren’t enough shells for hermit crabs to climb into, or in some cases the only available shells are too big. In such cases, hermit crabs will wait until a larger crab approaches and they “piggyback” along, picking up other crabs, and forming “chains.”