Science as Creative Learning

The research on “emotional learning” in science presents an interesting model for engaging young people in science. As Dr Louisa Tomas Engel explains in the video  below, young people’s interest in science drops dramatically in the middle years of school. Tomas  Engel’s broader research draws on new pedagogical practices which aim to help young people see science as a creative endeavour, rather than a memory retention exercise. This research may be of interest to science educators, biodiversity researchers, as well as other scientists who are eager to grow public outreach.

Continue reading Science as Creative Learning

Hangout with Scientists on Google Plus

Want to learn more about what other scientists on Google+ are doing? Check out the Science Engager Circle on our Science on Google+ community. I curate the social science stream! Read an interesting and lively discussion about different research projects and the types of Googel Hangouts people are interested in as part of our community. You can still contribute to the conversation by telling us about your research. If you’re a scientist, add your name to our database to be included in discipline-specific circles that are shared by our community.

How to Blog About Academic Articles for the Public

I wrote a couple of guides for improving science posts to our Science on Google+ community that might be useful for other bloggers writing about academic articles. It’s useful to understand how to become more scientifically literate. Jennifer Raff notes that science takes training that is gained by years of study… but that doesn’t mean that lay audiences improve their understanding of how science works! As Jennifer points out, this too takes practice.

Reading news articles or blog posts by non-experts are not going to give you an in-depth knowledge of science. These tend to sensationalise or misrepresent findings. Learn how to critically read about science by going straight to the source (the scientific journal or book). Continue reading How to Blog About Academic Articles for the Public

Public Science: Lead in Lipstick

I’m seeing a lot of activity about Deborah Blum’s interesting article on the hazardous metals used in lipsticks. The article has been shared widely in my circles and certainly got me engaged. Having just read Johnathan Chung’s statistical critique of the studies below, there is more to think about.

After first reading Blum’s article, I went back to the research published in Environmental Health Perspectives. I was initially struck by the methodology, where the researchers measured the impact of metals in lipsticks using comparisons to metals in water consumption. They did this because the materials used in lipsticks are not regulated in the USA. Blum notes that manufacturers have shown that they can manipulate the levels of these metals when they want to. I commented on Gaythia Weis’ post that these findings represent a powerful argument against self-regulation by industry. I think this comment stands, however, Chung argues that the sample and statistics overstate their case. It doesn’t change the fact that the metals used are dangerous, but Chung notes that the ingredients need to be put into statistical perspective and in context of how they are used. We don’t drink lipstick and our bodies don’t absorb these metals to the extent being reported.

The broader issue that I see arising from Blum and Chung’s analyses is that ordinary consumers are often unaware of the properties used in everyday products. While many of us have read other articles that warn about the dangerous compounds in make-up, new studies lead to a new wave of concern. The public is hungry for scientific guidance on how to respond to conflicting research. For these reasons, I love seeing scientists engaging with research in public forums, as both Blum and Chung have done.

Public Knowledge of Science

A recent survey by the Australian Academy of Science shows that people know less about basic science than they did three years a go. Should we be concerned that people don’t know that it takes one year for the Earth to orbit the sun? If so what should we do about it? What is the social significance of scientific thinking? Continue reading Public Knowledge of Science

Genes Cannot be Patented

Our Science on Google+ community is hosting a 30 minute Hangout on Air with geneticist Ian Bosdet. Today in a couple of hours Ian will discuss the new USA ruling that genes cannot be be patented. What does this conversation mean to anthropology and sociology and how can you contribute?

Continue reading Genes Cannot be Patented

Sociology of Medical Technologies

The democratisation of medical knowledge is a great thing to aspire to, but this post below makes some worrying claims about how social media and technology can improve healthcare. I’ll discuss why we should critically evaluate the social assumptions we make about having lay people access medical information via technology and the problems of relying on social media ratings to make judgements about medical practitioners’ scientific competency.

The Venture Beat article by Sean Mehra enthusiastically embraces the possibilities that new technologies, especially social media, can have on healthcare. Mehra is the head of product at HealthTap, a social platform where the public can have their medical questions answered by professionals. Mehra argues that one technological innovation would be to have a platform where medical doctors can rate other doctors’ competencies.

Universities already do this: educational facilities train and certify medical practitioners. While improving “bedside manner” and social connection with patients is something I’d support, social skills can be better integrated into medical training. Some medical courses require that their students take a humanities class. Nurses, for example, might be asked to take a sociology unit. Medical doctors are not always required to do the same. Having an understanding of social and cultural issues would strengthen patient relationships.  Continue reading Sociology of Medical Technologies

Women in STEM: Dr Valentina Tereshkova, First Woman in Space

Close up of Valentine Tereshkova's face in a space helmet

This past week we’ve celebrated the 50 year anniversary of Dr Valentina Tereshkova’s historic flight as the first woman in space. This is a good time to remember how far the sciences in general have come in terms of gender equality, and how far we still have to go. A few news sites have been celebrating the fact that women now make up around half of all American astronauts. A great article by +National Geographic (NG) gives some insight into the gender disparity that persisted in space missions well into the 1980s. Up until that time, the media largely focused on women astronauts’ looks, making disparaging jokes about their femininity getting in the way of their missions. Thus they ignored the mental and physical stamina required to go into this field, not to mention the high level of education demanded of astronauts! The general public continues to be fascinated with the novelty of space travel, not always recognising that these space voyagers are qualified scientists. Tereshkova has a PhD in engineering.

Continue reading Women in STEM: Dr Valentina Tereshkova, First Woman in Space

Majesty of the Flannel Moth for Science Sunday

For Science Sunday on Google+, I bring you the flannel moth, photographed by Jeff Cremer and biologist Phil Torres in the Amazon rainforest.

 ScienceAlert reports:

“The caterpillar’s ‘hair’ actually consists of setae, which are long, fine silky appendages that, in this case, can cause serious skin irritations. If an unlucky person tries to grab one, they will get a handful of venom, released when the setae poke into skin. Like a bee sting, the injuries can be painful but, for most, are not life threatening.”

Continue reading Majesty of the Flannel Moth for Science Sunday

Priestess or Ruler? Gendered Assumptions in Science

A great conversation from 2012 has caught my eye, which raises questions about the sociology of science. Jeff Baker questioned whether the artefacts found at an archaeological site in Peru led the researchers to conclude that the woman was a priestess rather than a ruler.

In the comments thread, Jeff writes that archaeologists tend to assume that ancient cultures separated religion from governance. Interestingly, he also notes that these assumptions are gendered:

Continue reading Priestess or Ruler? Gendered Assumptions in Science