Each year the AAAS annual meeting brings together scientists, science organizations, and journalists from all over the world. This year the meeting was in San Diego. It was rainy.
A few highlights of my trip were the many discussions of dolphins, doomsday scenarios, and conversations about the changing face of science communication.
It turns out that dolphins might be a great model species for studying type 2 diabetes. However, several other researchers suggest that dolphins should be given non-human person status, which would make that kind of research incredibly difficult. The only reason that people feel all warm and fuzzy about dolphins is that they have an intelligence that we can recognize as similar in some ways to our own. This led to think that human-like intelligence should not be a factor in determining conservation status for animals since intelligence is something we don’t even understand and have a hard time defining. We need to get over ourselves and our over-inflated sense of importance in the universe before tackling these issues.
Mathematicians are finding new ways to use their skills by working with social scientists and urban planners to figure out how to plan for the weird things people do on sidewalks, roads, and in buildings.
It was reinforced that scientists need to remember to keep the public in the loop when planning and executing potentially controversial experiments. Transparency is key to things like hadron colliders and geo-engineering. Keeping people in the dark only leads to greater mistrust and development of more conspiracy theories. So, go talk to the people, you scientists!
And, on that note I’ll end with some points about science communication.
Bloggers for the large part were not allowed press access to AAAS. This is because historically AAAS has only allowed journalists working for accredited organizations to attend. Now, many freelancers, like myself, get around this issue by joining writing organizations like NASW. So, for all you serious science bloggers who didn’t get to attend this year, or who are regularly denied access to professional meetings, until the media landscape changes and new media professionals are considered press in their own right, consider joining an organization that will give you that accredited status. That’s how you get into the parties with the free drinks!
Secondly, I was on a panel about empowering young scientists to help communicate science to the public. Several examples of what an organization called “Sense About Science” in the UK is doing in conjunction with “Voice of Young Science” were brought to light. There are lots of young scientists interested in helping to dispel myths related to science and health. We also discussed various aspects of what is wrong with science in the media these days as well as what is right with it. I expressed my view that new and social media are going to play an increasingly important role in getting science out to the public. Right now, although these online media forms do allow “echo-chambers” to form quite easily, they do allow exceptional access to information and distribution of ideas.
Finally, mass media is still slow to accept independent online media, and even resents its presence (for obvious reasons). However, science journalism can only benefit from people from all areas of the communication sphere working together. Mass media is shrinking, but it will not disappear, and independent media will continue to grow. Together they can make science communication even better.Filed under Esoterica, Uncategorized | Comment (0)
Little did you know that kangaroos have the power to save the world.
A recent press release in my email in-box tipped me off to the hidden super-powers of our bouncing animal friends from the land of Aus.
According to the press release, a study published in 2009 found that bacteria living in the guts of roos produce cancer-fighting anzymes. When tested in mice, injections of bacterial spores had 35-40% success in fighting cancerous tumors.
“In the labs, we train the bacteria, so they develop their innate ability to colonise tumours, digesting them, and stimulating the body’s natural immune system,” said Assoc. Prof. Ming Wei from the Griffith Institute of Health and Medical Research.
This study got me to thinking about what else I have heard about kangaroos through the science grapevine, and I remembered another amazing kangaroo ability that was uncovered back in 2007… kangaroos can fight global warming.
Well, it’s actually once again thanks to the bacteria that live in their guts that kangaroos have the fate of the world on their shoulders.
Most ruminants, animals with stomachs capable of fermentation, produce LOTS of methane. Methane is known to be a powerful greenhouse gas and a major factor in global climate change. Most of the methane released into the atmosphere related to human activities comes from our livestock. So, scientists are trying to figure out how to reduce the methane produced during the ruminant digestive process.
Back to kangaroos… kangaroos are foregut fermenters like cows, but it turns out that they don’t produce methane. The bacteria in their guts utilize a slightly different chemical process from that of other fermenting bacteria, and produce acetate as a bi-product instead.
Now that they have this interesting piece of information, scientists are on working on transferring kangaroo bacteria into cows. The problem they have to solve is how to get the bacteria to live in a stomach that is both anatomically and environmentally different from that of the kangaroo.
I wonder if it might be easier to get people to eat kangaroo.Filed under Esoterica | Comments (11)