Archive for the ‘September 2014’ Category

Blame it on the scientists

In September 2014 on September 25, 2014 at 8:33 pm

disco science

Sarah: “Cause I’m feeling slightly grumpy and more than a little silly, here’s a little climate change disco.

Blame it on the scientists
(my sciencey version of this).

Our planet’s slowly warming, data’s accumulating
The ice caps yeah they’re melting, and that’s no lie
The seas are getting higher, the pH heading southward
Is it time to bid our coral reefs goodbye?

Don’t blame it on our power
Don’t blame it on the burning
Don’t blame it on tree clearing
Blame it on the scientists

Don’t blame it on our power
Don’t blame it on the burning
Don’t blame it on tree clearing
Blame it on the scientists

We all love to watch TV, and drive direct from A to B
When really what we need is green philosophy
It will change our world completely, why don’t you believe me?
Let’s overhaul the current strategy

Don’t blame it on our power
Don’t blame it on the burning
Don’t blame it on tree clearing
Blame it on the scientists

Don’t you blame it on our power
Don’t blame it on the burning
Don’t blame it on tree clearing
Blame it on science, woo

I just can’t, I just can’t
I just can’t control carbon
I just can’t, I just can’t (Yeah)
I just can’t (Woo) control carbon

I just can’t, I just can’t
I just can’t control methane
I just can’t, I just can’t
I just can’t control methane

Don’t blame it on the burning
Don’t blame it on tree clearing
Blame it on the scientists

Don’t blame it on the power
Don’t blame it on the burning
Don’t blame on tree clearing
Blame it on the science

The thrill of science grooves me, the logic yeah it lures me
The devil’s gotten to me through a PhD
I’m full of need for learning, why can’t you come and join me?
Deficit model, it leaves you in a trance

Don’t blame it on the power
Don’t blame it on the burning
Don’t blame it on tree clearing
Blame it on the scientists

Don’t you blame it on the power
Don’t blame it on the burning
Don’t blame it on tree clearing
Blame it on the science

Ow (power)
Ooh (burning)
Yeah (tree clearing)
Mmm (science)

You just gotta (power)
Yeah (burning)
(tree clearing)
Goddammit! Don’t blame science

Don’t you blame it (power)
You just gotta (burning)
You just wanna (tree clearing)
It’s so not natural cycles

We measured it with science (power)
Ain’t nothin’ else’s fault (burning)
But us and our consuming (tree clearing)
A century on (cee-oh-two)

It’s coz of human progress (power)
Yes it is our fault! (burning)
Industrialisation (tree clearing)
Lights on all night long (cee-oh-two)

Blame it on yourself (power)
Once more, it’s our fault (burning)
Emissions they need changing (tree clearing)
Can we do it now? (talkin’ ’bout science)

[image thanks to Exploratorium on flickr]


Go outside…and find ants!

In September 2014 on September 22, 2014 at 10:38 am

Kirsit antblitz

Kirsti: They say great minds think alike.

As Sarah posted her most recent piece Go outside!, I was drafting some words about ANTBLITZ which — among other scientific and community-driven goals — aims to get kids outdoors! SNAP

Part of the North Western Regional Science Hub, ANTBLITZ (via School of Ants) consists of a whole weekend of learning about the ant communities at the Armidale Tree Group. The idea originally was spawned from my desire to create a National Science Week project activity based around ants. While the regional hub has already launched the fantastic Little Things that Run the World at the art museum, ANTBLITZ is focused more directly on science.

Yes, it’s a month later than the specified dates for National Science Week…..but really, what ant in their right mind would be wandering around in Armidale mid-winter I ask you?!

In the event, the science of using ants as bio-indicators of land use and habitat restoration is cunningly disguised as a great day outside for community members. We invite people to be involved at the start of a potentially long term project for the tree group, something which could yield some really useful insights into invertebrate biodiversity over time.

Since one of the aims of School of Ants is to connect kids to nature through citizen science and learning outside, what better way than to get their whole family out and staring at the ground and peering down microscopes with them? They will also possibly discover a public space that opens up a world of outside play, observation, picnics, insects and birds they never knew existed.

I echo Sarah’s sentiments about the importance of outside play and connection to nature. These mind-boggling stats on the Victorian Child & Nature Connection website reveal just some of the negative effects of inside, sedentary (mostly screen) time, and how we can easily prevent them.

So if I manage to coax at least three families out of their homes that otherwise would not have engaged with nature on the weekend, I’ll feel like I have succeeded.

I’ll keep you posted!

Go outside!

In September 2014 on September 18, 2014 at 8:56 pm


Sarah: Go outside!

Not only do these two words echo from my own childhood, but they also spill out of my own mouth at least once a day directed towards the little ones in our house.

Being a ‘Messenger Mum‘ for a local newspaper in Adelaide, I was recently asked to contribute my thoughts on nature play – getting my kids outside to experience the world. Here’s what I wrote:

We believe playing outside is a critical component of our children’s lives and is valuable from a physical and mental health point of view. We also see it brings educational and joyful experiences they would otherwise miss out on.

In our own backyard, my husband has initiated butterfly watching as a hobby for the kids. On sunny days 1, 2 or all 3 of them can be found outside with small nets, trapping butterflies and working out the species and gender of the finds.

At every opportunity (sadly diminishing with the kids’ weekend sports commitments, but I digress…..) we head to Yorke Peninsula. Here the children roam about without the stress of traffic and constant ‘stranger danger’. We encourage the older two children to make small expeditions on bike or foot to explore and find friends. It’s a freedom they don’t get anywhere else.

At Yorkes we are also passionate beachcombers. Beachcombing is a hobby which can bring incredible joy and wonder to children and adults alike. From an educational perspective, beach walks can be used to explore many contemporary issues. For example, finding cuttlefish bones can lead to discussions of different animal species, why these animals die, thinking about cuttlefish breeding grounds in South Australia and whether human activities are impacting on these. Perhaps it’s just the scientist in me, but I insist on beachcombing as part of a normal childhood!

Degrees of change

In September 2014 on September 10, 2014 at 9:53 pm

vinyard 467048168_70ae6ea28d_b

Sarah: I’m absolutely delighted to feature as author of the Adelaide Hills Magazine Upfront article in the Spring edition. 

With the title ‘Degrees of Change’, the piece looks at climate change through the eyes of producers in the Adelaide Hills. I talked to wine makers, fruit growers and Bureau of Meteorology Senior Meteorologist and Climatologist Dr Darren Ray to gather anecdotes and evidence. 

While I clearly can’t reproduce the entire piece (the magazine website is here if you’re interested), here’s a breakout section from it in which I present my thoughts in the first person:

Hello, I’m Sarah and I’m a scientist.

After training in the fields of immunology and reproduction, I’m well-versed in the history, theory and practice of science. I understand scientific methods and know how results are interpreted. I know science has strengths and weaknesses; I see its beauty and its flaws. With all this taken into account, I believe science is the best tool we’ve got to carry out objective – that is, unbiased – asking and answering of questions relating to our world. 

I’ve never specifically studied climate change. I don’t know all the statistics relating to this topic, I don’t have intimate knowledge of each international report into climate change. But I do believe it is happening. Why? Because it’s people just like me who undertake exploration of climate change, dedicating their working lives to asking questions and collecting data. Simply put, I trust scientists to measure aspects of climate change and report it accurately. I do not believe there is any plausible agenda for them to do otherwise. 

But it’s clear not everyone thinks the same way as I do. Skeptics are a vocal part of our landscape, and have developed well-honed arguments to counter the evidence that climate change exists. 

They introduce doubt by saying that all scientists don’t agree on climate change data (more than 95% of scientists agree on climate change). They say errors have been found in reports around climate change (some errors, yes, but that’s science – the majority of reports are solid). They suggest that in Australia and other countries extreme events are just part of the natural way of things (extreme weather events like droughts, heat-waves, tropical storms and bizarrely even frosts are now more common). The skeptics argue that carbon dioxide is natural and that volcanoes emit more C02 than we ever could (volcanoes contribute less than 1%). 

To me, the evidence is clear that we are currently locked into a phase of warming that is due to emissions from human activity since the industrial revolution. Such emissions include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and other gases that trap heat in our atmosphere. Unless we reduce emissions, this warming pattern will continue long into the future. 

So the pressing question isn’t whether it exists – but how we will deal with it. 


[image thanks to badjonni on flickr]



Print-and-remember VS read-on-screen-and-forget

In September 2014 on September 5, 2014 at 2:17 pm

Kirsit desk 124604347_ee1cc3caa5_b

Kirsti: Recent research has shown that if we actually write stuff down — you know, with our hands using a pen and paper — that we are more likely to remember it than if we type it on a computer or tablet, or if we take no notes at all.

I totally get that. I have always been aware that I learn more deeply, and access my longer term memory when I take notes, whether it is during a seminar or workshop, or as I read a paper or book. I meticulously scribble concepts, quotes, make lists, indent sub-points and relate ideas and epiphanies as I listen or read.

But all these electronic papers….I mean the sheer NUMBER OF THE BASTARDS that I have to read, digest, understand, paraphrase and use in my current work….I just can’t justify printing for the sole purpose of taking notes.

Although deep down I know that printing and note taking would lead to the best learning outcomes, there are a number of ridiculous excuses that I constantly cycle through in my head to explain my own behaviour to myself. 

Excuses include:

  1. Printing uses paper –> paper will clog my life and kill trees
    (NB I do acknowledge sustainable sources of forest products exist, since my life-partner is in this business)
  2. I don’t have enough space in my filing cabinets for all those papers
  3. I will never be able to find the one I’m looking for when I need it quickly
  4. Printing papers is kind of like printing emails, and that’s just wrong
  5. Everything else relating to work is neatly filed and works electronically, so the reading of papers should work that way too.

I do seem to print the odd one that I must take home with me or use in classes, or give to students. However I think that if I am really truly, madly and deeply going to get anything out of these damn articles I am just going to have to print them. Take notes on them. Highlight stuff. Jot ideas. Use exclamation marks. All that.

Is anyone else out there struggling not to just simply read the volume of information available on a screen, but take it on board, understand it, synthesise and organise it, and remember key messages?

[image thanks to Peter Lindburg on flickr

Specialist science teachers in primary schools? No thanks!

In September 2014 on September 3, 2014 at 8:48 am

Charlotte 72550972_f48d1ea723_z

Charlotte is friend of mine, and a teacher of teachers.

In this post taken from her blog, she discusses an article from the Sydney Morning Herald from September 2 2014: ‘Science teacher in every primary school’.

I think it’s a great post, particularly her objection that ‘We continue to perpetuate the myth that science isn’t for everyone; that it’s for “special”, “smarter”, or “nerdy” people, instead of the diverse group that primary school teachers are.’

Enjoy the post, and provide feedback to Charlotte directly if you feel inspired!

[image thanks to Bart Everson on flickr

Squishing my insignificant voice…and invasive ants

In September 2014 on September 1, 2014 at 11:26 am

Kirsti John Tann YCA

Kirsti: Most of my life’s research has focussed on the dynamics of the yellow crazy ant on islands, and how they explode in numbers and ruin ecosystems. I am a passionate advocate for invasive species management across Australian native landscapes that are continually battered by feral animals and plants.

So when I discovered that I’d missed my opportunity to make a submission to the Senate Enquiry into “The adequacy of arrangements to prevent the entry and establishment of invasive species likely to harm Australia’s natural environment” I felt completely useless.

“How on earth did I miss that one?” I asked myself.

The answer is quite obvious actually, considering I’ve been so focussed on School of Ants and not working full time at uni. Not being in a lab that is focused on invasive species, it’s easy to miss things unless I’m plugged into the Invasive Species Council’s page or communicating regularly with old colleagues from Christmas Island. When I was in full time invasive ant research or helping annihilate thousands of hectares of yellow crazy ants, it was easy to stay in the loop. Now, not so much.

But anyway, I digress. What I really want to say here is that I am determined to feel empowered about having my say on invasive species research, management and biosecurity in Australia into the next decade.

So I found myself talking to the Invasive Species Council CEO, who suggested that there were no “experts” on invasive ants who had made submissions, and far too few managers of invasive populations in natural areas. He also suggested that the government may entertain late submissions.

So I got to work. I emailed the committee secretariat requesting permission to make a late submission to the enquiry. I haven’t heard back from them yet, so am a bit nervous…. But then I emailed key individuals who have busted their guts in research and management of invasive ants in Australia. I want to try and at least rally some troops for invasive ants. And I want to have a say in a political process for how Australia will handle biosecurity issues into the future.

It’s far too easy NOT to write submissions, and to feel insignificant – like your voice and evidence will be overlooked even if you do. But I am trying to squish that voice and get on with it.

[image thanks to John Tann on flickr