YOU (and your credit card) Are the Future of Science!

Money isn’t everything, but without it, science is hard. Really hard. Materials, people and legal fees are expensive!

According to a blog post by Maksym Sich on I F***king Love Science (originally The Conversation), “In 2012, the worldwide expenditure on scientific research and development was US$1.5 trillion, while an estimated 1.9m peer reviewed articles were published that year. This works out as a whopping US$790,000 per article.”

WOW! That’s more expensive that most houses, and this is just in one year. Now keep in mind that projects like space missions are hugely expensive and exaggerate this estimate a bit, but the figure is still recognizable as representative of the huge cost of science.

So how do we fund science research? Well, at best, we rely on government or universities. At worst, private companies fund the research. It’s an issue that has raised its fair amount of controversy recently. Remember Wei-Hock Soon? I blogged about him last month. Better known as Willie, he was a scientist associated with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who is best known for his claims that variations in the sun’s energy can largely explain global warming. This went against the more widely accepted belief (97% of scientists) that humans play a large role in global warming.

Soon’s beliefs weren’t really the problem, though. Although most scientists didn’t agree with him, arguing and testing theories is what science is all about. The real problem came from his fund Moneysource: He accepted more than $1.2 million in money from the fossil-fuel industry over the last decade while failing to disclose that conflict of interest in most of his scientific papers.

Whether Soon’s data is valid or not, not disclosing funding from an industry that happens to use his findings to their advantage presents quite a problem.

So what are other options? How around Crowdfunding? Its worked for video games, museums and even a charismatic gent who wanted to make some seriously stellar potato salad.

Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 11.14.48 AMScience and technology has found a home in crowdfunding as well. The Pebble Watch, a modernized space suit and even a space telescope have all found friends with deep pockets on the web. Is this the future of science funding? Well, kinda. These projects all have budgets under $10,000. This is far below NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope at almost $9 billion dollars!

Additionally, technology advancements are needed for military and defense, but will the public want to use their own money to fund nuclear weapons? Probably not.

The internet has demonstrated its love for science and willingness to loosen the purse strings for cool projects, so what does this mean for the future? More crowdfunding? Tighter regulation on funding outlets? What about Government and crowdfunding on the same project?

What projects would you pay up for?

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Focusing Our Energy On…well, Energy!

Climate change and Appalachia. I know, I know. You’re probably sick of hearing me talk about it. I’ve blogged about it on many different occasions, but this time I actually want to share some tangible teaching devices to help us talk climate change and the energy sector.

A couple weeks ago I was visiting one of my all-time favorite blog, Science League of America, and came across the Energy Literacy Principles.

As their blog post puts it: The Energy Literacy Principles were developed by a consortium of thirteen governmental organizations, including the Department of Defense, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Health & Human Services. All these groups are interested in energy because it affects every aspect of our lives and involves everything from the environment and national security to food and even public health.

I can’t imagine anything more fitting for Appalachia. Energy defines a huge chunk of our economy. It defines our history, our politics and possibly our future. Our education standards echo this as well, which might be the scariest thing of all.

Energy literacy plays directly into climate change literacy. Our energy choices influence how people alter the climate. Principle 5—“Energy decisions are influenced by economic, political, environmental, and social factors”—gets to the heart of this idea. In West Virginia, there used to be a $2,000 tax credit for new solar projects, but the state legislature did away with it in 2014. In fact, West Virginia has an Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard and does not actually require a minimum contribution from renewable energy!

How can we expect to teach energy literacy when we’re silent about energy sources?

The NCSE put it best when they said, “energy and climate are inextricably linked. The principles are a good first step, but how we use them to educate others about the connections between energy and climate is up to us.”

What it Means to be STEM Literate

You can read, right? You’re literate? It’s a silly question, I know. If you couldn’t read, you probably wouldn’t be on my blog! We sometimes take literacy for granted. Even our worst rank school systems produce students who can read a newspaper or blog. Are we as confident about our science literacy? Do we even know how to measure it?

Now, this is far from my first blog post on this subject. but I felt that it warranted a second visit, especially since some new material has recently surfaced on the subject!

Emily Calandrelli gave a TEDx talk just a few months ago on the subject of STEM literacy, and the video of the presentation was just uploaded to YouTube last week. If you aren’t familiar with TEDx, Emily, or STEM, allow me to fill you in.

First, TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks. TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and topics can range from science to business to poetry to history. A TEDx event is a local gathering where live TED-like talks and videos previously recorded at TED conferences are shared with the community.

Emily Calandrelli is a West Virginia native (I KNOW!) and WVU with a masters degree from MIT in in Aeronautics & Astronautics and Technology & Policy. She’s also the producer and host of a pretty amazing show, Xploration Outer Space. Emily is passionate about lots of things, like the space program, science policy, women in STEM and yes, STEM literacy.

If you aren’t familiar with STEM, STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. We often refer to STEM industry, such as scientist or engineer, STEM education, such as math and computer classes and STEM literacy, or the ability to understand and apply concepts from science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Emily’s talk is 16 minutes long, but packed full of insight into the importance of STEM literacy.

A few months ago I blogged about this topic and shared some of my favorite tweets from planetary scientist, writer and public speaker, Emily Lakdawalla.

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Her tweets get right to the point of the importance of science literacy and summarize the points Emily makes in her talk.

Appalachia’s economy, politics, history, geography and livelihood rely on the materials we can pull from the earth. While my GEO 101 course taught me the intricacies behind the making of coal, it failed to tell me why I should care. I learned about what a water table was, but it didn’t tell me how hydraulic fracturing could endanger it, or what happens when it dries up.

As it turns out, though, physicists, journalists, geologists, historians, engineers and athletes all need energy and water, and therefore must recognize the need for science and art and learn how to effectively utilize the collision of the two. Educators at all levels, elementary through college, must tackle this problem head-on. You don’t have to absolutely love every academic field out there, and it’s ok to be better at one over another, but students have to recognize how important literacy on all levels really is.

What’s your college degree or area of employment? How did classes outside of that area affect you? Tweet at me or comment below to join in on the conversation. Also I encourage you to following Emily on Facebook and Twitter to learn more about all things STEM.

Brontosaurus: The Long Lost Ninth Planet

Earlier this week, many of us got the validation our childhood self needed. The dinosaur, Brontosaurus, is back (maybe?)!

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If you aren’t familiar with the brontosaurus’s tragic story, it goes a little something like this: Paleontologists discover a new species of dinosaur that they call an Apatosaurus. In another part of the world at nearly the same time, scientists discover an almost identical skeleton, but they call it a Brontosaurus. By the early 1900s scientists realized that the proposed differences between these two animals were subtle, and since Apatosaurus was named first, it is the correct name.

You’re probably most familiar with the brontosaur affectionately known as Little Foot. What did they call his species on the show?  Simply “Long Necks.”

So why talk about this on a science communication blog? One of my favorite Twitter accounts, David Shiffman, summed it up nicely.

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Why are we obsessed with arguing back against science?  Why are scientists never allowed to change their position on something? And why do we group Pluto and the Brontosaurus into one big “bring back science of the good ol’ days” issue?

xkcd

xkcd

Seriously…Skeptics Blog, The Press Telegram News, NPR and TIME all put out pieces this week on what can only be called “Brontosaurus: The Ninth Planet.”

They all raise valid questions, though. Why do we need science to stay the same? Surly we’re capable of of life where Little Foot is an Apatosaurus and our mother served us nachos instead of nine pizzas! I wish I could tell you there was some scientific reasoning for our reluctancy to change, but there isn’t, at least not yet.

Robert Krulwich summed it up best when he said:

“People don’t want their eternalities to change. They hate that. But, in the end, science has to win. There are 5 year olds all over the world now growing up with Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune and Uranus, but not that other guy, the one with the name of Mickey Mouse’s pet dog. In fifty years, Pluto may be just a dog again.

That’s how it goes.”

So are you ready to live and let go? Will you accept Little Foot for who he is, no matter what that might be? What about Pluto? Will you teach your kids about the long lost ninth planet? Please don’t, by the way. You’re part of the problem. Are you ready to accept a world where discovery sometimes means adjusting our science text books? I know I am, and I believe in you.

No Playing Video Games Until You Finish Your Video Games!

Love ’em or hate ’em, video games are here to stay.

While video games often get a bad rap for being violent, mindless or expensive, they’ve recently shown that they can be part of education as well.

Educators and parents are turning more towards video games as part of their daily studies to help teach reading, math, science and even computer programing. Just take the West Virginia Science Bowl for example!  During the breaks in between trivia, students had the opportunity to code their own programs to help them design structures in Minecraft.

High school students write code for the game Minecraft at the WV State Science Bowl

High school students write code for the game Minecraft at the WV State Science Bowl.  Photo via WVSB

Now, Minecraft itself is still a great tool to get students thinking about engineering, even if you aren’t coding. If you’ve never seen Minecraft, the whole point of the game is the build structures using the game’s signature block motif. Below is a video how how to build within the game.

And here are some of the amazing things people have built:

Science has plenty of its own video games as well, though. My favorite example is definitely Kerbal Space Program. According the the game’s website, “[Kerbal] is a game where the players create and manage their own space program. Build spacecraft, fly them, and try to help the Kerbals to fulfill their ultimate mission of conquering space.”

It’s an amazing game that utilizes physics and space travel so realistically that NASA even partnered with Kerbal to help design a future mission to an astroid! It’s so realistic, in fact, that failure often happens more than success, which is a great lesson for any future STEM student.

Now it’s not secret that I love video games, so I’m obviously a little bit biased when it comes to encouraging people to engage with them. I’m not the only one encouraging this, though.

Although the research is still new, there have been studies that show video games have the ability to improve learning, with some limitations of course.

So what are your thoughts on video games?  Do you play them, or do you encourage your children to play them?  What other STEM games have you encountered?

A Vote for Science…or not.

And they’re off!

That’s right ladies and gentlemen; it is once again election season.

Now, I can’t lie, elections are kind of my guilty pleasure. There are debates, lies, scandals and memes. LOTS of memes. The Internet simply love an election! For example, during his presidential campaign announcement, Ted Cruz might have said the word imagine one too many times.

via Business Insider

via Business Insider

via Business Insider

via Business Insider

This year’s election is sure to be a crowd pleasure for a variety of reasons. First, there’s no incumbent, second, we had a pretty impressive shift in party majority and minority in Congress in the last round of elections, and third, both parties have their fair share negativity to contend with.

Last but not least, though, science will play a lead role in the campaigns.

A recent Quartz piece addressed this exact issue. “In a January poll, US voters told the Pew Research Center that the environment, as an issue, was number 13 on their priority list. Terrorism, the economy, jobs, education, and social security top the list.”

For Appalachia, though, separating economy and environment isn’t as easy, and treating the two issues separately has proven to be tough for the area.

More than 10,000 miners have lost jobs over the past two-and-a-half years in southern West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky, and although there are a handful of reasons for the coal industry decline in the area, many blame government oversight and regulation from agencies like the EPA.

We already know that Appalachia doesn’t always openly accept climate change, so what role will it play in the election?

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It’s hard to say for sure just how important science will be in the main campaign messages, and all the current hopeful candidates (and those we expect to run) have made it clear what their positions are on the issue.

This election, probably more than any other, requires Appalachians to think about the environment and the economy as a pair and as separate issues. I look forward to seeing how the area copes with climate change policy, whatever that might be.

Tweeting in the name of Science

Yesterday, I posted piece about the trials and tribulations of using Twitter for science communication and a few tips and tricks for how to best utilize the platform.  Today, I want to show you a few examples of some great use of Twitter and talk about a few of my favorite accounts to follow.

There are plenty of lists out there to help you find you narrow down your science search, like Science Magazine’s Top 50 Science Stars, Mashable’s 25 Science Accounts to Make You Smarter and BuzzFeed’s 25 Must-Follow Twitter Accounts for Science Nerds.  Most of my favorite accounts are mentioned in these, but there are a few more up and coming accounts that I really enjoy.

One of my best science communicators active on Twitter right now David Shiffman, a PhD student at the University of Miami researching shark biology and conservation, as well as how information related to ocean science and conservation spreads through social media.  He’s a Twitter star among not just shark fanatics, but social media fans as well.  He’s got tons of academic publications in both areas.

What David does best, is use Twitter to engage with people.  He often holds Q&As, debunks marine life in the news and comments on current events.

Remember leftshark?  If you aren’t familiar with it, leftshark (probably better known as (#leftshark) took the world by storm (Sharknado?) during Katy Perry’s 2015 Super Bowl half time performance when his choreography seemed a bit off from his counterpart, rightshark.

David was like most of us, live tweeting the Super Bowl when the shark appeared, and then internet went wild. David, who’s Twitter handle is seriously @WhySharksMatter, quickly took to using #leftshark and joking with other followers. He didn’t force is science on people, but instead let them ask him questions about sharks.  The event peaked their interest and he was there to share in the fun.

Other Twitter users a great at doing this too.  You’ve probably heard of Neil deGrasse Tyson.  He’s widely regarded as the most popular science communicator alive.  Sure he’s got his talk show, a book, his lecture tour AND a primetime TV series, but he’s also got one of the most followed Twitter accounts ever.

Neil is no stranger to playing off of current events.  In fact, that’s the majority of his account.  Perhaps one of the best mashups of pop culture and science came during the 2014 World Series when Neil decided to tweet his knowledge of the sport.

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Check out the number of retweets and favorites!  It’s pretty impressive to see the type of engagement and Astrophysicist can produce during a baseball game.

I encourage you to check out David, Neil and the countless number of other science social media accounts out there and find what sparks your curiosity?  What makes you want to click and engage, and how can we do more of that?