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February 2011 Archives

Well, not mine...

I thought everyone might enjoy a good chuckle - I've had a few IT issues recently and one of our Faculty computer folks thought that the following might take my mind of it. Which it did :)

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I haven't managed to settle to blogging for a few days - like everyone else I know, I've followed the dreadful events in Christchurch and wondered what on earth I could do (settling on dispensing hugs both real & virtual, offering beds to friends & family if they need to leave home, and making a donation to the relief fund - I would urge anyone who can afford to, to do this). There are many others who've already made substantial efforts around communicating about the quake itself & its immediate aftermath (here, and here, and here, for example); I can offer nothing there. And somehow at the moment I just can't bring myself to write about more mundane, everyday, normal things. So apologies, but it might be a few more days before I get back to the biology.

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I noticed an intriguing headline in Saturday's Waikato Times: "Quake forecast a horoscope." On reading further I found it led to an article based on a prediction by Ken Ring, who claims to be able to use the Moon's position relative to Earth to predict the weather, that there would be an earthquake somewhere in the South Island on March 20th. The article also quoted GNS Science seismologist, Laura Bland, who described this as a 'horoscope'. (I was rather surprised - although I suppose I shouldn't have been - to discover a number of astrology websites claiming to be able to predict earthquakes when I used the headline as a search string.)

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... and I'm afraid that Facebook isn't the place to go looking either.

I was happily reading Pharyngula while eating lunch (& trying to avoid dropping crumbs into my keyboard), and decided that as a good pharyngulite I should perhaps pharyngulate a poll for once. (I was not at all surprised to find that 'pharyngulate' is now a word in at least one on-line dictionary.)Anyway, having done so I lingered to read the comments thread associated with the poll-associated article, and discovered...

... someone asking on Facebook for advice on how to cure their type-2 diabetes. (Or rather, what 'natural' treatments they could use instead of their current drug regime.) And being answered by a homeopath - at least, to do them credit, the homeopath doesn't advise any homeopathic treatments. Howerver, on his website he does claim to have reversed his own type-2 diabetes with homeopathy, diet, and exercise. Since we know that diet and exercise can have this effect, I do wonder how he could be sure that homeopathy had any impact at all...

(There were some v-e-r-y i-n-t-e-r-e-s-t-i-n-g posts on that Facebook page!)

All that aside, what I can't get my head around is why one would ask for, or take seriously, advice given by someone on a Facebook page. Is it a case of someone who's already made up their made but is looking for validation for that decision? Is it down to the po-mo view that all points of view, all knowledge, all 'ways of knowing' about an issue are equally valid? Or is it something else that can be sheeted home to a distrust of science and a misunderstanding of how science works? 

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"Where do you find the ideas for your posts?"

It's a question I get asked reasonably often, by both colleagues & students. They probably think I bang on a bit in my answer, but it's not as simple as a straightforward list :-)

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This being the 202nd anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, I thought I'd share this little gem. (Hat tip to Ken over at Open Parachute - I thought I'd post it here as well in case you don't also frequent Sciblogs NZ.) I bet PZ likes the squid! 

Evolution Made Us All from Ben Hillman on Vimeo.

 

 

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Today I was involved in a session on 'large-group teaching', run by our Teaching Development Unit. (Secondary teachers can probably skip this post as most likely what I'm going to talk about is pretty much routine for you.) Why? Well, there's a fairly common perception that 'the' model to use in large first-year science classes is the bog-standard lecture: an academic discourses on a particular topic & students take notes. I accept that this may be seen as a bit of a caricature & I do know that not everyone teaches this way, but it is the way that most lecturers of my generation were taught & we do tend to model that sort of thing.

Anyways, back to the chase. What do I see as a 'large' group, an average lecture size? Well, Waikato is a smallish institution so my 'large' classes have around 200 students in them. But I need to say up front, I don't think there's actually much difference in how I teach a class of 20 and a class of 200. Maybe it takes a bit more planning with a large class, but the same techniques work with both.

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I've just started browsing through a book with the promising title, Quirks of human anatomy: an evo-devo look at the human body. (Held, 2009). (The Science librarian does a great job of sifting through new titles & running them past the various departments in our Faculty to see what people would like to see added to the shelves.) Held says that he wrote the book as

a kind of amusement park. Its thematic 'pretend game' is to insepct each body part through the eyes of an alien visitor who asks, "why is it this way and not that?"

Very early in the book there's an image of vertebrate 'morphospace', which moves from the familiar to the seriously strange, and from reality to things - like Dumbo & ET - that can be conceived of but which are unlikely to exist due to various physical constraints. Cool!

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ResearchBlogging.org

A while ago now I gave a seminar at work called something like The joys of science blogging. (Well, I enjoy it!) It was basically a case for the benefits to scientists and the community of having researchers who also blog about their science from time to time. Don't think I made any converts at the time but I'm slowly putting the makings of a paper on the subject together & of course that entails doing a bit of reading.

One of those papers got me thinking around the complex reasons why people may choose to start writing a web-log, something described by the authors (who very kindly provided me with a whole bunch of reading as my institution doesn't subscribe to the relevant journals) as

personal Web pages, usually frequently modified, in which an individual posts information about himself or herself or about topics of interest (Baker & Moore, 2008).

Baker & Moore also comment that

blogs have been described as a medium for planning and organising ideas, and processing emotionally charged situations while engaging in cathartic venting and emotional expression.

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