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August 2011 Archives

Well, here I am in Palmerston North, in order to run a Scholarship Biology preparation day tomorrow (for want sounds like being a large crowd). The trip across the Desert Road was amazing: I simply wasn't expecting to see so much snow :-) If it hadn't been a tad damp - with little snow flurries near the summit - I might even have stopped for a litle wander through the white stuff.

Anyway, I've brought a couple of 'little jobs' along with me. One of them is looking through the nominations for the Kudos awards, as I'm one of the judges this year. These are annual Waikato awards recognizing significant achievements in various fields of science: things like environmental science, life-time achievement in the sciences, science entrepreneur, & so on. And my own field: science communicator/educator. (There are a number of interesting nominations & it looks like determining a winner will be quite a difficult task - but pleasant - task.)

And I'm driven to wonder why it's so hard to get people to put their hands up (you can self-nominate), or allow others to nominate them. Marcus has asked the same thing previously, in regard to teaching excellence awards. OK, part of it is workloads, & pressure of time: you have to put together a portfolio & a CV. (Been there, done that, & yes, it can be a bit of a drain when you've got so much to do.) And there is a certain amount of reticence, I think, & unwillingness to blow one's own trumpet & put oneself forward.

But what a great opportunity to show publicly that we value science, &scientists, & that achievements in this area are just as worthy of recognition as those in sports, say, or business. To reward people for maybe being a bit geeky, for a change! So, if next year you get shoulder-tapped for the Kudos - why not go for it? Don't be reluctant to let your light shine, &maybe inspire some of the next generation of scientists :-)

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I spent Saturday down in Hawkes Bay, running at Scholarship Biology preparation day at Lindsfarne College. (I would have spent Sunday happily idling through the lovely Art Deco parts of Napier, & visiting a few vinyards, but the weather forecast made me reconsider this option & I ended up driving back to Hamilton once the teaching was done. But I still managed a most excellent very late lunch at Crab Farm Winery, nomnomnom. The wines are also excellent.)

Anyway, we finished the session by working through one of the questions in last year's Schol Bio paper, on whether mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius) could, & should, be brought back from the dead (as it were). As for the other two questions, candidates were provided with a lot of resource material about the biology, ecology and phylogenetic relationships of mammoths, and were asked to

Discuss how a modern biological technique could be used to bring mammoths back to life, and the implications of having mammoths living again. In your answer:

  • explain biological techniques that could be used to bring back the mammoth and produce a self-sustaining wild population. Evaluate the likely success of this process.

  • Analyse the evolutionary and ecological implications of having a population of mammoths living on earth again and justify whether or not we should bring back the mammoth.

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A couple of days ago Grant sent me a link to a guest blog by biolgist & biology educator Joanne Manaster, on the Scientific American website . (There's also an interesting commentary by George Musser.) Both resonated a lot with me & I thought I'd discuss why, here.

(But first I am going to apologise in advance for what I suspect may be a higher-than usual number of typos. I am currently doing 9-fingered typing due to an elderly moment in the kitchen on Friday evening & it is really cramping my style!)

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Sorry, but it's Sunday afternoon & I just couldn't resist :-)

Funny Pictures - Chemistry Cat


(I really can't see why PZ doesn't like lolcats!)

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Last night I gave a talk up in Auckland, on various biological oddities (mostly from the animal kingdom and, all right, mostly to do with s*x). You can slip a lot of serious science in once the audience's attention has been captured by the naughty bits! (I would hate folks to think that biologists are totally obsessed with s*x. This is not true. But related stories do tend to focus the attention.)

Anyway, I was chatting sbout it with some of our grad students this morning and they said, oooh, we wouldn't might reading more about that. Various people (including me & Grant) have blogged them all before, so I'll bring all the links together in one place but won't fill in too many of the gaps.

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Over on SciBlogs(NZ), Elf has an interesting post about rhinoviruses, the causal agent for the common cold. I've just read it  & thought it particularly apt in light of a recent paper on the impact of placebo treatments on the duration of cold symptoms (hat tip to the inimitable Mark Crislip).

The Medscape review for the research (you need to sign up to read this, but registration is free; you can also find the paper on PubMed) is entitled Placebo effects modest in treating the common cold, which is probably slightly generous given the actual research findings.

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