Apr 13

The Adversity of Neurodiversity

By Joseph Seuferling, WSU Vancouver Neuroscience student

“My name is (insert name here), and I’m an addict”. Chances are that you’ve never heard this introductory statement unless you’re a regular attendee of Narcotics Anonymous (N.A.) or Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) meetings. Such a blunt introduction is common practice for recovering addicts who participate in a 12-step recovery program. What might be a shocking introduction to most is actually an exercise in addiction recovery that facilitates acceptance of one’s addictive nature. Many practices of recovering addicts are difficult for society to understand, leading to various misconceptions.

http://www.autismacceptancemonth.com/resources/101-3/autism-acceptance/neurodiversity

http://www.autismacceptancemonth.com/resources/101-3/autism-acceptance/neurodiversity

A controversial concept, termed neurodiversity, aims to recognize neurological conditions, such as drug addiction or attention deficit disorder (ADD), as human variation rather than disease. This concept has created much debate, especially among those attempting to “cure” these conditions instead of emphasizing any strengths or weakness associated with them. Those battling with drug addiction are taught by society to hide the condition, rather than promote facing adversity and attaining sobriety. Many people with drug addiction are also diagnosed with other mental disorders, which is described as having comorbidity. If drug addiction is associated with various neurological conditions, then is our society completely missing the issue? Professionals continue treating symptoms of these conditions and ignore the holistic person.

At a younger age, I was given the opportunity through a high school program to participate in workshops with adults recovering from drug addiction. The workshops involved discussion of life challenges, and I listened to the remarkable stories of these unique individuals. The program opened my eyes to the diversity of each person I had met, the differences in how they continue to struggle every day of their lives with drug addiction. Though, most of the time drug addiction was not their only condition, they also suffered from depression, anxiety, chronic pain, autism, and ADD. Their homes, hobbies, work, romantic relationships, family, and overall livelihood are effected by their conditions. Yet, many them are successful in obtaining sobriety and control of their lives, be it through a 12-step program or through their own volition. There is no single pathway to success with a condition such as drug addiction.

Unless you have personally dealt with drug addiction, having empathy towards those with the condition is difficult. Imagine awaking in the morning, every single day, knowing that each of those 24 hours you will have thoughts and urges to use your drug of choice. The thoughts haunt you throughout the day, during lunch and dinner, and when lying in bed before sleep. Something people don’t understand is that after 5 years, 10 years, or even 20 years of sobriety these thoughts continue, a person does not magically become “cured” of their addiction or addictive thoughts. Now, let us add comorbidity to the mix with depression, anxiety, or ADD; every day your mind is filled with thoughts of drug use, while simultaneously you have the inherent inability to focus on important tasks. On top of this, you are maintaining a job, home, family, and relationships. Surprisingly, people successfully deal with such hardship, yet society wants them to hide their condition as if it’s an embarrassment and weakness.

Neurodiversity hopes to emphasize the strengths of these people who face such adversity. Why can’t a person with ADD become a pioneer in novel teaching methods? A person with drug addiction successful in teaching or leadership? With accomplishment under the will of such conditions, these people must also possess extremely impactful positive characteristics. As an analogy, a person without these conditions is driving a car with full tread tires, while people living with depression, anxiety, drug addictions, or ADD are driving on rims. Diverse neurological populations must compensate to level with others, a feat that neurodiversity aims to recognize.

Apr 12

Neurodiversity

By Sterling Gray, WSU Vancouver Neuroscience student

If you would have asked me what neurodiversity was a couple months ago, I would most likely guess that it had something to do with the study of neurological variation. While that is not entirely wrong, the meaning of neurodiversity that has more currently been used has a much more social aspect associated with it than I had originally expected.

Neurodiversity, in the most literal sense, is the neurological differences that arise due to the natural genetic variation within the human race. This is a fact that cannot be disputed as no one person has the same neurological status as the next. Recently, in the last 20 years or so, this term has been used as a concept that the neurological differences are to be recognized as any other human variation such as eye, hair, and skin color.  This new use of the term neurodiversity is more specifically known as the neurodiversity paradigm, and relates less to the fact that every person is different and more to the idea that neurological differences should be seen as equivalent.

Currently, society seems to view others with neurological disorders such as autism and other intellectual disabilities as being neurological problems to be cured. The neurodiversity movement was founded in response to this ideology, and is actively trying to get society to accept neurological disorders as a simple variation of functioning rather than labeling people with the term “disabled”. The neurodiversity movement was founded off the autism rights movement (ARM) which began in the late 1990s, focusing on including autistic culture in society as a minority group and convincing others to accept autistic behaviors. The neurodiversity movement is mostly trying to accomplish the same goals as the ARM, but encompass all neurodiverse groups rather than autism alone.

In the past and even currently, therapies have focused on having people with neurological disorders to conform to society rather than including and accommodating for them. People with autism for example are usually expected to undergo therapies that focus on teaching neurotypical (“normal”) behaviors as opposed to teaching them coping skills. Until recently, this fact had not occurred to me, as I assume it hasn’t for many people. This is not because I have anything against people with disabilities, but rather the fact that this issue has not been readily discussed or brought up in general. If this topic were more often discussed, then inequalities among neurodiverse people would not be as prominent. I believe spreading the awareness neurodiversity is the best way to combat this issue that has been rooted into society. The more individuals aware of this problem, the more support this ideology will be able to gain; allowing for society to address the changes that need to be made to include all neurodiverse peoples.

There are a number of way you can spread awareness that do not take very much effort.

  1. Social media. Many people use social media on a day to day basis. Posting a informational video on Facebook or Twitter would be a great way for your friends and family to learn about neurodiversity.
  2. Lead by example. Just by others observing you treating neurodiverse people with respect and equality can have enough of an influence to change the way others view and treat neurodiverse people.
  3. Support those hosting events. People that are actively spreading the idea of neurodiversity in the community could always use help. Those hosting events could use volunteers or donations to support the movement and allow word to spread even more readily.

Rather than seeing neurodiverse people as having an issue, but as being different as all humans are, allows for a peaceful coexistence for everyone. The terms “retarded” and “handicaped” are becoming phased out for the negative connotation they hold against those that have neurological differences. This way people will not look down upon others that are different from the norm and others that are different don’t have to feel bad about the way they are.

 

Apr 12

Neurocriminology: What can a brain scan tell us about criminal behavior?

By Hannah Turner, WSU Vancouver Neuroscience student

 

What if I were to tell you that neuroscience could predict whether an adolescent was likely to grow up to be a criminal? Or that scanning the brain of a criminal could predict the likelihood of recidivism, especially in cases involving violent offenders? Are you able believe that such a fate could be determined by your brain?

 

From nytimes.com

From nytimes.com

Neurocriminology is a developing subdiscipline of neuroscience that looks to answer these questions. Neurocriminologists seeks to better understand and establish the neurobiological basis of criminal behavior by exploring correlations between anatomy and functionality of the brain and the occurrence of crime. Criminal behavior is a significant threat to public health and there are considerable social and economic costs to incarceration. Further dissecting the “why” of criminal behavior and crimes committed using neuroscience could have substantial benefits to our society as a whole. Developing a neurobiological profile of a criminal could allow for the prediction and even the eventual prevention of crime in cases of timely intervention.

 

Psychopathy, also known as anti-social personality disorder, can be a significant predictor of violence and criminal behavior. The disorder tends to emerge in childhood and is characterized by a variety of symptoms including lack of empathy, impulsivity and flat affect. Psychopaths as a whole are up to twenty-five times more likely to be incarcerated and up to eight times more likely to violently recidivate after release compared to the non-psychopathic population. They can be viewed as a sizeable strain on society when you consider the violent acts they sometimes commit against innocents and the economic costs associated with their incarceration.

 

As neurocriminologists have begun to explore the minds of psychopaths using imaging techniques, they have found striking abnormalities in certain regions. Dysfunction has been seen across many studies in the frontal cortex, orbitofrontal cortex and the amygdala specifically, which are all implicated in moral judgement and decision making. With increasing reliability of the neurobiological profiles that researchers are building, we are getting closer to painting an accurate picture of the brain of a psychopath. If brain scans were to be used to determine if an incarcerated criminal was truly a psychopath, they could be a tool to evaluate the likelihood of recidivism. This technique could be especially helpful in instances when violent offenders are up for parole and being considered for release into society. But does this violate the rights of criminals? Would any criminal volunteer to have their brain scanned and chance being labeled as a psychopath? Would it be ethical to make scans like this mandatory?

 

From upenn.edu

From upenn.edu

There are other applications of these profiles being developed by neurocriminologists and researchers that are even more problematic. Given that the disorder tends to emerge in childhood, the brains of children exhibiting violent tendencies or a lack of empathy could be scanned to evaluate for markers of psychopathy or criminality. Although this presents an opportunity for intervention early on in life when the brain is more plastic, it clearly raises some questions. Is it appropriate to label a child as a psychopath? To be placed into a category that has such negative connotations and stigma so early on in life could be a substantial disadvantage. A child of course is unable to consent to such a thing, so is it appropriate for parents to submit their children for these kinds of studies?

 

In many ways neurocriminology sounds like a tool that could be used to protect society at large, but advances will come with ever steeper costs and continually perplexing ethical questions. As this subdiscipline of neuroscience progresses there will be more opportunities to protect public interests, although often times this could be at the cost of the rights of an individual. Neurocriminology presents an unexpected dichotomy between public health interests and the freedoms that we have as American citizens.

 

 

Apr 10

Affordable & Professional Scientific Communication 101

By Cole Dawson, WSU Vancouver Neuroscience student

Cole pic1

http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/sci/sbdtc/people/students/2007/robert_gardner/courses/neuroscience2009/photos/

When you need to present information to a large audience on a budget, turn to posters. Not familiar with the ins and out of poster making? Don’t worry, I’ve got some tools to take to your next poster session that will make you appear organized and professional. To start off, what are posters used for? Posters are a great way to put your research into the public eye without needing to provide all the text heavy paragraphs in the published paper itself. Scientists use poster sessions to lay out the methods and outcomes of their research, often occurring at conferences in a sea of other presenters. How can you stand out at these poster sessions with thousands of others trying to get their research out into the world? I’ve laid out 7 major steps to follow when putting together a poster that, if followed correctly, will help represent your data in the best way possible.

  • Plan, Plan, Plan: This can’t be stressed enough. Beginning with the due date allows you to make proper milestones to attack your goal. The best part about planning the poster production, this gives time for critiques from peers to help create a simplistic, attractive, and eye-popping poster. Also, understanding that printing doesn’t always goes as planned. Make sure to give yourself proper time prior the when the poster needs to be printed.
  • Know the Guidelines: Imagine preparing for a 2×3 poster to find out you need to adjust the material to a 4×8 poster. Knowing the size of the poster plays a key role in just how much information you can present.
  • https://www.elsevier.com/__data/assets/image/0015/35043/Figure-2.jpg

    https://www.elsevier.com/__data/assets/image/0015/35043/Figure-2.jpg

    Graphics: The whole point of the poster is to use images and graphics to illustrate the story, initiate conversation. The goal of viewing a poster is to get the main point from the research, get a chance to speak with the researchers or collaborators, and not spend most your time reading. Take advantage of being able to color bars or lines that strongly emphasize the take home of each figure. There should be no more than 6 figures included in the poster, only use graphs that help truly emphasize what’s important! The most important part of including these figures is that they’re understandable. Can you easily get the takeaway from this graph or do you just lose interest? I’m sure this graph contains valuable data, maybe this is something that can be done with the addition of another graph to reduce just how convoluted it is. As scientists, it can be difficult to reconfigure how we communicate with others that don’t have the same background information that we do. Therefore, it’s important that you can explain these figures in a succinct and clear manner.

  • Text: When it comes to text, less is more. Don’t inundate your poster with so much text that passersby feels like they’re reading a novel, you should use 24-point font with nothing flashy. Most importantly, utilize bullet points! These help the reader understand the main takeaway from a section while you have the understanding to go deeper than the bullet points, if necessary. When making a poster using PowerPoint, you can zoom the material into 100% to get an idea of what the poster looks like once printed. A good rule of thumb is the 3-foot rule. This means that people should be able to see what you’re presenting 3-feet from your poster, seems simple right?
  • Headings and Titles: A title or heading should be used to guide viewers through the poster and summarize the findings. The heading should be used to drive home the main point.
  • Poster Size: Once you know the dimensions of the poster requirement for your conference or showcase, utilize all the space you can. A good way to gauge the quality of content is to have roughly 20% of your poster as “empty space”.
  • Colors: Contrast is the major key when putting together a poster but you never want to take advantage of all the options in the drop-down box that has more colors than you can count. Make sure to keep the colors somewhere between two and three throughout the poster.

These rules for quality poster presentation have time and time again been shown to produce high quality poster sessions that bring people back wanting more. Remember, the most common mistakes you can make in constructing a poster are flooding the poster with text, using a font far too small, and not planning for the appropriate dimensions. So much time and effort goes into collecting data, analyzing results, and drawing conclusions from the work. So when you’re storyboarding and compiling all the info you want to properly represent your hard work with, do you want to end up with a poster like this or this? You want to make sure you represent your hard work well. You put all the effort into collecting all the numbers and compiling data – show what you’re worth!

Apr 09

Working with visual aids

By Kathleen Darling, WSU Vancouver Neuroscience student

One of the most prevalent struggles in the scientific community today, regardless of discipline, is that of getting your message across. After all the hard work, designing experiments, acquiring funding, collecting data, running analysis. None of it truly matters if your science can’t reach an audience. But presenting your raw data is sure to get head scratches, and you can’t very well walk each and every person through the bulk of your research. This leads to the importance of visual aids in the world of science. Visual aids allow for the swift and simple translation of your content to a general audience. When used properly, they enhance a presentation, making it more memorable, and therefore more effective.

From http://i0.kym-cdn.com/entries/icons/original/

From http://i0.kym-cdn.com/entries/icons/original/

Learning how and when to use visual aids can be tricky. Too much content, you can end up with a jumbled mess. Too little thought put into the aesthetics, and you may end up with something like this. So, how do we avoid this dreaded pit of illegibility and make it to the promised land of audience engagement? There are three key things to keep in mind.

One: Clarity. Your Sanskrit font may look funky, but how does it look from the back row of your presentation? The neon colors on the chart looked eye catching, but after a few seconds, they’re giving everyone a headache. Always be considering the perspective of your viewers when creating visual aids. If people can’t look at your content and immediately see a clear message, you’ve wasted everyone’s time. Having a good grasp on graphic design is a quick way to make visual aids that capture interest, without being abrasive.

Kathleen graphic

Two: Simplicity. Don’t show in a thirty slide PowerPoint what you could manage in five. Don’t cram a poster with multiple graphs when you can consolidate it into one. That is to say, when putting together your content, always be sure you’re asking yourself, “what is this adding to my presentation?” Is it relevant content? Think about the main point you’re trying to get across. If the visual aid you’ve created isn’t enhancing that point, it’s not doing you or your audience any favors.

Three: Presentation. Remember, visual aids are just that, an aid. The bulk of your presentation will still be you, presenting. There’s no need to add words to your slides you’re going to speak to your audience. Visual aids should contain only information it would be impossible for you to communicate otherwise. You aren’t leading a book club, you’re giving a speech, and you should treat it as such. Keeping words on your visual aids to a minimum ensures that your audience is focusing on what you’re saying.

In keeping these concepts in mind, you can create content that takes your complicated research and transforms it into something clear, concise, and consumable.

Apr 08

“Posterizing” Your Data

By Tammy Hilgendorf, WSU Vancouver Neuroscience Student

As a scientist you are known for your brains, but to be successful you must be able to present your findings in a meaningful way. Many times, it takes the form of a poster at a convention.  Exhausted and caffeine buzzing colleagues and potential employers are passing by and you only have seconds to grab their attention. Like it or not, they are judging your poster by its cover. Thankfully, Sandy Roberts, a professional graphic designer, has a few helpful tips when presenting your work.

White Space: Have a hierarchy. What do people need to know? This should be your biggest piece – what the eyes are drawn to. Descriptions should be summarized in eight words or less. Supporting this should be medium sized boxes, supported again by small boxes. It is important to have a larger piece with contrasting boxes of smaller size for bolstering effects. If your reader’s attention is grabbed they will read the smaller pieces. Then, organize this interconnected information with appropriate white space. Never feel the need to fill all the space.

tammy graphic 1Colors: Colors are uniquely related to mood. Therefore, pick colors that reflect the feeling you would like to evoke in your audience. For example, if your poster is on clean water, use greens and blues because they are soothing colors. If you were presenting on migraine, red and black would be appropriate as they are associated with danger or harm. For a unique feel, don’t use “straight” colors, use custom blends. For the migraine topic, try mixing the red with purple hues. Finally, when pairing colors use complementary or tertiary colors. Complementary colors are across the color wheel and tertiary colors form a triangle.

Text: Stay in your lane. Don’t get too fancy. The maximum fonts you want to have in presenting your research is two. As a rule of thumb, use font sizes that are derivatives of one another. If the title is 72 then subtitles should be 36. You want to make big visual steps down. Larger texts boxes may be around 24 and the smaller font 18. Your eyes will pick up on the mathematical font sizes and it will come across organized. When organizing your text, don’t center everything. It complements to have right-aligned text with centered text.

Tammy graphic 2

 

 

Know Your Audience: Graphic designers have learned to be mindful of their audience when advertising, especially cross-culturally. For example, when Gerber Baby Food started selling their product in Africa, they used the same packaging that was used in the United States. The cute Gerber baby’s face plastered on every jar of baby food stocked the grocery shelves. Unfortunately, in Africa due to high illiteracy rates, they label their products with images of its contents. You can imagine their horror! The same caution can be applied when scientists are conversing with individuals outside their field of study. Get points across with verbiage familiar to your audience. Otherwise you are going to lose your audience like the Africans lost their appetite.

These simple steps can help you educate the public about your work using a colorful, structured, and organized approach. A poster is the key to dissemination of scientific research and creating a good poster is crucial for educating the public about exciting new research.

 

 

Mar 13

Science News and Fact-Checking

By Tanya Makarenko, WSU Vancouver Neuroscience student

Many of us rely on the internet for current news, and thankfully the internet provides just that and more. By more I mean information like bacon causes cancer, but wait it gets better because apparently bacon cures cancer too. How do you know which article is true or if either of them are? I am sure you do not have time to look through peer reviewed literature to make sure you are not killing yourself by eating bacon, or driving yourself to an early grave by not eating bacon. There is a way to save time from reading 10 pages of science and still know if the article is providing accurate information. By following the following pointers, you can rely that the information you are reading is credible.

  1. Does the article have an author? Who is the author?

Authors are listed in the beginning or the end of an article. If you don’t find an author, most likely this source is not credible. If there is an author listed, do some background research. If the name is hyperlinked, click on it, if not, Google the name. Try typing the author’s name into google scholar. Google scholar is a data base where you can find credible authors.

If you find the author, look at their credentials. Do they know what they are writing about? If they have little science background but are writing a paper on a complex study, be cautious, the author might not have realized they misinterpreted the information from the research articles. Is the author biased? We all know to be cautious of biased authors, but sometimes that can give you a different perspective on a subject.

  1. Who is the publisher?

The publisher is an organization/person that puts up the article into their journal/website. Find the publisher and what other articles are published by them. This will give you the level of expertise in the subject they are writing in. If they usually publish papers on entertainment and have one article on climate change, then do extra research to confirm the validity of their interpretations.

  1. What website are you on?

If you look at the URL of the website, you will determine the origin of the site. For example:

.gov – These sites are founded by the government and have accurate but not always detailed information.

.edu – These sites are founded by universities and schools and educational programs. The information can be used as a reference, but make       sure the findings are consistent with other schools to eliminate inaccurate data.

.com – These sites are founded by commercial organizations. It is best to be cautious of the information presented in these sites, but not            all .com websites are unreliable.

.org – These sites are founded by an organization, some of which have their own agenda.

  1. Is the article trying to sell you something?

As you are reading the article, take note of any product or service being advertised. The article may be trying to sell you something, be that a product, service, or idea, twisting the information they are presenting to make their product desirable/valuable. If this is the case, skip onto the next article.

  1. Do they cite their sources?

Some articles list their references at the end. References are the sources the author found their information from. Are there research articles backing up their ideas presented in the article? Some articles use hyperlinks, click on them. Hyperlinks are references incorporated into the article. If there are no citations/references, be cautious of the information presented in the article.

  1. Can you find the same information on different sites?

Is the information presented in the article consistent with other articles? For example, you were looking at a study conducted on bats, can you find another study that repeated this and reported the same results? Did you find other studies that agree with the information presented in that article and built off of it? If not, then you try another source.

These tips take time, but they do not take as long and are not as tiresome as reading a scientific study. After a few tries you will easily tell which articles are reliable and credible and not worry about the bizarre claims on bacon.

Mar 11

How hard is it to spot the truth?

By Andrea Lee, WSU Vancouver Neuroscience student

Many people I talk to are convinced that they are not only excellent judges of character but that they can easily spot the difference between fact and fiction, even on the internet.  When challenged, I hear many reasons as to why they have this particular talent but usually it has something to do with their intelligence, education or intuitive grasp on logic.  But, if this were actually the case, how can I know so many people on opposite ends of every ideological spectrum, all claiming these skills?  Well, I decided to put them to the test and find out which of my friends I should be listening to after all.  I gave the following 5 statements to my friends and asked them to tell me which one is false to demonstrate their power.  Care to give it a shot?

  1. There is no gravity in space
  2. Thomas Edison invented the light bulb
  3. Columbus proved the world was round and not flat
  4. Humans are descended from chimpanzees
  5. Vaccines cause autism

Easiest test ever, right?  I knew it wouldn’t be a problem for you.  It’s obvious that all of the answers are false.  Yes, you read that correctly, all of the statements above are false.  I know it might not seem possible that all of these statements are false but I assure you they are and they are prime examples of why we need to be skeptical of everything we hear and especially everything we see on the internet.  Don’t believe me?  Let’s check facts!

The first thing to remember when checking facts, especially in the age of the internet, is that just because something is written down, does not make it true.  UncleBobsBigBlogonSpace.com is not necessarily a trustworthy source for information about physics in space.  However, NASA.gov who has put many astronauts in space will be the first to tell you that gravity is everywhere.  Reputation and history can be very important when trying to decide which of two mutually exclusive statements are true.

I can hear it now, “everyone knows Edison invented the lightbulb!”…    The truth is that Edison does deserve a lot of credit for the success of the commercial light bulb but not for the invention itself.  So how do we know for sure?  The best source to check is a primary source if you can; first hand facts are always better than hearing through the grapevine, right?  For inventions, a good primary source would be the patent office where we can find Edison’s first patent application for “Improvement In Electric Lights” he didn’t make the lightbulb, he made it better.

At this point, I’m guessing that you’re saying something along the lines of “OK, I believe you, I’ll google #3, find a source with a good history and reputation and to make sure you’re right but we both know vaccines don’t cause autism however we are descended from chimps!”  Well, no, we aren’t but the same reason you might believe that is the same reason many people falsely believe that vaccines cause autism.  People don’t check their facts!  We are related to chimpanzees but we did not evolve from them.  Trust me…  Still don’t believe me?  Good, go check and come back!

Fact checking is hard.  We are conditioned from a young age to believe what we read.  Teachers tell us, the answer is in the book.  But now we live in a world were anyone with any background can make outrageous claims unchecked and broadcast them to the world.   The first thing we need to remember is to be skeptical, everything is simply a claim unless there is evidence to back it up (don’t believe everything you read!).  The second thing to remember is to take time to find a source on a claim before you spread the claim as though it were fact.  You would be surprised how often an untested hypothesis turns into a scientific fact the spreads like wildfire from a simple misunderstanding or worst case scenario, intentional fraud.  Finally, judge the credibility of your sources.  You may find 100 sources for and 100 sources against on any particular topic but by looking at track records on previous claims and potential motivations for their current claims, one can usually determine who is backed by fact and who is backed by junk science or financial motivation.  On a final note, be wary of any claim that attempts to make bold, provocative or claims designed to appeal to your emotions.  Emotions override logic and only those who have no logic or fact to stand on tend to use them.

Mar 09

Clarity and vividness in scientific journalism

By Bradley Dowling, WSU Vancouver Neuroscience student

Alan Alda, From: http://www.anu.edu.au/events/an-evening-with-alan-alda-getting-beyond-a-blind-date-with-science

Alan Alda, From: http://www.anu.edu.au/events/an-evening-with-alan-alda-getting-beyond-a-blind-date-with-science

I vividly remember summer evenings when I was little, when my dad and I would hang around the living room and watch TV after dinner. Most of the time, we’d sit and watch Jeopardy or catch a Seattle Mariners game (this was back when they were worth watching). But on Tuesday nights at 7pm, my dad would switch the channel to PBS and I’d hear the familiar jingle of Scientific American Frontiers. For the next half-hour, host Alan Alda would take my dad and I on journeys through the Amazon rainforest, the human brain, and the even the darkest and most distant parts of the Universe. I was only in elementary school, so I had next to no knowledge on the subjects that Mr. Alda presented, but that didn’t matter. Scientific American Frontiers was more a show about scientists conducting their research, rather than a show describing concepts and explained findings. I got to meet real scientists, and see how they worked! I got to witness the humor and conversations between Mr. Alda and these researchers. And most of all, I got to see their enthusiasm for what they did.

Scientific American Frontiers is no longer aired, but Alan Alda has continued to push for better science communication and scientific journalism. Today, he is a visiting professor at the Alan Alda Center for Communication Science at Stony Brook University in New York. The Alda Center’s mission is to improve scientific communication between scientists and the public. This can often be difficult for scientists who feel like they need to describe every detail of a complex subject. “What we try to teach is, first of all, not dumbing down the science,” says Alda. “Science is exciting and it doesn’t need to be dumbed down. What we really look for is clarity and vividness. And to be vivid, to me, is to show us how it affects our daily lives, and what the stories are that led to these discoveries.”

Most readers won’t understand—or care—about the minute and utterly complicated details of the research, but everyone can connect to a story. For instance, when Dr. David Muller of Cornell University became the first to create a sheet of glass one atom thick, it was the fact that it was made by accident that caught the attention of international news sites. In a way, the science was able to ‘piggy-back’ the story of accidental discovery, and subsequently reached a much larger audience than it ever could have before.

In the end, a journalist’s goal is to reach the largest audience possible. When it comes to reporting on science, it should be clear and concise. It should quickly get to the point for how the research will affect the reader’s daily lives. Think about telling a story if the science appears too complicated! Above all, don’t dumb it down. Alan Alda is right. Science is exciting. It’s only the way you talk or write about it that can be boring.

Mar 06

Science communication is integral to science activism

By Megan Slaker

Edited by Alexandria Camino


 

Science is at the core of a number of important policy decisions being made and discussed. Science communication is critical for raising concerns and making impactful (and beneficial) policy. While it is easy for us as scientists to be frustrated with what is occurring in politics, it is imperative that we use our voices and knowledge to stand up for the policy issues we deem as essential.  How can you participate? Continue reading…

The March for Science

The March for Science is a movement that is sweeping across the US and other countries as a way to connect scientists and those who view science critical to the success of the country. The organizers view the marches as “a celebration of our passion for science and a call to support and safeguard the scientific community.” The marches take place April 22, 2017 in most major cities across the US. For help finding the city closest to you that will have a march, visit the March for Science website.

Reach Out to Local and State Officials

Contact your state senators, representatives, local mayors, governors, and other elected officials. Let them know that funding science is important to you. Let them know what specific issues are important to you. Let them know how your work is changing the world and is integral to the success and development of the country/state/city.

Practice

Communicatalyst wants to help you practice your science communication during Brain Awareness Week! Send a 500 word or fewer post on the impact and importance of your work to Alli or Megan by March 9th! 

Practice your science communication! Speaking to people that understand scientific principles is very different than speaking to people with no background in science. Speaking to your lab mates is very different than speaking to your grandma (who I am assuming doesn’t have a background in science). Writing a technical or review paper for publication is very different than writing a press release or blog to be read or heard by non-scientists. The people in the latter half of each of those statements are no less important than the people in the first half – it is your job as a skillful and successful science communicator to be able to reach them.  Therefore, practice, practice, practice. Make this an integral part of your training.

 

 


 

Unfortunately, even with these suggestions, some individuals will not change their view on science and science policy. It is not your responsibility to change their minds. It is not your responsibility to single-handedly convince your community, city, state, or country to become science enthusiasts. It is, however, your responsibility to be respectful of the views and beliefs of others – regardless of whether you agree with them or not.

Within science there are disagreements between major players in a given field – this has been true throughout history. In my field of neuroscience, Santiago Ramon y Cajal believed the brain was made up of many individual cells, while Camillo Golgi believed the brain was made up of a continuous tissue. There was a fierce rivalry between the two and the advancement of science suffered because of this! Since Cajal was later found to be correct, many of Golgi’s other discoveries were discarded and neglected for years.

As scientists and science communicators, we should be sharing our work and the importance of it with everyone! If you can attend a March for Science – go! If you can or can’t, contact your elected officials to let them know that science and science policy is important to you. You could run for an elected office or participate in AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships. Daily, practice your communication skills with the scientific community and lay audiences! Explore Communicatalyst posts for tips on how to reduce jargon and speak simply. You are an integral piece in the science policy puzzle!

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