Being a part of public science culture – speaking at The March for Science, Calgary

Scientific knowledge is public knowledge

speaking at sci march

Speaking at Science March YYC. (Photo by Miwa Takeuchi)

That’s how I opened my speech at the Calgary March for Science. I was honoured to be invited, but for many reasons I thought carefully about whether I wanted to say yes. In the end, that message is what did it for me. Almost all of my teaching, research and writing comes down to a commitment to creating opportunities for access and engagement in science for everyone and a recognition that creating a public scientific culture is essential: culture where where families, communities and popular media discuss scientific issues, value scientific ideas and practices and can contribute to creating the kind of science that they need. The March was a chance to do just that, to be a part of public scientific culture. So I bundled my daughter up in her stroller (they were calling for snow!) and said that I would speak at the March. And after hearing the other speakers share their professional and personal experiences, hearing what the crowd cheered for (yay, science teachers!), and shaking hands with kids who had made their own signs, I am proud to say that I did. (more…)


*Two stories, same scientist: Gender and coverage of the Herzberg medal

[Correction: The title of this post has been changed. The title had been “Why do we always have to say she’s a good mom too?” I had meant that title to reflect the historical trend in reporting on women scientists, but in email correspondence from Feb. 23 Ivan Semeniuk has rightly pointed out that the title implied that he had reported on Kaspi as a “good mom”. While he writes about her family, that is not a claim that he makes in his story. I apologize for this implication and have reverted to what was the original draft title of the post.]

This week, Canadian astrophysicist Victoria Kaspi was awarded the Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering, one of the country’s highest scientific honours. Her work on neutron stars is exciting and important. The way Canadian media have covered the story is important though too, illustrating two polar opposite approaches. (more…)

You can’t win ’em all: My (unpublished) letter to PNAS re Hiring Bias Study

A few months ago I wrote a blog post in response to Williams and Ceci’s paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science: National hiring experiments reveal 2: 1 faculty preference for women on STEM tenure track. I was concerned about the way that the findings were interpreted, generalized and compared to the wider literature. In the media comments that followed their piece, Williams and Ceci were very clear, however, that they felt that critics of the paper were being unfair and unscholarly. I didn’t agree and I wanted to ensure that genuine scholarly concerns were discussed not only in a blogged and public venue but also through traditional channels. So I wrote a letter to the editor, expressing the concerns raised in my blog post.

I think Rosie Redfield’s dual work in criticizing NASA’s arsenic life paper both on her blog and through a letter to Science, for example, is a very important model. High visibility science, reported in large media venues, often doesn’t receive public critique. People may write letters to the editor or complain to each other at conferences, but too often that critique is not available to most of the people who have read about a story in the news. Or it is only available so long after the initial results are reported that it has little impact on how that science is understood publicly. As I’ve written before, the back channels of criticism of cold fusion were quickly refuting the findings, but those of us reading about it on the sidelines were left out of that conversation for a long time. Blogged commentary and social media responses are a very important way of making all of science–including the messy processes that go into building scientific consensus about a topic–available. (more…)

Be careful saying “The Myth about Women in Science” is solved

When a CNN article titled “The Myth about Women in Science” came crawling across my feed, I have to admit that I wasn’t optimistic. I wondered what could possibly count as “THE Myth about Women in Science”. Maybe that women and girls have lesser skills in mathematics and spatial reasoning? That is truly a myth about women in science but I couldn’t see why it would be news as it’s been widely disputed.

A quick skim of the article resulted in a briskly raised eye brow. The myth apparently is this: women are less likely to be hired than equally qualified men when they apply for tenure track position. The authors (Wendy Williams and Stephen Ceci, both of Cornell University) claim that this misunderstanding is the major cause of women’s underrepresentation in scientific careers. (more…)

Adventures in Science, Creativity and Research Openness

Many times during talks about social media in science, I’ve argued that there is a lot of room for researchers to be more open about the research process. Following along with Rosie Redfield as she blogged her lab’s attempts to grow the GFAJ-1 bacterium of arsenic life fame and publish the results was a fascinating window into how a university research lab works. I’m really excited about the possibilities that openness like that offers to high school students and anyone with an interest in science. It’s a first-hand opportunity to learn about the real day-to-day work of scientists in a way almost not possible before blogs and social media. (more…)

Big move coming up!

So. Here I am. Once again trying to find a creative way to explain why I haven’t blogged for a while. It’s the usual business of course, plus some other stuff. But this time at least, there is an exciting development that has been taking up a fair amount of my free time this spring. I am very pleased to say that, as of July 1, I will be moving to take up a new position as Research Chair in Science Education and Public Engagement at the University of Calgary. The position is being created as part of a larger science, math and technology education initiative taking place there. And I’m even more pleased to say that in addition to continuing and growing my research in language, identity and participation in science, the faculty has been very encouraging of my public outreach and communication work, both here at Boundary Vision and as part of the Skeptically Speaking team. (more…)

Autumnal Equinox Roundup 2012

Tomorrow is the Autumnal Equinox, marking the first push down the slippery slope into a cold, dark winter. As the days get noticeably shorter in Edmonton, I wanted to take a minute to look back on a busy but fun Boundary Vision summer. While I haven’t been that active here, the spirit of blog has been a part of several summer projects. A big highlight for me has been that chance to go a lot further in exploring connections between science and popular music. (more…)

Inspiration from bassist Victor Wooten shows me a new way to deal with my “child-as-scientist” frustrations

I have a confession to make: I cringe a little every time I see a school science or science outreach program justified by saying something like, “Young children are natural scientists, truly curious about the world” (That particular quote is from the Delaware Museum of Natural History). I feel like a curmudgeon about it because it often comes with really good intentions to get students actively involved in doing science (something I definitely support). (more…)

Detectives, dildos, death and more! Tom Levenson on Newton & the Counterfeiter

“It’s partly the problem of what happens when you become famous and bored.”

What sounds like a description of the latest rehab-destined movie star is instead how science writer Tom Levenson introduced me to  Sir Isaac Newton’s unexpected transition from one of the greatest scientists of his time to a detective doggedly pursuing criminals. (more…)

Anniversary and a new look for Boundary Vision (aka where did Begley go?)

Last month, I celebrated one year of blogging here at Boundary Vision. I’ve had a wonderful year exploring science and science education issues. In celebration, I’ve made some improvements around the place. First, the site has a new domain name The old WordPress address still works, but if you share the site with anyone you can now use the new address. If you like the changes, and the blog in general, you can now also follow Boundary Vision on Facebook. Of course, you can always find me as @mcshanahan on Twitter and follow my notebook of historical science education materials at The Distillation Chamber on Tumblr.

The much more exciting change is the new header and design. Tony Dubroy, an artist and musician from Vancouver (and  my very talented brother), has designed the new image highlighting the opportunity to shine a light on the places where science, education and culture share boundaries. You can find more of his work at his photographic blog Surfing on Heroin.

The big question you’re probably asking is: what happened to Begley, the sweet dog whose picture was the main image for this site for most of its first year? Begley is still enjoying his luxurious life of walks in the river valley and days spent on the couch but is retiring as Boundary Vision mascot. Just so he isn’t forgotten, here is his photo one more time.

Begley on the boundary.

Why did I have a dog in my header image?

That is my dog Begley. I didn’t just choose the image because I think he’s cute (though I do hold the biased opinion that he is very cute). The photo was taken at Darnley beach in Prince Edward Island and shows Begley looking over a stretch of brackish water that runs from the marshlands into the ocean. It seemed to me to symbolize the intent of this blog. Begley is alert and attentive, with ocean in the background, land and fresh water in the foreground and a changing mixed thread of water woven between them. He is on the boundary.