#BoraZUofA: A thought-provoking week with Bora Zivkovic

Enjoying some Tim Horton's treats while visiting Joel Dacks's lab

Just a few weeks ago I waved goodbye to Scientific American blogs editor Bora Zikovic and thanked him for a wonderful week of talks at the University of Alberta. Somehow in just a week we’d managed to chat about science teaching, science blogs, the history of academic publishing, open-access, post-publication peer review, science on Twitter and so much more. It was exciting and exhausting, and my ideas notebook is completely full.

As part of the University’s Distinguished Visitor program, a small group of faculty from cell biology (Joel Dacks), anthropology (Bora’s brother, Marko Zivkovic) and science education (me) brought Bora to town to speak with students and faculty. No matter what the topic, the theme seemed to be: keep an open mind. Be willing to consider new ways of doing things but also remember that they might not be as they first appear. Read the full post »

My interview with Deborah Blum author of The Poisoner’s Handbook

“I had been thinking about the best way to communicate chemistry. I’m a failed chemistry major from way back when and I wanted to find a way to kind of subversively write about chemistry, to tell stories that I would weave chemistry into without being a tutorial. Just like ‘this is a really cool story and along the way you’re going to learn some chemistry’ and I thought well, there’s no better way to do that than to tell a murder story. ”

And so began my conversation last week with science writer and journalism professor Deborah Blum, author of The Poisoner’s Handbook. I was honoured to take on guest hosting duties for Skeptically Speaking (a science radio show normally hosted by the wonderful Desiree Schell) and to have the chance to talk to Deborah about chemistry, poisons, and writing compelling stories about science. Spoiler: the first thing Deborah says is “It makes me sound so creepy” Now that’s good radio!

You can listen to or download the interview at Skeptically Speaking.

Do scientific explanations have to ruin wonder? Stargazing and more with songwriter Jim Fitzpatrick

Jim Fitzpatrick and I met on an airport shuttle from Phoenix to Flagstaff. It’s not a particularly interesting place to meet someone, but an accident on the highway left us stranded at a gas station with lots of time to chat. Somehow the topic fell to music and it turned out we have a lot in common. Jim’s a musician and song writer who even expressed enthusiasm for Canadian music. We bonded over a shared love of Built to Spill and he patiently listened to my stories of interviewing bands when I was younger. Jim’s also a teacher and was traveling with his dad to a science writing conference. I could hardly imagine a better match to chat with on a long shuttle ride.

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Beyond 42: How science can use stories to explain life, the universe and everything

I’m thrilled to be welcoming Scientific American’s blog editor Bora Zivkovic to the University of Alberta, March 5-9, 2012. As part of his visit, please join us Friday, March 9 for a special night of story telling and music where we’ll find the people, places and things that make science what it is.

Featuring host Bora Zivkovic, musical story telling with Robin Woywitka and the Super 92, and local story tellers from Edmonton’s science community.

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Role modeling through personal stories isn’t as easy as it sounds

I got very brave a few weeks ago and participated in a storytelling event as part of Science Online 2012, an annual science communication conference held in North Carolina. Instead of the usual guest speakers and awards ceremonies that haunt most conference banquets, this was a partnership with The Monti that brought members of our own online science community together to share intimate and often funny parts of their lives. It was a nod to the spirit of the conference, which encourages open sessions and audience contributions over slide presentations and lectures. That’s why it’s my favourite conference of the year, and it works because it’s a conference filled with fascinating people: science writers, researchers, bloggers, artists, programmers, physicians, teachers, and librarians all interested in science in the online world.

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First post as DJ at The Finch and Pea

It’s been a busy month away from the blog. I’d offer an explanation beyond being swamped but I could never live up to the classic of the genre: John Rennie’s The Nudge from Management. There are a couple new posts almost ready to go but for now I’ve got exciting news.

I’ve always had a secret dream of being a music writer, and it’s something I’ve started writing about a bit here at Boundary Vision. I’m thrilled, therefore, about a new gig as DJ at the online science pub The Finch and Pea. I’ll be posting and writing about a weekly song with some sort of sciency theme. The first one went up this weekend: Stargazing to Randy Described Eternity. Come and hang out!

School kids outshine adult commenters in thinking critically about evidence. And so what?

“Science educators, here’s what you’re up against. A debate in the comments on this story over whether the movie “Mission to Mars” proves that ancient Martian life was used to seed life on Earth.”

There’s no way I could pass over a Facebook status like this one. My friend K.O. recently made the comment in reference to a Popular Science article called “A Significant Portion of Mars Could Be Friendly to Life, New Models Suggest.”  The article itself is a short summary of a paper published in the journal Astrobiology, which uses models to predict how deep a microbial biosphere might extend into Mars’s surface. And while I might quibble when the author uses the phrase “slam-dunk” to describe the evidence for water on Mars, the interesting story isn’t in the article. The real story, for me and for K.O., is in the comments.

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Mourning science on December 6 (Repost)

Originally posted December 10, 2010

“For 45 minutes on Dec. 6, 1989 an enraged gunman roamed the corridors of Montreal’s École Polytechnique and killed 14 women. Marc Lepine, 25, separated the men from the women and before opening fire on the classroom of female engineering students he screamed, “I hate feminists.” Almost immediately, the Montreal Massacre became a galvanizing moment in which mourning turned into outrage about all violence against women.”

This summary from the CBC news archivesdescribes well the horrifying incident of that day and the impact that it has had across Canada. At most Canadian universities the day is marked with candlelight gatherings and vigils for victims of violence against women. To this day, though, I’ve never been to one.

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Who is the traditional right type of person for science?

Traditions in science education? At first that might seem like a strange way to think about science in schools. The word ‘tradition’ often conjures images of formal traditions: holiday dinners, Christmas carols, festivus poles, and wedding ceremonies. But that’s not the only kind. As Greg Laden wrote recently, traditions are also those things that we take for granted, those practices and ways of thinking that we explain by saying “it’s just always been that way”.  Science education doesn’t really have formal traditions (there’s no commemorative long weekend as far as I know) but it definitely has this kind of more embedded tradition.

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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 boundaryvision.com. 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.

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