New Scientific American Guest Blog Post: “Arsenic bacteria have changed science…science education that is”

I am pleased to announced my guest post on the Scientific American Guest Blog today entitled “Arsenic bacteria have changed science…science education that is.” After writing a post about the language of the online critiques of NASA’s paper, I was excited to be invited, along with microbiologist and blogger Rosie Redfield, to discuss the new Technical Comments and replies published in Science. Rosie has written a great and detailed explanation of the arsenic study, the criticisms that have been levelled against it and her future research plans as a result. It also has a terrific title: From the shadows to the spotlight to the dustbin – the rise and fall of GFAJ-1. Go check it out!

At the beginning of my post, I talk a bit about my own experiences as a Grade 9 science student interested in the Cold Fusion media spectacle that happened that year. If you’re a visual person, I thought you might enjoy knowing exactly what Grade 9 me looked like. Here it is. I hope that allows you to recreate the moment in 1989 all the better.


13 responses to “New Scientific American Guest Blog Post: “Arsenic bacteria have changed science…science education that is””

  1. Love the piece and the pic!

    I’m not sure that the incident changed how I’m teaching bio. The faulty gel in the article made me realize that while this sort of mistake might be apparent to me (actually, it wasn’t on the first reading. Someone else mentioned it to me and I went back and looked at it again), it really is pretty coded for anyone who hasn’t really thought about the biochemistry of DNA…….a.k.a. just about everyone. That was really the first time I thought about how difficult some science is to access. Before then, I assumed that everyone else did what I did – look up the terms you don’t recognize. Read enough, and your superficial knowledge becomes deeper. That just isn’t so. To see many of the problems with this paper, you had to be an insider. You had to have, at the very least, run an agarose gel.

    If it makes you feel better, my hair fell in my face for my photo and I was teased about it for the next two years.

  2. I think I remember that picture!
    And thanks for the comment. I think that’s a really important point. Someone like me, even with a background in science but not bio, would have trouble seeing the insider distinctions that make the analysis and interpretation problematic. Having a lot of the critique public means that some of these issues at least get talked about and explained to those who aren’t insiders.

  3. Thanks for mentioning my Wash Post article in you sciam blog post, but you misspelled my name. It’ Vastag, not Vashtag. (And I’ve done this before, so no worries…)

    • Thanks so much for reading – and for letting me know about the error. It’s been fixed. I’m very sorry for the mistake.
      I look forward to reading more of your coverage in the future!

  4. I read, enjoyed and commented on your Scientific American Article. I have read many books about, and by, influential scientists, and I have often been interested in how often teachers (mathematics and/or science) feature as key people in the development of the (then) student’s future life in science. I guess you can add your story to this list.

    • You’re right, there are so many good stories about the importance and value of teachers and the experiences they create for students in science. Like you, I always try to keep my eyes open for them and for resources that can help other teachers make it happen for their students.

  5. Great article! It made me wonder why there couldn’t be a “comment thread” for each article on a journal’s website (or somewhere else) that acted as a sort of “critical repository” for thoughts related to that academic paper. Maybe that’s a project worth pursuing so that people can contribute to post-publication peer review.

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