Today I heard a really great talk by Patricia Brennan, a professor at University of Massachusetts Amherst. She studies sexual conflict and the evolution of duck penises, which have weird corkscrew shapes. Her research was attacked by many people who … Continue reading →
One of the least glamorous (and least well-known, I think) aspects of science is how many setbacks, difficulties, and tedious tasks we scientists are faced with. However, it comprises the daily grind for pretty much all scientists, and is one … Continue reading →
A couple weeks ago I promised a post about my preliminary exams. For those of you not familiar with the hierarchy of academia, you may have no idea what I’m talking about. So I want to explain this to all … Continue reading →
Hey there everyone, I know it’s been a while, but I’ve been preparing for and taking my preliminary exams (look for a post talking about that next week, when I’m actually done). In the meantime, I wanted to let you … Continue reading →
It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but today a friend posted this NY Times article and it reminded me of why I started this blog in the first place.
The science world can become so small and insular that it is easy to forget that not everyone knows what a gene is, or even what the scientific method is, let alone can even fathom the basic premise of my PhD. Often our interactions with the ‘outside world’ are with the undergraduate students at large universities, who are in the classes to check a box and would rather not be there. We get bogged down in the details of our research and the politics of our fields, and we forget how important it is to remind people of why we chose this career. It is a tough, time-consuming job and we all do it because we love it. How could we not? We’re exploring the universe and understanding life itself! What is more empowering than that?
We often get frustrated by the ‘outreach’ and ‘broader impacts’ sections of our grant proposals, and how they take up precious space which we could otherwise be filling with more information about the project we’re trying to get funded. But it is good to keep in mind that for all intents and purposes it doesn’t really matter if your research gets funded if 46% of the people helping fund your research don’t even understand science well enough to comprehend that evolution isn’t something you ‘believe in’–it’s a theory, like gravity. So, I say to you, fellow scientists–be grateful that your grant proposals are forcing you to think of ways to interact with the community! I sure am. Part of my NSF Predoctoral fellowship grant proposal was my citizen-science project, and the few people who have contacted me with photographs have consistently brought a smile to my face.
And to all my non-scientist readers: give yourself the challenge of periodically learning something new about science. If you’re looking for good sources of information, here are some of my non-jargon-heavy favorites:
One of the projects I’ve been working on recently is getting a citizen-science project involving Syngnathid fishes up and running. What is citizen-science, you ask? It is a way in which scientists collect data using volunteers outside of the science … Continue reading →
Most scientists these days are coming to realize how imperative it is for them to be able to use computers. By this I don’t mean just being able to turn one on, use the internet and basic programs like Microsoft … Continue reading →
Today is the day in the US when everyone celebrates their mothers by giving them gifts, food, flowers, etc. It’s a nice reminder of how difficult of a job being a mom is. Being a mom can be especially difficult … Continue reading →
Today is a doubly exciting day. Not only is May 4th Star Wars Day (due to the fact that you can tell everyone you see today “May the fourth be with you”), it’s also free comic book day! Some lucky … Continue reading →
This is just a link to a message from Wil Wheaton about what it means to be a nerd and why it’s awesome. It’s heartwarming and beautiful and describes why I am a nerd and why I love being who … Continue reading →
Doctor Who is a British television phenomenon that I’ve recently become (a little) obsessed with. It’s a fantastic show, and if you haven’t seen it I recommend you check it out on Netflix. But in the course of watching it, … Continue reading →
Sixty years ago today, on April 25, 1953, Watson and Crick’s revolutionary paper describing the structure of DNA was published in Nature. Deoxyribo Nucleic Acid (DNA) is the building block for all living organisms on this planet. It is composed … Continue reading →
I saw this Science Daily article reporting the results of a recent paper, and thought it was too cool to not share. This is a link to the original paper, if you’re interested. Many frog species have bouts of explosive … Continue reading →
This morning I came across this i09 arcitle about Zack Kopplin’s fight against teaching creationism in science classes in public schools. I looked at the comments (which is not usually a good thing to do) and saw that at least one person claimed that evolution is not testable (as the article states), and that “some facets of it are just as much religion as anything else”. I usually try not to engage people who tend to dismiss evolution in that way, because usually that will get you nowhere, but it occurred to me that the person who wrote that is suffering more from ignorance than anything else. So I thought I would try to educate a few folks at least by writing a blog post.
Evolution can be split into two parts: the pattern and the process. The pattern of evolution could also be called the history of life on Earth. And yes, there is a lot that we do not know about it because we have only an incomplete fossil record. Most of what we know from that is based on observations (painstaking observations in many cases), but that is true of a good deal of what we know about species that are currently alive on Earth. And although the conclusions drawn from the fossil record may not seem testable, scientists use computer simulations to test their hypotheses. This is perfectly in line with the scientific method: make observations (look at the fossils), create hypotheses, test the hypotheses (the computer models), and draw conclusions from the results. Then go back to the beginning and start again!
When it comes to understanding the process of evolution, we’re talking about figuring out HOW it might occur. These processes include things like mutation, natural selection, and sexual selection. This is what I study. And I study it using the scientific method, which comes back to the idea of studying evolution as a testable theory in science (side note: for something to become “theory” in science, its hypotheses MUST be tested and supported repeatably). Anyway, the process can be studied in many ways, such as looking at allele frequencies of genes, looking at differential expression of genes, studying behaviors of animals, using mathematical models, using computer simulations, and the list goes on and on. All of these studies are done in an effort to understand a hypothesis, and at the end of a study/experiment, the data will either support or not support the hypothesis. That is how science works, folks! And yes, maybe in the effort to study evolution we’re not all manipulating an organism like you might in a lab studying cancer, but in some cases you might. It all depends on the hypothesis you’re addressing!
I hope this blog post has convinced you that studying evolution is done actually using the scientific method, and that it’s not just all magical/religious mumbo jumbo. If not, leave a comment!