scicomm

Science Communication: Consider the Source

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Previously Published in 2017

 

SCIENCE COMMUNICATION -- We've all seen health products, mental health products, or other services claim that what they're doing is backed by real science.  Whether they're making wild claims about how much weight you're going to lose, or saying how much better they're going to make your life in general, they often times say that they're backed up by science.  Even dating websites claim they have science behind them.

 

These claims may do one of two things to you:

1) They may make you more skeptical about the product or service.

2) They may make you trust the product or service more than you might have originally.

 

Obviously, for the company trying to take your money, the latter option is more ideal.  But the average consumer needs to be more skeptical.  Just because some science is behind a product, that doesn't necessarily mean it's trustworthy.  You have to consider the source.  How do you go about considering the source of a scientific study, though?  How do you know what to look for?

 

Considering the Source: Where Did the Study Come From?

 

In 2017, Vox Media produced an article showing how companies like OceanSpray got away with saying that their cranberry juice could reduce urinary tract infections by 40%.  However, that study that OceanSpray boasted was co-funded by the company themselves.  On top of that, the study was co-authored by OceanSpray.  And the study and similar ones like it have had a lot of people fooled.  Doctors have gone as far as to suggest to their patients that they drink cranberry juice when suffering from an UTI.  The author of this article knows this from personal experience.

 

It wasn't as though the study was completely lying, either, which helped boost their supposed credibility.  Cranberries do have compounds that fight off bacteria, but you'd have to drink a LOT of cranberry juice to see any kind of result whatsoever. "People would have to continuously drink the juice twice a day in serving of 150 mL for an indefinite period of time."

 

When looking at a study, was it funded by the company promoting the product?  Was it authored by the company promoting the product?  Is the study helping promote the product at all?  All of these things should raise red flags when looking at a study.

 

Considering the Source: Is a Celebrity Talking About it?

 

The average person take celebrity opinions far too seriously.  Let's just admit that right off the bat.  This can be a huge problem, unfortunately.  It's lead to countless people attempting detox teas because Kylie Jenner posted them on instagram (and got massively paid to do it, too). Detox teas have unwanted side effects, and will mostly help you lose water weight more than anything else as they are a diuretic.  They're not the miracle weight loss product that celebrities and instagram influencers claim they are.

 

And the Kardashian-Jenner family aren't the only ones at fault here.  People like Gwyneth Paltrow have made a business surrounding products that supposedly have science backings.  However, Paltrow's website GOOP is being investigated for at least 51 deceptive health claims.  These claims hurt people on the regular, because if their favorite celebrity is doing it -- they should too!  It means it must work!  In reality, we have to remember that these people are not scientists and are getting paid to promote these products.

 

Considering the Source: Did you Find it on Social Media?

 

Social media is similar to the aforementioned celebrity point.  They may not be getting paid to promote these tweets, but they are getting the instant gratification of likes and retweets.  This was a an issue to Megan Lynch, a student of Economic Botany herself.  When I asked about what other ways we need to consider the source of scientific claims, she said she watched a lot of scientists retweet "spammy" tweets without questioning the fact that these tweets didn't have a source associated with them.  We're all susceptible to this kind of behavior, too, so we have to be aware of that and realize what we're doing before we do it.

 

Considering the Material: Peer Reviewed Articles

 

It's not just the sources of articles and "facts" we need to be wary of.  Even the articles we find we can trust the sources from have faults, flaws, and can be misleading.

 

Dr. Emma Yhnell brought this up to me when asked, saying "articles are often changed depending on reviewer comments".   And it's true.  On top of this, peer reviewed articles have other flaws such as the competition factor.  "Academic competition for funding, positions, publication space and credits has increased along with the growth of the number of researchers," Says a New Republic article written by Stefano Belietti.  "Science is a winner-take-all enterprise, where whoever makes the decisive discovery first gets all the fame and credit, whereas all the remaining researchers are forgotten. The competition can be fierce and the stakes high. In such a competitive environment, experiencing an erroneous rejection, or simply a delayed publication, might have huge costs to bear."

 

Because of the competition of science just to get into a journal, let alone have your study make it big, this can cause biases to be formed that could negatively effect the article.  Science should be neutral and unbiased, but it's not infallible by any means.

 

Considering the Material:  What was the Sample Size?

 

Is the article hiding important information from you?  Seeing how large the sample size was and how the variables were controlled is extremely important.  And a lot of times, the sample sizes to articles are small.  They're small enough that they can't really say for sure that the conclusions they came can be considered a scientific fact now.  But often times, despite this, that's how the conclusions from the research comes off, especially when being reported on by the mainstream media.  If the study doesn't even tell you how big a sample size was, or hides from you how the variables were controlled, that should be a warning sign for you to be more skeptical towards the study.

 

Science needs skepticism.  Without it, there would be no science at all really.  Without questioning things, finding sources, and doing your own research, you're blindly trusting in fallible humans.  And the bottom line is that we will realize that we made mistakes in our research, or made mistakes in promoting that research.  However, the more aware of it we are, and the more cautious we make ourselves, the more we can avoid promoting pseudoscience and faulty science as absolute fact.

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of all things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.


 

A Science Communication Consultation and Training Company Is On the Rise — and Needs Your Support

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Science Communication is something that is a hot topic these days.  The communication to the public about science is extremely important, because everyone is effected by science in their daily lives.  Proper science communication can change how the public looks at the world, how the world governments decide to act on certain issues, and can help in bettering the wellbeing of humans, animals, and plant life.

 

 

However, science communication is not the easiest thing in the world.  Not by a long shot.  There’s miscommunication, the boasting of bad studies, and some scientists don’t know how to go about science communication to the public at all.  While all scientists are definetely not required to communicate their science to the public, a lot of them want to learn.

 

 

That’s where SCIENCE ART FUSION comes in. 

 

 

Science Art Fusion is a ‘science communication consultation company that aims to bridge the gap between science and the creative and performing arts’, says Founder RK Pendergrass.

 

 

Earlier in March, she began a GoFundMe campaign hoping to raise money so that Pendergrass can create online courses “that goes into the nitty-gritty of narrative structure and what makes some stories so universally appealing, and helps science communicators figure out the best ways to apply these narrative skills to their outreach efforts”

 

 

Pendergrass herself is a professional performer and creative writer with over ten years of experience in these fields.  She says that she wanted to help share her knowledge with the science community “after seeing the importance of narrative being brought up time and again at science conferences and in discussions about science communication”.  

 

 

Pendergrass truly believes that there’s value in this knowledge for the science community, and believes that this type of art can be very helpful in getting this very important communication across.

 

 

In the two weeks that SCIENCE ART FUSION’S campaign has been online, Pendergrass has thus earned over $1,500 towards her 20K goal.  As she notes, starting a company is incredibly expensive.  Between the LLC cost, the cost of equipment, the cost of a website, and more.  Her hope is to raise $3,500 a month in order to support the website and herself up until August.    She wants to help hire and support other science communicators as well in the future to help continue to “bridge the gap” between the communications and their respective audiences.

 

 

Interested in helping out?  You can check out the GoFundMe here, or email RK Pendergrass at prelaunch@scienceartfuision.com for more information!

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of all things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.

 

Never Have Trouble Finding Places for Science on Your Vacation Again: Sci Sites!

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In January 2018, Dr. Lakshini Mendis launched a website for the purpose of inviting science to come along on your vacation.  While just about every large city in the United States, as well as across the world, typically has a science-related museum, or other science related activities to do while you’re visiting, sometimes they can be hard to find.

 

 

Dr. Lakshini Mendis is a trained neuroscientist, and now is a full-time science writer and editor herself.  After she gained her PhD, she traveled abroad a lot.  While she was abroad, she wanted to find these “STEM-related places” that she knew absolutely existed.  Finding them, though, was an entire adventure on its own.

 

 

Dr. Mendis found it to be a little frustrating and not very convenient that there wasn’t a place on the internet where you could go to see every science activity or public area in the location you were visiting.  Of course, you could Google things all day long, but the convenience just was not there. She wanted a “one-stop STEM related travel site”.  

 

 

VISIT THE SITE

 

 
 
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Sci-Sites.com is exactly that.  By noting where she has been on her science filled trips, and asking others where they have been, Dr. Mendis has created an easily-accessible space to fit her goal.  This site includes guest posts about these places, so that you’re not going in blind — as well as suggests science related spaces for every continent. No matter where you’re going on vacation, Dr. Mendis is making it so you have no excuse to not add science into the mixture.

 

 

Another wonderful thing about Dr. Mendis’ site is that it aids in visibility for not only STEM, and STEM-related public spaces, but also for the scientists and employees involved.  By allowing guest posts, scientists who have worked for specific museums and other STEM-related places can bring awareness to those said areas, as well as to the work that they do for that specific place. 

 

It’s another way, that’s totally different and completely unique to the current world of Science Communication, to get the science communication ball rolling.  It’s a great way to get the entire family involved with STEM and the people directly involved in STEM fields in a fun and relatable way.

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of all things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.

Taylor Richardson Does it Again: $100,000 Raised For Girls to See A Wrinkle In Time

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This was edited on March 7th, 2017 at 9:07PM

 

In case you missed it, when Hidden Figures released in 2016, Taylor Richardson was the girl who raised over $20,000 so that 1000 girls could see the movie for free.  Her hope was to encourage girls to get into STEM by being able to watch the likes of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson on the big screen. 

 

 
 

    When A Wrinkle in Time was announced, a movie based on the hit middle-grade sci-fi from 1962, Taylor Richardson did the same thing.  Only this time, she raised $50,000 for girls to see the movie for free when it releases on March 9th, 2018.

 

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    Why was Taylor so enthused about girls seeing A Wrinkle in Time in theaters?  She explained on her GoFundMe page.

 

    “1. It shows young, black girls deserving a chance to be a part of the scifi cultural canon,”   She begins.  2. It has a female protagonist in a science fiction film. A brown girl front and center who looks like me in the role of Meg, a girl traveling to different planets and encountering beings and situations that I’d never seen a girl of color in. 3. Most impressive and importantly, it’s a fantasy film that is not about some white boys fighting evil, but about a black girl overcoming it.”

 

 
 

    Since the start of her campaign on November 13th, for Taylor everything has been a crazy and memorable ride.  Disney caught sight of her, and as a result, Taylor was able to attend the premiere.  She was able to meet the director of the film,  Ava DuVernay, actress Oprah Winfrey, and actor Chris Pine, among others.

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    Notable people who donated to her campaign included JJ Abrams and his wife Katie McGrath.  “Thanks to the kindness of many of you and a very generous donation from JJ Abrams and his wife Katie McGrath,”  Taylor wrote in an update on her GoFundMe. “I have exceeded my goal to send a 1000 girls 2 see the upcoming movie A Wrinkle In Time!”

 

 

    On top of that, aforementioned actor Chris Pine, who stars in the film as Dr. Alex Murray (the main character’s — Meg Murray’s — father), matched Taylor’s raised $25,000 — bringing Taylor’s efforts to her massive $50,000 to send girls to watch the movie, as well as help them purchase and read the original novel.  

 

 
 
 
 

    We applaud Taylor for her constant efforts and constant successes in bringing more and more girls into the world of STEM through positive media.

 

EDIT:  In an incredible update -- Oprah Winfrey, who stars in the movie as Mrs. Which, matched the $50,000 Taylor Richardson made -- giving Taylor's GoFundMe a over $100,000!  As of 9:00pm on March 7th, the GoFundMe total is $100,639!

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of all things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.

 

Opinion: Let's Stop Taking Celebrity Advice on Health

By Andrew Campbell - Flickr

By Andrew Campbell - Flickr

 

TAKING CELEBRITY ADVICE ON HEALTH IS GETTING OUT OF HAND

Tom Brady is a hotshot celebrity NFL player, if you haven't heard of him before.  If you have heard of him, and watch the NFL to any extent, you either love him with a passion, or hate him with one.  So, as plenty of celebrities tend to do, Tom Brady recently came out with a book back in September.  (We're all talking about it now because he was in the Super Bowl this past season.)   The kicker?  It's not about his NFL career, or his family, or anything along those lines.  No -- it's about his diet.

 

That might be okay if it didn't try to go off about the 'science' behind what he eats, and how it lowers his PH balance, and help speed recovery to the body.

 

Vox.com covered this story, having spoke to scientists about Brady's health claims.  They asked Stuart Phillips, a professor in the department of kinesiology at McMaster University, about Brady's claim that his diet effects the PH balance (lowering it, specifically) in his body.  He told Vox:"It’s next to impossible — in fact, I can’t think of an instance — where people have been able to change their blood pH with diet.  So there’s zero foundation for the notion that alkaline and acid foods [are] able to do anything to your body.”

 

His anti-inflammatory diet (which, to be noted, is not bad in itself) doesn't speed his recovery as he claims, either.  At least, there's not scientific backing for that claim.  "I don’t know a morsel of new scientific knowledge [supporting] what Tom Brady would like for you, that his dietary practice is linked to his career longevity or his success as an athlete.” Phillips had continued with Vox.  They had asked others, too, who said that the only post-excerise diet that had been scientifically shown to speed body recovery is "is getting enough carbohydrates to replenish glycogen that’s been depleted after a workout, or protein to help with muscle building."

 

Tom Brady is Far From Being the Only Celebrity to Spread Pseudoscience On Health, And He's Not the Worst Either

 

As Vox explained, Tom Brady's diet is actually good for you (though it is a little on the extreme side), and if you were to follow his diet, you most likely wouldn't hurt yourself.  Though, it should be noted that any major diet change should be expressed to a doctor, because every diet effects everyone differently. The harm of following celebrity advice though, for reasons that are not based in science is a real issue however.

 

Take Gwyneth Paltrow, who we have discussed before. She is arguably the worst offender in spreading health pseudoscience in recent history.  The celebrity, probably known to most as playing Pepper Potts in recent years, has her own website in which is is constantly writing about the health benefits of stickers and putting external items into specific holes in your body (don't do this unless it has been recommended by your doctor).  When explaining her supposed science on these topics, she doesn't ever mention her supposed experts, and she has been known to block her critics on social media, which doesn't add any credibility to her.

 

Then take supposed celebrity doctors as Doctor Oz, who has been in court many times for advertising false claims, and you have a major problem on your hands.

 

This Common Problem Really Shouldn't Be One

 

You'd think it would be common sense not to listen to everything anyone spouts off.  You would also think it common sense to not blindly follow someone just because they are rich and you see them on your television all the time...  however.  This is where we run into this problem.  People blindly following their idols, the men and women they look up to because they seemed to have "made it".  So they must know what's going on!  They must have the best diet, fit for everyone.

 

The bottom line is that they don't.

 

People have a very hard time thinking for themselves in cases like this.  There is actually a diagnosable mental illness known as celebrity worship syndrome "Anxiety, depression, high stress levels, poor body image, isolation, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors: All of these have been linked to celebrity worship syndrome because the patient's energy is focused entirely on someone who may not even know who they are," Says Medical Daily.

 

This gives way for these celebrities, whether they mean to or not (and many of them do mean to in order to sell products) to hurt their fans.  Health claims that are not based in science are everywhere in our society, constantly.  It doesn't help in the least that some of these claims are being peddled by people who know that they have a very large following that will do anything they say, or buy anything that they promote.  People as a whole really need to stop looking to celebrity advice on maybe anything, but especially as far as health goes.

 

If you need health or diet advice, go visit your doctor. They have been medically trained in fields that these celebrity figures have not been.

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.

The Relationship Between #SciComm and #SciArt

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Originally published May 2017

Sarah E. Kucharski, the Communications Lead at Biotech Partners, took over the @iamscicomm twitter on May 11.  Much of the discussion she had with the 9K followers on that twitter had to do with the relationship between science communication and science art.

 

What is Science Communication and Science Art?

 

Generally speaking, science communication is the communication between scientists and the public. Between the experts and the non-experts.  It’s also been called “outreach” or “popularization”, and has become somewhat of its own professional field within the science community.

 

Science communication can take many forms.  Journalism, science exhibitions, talks in front of audiences, storytelling, and more.  Science communication is what FemSTEM does every single time we upload an article.

 

However, as many scientists have realized, not every scientist can or should attempt to communicate sciences to the public. In a tweet from the twitter account @biotweeps, our guest writer, Melissa Marquez, expressed this point when she took over that twitter for the week.

 

"I DO think that scientists should partner with those already doing #scicomm to #sciengage with public." — Biotweeps - Melissa (@biotweeps) 

 

Science art is what it sounds like — the blending together of science and artwork.  Science art can take the forms of infographics, big pieces of artwork that convey a message, or something like a necklace even that has an atom pendant.

 

Where's the relation?

 

This was exactly the question that Sarah Kucharski had posed.  “Is #scicomm #sciart, and is #sciart #scicomm?” she asked twitter that night.

 

“I would say that the #scicomm, #sciart is like a highly overlapping Venn diagram,” Said biology undergraduate and science artist herself, Hannah Brazeau during the week she ran the twitter account @iamsciart.  “But they can be separated in some limited cases.  [For example]: a botanical illustration [without] accompanying information.  If [the] audience just sees something pretty, it’s #sciart, but not #scicomm.”

 

There were agreements with this statement, as user Peggy Muddles said that her science art pendants weren’t considered to be a form of good science communication.

 

But when science art and science communication do blend well together, they become imperative. 

 

Hannah argued that science communication couldn’t even exist without science art.  “Science Communication without infographics?”  She pondered.  “Oh my.”

 

Conservation Geographer and Photographer, Alena Ebeling-Schuld, seemed to agree.  “A lot of people learn visually and can understand [a] concept much better when presented in this form,”  She tweeted out.  “Plus,”  She continued.  “In a social media age, #sciart attracts viewers’ attention through colour and beauty. It connects people with the message!”

 

That being said …artists often times don’t get paid very much for their work.

 

Though science art is needed when it comes to science communication, the piece of the puzzle that’s missing is realizing how much work an artists really brings to their pieces.

 

When Sarah asked: “Regardless of [your] profession or field, do you earn a living on your passion? Or do you work to support your passion?”  the idea of making a living from science art made Moiety chuckle.

 

“Earn a living from #sciart?”  Hannah asked.  “Hold on, I need to stop laughing first.”

 

She went on to say that she has a day job, and thankfully, she does make enough money from science art each month to over at least one bill.  However, this is certainly not the case for every artist.

 

When I spoke to Hannah directly that day, she noted that there was a high expectation of free art in the science communication community.  “The expectation of free art is sadly quite common in scicomm.”

 

Taking for granted the use of artwork when it comes to science communication is something that needs to be addressed.  We’re lucky enough to have scientific artwork presented with the communication with science in just about everything.  Whether that’s beautiful photos taken next to National Geographic articles, or hand-painted or drawn works of skeletons or bugs (like Glendon Mellow’s wonderful works), or digitally created infographics that draw a point home.

 

We need to realize, as a community, how important science art is to science communication, and not take artists for granted.

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.

 

These "Beyond Curie" Posters are Perfect For Your Classroom

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Originally Posted February 27th, 2017

This design project headed by design strategist Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya is anincredible collection of 32 women who pioneered STEM fields in one way or another.  Beyond Curie is a project meant to bring light to these women, and while not ignoring the incredible feats that Marie Curie did herself, everyone knows who she is.  This project is meant to diversify the knowledge that students have of these incredible women, and every dollar that Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya’s Kickstarter makes beyond what production costs are will go toward the Association for Women in Science.

 

Who Exactly are the Women Included?

 

Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya’s design project includes every woman who has ever won a Nobel Prize in Physics, Chemistry, and Medicine/Physiology, as well as 16 other women who brought their own dose of amazing to the science table.

 

Women noted include, but are not limited to, Lise Meitner, Mae Jemison, and Maryam Mirzakhani.  Each poster has a very unique design, meant to bring out what each scientist did in her work, as well as add some wonderful color to the classroom (or even your home if you so choose — forget those boy band posters!  Put these in your girl’s room).

 

What’s the Story Behind This Project?

 

Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya is the founder of The Leading Strand, an initiative built on the idea that scientists and designers need to be brought together in order to help the world better understand science in the first place.  Phingbodhipakkiya has applied the same principle behind her initiative to her poster project.

 

Phingbodhipakkiya became interested in neuroscience herself when she could no longer dance thanks to a severe injury she suffered from in college.  “I desperately wanted to understand why I couldn’t move as gracefully as I used to, and began studying the intricacies of how the nervous and musculoskeletal systems work together,” Phingbodhipakkiya told me.  When she began to study Alzheimer’s, and realized that the urgency of the work was not being properly displayed, that’s when she turned to design.

 

“I realized, as scientists, we needed to be better equipped to convey the vital urgency of our work.  I gained a new sense of purpose and made it my mission to learn how to use design to shine a light on science.”  And that lead to The Leading Strand.

 

When Phingbodhipakkiya approached me, I asked her what her inspiration behind the  Beyond Curie project was, specifically.  “Like many people, I was feeling pretty upset after the [US] election,” she told me. “and thinking a lot about how I could get more involved.”  That was when one of her friends, who worked on the Hillary Clinton campaign, told her to pick a cause that she cared deeply about and support it in a way that only she could.

 

“That’s what led me to do Beyond Curie,”  She said.  “I wanted to celebrate the rich history of women kicking [butt] in STEM fields, to show that our world was built by brilliant people, both male and female and of all backgrounds, and to inspire the next generation of young women to go into STEM fields.” -- Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya / The Verge / “When Design Meets Neuroscience”

 

How’s the Project Doing?

 

As it would seem, this project has been doing wonderfully.  Phingbodhipakkiya turned to Kickstarter to fund this project, and says she’s had a great turn out.  In fact, as of the writing of this article, people have given over $18K to the project, when the Kickstarter’s goal was only placed at $1,000.

 

“…It’s been great to have people sharing their ideas and stories,”  Phingbodhipakkiya said. “Many educators have reached out sharing how they’ll use the posters to inspire young women in their schools and events.”

 

And for those who are preparing to support the March for Science, she’s created posters just for that cause as well.

 

Beyond Curie has been featured on FastCompany Magazine, and in Global Citizen.

 

Where Can You Find Out More?

 

You can find the many more of the designs at her Kickstarter, which of the publishing of this article will have about 14 more days to go. Although her project has already been funded far over what was needed for the project to begin with.

 

“I think encouraging young people, especially young women, to go into STEM fields science is so important. And one way to do it is through stories.”  Phingbodhipakkiya has a wonderful TED Talk on this subject, located here and well worth a watch.

 

How about it teachers? Will you decorate your classroom with these? I want one for home.

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.