Something I’ve written about before but continues to surprise me when I encounter it, is that despite all the fancy software, listings of all the laborious statistical models, double blind tests and holy of all holies the untouchable power of peer review that is part and parcel of contemporary life sciences research you can still find, with relative ease, entrenched great chain of being philosophy that for me, completely torpedoes and sinks some of the merit of the research in question.
I’m not saying we can ever unhook ourselves from the delusion that we’re special wee beings amongst the rest of organismal life because we’ve got a chin, invented jazz, pot noodles and various other debatable accolades that propel us to the top of some pyramid or front of some queue but I do wish it wasn’t quite so explicit in the structure of degree courses, the language we use to talk about evolution, the way we frame interest in science stories and of course how we frame our relationship with the rest of the organismal life.
Read on, dear reader for the paradoxical platypus, concerned scientists who are earthworms and other lies we tell ourselves at night.
After us. Life after the Anthropocene.
Altruistic animals. The zoology of selfishness.
Animal Additives. The zoology of household products.
Anthropodenial. Are Animals Human?
Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?
Arses and Elbows. Anatomy for Beginners.
Back from the Dead? The Science Fact and Fiction of De-extinction.
Bats are not Bugs.
Better off Dead? The Ethics of Eradication.
Blue boobs and other unlikely evolutionary tropes in science fiction.
It Came From The Bottom of A Shoe. Invasive species and how we help spread them.
Can’t see the forest or the trees. What happened to England’s nature?
Chimaeras: The Evolutions of Symbiosis
Collecting the Dead. Where did all these specimens come from?
The Conservation Lottery. Which species should we save?
Cute and Fluffy. Subjectivity and study species.
Dinosaurs in the Garden. The confusing language of science.
The Death of Natural History.
Faeces, Droppings & Turds. The biology of shit.
Fakes, Fibs and Forgeries. Damaging Dishonesty in Science.
From Nature to the Plate. Where your food comes from.
GREED! The organisms we’re eating into extinction.
Going, going, gone. 100 species that slipped through our fingers.
How to kill a cow. Where do you think burgers come from?
Killer Cities. Pathologies of modern civilisation.
Lost! Mishaps and accidents in science research.
Microbiota: the other organisms that make up you.
Mincer vs. Machine Gun. The hunting we’re okay with vs the hunting we’re not.
Mind the Gaps. What we don’t know about natural history.
Murmurs, Swarms and Schools. When animals amass!
Needle in a haystack. The organisms only seen once.
No Cure Without Kill. Animals that die for science.
The Paradox of Sustainable Living. Does individual action make a difference?
Pushing up the daisies: the biology of death.
Preggers: The Biology of Birthing.
Race: Construct, Cultures, Genes.
Ravaged, Sick and Toxic. Environmental lessons from the ‘developed world’.
Right vs Correct. Morality in conservation biology.
Saved for exploitation. What makes a species worth saving?
Sick as a parrot? Disease in other animals.
SPERM. The anatomy of fertilisation.
Subhuman, the history of animal rights.
Subspecies, the politics of biological taxonomy.
Trash Planet. The search for untouched nature.
Toxic Wasteland? Our children’s inheritance.
Unloved! The importance of small, unattractive and obscure animals.
What is an animal and why does it matter?
Whoops! The ten biggest cock-ups in biology and their legacy today.
Whose nature is it anyway? The geopolitics of biodiversity.
The World on a Plate, the natural history of your supermarket.
Greetings cintanians? Cinctanonians? Tannins? It’s time for the if-I-do-an-update-I-don’t-feel-like-I’ve-been-neglecting-my-own-blog update. It’s been a busy couple of months on all fronts but pretty much all of my writing energy has been sapped by other commitments.
Here’s some of the stuff that I’ve been up to AROUND THE WEB, including some stuff you may have missed here, all handily packed into a blog post, for your viewing pleasure. Continue reading →
Museum visitors ask some of the most innocent yet challenging (and also some important) questions . Why do animals have tails? How do you know it is dead? Is it real? Does it fart? Some of these questions, have a difficult and convoluted answer and other questions like “which animals fart?” can never be comprehensively answered even with an army of fart recorders sent out to the oceans, deserts, forests and cities of the world. As a general rule, and if some clever sod hasn’t already coined it, let’s call it the Carnall Rule, the simpler the question about biology, the more difficult it is to answer. I’d also add the qualifier, the more difficult it is to answer in a way that’s understood by most people.
I love thinking about some of these questions and I love asking them too. These big questions cause us to take a step back, do a bit of research and more often than not, question the question. So with this questioning spirit in mind let’s try to answer the simple question (ut oh): How many cephalopod species are there in the UK? Continue reading →
Can’t believe it’s been seven months since the last update! Goodbye 2017 you were pretty much as sucky as 2016 was but in a different way. It’s been a busy couple of months and unfortunately my writing juices have been sucked away by other endeavours, including an exciting book chapter which I’ve been very keen on writing for a while.
Here’s some of the more recent natural history and museum stuff I’ve been working on and contributed to from around the web, corralled into one place. Continue reading →
A new story doing the rounds earlier this week reported on a ‘foolhardy’ dolphin that suffocated whilst trying to eat a giant octopus. You can read the story here at New Scientist. The story is based on a short note paper published in Marine Mammal Science and its one of those nice little papers that describes a rare behaviour to add to the anecdotal record of behaviour between cetaceans and cephalopods. The Marine Mammal Science paper goes into grim detail about how an octopuses arms and suckers can remain active up to an hour after the ‘head has died’ and in this instance the suckers were still firmly to the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin’s larynx, oesophagus and tongue during the autopsy. The story was circulated fairly widely in the ‘science tabloid’ outlets and news websites however all is not as it seems.
Headline from the New Scientist reporting
Many stories lead with the headline about a giant octopus and some sort of judgement of the dolphin involved- greedy, foolhardy- but the reporting of this story is a nice example of when engineering a clickable headline and story is actually a bit misleading. At its worst we called say this was fake news. But this is exactly the kind of example I like to use when teaching students about the difficulties of striving for readability and accuracy as well as the wonderful complication of language especially when it comes to science. So when is a giant octopus not a giant octopus? Read on to find out. Continue reading →
So here we are, two months since the last entry cobbled together with clips from around the web with ANOTHER ONE. I guess I’m sticking to blogosphere too. As with the last update, I’ve been contributing a lot elsewhere, some of which you may have missed.I struggle with the fine balance between trying to share ideas, what I’ve written and what others have written, enough so that people see it but not too much to end up spamming content he says whilst spamming content.
December and January have been fairly busy but here’s what I managed to squeeze out of the old brain tubes. Continue reading →
Do people still use the word blogosphere? It’s been rather quiet here at Fistful of Cinctans and that’s because I’ve been writing a lot elsewhere, so like those cheap flashback sitcom episodes that are mostly made up of footage from older episodes, here’s some pointers to other stuff I’ve been writing instead. Continue reading →
Hot off the press this morning, the Telegraph reports that according to a new and unnamed paper in the journal Current Biology, half of world’s museum specimens are wrongly labelled. Now, I could dig out the original paper to see what the Oxford University and Royal Botanic Gardens colleagues actually said. I’m sure the estimations are vague and the researchers are ballparking the issue. I’m sure they didn’t conflate specimen labels with display labels as the Telegraph has. However, that headline is already out leading scores of people to throw their museum merchandise into the skip shaking their head “I trusted you museums, I trusted you”. So what’s needed isn’t clarification or explanation. What we need is excuses. STAT. Here are some off the shelf excuses for museum professionals who may be facing some tough questions this morning*.
It’s the bloody botanists. The reported story is all about ginger and potatoes. It’s the botanists. They are letting the side down.
It’s the bloody entomologists. Well over half of all natural history specimens are insects. So whichever way you look at it, entomologists are letting the side down.
It’s the hippies. Bizarrely, the coverage claims that more than 50 percent of the world’s natural history specimens have been discovered since 1969. Firstly, I’m not even sure what that means. Is a specimen discovered when it is collected? In any case, it’s all those hippies in the 60s that messed things up. They are letting the side down.
It’s the dyslexics. Unfortunately, for the Telegraph, in an article about specimens being mislabelled they’ve managed to incorrectly spell both Diplodocus and specimens. Even whilst making a joke about how the Natural History Museum is pretty sure that the dinosaur in Hintze Hall is dilpodocus (no italics, no capital). Yeah, it’s a dilpodocus, dilpy for short. Do spelling mistakes count? If they do then it’s the dyslexics, the dyslexics and human error are letting the side down.
It’s the loss of subject specialist knowledge in a hard hit museum sector where we are losing expertise year on year. Best not mention this though. It’s depressing.
It’s the bloody art historians and archaeologists. The headline doesn’t mention natural history museums so it’s probably the bloody art historians mislabelling paintings. Well there’s only a couple of hundred thousand of those, so it’s probably the bloody archaeologists too not labelling their pot fragments correctly. Art historians and archaeologists are letting the side down.
We’re only half way there. When we started, none of them were correct. Give us another 300 years and we’ll finish the job.
There we go folks. If you’ve got any excuses to help out colleagues in our time of need, why don’t you leave them in the comments. Together we can weather this ‘scandal’.
UPDATE: 17/11/2015 Corrected for many, many doubly ironic typos for writing this up in haste.
Despite the amazing diversity of animal life and all the branches and convoluted histories of biological science when it comes to mainstream output, museums and wildlife documentary makers just can’t help revisit a well worn path. And it’s not entirely clear who is to blame. Is it the fault of visitors to the London’s Natural History Museum that they only go to see the dinosaurs during the holidays or is it that dinosaurs is one of the only ‘visitable’ galleries left in the Museum (BURN!)? Here’s a little list I’ve put together of the well worn paths veritable motorways when it comes to popular science. It’s not to say we should stop doing and shouting about these things. Actually, yes. Yes it is. Stop it. All of you.
I’m sure there are more, these are the ones that spring to (a currently, admittedly, very crochetty), mind. Continue reading →