Elsewhere in the blogosphere update January

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

Elsewhere in the blogosphere update November

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

Which is larger, giant squid or the Moon?

Ha ha tricksy title! I mean giant squid as in multiple giant squid, Architeuthis dux not a single giant squid, which would be a very silly question indeed. I’ll explain how I got to this question first as it probably isn’t one that many people have contemplated.

Cartoon by Mark Carnall of a moon made of cephalopods

Calamari Moon by Mark Carnall (Own work) CC BY 2.0 but let me know if you do!

I’ve been reading the excellent book- The Search for the Giant Squid by Richard Ellis which gives a comprehensive account of the biology and mythology surrounding giant squid, Architeuthis dux and related species up to 1998. The book covers the earliest accounts of encounters of giant squid; an examination of tall tales about large cephalopod encounters; giant squid in literature and film; and a really nice history of giant squid models in museums. Despite being one of the largest living invertebrates, very little is still known about giant squid including how their arch-enemies, the not-so-small-themselves cetaceans, sperm whales, catch them.

In the dark depths of the ocean how do essentially blind, breath-holding, large sperm whales catch highly manoeuvrable, fast, super-sensed giant squid? How do they catch them with their weird toothed mandible especially considering that giant squid retrieved from sperm whale stomachs don’t have any bite marks? And what does any of this have to do with the Moon? Continue reading

How and why to cite museum specimens in research

About once a year, I take the time to comb through the Internet for references in books and journal articles to museum specimens in the collections I manage. Despite the fact that I give all the researchers who visit the collections instructions for keeping the museum informed if/when their research gets published, sometimes it doesn’t happen. Sometimes it’s an innocent mistake: it can be a decade between data collection from specimens and publication and in the tweaking of manuscripts remembering to let the museum know about publications citing their specimens can drop off the priority list. Sometimes however, it seems like researchers failed to listen to what those annoying museum people said and just ‘forget’ or just make it up entirely.

Recently the researchers and collections managers at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History have undertaken a big drive to try to find orphaned citations of our collections going back to 2010 for our reporting cycles and with dogged determination to leave no stone unturned, we’ve managed to find an order of magnitude more citations that weren’t previously linked to the collections.

It’s really fundamental to the scientific process, the future or museums and the legacy of biological sciences that hypotheses and research can be repeated and that we can trace the theory back to the evidence that leads to new conclusions being made. It’s really important to properly cite specimens and here’s why and how. Continue reading

Cephalopod Watch:Weeds of the sea and the <Gene diet

Two bits of cephalopod stuff in the media last week, both of which raised the hackles but for different reasons relating to how the media (in this case mostly online) handles science reporting. I always find this kind of stuff interesting, doubly so since a really interesting talk at NatSCA 2015 Annual Conference where we heard from colleagues at the BBC and science programmers about how documentaries aren’t for those in the know. Both in terms or viewers and critical acclaim, the scientists may hate shoddy science but they aren’t the target audience. This shouldn’t give the media free rein to just report what they like but trying to squeeze complicated, limited and caveated findings into nice black and white narratives leads to more confusion. Things can only be bigger, smaller, disappearing, brand new, oldest, fastest, slowest etc. Biology, (un)fortunately, is rarely that simple.

The first of the bits of news last week was this paper, Global proliferation of cephalopods in Current Biology about estimating cephalopod populations Continue reading

Subject Specialist Knowledge

I’m freshly back from this year’s Museum Association conference with some thoughts to share. The reason why conferences are so great, and I’m fortunate that both UCL and Oxford University Museum of Natural History have supported conference attendance, is that the discussions, talks and networking can restore some of the fire in the belly that the day-to-day rat race can sometimes erode.

One of the worrying undercurrents of this year’s conference was that specialist knowledge in the workforce was perhaps not essential in a climate in which many museums are having to knuckle down and weather economic cuts. Curators are dead, we were told. Subject specialist knowledge was a tertiary concern over good managers and communicators. Collections were a dirty word throughout many sessions. Museum directors, consultants, leaders, policy makers and funding bodies intimated or explicitly saw collections and curators as emblematic of the boring museums of the past. In one session it seemed that to save museums, you should piece by piece replace them so they no longer were museums.

Obviously, some of these comments are presented here out of context but I do think with the soap box of a big conference some people have lost sight of the expertise and knowledge we have in our museums. Continue reading

The Well Worn Paths Of Natural History

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