Friday, October 28, 2016

Short Attention Span Segment #11


Five awesome things every Friday. This week:

  1. 99% Invisible: On Average.  The world was not built for you, it was built on measurements around the concept of the average. But what is average? A great exploration about the origins of this statistical measurement. 
  2. If you have been watching "Westworld" you may recognise this: "Paint It Black"gets the orchestral treatment.
  3. Zen Wisdom and KATZ! Dropping Ashes on the Buddha 
  4. Shakespeare on the silver screen: Fassbender as MacBeth, Cotillard as Lady MacBeth, and exquisite set and costume design. 
  5. Every human suffers from cognitive bias, so it's best to be acquainted with your humane flaws. This is a brilliant "Cheat Sheet" for understanding and identifying cognitive bias. 


Sunday, October 16, 2016

Mental Health Week: A List for Change

This past week in Australia has been Mental Health Week. There have been some wonderful outcomes demonstrated this week; from researchers showcasing breakthroughs in understanding complex mental illness to recognition of advocacy groups,  however it's also been made very clear that there is a still a big problem around mental health. Too few of us admit when we are mentally unwell and too few of us know that it is a common.  

Until  attitudes change, until we change as a society how we treat those with mental illness, no initiative will be truly successful. People will continue to suffer in silence. People will continue to feel like their illness is not valid and will struggle. This is unwarranted and unacceptable when for many, treatment exists and could mean the difference between life and death.

As Mental Health Week comes to a close, it's important we remind ourselves that this issue is far more than hashtags. This is a major health issue that has far too many stigmas and stereotypes attached to it.  There are unfortunately only so many dollars that can go around, and thus we need to enact the changes ourselves as a community, and not over rely on already stretched resources and ignorant governments who cut funding. A little change by many individuals adds up to massive  collective shift in a society. 

While Mental Health Week has done much to raise awareness, it is up to us to continue the change the other 51 weeks of the year.  So with the end of Mental Health Week here, it's a good time to list some things I feel need to be shared in relation to mental health: 

  1. Mental illness is legitimate and real
  2. Mental illness is common (1/5 will suffer a mental illness in their lifetime)
  3. Most people with mental illness have jobs, families, dress neatly and have nice. It is not unusual to be 'high functioning'. Sometimes the highest functioning people are in fact, the most ill.
  4. Mental illness requires the expertise of medical doctors and allied health professionals who work in evidence based practice. Homeopathy, alternative medicine and natural supplements are not evidence based - in fact some can be dangerous to those taking certain medications associated with treatment of mental illness. Don't recommend them despite what you have read on the internet.
  5. Please do not refer to those with schizophrenia as 'schizophrenics' or those with depression as 'depressives' . We don't refer to people as 'broken boned' or 'the infected' when talking to someone diagnosed with a physical illness. People are not defined by an ailment, they are person suffering an ailment.  Mental illness is not the definition of a person, it is a condition a person has.
  6. The stereotype of the deranged and deluded is not a defining feature of mental illness. It is rare and if someone admits to you they are mentally ill, you have no reason to be afraid for your life. Part of the reason people don't say they are mentally ill is the stigma and fear  of being labelled as 'insane' or 'crazy'. In order to talk about it more and see improvements and support we need to stop this immediate judgement and fear.
  7. Someone can recover from mental illness. Just like you can heal from a physical disease with the right treatment.
  8. Going for a walk in nature will help cure a bad mood or feeling low. It will not cure depressive disorder. There is a big difference between feeling depressed and suffering with major depressive disorder.  Please stop spreading simplistic memes, they do nothing but guilt those who are suffering.
  9. Related to the previous point: OCD is not being 'neat', it is debilitating condition and is far more complex than the stereotype of an overly tidy person. You do not have OCD if you have a neat house, you have OCD when cannot leave the house without scrubbing your hands raw or doing some other kind of time-consuming, life-interrupting ritual because you have an irrational fear. OCD can be life-destroying. Please stop spreading these phrases and memes, as they invalidate the true nature of this awful condition.
  10. If someone advises they are taking medication, you are not qualified to comment on the validity of that medication. Unless you are the board registered psychiatrist  treating that person.
  11. NEVER and I repeat NEVER, advise someone to stop taking their medication. I don't care what you have read on the internet or what book you have read, advising this can be incredibly dangerous. If someone tells you they are having side effects get them to a qualified medical doctor IMMEDIATELY.
  12. If someone confides in you that they have or have had a mental illness, do not judge. Support them. They are still the same great person you know, they are not 'crazy' or 'insane'. Don't gossip about their condition. They won't go mad and bring an axe to work and kill everyone. They probably think you care for them and need a little support. Gossiping, fear mongering and spreading nonsense based on stereotypes is the exact opposite of a caring person. If you have questions, ask them. If you need further information, check out the great websites I've listed below or talk to a medical professional.
  13. If someone comes to you and advises they are struggling, think they  have a mental disorder or are having severely negative thoughts, assist them to seek professional help. Most of us are not trained in the best procedures for mental health treatment, just as many of us aren't trained to perform surgery to keep someone alive in the event of organ trauma.
  14. Think about  your responses. Think about whether you are being dismissive. Think about how you would respond to a fellow human if they tell you they're struggling. If you are responding in a dismissive way or inciting guilt, ask yourself, would you dismiss someone who was bleeding or who had just broken a leg? If you answer yes, please keep these views to yourself and refer that person to one of the great resources below.

And with that rather strongly worded list, as I say farewell to a big week of initiatives and awareness,  I implore you - think about what you say and do in relation to mental illness. We all must ensure we don't stop at the hashtags. We all need to address the ingrained notions and the stereotypes with a passion to overturn them. We need to change our own perceptions around mental illness and act for the change. It begins with support not judgement between individuals. Only then can awareness have its true impact. 

Some excellent resources if you or anyone else is struggling is in need of support or would like to learn more:

Lifeline Crisis line: 13 11 14

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Other Nobel Prize

It's that time again - the awarding of the Nobel Prize. It's a once a year ceremony that honours the most excellent work in science, literature and economics.  It is the most coveted of scientific awards, and is reserved for those that make the moon shot, career defining discoveries. This prize rewards the discoveries that cure diseases, that change our understanding of space and time and that alter the course of humanity.  Most people have heard of the Nobel, and associate it with prestige, authority and the peak achievement of a scholar or researcher. The winners often go on to enjoy rock star status amongst not only their peers but also the general public. And so they should as the work they do defines fields, it saves lives and pushes the boundaries of human knowledge. It's the reward for those that make the leap and bounds, the grand discovers, the ones who write the principles in the textbooks. But along with all that ceremony, all the glamour, it all seems just a little bit....safe. You know it will be a big discovery that will win, and often the only surprise for experts in their field is who will win when. 

Most of us will never have one. Image: Wikipedia Commons

But there is another prize, deserving of as much publicity as the Nobel. And it's one that scientists should also aspire to win. It's far more humble and doesn't come with prestige or big prize money, but it highlights the quirks of science. It's the Ig Nobel. A couple of weeks ago the 2016 awards were announced, and once again I was reminded of why I love this award, and feel it is important to science beyond a few laughs.

The Ig Nobel I feel, began as a bit of joke. It was meant to pick out the obscure, the pedantic and the near silly research that is overlooked and often buried in the masses of published articles, and allow researchers to have a bit of a giggle at themselves. It was started as a parody of the Nobel - while the Nobel is all about the big discoveries that move the world, the Ig Nobel rewards the exact opposite. It's about finding the most tedious,tiny result that matters only to the most specialised.  But the Ig Nobels have moved beyond a few laughs and highlighting just how obscure discovery can be.  This award is rapidly turning into something else with a bit more meaning. It's becoming a reflection on the reality of most of science and is a yearly celebration of the less glorious science. The  reality of science is that most research isn't big grand discoveries; it's a gradual, tedious piece by piece collection of knowledge.  It's three step forward, and two back. It's people who spend their lives engrossed by tiny steps in an enzymatic pathway, or a beetle found only on a tiny island or a motion of a planet lightyears away. The Ig Nobels represent all that is real about discovery. 

Finally, an award that represents most researchers. Image: IgNobel website

This year's Ig Nobel awards have once again highlighted questions we've all pondered, and the often obscure things that some people tackle as their life's work. The Ig Nobel motto is "designed to make you laugh, then think", and really I believe, more research needs to apply this motto. Once you get past the initial randomness or hilarity of a question, you realise there's actually a lot more depth there, and that seemingly silly or odd questions can produce surprising data. Big ideas do drive the overall scene, but the devil is in the detail, and so science moves slowly. Big ideas are great, but they aren't the reality of research. People need to know this, and appreciate it and sometimes the small and odd can have big answers or unexpected applications, and what better way to highlight this than an award that makes people laugh? The Ig Nobel prizes are therefore, important to public awareness of science, promotion of discovery and encouraging curiosity

While the Nobel prizes represent the big movers and shakers, these are effectively the 1% of the research world. The other 99% are collecting those tiny bits of knowledge that make the collective body of science, and thing is, they are equally vital, and they go hand in hand with the big discoveries. While it's important to have grand moves, without filling in the details, without the little bits of knowledge we never get a collective body of knowledge, we never confirm, and those leaps and bounds have no springboard. Those details, those random finds, they also deserve recognition.  The Ig Nobels represent the truth of science in all its obscurity, hilarity, frustration and brilliance.  

This is an award I think all of us scientists should aspire to. The Ig Nobels represent all that is great about research - odd questions, delving into the unknown, and having fun along the way. It's an award that inspires creativity and a being a little off beat, thus bringing a little fun to rigours of research. It is another way we can show the public the realities of science, and that it's not big leaps and bounds, but small and slow. But despite how it sounds, there's a lot of joy and beauty in that too.  And we have to face it, most of us scientists will never come close to taking a place on the Nobel stage. While it's nice to dream, we have to exist in reality. The random questions we ask ourselves are much more likely to result in an Ig Nobel than our chances of all making huge discoveries that change the scope of a scientific discipline. So for scientists, the Ig Nobel is important, it represents why we do science, and sometimes we need to be reminded that there is fun in discovery. Even better,  because it is so random really anybody can win, as the only requirements are that the research makes you laugh and it makes you think. Definitely easier than wrangling a Nobel committee member to nominate you! 

So remember, no question is pointless. The Ig Nobel prizes highlight even the most obscure of questions can lead to awards, and that the tedious daily grind that makes up the majority of research can be celebrated.  No question, no matter how obscure, is truly off limits.

And just in case you are not convinced about how great the Ig Nobel prize is, I'll let the research speak for itself, with one of my favourite winners.  
The Ig Nobel prize for Biology in 2011 was awarded to group who discovered jewel beetles (found in Western Australia) have a major case . It turns out the male beetles have a problem with how they perceive reality, and were mistaking the bumps on the bottom of beer bottles for female beetles, and were copulating with the bottle. But it didn't end there, the males actually had a preference for the bumps, and would refuse move even when attacked. This literally was a real world case of beer goggles. The researchers published and shortly after the bumps on beer bottles disappeared, though it's not confirmed whether the bottle manufacturers were concerned their design might lead to declining populations of the beetle, or it was just a coincidence. Sometimes what appears obscure, in fact, can have real world implications. Without those researchers who decided to examine just  what the jewel beetle was up to, who knows? We may have lost another species to extinction for a very obscure reason. You can read all about this awesome piece of work here, and here, and here.  

So I offer congratulations to both the winners of the 2016 Nobel prizes and the 2016 Ig Nobel prizes. You're both, although in very different ways, equally valuable to the scientific community. 

For more on both awards:

The Other Nobel Prize

It's that time again - the awarding of the Nobel Prize. It's the once a year ceremony that honours the most excellent work in science, literature and economics.  It is the most coveted of scientific awards, and is reserved for those that make the moon shot, career defining discoveries. The type of discoveries that cure diseases, that change our understanding of space and time and that alter the course of humanity.  Most people have heard of the Nobel, and associate it with prestige, authority and the peak achievement of a scholar or researcher. The winners often go on to enjoy rock star status amongst not only their peers but also the general public. And so they should as the work they do defines fields, it saves lives and pushes the boundaries of human knowledge. It's the reward for those that make the leap and bounds, the grand discovers, the ones who write the principles in the textbooks. But along with all that ceremony, all the glamour, it all seems just a little bit....safe. You know it will be a big discovery that will win, and often the only surprise for experts in their field is who will win when. 

Most of us will never have one. Image: Wikipedia Commons

But there is another prize, deserving of as much publicity as the Nobel. And it's one that scientists should also aspire to win. It's far more humble and doesn't come with prestige or big prize money, but it highlights the quirks of science. It's the Ig Nobel. A couple of weeks ago the 2016 awards were announced, and once again I was reminded of why I love this award, and feel it is important to science beyond a few laughs.

The Ig Nobel I feel, began as a bit of joke. It was meant to pick out the obscure, the pedantic and the near silly research that is overlooked and often buried in the masses of published articles, and allow researchers to have a bit of a giggle at themselves. It was started as a parody of the Nobel - while the Nobel is all about the big discoveries that move the world, the Ig Nobel rewards the exact opposite. It's about finding the most tedious,tiny result that matters only to the most specialised.  But the Ig Nobels have moved beyond a few laughs and highlighting just how obscure discovery can be.  This award is rapidly turning into something else with a bit more meaning. It's becoming a reflection on the reality of most of science and is a yearly celebration of the less glorious science. The  reality of science is that most research isn't big grand discoveries; it's a gradual, tedious piece by piece collection of knowledge.  It's three step forward, and two back. It's people who spend their lives engrossed by tiny steps in an enzymatic pathway, or a beetle found only on a tiny island or a motion of a planet lightyears away. The Ig Nobels represent all that is real about discovery. 

Finally, an award that represents most researchers. Image: IgNobel website

This year's Ig Nobel awards have once again highlighted questions we've all pondered, and the often obscure things that some people tackle as their life's work. The Ig Nobel motto is "designed to make you laugh, then think", and really I believe, more research needs to apply this motto. Once you get past the initial randomness or hilarity of a question, you realise there's actually a lot more depth there, and that seemingly silly or odd questions can produce surprising data. Big ideas do drive the overall scene, but the devil is in the detail, and so science moves slowly. Big ideas are great, but they aren't the reality of research. People need to know this, and appreciate it and sometimes the small and odd can have big answers or unexpected applications, and what better way to highlight this than an award that makes people laugh? The Ig Nobel prizes are therefore, important to public awareness of science, promotion of discovery and encouraging curiosity

While the Nobel prizes represent the big movers and shakers, these are effectively the 1% of the research world. The other 99% are collecting those tiny bits of knowledge that make the collective body of science, and thing is, they are equally vital, and they go hand in hand with the big discoveries. While it's important to have grand moves, without filling in the details, without the little bits of knowledge we never get a collective body of knowledge, we never confirm, and those leaps and bounds have no springboard. Those details, those random finds, they also deserve recognition.  The Ig Nobels represent the truth of science in all its obscurity, hilarity, frustration and brilliance.  

This is an award I think all of us scientists should aspire to. The Ig Nobels represent all that is great about research - odd questions, delving into the unknown, and having fun along the way. It's an award that inspires creativity and a being a little off beat, thus bringing a little fun to rigours of research. It is another way we can show the public the realities of science, and that it's not big leaps and bounds, but small and slow. But despite how it sounds, there's a lot of joy and beauty in that too.  And we have to face it, most of us scientists will never come close to taking a place on the Nobel stage. While it's nice to dream, we have to exist in reality. The random questions we ask ourselves are much more likely to result in an Ig Nobel than our chances of all making huge discoveries that change the scope of a scientific discipline. So for scientists, the Ig Nobel is important, it represents why we do science, and sometimes we need to be reminded that there is fun in discovery. Even better,  because it is so random really anybody can win, as the only requirements are that the research makes you laugh and it makes you think. Definitely easier than wrangling a Nobel committee member to nominate you! 

And just in case you are not convinced about how great the Ig Nobel prize is, I'll let the research speak for itself, with one of my favourite winners.  The Ig Nobel prize for Biology in 2011 was awarded to group who discovered jewel beetles (found in Western Australia) have a major case . It turns out the male beetles have a problem with how they perceive reality, and were mistaking the bumps on the bottom of beer bottles for female beetles, and were copulating with the bottle. But it didn't end there, the males actually had a preference for the bumps, and would refuse move even when attacked. This literally was a real world case of beer goggles. The researchers published and shortly after the bumps on beer bottles disappeared, though it's not confirmed whether the bottle manufacturers were concerned their design might lead to declining populations of the beetle, or it was just a coincidence. Sometimes what appears obscure, in fact, can have real world implications. Without those researchers who decided to examine just  what the jewel beetle was up to, who knows? We may have lost another species to extinction for a very obscure reason. You can read all about this awesome piece of work here, and here, and here.  

So I offer congratulations to both the winners of the 2016 Nobel Prizes and the 2016 Ig Nobel prizes. You're both, although in very different ways, equally valuable to the scientific community. 

For more on both awards:




Monday, September 26, 2016

On Not Understanding Racism: Experiences from the lab bench

It really seems in recent times, that you cannot look at any form of media without bearing witness to an 'opinion' that places judgement on groups of people, and suggests it is perfectly acceptable to exclude them. And it extends beyond the Facebook peanut gallery; in fact, it is a rhetoric echoed by the powers that are charged with governing and leading.  Whether it be Trump screaming that in order to make America great again a wall must be built to 'keep the Mexicans out', or the recent comments regarding Muslim immigration in Australia there seems to be a racist campaign of sorts, built on some sort of threat that is based on little more than where people in the world come from.

I don't get it.

Now based on the title of this post, you probably think my conclusions regarding the pointlessness and danger of racism come from scientific research or philosophy or somewhere else. And while yes, in part it does, and there is much academic work out there that supports a position that 'race' isn't a biological definition, that socially it's detrimental, that psychologically it is traumatic for those that experience it, this article is actually about my own experiences. The greatest lesson I have been taught about the detriment of racism in an unusual place - the lab bench. 

I really should've developed a racist attitude. The odds were stacked against me. I was prime fodder for the bigoted and racist demographic. I grew up in a small country town, and from our classes were 99% Caucasian. Small country towns are stereotyped for their narrow minded folk, and while this is a generalisation, there is a reason this stereotype exists.   Small towns run on cliques and stories about other people. So if you a different, you are prime target for intrigue and gossip. Small town folk are notoriously protective as well so again, if you are different, you can be seen as a threat.  Thankfully there are exceptions to this. Being the daughter of immigrants, I got to experience the 'small town mentality' first hand regarding "those with accents" and how it perpetuates trough the generations. Maybe this is what stopped those attitudes developing, I could never abandon who I was to 'fit' in. 

It wasn't until I moved to the city to go to university that I really encountered the true diversity of humanity: there were communities of Asians, Indians, Muslims, Africans etc.. It was at this time, I realised the typical small town views of immigrants thankfully, really seemed to have failed to  ingrain into my psyche. What I was taught in my childhood stuck - that it's not the colour of someone's skin but their words and deeds that make them worthy.

A few years later, I took my first job in a research lab, and it was here that I gained full appreciation for the dichotomy of humanity - we are so diverse yet all the same. Research is a truly global endeavour, and it's not unusual to have a lab group where every member is from a different country! Because of this type of globalisation, it just never factors in that someone is lesser because of where they are from, science is judged on the merits of the data not the race of the person who produced it. So for me, working with everyone from everywhere is the normal, but many people would be just in places just like my hometown, and thus would develop be easily able irrational fear of someone who is different to them. (Let me pause to say to those people: your fears are irrational and dangerous. People from other countries are just like you. They are humans. They have the same emotions, they deserve the same basic compassion and yes their skin might be a different colour, or they may dress differently, but they are just as kind or cruel as you). 

The people I worked with had left their homes and moved half way around the world just for the opportunity to work on a scientific problem. Many of these people left behind loved ones, their language, their culture in the name of discovery. Doing that is not easy. But I got to see something magical - regardless of where these people had come from, regardless of the colour of their skin, we all were working together to understand something fundamental about the world.
                                             An unlikely place that can enlighten about racism.(Image: Wikimedia commons

Since then, I've met many people at the lab bench. And they've all imparted something on me beyond the science - whether it be an appreciation for the place I live or work, a recipe, or even how to saw "hello" in Chinese, all of these experiences and sharing of ideas and cultures wouldn't have been possible with an attitude of hate. I think I'd be a far lesser person. A little patience and compassion has gone a long way. Science is exhausting and relentless and so, knowing you've got someone who accepts you, and who will help you, has been instrumental to getting me through the dark moments. I cannot fathom how someone who is struggling not only with the rigors of a life in research but also with being in a foreign place must feel.  But it is so much more than my own experiences - science is a truly global endeavour.  If you pick up a science paper today you'll see names that reflect this diversity - there will be researchers from all over the world. Racism and judgement threaten this very pursuit. 

Recently, I saw a clipping of a survey circa 1939, that questioned Americans regarding Jewish refuges from WWII being allowed to resettle in the USA. And the majority had voted against allowing Jewish immigration. Closer to home, we've been here before too, multiple times in fact (http://bzfd.it/2de6pDs)  Imagine if that 'majority' rule had influenced the immigration policy - the discoveries that would have been lost, the brilliant people who would have never been afforded the chance to reach their potential, but worst of all, the humanity that would have suffered simply due to fear mongering.  Back to the current day, we are facing the same thing. Polls echo the same sentiment - that we should lock certain groups out, that immigration is going to be the undoing of society. Have we not learnt from history? I fear, that rather than standing ground, those who lead will bow down to these calls for bans and lockdowns. And then I wonder, is the next person who will make big breakthrough currently sitting in detention, sleeping in a tent in a refugee camp, or walking through the desert? And what as humanity are we losing by turning our backs on fellow humans, simply because of where they come from? Based on my single experience, I would say what we stand to lose is immeasurable.

Inspiration often comes from the most unexpected places, and the lab bench probably isn't the first place you would think one would learn about compassion, tolerance and acceptance. But after nearly 10 years working science, I've seen the result of what happens when we replace racism, bigotry, xenophobia and hatred with patience, compassion and understanding. We make discoveries, we learn and gain knowledge, and we can work together to change the world around us. We achieve great things. And during that time I've bore witness to the same terrorism, crime and death as those who stand up and say that we should marginalise and lock other humans up. So I don't get it. And I probably never will. Singling people out, denying them opportunity, judging them, damages the collective that is humanity, it stifles us right through to how we make discoveries and innovate. I cannot understand why any reasonable person would support that.

So when faced with bigoted, racist opinions, I just do not understand why someone feels so threatened by an individual based on their skin colour, country of origin, their outfit or any other feature. I do not understand how people can judge someone on their appearance without having uttered a word to them. I do not understand racism, because if you have a racist attitude you are denying yourself opportunity. Do racist people not realise that the computers they use, the medicines that heal and the many products of science only exist because we broke those down those hateful barriers?


Thursday, August 25, 2016

Resurrection

It's been quite some time since I really posted on this blog. And overall, what once was a productive outlet has slowed and slowed, and rather pathetically ground to a halt.

I haven't lost my desire to write, or forgotten about this little page - in fact, it's been quite the opposite. I've been nearly constantly thinking about my interactions with the world, and it has emerged that communicating is something I hold very dear. Another thing I have a great love for is science. It was the bringing these together that got me started on this blog. But alas, life often gets in the way. Furthermore, I suffered a type of writer's block that many can identify with - one of identity. Sure, I love science, but what exactly should I write about? Who should I target as the audience of my writing? How do I make it different and original?

So for a long time, I grappled. I grappled with life, with work, with what it means to be a scientist who wishes to communicate with the world. I read. I took notes. I drew lots of diagrams. I did a whole lot of science. Made quite a bit of cake too. And gradually I started to figure out not only this blog but more broadly what I want to do, and who I am as a scientist. For life is short, and as much as I love biology, physics, and even a little bit of chemistry, I don’t have enough hours to pursue them all! So by streamlining I feel I've crafted a little more definition in where my communication will be heading.  It is a work in progress, and things will change and develop as life goes on. 

More broadly, the science community is facing the need for a large paradigm shift. Issues with funding, measures of success, and quality of research is affecting all disciplines. More specifically as a young researcher who is passionate about science, I face great challenges in even securing a job, the need to prove myself and very little longer term security. I speak not only of monetary security, but the security to see worthy and valid research published. Research is being conducted and evaluated on prestige and image, on how many over hyped news headlines it generates, rather than the quality of the data itself. Yet science is about the data, and we all sorely need to get back to this. We also need  some positivity, some action, some sharing of ideas and passion, and engagement with others - there's only so far being angry and cynical will go. Misery doesn't breed support, complaining too much is depressing, and aggressive crusades to prove points will alienate. Scientists need to get from behind the lab bench, create their own opportunities, and foster the relationships with those who use their discoveries. In part I believe this is through by sharing their experiences, by demonstrating that science is a very human and wonderful endeavour. We need to be proactive and craft the work culture we want, otherwise nothing will change. 

Within this is the intersection of society with the scientific. There is a great divide here. It's a chasm we desperately need to bridge - we need to change the perceptions of the academic, of research and science itself. The people who pay for our jobs, who will use our discoveries, mostly do this without even realising. Bridging that gap, however,  is a particular challenge as we currently are in a society where education is not applauded, critical thinking seems to be in  short supply, and overall, misinformation can easily take hold as people fall victim to their confirmation bias. People need help to learn the skills to separate fact from opinion, good sources of information from bad, and be able to critically evaluate information and how it can be applied to their own lives.

It is clear: scientists need the public's support. And the public needs us. We should be stepping out from behind the lab bench and engaging with people, inspiring people and most importantly, educating people.  So as a young scientist, I've been following these challenges, and the mass amounts of criticism levelled at the system. The problem has been identified, and now it's up to us - the scientists on the front line, the media, the public, really anybody who cares about our future, to change it.  I do think the changes are starting to be made and it hinges on this: Science shouldn't be for the few, science is for everyone. Everyone should care about how science is funded, how it is done and what it means. We all benefit from science and can use the skills behind the process of science.

How we address these challenges is wide and varied; whether it be free to access to primary research articles, citizen scientists helping analyse Kepler's data to completing shifting our paradigm of what science is, and who gets to do it - we all need to take action to change the system. Without that, we won't have valuable science in the future. We need to counter the celebration of ignorance, we need to be louder than those who promote  opinion as fact, who promote exclusion,  poor thinking and rally against education.  Most of all we need to value the process and support anybody who wants to learn more.

It is here where the identity of my blog lies. My little page I hope, is another piece toward enacting that change. As well as sharing research in my field and things I find interesting, I want to share my experiences and bring some humanity to the process of science. I want to provide a place for purveying of accurate, good information.  If I inspire at least one person to consider what science is, what it means to them, and see them apply this in their own community then I'll consider mission accomplished. While the focus will still be on sharing of  science in the realms of biology, genetics and applications of such, I also want to ensure I'm sharing my own perspective - the perspective of someone who has a day job that is incredibly rewarding; someone who has  the title of  'scientist'; who can see great joy in discovery and who is also caught smack bang in the challenges of research in the 21st century. I want to share my experience, because as I see it, there is a need for people in my situation to speak up. I want to bust the myth that science is for the few. Everyone can invent, discover and change the world around them.  I hope through my writing, I can inspire you to think a little more about science.


So consider "The Art of Recombination" resurrected.  Rising from the ashes of neglect and inactivity, is a little page of my own to share my experiences. I hope you enjoy the content I'll be bringing in the future. 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

On Justice and a Netflix Documentary.....

I know I'm getting on the bandwagon on this, but "Making a Murderer", is required watching. It should be shown in all legal studies classes.  In fact, it should be watched by anybody who is part of the criminal justice system – that is, everyone. I won't go into the story here, it's worth the time to watch the story unfold, and I might add, rather unbelievable that this even miscarriage of justice occurred. 

 Much like "The Jinx” and "The Staircase" it paints justice in grey, and you can’t help but feel that justice often goes to the highest bidder. That 'innocent until proved guilty' is just a saying; that verbal, coerced and biased testimony can rule over the physical evidence; that “justice” for the state can be a biased investigation, and a quick result to satisfy a lynch mob; that because someone has a job that is considered honourable, they are honourable; that the boy’s club is so corrupt it will go to great lengths, such great lengths it will take away another’s freedom.

 That it can be more important to protect the state than the citizen.

You realize that should you ever come up against a system that has deemed you guilty, your only chance of walking free will be if can afford to pay for years of investigation. Even then, in the face of the absurd and impossible, you may still find yourself going to jail.

And if you think it's just in the USA, after you watch this, then revisit the media regarding Baden-Clay. You might find yourself questioning what you really know about that case, where your opinions are coming from and about the media's role in what became a witchhunt, right here in Brisbane.  And while a very different case, like many others where the media rustles up the crowds, where the need for swift action and an outcome, what has now happened has made it near impossible for a) victims to get actual justice b) the guilty to be truly proven and, c) the innocent be exonerated.  


Finally, if you watch this doco and want to know more, particularly the extent of the innocent that are imprisoned, please look here: The Innocence Project