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Category → Public Understanding of Science

Talking fungi at Skeptically Speaking

A brainy, free, and fun online and radio chat-type call-in show on all things science. Hosted by Desiree Schell and edited by K.O. Myers. Awesomesauce. From Canada, of course.

Well, if you’re looking for something to do during Super Bowl halftime than watch Madonna, you’re welcome to join me online for the wildly-successful science radio show, Skeptically Speaking.

With Edmonton-based host Desiree Schell (@teh_skeptic) and her US-based producer K.O. Myers (@KO_Myers), we’ll be discussing the secret lives of fungi, particularly as related to the synthesis of secondary metabolites that we use as therapeutic agents.

If you’re able to join us live, we’ll be at this UStream.tv page at 8 pm Eastern, 6 pm Mountain. On the chat bar at the right of the page, you can follow the online discussion and submit questions of your own.

I hope that you can dial us in. If not, the complete podcast will be downloadable on the evening of February 10.

Drugs of Abuse Tag-Team at Skeptically Speaking

A brainy, free, and fun online and radio chat-type call-in show on all things science. Hosted by Desiree Schell and edited by K.O. Myers. Awesomesauce. From Canada, of course.

I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by Canadian radio host Desiree Schell for her wildly-successful show, Skeptically Speaking. The episode on which yours truly appears can be accessed here.

Launched in March 2009, the show airs live on Sunday evenings at 6 pm Mountain Time on UStream where one can discuss the show and asks questions by live chat. The show also includes a previously recorded segment with another scientist and is then edited and distributed for rebroadcast to stations and networks across North America. The shorter pre-recorded segment where I appeared to speak about my most popular topic of the last two years on this blog, synthetic marijuana compounds.

I’m not entirely guilty of self-promotion here because I primarily wanted to mention that the first two-thirds of the show – the live part – was an interview with my neuropharmacologist friend, Scicurious, author of The Scicurious Brain blog at the Scientific American blog network and Neurotic Physiology at Scientopia. Sci has a gift for offering laser-sharp science in a hip, conversational manner.

Here’s how the Skeptically Speaking team describes the show:

With humour, enthusiasm and a lot of curiosity, Skeptically Speaking guides you through the fascinating world of science and critical thinking. We interview researchers, authors and experts to help listeners understand the evidence, arguments and science behind what’s in the news and on the shelves. A basic understanding of science, combined with a little bit of skepticism, goes a long way.

Note: The term “skepticism” may be new to you. If that’s the case, click here.

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Reddit AMA with Neil deGrasse Tyson

Neil deGrasse Tyson. Credit: Patrick Queen/Columbia Magazine

I don’t know how many of you tune-in to these “Ask Me Anything” discussion threads at Reddit but I’ve been grooving on them since our colleague Derek Lowe did one back in March. In general, people of note can either propose their own session or be nominated to do so. Folks can ask them any question and the Reddit thread reflect their responses and discussion by others.

Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of the giants in public communication of science. An astrophysicist who has been been the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium for the last 15 years, Tyson will soon re-launch Carl Sagan’s Cosmos

series. The complete thread of Tyson’s AMA can be found here.

Here’s one of his answers that may hold special appeal to our C&EN readers:

Question: If you think 5 and 10 years from now, what are you most looking forward to in science? Any expectations?

Tyson: Cure for Cancer. Fully funded space exploration. Physics recognized as the foundation of chemistry. Chemistry recognized as the foundation of biology. And free market structured in a way that brings these discoveries to market efficiently and effectively.

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Call For Social Media Success Stories in Academia

"Do you know the way to San Jose?" (with apologies to Dionne Warwick, Burt Bacharach, and Hal Davis, 1968)

We’re packing up the world headquarters of Terra Sigillata this afternoon and high-tailing it out to San Jose, California, for the annual meeting of SACNAS – the Society Dedicated to Advancing Hispanics, Chicanos, and Native Americans in Science. It’s a tremendous organization comprised of several of my former students and faculty colleagues from over the years and I’m ecstatic about reconnecting with them.

With the initiative of my colleagues – Alberto Roca of MinorityPostdoc.org and Danielle Lee of The Urban Scientist at Scientific American blogs (plus a whole host of online activities) – we pitched and were accepted to present a session on Blogging, Tweeting, & Writing: How an Online Presence Can Impact Science and Your Career.

I’ll be discussing how a responsible, online presence on blogs, Twitter, and Facebook can enhance networking opportunities for graduate students, postdocs, and faculty. Specifically, I’ll introduce how I’ve increased the exposure of my students who are RISE Scholars at North Carolina Central University. In this NIGMS-funded grant, I’ve been helping my students capture their research experiences in their own words (with previous review by their P.I.’s of course, to prevent accidental disclosure of unpublished data). The students have been surprised by the level of engagement and support they’ve received in the comments from scientists all around the world.

But I know of many other students who use blogs and Twitter to engage with the scientific community in ways that brings them positive recognition outside of their academic and laboratory work.

To better prepare for this session, I’d like to gather some advice from you, Dear Reader:

Who are some of students, trainees, and junior faculty, who best exemplify the use of social media for career advancement?

Are you a student who has had Good Things happen to you because of your social media activities? How did that transpire?

If you have any responses, please drop a link in the comments with a brief explanation – or longer if you’d like! And also feel free to recommend the sites and stories of others. I’ll be sure to promote your responses in tomorrow’s talk and direct attendees to this post for future reference.

The three of us thank you so much in advance for your suggestions!

What does Jonathan Sweedler think of bloggers? #scio12

Professor Jonathan V. Sweedler, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Credit: The Sweedler Research Group website (click for source).

We just learned yesterday from C&EN’s Linda Wang that Dr. Jonathan Sweedler has been named as successor to Dr. Royce Murray as editor of Analytical Chemistry


The next editor-in-chief of Analytical Chemistry will be Jonathan V. Sweedler, James R. Eiszner Professor of Chemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) and director of the Roy J. Carver Biotechnology Center, the American Chemical Society, publisher of the journal, has announced.

Sweedler will succeed Royce W. Murray, professor of chemistry at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who will retire from the journal at the end of this year. Murray has served as editor-in-chief of Analytical Chemistry since 1991. Sweedler, currently an associate editor of the journal, will take over the position on Jan. 1, 2012.

Regular readers of Analytical Chemistry have grown accustomed to Dr. Murray’s colorful and lively editorials in each issue. Discussion of one of these, on the “phenomenon” of science bloggers as a serious concern to scientists (“Science Blogs and Caveat Emptor”), was my most highly-read and commented post since we joined GlobCasino.

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On journalists copy-checking with scientist sources

Should science journalists solicit scientist sources to fact-check article content prior to publication?

Or do scientists have no more right to do so than, say, politicians previewing the latest criticism of their policies.

"Just try fact-checking with me, pal." The legendary Helen Thomas. Credit: helenthomas.org

I have to admit that I had not quite anticipated the magnitude of interest in these questions when I first wrote about the topic in late September at my Take As Directed blog on the PLoS Blogs network.

The backstory: I had been watching an episode of Vincent Racaniello’s excellent netcast, This Week in Virology (TWiV), from the the International Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy (ICAAC) in mid-September. The first 35 minutes saw Vincent and Rich Condit turn the tables to interview Chicago Tribune science and medical reporter, Trine Tsouderos. Trine is perhaps best-known of late for her coverage of the faulty link between XMRV and chronic fatigue syndrome as well as the suspension of Dr. Mark Geier, a physician using a chemical castration drug to treat people with autism.

Trine mentioned in the interview that she often runs passages of complex science from her articles past the scientists she had interviewed for the piece. She doesn’t do so for approval or in any way to affect the tone of her writing but rather to be sure that she has interpreted the scientific findings accurate (my words, not hers).

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Radiochem query in the school parking lot

So, I saw this today after dropping off PharmKid at her elementary school – a great homemade car sun visor:

Natural isotopic abundance fun in the elementary school parking lot. Credit: DJ Kroll/Terra Sigillata

Do you know the answer? Actually, first things first: do you know what the question is asking?

We’ll give a little more information later. I have no idea who the teacher or parent is who has this visor – the school goes from kindergarten to 5th grade and while I think our kids are brilliant, I’m not sure they will know the answer to the question.

I’ll just say for now that this visor brought me back to my radioisotopes undergraduate class at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science where the late Dr. Grafton Chase asked us to calculate the amount of radioactivity in a cargo ship full of bananas.

“Alex, I’ll take ‘Public Chemistry Literacy’ for $1,000″

Nothing, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, on this planet IS CHEMICAL-FREE. Any questions?


“Okay, Public Chemistry Literacy for $1,000. . .”

“The answer is, ‘Absolutely nothing.’”



What things on Planet Earth are “chemical-free”?

Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding!

Tonight in the United States (and maybe even in Canada), the legendary game show, Jeopardy!, will be dedicated to questions on chemistry in celebration of 2011 as the International Year of Chemistry. Here are the details from the IYC website:

Jeopardy!, one of North America’s leading syndicated game shows, will feature questions related to chemistry and IYC in an episode airing in the United States and Canada on June 21, 2011.

With its 9 million daily viewers, Jeopardy! provides the perfect venue for publicizing the IYC’s message – to celebrate chemistry and the contributions that it makes to society, and to increase the interest and public appreciation of chemistry.

Watch Jeopardy! on June 21 and play along with the contestants to test your knowledge of chemistry. The show can be viewed in the United States on ABC-TV (check local listings for air times in your area).

And for those of you playing along at home, @CASChatter will be live-tweeting beginning at 7:30 pm EDT.

Perhaps I shall as well.