Science & Technology

Science Round-up: Data visualization literacy, adding art and design to STEM, dieting mosquitoes

Creativity and collaboration: Revisiting cybernetic serendipity

Abraham Lincoln founded the US National Academy of Sciences in 1863 by way of an Act of Congress. The National Academy of Sciences Congressional Charter stipulated a nongovernmental advisory organization of scholars whose role was to “investigate, examine, experiment, and report upon any subject of science or art.” That charter, which combined “science and art” came at a time in which those disciplines were seen as closely related, maybe still infused with the spirit of Renaissance thinkers, such as Leonardo da Vinci, whose brilliant integration of art, design, science, and engineering produced astonishing breakthroughs and bold creations that have endured for 500 y. Leonardo’s training as an artist enabled him to make more accurate medical drawings, see the movement of bird wings, understand the dynamics of flowing water, and much more.

Citizen science frontiers: Efficiency, engagement, and serendipitous discovery

Citizen science has proved to be a unique and effective tool in helping science and society cope with the ever-growing data rates and volumes that characterize the modern research landscape. It also serves a critical role in engaging the public with research in a direct, authentic fashion and by doing so promotes a better understanding of the processes of science. To take full advantage of the onslaught of data being experienced across the disciplines, it is essential that citizen science platforms leverage the complementary strengths of humans and machines. This Perspectives piece explores the issues encountered in designing human–machine systems optimized for both efficiency and volunteer engagement, while striving to safeguard and encourage opportunities for serendipitous discovery. We discuss case studies from Zooniverse, a large online citizen science platform, and show that combining human and machine classifications can efficiently produce results superior to those of either one alone and how smart task allocation can lead to further efficiencies in the system. 

Before we pop below the line, I want to give a shout out to the Daily Bucket, Dawn Chorus, and all the other citizen science activities that take place on Daily Kos on a regular basis. Good on you, people. Also, I love Zooniverse and am a regular participant. I’ve spoken with the folks there several times about focusing some of DK’s energy on their site, and I certainly intend to do just that in the near future.

Science Literacy

CBS News: School cancels Darwin musical after protest from handful of parents.Sophie Lewis

This one isn’t quite what you might expect. For one thing, the school isn’t in the United States, it’s in the UK. Also the parents claim they weren’t upset that the play contained information on evolution, though … that seems a little open to debate.

About 90 students were preparing to perform "Darwin Rocks!," a musical about Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution, next month at Hartford Manor Primary School — a non-religious school in Cheshire. According to BBC News, six parents expressed concern over they portrayal of Christian views throughout the show, which is aimed at 7-to-11-year-olds

After some parents—presumably, a subset of those six out of ninety parents—threatened to pull their kids from the show, the school did the thing that schools do. They cancelled the whole performance. So the kids who had been rehearsing for the musical are surely thrilled about that.

Several parents said they felt the school made the wrong choice in canceling the show. "It really does feel like a huge step backwards," parent Alan McDonald told The Independent. "It doesn't seem evenhanded or in any way right."

There’s a reason it feels that way.

PNAS: Forget STEM. Remember STEAMM+D.Sara Diamond

Merriam-Webster defines imagination as “the act of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality”; imagination combines “creative ability” and “resourcefulness.” This paper considers two interdisciplinary fields in which distinct approaches have sought a solution to the “imagination gap” and have resulted in new research questions, methods, outcomes, and even philosophies. These are science, technology, engineering, arts, math, medicine, and design (STEAMM+D) and Indigenous research that establishes questions and methods from an integrated interdisciplinary worldview and the individual’s responsibilities toward community and land. By intertwining these approaches, it is possible for science and society to apply creative problem solving in addressing complex challenges, thereby fostering sustainable innovation.

Personally, I’d argue that math is one of the sciences, so you could easily drop and M. But then, medicine would seem to be just specialized engineering and … It’s okay, I can get used to it. And I certainly like the idea that arts and design are merged here with science and engineering.

PNAS: Data visualization literacyKaty Börner, Andreas Bueckle, and Michael Ginda

In the information age, the ability to read and construct data visualizations becomes as important as the ability to read and write text. However, while standard definitions and theoretical frameworks to teach and assess textual, mathematical, and visual literacy exist, current data visualization literacy (DVL) definitions and frameworks are not comprehensive enough to guide the design of DVL teaching and assessment. This paper introduces a data visualization literacy framework (DVL-FW) that was specifically developed to define, teach, and assess DVL. 

Climate change

Science: Climate change vs. the potato.Erik Stokstad

On a bleak, brown hill here, David Ellis examines a test plot of potato plants and shakes his head. “They're dead, dead, dead,” he says. Pests and lack of rain have laid waste to all 17 varieties that researchers had planted. It is a worrying sign for Ellis, the now-retired director of the gene bank at the International Potato Center (CIP) in Lima. People have grown potatoes in this rugged stretch of the Andes for thousands of years. In recent years, that task has gotten tougher, in part because of climate change. Drought and frost are striking more often. The rains come later, shortening the growing season. And warmer temperatures have allowed moths and weevils to encroach from lower elevations.

In the US, we’re used to seeing potatoes in only a few varieties, generally large brown objects designed to become French fries. But the Incas grew hundreds of varieties, and over four thousand types exist. It’s an extraordinarily versatile, malleable little tuber, adaptable to most any conditions. Which makes the declining productivity in areas close to the plant’s origin especially upsetting.

In Peru and around the world, enhancing the potato has become a high priority. It is the most important food crop after wheat and rice. Potatoes are already a staple for 1.3 billion people, and the nutritious tubers are becoming increasingly popular in the developing world. Keeping up with the demand means adapting the potato to various soils and climates. It must also resist new threats from pests, disease, heat, and drought.

Be sure to watch this little video to the end.

We are in unknown territory, and as much as we try to predict the effects of unprecedented warming, there are going to be plenty that haven’t been seen in advance.


PNAS: Cognitive ability in old age is predetermined by age 20 Denise Park

One of the major scientific problems of the 21st century is determining how to maintain cognitive vitality in late adulthood and prevent age-related cognitive decline. There is considerable evidence that adults age 60 y and older have better cognition in late adulthood when they maintain an active lifestyle, engage in cognitively stimulating leisure activities, and have advanced education and occupations of high complexity. It appears that a lifetime of such engagement builds a neurocognitive reserve or creates additional neural circuitry that protects cognitive function in later years. Other studies have shown that an overall level of high cognitive ability (intelligence) is an important component of late-life cognitive resilience and may even delay a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease by months or years.

That all sounds good. If you get off the couch now and then, keep your mind active, educate yourself, and are generally a somewhat clever person in the first place, you can fend off the horrors—and they are horrors—of cognitive decline. Only …

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