Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
Tags: crab, crustacean, the squat lobster
Tags: David Attenborough, Kingdom of Plants
Kingdom of Plants 3D with David Attenborough
Tags: African Leopard, gauteng south africa, Rhino and Lion Park
Tags: Biological Complexity and Integrative Pluralism, Dr Tamara Hocstrasser, Philosophy of Science, Sandra Mitchell, University of Pittsburgh, Unsimple Truths
Professor Mitchell is also the author of Biological Complexity and Integrative Pluralism, a collection of essays defending integrative pluralism as the best description for today’s complexity of scientific inquiry. Professor Mitchell argues that the tendency of some scientists to reduce all theories to a few fundamental laws of the most basic particles that populate our universe is not appropriate for the biological sciences, which study multi-component, multi-level, evolved complex systems.
I stumbled across the book while preparing a new module. It is called ‘Science and Society’ and is aimed a postgraduate students – students who want to engage in a reflective discussion. It is a module that was taught by our distinguished colleague – Dr Jim White, who has been and is an inspiration to many of us. His vast knowledge on many aspects of science including its history, philosophy and sociology gave him plenty of academic credential to teach this module, which unfortunately I never had the opportunity to attend. But I talked to Jim about the module and left his office with a reading list of about 50 books – some of which I had heard the titles of, others I was utterly unaware of. This literature as I learned later is called the HPS literature: the history, philosophy and sociology of science – plenty of academic disciplines studying us – our little community of scientists here in the School of Biology and Environmental Science, you may think…. .
I had to find an alternative to the 50 books. There was simply no way that I could do justice to this many schools of thought and as a non-historian, philosopher or sociologist, render the thinking in these books in an appropriate way. Instead I decided that this module is going to be about something else – in particular how ‘what science does’ changes when studying a complex system (as opposed to one that is amenable to an approach where all variables except the one you’re studying can be controlled). When I ordered the book I was already kind of excited. The jacket of the book declares: “A clear and engaging explanation of how nature’s complexity is forcing science to change. Real food for thought, especially for scientists.” So there was an exciting convergence there between a plan for a module that I dreamed up and what the book was promising to do.
I was not disappointed: the book is a superb and foremost EASILY ACCESSIBLE explanation of current insights in the complexity of nature. The stories in the book are about explaining depression, the social behaviour of insects, the flocking behaviour of birds, and the cause of cancer. But we may add to these examples the many examples of research in the school that could have been used as examples in the book: the explanation of plant disease in wheat (F. Doohan), the evolution of plants (J. McElwain) and canivores (J. Finarelli), or the effects of drought on plants (W. Fricke) – to name just a few. All of these research groups have spent years (and will spend many more) exploring the complexity of the systems that they are studying, identifying contingencies, emergent behaviour, multiple cause –effect pathways as they occur in robust complex systems. I can write this now, because I read the book. Before that – I could have probably told you the same thing, but in a much more inarticulate manner and with a feeling that I’m not quite doing justice to what scientists actually do. The reason for this was that my epistemology was influenced by an epistemology of science based on the success of the laws of Newton in explaining the world. Obviously science has moved on from that – and so has the philosophy of science, but unfortunately, there is often a lack of awareness in scientists that they are using the ‘old epistemology’ when it comes to explaining what they do (other than in a technical sense).
Did the book teach me anything new? Well, no, actually not. This is maybe one of the disappointments of the book, but in a way it may be based on the wrong expectation. Integrative pluralism as Sandra Mitchell is calling her epistemology is nothing that modern scientists (including myself) are unfamiliar with. The methods employed in science (and that I was trained in) have long moved on and allow the study of complex systems in technically very sophisticated ways and at many different scales. Is the book groundbreaking? Yes, it is. There is an interesting discrepancy here: the book is groundbreaking without offering anything new – how can this be? I think the book is groundbreaking in that it makes the scientific community aware of something I have been working with for years. When the scientific question is answered there is another task for science to do, which is to fit the answer into the ‘bigger puzzle’, that is to fit the answer s/he has given to the particular scientific question s/he has asked into a ‘network’ of explanation, together with all other answers that have been given to other questions about the same system. This work is very important if we want to get to the point where we understand complex systems and can only occur in large, interdisciplinary teams of scientists. I’m not saying that these teams don’t exist, but Sandra Mitchell’s book gave me the vocabulary to articulate why they exist and why they are important. Being able to articulate the importance of such research is of great current relevance, when there seems to be a fatigue with the seemingly unending call for more research as a response to policy questions ‘on how the world works’.
So – PLEASE read the book. It is short, easy to understand and simply sublime in its way of directing both scientists and policy makers towards an epistemology that can lead to more evidence-based and effective decision making in a complex world.
Sandra Mitchell 2009. Unsimple Truths – Science, Complexity, and Policy. University of Chicago Press.
“Science 140″ is a new project that uses crowdsourcing on social media to gather together science definitions and explanations within 140 characters – the length of a tweet.
The brains behind this unusual project are Irish science teacher Humphrey Jones of the popular Frogblog.ie science blog, fellow science blogger Maria Daly of Science Calling, and Paul O’Dwyer, an Irish dentist and science communicator.
As they explain on the Science140.org website:
What is #Science140 in less than 140 characters?
Science140 wants to collect short science definitions & explanations to collate & share them in a book. #science140
It’s a crowd-sourcing project – meaning we want people from across the web and twitterverse to share their ideas and descriptions to be included in the final product – a book! All proceeds will go to charity.
Five leading women in technology and science are encouraging young students to “walk in their stilettos” and see what a modern scientific career is really like, in this video launched by Women in Technology and Science (WITS).
Tags: Belfield, Spring, UCD
Tags: shamrock, St Patrick's Day
ON ST Patrick’s day, millions of people around the world will wear a sprig of “shamrock”. The tradition dates back many centuries, and the small, three-leafed (or trefoil) plant is famously a symbol of Irishness. Yet to scientists, it’s all a bit of a sham because – whisper it – botanically speaking, there is no such species as shamrock.
Check out this post by Mary Mulvihill in the Irish Times to learn more about the sham behind the shamrock.
Tags: Carbifor II, carbon sequestration, Dr Matthew Saunders, Duncan Stewart, Eco Eye, ecological, environment, irish forestry, Matt Saunders, UCD Research
As we face mounting environmental challenges and time begins to run out on turning the ecological corner, Eco Eye looks at ways that we can move toward a brighter future. This week Duncan looked at the benefit of using wood both as a construction material, and as a fuel, and also at the importance of responsible forestry.
It was with great sadness that we received the news of the death of our colleague Saúl Otero. Saúl, a native of Spain, was a post doctoral staff member in our school and on the blog today, former SBES school member, Julio Arroyo Herrero, has written a tribute to the memory of his friend. You are welcome to leave your comment in the space provided at the end of this post.
SAUL OTERO LABARTA, R.I.P. (1976-2011)
Post-Doctoral Researcher in the UCD School of Biology and Environmental Science.
Dr Saúl Otero, a post doc staff member of the SBES, has died after a short fight against cancer. His loss has saddened all the School and his closest laboratory collaborators and is an especially terrible blow for his family and widow.
Originally a biochemist, he joined the team headed by Bruce Osborne in UCD and worked there until he returned to his native Spain for treatment for his illness. He did his BSc in Zaragoza (Spain) and later completed his PhD in his native La Rioja.
The first time I met Saúl was before Christmas a few years ago. He was expected to start work the next year in UCD with a post doctoral grant, and one day Bruce Osborne asked for me in my lab. Bruce told me he had a new post doc from Spain and, being Spanish too, asked me if I could show him around the School and the rest of the building in order that he could do some administrative work related to his appointment.
Since we first met a sincere friendship started to grow until the ‘dammed’ cancer took him at the early age of 35.
Saúl was always enthusiastic in his work and eager to help PhD students. He built a great friendship with everybody in his lab but I think specially with a common friend and colleague, Matt Saunders, who must be devastated by his death.
I remember us having a nice pint on Fridays after work with guys such as Brendan or Eugene and sometimes Martin or Joe and our chats about almost everything, or playing football with some other people from the School.
Saul was from Logroño, the capital city of La Rioja, so close geographically and historically to my own place, Burgos that we shared a number of cultural and related interests. He was a proud Riojano and Spanish lad and we both recalled years of participating in Easter Week parades in the Spanish Semana Santa with brotherhoods, tunics and pointed hoods!
He told me of the pride he had for his family, and how proud he was of the Galician origin of his dad, mum, brother and girlfriend, now sadly a widow.
I never met Belen, his widow. We had scheduled for a day when they would visit me and my wife in Wicklow and have a drink and dinner all together …but sadly this will never happen.
We talked a lot of the future, our jobs and perspectives…and one day in the Forum bar he, out of the blue, told me: “I am going to get married”. We chatted a lot about his wedding and all the preparations that had to be done for the event in el Casino de Logroño …and I felt so happy for him.
A few months ago I went back to UCD for a few days, but I never met him. I was surprised and so I emailed him. He told me from Spain the bad news and the hardship of the treatment that he was undergoing.
I expected a full recovery from such an energetic guy. Now, sadly for me, I will never share another chat or a drink with him.
And, much more sadly, Belen has lost her husband, and his parents and brother have lost a son and a brother, at such a young age. And we have all lost a friend and a kind, helpful and sympathetic guy.
But I believe he is in a better place, with the Creator, and when I go, I will see him again in heaven and have a long chat there.
My thoughts are with his wife and family.
Descansa en paz Saúl, amigo. We will miss you.
Julio Arroyo Herrero