Informative and/or fun conversations between the geological community on Twitter, archived for posterity.
Are geologists mostly lefties?
- Fellow all-geo blogger Simon Wellings had noticed something weird about some of the geologists he went to school with: 4 in 10 of them were left-handed.
- This compares to only about 1 in 10 of the wider population being left handed, according to the Internet.
- The question Simon had was: was his anecdotal observation meaningful. If it is, interesting research might ensue. I decided to help out with the data collection by asking Twitter.
- A few fellow lefties chimed in:
- But a horde of right-handed geo-types were also weighing in.
- “@Allochthonous: Quick twitter poll! I’m a mostly left handed geologist. If you’re a geo-type, RT with your preferred hand!”Current score: 6 lefties (if we include Simon and I) and 14 righties. Of course, this is not an either/or question: I myself am mildly ambidextrous (I have different dominant hands for different things, and could do a fair number with both) and it appears I’m not alone.So now we have 6 leftie, 14 righty, 4 ambi. In percentage terms, this works out as 25% left-handed, 15% ambidextrous and 60% right-handed. Twitter therefore supports the notion that we have more than our fair share of lefties, although the sample size is small. Some people also provided data from their peer groups that also point in this direction.Of course, this is still all anecdotal, but it is interesting. I wonder if there’s also a story in what seems to be a high proportion of mixed-handed and ambidextrous geologists. But finding out will require…. MORE SCIENCE!!
To lecture, or not to lecture?
- From time to time, a story hits the media that decries that bastion of undergraduate education, the lecture. It’s too passive, the criticism goes; it encourages rote memorisation rather than promoting conceptual understanding. Cue interesting discussion on Twitter, because some geologists aren’t willing to give up on the lecture quite yet…
- So at least some geoscientists see a place for the ‘sage on the stage’ - and Erik is a lecturer himself.
- It’s less exciting than the ‘total teaching revolution!’ angle, but the consensus seems to be that adapting the lecture format to include more interactive aspects is the best strategy. But it is not without its challenges.
- Clickers are quite big at the moment. I saw a poster at AGU which was experimenting with a mobile web app rather than dedicated equipment (although smart phones are still not cheap).
- But we digress…
- This is a good point - those who end up doing the teaching are those who did well under the current system. This might lead to a skewed perspective of it’s overall effectiveness.
- Just to show that there are no simple answers here, Lockwood reminds us that there truly is nothing new under the sun:
- It seems that we might need more data, then.
- This is indeed a problem, although in many ways it is a rational response by the students to the system they find themselves in.So lecturing is not dead. Nor is it perfect, but nor should it be killed. I support this point with reference to another educational tool that gets a lot of bad press:
Teaching through blogs and tweeting: possible, or a pipe dream?
To blog your research, or not to blog your research?
- Our starting point is an opinion piece in the Guardian by Sarah Kendrew (@sarahkendrew) which took on some negative opinions expressed about blogging in a Q+A by physicists Brian Cox (TVs current stand-in-exotic-place-staring-moodily-into-space icon) and Jeff Forshaw.
- How you feel about this issue depends on how you interpret the scope of the question (and the answers) and Sarah’s piece makes some excellent points about how in physics at least, things like the arXiv pre-print server make things much less clear-cut than they once were; findings are making the news before they have been formally peer-reviewed and published. But that’s not quite the same as blogging your results as you get them (which, as Sarah also points, out, some people are trying out too). Over to Brian Romans:
- As demonstrated by the link above, Brian is an exemplar of using his blog to provide a more accessible account of his own research; but, as he says, only after it has been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
- Which is exactly what Brian did:
- Of course, one of the assumptions of the discussion thus far is that the current peer review+publication model, whilst not without its problems, is ‘a bad system that just happens to be better than all the other possible ones’. Not everyone agrees with this, and criticisms in the open/closed debate often spill into criticism of the current system of peer review, too.
- Of course, this is a bit of a digression. It seems the consensus in the geoblogosphere is that blogging about your research is that it should accompany publication, rather than replace it. But we still think there is something to learn from the physicists:
What’s being erupted at El Hierro
The eruption at El Hierro in the Canary Islands is taking place under the sea, but pictures from the scene are starting to show products of the eruption floating to the surface. But what are they? Read on for a crash cause in volcanic rocks that can float.
The undersea eruption has manifested at the surface in the form of a plume of dirty brown water.
|Experimental Crystallization of a High-K Arc Basalt: the Golden Pumice, Stromboli Volcano (Italy)|
The near-liquidus crystallization of a high-K basalt (PST-9 golden pumice, 49·4 wt % SiO2, 1·85 wt % K2O, 7·96 wt % MgO) from the present-day activity of Stromboli (Aeolian Islands, Italy) has been experimentally investigated between 1050 and 1175°C, at pressures from 50 to 400 MPa, for melt H2O concentrations between 1·2 and 5·5 wt % and ΔNNO ranging from −0·07 to +2·32.
Photo of Alaskan scoria.
A Tweet’s eye view of GSA
The use of Twitter at scientific conferences is still limited to a small fraction of those in attendence, but there are enough nowadays for someone who is following the official hashtag (because there will be one) to get a flavour of what is going on. Find out for yourself thanks to Dr. Laura Guertin, who has archived some of the more memorable tweets from the just-finished Geological Society of America conference using Storify. Read about the obsessions with coffee and beer, and, the cooing over plush trilobites and stream tables, and, yes, some references to some of the cool science presented and argued over during the conference.
You can also see some (limited, because I didn’t think to look into it before now) statistics for the #GSAMinn hashtag. I think the only real conclusion that can be drawn is that Twitter is still a long way from reaching a tipping point in the wider realms of academia.
GSA Jumps the Kraken?
The kooky conference abstract that no-one takes seriously inevitably becomes the star of the show.
Our story begins a couple of weeks ago, when a geotweep looking through the abstracts for the upcoming Geological Society of America conference comes across a rather…. fanciful…submission.
|TRIASSIC KRAKEN: THE BERLIN ICHTHYOSAUR DEATH ASSEMBLAGE INTERPRETED AS A GIANT CEPHALOPOD MIDDEN|
The Luning Formation at Berlin‑Ichthyosaur State Park, Nevada, hosts a puzzling assemblage of at least 9 huge (≤14 m) juxtaposed ichthyosaurs (Shonisaurus popularis). Shonisaurs were cephalopod‑eating predators comparable to sperm whales (Physeter). Hypotheses presented to explain the apparent mass mortality at the site have included: tidal flat stranding, sudden burial by slope failure, and phytotoxin poisoning.
We all had a good chuckle about this on Twitter, but the odd eccentric conference submission is not unusual (getting an abstract accepted for a conference is light years away from getting a paper accepted for publication in terms of the scientific scrutiny involved), so we quickly moved on to other ways of distracting us from the talks we should be writing.
But it seems that within the press office of the GSA, someone looked past the lack of compelling evidence to find the compelling headline. And thus, we get this:
|GSA press release - Giant Kraken Lair Discovered|
Boulder, CO, USA - Long before whales, the oceans of Earth were roamed by a very different kind of air-breathing leviathan. Snaggle-toothed ichthyosaurs larger than school buses swam at the top of the Triassic Period ocean food chain, or so it seemed before Mount Holyoke College paleontologist Mark McMenamin took a look at some of their remains in Nevada.
|Giant ‘kraken’ lair discovered: Cunning sea monster that preyed on ichthyosaurs|
Long before whales, the oceans of Earth were roamed by a very different kind of air-breathing leviathan. Snaggle-toothed ichthyosaurs larger than school buses swam at the top of the Triassic Period ocean food chain, or so it seemed before paleontologist Mark McMenamin took a look at some of their remains in Nevada.
|Giant prehistoric krakens may have sculpted self-portraits using ichthyosaur bones|
For decades, paleontologists have puzzled over a fossil collection of nine Triassic icthyosaurs (Shonisaurus popularis) discovered in Nevada’s Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park. Researchers initially thought that this strange grouping of 45-foot-long marine reptiles had either died en masse from a poisonous plankton bloom or had become stranded in shallow water.
And so on. And so on. Which leads to much headdesking and rending of hair:
|The Giant, Prehistoric Squid That Ate Common Sense|
We have a serious problem with science journalism. A big one, in fact, and today that problem takes the form of a giant, prehistoric squid with tentacles so formidable that it has sucked the brains right out of staff writer’s heads.
|“||@Allochthonous I recommend checking out the kraken abstract author’s faculty profile for insight: http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/facultyprofiles/ma_mcmenamin.html|
|Mark McMenamin :: Academics :: Mount Holyoke College|
SpecializationEvolution and history of life; evolution of the atmosphere; Ediacaran fossils; Hypersea theory; Proterozoic supercontinent Rodinia; Vladimir Vernadsky’s The Biosphere; Corneille Jean Koene; Pierre Teilhard de Chardin; convergent evolution; development and spread of biological and human innovations Whether he’s teaching an introductory course on the History of Life or embarking on an archeological expedition, geologist and paleontologist Mark McMenamin maintains a spirit of disc…
Also, people started wondering exactly why the press office of a professional geological society was promoting what is essentially speculative link-bait.
But no-one has to ponder is why this story got so much traction in the first place.
Fear the quake, ignore the volcanoes?
Another day, another example of California quake fear-mongering, in the form of a piece ‘reporting’ on a paper just published in Nature Geoscience.
|Scientists Say California Mega-Quake Imminent - weather.com|
by Becky Kellogg , on Jun 27, 2011 11:57 am ET
Note to Weather Channel. This internet thing makes it quite easy to link to stuff. Observe (although note that full access requires a subscription).
|Loading of the San Andreas fault by flood-induced rupture of faults beneath the Salton Sea : Nature Geoscience : Nature Publishing Group|
The southern San Andreas fault terminates in a stepover zone [mdash] several small faults that separate major fault segments [mdash] beneath the Salton Sea. Analysis of movements on the stepover zone faults indicates that periodic flooding of the palaeo-Salton Sea during the late Holocene could have triggered earthquakes on the San Andreas fault.
|Earthquake hazards: Rivers, rifts and ruptures : Nature Geoscience : Nature Publishing Group|
The southern San Andreas fault is due for a large earthquake. Seismic images of sediments deposited in an ancient lake overlying the southern end of the fault indicate that episodic flooding may have triggered earthquakes in the past.
Certain Italian seismologists would probably have some thoughts on whether even being perceived to have said something like that is a good idea.
But there was another issue raised by the article: Californians are apparently rather blase about the potential volcano geohazard in the sunshine state.
Tsunami/Tidal Wave 9%
Other/No Opinion 6%
Below: a map of ‘active’ (known to have erupted in last 10,000 years) volcanoes in California, from the Smithsonian’s Global Volcanism Program.
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Quake Prediction is impossible - and @QuakePrediction sucks
You can’t predict earthquakes in the ‘be somewhere else next Tuesday sense’. Geologists would love it if we could. We don’t love it so much when people claim that they can predict earthquakes, needlessly scaring thousands of people in the process.
Perrykid asks a question which many probably ask when they see junk like this:
So, a fairly unanimous verdict of ‘bogus’: and is this a conflict of interest we see before us?
The worst thing is: the Quakeprediction twitter account has 16,000 perpetually misinformed followers.
I was interested in seeing exactly what effect @Quakeprediction’s scaremongering was having: a quick Twitter search revealed some heartening skepticism.
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