The scientific community has a responsibility to communicate the importance of primary research to the public; unfortunately this is not always done effectively. As a result, we often fight an uphill battle against misconceptions and ignorance about basic scientific issues that we study. It is incumbent on scientists to make an effort to educate the public through outreach programs about the importance of our research for addressing basic and applied problems in science and society. To this end, we have made efforts to develop relationships with the communities where we conduct our fieldwork, and to contribute to science education through participation and organization of groups involved in public outreach. Below you can read about some of the fun initiatives Barrett lab members are engaged in.
More than 10 scientists presented their work with art, theatre, animation and more at Ramène ta Science! Our lab participated in the My Thesis in 180 Seconds challenge to present our current work in speciation of Darwin’s finches and the importance of collaborative work in science. More specifically, we explained how new organisms can be created through the process of natural selection and how biodiversity is immensely important for ecosystem functioning and human populations. We were pleased to participate in a project making a direct connection between scientists and the public. You can watch the video of the event here (in French): https://www.facebook.com/ccstilarotonde.emse/videos/798827760282514/. Link: https://www.echosciences-loire.fr/articles/ma-science-en-180-secondes-par-marc-olivier. I am also helping to develop the exhibit promoting diversity in STEM at the Redpath Museum.
The importance of how science and scientists are perceived by the general public cannot be overstated. We often think of outreach as an extra thing on top of our research that – while is good to do, is ultimately somewhat optional. This paradigm needs to change. Science is a public endeavor supported by mostly public funds. We need justify our work and make it apparent that it is worth investing in for the good of everyone, especially in today’s political climate.
On April 20, 2017, I gave a public science talk to the Montreal Field Naturalists Club on how molecular genetics is revolutionizing the way we do conservation. I talked about how biologists use DNA from giant panda feces to estimate the number of wild pandas, which is partly the reason why they are no longer listed as an endangered species. I also talked about how environmental DNA of fish from feces, slime, etc. floating in lakes and rivers are being used to track invasive species of Asian Carp in the Mississippi River. Lastly, I talked about my research on using DNA from the bloodmeal of leeches to survey mammalian biodiversity in the Annamite forests of Vietnam and Laos.
I am also leading a working committee focused on developing an exhibit promoting diversity in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math/Medicine). The exhibit will be composed of three main parts: a physical exhibit, interviews of women and minority faculty & students in STEM at McGill, and an activity book intended to reach out to a younger audience. The Redpath Museum receives over 80,000 visitors annually, many of who are from under-represented groups on school trips. This is an opportunity for us as a community to show that we are going to be leaders in promoting diversity in STEM for future generations of scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and doctors to come. We hope to have the exhibit ready by Ada Lovelace day on October 10, 2017.
I also volunteer with “Lets Talk Science” (http://outreach.letstalkscience.ca/mcgill-university.html) to do science outreach to the general public. For example, we did an activity with visitors to the Redpath Museum where we blew carbon dioxide into red cabbage extract to simulate ocean acidification.
I try to make my research accessible to a broader, non-specialist audience. I’ve discussed my research with collaborator Brett Seymoure on butterfly coloration and mimicry on the Journal of Zoology podcast, and blogged about natural selection at the genetic level here. Offline, I love to chat about my research both formally (e.g., a presentation about local butterflies for the children of Castle School in Cambridge, UK) and informally with the many confused, curious people who have come across me in the field.
Ananda Regina Pereira Martins
I had the great opportunity to work as an intern in the NGO Fundacíon Avifauna Eugene Eisenmann. The institution has as its main project the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center, an interactive nature center responsible for promoting Panamanian bird conservation, developing sustainable tourism and educational programs regarding sustainability, and working with the Panamanian community to administrate protected areas. During my internship I was involved in different sectors of the NGO, from administrative to daily maintenance tasks. One of the most satisfying moments was to take part in a project to raise emergence funds for the center, which is facing monetary difficulties and problems with floods and damaged trails. The center is a wonderful place to have an authentic experience of the lowland tropical rainforest and get in contact with environmental and conservation values. It worth knowing and contributing to the growth of this project. For more information: http://www.pipelineroad.org
As an early stage scientist, I feel the responsibility to communicate with the public on topics relating to science, especially biology-related issues. I noticed that biological invasions have increasingly become a threat to food safety and human health for many countries such as China, where agriculture is well developed or population is concentrated. To this end, I have posted blogs, given talks to students in secondary schools, and volunteered in remote areas addressing the basic concepts and possible consequences of biological invasions.
Scientists have the duty to communicate their research to the general public. That is why Ihave made efforts to contribute to scientific education both in the field and in Montreal. I have presented my research to the small community of Frankville/Havre Boucher, Nova Scotia. I regularly do scientific activities with kids from the Mile End Science Club for kids. We recently organized a tour of the Redpath Museum and our fish and molecular labs. We also did DNA extractions on strawberries using dish soap.
I am also a member of the beekeeping collective of Santropol Roulant (https://www.facebook.com/apiculturesantropolroulant). I am also participating in an Art project in southern France around the theme of diversity. The artist is Anne Calas http://www.annecalas.com/.