The public hungers for stories about morphological research!


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My talk at the International Conference on Vertebrate Morphology in Barcelona, Spain on 10 July, 2013, in a symposium on "Morphology: The Great Integration. Contemporary Relevance of an Old Field."

Note: the images in this presentation show dissections of long-dead animals and so may be upsetting or unpleasant to some viewers. No animals were killed for the purpose of dissection. Dissections shown were part of normal postmortem veterinary investigations, with scientific research benefiting from that opportunity as well.

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The public hungers for stories about morphological research!

  1. 1. The public hungers for stories about morphological research! Professor John R Hutchinson Structure & Motion Lab, CBS Dept. The Royal Veterinary College University of London United Kingdom Twitter: @JohnRHutchinson
  2. 2. TALK IS ONLINE AT: Professor John R Hutchinson Structure & Motion Lab, CBS Dept. The Royal Veterinary College University of London United Kingdom Twitter: @JohnRHutchinson
  3. 3. My team Zoos providing specimens Tweeps, pinners & bloggers RVC, SMLab Symposium organizers Muchas gracilis!
  4. 4. Morphological research: more than just publication-centred outreach? By Luis ReyBy Julia Molnar
  5. 5. Morphological research: more than publication-centred outreach? By Julia Molnar
  6. 6. Why anatomy/morphology? anatomy function performance phylogeny ontogeny ecologyevolution health
  7. 7. Beauty is anatomy Anatomy is beauty Why anatomy/morphology?
  8. 8. Are the glory days gone? ModernVictorian
  9. 9. “Genetics as a whole is the great over-hyped science, and geneticists know that even if they don't say it. All that genetics really is is anatomy plus an enormous research group grant. It's what anatomists did in the fifteenth century-looking at the heart and seeing how it worked. Now, we are doing the same with DNA.” — Steve Jones, geneticist, UCL; The Observer (14/9/2002). “Anatomy is to physiology as geography is to history; it describes the theatre of events.” — Jean François Fernel, doctor in France; De Naturali Parte Medicinae Libri Septem (1542) Attitudes toward morphology, including its ‘‘value,’’ are changing because new tools and methods apply so broadly to major biological questions. I predict that morphology will be well represented in this more-synthetic approach to biological research. The questions will become the drivers; a greater diversity of techniques, including the morphological, will be applied to their analysis. — Marvalee Wake, J Herpetol (2012),
  10. 10. Morphology has evolved Tools Molecular Microscopic Medical imaging Histochemical Computerized Methods Phylogenetics Biomechanics Statistics Simulation More data accessible, more questions answerable More integration with other disciplines Still a LOT left to study! OPPORTUNITY -- also to show others!
  11. 11. (Social) Media & Morphology- Examples Image-based- Pinterest, Flickr etc. Youtube Short format text/images- Twitter Facebook/Google+ Long format- Blogging (Wordpress, tumblr) Documentaries…? It’s about conversations
  12. 12. Animal Anatomy Social Media Hits Witmerlab– Facebook, YouTube The Brain Scoop–YouTube, blog(tumblr), Twitter, Facebook Tetrapod Zoology- blog, podcast, Twitter, Facebook But generally online: Palaeontology, Evolution strong Morphology/Anatomy weaker
  13. 13. Big success: public exhibits, books, internet, TV… Proves public interest Where was the morphological science? Could be done better! More: -anatomists-view-inside-animal-inside-out/ Popularity of surgery/medicine programmes... Bodyworlds/Animal: Inside Out
  14. 14. Compile/share ~any online images/videos “Pin” (link/feature) on personal/shared “board” (page) Interaction: Likes, Comments, Repins 1. Pinterest
  15. 15. Quick science image-based communication 48.7M Pinterest users… Under-utilized by science! Copyright issues! Me: 6 boards, 1963 pins 615 followers; not bad (<1 yr). 9 June, 2013: Image (from Reddit) showing how owl’s eyeball can be seen through its ear goes “viral”: >40 retweets, >10 repins, etc 1. Pinterest– my experiences
  16. 16. Chatting in ≤140 characters; easy to dip in and out General useful tool for integrating/disseminating social media- brief notices of new blog posts, publications, Pinterest pins, … Not just “your own PR agent”- fast, concise; strong community e.g. morphology/biomechanics/evolution emphasis to my tweets 2. Twitter
  17. 17. Time-intensive but rewarding way to communicate morphology Independent of or partnered w/publications, other activities Turns scientists into ~journalists- write to broader audiences At its best, truly interactive & dynamic Ideally: have novel hook; find unique niche (do homework) Do what you like & others will come, but tweak to fit them too Link w/other social media– advertise! Build a base MUST interact- reply to comments, encourage discourse 3. Blogging
  18. 18. & I was a social media naysayer Joined Facebook 2007, Twitter 2011, blog 2012 (as half-joke) “Freezer-based science” = silly hook Really = anatomy blog Expectation: niche blog; few enthusiasts, not broad appeal/exposure >1 year later: >145,000 views; >100 followers Excellent feedback, good success, very fun Many new interactions, opportunities Time demands still modest. Worth it! 3. Blogging- My experience:
  19. 19. 3. Blogging- My experience: Going viral: post on “Inside Nature’s Giants” 13 April; 26 April coverage erupted (Boing Boing, Reddit (multiple times), Gizmodo (+Japan), io9, metafilter /04/13/inside-various-giants/ Photo of elephant intestines No negative comments- except one 1-liner on 23 June (NSFICVM)
  20. 20. Inside Nature’s Giants (UK Channel 4) / Raw Anatomy (National Geographic): 4 episodes filmed Jan-Feb 2009 (Windfall Films) ~1 year of planning: access to dead elephant, giraffe, crocodile, lion/tiger… succeeded! ~10 days, paid >£2000 research funds, loads of fun & hard work BAFTA awards, accolades; HIT! But… Risks of documentaries! 4. Documentaries
  21. 21. Keep your clothes on Not for everyone; try it Takes sustained effort; 1-3 hrs/wk? Comparative Anatomy course popularity down? How to teach/get interest? --Take morphology to the people! --VAST, EAGER audience! e.g. users: 1B Youtube, 1.1B Facebook, 500M Twitter, >> 200M blogs… -- Documentaries more willing now to venture past old “taboos”? Public & Morphology: Reflections
  22. 22. The Yuck Factor: Be honest, respectful, give warnings People tend to understand Defend yourself openly Don’t overdo it But there is an audience How to measure engagement? Social media sites do this for you Get your IT dept to help? ImpactStory, other sites compile Include methods for feedback: How did you change visitors’ views? Used in others’ teaching? Links from other sites? Public & Morphology: Challenges
  23. 23. How to avoid dumbing down? Boredom? Sophisticated audience Simplify prose, don’t sacrifice science TEACH & DISCUSS Functional approach enriches anatomy Avoid function/evolution storytelling; misleading Make it personal; use your enthusiasm Public & Morphology: Challenges
  24. 24. The mantra: grants and papers, grants and papers… Given that: time & energy are finite (for now) Why bother? Leaves less time for (the mantra) Public, Social Media & Morphology: Dissecting The Elephant-In-The-Room
  25. 25. Not zero-sum game; unused spare time (commuting, too tired, in boring meeting/talk…) If you don’t want to, DON’T TRY (bad!) You. Must. Have. Fun. Dammit! Unexpected benefits, e.g.: -collaborations, contacts (outside field?) -reputation, awards, career benefits? -hone your skills -better dissemination (publication PR tends to saturate media) Don’t worry about “stigma” of self-promotion Public, Social Media & Morphology: Dissecting The Elephant-In-The-Room
  26. 26. Documentaries etc: Negotiate for benefits such as getting paid, so your time is not wasted if you get cut! Join the discussion! /2013/06/13/documentaries- why-bother/ Respect starts with us! But Morphologists Deserve Respect.
  27. 27. Negotiate, with dignity.
  28. 28. Morphology = visual science Social media/doc’s = highly visual Current tastes = permissive? Not a lot of (non-porn) morphology on ‘net Lots of interest (Blogs! Reddit!) Opportunity to: (1) try new things & (2) establish niche We can do this! But what…? (anything = good?) And who (not everyone; not organized)? How to sate the public’s hunger for morphological research? SUMMARY
  29. 29. Just a few… there are TONS: Osterrieder and Pritchard- slides from SEB 2013 talk: Science Communication at a Tipping Point? a-tipping-point Nature- SpotOn Science Uses/Misuses of Twitter Example Advice/Ideas/Resources: Social Media & Science