A couple of weeks ago, I posted about the notion of “creative nonfiction”, and about the relationship between creativity and scientific writing. In the talk I linked to there, I made an offhand comment about how the practice of science also involves creativity. I’d forgotten that I’d actually written about that, way back in 2015! So the rest of this post is a lightly edited version of that earlier piece. Yes, if you blog long enough, you forget what you’ve written…
Much of science is a craft: doing it well involves the application of practiced skills, which can be honed (if never completely mastered) by anyone with time and experience. In an experiment, for example, we have powerful experimental design, meticulous repetition and recordkeeping, appropriate statistical analysis, and clear writing to report the results – all things we can become objectively better and better at with practice. And much of this is – deliberately – very far from creative. Continue reading
I’ve just read Graham Moore’s The Last Days of Night, a novel based on the battle between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse over AC vs DC electrification in the 1880s. This was a fascinating story*, but I’m taking off from it on a tangent today. The epigraph for Chapter 23 is a quote attributed to the architect and futurist Buckminster Fuller: “There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly”. Now, given my cringeworthy memories of what I was like in high school, I should be 100% behind this quote. The problem: as an entomologist, Buckminster Fuller was an excellent architect.
The quote, you see, is nonsense. Continue reading
When I’m not writing Scientist Sees Squirrel (or writing books about the lovers, heroes, and bums commemorated in the Latin names of organisms), I have a day job. I’m a professor in the Department of Biology at the University of New Brunswick, in Fredericton, Canada. Over my years at UNB I’ve taught first-year biology, introductory ecology, population biology, biostatistics, scientific writing, non-majors biology, field ecology, and more. But I’ve just finished teaching the course I might love most of all: entomology.
I don’t really know what I am, scientifically, but I’m often mistaken for an entomologist. And it’s true, I know some stuff about insects. The most important thing I know about them is probably that they’re just about endlessly diverse, endlessly beautiful, and endlessly fascinating. Continue reading
Images: A field crew disappearing into the forest; field sites and gear for our soil-carbon project. All © Stephen Heard CC BY 4.0
Warning: long and detailed – but the details are really the point, so don’t give up too quickly.
I called this blog Scientist Sees Squirrel in recognition of my lack of an attention span. For 25 years, I’ve been bobbing and weaving academically, shifting research focus as collaborators, funding, access to systems, and just my idiosyncratic curiosity have favoured new projects asking new questions in new systems. This has benefits and, no doubt, costs (so I’m definitely not claiming it’s right for everyone or even that it’s optimal for me), but it’s kept me excited about science for a quarter of a century.
And I’ve done it again.
Image: Tribolium castaneum (red flour beetle), Peggy Greb USDA-ARS, released to public domain.
Teaching undergraduates is an enormous pleasure (most of the time), and getting paid to do it is a privilege. Along with that privilege, of course, comes responsibility: I should work to teach my students things that are relevant; things that are important; and of course, things that are true.
Except that sometimes I teach my students things that are not true. Continue reading
Image: Skillet Clubtail dragonfly, by David Marvin (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
This year in my 3rd-year Entomology course, we introduced a new student assignment: to write a blog post about an insect of conservation concern in Canada. (I say “we”, because most of the credit goes to my TA and PhD student Chandra Moffat. I’ll link to some of the resulting posts below; but first, a few thoughts. Continue reading