BABIES!

BabiesMany years ago (when I was a graduate student), I played a super minor role in some research looking at the developmental timing of gait in children. This was done in Herman Pontzer‘s lab back when he was at WashU and in collaboration with Libby Cowgill and Anna Warrener. A publication came out of it, which was great as a grad student, but it was never work I thought much about once it was done.

Fast forward about 9 years when Libby calls me while I am at a train station getting ready to head to New York City, and says she was contacted by a Netflix producer who wants us to recreate the data collection for a documentary on babies (documentary is also called Babies), and Libby wants me to come out and help.

I was pretty reluctant to agree for a few reasons:

  1. This was a traumatic data collection for me. Getting screaming toddlers to walk across a force plate was the worst, and I didn’t particularly want to relive it. I do not have the temperament to work with kids, and I felt horrible during every moment of that data collection.
  2. The filming was immediately coming off the heels of my on campus interview at the University of Notre Dame, and I was going to be stressed an exhausted.
  3. I had no desire to be on camera for the world to see – especially if I was to be recreating a data collection I hated.

However, Libby said she didn’t want to do it without me, and I adore Libby. Also, how often does the chance come along to be in a Netflix documentary?!?!

Despite the stress and exhaustion of an on campus interview followed by delayed and cancelled flights, I made it out to Columbia, MO just in time for filming. It was a process unlike anything I have ever seen or done before. We had to repeat the same scenes over and over again all while trying to act natural. It can be a frustrating process. Fortunately, all the kids were great and happy to participate. Some of the footage was just fantastic. the best part may have been joking around with the sound guy. He had us mic’ed up the whole time and could hear (and regularly reacted to) the snarky comments Libby and I would make during this process.

This was an opportunity I never saw happening for me, and I was reluctant at first, but I am really glad I did it. It was such a unique experience to see how days of filming gets cut up into a 10 minute segment. It also brought about some wonderful connections with folks for potential future projects, so well worth it!

Here is the trailer for the documentary. The series comes out on Feb. 21.

Ocobock deadlifting

What you won’t see it in the documentary is where they have Libby and I lifting together in a gym. The director told me to deadlift and keep deadlifting until the long, moving shot was done. I was pulling 225lbs, and lost count after the 12th rep. I believe once the shot was done, I fell to the floor exhaling a long string of curses. This shot never made it past the cutting room floor…so, here is a picture of me deadlifting 135lbs for my biomechanics class last year.

Science on Tap: effective public engagement or preaching to the choir?

Science on Tap CapSci LogoAs many of you know I expend a lot of time doing and thinking about science communication and outreach. I founded a Science on Tap series in Grand Rapids, MI when I had my first faculty position at Grand Valley State University. I remember the first event – only 12 people showed up. It took time, but the audience grew with every event. My final Science on Tap before moving to a new position in Albany, NY, drew a crowd of over 300 people. We had to turn people away at the door…for a science event…in a local pub! Granted, I had brought in the county medical examiner – turns out people really love hearing how other people die.

As this event grew, so too did my suspicions that Science on Tap was not reaching the audience I hoped it would reach – an audience that was mistrusting in science. I had always envisioned this event as a mechanism to change the hearts and minds of a doubting public.

When I moved to Albany, NY, I founded a Science on Tap series there as well. I hadn’t initially planned on it, but the 2016 election put into sharp focus that we need more outreach, not less. That series eventually merged with the March for Science effort to form a nonprofit organization – CapSci. Despite great support and very large audiences, I still had my concerns about who that audience was and if I was really achieving the goal of improving trust in science and scientists.

That February, I attended the SEEPS meeting where I presented on my outreach efforts, and serendipitously met Pat Hawley. I told her about Science on Tap, and that I suspected it was just preaching to the choir. “Let’s find out!” she exclaimed. And, so began a wonderful collaboration. Pat has done lots of work on science education and educational psychology. She designed a survey that looked at demographics, religious affiliation, political affiliation, trust in science, and level of scientific knowledge and I implemented the data collection. We collected data from 10 different Science on Tap events that covered a range of topics from climate change to dark matter. We wanted to know who was attending these events and how event attendance impacted trust in and knowledge of science.

That publication just came out!

Here are the big take aways:

  1. My suspicions were confirmed! We are preaching to the choir – people who are already interested in and trust science attended
  2. We need to assess outreach efforts to determine if we are reaching our intended audience and our intended goal
  3. We need to work creatively to reach those who mistrust science because they are unlikely to attend events like Science on Tap
  4. Knowledge about the nature of science decreased after attending an event! That’s not good, but we think a part of that is how we as scientists explain (or don’t) uncertainty in our work. Uncertainty in everyday life is rarely a good thing, and people transfer those negative feelings when they hear about uncertainty in science

Recommendations based on this work:

  1. Embrace & explain uncertainty in science – we need to make clear that uncertainty is standard in our work, and it is what drives our questions and innovations
  2. Make personal connections…why science matters in ever day life. People will care about the science if they know how it affects them
  3. Hone communication skills…get rid of jargon – we need to be better at speaking to a wide range of audiences, not just our academic colleagues
  4. Know your audience & know your goal – and the best way to do this is to conduct similar types of assessment in your own outreach efforts

Spring 2020 Syllabi

Life at Extremes coverHey, all, here are my Spring 2020 syllabi! Have a look at the textbook-free Fundamentals of Biological Anthropology one for sure. Huge thank you to Holly Dunsworth for being so generous with her textbook free syllabi. I could not have done this without her. I am also teaching Humans at the Extremes this semester, though this is a more specialized course.

#Hackademics & Un-grading with Susan Blum

As you are starting to think about your classes next semester (though perhaps not thinking about them this week!), you should have a listen to our next installment of #Hackademics where we chat with Dr. Susan Blum about non-traditional teaching pedagogy and un-grading.
 
I have personally learned a ton from Dr. Blum, and I hope this episode is illuminating for many.
 
https://soundcloud.com/humanbiologyassociation/sos-56-hackademics-ungrading-with-susan-blum

The WADA Ruling on Russian Doping and the Lasting Legacy of Rocky IV

Rocky IV
Fan art for Rocky IV – artist and copyright unknown

I was asked by the Notre Dame media folks to write up an OpEd on the recent World Anti-Doping Agency ruling against Russia. The Hill picked it up, and here it is, complete with a Rocky IV reference right off the bat. This likely won’t be a popular opinion, but I think it is a good conversation starter about the current sports culture both nationally and globally. It also hits on how much popular media shapes our views.

Research Uncorked

I will be giving the Research Uncorked talk next Tuesday titled: Let It Snow: Human Performance in Extreme Conditions!

When: Tuesday, December 10 @ 6pm
Where: Ironhand Vineyard’s Wine Bar
1025 Northside Blvd.
South Bend, IN 46615

Come see how many Star Wars Hoth-related references I can make in under 45 minutes.

Han Solo Hoth

Science Stories with Kate Wong

Sausage of Science LogoHave a listen to the latest installment of #Hackademics, our special series within the Sausage of Science podcast. In this episode we talk about the importance of science communication, how to go about it (especially if you are new to the field), and why you should pitch your science story to folks like our guest Scientific American journalist, Kate Wong.

Have a listen!

Fossil Hominin Dating Profile

I had my students do a fossil hominin dating profile for one of their larger assignments. See the assignment here: Assignment #4.

Much to my delight, a few decided to make their profile on old fashioned poster board! Here are a couple…

A. boisei dating profile
Dating profile for Australopithecus boisei.
AMH Dating Profile
Dating profile for Anatomically Modern Humans…using Dwayne The Rock Johnson as their example.