21 Science Stories That Reached You in 2015

When is time to replace the calendar hanging in the kitchen I always do things I am not very keen on doing, but they come with the season. As sure as I will unwillingly write checks with the wrong date during January, I am now looking at my science posts statistics from 2015.

I am sharing with you the posts that reached more people during 2015, thanks to your shares and your likes. It confirms what I already know, that we all love Ed Yong’s writing. But also surprisingly that a lot of very technical stories make it to the top ten (two of them in science communication). My own writing made it to the top of the list. This confirms that you are a good friend, always happy to read and share my writing. I am very grateful for your kindness and support.

I propose a toast: To many more great science stories for years to come!

Most shared and liked Facebook’s Science Salsa stories in 2015:


Toy Sharks to Face Your Fears: A #STEM Like Me Story.

“When I first met her, she seemed to be looking at STEM with skepticism, maybe a little fear, like somebody that is staring at the rough sea from the shore.”



Let’s See Matt Damon Drive His Mars Rover Over THIS

“Martian dunes are jaw-droppingly beautiful.”



Why Don’t We Know the Age of the New Ancient Human, Homo Naledi?

“The simple answer is: Because dating fossils is really difficult. Scientific papers and news reports about new fossils so regularly come with estimates of age that it’s easy forget how hard-won such data can be.”



New Algorithm reduces size of data sets while preserving their mathematical properties

“One way to make big-data analysis computationally practical is to reduce the size of data tables—or matrices, to use the mathematical term—by leaving out a bunch of rows. The trick is that the remaining rows have to be in some sense representative of the ones that were omitted […]”




How sketching can enhance your science conference experience 

Visual note taking (aka “sketchnoting”) isn’t just for artists.



What happens when you give scientists comedy improv lessons?


“Improv is something you expect to find on Saturday Night Live, not in the science lab. A couple of acting teachers, however, are beginning to introduce improv acting and communication techniques to the science syllabus. “



A Fossil Snake With Four Legs

 “And then, if my jaw hadn’t already dropped enough, it dropped right to the floor,” says Martill. The little creature had a pair of hind legs. “I thought: bloody hell! And I looked closer and the little label said: Unknown fossil. Understatement!”



Scientists Finally Decide Which Bit of This Weird Animal is the Head 

“In 1977, British palaeontologist Simon Conway-Morris discovered the fossil of a truly weird animal, which he named Hallucigenia because of its “bizarre and dream-like quality”. He wasn’t kidding. The creature was so strange that it took fourteen years for scientists to work out which way up it stood. And now, nearly four decades after its original discovery, we finally know—clearly and conclusively—which end is the head”



Mars has flowing rivers of briny water

“Salty or “briny” water melts more readily than regular water, and the salts found in these flowing streaks could lower the freezing point of this Martian water to a temperature range seen during the summer.”



Red Crabs Invade San Diego Shores

Stranding may have been related with warmer waters or toxins.



Quantum-dot spectrometer is small enough to function within a smartphone

“If incorporated into small handheld devices, this type of spectrometer could be used to diagnose skin conditions or analyze urine samples, Bao says. They could also be used to track vital signs such as pulse and oxygen level, or to measure exposure to different frequencies of ultraviolet light, which vary greatly in their ability to damage skin.”



How to Program One of the Gut’s Most Common Microbes

“If you want to turn a microbe into a gut ranger, you’re better off starting with a species that’s well-adapted there. And there are few better choices than Bacteroides thetaiotamicron—B-theta to its friends”



Diagnosing Diseases with Origami Microscopes

 “While Foldscopes used for diagnostic testing come pre-folded to ensure high quality control, the ones sent out for educational purposes through the Ten Thousand Microscope Project are folded and built by the users. He hopes that school children, hackers, and tinkerers all over the world will build on and add to the microscopes. While Prakash isn’t quite dropping these Foldscopes from airplanes, he’s certainly getting them into the hands of children all around the world.”



Scientists are developing a shield to protect astronauts from cosmic radiation

“The technology is pretty much essential if we want astronauts to safely spend any significant amount of time in space. In addition to causing potential cognitive decline, it’s believed that prolonged exposure to cosmic rays may increase the likelihood of astronauts developing various types of cancers.”



16 on-point responses from female scientists to Nobel winner’s sexist comments

“How do you respond to sexist comments if you’re a female scientist who has been told that you should be in a single-sex lab because male scientists might fall in love with you? You mock them on Twitter, of course.”



400-Year-Old Arctic Plants Frozen by Glaciers Come Back From the Dead

“The findings, which were presented at a National Academy of Sciences meeting, gives researchers a clue about how ecosystems survive cyclical ice ages. A host of other plants, some never before seen by modern scientists, are emerging from the shadows as well – including cyanobacteria and green terrestrial algae.”



How a Jellyfish-Obsessed Engineer Upended Our Understanding of Swimming

 “With an engineer’s hubris, I thought they’d be simple,” he recalls. They jet forwards by contracting their umbrella-shaped bells and pushing water towards their tentacles. They were, quite literally, not rocket science. He soon realized that he was wrong.



Why Scientists Are Upset About The Facebook Filter Bubble Study 

“The study’s conclusion discusses how a person is more likely to click on and like stories that support their own beliefs, which means people tend to create their own filter bubbles. That’s true, but it’s not the point—the point is that the news feed algorithm also filters out diverse opinions. As Tufekci says, it is disingenuous of the researchers to change the focus of their paper. […]”



Beards are not dirtier than clean shave: Germ phobia debunked by a microbiologist.

“Your Beard Is Covered in Bacteria. So is everything else. Don’t fall for the latest viral freak-out.”



Inspiring Illustrations of Awesome Female Scientists

“While women in science and math are still underrepresented in popular culture, artists like Rachel Ignotofsky […] are inspired by them and want to remind others of their essential place in our history.”



Dinosaur Feathers Discovered in Canadian Amber

“Some of these feathers strongly resemble those of diving water birds today (and the researchers include one example of a modern diving bird feather so you can compare them). Other structures, however, look nothing like feathers of today”


Toy Sharks to Face Your Fears: A STEM Like Me Story.

A real-life story about making connections in STEM:

I had a wonderful experience with the STEM Like Me program, and I want to share it with you. A lucky coincidence makes it a great story about human connection. First I need to explain how I use toy sharks for education, but I think it is worth reading all the way to the end just for the unexpected ending.


 Getting ready for STEM Like Me

I wasn’t ready when I was asked to participate in STEM Like Me, a new program that brings STEM practitioners to schools in Washington’s Mid-Columbia region. I may know my science, but I did not have a STEM hands-on activity kit ready for interacting with the students. To solve that problem I did what any respectable scientists with some training in communication and shoestring budget will do, build his own kit:

  • First, I tried to learn what the students wanted to hear about STEM from me. That was easy: “Oceans and sharks” was at the top of the list.
  • Second, I built a storytelling arch in my mind, a story that had a student I recently met as my intended audience.
  • Third, I went to a store and searched for toy sharks on sale. With the materials I had on hand, the story finally took solid form.

Toy sharks, and a personal confession.

Wen I talk with the students, the story starts with a personal confession: I was afraid of the ocean when I was a kid. Waves and surf scared me. Can you imagine an Oceanographer that is afraid of the ocean? Well, I faced my fears when I was 10-11 years old. Thanks to being able to face my fears I am now an Oceanographer, and some of the happiest times of my life have been at sea. In parallel I talk about sharks, their unbelievable keen senses ( I did my PhD in electroreception) and how diverse and wonderful sharks and rays are.

Hands-on with the sharks:

The students get to grab some toy sharks, rays, and marine mammals. I instruct them to separate the toys in three categories, sharks (tiburones), rays (rayas), and others (otros). After separating them correctly I tell them there is still a toy that is wrongly categorized, actually, it can’t be found in nature.

There a couple of really weird-looking sharks and rays, and students point at them, but the incorrect toy is the blood-thirsty shark that looks more like the one in “Jaws” or “Sharknado”. The artist probably copied a movie poster and forgot to put the right number of gills on it. I finish by wondering what amazing things can we learn about sharks if we face our fears about them?



The coincidence that made all the pieces come together:

This explanation was to give you the context for the most wonderful of the coincidences. Do you remember I had in mind a particular student as my intended audience when I designed my story? She happen to be a student in the school I got to test my new STEM Like Me shark kit. She is a soft-spoken, self-driven, bilingual girl. I believe she will do very well either as a STEM professional or at any other career she chooses to work at. But when I first met her, she seemed to be looking at STEM with skepticism, maybe a little bit of fear, like somebody that is staring at the rough seas from the the shore.

I designed my story having her on mind. Part inspired by what she told me, part inspired for what I wish I have told her when I first talked with her. I wanted to tell her it was OK to have fears, but facing them may bring wonderful benefits. In other words, smart people may take risks that could bring them to a life of fulfillment and knowledge.

At the end of my activity with the toy sharks at her school, one of the students was really excited and he told me: “I learned that sharks are awesome!”. That made me happy. Then, I saw my “intended audience” student leaving to the next table. I was wondering what did she learn?

She turned around, she smiled and told me: “ I learned I should face my fears. Thanks!”

Such a beautiful blue expanse to explore, but so many unknowns lurking under the water. Should she jump in the ocean or not?

This is not a story about salvation

It was a great feeling to hear the words “I learned I should face my fears”. But I do not believe I designed a magic kit in a plastic box that brings instant courage for students. This story is about personal connections. I am a fortunate guy that got to study wonderful animals partly because when I was her age I decided I wasn’t afraid of the ocean any more, and jumped into the breaking waves. My story connected with her, she saw her experience somehow reflected in my experience, and that was really good. But this story is also about being able to reassure students. It should tell them their daily courage and efforts are appreciated. This particular student helped me translate some of the Spanish words I used in front of her classmates, and braved sentences in her rusty Spanish. She was taking after-school classes with a science component already. She was already taking steps that required overcoming her fears, steps that can bring happiness to her future.

I wish she had told me “I learned I should keep facing my fears”. I wish the conversation had made clear she is already doing an awesome job, that kids in general are already doing an awesome job. But there are always imperfections in the happy endings… and I know I still can improve the story inside the box for the next school visit. After all, toy sharks are a fun, multi-purpose, STEM education prop.

“If you smell something, say something” great #scicomm advice from John Stewart

Bullshit is everywhere

“Bullshit is everywhere”, said John Stewart during his final appearance at “The Daily Show”. Some bullshit is necessary or at least innocuous, like the white lies we tell other people. It works like “an important social contract fertilizer, and keeps people from make each others cry all day”. But Stewart wanted to use his last night at the TV show to talk about “the premeditated institutional bullshit designed to obscure and distract”. Steward classifies this institutional “guano” in three flavors:

The 3 kinds of bullshit according to John Stewart:

1) Making bad things sound like good things:

“Organic All Natural Cupcakes”, because Factory-made Sugar Oatmeal Balls doesn’t sell.

2) Hiding bad things under mountains of bullshit (added complexity for obscuring the facts).

Just try to follow the Political Campaign Finance Laws. Unlimited amounts of anonymous cash can be funneled under several mechanisms.

3) Bullshit of infinite possibility

We cannot do anything, because we don’t yet know everything. Until then, teach the controversy, don’t try to act on what you do know now.

“The best defense against bullshit is vigilance”

I have stepped in all three on Stewart’s list: Healthy lifestyle advice full of anti-science, articles obscuring their limitations, and the global warming “controversy” are just part of a longer list of examples.  But now as a science communicator I have learned to recognize the bullshit, and to avoid it. I have been vigilant to avoid turds on my way, but I have often failed to speak out when I see them. Have we as science communicators done our best to call the bullshit when we see it?  Here is where I think Stewart’s advice is relevant for science communication:

“If you smell something, say something”

Stewart calls to play the “I spy of bullshit” game. Can we as science communicators stay positive, and at the same time stay vigilant? Can we say something every time we smell bullshit?  I think we can.

Here is the video:

Publicity stunt damages Word Heritage Site, enrages Peruvians

Red lines depict damage done to Nazca Lines
Picture shows iconic Hummingbird in the protected archeological site of the Nazca lines. Red lines show area damaged by Greenpeace activists step’s and banner. Photo credit: Cap. Juan Carlos Ruiz

The Nazca lines are shallow scratches in the sand, made just deep enough to uncover a bright-colored sand that contrast beautifully with a dark top layer of sand and gravel. The most attractive of the lines depict animals that are only distinguishable from the air, but the most intriguing ones are large geometrical forms and mile-long lines pointing to specific directions, signaling to things important for the indigenous population thousands of years ago, but that we have not completely deciphered yet.

Last Monday, December 8th, a group of members of Greenpeace from seven different countries (none of them Peruvian) entered a protected archaeological site surrounding the figure of ” El Colibrí” (the hummingbird) to install a banner visible from the air. They did it without authorization, without proper inspection of local archaeologists, and without wearing the obligatory protective gear (think snowshoes but designed for the Nazca sand).

Nazca Line protective gear:

Proper protective gear to work near the Nazca lines (http://geoextrema.com/2014/12/greenpeace-atenta-contra-las-lineas-de-nazca/)
Proper protective gear to work near the Nazca lines (http://geoextrema.com/2014/12/greenpeace-atenta-contra-las-lineas-de-nazca/)

As a publicity stunt probably bodes very well for Greenpeace, it is timed with the COP 20 in Lima, Perú. And every single newspaper in Perú will be covering it. But they damaged a beloved symbol for the Peruvians, declared a World Heritage Site by the Unesco. The stunt is not gaining popular support for their cause in Perú, specially because a protest with a banner in a foreign language placed  in one of the most recognized national symbols rubs the wrong way to many Peruvians. The fact that they damaged the lines by ignoring the proper procedures to treat such a valuable archeological site makes their stunt very risky, as they may face legal prosecution.

This is not the first time the lines are damaged in modern times.  Clandestine mining, the perils of continuous tourist overflights, and recreational vehicles circulating around the figures have taken a toll in the protected area. Keeping the lines intact for the future generations is a constant battle. The María Reiche foundation is one of the Peruvian institutions trying to preserve the lines, and they have a very simple response to Greenpeace: “To protect our environment doesn’t mean to destroy our heritage”.

Hopefully this latest damage would bring enough attention not only to Greenpeace, but to the Nazca lines, a wonderful cultural heritage of humanity that needs more attention, and better protection.

Update 12/10/2014. For people not familiar with the state of the lines before the banner, here is a link to a picture taken on April 2014. http://www.tripadvisor.cl/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g304044-i96658006-Nazca_Ica_Region.html

Useful links (in Spanish):

COP 20: Greenpeace hace protesta en las líneas de Nazca



Mincul: Greenpeace cometió una infracción en las líneas de Nasca

Los geoglifos de Nasca y Palpa (Ica-Perú). Tres Factores que contribuyen a su destrucción paulatina y constante.

VIDEO: Giant Greenpeace protest banner set up beside ancient Nazca Lines – no comment TV

The seven things you should know about Non-English science communication

Picture: by @Luis_Quevedo, Sciolang Room at Science Online Together 2014

The background: What is ScioLang?

The Non-English science communication discussion session at ScienceOnline Together (ScioLang) started as mission impossible. My mission, if I decided to accept it, was to generate a discussion in a room full of strangers about how science is created, shared, and communicated beyond English-speaking audiences. So many languages in the world, so many communication needs, and so many national realities to explore, but only one hour to talk about them. It is just not enough time! But there are always strategies to face challenging tasks, and I called other people for help: The ScioLang volunteer ambassadors became the nexus to make this task less daunting, as each of them brought a unique perspective from a different language, making the discussion more diverse and giving a voice to people outside ScienceOnline. They started conversations on Twitter and other social media, sometimes several weeks before the live session, and gathered an impressive amount of feedback in their respective languages.

Some of the ambassadors attended ScienceOnline Together, some of them only participated online. With their help we had a total of fourteen languages represented on Twitter and nine languages represented in the room. It is thanks to those volunteers, and the audience in the room, that ScioLang became a very productive space of discussion. In short, even if this is a personal post, and all opinions are mine, they are based in the work and ideas of lots of people.

Seven take home messages from ScioLang:

  1. If you want to reach the world, you need to reach beyond English-speaking audiences. National languages are the best way to communicate with decision-makers, general public, and multilinguals that react more favorably to content in their native tongue. There is a reality that will not change in the near future: Native English speakers are less than 6% of the world population, and science communication needs to be multilingual to reach global audiences. Even in English-speaking nations, big migrant populations require that science communicators use multilingual channels. By population, United States is the fifth largest Spanish-speaking country in the world, and those 32 million people are better reached in their own language. In USA, and other large countries, global considerations become local due to recent migratory patterns: one of the participants in the Sciolang discussion is a teacher from a district with over sixty different student’s languages. Even if kids learn English at school, they shouldn’t need to choose between their cultural identity and science.
  2. English has become the “Lingua Franca” of science. International science journals are overwhelmingly publishing in English, a trend started three decades ago. English is a great tool for international collaboration, but English proficiency is not universal and creates an uneven playfield for the creation and sharing of science. Monolingual English-speakers are also missing out global science outcomes that don’t get translated to English. Conversely, scientific papers only published in non-English languages limit their outreach and impact.
  3. English has different levels of penetration in Science education internationally. While in Germany is fair to expect advanced science education programs to be taught in English, in Italy those classes are more often taught in Italian. In India people that has access to science education usually has a strong English-language background, while in Spanish-speaking countries English literacy in science may be high but inability to speak it fluently may be an issue. Often, English-spoken entertainment content is used to improve English verbal proficiency in lieu of formal education.

    ScioLang in a nutshell for you: Know your audience, and seek help from a diverse pool of collaborators. Modified by @gonzalezivanf from wikimedia
  4. The state of development of science communication in world languages is uneven. German has a vibrant landscape of publications and science communication outlets, but Arabic lacks outlets with original content and most of the top-level science is generated and shared in English. Therefore their communication needs and audience’s science literacy levels are quite different, beyond the expected cultural differences. Often countries have well recognized national champions of science communication, but sometimes they are isolated examples in a landscape where local initiatives are mostly non-existent or invisible. Some languages may have several science communication initiatives but lack enough shared references or main outlets to articulate those initiatives in a national movement. I believe the experience in Indonesian and Filipino Twitter discussions, and partly in Spanish too, was that some science communication names started appearing during Twitter exchanges and populating a landscape that initially seemed bare.
  5. Translation is second-best to create original content. Yes, great science communication content is scarce in some languages, and direct translation from English is welcomed, but often this “deficit model” will fail to engage global audiences. Translated material supporting the theory of evolution against detractors will fall flat in a Germany where evolution is just not an issue. If you want to engage German-speaking audiences then talk about atomic energy, or other issues affecting them. If you are going to talk about atomic energy, use footage of an energy plant in Germany, interview German scientists when possible. If you are going to talk about healthy diets after cancer treatment in Mexico, use examples with food that is actually consumed by your audience. If you are going to talk about seed dispersion in Puerto Rico, use plants examples that are common in the Caribbean.
  6. Use the help of native speakers to walk safely between the cultural landmines. Subjects of interest and way of treatment do matter. From the contentious tone in English-speaking social media that is seen as extremely rude in some other cultures (such as Swahili-speaking cultures), to the sense of humor that doesn’t necessarily translate, treatment of a subject requires the help of a local guide to avoid cultural landmines. Conversely, some subjects are just not appropriate for all audiences, for example, talking about obesity will disengage an audience in Brazil that is mostly concerned about chronic malnourishment and poverty.
  7. Context-relevant content is king in science communication. Science is usually contextualized by English-speaking people to English-Speaking audiences. If you do a direct translation without review of the subject and relevant context you may end up alienating your non-English-speaking  audiences with a context that is hard to relate. Ask for help from people that know the audience you want to reach. What subjects are relevant to them? What context is significant to them? The answers to those questions are fundamental for successful science communication beyond English-speaking audiences.

What to do next?

Visit the ScioLang forum for more resources of trusted networks and persons that speak different languages. Talk to your friends and neighbors, you may be surprised of the resources around you that have not been taped yet. But more important, enjoy the adventure of learning about the world of science that you may have missed.

For more information about the ScioLang session read Cristina Russo’s notes and Adam Taylor’s Storify. Thanks to Science Online and Karyn Traphagen for the opportunity to have this discussion, Cristina Russo and Tim Skellett for their comments on this post, the ScioLang ambassadors, and specially Cristina Rigutto for her notes on Italian scicomm and Beatrice Lugger for her notes in German scicomm.

My Ten Most Popular Twitter Links of 2013

A list of what you thought it was worth to click on the link

It is that time of the year when we look back to find the most important past events and gain some insight from them. This list has the links that my Twitter audiences found most interesting from March 2013 to December 2013.


Year 2013 on Twitter

About the list: I have shared over a thousand links on Twitter, a lot of them never get opened, but some of the links get big responses just because they are re-tweeted by users with audiences in the tens of thousands, or because they are well tuned to the interests of the people who follows me on Twitter. I used BitLy to find the 10 most popular links of 2013, here you have the list starting with number ten and ending with number 1, the most opened link of 2013!

#10 Vote for University of Washington’s Engage Science Seminar Series!

Sometimes when you ask people to help you advertise a cause, they help you a lot. Engage Science is a student-run seminar that helps young scientists improve their communication skills. Engage was participating in the NSF Graduate Education Challenge and needed votes to have their proposal funded. Thank for the re-tweets and for the people who clicked the link to find how to vote for Engage (Total of 19 clicks).

 #9 EPA profiles of Latinos (En Español)

Not a lot of people knows that EPA has a very active social media feed in Spanish, one of their profiles of EPA employees that I shared made it to the top ten more clicked links: Evelyn Rivera-Ocasio, a compliance inspector in charge of wastewater treatment plants in Puerto Rico (Total of 19 clicks).

#8 News from Perú investing in Science

Perú tripled its investment in science and innovation this year, and CONCYTEC started an aggressive campaign to promote science education and research in the country. This is a link to a LatinAmericanScience.org English translation of a short post I wrote in Spanish for my SalsaDeCiencia blog (Total of 19 clicks)

#7 Developing a National roadmap for communication training in STEM graduate programs

Meetings happen behind closed doors in Washington DC everyday, but some of them encourage participants to share their content on twitter. #GradSciComm participants were so generous with their sharing that I was able to write a ScienceSalsa.com blog post about the meeting without attending it. (Total of 20 clicks)

Blogger and scientist DNLee (@DNLee5) started a Twitter list of Diverse Science Writers, she crowd-sourced the names online, and a lot of people was interested on the list. Thank you for including me on it! (Total of 21 clicks).

Perú tripled its investment in science and innovation this year.This is the link to the original SalsaDeCiencia.com blog post I wrote in Spanish (Total of 21 clicks).

#4 Science communication for Spanish-speaking audiences event

Thank you again for helping me promote this event last November in Seattle. We had a wonderful panel that shared their first-hand experience engaging Hispanics (Total of 44 clicks).

SpanishSciComm#16:: Engaging the Invisible Americans: Science communication for Spanish-speaking audiences

There is a huge American audience with a language of its own, have you heard of it? Hispanic Americans make up 17% of the population, and…

More about science communication in Spanish

If you are interested in Spanish-speaking audiences please check the following link for the event’s recap and video. It had a total of 119 clicks, but those didn’t come from my Twitter links, so it didn’t make it on this list.

#3 Two science communication training programs featured in newspapers last March

The Seattle Times featured Engage Science from University of Washington, and the Long Island Newsday featured the Center for Communicating Science of Stony Brook University (Total of 48 clicks).

Science communication training: raising the bar inside and outside academia

#2 Proyecto Ciencia para todos (En Español)

“Ciencia para todos” showcases ongoing efforts to reach the massive Spanish-speaking audiences in the USA (and Globally). As part of this effort, I started a public opt-in list that may help science communicators match local Spanish-speaking communicators and a growing public Twitter list with more than 150 resources worldwide in Spanish. (Total of 131 clicks).

Additionally a total of 74 people click on the Twitter link for the form to opt-in on the list (and only half actually subscribed) and 65 people have consulted the Twitter link for the list already

Ciencia para todos El proyecto Ciencia Para Todos es en principio muy simple: busca ayudar a que los esfuerzos de la comunicación de la ciencia -que existen…


#1 Invited post, Scientists are Humans too

In the age of PowerPoint it is hard to remember that you are the presentation, not your slides. This invited blog post talks about my struggles as a scientist to give engaging presentations, and the lessons I learned during the Engage Science Seminar at University of Washington. Effective science communication training in academia is possible, Engage even includes a talk in front of Town Hall Seattle, a great public venue, but programs like it are still diamonds because they are difficult to find in the current graduate education landscape (Total of 148 clicks).

Student Post: Scientists are Humans Too Fernando Gonzalez is Colombian/Peruvian scientist living in Seattle, Washington. He also blogs at Science Salsa, a blog about science tha…

Thank you!

I want to thank you for sharing those links and for reading them. The year 2013 doubled the number of people following my accounts on Twitter (@gonzalezivanf in English and @salsadeciencia in Spanish) and I like to believe it is because you found the content pleasant and useful. It has been a little over a year since I started learning how to become an effective science communicator, thank you for coming along with me and helping me grow, thank you for your patience and your support.

Have a wonderful 2014 and I hope to keep enjoying the privilege of your company on Twitter!

About BitLy:

BitLy is a service that offers URL redirection with real-time link tracking. I have used BitLy on Twitter since March of 2013, and to this date it has helped me track the usage of over 1,000 links. I made this list of My Ten Most Popular Twitter Links of 2013 based on their statistics, selecting the links with the largest number of clicks. To visit my BitLy account please follow this link:

 Ivan Fernando Gonzalez | Public Profile


#GradSciComm: Developing a National roadmap for communication training in STEM graduate programs

Requirements of Science Communication proficiency
Requirements of Science Communication proficiency

There are times when reform is necessary. The very successful STEM graduate education programs in USA are now graduating a lot more PhDs, but the number of Faculty positions is not increasing accordingly. This has generated a new reality for young scientists: Six of every seven PhDs will not get an academic Faculty position and will need to find a job elsewhere.

After seven years as a graduate student plus three years as a postdoc, I found myself facing that new reality. At the time, I was sad watching my career as an independent researcher stopping after years of hard work, but I was very excited to watch new horizons opening. Deciding to become a professional science communicator came with the realization that –except from some past volunteer work– I was poorly prepared to be an effective communicator for a general audience.

If you have read my blog in the past, you know that I have done efforts to improve my communication skills; taking online classes, attending the Engage Science seminar series at University of Washington, and learning from the ScienceOnline community. Still, I wonder if it would have been better just to have more science communication training when I was in graduate school. There is clearly a need for scientist that can tell their research in public, why don’t we do more communication training in graduate school?

Turns out that there are graduate programs that offer communication training for STEM students, and grassroots efforts from graduate students too. I knew of a couple of them, doing amazing work to train young scientists. But then I hear about GradSciComm, and realized the effort to reform graduate education is widespread.

What is GradSciComm?

GradSciComm is an effort leaded by COMPASS to “assess the current landscape of communication trainings available to graduate students in the STEM disciplines”, but it goes beyond that. The idea is to build a roadmap for graduate education reform. From COMPASS blog:

“Reforming graduate education is grand challenge, but it’s a movement with serious momentum behind it. Federal agencies, professional societies, and graduate-led efforts are hard at work, including the National Institutes of HealthCouncil of Graduate SchoolsAmerican Chemical Society, and the National Science Foundation Graduate Education Modernization Challenge, to name a few. The need for better professional skills training comes up in nearly every conversation. And improved communication skills is just one among many needs.” Erica Goldman and Liz Neeley.

Part of the GradSciComm effort was to learn what communication training was already done, to start a conversation based on the current landscape. Last week, on December 5th and 6th at the National Academy of Sciences building in Washington, D.C., “four COMPASS staff –Nancy BaronBrooke SmithErica Goldman, and Liz Neeley – ” facilitated a discussion “among a select group of scholars, trainers, funders, institutional leaders, and graduate students as they consider the results of our work to date and wrestle with where we go from here.”

The conversations were not recorded to encourage frank discussion, but the slides from presentations are available here: (Day1 Day2 ) and Twitter discussion was very fruitful (public quotes did not name speaker). I made a Storify of the discussion so people can have access to it. Here is the links for Day1 and Day2 on Twitter.

I know the public discussion on Twitter is incomplete by necessity, and I am looking forward for more coming from COMPASS soon, but I recommend you check the archive of Tweets to give you an idea of how many possibilities and challenges face the graduate education reform in the area of communication. Here I leave you with only four of the tweets that came from #Gradscicomm, I hope this inspires you to join the discussion:

What do you think? Do you agree with those ideas? Would you like to talk about your personal experience? Join the discussion in the comments or in Twiter using #GradSciComm. Thanks!

[View the story “#gradscicomm: the current landscape of communication trainings available to graduate students in the STEM disciplines” on Storify]

Related links:

Beyond science communication in English: What is #ScioLang?

Modified from: Wikimedia commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Science

ScioLang is an open conversation about how science is generated, shared, and communicated online, extending beyond English-speaking audiences. It is also a session of ScienceOnline Together, happening in Raleigh, North Carolina, on February 2014. The tittle of this facilitated discussion session is “Non-English science communication”.

The ScienceOnline organizers put me in charge of facilitating this discussion. My main function is to offer a safe and productive space for the exchange of ideas, and to keep the conversation going. Beyond the tittle there is no other description for this discussion, and that is done purposefully. The content of ScioLang is built by you.

You can take part in the conversation now by using the #ScioLang hashtag on Twitter. You may contact me now with your ideas and suggestions in both English (@gonzalezivanf) and Spanish (@SalsaDeCiencia). For ideas and suggestions in more languages I am recruiting the help of fellow attendees, Brian Glanz (@BrianGlanz) for German, Cristina Russo (@russo_cristina) for Portuguese, and Marianne Alleyne (@Cotesia1) for Dutch conversations. I hope the more we talk about #ScioLang the more languages we can bring into the discussion. Please check this link often for updates in more languages.

This post has been modified to add the final list of ScioLang Ambassadors:

Related articles:

Engaging the Invisible Americans: Science communication for Spanish-speaking audiences at #ScioSEA

Sarah Doty (Seamar), Ivan Orbegozo (LatinNexus), Adrianna Gutierrez (NCI) and Mónica Feliú-Mójer (CienciaPR)

They say you should know your audience…

But can you really know your online audience? Especially one that does not speak your own language? Writing content for an online audience requires some guesswork and a lot of hope; you guess what your audience may want to read, you write it for them, and you hope that what you wrote will engage them. The truth is that, apart from online comments and some statistics about clicks on your links, there is not a lot of feedback available about your online readers. When the audience you need to reach has a different culture or  language than your own, this guesswork may become a little too difficult to do from the chair in front of your computer.

Thankfully we don’t exist in a total vacuum, and we can build partnerships with trusted institutions and members of the audience that we want to reach. For Spanish-speaking audiences in the USA those partnerships are readily available: bilingual, trusted, sources at the federal, state, and local level are always hungry for more and better content for Hispanics.

Make no mistake, Spanish-speaking audiences need to be engaged in the discussions about science, medicine and technology in America. It is not only about inclusion and social justice, but about the massive force of demographics. Hispanic Americans are a fast growing community. They make up 17% of the population, and are projected to be 31% of the population by 2060. USA is the fifth largest Spanish-speaking country by population, and Spanish-dominant and bilingual Hispanics accounted for more than 54% of the 32 million Hispanics online in 2010. To leave behind the first-generation of Spanish speakers is not even an option; Americans raised fully bilingual require the constant partnership and support of their Spanish-speaking parents to succeed in STEM.

What we learned at the Science Online Seattle event

Last week at the University of Washington in Seattle we had the chance to ask questions about the Hispanic audiences and to hear four different experiences engaging the Hispanic population en español using the Internet; One global, one at Federal level, one at Washington State level, and one local. Those were our “conversation starters” that began the conversation at the event:

Enhancing science learning with concepts relevant to local context and to Hispanic culture:

Mónica Feliú-Mójer of Ciencia Puerto Rico (CienciaPR) told us about the non-profit grassroots organization composed by people with an interest in science and Puerto Rico. Their website is the headquarters for most initiatives, but CienciaPR is more than a website, it is a global community, and a big one: it connects 188 academic institutions, 6,500 members, and 100 scientific disciplines.

Feliú-Mójer reminded us that science learning is enhanced when concepts are made relevant to your context and to your culture. In many Spanish-speaking communities concepts are seldom illustrated in a culturally relevant fashion, and that sends the wrong message to the public and to students. It sends the message that science is not relevant for them or that they can’t become a scientist. Scientists and communicators can help changing this perception by communicating science to the public in a culturally relevant fashion. CienciaPR successfully enlisted scientists from their online community and communicators to create this kind of content (more than 384 articles so far). The effort became a book and now is used in Puerto Rican schools as a textbook, making an impact in K-12 science education.

Science communication is not only about language and what you say, but also about who says it. If you see somebody that speaks your language, shares your background, and looks like you, that communicates that science is relevant to you, and you can reach what that person is. For that reason another successful initiative of CienciaPR has been adding profiles of Hispanic scientists -and personal blogs- and organizing school visits to help change the perception of what a scientist should look or sound like.

If you are engaging the Hispanic community, make sure you include a way they can ask questions and get more information

Adrianna Gutierrez described the Cancer Information Service (CIS) as the link between the scientific health information of the  National Cancer Institute and the community. “We help them answer any questions they may have about cancer and make it in a way that is understandable for them”. She emphasizes that when you are bringing information to Spanish-speaking populations you should also give a way for the community to ask questions and get more information.

The CIS effort relies heavily on the Internet. Not only have one half of the people who contact them found about this service via Internet, but people are using the Internet to contact them with questions: roughly one third of contacts were through email (as many contacts as with their phone calls), and one fifth of contacts were through their Spanish-language Mobile app. They also have a Facebook pageYouTube videos, and a twitter account but not a lot of people use those to ask questions.

What are Hispanics asking about? CIS users are usually contacting them with general questions about symptoms and diagnosis, looking for doctors, and treatment. She also noticed the low percentage of Spanish-speaking requests for more information on cancer clinical trials (only 7.2% of conversations touch that subject). Latinos(*) are vastly underrepresented in cancer research and clinical trials and hopefully, by providing this information and engaging the community, the willingness and interest in participating on clinical trials will increase, providing drugs tested to work on groups that are representative of the general population.

Assess the community you are working with to provide multiple methods for accessing information

Sarah Doty, of Sea Mar, believes the health literacy level of Latinos is an important factor to consider when thinking about what information and resources to put out in the community: an estimated 66% of Latinos have basic or bellow-basic health literacy skills, compared with the overall national number of 36%. Latinos are a very diverse community, not one size-fits-all, not only in literacy levels but also culturally. Assuming Spanish-proficiency is also risky; some of them may have Spanish as a second language and indigenous languages as their native tongue. The level of interest is also highly variable, and you should ask yourself continuously how much information somebody wants.

Having multiple levels of interest and health literacy means that high literacy and high interest users get more in-depth information, low-interest users give less in-depth information and Spanish-as-a-second-language users receive media that provides more visual clues. Doty suggested people interested in bringing health or science stories to Latinos to provide both high-level information and formats accessible for public with low literacy levels (with clear visual information).

A a big number of Latino patients at Sea Mar have cell phones with Internet access but they may not have a computer at home. Doty is using digital storytelling and social media as tools to improve engagement and health literacy in the Latino population. A digital story is basically somebody’s personal story, an audio recording with added photos and some music, a tool to educate about health issues but also for personal empowerment. Sea Mar has a Facebook page and radio station. Radio is a great tool to reach Latino population and it is a community-trusted method to get information. In addition to those, Sea Mar refers web-savvy patients to educational videos on YouTube  to webMD, FamilyDoctor, Myplate (mi plato) and a smoke-cessation website from the Legacy foundation.

Leveraging mobile Internet to reach new immigrants

Ivan Orbegozo, of Latin Nexus Group, came to Seattle 13 years ago speaking almost no-English. Orbegozo talked during our event about his struggles as an Spanish-speaking newcomer, and how finding resources like the Seattle Public library allowed him to learn English and to find a job communicating technology in Spanish. Now he is building the service he dreamed of when he first came to the USA: a centralized list of local resources for Spanish-speaking people using mobile devices. The choice of platform has to do with cell phones helping to reduce the digital divide between Latinos and whites, and the service is implemented in HTML5 to avoid both Hispanic users reluctance to install applications and the segmentation inherent in selecting a specific phone platform for the application.

Can you guess who is NOT Hispanic from the picture? The guy with the red shirt is me. Born in Colombia, Hispanic and 100% Latino.
Can you guess who is NOT Hispanic from the picture? The guy with the red shirt is me. Born in Colombia, Hispanic and 100% Latino.

There is no such a thing as a monolithic audience

To provide context and culturally relevant concepts to Hispanics with roots in the Caribbean and to Hispanics in New Mexico may need sometimes a complete rewrite of your text. Hispanics are a group united by Spanish language and a common history, but not only the language and scientific literacy levels are variable across the community. The same language is not use it the same way in different cultures, and that reflects in the choice of words needed to convey your meaning. There is no easy out-of-the-box way to communicate with Spanish-speaking audiences, but a myriad of possible partnerships with trusted sources for the Hispanic community to create effective and delightful science communication content in Spanish.

What can you do to create content that engages Hispanic Americans?

Sarah Doty firmly believes that it is important for science communicators to grow with the rapidly growing Latino population in a way that involves the Latino community. I completely agree. Hispanics are not invisible, they are not hiding from you, but  they are under the radar for a lot of people in the science communication community. It takes a tuned ear and constant interest to hear the voices that learned first how to speak Spanish, and today are intermingled in our daily lives. Now that you may have caught a glimpse, what can you do to create content that engages Hispanic Americans?

Connect with people of the community, look for individuals that are already trusted by the community, and know what the community needs. User that connection as your platform.

  • You may contact the panelists (see form at the bottom) or contact me.
  • The CienciaPR database is a good point to start looking for partnerships, they have a great membership map with people all over the country. You don’t need to be born in Puerto Rico to be a member, you only need to have an interest in science and Puerto Rico.
  • You may also check an opt-in list of Spanish-speaking science communicators I am hosting called “Ciencia Para Todos” with about a dozen of communicators in USA, another dozen in Spain, and a dozen in Latin-America.
  • Check out this international Twitter list with over 150 Spanish-speaking science communicators.
  • At the federal level several institutions have an effort in Spanish, from NASA to EPA, check if some government organizations in your area of expertise may be interested in partnerships.
  • Some professional organizations have an Spanish effort like the American Chemistry Society or have a hub for minority scientists like the American Physical Society, check if your professional society has one.
  • Contact your local SACNAS or SHPE chapter.
  • Follow #sciolang and #comuniciencia hash-tags on Twitter
  • Google your city name and the word “ciencia” you may be surprised of what you find.
For the full conversation please watch the video (1 hour):


Watch live streaming video from scienceonline at livestream.com



(*) Hispanic and Latino are used very often interchangeably, but I use Hispanic to convey a population with Spanish as main language and cultural tradition, while Latino means to me people with roots in Latin-America. Hispanic includes people born in Spain, but excludes Brazilians because they speak Portuguese, Latino excludes Spanish but includes Brazilians.

Related articles

Contact our panelists:

Special thanks to Jen Davison and Liz Neeley for their guidance and help putting the event together, to Sally James for her invaluable help searching for awesome panelists, to Brian Glanz for planting the idea of this event, to Jessica Rhode for filming it, and to Peter Wallis, Adam Kennedy, and Rachael Ludwick for their support.

Please save the Jicamarca Radio Observatory

English: The Jicamarca Radio Observatory (JRO)...
The Jicamarca Radio Observatory (ROJ), near Lima , Peru, is the premier scientific facility in the world for studying the equatorial ionosphere. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you think the ionosphere is something we don’t need to care about? Think again. Television signals, military tactical communications, and GPS satellites require a good understanding of this area of our atmosphere to operate properly.

A key facility to study the ionosphere, the Jicamarca Radio Observatory (ROJ) is on risk of becoming unusable due to the private interest of a landfill owner. Please help us protect the observatory by signing this petition for the Peruvian congress (petition translated in this post).

During the early days of space exploration the US National Bureau of standards required a facility to explore the ionosphere from the earth’s surface. They needed a unique extended flat location near the magnetic equator, with moderate weather year-long, isolated from lateral radiation, and close enough to a mayor city to get the material and human resources needed for its construction and maintenance. They found the ideal place in the coastal mountains of the Peruvian desert. The Jicamarca valley is a short drive away from the city of Lima, it is ideally surrounded by mountains, and it is just kilometers from the magnetic equator. This great observatory is the biggest of its kind worldwide and it has provided about 90% of what it is known from the equatorial ionosphere. For fifty years it has been a beacon for scientific progress in Peru and the launching pad for science projects in the region, like the MeriHill Optical observatory. The research at ROJ produced over 700 published papers and 54 international PhD dissertations.

Unfortunately, its location near Lima is getting to be a problem. Urban sprawl became a clear menace to the proper functioning of the observatory and in the year 2002 the Peruvian congress approved a law to protect the area surrounding the observatory.  A private company that has the monopoly of trash management in Lima has fought the execution of the law for over nine years in the tribunals, to keep their landfill expansion inside the protected area. Last May the Jicamarca observatory was inexplicable removed from a list of investment projects with national priority that would have allowed the nation to expropriate the land in dispute, and now is on risk of losing the legal battle with the trash mogul. We need your help to tell the Peruvian congress that this observatory is an invaluable scientific resource that needs to be protected. Please sign the petition at the end of this post!

The main facility at Jicamarca Observatory: The 49.9MHz incoherent scatter radar.

The truly unique facility build in Jicamarca sends a high-power radio-wave pulse perpendicular to the magnetic field of the earth, and uses an extended antenna array of 64 separate modules of 12 X 12 crossed half-wave dipoles to measure the incoherent scatter coming from the ionosphere (300m x 300m area, see photo above for scale). I added a very dated video to give you an idea of the setup for the observatory, the facility is mostly the same except for  the modern acquisition systems and the new 1.5 MW transmitters that replace the old set of four described on the video.Start on minute 1:

If you want to help, please visit the link to the petition: Save the Jicamarca Science Observatory (in Spanish, see translation bellow)

Petition for the Congress of Peru

Let’s save the ROJ (Radio Observatory Jicamarca). Please execute approved law #27816.

Created by Ernesto Cabral, Lima, Peru. Translated by Ivan Gonzalez, Seattle, WA, USA.

The Jicamarca Radio Observatory is one of the biggest radar arrays in the world devoted to scientific research; the world’s pioneer facility for ionosphere studies.

The ROJ measured the moon’s surface in preparation to the Apollo XI landing, but its contributions continue today. More than fifty doctoral dissertations, 14 of them from Peruvian scientist, come from the discoveries made at ROJ. This facility is managed by the Peruvian Geophysical Institute (IGP), in collaboration with Cornell University and the NSF (USA).

Nevertheless, this Peruvian scientific asset is on risk of stopping operations due to the interference of a private landfill owner. He has delayed the execution of a law protecting the area near ROJ for over nine years (law number 27816, approved in 2002). The law protects and area of 1,900 Hectares (~1/5 of Manhattan area) surrounding the observatory in the district of Lurigancho, Chosica. This development-free area is necessary to avoid electromagnetic interference on the radiotelescope measurements, originally in the middle of the desert for that reason.

The landfill owner is using judiciary tricks to delay the process and making unfunded accusations against the director of the IGP to try to stop the execution of the law, putting on risk the more of 30 million dollars invested in this truly unique scientific facility. It is time to execute the law #27816.

Signed by several members of the Peruvian National Academy of Sciences and faculty from prestigious Universities and institutes.

Please join us and sign this petition to protect the Radio Observatory of Jicamarca. The little science made in Peru due to lack of economic resources depends on this facility to keep growing. Click here: Save the Jicamarca Science Observatory.

Watch this video from the MeriHill Optical Observatory that shows the mountains of Jicamarca in need of protection and the city of Lima getting closer to the facility.