The University of Cincinnati’s Science Policy Ambassadors are excited to host a series of talks this semester. Below is the schedule with links to the virtual talks, along with the speakers who will be presenting. Descriptions will be available shortly before each talk. Follow @SPAUCS for updates!
Tuesday, February 2nd at 5:30pm: Naomi Charalambakis, PhD (FASEB)
Naomi Charalambakis, PhD, is a Senior Science Policy Analyst for the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), a coalition of 29 scientific societies collectively representing over 130,000 individual biological and biomedical researchers. In this role, she leads efforts of FASEB’s Animals in Research and Education working group, developing policy statements, tracking congressional legislation and agency directives related to animal use in federal research, and creating resources for the lab animal community.
Monday, March 1st at 5:00pm: Sheeva Azma, MS (Former Legislative Intern)
A freelance science writer since 2013, Azma recently founded her own science writing company, Fancy Comma, LLC (www.fancycomma.com). She has also advocated for science on Capitol Hill and has served as a legislative intern in a House office. Sheeva’s work has been published in The Motley Fool, The Xylom, The Kim Komando Show, and LifeWire.
Tuesday, March 23rd at 5:00pm: Cameron L. Tracy, PhD (Kendall Global Security Fellow)
Cameron Tracy on nuclear arms control and the interface between science and security policy. His current research involves analysis and modeling of the flight conditions of hypersonic weapons in order to determine their effects on global strategic stability.
Monday, April 12 at 4:00pm : Matt Robson, PhD (Assistant Professor at UC College of Medicine)
Dr. Jacquart will be presenting a poster titled “Roles for Philosophers of Science in Public Engagement with Science.” Her presentation is a part of the thematic section, “Outreach, Teaching, and Policy,” which begins at 1:00 p.m. EST. Each section will feature live breakout sessions s with the presenters. Other sections include:
The Workings of Science (12 p.m. EST)
Philosophy of Biology (12p.m. EST)
Social Science and Societies (1p.m. EST)
Models and Modelling (1 p.m. EST)
Physical Sciences (1 p.m. EST)
Values and Ethics in Science (2p.m. EST)
Cognitive Science, Neuroscience and Mind (2p.m. EST)
Causation and Explanation (2 p.m. EST)
The Poster Forum will continue the next two Fridays (Jan 29 and Feb 5). Visit the Philosophy of Science Association’s website for more details and the registration link.
Dr. Miller is an evolutionary paleontologist and paleoecologist. His research has focused on mass extinctions and their impacts on global biodiversity, environmental gradients, and anthropogenic effects on modern coastal communities. Dr. Miller differs from a lot of paleontologists in that his passion did not stem from a childhood interest in dinosaurs or other fossils. He grew up in New York City, and with the exception of the American Museum of Natural History, there are not a lot of fossils to be found there. Dr. Miller found became interested in geology while living among geology majors in college. He took a course in geology to learn more about what his peers were talking about, ultimately leading to him pursuing majors in geology and biology. During his studies, he was inspired by a professor who introduced him to using fossils as data to study biodiversity and mass extinctions, which is when he first became passionate about paleontology.
In 2007, Dr. Miller was elected as a Fellow of the Paleontological Society for, among other work, being instrumental in the Paleobiology Database (PBDB). This website is a compilation of fossil data, where they were found, the publication that described them, and where they can be found now. It is used by paleontologists with an interest in “big data”- the use of multiple collections to piece together an understanding of broad trends in space and time. However, this database is open source, and is also used by instructors to give their students experience processing data.
Since then, Dr. Miller has served as the President of the Paleontological Society; he is currently finishing his term as Past President. In this position, he has strived to champion diversity, equity, and inclusion. He has encouraged the scientific community to acknowledge our previous shortcomings in these areas. He is co-chair of the Society’s ethics committee, dedicated to ensuring that Society is inviting, safe, and inclusive for all participants in its activities. He and his colleagues are working to improve opportunities for people with diverse backgrounds to enter all fields of science. The Society has been developing financial opportunities for underrepresented minorities, and Society representatives now regularly attend meetings focused on minority inclusion in science, such as the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS). They also work to increase education and outreach that specifically targets underrepresented audiences.
Dr. Miller also addressed outreach and community involvement in science in his role as Head of the Geology Department and as A&S Senior Associate Dean. When the Cincinnati Museum Center (CMC) closed for renovations a few years ago, he was a part of a group that worked to bring some of the exhibits to the University of Cincinnati campus. Along with this, they scheduled programs such as a panel on global climate change that drew in community members in Cincinnati. CMC exhibits were also set up at the airport, and the teams behind this and the University exhibits held a townhall at a conference for museum professionals about their experiences setting these up. These exhibits being in different environments effectively brought the museum to people who might not normally visit, resulting in more engagement than may normally be possible.
Dr. Miller also has had the opportunity to engage in debates about evolution and creation. He thinks that engaging people of all backgrounds and belief systems is important without being perceived as condescending. As part of the 2009 North American Paleontology Convention hosted at UC, Miller, who was chair of the organizing committee, took 75 paleontologists to visit the Creation Museum to give them a firsthand look at what and how ideas were being communicated there. Members of the group found the visit to be eye-opening, with respect to how professionally ideas were presented from a strictly technical standpoint, even though those ideas diverged from accepted science. Responding to dissent is important, but scientists do not always communicate well, and doing so well with humility and respect is crucial. Every year while teaching an introductory-level course on the history and evolution of life , he spent a week on the creationism-versus-evolution question, including inviting a representative from the Creation Museum to speak to the class at the end of the semester ; this was followed by extensive, in-class discussion . While Dr. Miller does not think that direct debates with creationists are helpful or productive, he does encourage scientists be aware of and understand the bases of other views. Through the study and discussion of creationism, he hoped that students would come to understand what information was being taken out of context. He also encouraged them to listen, rather than making wholesale judgements about what others think; everyone’s beliefs and ideas have multiple dimensions and need to be taken seriously.
As an emeritus professor, Dr. Miller is continuing to work with the Paleontological Society and University. Besides his work on the Center’s Advisory Board, he is also helping to develop a Digital Futures Consultant program for new and young faculty at the University of Cincinnati. He’s also becoming more politically involved; in the most recent election, he served as a poll watcher and on a “Protect the Vote” hotline for people who had questions about how to vote.
Dr. Miller’s message is one of encouragement. He wants people to keep their minds open to other people and opportunities around them, especially those outside of the classroom. Had it not been for the experiences he had in college, especially those that focused on working with data , he likely would have taken a different path. In recruiting diverse participants to paleontology and geology, he advocates speaking about the diverse opportunities there are for people who want to work in these areas. “Field work and adventures in the out of doors can be off-putting, at least initially, to people who grow up in urban settings, for example, and yet we do other things that aren’t field work, such as working on computers and in geochemistry labs.” Paleontology and geology are not just for those who enjoy field work and dinosaurs; these fields, and science in general, are diverse and have something for everyone.
What happens when you open the world of science to children? This week, we highlight the efforts of a UC Center for Public Engagement with Science affiliate Dr. Carlie Trott, who told us about her work with K-12 students. Dr. Trott has ongoing projects with youth in multiple communities that address sustainability, climate change, and climate justice. She partners with community groups to engage children in science, incorporating the arts and letting the children’s interests drive the direction that each program takes.
Dr. Trott’s first project was with 10-12-year-old students in partnership with three local Boys and Girls Clubs in Colorado during her PhD program. The children signed up for the program voluntarily, and started by learning about science, but ultimately began planting trees and a community garden. They also advocated for action to be taken on climate change in their own communities as an event. Historic fires, droughts, and floods were happening in their region in the years leading up to the program, and the children made the connection between the science they were learning and its impact on their lives. Climate change was not just an abstract idea; it was happening around them, and they could see it in their daily lives. The air smelled like a campfire, and the air quality impacted whether they could go outside. Because of this, climate science turned out to be the connection that built bridges to make science more approachable (Trott & Weinberg, 2020). Trott’s contact at the Boys and Girls Clubs indicated that the students were more excited about their projects than they had been about any other program, maybe except for sports.
The same events that helped her students connect to science inspired Dr. Trott’s future efforts. Previously, she had been working on a project understanding women’s experiences in atmospheric science. She had already been inspired by climate science and diversity research. But when historic environmental tragedies occurred during her Ph. D program, and it became clear that fires, hurricanes, and droughts were getting progressively worse and would impact some of the most impoverished communities first, Dr. Trott wanted to use her work to make a change.
Dr. Trott’s later projects have built on the concepts she used at the Boys and Girls Clubs, incorporating art, science, and students’ passions. Community groups began reaching out to her after that project about spearheading similar projects elsewhere. In Jacmel, Haiti, Jakmel Ekspresyon (JE) Arts Center worked with her to set up a course in arts and sciences that is currently on its third cycle. Part of this program has students take pictures and measure water quality, and help their community learn which water sources are safe to use. Their students are also advocating for improvements to infrastructure to better provide safe water, as well as helping educate their community about how to be safe in the current situation. Because their passion is obvious to the adults in their communities, the messages that students in these programs decide to advocate for are generally well received and their efforts are supported. Similarly, Dr. Trott is collaborating with a disaster organization in Thailand that is preparing to train schoolteachers to run a program similar to the one in Colorado. After learning about climate change, students will be encouraged to connect what they have learned to real life through photography, and then build and design ways to influence their communities. Because she publishes in open access journals whenever possible, similar groups learned about her work and have reached out about doing the same in Kenya, the Philippines, England, and here in Cincinnati. She is part of a grant submitted to NSF to start her “Science, Camera, Action!” program here, where students observe and photograph their world and design ways to address a problem they see.
When the pandemic ends, Dr. Trott plans to travel to where other programs are ongoing. She will assess their success by surveying students before and after they start, as well as holding “focus groups,” talking to the students about their experiences as a group. She learns more from what they say in response to open-ended questions than close-ended survey items because the young people lead the conversation. Sometimes, she is surprised by what they leave the program with. One group told her that they were upset that adults were not actively trying to make the changes that they had started advocating for. Even though this was not the message that Dr. Trott had intended to teach them, the interaction of the science they were learning with their lives when they went home each day led to their own ideas.
Dr. Trott also plans to start interviewing youth climate advocates for a new study, especially those fighting for climate justice. They want to help the countries that are being impacted the worst, despite contributing the least to the problems and lacking the resources to adapt easily. In the last few years, we have seen more youth taking ownership of issues and speaking up for change for their futures. Children care, they see what is at stake, and they are not distracted by the same priorities and issues that adults are. Dr. Trott hopes to better understand where these youth are becoming aware of these issues, and what has led to them becoming increasingly active.
Dr. Trott hopes that, by introducing students to topics that may not otherwise be discussed until later in their science classrooms, she will capture their curiosity as well as their desire to do something and encourage some of them to ultimately pursue science as a career. She has found that when students’ passions drive their projects, they are motivated to get involved. Around 4th to 6th grade, to the surprise of many adults, students are able to understand emotionally and intellectually challenging topics such as climate change. This is about the age that children develop the ability to think more abstractly. Rather than becoming overwhelmed and disheartened, they are in a stage of life where they want to help. And by introducing them to these topics early, we can prevent them from feeling hopeless as they learn more. In addition to exposing them to science, students are empowered with coping strategies before becoming teenagers.
Dr. Trott’s work to expose students to science and art encourages curiosity, action, and hope. Young students have the passion to act and the ability to understand the problems that they see around them. By understanding their perception of the world and further empowering them to act, we give them the opportunity to reshape their communities, to hope because they know they can drive change, and to create their futures.
Dr. Gustafson studies public opinion and strategic communication in science and environmental issues. Using surveys and communication experiments, he assesses how various demographic and political groups think about and respond to these issues. For example, his research has identified how political polarization develops on environmental issues, and how the public reacts to portrayals of uncertainty in science. His findings help develop more effective strategies for communicating science to the public
Dr. Gustafson became interested in science and environmental communication as a graduate student. At the time, he was studying theories of persuasion and social influence. However, he wanted his research to make a positive impact on society. This led him to study persuasive communication related to climate change and other environmental issues.
Dr. Gustafson has collaborated with a wide range of scholars (from political scientists to geographers and literary scholars) and a wide range of organizations (from nonprofit advocacy groups to media companies). A primary goal of his work is to help these different groups improve the way that they communicate about science issues to the public.
A key player in public science communication is the news media. In a forthcoming report, Dr. Gustafson and his colleagues at Yale and George Mason Universities use public opinion data to show that many Americans want the news media to do more to address the issue of climate change. Dr. Gustafson says this study is particularly important, because many people get their information about science and environmental issues from the news. If news organizations are made aware that their audience wants more and better information about important issues like climate change, this may lead to increased news coverage, which can in turn have large impacts on public support for climate action.
Dr. Gustafson noted that the current COVID-19 pandemic is a fascinating example of the oftentimes fraught and polarized relationship between science and the public. Currently, opinions about the dangers of pandemic and participation in recommended preventative actions show a sharp divide along party lines. Dr. Gustafson noted that this is a clear example of the need for clear, effective science communication from trusted experts. In a study conducted earlier this spring, Dr. Gustafson and his colleagues found that the CDC’s official recommendation to wear masks resulted in an immediate and dramatic increase in mask-wearing behavior.
You can read more about Dr. Gustafson’s publications and work here.
Dr. Morehouse leads a lab that studies insects and spiders. He has a special interest in how they see the world, and how their vision influences the choices they make. He was drawn to the University of Cincinnati because the school has a strong community working on the biology of vision, philosophy of perception, and other fields related to sight. He is currently part of an effort to create a central place for this community through the Institute for Research In Sensing (IRIS). Planning is ongoing, but programming is staged to begin by Spring 2021.
Dr. Morehouse is partly interested in the vision of spiders and insects because of the diversity of ways that their eyes function. Vertebrates all have eyes similar to a camera; they have a single lens in front of a cavity above a sheet of cells that receives light. Arthropods have a wider diversity of types of eyes. In insects, the most common is the compound eye, which has thousands of individual flat lenses that are all sensitive to light. The information from these pieces together a clearer mosaic image. They also have a lens that gives them separate information about which way is up and helps them make quick decisions important to flight. Spiders are even more complex; they have 8 eyes. 6 of these evolved from compound eyes, derived from a common ancestor with insects. However, these have lost their ability to create a detailed image, likely because spiders lived underground for a large part of their evolutionary history. These eyes have a very low resolution and cannot see color, much like our peripheral vision. Their other eyes collect information for a more complex color image. They form at a different stage in the spider’s development, and even connect to a different part of their brains. This pair of eyes has a single lens, with a long cavity behind it, like a Galilean telescope. This is called a diverging lens, and magnifies anything they focus on. This means that despite having eyes that are only ½ mm wide, they can see patterns as well as an elephant can and can see better than most other animals their size.
One of the overarching questions Dr. Morehouse and his lab are pursuing is “why?” Spiders have 3-color, vision like humans do, although the exact colors they see are different. Some can see even more than 3 colors. Their interactions, especially during mating, are very reliant on visual cues and color. However, it is unlikely that these displays evolved until after their vision did; after all, why show off if no one can see it? So why did they evolve such complicated vision in the first place? To help them hunt? To avoid something toxic? This research has taken them around the world.
Ongoing research in the lab includes whether the male and female audacious jumping spiders see the world differently. Both sexes track each other’s movements closely during mating and develop in similar ways. One notable difference is that the females have an extra stage or two of development (instars) before maturity, which might allow their eyes to get bigger. There are some differences in the way genes linked to vision are expressed, but the physical effects of that expression are still being figured out. Dr. Morehouse also has students working on the evolution of illusions and how non-human animals discriminate faces. Such studies are possible with arthropods because the lab has technology that can track the movement of their eyes.
Dr. Morehouse was inspired to study arthropods when he was three years old; he would go into his backyard and pick up bumblebees, get stung, and pick them back up. He tries to foster the curiosity of children through long term mentoring programs. He participates in the STEM Girls programs at the Cincinnati Museum Center, afterschool programs, and summer camps. Most recently, he ran a summer camp that allowed students to write their own superhero persona, including a disguise, personality, and power, that was inspired by the natural world. At the end of the week, he showed up in disguise as a supervillian with his own powers, and challenged them to defeat him with their own creativity.
Dr. Morehouse continues to be excited about his field. It has incredible implications for technology; understanding how animals process information could inspire biomedical advances, the engineering of computers that can process information as quickly as arthropods, and programming for the decision making of autonomous cars. In his words, “the natural world has had millions of years to figure out the answers to questions that we are only beginning to ask.” But Dr. Morehouse’s main mission is more philosophical.
“To be honest, those [questions] aren’t what motivate me. Its cool, but it doesn’t drive me. I would feel like my life had been wasted if I didn’t spend it in the pursuit of curiosity. …I actually think that to be curious is an essential part of what it means to be human. If we forget …it as a basic human pursuit, we’re lost. We should encourage healthy curiosity. In part, what I’m doing is art: I want to spark the curiosity of others. Have I changed how people view their world? Is there more magic to their backyard? If I can just move people’s feet from where they were before, that’s success.”
To read more about on-going research in the Morehouse lab, click here.
One of the earliest lessons we learn in our training as scientists is to accept the simplest explanation of evidence, rather than assuming a more complicated solution. We call this “Occam’s Razor,” and it is repeated in class after class.
“Idealizations like these make it possible for scientists to focus in on one or a few factors in a sea of complexity in order to get a handle on how those factors are relevant and perhaps to use them as ‘levers’ for change. Where we go wrong—and “we” here includes many scientists, philosophers, policy-makers, and others—is in assuming that our simple explanations provide the full story. “
Democratic theory is the way that philosophers evaluate institutions, elected officials, and the groups that influence them. It also models their decisions and actions. Dr. Martinez is particularly interested in understanding the influence of non-elected officials. Democratic theory research results in debates over how to better represent the population, assess the ideas of the public, and hold officials accountable. Early on, papers are aimed at other researchers. However, Dr. Martinez wants his research to influence how he communicates and teaches. He also encourages people to make themselves heard in ways beyond voting and surveys by joining advocacy groups and being active in their communities. For example, one ongoing discussion encompasses climate change; because it is slow, it might not be the drive behind the public’s vote. However, it is still important that it be acted on.
One idea that democratic theory addresses is how government agencies writing policies interact with the public. When these agencies ask for public opinion, there is potential for the answers they receive to not lead to actions that the public wants. Partly, this might be the result of who answers the survey if only those who are passionate about a topic will respond. Additionally, the way that information is presented before a question is asked, and how the question is asked, may influence how people answer. They may also respond based on how they identify with a political party, religion, race, or other group. Dr. Martinez is currently working on co-authoring a paper that examines the role that such identities play. Although many theorists describe and model actions in simple or “ideal” situations, Dr. Martinez is more focused on more complicated scenarios. Work like his can be used in further discussions that lead to policy writing.
Dr. Martinez was drawn to philosophy because it gave him the flexibility as a student to ask questions and do interdisciplinary research, combining empirical data and abstract ideas. During his time in graduate school, he coached an ethics bowl team at a local high school. He plans to pass his enthusiasm on to students at UC by teaching classes on civics. Civics classes, he said, need to communicate more than the basic process of bills becoming laws; he intends to teach classes that involve students discussing current events, as well as collecting information and taking action in their communities. He hopes to encourage students, who are also citizens, to actively work to solve problems around them, rather than merely regurgitating facts. He also hopes to communicate his work to his new community in Cincinnati in partnership with the Center for Public Engagement with Science, increasing people’s exposure to new groups and ideas. He is participating in the Center’s efforts to write a series of papers that is meant to give researchers guidance in science communication. He hopes to continue to work with scientists who are doing work related to current politics to promote communicating this work to the public.
To help other researchers increase the impact of their research, Melissa discussed strategies such as the use of social media and reaching out to various in-person venues. She emphasized treating outreach as a two-way discussion rather than a one-sided “pitch.” She also encouraged researchers to consider their own goals and their target audience prior to presenting it to the public. Finally, she informed her audience of the service and goals of the Center for Public Engagement with Science, including support for outreach activities, partnerships, and training.
University of Cincinnati affiliates can view her presentation here.
Emily is a Ph.D student in the geology department. She is focusing on vertebrate paleontology and stable isotope ecology, and will be studying the impact of a global cooling on a mammal community in Egypt that is about 34 million years old. Emily fell in love with paleoecology because of its interdisciplinary nature, and because she enjoys using the stories of how past plants and animals interacted to teach others about science.
In her spare time she enjoys continuing to teach others science through volunteer work at museums and schools, exploring nature, and doing a variety of crafts. She looks forward to continuing to communicate science to others through this platform as well! Emily hopes to eventually be a curator at a natural science museum, where she can continue both paleontology research and science communication as well as spearhead programs to continue helping local students explore science.