The first few pages of Nancy Baron’s book  (Escape from Ivory Tower: A Guide to Make Your Science Matter) set the bottom line, the “so what” of why science communication is important and the common cultural clashes tied to the idea of communication, advocacy and policy making. I particularly like her use of the term “agent of change” to assign an important role to scientists who do engage in communicating their science to broader audiences, both as a self- fulfilling role and as a societal role, to give the publics the information they need to make informed decisions or to simply understand the work of science, its true limitations, and also its essentiality.

Do you consider yourself a science communicator? Science educator? Agent of change?

In our group, we have been talking about this needed cultural change in the ways we see and understand learning in various educational landscapes. That to me entails us seeing ourselves as such “agents of change” and committed to become social scientists, who are among the growing body of professionals struggling to become better science communicators. Just as we call for a new cultural of learning, we should also turn attention to the communication processes it entails, in order to contribute to this hybrid space between science discoveries and public perception as a space of accuracy, fruitful dialogue, needed awareness and welcoming changes.

Looking at our growing steps to become important agents in this hybrid space between what we do and what we say, our group will be producing a series of articles in simple but not simplistic language for the International InterpNews magazine starting this fall, tying our various works to the ideal of a change in learning cultures and the role of interpretation in a global education era. It is a commitment to reach a broader audience, to do what we preach and to learn with it. I am proud to be part of this professional community and have valuable opportunities to play the role of an “agent of change”.


The challenges of integrating the natural and social sciences are not news to us. After King, Keohane and Verba’s (KKV’s) book entitled “Designing Social Inquiry”, the field of qualitative methodology has achieved considerable attention and development. Their work generated great discussions about qualitative studies, as well as criticism, and sometimes misguided ideas that qualitative research is benefited by quantitative approaches but not the other way around. Since then, discussions in the literature debate the contrasts between observations of qualitative vs. quantitative studies, regression approaches vs. theoretical work, and the new approaches to mixed-methods design. Nevertheless, there are still many research frontiers for qualitative researchers to cross and significant resistance from existing conservative views of science, which question the validity of qualitative results.

Last week, while participating in the LOICZ symposium (Land-Ocean Interactions in the Coastal Zone) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, I was very encouraged by the apparent move towards an integrated approach between the natural and social sciences. There were many important scientists from all over the world and from many different disciplines discussing the Earth systems and contributing steps towards sustainability of the world’s coastal zone. Many of the students’ presentations, including mine, had some social research component. I had many positive conversations about the Cyberlab work in progress and how it sits at the edge of building capacity for scientists/researchers, educators, exhibit designers, civil society, etc.

However, even in this meeting, over dinner conversation, I stumbled into the conflicting views that are a part of the quantitative vs. qualitative debate — the understanding of scientific process as “only hypothesis driven”, where numbers and numbers alone offer the absolute “truth”. It is still a challenge for me not to become extremely frustrated while having to articulate the importance of social science in this case and swim against a current of uneducated opinions about the nature of what we do and disregard for what it ultimately accomplishes. I think it is more than proven in today’s world that understanding the biogeophysics of the Earth’s systems is essential, but that alone won’t solve the problems underlying the interaction of the natural and social worlds.  We cannot move towards a “sustainable future” without the work of social scientists, and I wish there would be more of a consensus about its place and importance within the natural science community.

So, in the spirit of “hard science”…

If I can’t have a research question, here are the null and alternative hypotheses I can investigate:

H0 “Moving towards a sustainable future is not possible without the integration of natural and social sciences”.

H1  “Moving towards a sustainable future is possible without the integration of natural and social science”

Although, empirical research can NEVER prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that a comparison is true (95 and 99% probability only), I think you would agree that, if these hypotheses could be tested, we would fail to reject the null.

With all that being said, I emphasize here today the work Cyberlab is doing and what it will accomplish in the future, sitting at the frontiers of marine science and science education. Exhibits such as the wave laboratory, the climate change exhibit on the works, the research already completed in the lab, the many projects and partnerships, etc. , are  prime examples of that. Cyberlab is contributing to a collaborative effort to the understanding and dissemination of marine and coastal issues, and building capacity to create effective steps towards sustainable land-ocean interactions.

I am very happy to be a part of it!


And the Cyberlab is again “going abroad”….Field trip to Brazil anyone?

I will be presenting about my proposed research and the work of cyberlab at a LOICZ (Land-Ocean interaction at the Coastal Zone) Symposium in Rio next week. LOICZ is a core project of the international Biosphere-Geosphere Programme (IGBP) and the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP). The goal of LOICZ is to contribute to science development towards understanding the earth’s systems in order to inform and contribute to sustainable practices and educate the public about the world’s coastal zones.

As one of 8 young Brazilian social and natural scientists funded to participate, I will have the great opportunity to share my research project and the work of cyberlab,  to gain insights onto their global research program as it relates to the themes of the “Future Earth” Programme and contribute to discussions with the LOICZ Steering Committee. The Future Earth themes are:

1.Dynamic Planet: Observing, explaining, understanding, and projecting earth, environmental, and societal system trends, drivers and processes and their interactions as well as anticipating global thresholds and risks.

2.Global development: Knowledge for the pressing needs of humanity for sustainable, secure and fair stewardship of food, water, biodiversity, energy, materials and other ecosystem functions and services.

3.Transformation towards Sustainability: Understanding transformation processes and options, assessing how these relate to human values and behaviour, emerging technologies and social and economic development pathways, and evaluating strategies for governing and managing the global environment across sectors and scales.

Can you think of links/ associations between their themes and the various research works taking place within the lab?  The event funders agreed the work we do fits right within their mission and they are very excited to learn more about the potential for an interdisciplinary  research platform that the cyberlab represents. I have to say,  I was happy to see they are not only valuing the inputs of students/young scientists within their large discussions and initiatives for the Future Earth Programme, but also the inputs of social scientists and learning researchers as ourselves. I am very happy to be a part of this.

If you want to learn more about LOICZ visit  

Stay tuned for twitter posts from Brazil!


Michelle will be posting this week from the Exploratorium.  She’s currently working with NOAA scientists and some of our iPad apps.   Stay tuned.

In the meantime, here’s something to keep you occupied.  An AI called “Angelina,” developed as part of Michael Cook‘s Ph.D. project at Imperial College, generates (almost) entire games procedurally.  From the New Scientist piece:

“Angelina can’t yet build an entire game by itself as Cook must add in the graphics and sound effects, but even so the games can easily match the quality of some Facebook or smartphone games, with little human input. ‘In theory there is nothing to stop an artist sitting down with Angelina, creating a game every 12 hours and feeding that into the Apple App Store,’ says Cook.”

The capacity of games to teach is a research interest of mine, and I think the most interesting thing about Angelina is its ability to run through its own creations to determine (presumably using human-defined parameters) how engaging they are.  It shows in the New Scientist-commissioned “Space Station Invaders” demo game, which is a retro platformer with some nice simple jumping challenges.  The player character’s immortality is a welcome inclusion, as the aggressive procedurally-generated enemy behaviors give new meaning to that classic gamer complaint: “The computer cheats.”



I found this article by Paul Marks while browsing New Scientist a few days ago.  IKEA is one of several store chains using the Indoor Positioning System (IPS) component of Google Maps to help their shoppers navigate.  Marks also discusses some other IPS systems:

Nokia’s version of IPS, not yet available to consumers, aims for even greater precision. The firm litters buildings of interest with Bluetooth-based radio beacons that switch phones running mapping apps based on GPS to using Bluetooth 4.0 signals once they walk indoors. Because the beacons are at fixed sites and have a short range, they can work out your position to within 30 centimetres – enough to “bookmark” a jacket in a shop window and browse back to it later.” [Link in original]

Will this change the way people relate to, and interact with, their surroundings more than GPS and existing applications such as foursquare already have?  Tell us what you think.

Also, if you’re going to IKEA, could you pick up some meatballs for us?  Thanks.


I found this interesting New Scientist piece the other day:
As these sorts of technologies become more common and affordable, what does this mean for interactive exhibits and remote visitor observation? Are people more comfortable with the notion of being “watched” by cameras today than they were 10 years ago?