Monthly Archives: June 2013

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I’m still collecting my thoughts from the World Conference of Science Journalists. I have a lot of them. Here’s one of (perhaps) several posts that relate to those thoughts.

When we launched the Uncertainty issue for Nautilus Magazine, I added a column to my TweetDeck that searched for any Tweets with the word “uncertainty” in them. I thought I might find some interesting links or discussions about uncertainty in our lives that I could use or retweet. And while I didn’t really find anything usable for Nautilus, I did find that I was totally mesmerized by that column. I checked it all the time. It was so incredibly different from my usual Twitter feed – full of people completely different from me who were worrying about relationships and death, God and their parents, taxes, bills, whether they were going to have to go to court again, whether they were pregnant and whether their boyfriends who got them pregnant still liked them.

In journalism we talk a lot about our “audience.” And for most of us, we have no clue who those people actually are. I picture some of my friends from high school – people who are curious and smart but skipped class when they could get away with it. Other journalists I know picture their uncle or their mom. But all these people leave us with the same problems: they’re people we know, they’re people more or less like us. This is a huge problem (I think) with science communication in general. We’re really good at talking to people like us, and we’re really bad at talking to anybody else. (I’ll have more thoughts on that point later, but for now I’ll leave it at that).

Since stumbling upon the uncertainty search in Twitter, I wondered what it would be like to apply it to science. So, here’s a little site. It shows you who you need to win over, and who is already on your side. (Yes, I know that not everyone in the world is on Twitter and that using this ignores large underrepresented portions of the population. We should talk to them too. It isn’t meant to be a cure, just a little window into a slightly different world than your own.)

Let me know what you think. Does this help? Are you learning anything? If so, share!

In case you missed the link up there, here it is again.


Ireland used to have brown bears

OMG Fact: Ireland once had brown bears. They probably didn’t survive the last ice age.

Silver bullets do actually kill things

OMG Fact: Silver does actually kill stuff, just not Werewolves.

Sound effects are weird, part 2

OMG Fact: Arch Obler, producer of the old radio horror series, Lights Out, invented all sorts of cool sound effects. In one episode, aliens came and turned people’s bodies inside out. He later said the sound effect of the people turning inside-out was achieved by filling a wet rubber glove with cooked macaroni, and slowly turning it inside out.

Sound effects are weird, part 1

Image: John Loo

Image: John Loo

OMG Fact: The stabbing sound effects for the Psycho shower scene come from stabbing a casaba melon.

When it came to doing the sound effects for the famous stabbing scene in the shower, Hitchcock sent for a watermelon. The prop man, anticipating his boss’s perfectionism, brought in several varieties of melon. The director closed his eyes and listened while melons were auditioned. ”When the demonstration table was littered with shredded fruit, Hitchcock opened his eyes, and intoned simply: ‘Casaba.’ ”

This is the sound of 69 endangered species calling at once


OMG Fact: This is what it sounds like when you mash the calls of 69 endangered species together. 

(note: I stuck this onto Soundcloud so I could embed it here, but I didn’t make this) 

No more ironclads? Just slap some wood on a steamboat!

OMG Fact: When the Union ran out of ironclads, they stuck some wood on some steamships and made “timberclads.” 

Cicada sex is weird

OMG Fact: Cicadas have weird sex that goes on for a really long time. At least in Staten Island. 

Your Googling is actually unique

Screen Shot 2013-06-12 at 5.34.30 PM

OMG Fact: Every day, 16% of the searches that occur are ones that Google (and the NSA) has never seen before.

Bee penises are crazy looking

OMG Fact: This is what a bee penis looks like. After it mates with the queen, that penis snaps off and acts as a plug so that no one else can bonk the queen.