Kids + Marine Biology = Awesome

Hey! I’m in a book! For kids! Best of all, its’ a chapter to help kids get excited about marine science. I got hooked into the world of marine biology young, and have never looked back. I mean – The ocean! Sea life! It’s awesome!

So, I was delighted when Alisa Weinstein asked me a few years ago to contribute to her Earn My Keep project. The basic premise of the project is that we want our kids to learn about some of the interesting jobs and professions out there in the real world. So, to earn their allowance, why not have your kids try out projects based on real-world careers. Have them see what its like to be a marine biologist, or a costume designer, or a librarian, or a yoga teacher, or more!

Alisa organized 50 of us (how she balanced the correspondence I’ll never know), and asked us questions about our jobs – what do we love about them? What is involved in our daily professional lives? What are some projects that kids can do to get a sense of our job?

The results are collected in her new Earn It, Learn It which is due to be published soon! Definitely worth checking out for those of you with kids out there, and if you want to see some of the results, Alisa has actually been trying all of these projects out with her daughter Mia.

As for me, I’m just happy that I finally managed to get the difference between a marine biologist and marine ecologist in print for kids. Got to start ‘em early!

In the Grass, On the Reef – Vlogging Research

So, you’re an ecology power-couple starting a new life. You’ve got some elegant and incredibly ambitious experiments designed, funded, and ready to go. You’re about to revolutionize the study of coastal ecosystems…but where?

Where is in the Gulf of Mexico.

And right before your work really takes flight, the Deepwater Horizon happens.

(add to that that one of you is taking some course from some silly guy on this thing called structural equation modeling – why would you ever do that? I mean, come on, really.)

So, what do you do? Blog it.

Dr. Randall Hughes and Dr. David Kimbro are two of the finest ecologists I know (and former colleagues out at BML). Their blog/vlog, in collaboration with WFSU-TV, should be a fascinating exploration of how ecologists conduct research, as well as tracking research efforts on the effects of oil on marshes, seagrass, and oyster beds in real time.

So go check out In the Grass, On the Reef.

The Map of Science

Why does it take so long for awesome cutting-edge statistical to make their way over to ecology? There are a myriad of techniques out there that have been around for 20, 30, 40, or more years that could help so many ecologists from banging their head into a wall over and over and over and…well, you get the point. But, it takes quite a while for them to percolate over to us. This is not for lack of user-friendly tools, often. Rather it has to do with the connectivity of disiciplines.

For example, I was having a lovely conversation with Jim Grace the other day about using Structural Equation Modeling for predictive purposes, and we ended up chatting a little about history. SEM as it is done currently – using maximum likelihood approaches to fit a model to a covariance or correlation matrix – really dates to the late 1960s and early 1970s. Before then, scientists in a number of disciplines used a wide variety of approaches to examine path models (a là Sewall Wright’s Path Analysis), or perform Factor Analysis, or approach other multivariate models that often included latent variables. These techniques were fairly heterogeneous, even though they attempted to do roughly similar things.

It took Karl Jöreskog‘s wonderful papers outlining his LISREL technique and software using maximum likelihood to really bring the whole enterprise together into modern SEM.

And yet, despite the fact that this seminal work was published in the 70s, there are Ecological papers well into 90s that use piecewise regression models to fit path analyses. Why?

The answer can be summed up by this beautiful diagram detailing the connectivity of science in 2004 from the ever-interesting (and hat-tip to Jim for pointing it out to me).

Orange circles represent fields, with larger, darker circles indicating larger field size as measured by Eigenfactor score™. Blue arrows represent citation flow between fields. An arrow from field A to field B indicates citation traffic from A to B, with larger, darker arrows indicating higher citation volume. Image from

Basically, these methods were developed for economics, and saw their first heavy use there and and sociology, political science, education, and psychology. In terms of connectivity, Ecology & Evolution sites on the other side of a doughnut hole of communication (with the occasional exception of psychology). Historically, the fields where the newest techniques are being developed are rarely examined by ecologists, and it is to our loss. Fortunately, I think this is a historical trend. With the rise of search engines, message-boards, and copious mailing lists, I do wonder if a connectivity graph from 2004-2010 would be much tighter.

Connectivity can only be a boon for science. With environmental issues beginning to impinge on every endeavor, it has become more important than ever to survey the breadth of what is out there.

So, hey, sign-up for alerts for a journal that you think will have no relevance to you. Who knows what might drop into your inbox.

Research Blogging Awards!

Research Blogging Awards 2010 Well, everyone’s had a great year blogging away about the peer reviewed literature, yes? It’s time to reward those efforts! Announcing the first annual Research Blogging Awards! There are a multitude of categories, each with a $50 cash prize attached. And, here’s the kicker, the best research blog of the year will win $1,000! And with the upcoming iTablet, iPad, iSlate, iWillCallItWhatIWant tech-shininess from Apple just around the corner, it’s not a moment too soon!

So head on over and nominate away!

CSAs for the Sea

Here at the Santa Barbara Farmer’s market, I’ve been delighted that we have local fish, ridgeback shrimp, mussels, and oysters. They’re amongst the tastiest seafood I’ve eaten (last week’s pumpkin shrimp risotto that I whipped up was one of the all time most amazing things I’ve ever cooked).

One thing I’ve always admired is that the lovely fresh seasonal sustainably farmed veggies one can get at the farmers market can also be purchased via a Community Supported Agriculture organization. CSA’s are awesome, in that a farm offers “shares” to the public. The subscribers pay up front for, say, a box of vegetables that they pick up weekly, hence giving them cash up front so that they can plan their season. This promotes good (and seasonal) eating on the part of consumers, good farming practices on the part of farmers (many CSAs are organic, etc, given the type of consumer that goes for these sorts of efforts), and fosters a nice sense of community between farmer and consumer.

Intriguingly, the model for veggies has caught on for meat, so that in many places you can now get a “meat share” from places like the Sonoma County Meat Buying Club.

So with all of this promotion for sustainable, quality, communal food buying from terrestrial sources, I’ve long wondered – why are there not CSA’s for the sea? Why not pool a bunch of consumers who get their weekly fish, so that they can subsidize the costs of fishing, provide support through good and bad years. Most importantly, this would tie people more closely to the fishing policies that happen right off their coast, giving them a reason to understand and financially address important marine policy issues, and promoting better stewardship of this precious resource. So rather than a CSA, what about a CSF (community supported fishery), if you will.

Well, it looks like it has happened! The Port Clyde Fresh Catch seafood cooperative has worked in collaboration with the Island Institute, the Nature Conservancy, and the Penobscot East Resource Center to set up a CSF provides weekly fish shares, in addition to settling at local farmer’s markets. The offer a variety of fish and shrimp CSF options. And being a modern organization, they even have a facebook page.

Fortunately, this doesn’t appear to be an isolated phenomenon. Around Boston, the Cape Ann Fresh Catch started up last summer (there was even an article in the Wall Street Journal). Intriguingly, they also take a very long careful and nuanced look at what it means to say that their actions are sustainable. And, of course, they have a facebook page.

There’s also a CSF in North Carolina called Walking Fish (also on facebook – sheesh!) They’ve recently been nominated for a sustainability award. And Skipper Otto’s in Vancouver (obligatory fb link).

What a great model. I hope it catches on here in California, and paves a way for future local sustainable fishing policy by really coupling local communities to the seas around them.

Update: The Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance actually maintains a list of all CSFs in the US.

Who’s your (academic) (great-grand) Daddy?!

Science is a giant family. Each Professor gives “birth” to a litter of PhD students over time, many of whom go on to have their own students, who have their own students, and so on and so forth ad infinitum.

While all of us know our academic parent (right?), at least some of our sciblings (depending on the age of the lab), and usually our academic grandparent, what about our great-grandparent? Or great-great-grandparent. Can my aacadmic lineage be traced back to Darwin? Or Linneaus? Indeed, something like 40% of mathematicians can indeed trace themselves back to Leibniz.

Not it’s time for Marine Ecologists to do the same.

Mary O’Connor has graciously setup a Marine Ecology Family Tree over at the wonderful The site endeavours to see how all academic geneologies end up connecting. Is your discipline not there? Contact the admins. But if you’re a marine ecologist, go there now, login, and fill in your info! Let’s see how many degrees we’re separated by!

(also, as more info is filled in, I’ll update my tree on the right)