Followers of @researchgirlca know that I love a good infographic. Sure, they may have had their 15 minutes of fame, and maybe hipsters are calling infographics passe to sound like they’re ahead of the curve… But I think all scientists know that a deft hand at visualizing data is a rare and wonderful thing.
Which gives me an excuse to share with you an entirely non-science-based, interactive qualitative infographic that’s completely stunning and a lot of fun to play with – even if you hate the Oscars and don’t follow it with the passion of a baseball-obsessed sportswriter at the World Series. I hate the Oscars and would rather listen to the @gofugyourself girls and their catty red carpet remarks than sit for five hours watching teary acceptance speeches. But just maybe if they let me tinker with this infographic, I’d stick it out (click image to link to website).
This infographic makes me think that one of the great characteristics of good data visualization is that when it’s done well, you don’t need to know or be interested in the data to interact with it. Just by presenting it in a relevant, interesting and engaging way, the data becomes engaging whether you knew you were interested in it or not. Also – good infographics allow you to view several points at once while maintaining a greater perspective – much the same way scientists add column percentages to our bar charts so you can quickly identify an individual point while seeing it in context.
Just a thought.Read More
Thought scientists were stuffy, boring or unromantic? Not at all. Case in point: Dr. Marie Curie, physicist who pioneered the theory of radioactivity (and coined the term), discovered polonium (named for her native Poland) and radium, and conducted the first study of their use in the treatment of cancerous tumors.
Where’s the romance, you say? Marie was a pioneering scientist, but had little status in Paris and was without laboratory space when she was hired at the Municipal School of Industrial Physics and Chemistry in Paris. Chemist Pierre Curie was a pioneer in magnetism who found himself (this is too easy) irresistibly attracted to Marie. Pierre had all but given up on love 15 years before when he lost his close companion, but their shared passion for science led to mutual respect and eventually love.
“Our work drew us closer and closer until we were both convinced that neither of us could find a better life companion.”
How’s this for nerdy science romance? Marie and Pierre were married in 1895 in a civil union, with Marie in a blue suit she wore later for many years as a lab outfit.
Marie spurred Pierre on to publish his work, while Pierre’s earlier innovation of a device that measured extremely low electrical currents led her to describe her theory of radioactivity. As Marie’s work gained momentum, Pierre set aside his work to join forces with his wife and together they isolated two radioactive elements, Polonium (after Marie’s native Poland) and Radium. The French Academy of Sciences nominated Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel for their discoveries, but not Marie. Through the intervention of colleagues and Pierre, Marie’s major contributions were recognized together with Pierre and Becquerel in 1903. The Curie’s health began to deteriorate even as their research gathered momentum, suffering from health conditions they couldn’t identify, but that we now understand as related to unprotected exposure to radiation. Marie lost 20 pounds during her thesis year, while Pierre suffered attacks of severe pain and exhaustion.
Every great romantic story must have a tragedy, and Marie Curie’s certainly is no exception: Pierre was struck and killed by a horse-drawn wagon in 1906, leaving Marie alone with their children and their life’s work. Despite tragedy, Marie’s life continued to be exceptional: She founded her own academic institutes, scandalized the establishment with her romantic affair with married physicist Paul Langevin, received a second Nobel prize – this time for the medical applications of radioactivity and her novel method dating the earth through measurement of radioactive decay, and developed a medical radiotherapy service during WWI.
After a long struggle with illnesses we now understand as the consequences of unprotected exposure to radiation, Marie Curie died of aplastic anemia in 1934. Her remains were reinterred with Pierre’s in the Pantheon in Paris, where they were recognized for their contributions in their own right.
(This article largely sourced from http://www.aip.org/history/curie/)
I arrived breathless into the second year of my graduate degree in public health – thrilled to be, finally, exactly where I wanted to be and amazed to find I was sort of good at it. But it was at a small symposium of northwest public health schools and faculty in 2008 when the light truly went on – Clyde Hertzman’s keynote blew my mind.
I remember the UBC professor, medical doctor, and public health researcher showing, unequivocally, how providing universal public healthcare had pushed Canada’s childhood health indicators to near the top – and conversely, the wide economic disparities made worse by a lack of access to healthcare had been pushing US childhood health indicators down for years. But before the Canadian professors in the room could puff up their chests, he offered this warning: The tide was turning in Canada – and had started turning when healthcare was short-funded during lean times in the early 1990′s, and it had never been returned to the system when the economy rebounded. We would see a similar decline in the health and intellectual capacity of our children if we didn’t correct the problem, and fast.
I had never experienced such a clear, eloquent and urgent argument illustrated so well with public health statistics. Clyde made me excited and proud to be going into a career where we joke that if you do your job right, nobody notices. His presentation was narrative, his figures were clear and inspiring, and his delivery was folksy but knowledgeable. I admit to a pretty big science nerd crush on Dr. Hertzman. I entertained thoughts of doing a PhD with him one day, long before economic considerations diverted me from further study.
Clyde died far too early – 59. I can’t help but wonder what caused his death – so strangely, found dead on a couch at a friend’s home in the UK. Spontaneous aortic dissection? Massive cardiac event? What would he have said about a death like his? Age, vulnerability to chronic disease, stress, workload… who knows. His research assistant quoted some of his last words to her, soon before his death: “Ziba, life is good.” All I can think is what a loss – potentially 20 more years of brilliant research, teaching, and policy development, lost prematurely in perhaps an ironic statistical aberration. A great mind lost too early.
I don’t have many science heroes. Marie Curie, Louis Pasteur, Norman Bethune, Nikolas Tesla. But Clyde Hertzman is certainly among them – for applying his work for good every step of the way, never ceasing to ask good questions and be unafraid of stating the implications of his research for public health and public policy; for showing what an enormous impact early childhood health and wellbeing had on later health and intellectual ability. Because of Clyde and his Human Early Learning Partnership, a generation of BC kids probably will grow up smarter and stronger than we did. And we can do no better for Clyde’s legacy than making sure that public policy is informed by his discoveries for generations to come.
“An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes to be made, in a narrow field.”
- Neils Bohr (1885-1962)Read More
This has been going around, but if you haven’t seen it, you should. A great laugh, and maybe a little too real for faculty among us!
BY Andy Bryan
Read More- – - -
January 22, 1939
Assistant Professor Henry “Indiana” Jones Jr.
Department of Anthropology
Chapman Hall 227B
As chairman of the Committee on Promotion and Tenure, I regret to inform you that your recent application for tenure has been denied by a vote of 6 to 1. Following past policies and procedures, proceedings from the committee’s deliberations that were pertinent to our decision have been summarized below according to the assessment criteria.
Demonstrates suitable experience and expertise in chosen field:
The committee concurred that Dr. Jones does seem to possess a nearly superhuman breadth of linguistic knowledge and an uncanny familiarity with the history and material culture of the occult. However, his understanding and practice of archaeology gave the committee the greatest cause for alarm.
In my work and my life, I come across a lot of innovations designed for people with disabilities. The best ones seem to be designed by or inspired by people with disabilities themselves. For example, a researcher I know is looking at how people with disabilities can use the Segway for mobility – and how it might even benefit their health!
In my personal life, I’m fascinated by wheelchairs. I’ve used one for the past 25 years, and the technology has changed dramatically in that time. I’ve often doodled designs myself – after Back To The Future, it was hoverchairs requiring no wheels at all! – always wondering how to make the most adaptable, mimialistic design that looks good and fits my life (instead of my life fitting the chair).
I came across this one recently, which really got me thinking:
It’s a battery-powered folding wheelchair without front casters, that balances using gyroscopes the way that a Segway does. Without a doubt, this is a very innovative design. Monash University Student Jack Martinich totally rethought the wheelchair and the result is fascinating. I think this is a great example of how new fresh eyes to a research problem can come up with something unhindered by past design orthodoxy.
HOWEVER – it’s also a great example of what happens when you design something without knowledge of your user. Everything I’ve read about this chair indicates that it is intended for seniors, however this seems to be far more likely to be a chair for a younger, more active user. In this case, the folding element would be a tremendous help as the issue of mobility in vehicles often restricts those who really need to use powered wheelchairs. This is a power-assist device, meaning it still requires hand operation, another thing which might be difficult for seniors, however the added exercise with the power assist would be useful for some. The biggest difficulty for an older population would be getting in and out of this chair – often seniors use scooters because they have fullly-swivelling seats with fold-up armrests allowing them to enter and exit much more easily. This chair would be a difficult transfer for most people (including paraplegics), which is an obstacle not completely addressed by the designer.
All in all, a good start.Read More
David Ogilvy is thought of as the “Father of Advertising,” and one of the inspirations for TV’s popular retro show, Mad Men. I’ve always been fascinated about what scientists (in particular, health communications) can learn from advertising because, let’s face it, we all have to write and speak clearly, accurately and persuasively about our work. Knowledge translation is a way of “advertising” your work to those who could benefit from it, research proposals involve strategy and self-promotion to advertise the scientist and his or her work, and all of us should get better at making peer-reviewed publications clearer and easier to understand.
Advertising and sound writing has even more to do with health communication, where strategic and persuasive communication is essential for communicating vital public health information to those who will benefit from it. I took a class in grad school that was one of my favourites, and I still use principles from it in my everyday work life. A colleague sent this universally sound advice to me today and I’m happy to pass it along (with some suggestions for researchers):
The better you write, the higher you go in Ogilvy & Mather (and in science!).
People who think well, write well.
Woolly minded people write woolly memos, woolly letters and woolly speeches (and terrible research proposals).
Good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well. Here are 10 hints: