Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018 shortlist – in pictures | Science | The Guardian

Simply beautiful!

The Milky Way, the Andromeda galaxy and the Running Man nebula feature in the shortlist for the Insight Investment Astronomy Photographer of the Year award. The winners will be announced on 23 October, and an exhibition of the winning images from the past 10 years of the contest will be on show at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich from 24 October

Source: Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018 shortlist – in pictures | Science | The Guardian

Photograph: Mark Gee/National Maritime Museum

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Always mkgaud – Who run the world?

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Speak Honestly and Clearly about Sex.

I collect motivational and interesting comments. That has been part of my life since university when I kept a folder titled “beautiful things”. That’s a collection of interesting, snappy, motivational and just beautiful quotations and pictures, photos and stuff. Later on, the file became a computer file of screenshots and downloaded pictures that I collect and review most days. I set the pictures to slide-show and get on with my morning.

Yesterday this picture came up. “People like sex, get over it”. I don’t know who wrote this and searching has brought up no insight; nevertheless, I value the statement. Certainly, I enjoy sex. And in the broader context of sustainability and just good intimate relationships, I think openness and honesty and knowledge will move us forward. Hiding our need for physical and emotional intimacy, or blocking it because we have been taught that sex is dirty or sinful is dangerous.

Serendipity is a thing. The same day this article was in the news. This heading was in the news, “Too many young women suffer through painful sex”. The heading went on with, “As a GP, I see a steady stream of uneasy 22-year-olds, underwhelmed by their sex lives and ashamed of it”. To me, that is shocking especially as the claim was that the insidious influence of porn was the problem. Really. More likely, the result of a lack of knowledge and lack of communication between the lovers. The author goes onto tell of the solution: time together, intimacy training and lots of non-penetrative touching. None of this is new. I knew before I met my wife almost thirty years ago of the need for slowness and gentleness and communication. My point is this, although I wince at the headline, the central challenge is honest clear communication. How is a man, particularly a young man, supposed to know how his partner is responding without words? Both partners speaking clearly and honestly. Additionally, is it realistic to expect amazing joy every time?

In New Zealand, we are lucky, at least our children are taught sexuality in school. In Myanmar, that doesn’t happen. My next link is to this article, “Sex, taboos and #MeToo – in the country with no word for ‘vagina'”. Here we find a report on the work of Dr. Thet Su Htwe in Myanmar. Although sex education is part of the curriculum, it is not taught. The teachers too embarrassed and without training and knowledge, or support. This is changing with her work but slowly. Dr. Thet Su is reported as stating, “Education is the first step to building respect for each other’s bodies, learning about the similarities and differences, leading to respect for women’s rights: “We need to educate women, what are your rights? And raise awareness, not only among women but nationwide, and among men.”” That sounds about right to me.

Much better what I found from the USA this week. The most recent Story Collider podcast. Here we have two stories on the theme of, “The science of dating: stories of sex and romance”. Comedian Josh Gondelman reports on a penis numbing spray, and neuroscientist Heather Berlin and rapper Baba Brinkman decide to use science to decide if they will become a breeding pair. Josh tells of his adventure with the spray. He tells that after picking up the spray from the commissioning editor he had a date, a woman he had not slept with, just getting to know. He tells of telling her about the spray and asking if she would join him testing it. She declined. But what honestly. Heather Berlin and Baba Brinkman tell of their initial relationship. Baba honestly questioning Heather on her personality using the big five model to discuss their compatibility. That on their first date. Both stories are upfront and honest, brash as only Americans can be. Clearly honest communications lead to clear relationships. That’s what I’m selling here.

As I have stated in earlier blogs, sex that is sustainable and beautiful leads to more joy and fewer children, both what we want moving forward.

Source: Too many young women suffer through painful sex |

I have no idea where this is from. Sorry.

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Botanical life in close-up – in pictures | Environment | The Guardian

I love the cross-over between art and science. This book is a wonderful example.

Colin Salter’s new book is a selection of extraordinary electron microscopic images of the plant world around us, including seeds, pollen, fruiting bodies, trees and leaves, flowers, vegetables and fruit

Source: Botanical life in close-up – in pictures | Environment | The Guardian

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Antarctica: The First Dance

When I was a youngster I was fascinated by Antarctica, that was a remote magical place on the far edges of everywhere. My uncle Paul who lectured Geology at Victoria studied in the Wright Dry Valley in Antarctica. He came to tell my primary school class about working in Antarctica. That was in the sixties before climate change was in our reality.

Last week we enjoyed Dancing with Motzart with the Royal New Zealand Ballet, I didn’t know much about the second piece, Antarctica put together by Cory Barker. It turns out he loves dance and understands the fragility of human systems. In an interview with TVNZ he said, “This planet will change, it’ll just mold its way out, we’ll just be kicked off it. That’s the really big concern, and what I want to address through the art-form I’m really passionate about.” Cory understands the risk unlike so many who talk about saving the planet. The planet is not at risk, we are. The dance I watched last week was in response to his concerns about human impact on Antarctica. That is a big thing. What I now know is that the performance I watched was his second Antarctica focused choreography. His vision and skill created the first dance video from Antarctica.

It is a wonderful story. Cory wanted to organize the first dance video in Antarctica and approached Antarctica New Zealand… They thought he was “bonkers” and enthusiastically supported him. I have not heard where the money came from but he found Madeleine Grahaman an amazing RNZB ballerina to dance and a videographer; with a drone, and I don’t know what else… and made the film. That is vision, imagination, and organization. I’m impressed.

The film is a remarkable piece of art and science; science communication at its best and awesomely beautiful. Please enjoy.

My uncle would have loved to see this.

Antarctica: The First Dance the link is below; as is a link to the TVNZ interview. Please watch both, they are great.

Source: Antarctica: The First Dance

Madeleine Graham. Photo © Jacob Bryant

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Dancing with Mozart

The performance was amazing. I recommand this and we are so pleased we went.

This Saturday evening we are seeing Dancing with Mozart the RNZB performance of Divertimento No15 (original choreography by George Balanchine), Sechs Tanze and Petite Mort, (original choreography by Jiri Kylian) and The last Dance (choreography by Corey Baker). We have never been to the Ballet before. It’s a real treat. We are excited. I’ve been a fan of Jiri Kylian for many years and have imported two DVDs of his work at Nederlands Dans Theater. That is the theatre where Sechs Tanze and Petite Mort were originally performed. I’m so excited to see Petite Mort performed live and curious to see how different and in what ways this performance is different from the original recordings that I love. The ballet of Divertimento No15 is new to me so I’ve found a video performance and its much more classical than Sechs Tanze and Petite Mort in costumes and performance. Watching on screen was challenging, watching live will be more challenging.

Let me explain. When I listen to classical music, it’s overwhelming, often I close my eyes to focus on the sound but with ballet I need to see. I’m expecting an intense experience.

The Last Dance, I don’t know anything about: Dancers represent Antarctica set to Mozart’s Requiem. I’ll listen to that today but I have no idea about the ballet. That’s exciting and I look forward to the experience.

And, of course, it’s an evening with Mozart. That is exciting, even if it is a recording.

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The psychological effects of inequality – Science Weekly podcast | Science | The Guardian

Working toward societies that are sustainable requires us to examine our values. That is, we must examine the stories we tell ourselves that make our worlds. I think there are two common stories that are particularly pernicious and damaging: The first is the story that as a species we are successful because we compete with each other and the second story is that successful people are successful because of their own efforts, and therefore those of us that struggle; its our own fault. Both of these stories are questionable and just so incredibly damaging.

Let’s begin with the first myth, that we are successful because we compete. Ever since Darwin wrote the Origin of the Species scientist’s, including Darwin, have understood that we are successful because we compete and because we cooperate (Emphasis mine). We are successful because we cooperate. Think about it, when we lived in small groups on the savanna, cooperation was absolutely necessary for the group and individual. I regularly remind my students of this. The second myth, that our successful citizens are successful because of their own efforts is also a questionable story. Everyone knows the phrase, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. And if you think about outcomes in a systems way, then our systems are designed for failure. Here is a thought experiment; at age sixteen we are working and dreaming for success in life. How many succeed? Only a tiny few. That’s what the system is designed to achieve; failure for almost everyone. Never-mind all of the motivational speakers. That we hear so many stories about successful people and are encouraged to emulate them is a con; a convenient myth supported by an unrecognized tendency to ignore the the survivor-ship (or success) fallacy implicate in these stories. Following the advice of a few fortunate ones won’t help the vast majority of us. That is not the way the world works. Making progress toward more sustainable societies requires, re-examining and changing these two myths.

These are not new ideas for me.

This week I found this podcast where researchers, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Picett were interviewed. Their new book, “The Inner Level: How More Equal Societies Reduce Stress, Restore Sanity and Improve Everyone’s Wellbeing” examines these critical issues. I encourage use all to listen to the podcast, read the book and examine the stories we live our lives by.

The book is available online.

Kia Toa Kia Ngakaunui
“Have Courage, Desire Greatly”

Wealth inequality has skyrocketed in the UK, as has anxiety, stress and mental illness. Could the two be linked? Richard Lea investigates

Source: The psychological effects of inequality – Science Weekly podcast | Science | The Guardian

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Story telling: The dark side.

When I was a child there was a TV program that we watched each week called the Back and White Minstrel Show. Produced in the United Kingdom, the show featured white men in black-face acting out black stereotypes. The program ended when the BBC began receiving complaints about the show’s racist core stories.

It is fair to say that stories have a dark side: stories can propagate prejudice, they can lie, they can distort truth and they can silence alternative voices. Stories told often reflect the views of power. Just look at the last weeks news. Methamphetamine in houses in New Zealand. The last government had a dominant narrative around poor citizens, “They were drug addicted, lazy and not worthy of respect or justice”. Is there any surprise then that the National leadership could not hear scientists telling them that very low levels of P in houses were not dangerous? That story, evidence based as it was, did not sit with the narrative of those in power and was silenced.

Stories are dangerous. The question becomes: what is an ethical (science) story; how can we tell an ethical story, who chooses, who speaks and what will the powerful let us say?

This question of ethical science stories is one I have been pondering for months now. This is what I think. A story is ethical if supported by the evidence; for example, my daughters HPV vaccine left her healthy and resistant to the virus. That is my story, supported by clear lines of evidence. That story is ethical. In contrast, the stories of vaccine harm, without any lines of evidence beyond the post hoc ergo proctor hoc fallacy are not ethical; especially, when told second or third hand.

Of course, science is a social as well as a technical enterprise, but truth and evidence are real. I don’t accept post-truth arguments that seek to privilege myths over science. That kind of story takes us backwards. Repeating lies; harms, as we saw with the Black and White Minstrels. As a science communicator I will use evidence supported stories. That is it.

The quotes and links below are to sources that have helped me develop my ideas on this topic. My Liz Neely blog is first because the topic of ethical story telling was a question asked toward the end of the video. That started this question for me.

Ethical Considerations of Using Narrative to Communicate Science
Michael F. Dahlstrom, Shirley S. Ho

Black and White Minstrels (Image Getty, Maybe subject to copyright)

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sagan*sense – nonbinarypastels: How to spot fake news in…

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Prof. Michael Hartshorn RIP

I recently learned that my mentor through postgraduate study has passed away. Here is the text of a speech I recently gave telling how important he was to me.

In February 1985 I flew from Hamilton where I worked as a soil technician to Christchurch to meet with Professor Michael Hartshorn. He was a fortyish year old tall proper English man dressed a dark suit with a white shirt and conservative tie. I was there to discuss a Masters program. At the end of my meeting with him. I asked if I could talk to a current student. “Of course”. He took me into the lab and introduced me to soon to be Dr Jenny Redman.

I asked her, “What’s he like?”. She replied, “He’s a bastard?”, “Uh? What do you mean?” “Well, he expects you in the lab between 9 and 4.30. And if you aren’t, you’re in trouble; he’s a bastard. Funny thing is, his students finish on time…”
That is how I met Professor Micheal Hartshorn.

I always dreamed of being a scientist but my honours degree was not good enough. I remember the day I received my results. I opened the letter in my tiny grey lab in the tower block Rurakura Research Centre Hamilton. Third class honours; four C grades. I was devastated. My dreams of a PhD and working as a scientist gone.

I kept working as a technician for five years. In the end, I was so frustrated and unhappy that every morning I wanting to smash windows and scream. Prof. gave me a path out. Following my interview, I returned to Hamilton, left my job, packed my little yellow Mitsubishi mirage hatchback and moved to Christchurch. One year, work like hell and put my Honours Degree behind me.

My project was treating the tri-alkyl substituted phenols with chlorine gas and analysing the resultant mixture. That meant running the reaction, separating the products and characterizing them. That characterization included x-ray crystallography of the products.
I found the work incredibly rewarding. I still miss the pleasure of handling the fragile glassware.

Fragility was a thing. X-Ray crystallography means taking a tiny crystal and using Araldite to fix it to a tiny glass fibre. That fibre is then place in the centre of a delicate set of cooling grass-ware. Like a thermos, silvered, evacuated glassware used so the crystal was kept cool with a stream of cold nitrogen. That cooling setup was needed to stop the crystal melting when the x- rays were shining. The crystallography gear was run 24 hours a day, pretty much all of the time.

I remember one night when I went in at 9 PM to set up a crystal; at 3 AM I found the crystal – twined. That meant the tiny crystal had a tiny crack and was unusable. I had to start again. I tried, but at that hour I was too clumsy to handle delicate work. That’s when I learned sometimes it is best to put your hands in your pockets and walk away; rest.

The data processing for x-ray was computer controlled. Don’t ask me the maths, I just followed the protocol. But access to computers was the bottle neck.

This is about Prof. At one stage, the crystallography computer was broken. My friend, who looked after another instrument, set up the software so I could work with that. The problem was, I had to work a night. So for a week, I worked five to midnight.
But I had not been in the lab 8 to 5. I remember coming into work at 8.30 the next day to a blue fountain pen note on my desk. “See me when you get in!” I quietly laughed when I handed him my printouts; at that stage about a pound of paper.

At last I move onto writing my thesis. I was the last generation of students to write using pen and paper.
I wrote in blue brio onto lined paper and everything that went to Prof. had to be perfect. That meant, if I made a mistake I had to write the whole page again. I had three months, 24 hours a day and a deadline. I’d write, hand my work to Prof and pick up the last draft with comments. He would cover my perfect writing with red pen comments. That was awful. I still refuse to mark in red pen, I was that traumatized. I would trudge home, lie flat on my bed, and feel discouraged. After half an hour of this I’d think, “F… this. Let’s see what the bastard has done”. And get on with fixing my work. This went on for months.

It was during this time that Prof. approached me. His ex-students at the DSIR had organized a scholarship. “Would you like to continue onto a PhD. You will need a good grade.” Yes, I would like that.”

So I continued writing and submitted on time, then returned to my parents to rest and wait. Two weeks later Prof. called. With his guidance I’d earned Distinction and the opportunity to earn my PhD.

Professor Micheal Hartshorn changed my life.

Prof. Hartshorn (I don’t know who took the photograph)

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