How Making Art Helps Teens Better Understand Their Mental Health

I strongly encourage us all as artists.

The article below explores and makes the case for encouraging teenager’s art making. Just remember making is fun too, and not just for teenagers.

Posted in Art, community, cooperative, creativity, education, healthy, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Tell Stories: HPV Vaccine, What I want you to do.

This week I discovered that Japan’s HPV vaccine rate has dropped to almost zero today from 70% in 2013. It’s a horror story for those of us supporting vaccination. Are there lessons for us in New Zealand and around the world?

One tactic used in Japan was to bombard vaccine positive blogs with miss-information as a way of hijacking the message. Over the last six months we have seen this happen in New Zealand especially with the Diplomatic Immunity blog on Science blogs. On that site we have seen one troll after another.

Another tactic used in Japan, was the, “My friend had the vaccine and… bad things happened”. That one was spread through an uncritical media to the Japanese public. I think the media in New Zealand are a little better but even so pretty dodgy stories are published. In Japan, social media spread the rubbish too. We know, that is a problem here. Please keep pressure on local media to recognize evidence based medicine over rubbish.

Another problem in Japan was lawyers sensing opportunity. As I understand it, the ACC legislation reduces this as a problem here. (And in Japan a researcher may well have made and spread fraudulent scary reports which made scary rumours scarier).

So what do I want you to do.

I think there is an important task for us. As well as having our shots and making sure our children get theirs too. We must talk about vaccination. Tell the story, “My daughter received her vaccine last week, she’s healthy and happy. Isn’t it wonderful that she will stay healthy to old age”. (Substitute grand-daughter, friend’s daughter as appropriate). We can all spread that message. If we did that, we would be inoculating our communities against the misinformation and those who spread it.

Here is the HPV Immunisation Programme for New Zealand: Available to everyone (Young men and women) here under 18 and residents up to 26.

Sorry for the lecture but I’m annoyed about this.

The Japanese story

Posted in education, healthy, leadership | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Love in the Scientific Literature | The Scientist Magazine®

From the text

I found this earlier; I think its a Valentine day article.

The point is that, of course, we scientists love just like everyone else, and that expression finds itself in the literature.

Read the article; it’s fascinating, fun and human. I have to admit whenever I read a thesis I check out the acknowledgements. Husbands, wives, boy- and girl- friends, children and parents; as well as close friends and mentors (and the odd deity); they are all there.

Scientists are human after-all.

There are countless ways for scientists to say, “I love you.” Naming a slime-mold beetle after your wife (and another after your ex-wife) is, apparently, one of them. 

Source: Love in the Scientific Literature | The Scientist Magazine®

Posted in Beautiful, community, cooperative, creativity, healthy, Mental Health, Science, story telling | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

7 myths from biology class that most people still believe | Big Think

You’ll be surprised how many commonly known science “facts” are actually total misconceptions.

There are two I find particularly surprising: first that cats and dogs are not colour blind and, second, that Dr. Robert Lustig’s claim that “sugar is as addictive as cocaine”is not (yet?) supported by evidence.

The remainder, I knew.

Source: 7 myths from biology class that most people still believe | Big Think

Posted in Curiosity, education, Science | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Writers unblocked? Happy music boosts imaginative thinking, say researchers | Science | The Guardian

When I was a lab worker, there was always a question, “Do we have a lab radio?” Do we work more effectively with a background of music or not? Personally, my answer changed over time: I don’t like lab radios, they are distracting. When writing my Masters and PhD theses and working alone in my room, I preferred a radio as background and company. But now, with the noise of a family around me, I prefer quiet; no music. That is how I write these blogs, sitting up in bed, no music, writing.

Of course, others have different opinions and this question can be addressed as a scientific question. An example of this kind of research is the 2017 study by Simone Ritter and Sam Ferguson (Links below). These researchers worked with 155 university aged participants measuring divergent thinking with and without music. The study concluded that music helps promote divergent thinking. Certainly worth reading for the literature review as well as the experimental results.

Although these types of studies are important and useful, my view is that every creative person will have to find a process that works for them. Music is just one variable in what is a personal and complex and markedly individual process.

Uplifting music can help people think more flexibly and avoid getting stuck in a creative rut, say psychologists

Source: Writers unblocked? Happy music boosts imaginative thinking, say researchers | Science | The Guardian

The Bear that Wasn’t Live Concert. Photo by Kmeron on FLICKR

Posted in creativity, healthy, Mental Health, music, Science | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Story Telling: Bevan Series 2018: Liz Neeley

This is what I did this weekend.

If you are interested in science storytelling and the scientific justification to using story to communicate science this presentation is the one for you. Liz is the executive director of Story Collider, the science engagement outreach. She teaches story telling for science. Please enjoy.

Posted in Science, story telling | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

‘It’s time to recognise the contribution arts can make to health and wellbeing’ | Healthcare Professionals Network | The Guardian

And second:

I feel frustrated when I hear of teachers telling their students not to study arts; there are no jobs we are told. Now I’m inclined to challenge that idea, but really like science, art is a fundamental expression of our humanity. Art is one of the reasons we do jobs: to create, express ourselves and to live. This article from The Guardian makes this clear. Expressive art builds resilience and long term mental health. (At least for older isolated citizens in Cambridgeshire and further afield in England.)

“The arts help meet challenges in health and social care associated with ageing, loneliness, long-term conditions and mental health”

Source: ‘It’s time to recognise the contribution arts can make to health and wellbeing’ | Healthcare Professionals Network | The Guardian

All the worlds a stage: from Garry Knight on FLICKR

Posted in Art, cooperative, creativity, healthy, Mental Health, Science | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Subjectifying the Universe: Ursula K. Le Guin on Science and Poetry as Complementary Modes of Comprehending and Tending to the Natural World – Brain Pickings

Two quick comments this week. First:

On the subject of art and science both together. Ursula Le Guin saw poetry and science as complementary! I agree but I am inclined to see an overlap as well as complement. Poetry and science close dancing, rather than going for a walk together.

“Science describes accurately from outside, poetry describes accurately from inside. Science explicates, poetry implicates. Both celebrate what they describe.”

Source: Subjectifying the Universe: Ursula K. Le Guin on Science and Poetry as Complementary Modes of Comprehending and Tending to the Natural World – Brain Pickings

PhilippeCPhoto from FLICKR

Posted in Art, Beautiful, cooperative, creativity, Science | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Science Communication: Thoughts in response to Linett et al. 2013

Science Communication: Thoughts in response to Linett et al. 2013

In 2013 a group of science communicators met at MIT in a workshop to bring together their experience in communication and to set up a research program. This was the initial phase of the Evolving Culture of Science Engagement project which produced a report which I summarize and comment on. As far as I can tell subsequent reports have not been published.

When I read this report my most important realization was that the term, “Science communication” brings to mind an old man in a white coat trying to pour knowledge into a kneeling citizen’s open and empty head. This approach is problematic, not the least because of the assumed power distance between the scientist and citizen. The term “engagement” is introduced by the authors to encourage a broader and more even relationship.

The second most important realization was the crystallization of thought along the axis of: Are we seeking to communicate or engage? Are we entertaining, informing, persuading or manipulating? What exactly is our objective? I have doubts that this question is easily answered. That is a deeply ethical question.

In the section below I take the summary points from the report and comment on them.

1. Story(telling):
2. Humour:
3. Mystery and the unknown:
4. Informality/science as part of everyday life:

Science communicators are becoming much more comfortable with the art of storytelling. I first came across this idea when reading the course descriptions for the core papers at Otago’s Science communication postgraduate course. Since then much of my study has confirmed the centrality of story in effective engagement. There are so many examples but for me Story Collider does this exceptionally well. Story Collider does not implicitly seek to teach, just scientists as people telling their stories in an informal, honest and often humorous fashion. These performances and the subsequent podcasts bring humour, mystery and the informal randomness of scientific life to the audience.

5. Artistic expression:

I understand science and art as complimentary activities, both seeking to understand and engage the universe. The two cultures argument is quite frankly dated and an obstacle to progress. I’m fascinated to see activities like, dance your PhD and Borks Biophillya that bring ideas from the two cultures of art and science together. That is not all; I have collections of chemists as poets and artists, Roald Hoffmann and Richard Feynman for example. And then there is the two minute thesis contest and countless short YouTube videos. All sorts of examples of science as art and art as science fill the internet.

6. Participatory engagement:
I know there are many projects seeking to bring science and citizens together; citizen science initiatives like PopSciNZ and Citizen Scientist at are New Zealand examples. This is an exciting growing area.

7. Emotion:

Bringing the arts and public into science and children unleashes the joy and emotion. Actually, professional scientists love their science. No-one spends years studying with little reward without a fundamental love of their science. The challenge for science is finding ways to comfortably expressing that joy and passion. That, of course, is one reason for media training of scientists.

8. Power, barriers, and belonging:

Until, a student challenged me I did not recognize power as a problem. I find this a multifaceted and difficult area. We must make science and scientific positions available to all. I was struck by the Indian Mars projects; the command center was alight with women in saris. In contrast the recent Rocket Lab launch was controlled by a roomful of white men in logo-branded black polo shirts. It seems to me we have a long way to go. In contrast, I always worked with an even mix of men and women. That is normal for me.

Maybe there is hope, at the undergraduate level women are strongly present but not so much as working scientists and in the media. It is also interesting that the science communicators who speak to me most clearly are women: I am thinking Nanogirl (Michelle Dickinson), Siouxsie Wiles and Jean Balchin.

In summary:

When I read this report my most important realization was that the term, “Science communication” is problematic, not the least because of the assumed power distance between the scientist and citizen. The term “engagement” is introduced by the authors to encourage a broader and more even relationship and conversation. That is a fair point.

The second most important realization was the crystallization of thought along the axis of: Are we seeking to communicate or engage: entertain or manipulate? What exactly is our objective? Are we ethically engaging the public and fairly representing our science?

One final point I have looked for follow up papers from the MIT report and found little directly from this meeting; never the less, there is an enormous literature on storytelling, the public engagement of science and science communication that I find worth studying. I plan further blogs on this subject.

Fly wings from Jinterwas on Flickr (The fly died of natural causes)

Full-Text Paper (PDF): The Evolving Culture of Science Engagement

Source: The Evolving Culture of Science Engagement (PDF Download Available)

Posted in Art, community, education, leadership, Science | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

What do Women Want? What do Men want?

A recent paper has answers.

Both women and men want cuddling, romance and to enjoy expressing their sexuality.

The paper, Sexual diversity in the United States : Results from a nationally representative probability study of adult women and men” was published in PLOS|one in June 2017. Debbie Herbenick the primary author is from the Center for sexual health Promotion, School of Public Health Indiana University. Her co-authors have similar academic addresses. These authors report the results of their USA wide probability internet survey of 975 men and 1,046 women. Subjects anonymously answered questions on themselves, the sexual activities they had participated in and those they found “appealing”.

What did they find:

Common stuff
Men and women like romance, affection and sex; particularly masturbation and vaginal sex. I don’t find this surprising. What does surprise me is that generally taboo behaviours like sending erotic photos and reading erotic stories are also commonly enjoyed.

“Most (>80%) reported lifetime masturbation, vaginal sex, and oral sex… Common lifetime sexual behaviours included wearing sexy lingerie/underwear (75% women, 26% men), sending/receiving digital nude/semi-nude photos (54% women, 65% men), reading erotic stories (57% of participants) More Americans identified behaviours as “appealing” than had engaged in them. Romantic/affectionate behaviours were among those most commonly identified as appealing for both men and women… “

Kinky stuff:
A smaller proportion of men and women thought about and had experienced kinky stuff: BSDM and so forth. These activities were most likely to happen when respondents were younger and at an earlier experimental stage in their relationship.

Respondents reported sexual histories that included, “public sex (≥43%), role-playing (≥22%), tying/being tied up (≥20%), spanking (≥30%), and watching sexually explicit videos/DVDs (60% women, 82% men). Having engaged in threesomes (10% women, 18% men) and playful whipping (≥13%) were less common. Lifetime group sex, sex parties, taking a sexuality class/workshop, and going to BDSM parties were uncommon (each <8%).”


Something like 10% of respondents reported being in committed relationships and had not had sex for at least a year. The authors flag this as an area for further study but they had observed that older women respondents found sex painful and older men were troubled by erectile dysfunction. If this 10% are not receiving or giving affection, this is deeply troubling.

“Given that nearly one-third of women and nearly one-quarter of men had not engaged in sexual activity with anyone in the last year (consistent with NSSHB data)–and about 1 in 10 partnered Americans considered themselves monogamous but sexless—it is important to acknowledge that sizable proportions of Americans do not engage in partnered sexual activities during certain periods of their lives. Subsequent research might attend to reasons why people abstain from sex, even when they have romantic relationship partners, as well as the positive and/or negative impacts on their lives and relationships when this occurs.”

Future reports:
“Given the large amount of data presented in the current paper, analyses are presented only by gender and age and not, for example, by self-identified sexual orientation or other background characteristics such as education, race/ethnicity, relationship status, or sexual experience. Future manuscripts will be able to address the existing data in a more detailed manner.”


One other thing. I have been surprised that although this paper was summarized in the international scientific press and the international press, I have not seen it discussed in the New Zealand press. I doubt that sex is a less popular pastime here and don’t understand why science writers, journalists and editors think New Zealanders are not interested.


What struck me about this paper is that men and women enjoyed sex, and that romance and affection were the most appreciated activities. Hugs and kisses, and roses and chocolates are appreciated. What is most encouraging is that we can hug and kiss regardless of age and health; this gives me hope as I am getting older. That is good news. I also appreciate the breadth of sexual expression. Even the most uncommon activities represent a large number of sexually responsive adults having fun. I’m expecting the results of this paper are generally applicable, at least in Western countries and most likely broadly. Let’s accept this breadth of desire and experience and enjoy.

Researchers have published a new US nationally representative study of sexual behaviour, the first of its kind to capture a wide range of diverse sexual behaviours not previously examined in the general population.

Source: Romance and affection top most popular sexual behaviors — ScienceDaily

Posted in Beautiful, community, cooperative, Curiosity, education, healthy, Mental Health | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment