Author Archives: Lara Veylit

Why Pseudoscience Gives Me Nightmares

Whilst pseudoscience is nothing new, it seems a lot more prevalent these days. So what can the scientific community, and the public in general, do about it? (Image Credit: Becker 1999, CC BY 2.0)

Fake science – or pseudoscience – has been around forever and somehow like that really annoying guy at the party just won’t go away. How is it in an age ruled by smart phones and CRISPR sci-fi level biotech are people still buying crystals and talking about super foods (don’t get me started on Goop). While I try to adopt a Californian “you do you” attitude to almost everything, people purporting even the most innocuous pseudoscience need to be stopped by both you and me.

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An Abridged History of the California Wildfires

California is ablaze, again. So why is this part of the world so notorious for catching fire?

California is ablaze, again. So why is this part of the world so notorious for catching fire? (Image Credit: Daria Devyatkina, CC BY 2.0)

Recently, I was looking for skiable snow in central Norway when I bumped into a chatty Norwegian man. When I told him I was Californian, he asked why my state was always on fire. The story demanded vocabulary beyond my grasp of the language, so this story is for your benefit, my random friendly Norwegian. This is a story of resource mismanagement, of urbanization, Pocahontas, and a policy that was a bear’s favor.

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Marlene Zuk: Gender in Science

Marlene Zuk, prominent evolutionary biologist and behavioral ecologist, has been trying to encourage more fact-based discussions about gender in the scientific community
Co-authored by Kate Layton-Matthews

As part of a two-day gender equality workshop for the Department of Biology at NTNU, Kate Layton-Matthews and I had the chance to interview Professor Marlene Zuk. Marlene is a prominent evolutionary biologist and behavioral ecologist, and a well-known advocate of improved gender equality in academia.

Her emphasis on bringing about more fact-based discussions on gender and how to attract women to typically male-dominated professions is unfortunately still necessary. People are still maintaining the view that women are ‘naturally less inclined’ to what are considered as ‘masculine’ disciplines, but as Marlene explains, it is impossible to disentangle culture from genetics. Her work is fundamental in the face of such dangerous over-simplification, for instance in the light of the firing of a disgraced professor at Cern, the European nuclear research centre in Geneva, where a male professor commented that ‘Physics was built by men’, which was unsurprisingly met with immediate backlash. In the words of another gender equality-advocate and professor in Physics, Jessica Wade, we need to fight against the ‘toxic and incorrect messages’ that such people are propagating.

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Why Do We Only Care If It’s Fluffy?

Species like koalas are cute and fluffy, and thus easy to provide funding for. But how do we save species that are more threatened and less charismatic?

Species like koalas are cute and fluffy, and thus easy to provide funding for. But how do we save species that are more threatened and less charismatic? (Image Credit: Jesiane, Creative Commons CC0)

After my recent talk with Marlene Zuk (which we’ll be publishing later this week), I have been thinking more about the species we focus on in ecology and the species we neglect. Dr. Zuk is a specialist on insects, who has remarkably been able to sell the importance of topics as obscure as cricket sex and parasite wickedness to the public (as you can see in her brilliant TED Talk). However this is more the exception than the rule. In ecology, conservationists have traditionally focused on a select few animals. So why do we care about saving the pandas that do not want snuggles (or to get it on), and ignore the native worms that are being replaced by invasives? Can we change what the public cares about, and ask them to focus more on the role of a species in an ecologic system?

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The Thought Process Behind a Sustainable Diet

With the age of consumption well and truly upon us, we cover some of the more important things to consider when trying to eat sustainably

With the age of consumption well and truly upon us, we cover some of the more important things to consider when trying to eat sustainably (Image Credit: Love Food Hate Waste NZ, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Here at the Centre of Biodiversity Dynamics, we all pride ourselves in being a little more eco-conscious than most people (let’s not talk about the carbon footprint of our travels though). It is rare that we can make a meal together that involves meat since we are lousy with vegetarians. However, what we eat and how eco-friendly our diets actually are is a regular debate. This piece comes at the presupposition that the person reading this already has taken basic measures to be eco-friendly in their diet (i.e. not nomming on McDonalds’ reconstituted meat with a side helping of franken-fries). I am not going to talk about everything because there is frankly too much out there to discuss (and I’m not going to open a genetically modified can of worms).

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In Defense of Aliens

It's important to remember that not all alien species are harmful, and we shouldn't treat them all as such

Building on last week’s article on defining invasive and alien species as well as the work of Professor Mark Davis, I am going to do the unimaginable for an ecologist and argue that maybe alien species aren’t always a bad thing. I want to emphasize that maintaining biodiversity is essential, but maybe we should focus on the role of species in their environment rather than their place of origin.

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