This interview was first published in late 2018 on the predecessor to Ecology for the Masses under the title “Marlene Zuk: Gender in Science”. Image Credit: Marlene Zuk, University of Minnesota, CC BY 2.0
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.
Image Credit: Artem Beliaikin, CC0 1.0, Image Cropped
The concept of ecotourism has seen a massive surge in popularity over the last decade. It is defined by The International Ecotourism Society as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.” In other words, when you’re participating in ecotourism, you should be enjoying some sort of ecological marvel, and learning something, ideally whilst not damaging local people or ecosystems. Yet this can be a lot more complicated than it sounds.
The red-billed chough, subject on one of Jane’s long term studies of effects of the environmental on the size and structure of populations (Image Credit: Jean-Jacques Boujot, CC BY-SA 2.0, Image Cropped)
Our world is changing rapidly. Yet our perception of just how much it has changed is often dulled by our inability to compare what we see around us to what was around fifty years ago with enough clarity. This is one of the reasons that long-term scientific studies are so important. They give us a tangible assessment of just how much our world has changed, whether that be in the climate, how species have evolved, our how populations fluctuate.
Jane Reid is the new International Chair Professor at the Department of Biology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Jane has spent years working with several long-term studies, some of them successful, others not so much. Sam Perrin and I spoke to Jane about the importance of long term studies in ecological science.
Image Credit: Emilian Robert Vicol, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped
It is hard to deny that plastics are having a moment – you open Facebook to find videos of turtles floating among plastic bags, Instagram to find every company is proudly getting rid of plastic straws, the news to find out the latest on the Great Pacific garbage patch. Plastics are what colony collapse disorder (aka. where are the bees going?) was a few years ago: the new environmental issue that everyone is talking about.
Now, plastics are certainly an irrefutable problem. We obviously have an unhealthy dependency on plastics that are found in our clothing, food, soaps, and homes. However, there is a question among conservationists and scientists over whether or not it is a good thing that the public conscious seems to become obsessed with a single issue, while others outside the limelight seem to fall away (similar to how in the USA people seem to have forgotten that Flint is STILL without clean water). I want to discuss how the new media landscape propels environmental fads, the good they can do, and the possible problems.
American politicians Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey, champions of the controversial environmentalist bill, the Green New Deal (Image Credit: Senate Democrats, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped)
If you’ve lost track of what’s going on in US politics (very excusable), you might have missed out on yet another issue that is dividing people. I’m not talking about the Mueller report, or gun legislation, or health care. I’m talking about the Green New Deal, named after the New Deal, a compilation of programs and projects that gave Americans jobs after the Great Depression and built quite a lot of infrastructure. The newest “Green” version is meant to do the same following the Great Recession that America has been suffering the aftershocks of since late last decade. An initiative sponsored by Democrats, the Green New Deal has come under fire from both sides for a wide range of reasons. While the movement for action against climate change is a global phenomenon, I am going to give a brief synopsis of what the Green New Deal represents in the US, and why it has been the subject of so much controversy.
Rasmus Hansson, former leader of the Norwegian Green Party and the Norwegian WWF (Image Credit: Miljøpartiet de Grønne, CC BY-SA 2.0, Image Cropped)
Environmental politics is a tricky business. We live in a world where environmental crises are at the forefront of the news cycle, and in which science is simultaneously becoming the subject of distrust. So it makes sense that at this point, politics should be adapting and evolving as science does.
So when Rasmus Hansson stopped by NTNU last month, Sam Perrin and I took the chance to sit down with him and see whether this was the case. Rasmus studied polar bears at NTNU in the 70s, before later becoming the leader of the World Wildlife Fund in Norway and then of the Norwegian Green party. We spoke with Rasmus about the transition from conservation to politics, the clash of ideologies and the future of environmental politics.
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, Image Cropped)
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.
California is ablaze, again. So why is this part of the world so notorious for catching fire? (Image Credit: Forest Service, USDA, Public Domain Mark 1.0, Image Cropped)
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.
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, Pixabay licence, Image Cropped)
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?