Tag Archives: communication

Quorum sensing, microbes, and squids

Bobtail SquidAll microbes communicate with members of their own species and between species. This type of communication, called quorum sensing, allows bacteria to form rich social networks with their neighbors. Bacteria use quorum sensing to keep tabs on the density of members of their species in relation to the density of other species in order to perform fantastically synchronous events that they could never accomplish working in isolation–like the successful invasion of a host. And while pathogen-host interactions are incredibly intricate, beautifully structured, and close to my heart (figuratively) I’ll be focusing on a wonderfully evolved symbiotic relationship between a microbe and a squid: Vibrio fischeri and its life partner, the Hawaiian bobtail squid.

Open access explained

Night_10The conversation about scientific publishing has exploded lately, online, in print and in person. Last week, the journal Nature released a special issue called The future of publishing. Also last week, Micheal Eisen (MCB professor and HHMI investigator at UC Berkeley, and co-founder of PLoS) posted a speech he gave on the past and projected future of scholarly communication in the age of the Internet. I want to start there, because his remarks were thorough and persuasive, and they inspired me to think differently about the issue of open access.

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Beyond the PDF and the division of labor

imageRecently, a search through the winding canals of Amsterdam would reveal more than the usual Dutch cheeses and Stroopwafels. You would discover tools for scientists to enhance communication, expedite publication, and engage annotation. Tis the city where Beyond the PDF2 Conference (#btpdf2), funded by Elsevier and hosted by FORCE 11 (the Future of Research Communications and e-Scholarship), took place March 19th and 20th.

Librarians, techies, professors, researchers, publishers, and students gathered in an older Dutch building Pakhuis de Zwijger to share novel ideas on how scientific communication should change with the advances of technology. A live twitter feed projected on the right wall, artists drawing cartoon visual notes on the left, and the traditional podium and PowerPoint in the front only to fool onlookers into believing this was a traditional conference. Not so! With the full program on Lanyrd showing speakers and their Twitter usernames, everyone watching (either in person or on the live stream) knew otherwise.

While many interesting topics where addressed, there were a few that stood out…

Think of an elephant—a completely ridiculous, non-sensical elephant who will stomp you out if you do not stop it

For those of you who are interested in effectively communicating science in a way that will make a political and social impact, I suggest taking a course with cognitive linguist/neuroscientist George Lakoff. You will discuss the tools necessary for effective communication (and conviction): the use of language, words, grammar, setting, sentence structure, and understanding of your audience, but at a level much, much deeper than you may have ever thought to consider. This is not a simple course on communication—it is the science of communication (mostly within a political context). It is the neural theory of thought and language.

Lakoff began his path in linguistics the first year MIT began offering such a program, and was among Noam Chomsky’s first group of students in this field. Lakoff studies the neural foundations of conceptual systems, the meaning behind metaphors, and the embodied structure of grammar. What is the framework your words evoke? How does grammar instruct how we think? How can scientists use science to get their point across in a more effective manner?