because science is fundamental in the 21st century
55 Are you FIT 4 RRI?
Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) is the idea of bringing stakeholders to the table when we plan our research strategies. The EU-funded project "FIT4RRI" was tasked with finding out why aspects of RRI - such as citizen science projects or the adoption of open science - are applied only little by European research institutes and their researchers. Experiments were conducted to find out how research projects can implement RRI principles right from the beginning. Based on that knowledge they then proceeded to develop guidelines and recommendations for institutions to foster RRI. And finally, they developed an online training course for researchers and administrators to learn about Responsible Research & Innovation practices.
Maxie Gottschling (University of Göttingen) and Helene Brinken (now at the Leibniz Information Centre for Science and Technology) were part of a German workgroup within the much larger project. In this conversation, they give us some insights into what FIT4RRI found out, and what can be done.
informational video by FIT4RRI
* Maxie Gottschling and Helene Brinken on @sfprocur* The FIT4RRI Website* RRI Toolkit on FOSTER* Slides and Recordings of the final summit "RRI4REAL" (scroll to the bottom)
54 Flatten the Global Temperature Curve – with Maria-Elena Vorrath
My guest in this episode is Dr. Maria-Elena Vorrath, a geologist who studies the history of climate change, who just finished her PhD. Besides her work as a researcher she is a science communicator with Scientists for Future.
Her message is clear: we can't stop climate change, but we can slow the temperature rise. Every bit of reduction in carbon dioxide emissions saves lives down the line. And: A low-carbon society cannot rely on low-emission-technologies, only, but it also has to reduce it's overall consumption.
We further talk about Elena's background and research, as well as her science communication for Scientists for Future.
Listen to the Full Conversation on Patreon!
To investigate the climate for the last 17 000 years, Maria-Elena Vorrath took samples from the ocean floor at the coast of Antarctica - sediment cores to be precise. These cores reveal the layers of sedimentation. Each layer correlates with one year.She sampled the different layers and analysed how much of a specific protein they contained; a protein that was produced by algae that live at the bottom side of ice sheets. So, the amount of protein tells her about the amount of ice on the ocean in a given year.
Elena began sharing her work with the public around the same time Greta Thunberg gained media attention in late 2018 and joined Scientists for Future shortly after. She gives talks about her work at Science Slams and other events and combines it with her dire warning message about the climate emergency. The entertaining jokes she leaves to the other contestants at the Science Slam. She feels that this is her duty as a climate investigator.
* Maria-Elena Vorrath on Twitter* Maria-Elena's Science Slam talk on YouTube [GER]* Maria-Elena's talk at the "Chaos Computer Club" on YouTube [GER] * Maria-Elena Vorrath's profile at the Alfred-Wegner-Institute* Reports by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)* "Earth Hasn't Warmed this Fast for Tens of Millions of Years" (Scientific American)* "Sea level rise from ice sheets track worst-case climate change scenario" (Science Direct)* Carbon calculator: find out how much CO2 your flight will emit (The Guardian)
53 A Neuroscientist’s View on Artificial Intelligence
One of my favorite topics is artificial intelligence, or - more specifically - what we can learn from neuroscience about artificial intelligence. So, when I was gifted the book "Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence" by Max Tegmark I enjoyed the read thoroughly. But, several scenarios envisioned in the book as paths to human-like artificial intelligence didn't make sense to me, as a neuroscientist. So a bestseller book on artificial intelligence completely ignored the views of neuroscience.
This is why invited Dr. Grace Lindsay, host of the podcast "Unsupervised Thinking" about computational neuroscience and artificial intelligence. Grace is a postdoc at University College London, and she is currently writing a popular book about computational neuroscience.
Listen to the Full Conversation on Patreon!
Neuroscience inspired the technology that is currently leading the field in artificial intelligence: artificial neural networks (ANNs); now better known as 'deep networks' as in 'deep learning'. The inventors of ANNs were the first to implement the basic idea of distributing computations across a large number of small processing units - neurons. For decades this method suffered from it's need for large amounts of data and a lack of appropriate hardware. As soon as these prerequisites were met, ANNs really took off. Today, some people are thinking about how progress in neuroscience can further inform the structure of ANNs to improve on their performance - because they still are far behind what a brain can do.
Referring to Tegmark's book we discuss scenarios that he writes are proposed to lead toward human-like artificial intelligence. We discuss whether modelling a human brain on different levels, from the molecules of every brain cell up to the behavior of an individual human, would work out - or would even count as intelligence.
Could we upload our minds? Would human-level AI be conscious? Will the "singularity" kill us all? We try to answer these questions form the viewpoint of neuroscience.
* Grace Lindsay on Twitter* Grace's upcoming Book “Models of the Mind“ * Grace's Podcast “Unsupervised Thinking” * Grace's Blog "Neurdiness"* Max Tegmark “Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence” * Mentioned Black Mirror episode: “Be Right Back”
52 B&D Online Teaching, SciComm, and the Populist Fringes
My co-host Bart Geurten and I had a rather spontaneous conversation, again. We talk about remote teaching, how science communication and science journalism could be supported by the public, and speculate about how the political fringe might be missing a sense of belonging.
Following a catch-up about our lives in the pandemic, we talk about taking lectures online. Should we do it? Are there circumstances when it makes sense? Or does it remove important social interactions among students?
We then talk about science communication. There was a hearing in the German Bundestag about how the parliament could install a funding mechanism for science communication and science journalism. One of the issues is that journalism is under a lot of pressure to make profits.
This, finally, led us to discuss - once more - the plight of populism. Does it provide people with a sense of belonging?
Dennis risks his life and hearing to demonstrate the dangerous noise from wind-turbines:
Academic Writing Videos by Dennis:
51 Extended Throwback: Precarious Postdocs – with Gary McDowell
Postdocs are, besides graduate students, the main workforce in academic research. Following the PhD, the postdoc position is the only way to follow a research career within academia. Many PhDs around the world are advised to go to the USA for a postdoc - or two - because it is known for its large research output and high-quality research institutes. Around two-thirds of postdocs in the USA are foreign-born.
In this episode, I talk to Gary McDowell, a UK born scientist in protein research who, over the last few years, worked with “Future of Research” to investigate the conditions postdocs in the USA are facing. The situation appears to be far from optimal. And this doesn’t just hurt the postdocs and their families; it also impacts research productivity.
The extended edition of our podcast appears on Patreon!
The goals of Future of Research are to enable PhDs to make better career decisions about whether a postdoc is a good decision, and if so, how to choose the right place to apply to. Another fundamental problem is the disconnect between the lived experience of junior academics and their senior supervisors.
At the same time, the data they collected unveil systemic problems with postdocs in the USA, and Future of Research is working to change academia for the better.
Postdoc: Advertisement and Reality
The postdoc, as advertised, is a sort of apprenticeship position where PhDs develop their independent research projects to become leading scientists heading their own labs. The reality is that postdocs have replaced staff researchers, working on their Principal Investigator’s project, and hardly ever being mentored or trained in leadership and management. Even training in essential day-to-day parts of the work as an academic scholar - like conducting peer review - doesn’t seem to be part of their experience. At the same time, postdocs are still being classified as “trainees” to justify not paying them their worth, and to deny them benefits such as proper health care.
Because postdocs are paid below their skill and experience levels, and most are not given the mentoring and training promised, they are exploited as cheap labor by the academic system. A few years ago, Obama tried to change a labor law, which would have affected that institutions would need to give postdocs a raise - or face the issue of having actually to keep track of postdoc working hours. Unfortunately, this change didn’t become active. On the bright side, most universities still implemented the raise - even though some universities were trying to take it back. So this was good news.
Future of Research collected salary data from postdocs just after this happened (and continues to do so for a longitudinal study), and found a median income of about $47500. This number clearly could be related to the planned labor law adjustment. So this was a positive finding. However, we should not forget that taking all people with doctorates in the USA, median salaries range from $70 000 to $100 000. Even worse: a postdoc negatively affects income up to 15 years following graduation to a PhD. This seems to come as a surprise to many, including industry representatives.
The USA are infamous for their inadequate health care and labor protection situation. Many PhDs from countries with socialized or mandated benefits, like in Europe, will be surprised that things like basic health care, vacation time of more than two weeks,
50 Sustainable Mobility – with Jonathan Koehler of Scientists for Future
For this episode, I spoke with Dr. Jonathan Köhler who studies the transformation of the transportation and mobility sectors using computational models at Competence Centre Sustainability and Infrastructure Systems of Fraunhofer Institute.
He discusses how ships and aircraft can become carbon neutral, and answers some common questions on the topic. He then talks about his experience with Scientists for Future and Fridays for Future. In the end, he gives us a vision of how mobility could look like in a climate-neutral city.
Listen to the Full Conversation on Patreon!
* Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI* Dr. Köhler on KIKA: "Fliegen - muss das sein?" [GER]* More on synthetic fuels / Power to X: 29 Climate Action: Energiewende – with Rüdiger Eichel* Scientists for Future (international)* Scientists for Future (German-speaking countries)