It's now only three weeks to go before this year's Skeptics Conference.
With a central theme of science communication, we've got a wide range of speakers and workshops lined up: from astronomy and psychology to climate change, statistics, skeptical activism and citizen science!
There's the usual Saturday night dinner, plus a blind auction for a VIP dinner on Friday evening with a selection of the weekend's speakers.
Here's our line-up of speakers for this year:
Dr Pamela Gay - Astronomer, citizen science leader, Astronomy Cast host and author of the Star Stryder blog.
Kylie Sturgess - Teacher, host at the Token Skeptic, prolific interviewer, writes for Patheos and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.
Dr Matt McCrudden - Associate Professor of Psychology, currently on the editorial board of five scientific journals.
Dr Siouxsie Wiles - Microbiologist, CUSP podcast host. Loves bioluminescence, not so keen on the Ponsonby News.
Prof Martin Manning - founding director of the NZ Climate Change Research Institute, and co-author of several IPCC assessment reports.
Loretta Marron - Skeptical activist and CEO of Friends of Science in Medicine, Loretta has twice been voted Australian Skeptic of the Year.
Elf Eldridge - Amateur Astronomer and pirate, he’s also the president of the Wellington branch of the Royal Society of New Zealand.
Aimee Whitcroft - Has worked in science communication, driven the Mongol Rally and is the founder and host of Wellington’s Nerd Nite.
Emmeline Haymes - Coordinator for the National Fluoridation Information Service - arch nemesis of the Fluoride Action Network.
Dr David Bulger - A senior lecturer in Statistics, David works with quantum computation and music modelling. He also battles numerical illiteracy.
Vicki Hyde - Veteran New Zealand skeptic and the face of NZ Skeptics Society (she’s the one you see on TV).
Sue Nicholson - Well-known psychic, star of Sensing Murder and regular guest on TVNZ’s Good Morning. No, really.
Although my Physics education ended at High School, so probably won’t understand much, i still enjoy learning what I can.
The importance of being wrong: the Big Bang and precision cosmology
Inaugural lecture by Professor Richard Easther Department of Physics
A generation ago, “precision cosmology” was an oxymoron. Since then, advances in observational astrophysics let us measure global properties of the universe -- age, expansion rate, composition, temperature, smoothness -- to within a few percent, or even better.
This newfound clarity allows us to test competing cosmological models and rule out those which do not match what we see in the sky. I will describe recent advances in observational astrophysics, and explain how I use this data to explore the properties of the universe a trillion, trillion, trillionth of a second after the Big Bang.
All are welcome to this public lecture.
5.30pm, Tuesday 14 May Large Chemistry Lecture Theatre Building 301, 23 Symonds Street The University of Auckland
I don’t expect he remembers but I did briefly meet Richard there and pass on my thanks for the work he does for the Zone and Skeptic related events like TAM. I’m looking forward to many more Zone episodes!
She is currently fundraising for her RocketHub SciFund Challenge Project. The aim of this crowd funded project is to study bacterial evolution. RocketHub is not an investment or charity. It is an exchange; funds from you in exchange for rewards. The more you donate, the better the reward!
Any level of contribution is welcome but for us$50 you get your name ‘drawn’ in glowing bacteria. Invest more and the rewards increase.
Thanks for checking out my SciFund Challenge, Evolution in Action!
Bacteria are masters at adapting to their environment, rearranging their genetic material or gaining new genes from their surroundings. This has allowed them to colonise pretty much every conceivable environment. From boiling hot geysers to that pink scum in your shower. Even us.
Did you know that the number of cells that make up our body are outnumbered 10 to 1 by the bacteria that live on and in us? The majority of bacteria are either harmless or pretty beneficial, but some of them have evolved to cause us serious harm. Around the world, one out of every four people that die are killed by a microorganism of some sort. That’s a staggering 14 million people every year.
And you know what? They just keep on evolving! That’s how we get antibiotic resistance and new diseases emerging. So what I want to know is, how do bacteria evolve to cause disease? And that is where you come in! Your contributions to my SciFund Challenge will help unravel how these amazing microbes keep outsmarting us.
Just how are we going to do it?
Bacteria have a number of really useful characteristics that make them ideal for studying evolution:
They multiply really rapidly so we can measure change in a short space of time They can be stored frozen in a sort of suspended animation. This means we can freeze bacteria from every step of our experiments, building up a living ‘fossil’ record which can be regrown and analysed at any time. Modern sequencing techniques have made it relatively cheap and easy to sequence whole bacterial genomes so we can unravel any genetic changes that occur during our experiments.
So as not to create some superhuman killing machine able to rampage around the world Contagion-style, we are studying the evolution of a bacterium that doesn’t infect humans and isn’t spread by the air. Instead, we are using Citrobacter rodentium which infects mice using the same ‘modus operandi’ as food poisoning strains of E. coli do in humans. They go in one end… and come out the other! And because mice like to eat poop (more technically known as coprophagia) they easily spread C. rodentium to each other. We allow C. rodentiumto spread from mouse to mouse to mouse to mouse to… you get the picture, each time freezing bacteria that are shed in the poop.
We use a glowing strain of C. rodentium so that we can track exactly where the bacteria are within the mice without having to kill the animals. We then carry out competition experiments between the original C. rodentium strain and the ‘evolved’ poop isolates to see which strains have gained a competitive edge. We do this by growing the strains in the lab as well as getting them to infect caterpillars. This gives a first clue as to whether the poop isolates are starting to change the way they outsmart the primitive part of our immune system.
Why is this important?
This work will give us a better understanding of how infectious bacteria adapt, and how they might evolve in people in the future. This is very important - in the fight against an ever-changing foe, forewarned is forearmed!
How can you help?
To unravel the genetic secrets of how Citrobacter evolves while it spreads from mouse to mouse, we will need to sequence the genomes of lots of our poop isolates. Your contributions will be used to pay for this sequencing, which costs roughly $100 per isolate. The more money we raise, the more isolates we can sequence, and we have hundreds to choose from.
Interested? Check out the rewards section [image below] to see what’s on offer in return for a contribution to this exciting project. Thanks for your help!
For those new to SciFund and RocketHub
RocketHub is not an investment or charity. It is an exchange; funds from you in exchange for rewards from me. The more you donate, the better the reward! Rockethub is an ‘all and more’ funding mechanism. If I don’t reach my financial goal I get to keep what I raise. If I do reach my goal, I get access to exciting opportunities. And if I raise more than my goal I get to sequence even more evolved bacteria.
It was great to find Odd Todd on Twitter last night. Had been a while since I visited his site and I did not realise he was tweeting. Little did I know it would also help cure Alfie’s recent annoying behaviour of barking, seemingly at nothing, from about 19:00 till bedtime.
As I read Odd Todd’s recent tweets Alfie started barking, again. Then I saw this:
When I ask my dog 'What's 1+1?' He looks at me like I can go f myself for mocking his dog brain...
What is bizarre, ok maybe just Odd, was I said to him (in a normal tone of voice) “What’s 1 + 1”? and he was silent, with a puzzled look, for quite a long time.
I realise there could be other explanations but tried again tonight. 1 + 1 only worked for a few seconds but it has been over an hour since I followed up with: “What is the square root of 96”? Not even a whimper since…
Now it seems I will have to come up with increasingly complex math problems to silence the pooch. A bit concerning if it gets as far as algebra and calculus as he will likely leave me for dead.