Saturday, November 24, 2012

BBC Science Club and Plant Blindness

The latest episode of Dara O'Briain's Science Club on BBC was all about extinction. The problem is, they seem to have killed off the plants before they even got started with the show.

The programme itself was excellent. The series has been largely well received and the move to a 'Topgear-style' format  gives it a nice edgy and interactive feel to it. Dara O'Briain has also been engaging as our amusing guide to all things scientific.

My problem is that this week's episode was entirely zoocentric, without any mention of threatened plant species and their importance to the overall ecosystem.

There was an excellent studio piece on the African Clawed Frog and their former use as a rudimentary pregnancy test. Then we had a report on the Giant Panda and whether such "charismatic megafauna" are worth trying to save. We looked at the humble bee and also managed to find time to make a comet. All interesting TV but no mention of plants at all when talking about extinction? That seems a bit odd.

An EU report from 2008 showed that Europe is home to about 12,500 species of vascular plants (flowering plants, conifers and ferns). A staggering 21% of these species are threatened, according to the IUCN and 50% of plants which are only found in Europe are in danger of extinction. The main threats to Europe's wild plants are habitat loss, the introduction of alien species, the effect of pollution, the introduction of plant pests and diseases, and the effect of climate change. And that's just Europe alone!

It would have been nice to see the threat of extinction for plant species being discussed. After all, the solution to human-mediated extinction of animals is unlikely to be found without considering the overall impact of the environment the animal is living in and the plants which they are using for food and cover. It's all connected.

It seems, while outlining the the problem of conservationists becoming distracted from the bigger picture by the Giant Panda and other charismatic megafauna, the programme makers got distracted from looking at extinction in a broad sense and took the animal route alone.

I guess we can chalk this up as an example of 'Plant Blindness' a term coined to describe the inability of some to see the importance of plants in their lives and to the natural world in general. I talk about the importance of avoiding plant blindness in an article in the Winter edition of Walton Magazine. You can read it for yourself here.

Below, a clip from Tuesday's show: A Dodo's Guide to Extinction

Monday, November 19, 2012

Giant controversy resolved?

PM David Cameron at Giant's Causeway
(Image: National Trust/Harrison)
This Summer, the Giants Causeway visitor centre in Co. Antrim re-opened after an £18.5 million rebuild. However the National Trust, who run the facility were forced to defend some of the information presented in the visitor's centre after severe criticism from scientists.

An audio component of the interactive exhibition seemed to suggest that the National Trust was supportive (or at least sitting on the fence) regarding the notion that the Earth could have been formed 6,000 years ago. This was denied by the Trust in a series of statements at the time.

Even scientist and TV presenter Brian Cox has waded into the argument, tweeting: "to suggest there is any debate that Earth is 4.54 billion years old is pure shit".

For more on the original story, see my post.

Now, following a review of the section of the exhibition in question, the National Trust have re-recorded the end of the piece to "clear up any misunderstanding there may have been", according to Graham Thompson, Project Director for the Giant's Causeway.

"The National Trust only endorses the scientific explanation of the origins of the stones yet recognises that others have alternative beliefs", said Mr. Thompson.

You can read the transcripts of the original and new versions of the passage below (click to view a larger version).

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Biodiversity Beermats

A group of Irish biologists have produced a set of eight biodiversity beermats which aim to raise awareness of biodiversity issues in Ireland.

The postgraduate students from the School of Natural Sciences in Trinity College Dublin under the banner of the Trinity Centre for Biodiversity Research  have produced the beermats as an innovative way of sharing their work with the Dublin public.

The beermats were designed and illustrated by Aileen Crossley and can be found in 10 pubs around Dublin. The group are also hosting 2-3 minute long pop-up pub talks on biodiversity.

The beermats have also been featured in the Irish Times and Science magazine in recent months. I'll drink to that!

More info: Biodiversity in our lives website

Monday, November 12, 2012

Coming Soon: Walton Magazine - Winter Edition

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A neutron walks into a bookshop...

Looking for a nice stocking-filler for the scientist (or science nut) in your life? You could do worse than a new book of random science facts compiled as part of the #Science140 project.

A Neutron Walks Into A Bar has been compiled by Irish science heads Paul O'Dwyer, Humphrey Jones, Maria Delaney and Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin after they asked the scientific community on twitter to send in their random (and not so random) facts in the form of a 140-character-long tweet.

Some of the tweets compiled are serious explanations of scientific phenomenon - condensed artfully into 140 characters. Others are facts about famous scientists, the universe and the world around us contributed by science enthusiasts, educators, members of the public and celebrities from all over the world - I've even spotted a few of my own #Science140 tweets in there.

All royalties from the book will go towards cystic fibrosis research. You'll find the book in all good bookshops and online.

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