Sunday, December 30, 2012

12 Posts of 2012

It's been an exciting year for science and as we look forward to 2013, it's time to look back at the 12 top posts from Communicate Science in the last 12 months.

A scientific expedition to Suriname yielded some impressive results for Conservation International - not least the possibility of newly classified species. A photo special. +more

If the Irish Examiner were intending to start a real debate about Autism, they went about it the wrong way. My response to an article by Tony Humphreys and his stereotypical view of scientists. +more

Teagasc plans to plant GM potatoes in Ireland were outlined. I wrote in the Guardian on why it makes sense to carry out such trials. +more

How agriculture in the future should not be limited by idealogy, but informed by science. From the Guardian Science Blog. +more

Unfortunately, the subject of George Boole's house and its perilous state of repair fetaures again this year. Hopefully not for long more though? +more

A lesson from the EU Commission on how not to encourage girls to study science. +more

The tale of James Drummond and the almost forgotten Botanical Gardens at Cork. +more

The Race to Mars: How NASA's Curiosity Rover got to the Red Planet. +more

In light of recent studies, why organic agriculture must turn to science to survive. +more

Why the abolition of Ireland's Chief Scientific post is bad news for Irish science. +more

How an £18.5 million visitor centre at the Giants Causeway caused controversy in scientific circles and a rethink by the National Trust. +more

Some spectacular humpback whale activity in West Cork to finish the year off in style - a photo special. +more

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Happy yet?

So, I took part in the Science Gallery's National Happiness Experiment during the Summer and the results are now in!

The nationwide survey (the first of its kind in Ireland) was conducted by the Science Gallery and researchers from Trinity's School of Psychology and involved the team using text messaging to contact the 3,309 participants and gauge their mood over a six week period.

The results show that:

  • The average happiness over the six week period was 6.8 (on a 0-10 scale).
  • Being treated fairly was a key factor in how happy we feel.
  • There was a strong link between health and happiness. Those who considered themselves to be quite healthy scored significantly higher in terms of happiness and life satisfaction.
  • People who felt positive about phone and text use were on average happier and more satisfied.
  • The changing weather during the six-week experiment did not affect happiness levels.
  • The county we live in does not effect our happiness levels.
The results of the experiment have been published in book form - see here for details. Half of the proceeds for the book goes to St. Vincent de Paul. A wonderful gesture which will make some people very happy this Christmas. Despite this, and given the 'citizen science' nature of the experiment, it's strange that the results don't seem to have been made freely available.

Monday, December 3, 2012

A whale of a time: cetacean watching in West Cork

Whale watching in West Cork is some of the best in the World, especially at this time of year, writes Daniel Lettice.

Humpback whales, fin whales, minke whales, common dolphin and harbour porpoise all in the one day. Whalewatching in some far flung destination? No, whalewatching off the South west coast of Ireland. Over the last two weeks the whalewatching off the West Cork coast has been world class. When it's good here it’s great and to see five species all in the one day is something you would do very well to equal anywhere else in the world.

The stars of the show this time around have been the humpback whales. This iconic species are regular visitors to Irish waters but with a minimum of 5 humpbacks in West Cork waters at the moment whalewatchers are certainly being treated to a pre Christmas gift.

Last Wednesday, as part of an Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) photo ID trip we photographed two humpbacks and a further two were photographed nearby. On another trip yesterday we again photographed two of these animals, this time in difficult conditions. All four animals were ‘known’ whales already recorded on the IWDG Irish humpback whale catalogue, which now has a total of 21 unique animals, the newest recorded off West Cork in the last two weeks. The famous Boomerang, who keeps coming back, has also been photographed in the area. Humpbacks are identified by their unique tail fluke patterns and they certainly provided ample opportunity this last two weeks for identification by putting on some fantastic tail fluking shows. Throw in some pectoral fin slapping and bubble net feeding and it all adds up to an amazing show.

Not to be outdone, the Fin whales who are the second largest animals ever to have lived on the planet also gave us a great show. There are numerous Fin whales in the area, some feeding in association with the humpbacks and some on their own. Lunge feeding is common amongst the fin whales at this time of the year. The whales line up a bait ball and engulfs it at that surface with their huge mouths open and throats distended, a sight to behold. At times this week the Common Dolphins seemed to have been showing off around the boat in an attempt to distract our attention from their larger cousins but they’ve had to take a back seat for a little while. Fleeting glimpses of Minke whales and the shy Harbour Porpoises have added to the magic of an amazing couple of weeks.

I would encourage anyone with an interest in whales and dolphins or just an interest in seeing one of natures great shows to get on down to West Cork when the weather settles again. For further, up to date information on the whales see

Simon Duggan's amazing photo of a humpback made the
front page of a number of national newspapers

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