Let’s Go Exploring! #4

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Hello readers! It has been an eerily beautiful March week (thanks climate change, I guess), our respective science projects have been full of ups and downs lately, and we are ready to sit down and scream into the internet for a while.

This week, we have been re-reading the Two Bossy Dames back-catalogues to Improve Ourselves, and came across this ask:

I used to think of myself as a creative person. Then I ended up in a field where I consume other people’s awesome creative output all day, and in a city whose main industry is Big Smart Ideas. Now I’m stuck feeling like I need Big Smart Ideas and Awesome Creativity to be worthwhile, but at the same time I’m paralyzed by the fact that my crappy little initial efforts aren’t going to be as great as the work I see around me every day. What’s the point of putting a lot of work into something crummy? As ladies who also consume culture professionally, how do you keep that from paralyzing your own creativity?

Which had this answer:

We are not competition for these people. We are their colleagues. Their work informs ours, and (we flatter ourselves slightly), one day ours will inform theirs. There’s room for all of this and way more besides! Whatever your field of endeavor is, you’re practicing it right alongside of a bunch of other people, and yeah, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel, but we bet you could do a bang-up job refining its design and rebalancing it.

Read the whole thing OBVS but basically we want to share this advice because it helped us so SO much in even contemplating starting a science link roundup/newsletter/writing team. We aspire to Dame Sophie and Dame Margaret levels of excellence and insight! In particular, the message offered by this answer is that you have a new perspective to offer just by being your unique self. Sure, other people may be making a similar thing as whatever it is you want to be producing, but you can add to the collection of amazing work by DOING amazing work.

We are trying to add to the collection of science-themed commentary already made excellent by the likes of Ed Yong, Erin Barker, Liz Neeley, Carl Zimmer, Peter Aldhous, and many others, and trying to inject our own background, experience, and humor into it. We started this for ourselves and for a few close friends, so we don’t have to continually remind ourselves that this isn’t a competition, but it does occasionally bubble to the surface of our self-conscience brains. “How many twitter followers do we have today?” is a question Cas finds herself asking far too often, for example.

When that question rises up of its own accord, what she tries to ask herself instead is “What have I written today that I’m proud of?” In fact we both think this is a question that everybody should ask themselves (possibly in a form more tailored to your particular choice of extracurricular content creation) instead of focusing on how many people have thumbs-up’d or hearted their stuff lately.

The above was written entirely for our own benefit, but we hope it helps you in your own endeavor to greatness, whatever form that takes!

The Links

Crispr reads:

This week, WIRED excerpted a book called Deadliest Enemy: A War Against Killer Germs. I haven’t read the book, but the WIRED article is a quick read about what we can expect from a post-antibiotic world, and a reminder about why it’s hard to regulate antibiotic use. (One problem: it’s difficult for doctors to refuse anxious parents a prescription they don’t think is necessary, especially when it seems basically harmless and might even help.) The article opens with a story about the bacteria found in the 4-million-year-old Lechuguilla Caves, which have genes that make them resistant to common antibiotics. This is cool but scary: cool because biology, wow! Scary because it’s a reminder that a lot of bacteria already have all the tools they need to escape our attempts to get rid of them. Antibiotics were a miracle, no doubt, and they changed the world, but fighting bacterial infections will continue to be a war waged in every generation. Hopefully we’ll be waging that war with effective antibiotics, but you never know.

On that note: the graphic novel Surgeon X is a cool comic about post-antibiotic London. It’s not perfect, and I’m going to let it play out for a few more issues before I decide whether I’m totally sucked in, but I love the timely concept and the social commentary. Read it and have Thoughts? Let me know!

Very related to antibiotics: yesterday was World Tuberculosis Day. Many of us, me included, think of TB as a disease of the past. Only Victorian ladies in novels get consumption! (Side note – did you guys know that tuberculosis shaped Victorian fashion for decades? Looking ill was totally in!) But it’s definitely still a very present disease — 1.8 MILLION people died of TB in 2015, and drug-resistance is really f***ing us over in this case. Luckily we’re a lot more knowledgable about what TB is caused by and how to treat it nowadays… no more eating the liver of a wolf boiled in wine! A common treatment of the past was shipping people off to the “fresh air” — which probably did actually help a lot in some cases. They would travel to places like Colorado (mountain air, fewer people) and live in sanatoriums, where patients lived in semi-isolated huts. This week I learned that many of those huts that were used to house TB patients in Colorado have been turned into tool sheds and art studios! So cool.

And finally: Why surgeons make good artistsGeorge Butler draws surgeons at work and talks about the similarities between art and surgery. Great artists make me jelly.

Cas reads:

Oh hey y’all. Did you need a reminder that coding is the most useful skill you can learn today or tomorrow, but preferably yesterday? Well, let WIRED give you one anyway. Why yes, WIRED, I should be learning to code in my “spare time”. Many, many people have told me that programming is the path to the future. Let me complain about this for a hot second:

I actually like to code. I’ve taken a few intro programming classes and I find it fun, satisfying, and completely unapplicable to my day-to-day work. I could 100 percent design a project in my field around messing with with the mass amounts of data available to scientists. I could 200 percent improve my job prospects by doing so. But I work and read all day in order to make sure my project is moving forward and I’ll have a satisfying story by the time I’m thinking about graduating… and this doesn’t require any computer skills beyond basic command of word-processing and access to the right computer tools. The thought of learning to competently code simultaneously makes me prematurely tired. To be honest, in my free time I’d rather be doing what I am right now: reading random things on the internet and writing about them.

But yes, coding is the way of the future. So: people who HAVE learned to code when they didn’t need to- how did you do it? What motivated you? Was it fun? Tell me your inspiring stories! Somebody give me a good kick in the butt! (I promise I’ll thank you later.)

ANYhoo, moving on: National Geographic did an article about how weird small things look. Look, phage!

And speaking of phage, this is an AWESOME book about them. It’s hand illustrated AND free. Download it today! Or buy it for a lot of money… I’m seriously considering it as coffee-table-topping material.

More small things: Ernst Haeckel drew a lot of microscopic animals in the 1800s/early 1900s and MAN are the prints beautiful. He also drew bigger stuff but I like his depictions of the crazy diversity of protozoa best.

Something not so small: the gender bias in academic peer review. Especially in men against women… duh.

Randomness from the week: flat-faced bunnies!  Really cold leavesLego tape!

And we’re done! Thanks for reading, and keep exploring!


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