The hilarious story behind #reviewforscience

This week, scientists on Twitter have been sharing their odd uses for everyday items in their experiments using the #reviewforscience hashtag. Here’s the story of how this hashtag stemmed from a single review of a tea strainer.

It was a Sunday night and I was shopping for a tea strainer online. Productive use of an evening, I know. After a quick search, I found myself on the page of the number one best-selling tea strainer on Amazon. Superior to all other tea strainers.

Hastily, I scrolled down to the reviews. I mean, if I was going to spend my student dollar, I wanted to know for sure that this tea strainer was good quality. I came across a 4-star review by a guy called John Birch, one that began: “to be honest, these were not being used to strain tea, but in a zoology experiment involving ants.”

John had allegedly used the tea strainer to translocate ants into a different colony, to see what the response might be from the two groups. To me, this was hilarious. I thought it a wonderful example of British humour that John wrote “to be honest…” at the start of his review just because he used an object for something other than it’s intended purpose. Plus, the use was zoological, and it was an innovative idea. So, I posted the review on Twitter, thinking that perhaps one or two other people might enjoy it.

One or two people. Not twenty-three thousand.

The tweet got shared and completely blew up overnight, much to my surprise.

In the midst of the madness, Dani Rabaiotti (of #DoesItFart? fame) had the fantastic idea of inviting other scientists to share their use of everyday objects in the name of science, via a hashtag, #reviewforscience .

The response to this was huge! Hundreds of scientists shared their scientific uses for everyday items, and it was brilliant. I particularly enjoyed the various objects that people use to weigh birds in e.g. pillowcase for gull, jug for goose, film cannisters for small birds. 

Here are four of my favourite reviews:

The best thing about #reviewforscience, in my opinion, is that it shows scientists are creative, innovative and also hilarious! Like, you know, real people. A big part of science communication is about breaking stereotypes of what a scientist should be like, and so I was really pleased that many people who wouldn’t normally be involved in science engaged with the tag. Also, hashtags like this are great for the community of scientists on Twitter to engage with each other – I found many new cool people to follow from this tag!

Several news and science websites picked up the story. #Reviewforscience was covered by The Washington Post, Gizmodo, Australian Geographic, BuzzFeed, IFL Science, Live Science, Teen Vogue, was mentioned on BBC Radio 4 and ABC Canberra Radio, and in Science Magazine (vol 359, issue 6376). In particular, the WaPo article was shared by astrophysicist Katie Mack, TheBrainScoop’s Emily Graslie and science journalist ED YONG, who said that he wished he could have covered the story (eep!).

Just when I thought this week couldn’t get any crazier, THEE ACTUAL John Birch, original writer of the Amazon review, got in touch via Twitter. He revealed it was actually his son Graham, a masters student at the University of Exeter, who used the tea strainers for his ant experiments. It turns out that John writes witty reviews on Amazon Graham’s behalf, as he’s in a competition with his colleague to see who can become the most highly rated reviewer on Amazon. I think right now he is winning.

Thankfully, John and son Graham were good sports about the whole thing. Graham posted a response on Amazon to questions about the review (basically: “WHAT HAPPENED WITH THE ANTS?”), and The University of Exeter has since published a news article on their website. John has been asking people on Twitter to please rate his review as “useful” so that he could get a one-up on his colleague.

If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you browse the #reviewforscience tag on Twitter. At the very least, you’ll chuckle. At best, you’ll get some good ideas for equipment to use during experiments in the future!

Thank you to everyone who participated and shared their equipment reviews, and I hope you enjoyed the tag as much as I did! Special thanks go to Dani for coming up with the #reviewforscience tag, and of course John, for being hilarious.

And now, it is time for me to actually buy the tea strainer…

 

 

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9 zoological things I am excited about in 2018

Is it just me, or was 2017 a tough year for everyone?

For me, it wasn’t all bad. But, I am confident that this year is going to be much better than the last. To start 2018 off the right way, I have put together a list of nine zoological things I am really looking forward to this year. Enjoy!

1) TetZooCon 2018

You may have already read my review of last year’s Tetrapod Zoology Convention, an annual event for zoology nerds filled with talks, an art workshop and even a quiz! This year promises to be even bigger and better than the last. TetZoo master Darren Naish recently announced that this year’s schedule is already packed with a themed session and paleoart workshop, and the event will last not one, but TWO DAYS.

ZOOLOGICAL EXCITEMENT MOUNTING.

Stay tuned for more TetZoo Con 2018 updates on the TetZoo Facebook page, and also Darren’s Twitter feed!

 

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TetZooCon 2017 paleoart workshop

 

2) PhD Fieldwork

I am lucky that for a few months of the year (April to June), I get to carry out fieldwork as part of my PhD project. This fieldwork is conducted at the university field station, the Scottish Centre for Ecology and the Natural Environment (SCENE), on the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, where we have a network of no less than 300 nestboxes within an old oak forest. Each year, our team monitor breeding activity of the birds nesting in our boxes, from nest building to egg laying and hatching, to chick rearing and fledging. As part of my PhD, I monitor specifically the nesting activity of our resident Great Tits, and carry out experiments aimed at answering questions relating to circadian (daily) rhythms of behaviour, gene activity and health of these birds.

Last year’s field season wasn’t great for me, as I had broken my ankle so, uh… I couldn’t actually do the fieldwork myself (shout out to Paul and dog Ben who were my legs for last year)! So, this year, I am excited to get involved in the regular nestbox checks, and I am hoping to share some of this with you via Instagram nearer the time 😉

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3) International Ornithology Congress 2018, Vancouver

One great part of being in academia is being able to attend conferences, where scientists working in a particular field group come together to essentially nerd out, presenting and sharing ideas and recent discoveries. This year in August, bird nerds from AROUND THE WORLD are coming together for a once-in-four-yearly meeting in Vancouver, for the International Ornithological Congress 2018. I am excited about this for six reasons.

  1. I get to go to Canada
  2. I get to see all my European bird nerd friends again
  3. I get to meet other bird nerds from the Americas
  4. I am submitting an abstract to present my PhD research… Fingers crossed that it gets accepted!
  5. I get to see talks from avian researchers around the world, including the experts in my particular niche field of circadian clocks. There’s even a session on BIRD AND DINOSAUR EVOLUTION.
  6. I will be coming to the end of my PhD at that time, so will be scouting for opportunities for the next step in my career!

EXCITING STUFF.

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4) Timothy Pond Animal Illustration

After about 600 years of neglecting my interest in drawing, I have recently picked up the pencils again. There are some truly fantastic artists and illustrators over on Twitter who have inspired me to pursue art again, but one who has caught my eye is Timothy Pond. I am a huge fan of his lively animal drawings, and am very excited to see his upcoming book on animal illustration! From the sneak-peeks Timothy has already posted, the book promises to be an amazing resource for those wanting to refine their skills in animal illustration.

Follow Timothy over on Twitter (@timothypond), or see his Facebook page for teasers of his upcoming book!

5) Mark Witton’s Palaeoartists’ Handbook

Mark Witton is a palaeontologist and freelance artist, and this year (I hope!!!) he will be releasing his much anticipated “Paleoartists’ Handbook”. As a complete newbie to the palaeoart world, I am excited to see tips from one of the most established artists in the field. Also because the palaeoart community are pretty passionate if you get anything wrong ;-)!

This book promises to be around the length of a PhD thesis and will discuss pitfalls and shortcomings of the current state of palaeoart. Check out Mark’s Twitter feed (@MarkWitton) for updates on his book, and his other palaeoart projects!

6) Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

Mark will probably hate me for adding this section in right after a bit on his book, BUT truthfully I am excited about the upcoming release of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (22nd June 2018). The film may be fantastically inaccurate (cue Chris Pratt successfully outrunning a pyroclastic flow, and dinosaurs roaring, quote Darren Naish: “like a million lions”), however, there is an appearance from Jeff Goldblum, whom I think you will agree is getting better with age (you fine wine, Jeff) and scary dino monsters. Nostalgia at its best.

Join the Tetrapod Zoology Facebook group if you’re interested in discussions relating to Jurassic World’s (in)accuracies!

 

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Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (Universal Pictures)

 

7) Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)

As someone who grew up with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and a general fan of fantasy-fiction, I loved the first Fantastic Beasts movie featuring British wizard and magi-zoologist Newt Scamander. Although the creatures depicted in the film were of course fantasy, I really liked how this movie gave us an appreciation for nature through Newt. Wildlife writer Peter Cooper posted a discussion on his blog about films such as these, and how blockbusters and conservation can go together.

The second instalment in the series, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, is due to be released this year (16th November). I’m looking forward to finding out more about the mysterious relationship between the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald and Albus Dumbledore, and to see more magical creatures from the original Fantastic Beasts book appearing in the film!

 

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Warner Bros. Pictures)

 

8) Attenborough’s Birds of Paradise and Natural World: Biggest Birds (BBC Two)

This year, the BBC is releasing two avian themed nature documentaries! The first, “Attenborough’s Birds of Paradise” will feature David Attenborough telling the story of how birds of paradise were discovered, how they have captivated naturalists, artists and royalty for centuries, and will provide insight into the evolution and behaviour of these stunning birds.

The second documentary will be part of the BBC’s Natural World series, and will focus on the ratites – flightless birds such as ostriches, emus and kiwis, and the magnificent extinct elephant bird of Madagascar. This documentary will trace the evolution of these birds in an attempt to answer the question: Why can’t these birds fly? 

 

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Attenborough’s Paradise Birds (2015)

 

9) Nature Explorers Group

Late last year, I joined up as a volunteer for an RSPB reserve, helping out with monthly “nature explorer” sessions for kids age 5-13. So far this term, we have run sessions on broad topics such as rainforests, slugs and snails and fungi, and it has been fun! Next month, I am going to be organising a session about dinosaurs. This was announced at the last meeting, and one kid stood up and shouted: “YESSSSS!!!! FINALLLYYYYY!!!” whilst flailing his arms in the air.

Safe to say, I think this year is going to be fun.

 

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Autumn collage by one of the Lochwinnoch Explorers

 

What zoological events/books/STUFF are you excited about in 2018?