Neuroscientist and Science Communicator | 2020 FameLab Ireland Winner

What you need to know about being wrong and adapting

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Do you enjoy being wrong? Of course not. Most of us don’t even like to admit it when we are!

Our mind makes us hesitant towards change — modifying prior beliefs or behaviors. Why do we hold on to stubborn ideas, biases and prejudices? To improve its efficiency, our brain makes decisions using quick rules-of-thumb called heurestics. These rule-based processes often prevent us from assessing new evidence or beliefs. As a result, heuristics often hinder the progression of our ideas and beliefs. Often, this might go against our best interests.

Humans are irrational.

These heuristics consist of different biases and processes which reinforce our current beliefs. These heuristics confound the way that scientists communicate to the public about misinformation. Providing raw numbers or concepts is hardly enough. To break through existing myths and beliefs, science communicators must look towards compassion. It turns out that our emotions play a large role in the way we process and assess information. Understanding the way that the gears of our cognitive biases churn will help us change our own minds. …


What made these trailers iconic — and what caused their decline

Image of cinema and people.
Image of cinema and people.

If you search for movie trailers released before the 2000s, you’ll find a distinct style. A booming male narrator provides a dramatic read over a selection of clips from the movie. Today, rewatching this trailer, I am hit with nostalgia and movie tropes. Often older trailers would start with a baritone voice introducing the movie: “In a world…” Most of these trailers are cheesy or cliché by today’s standards.

Why has this once popular strategy become stale?

Voice-over narration became a cinema staple in the 1940s. But no voice retained the same level of recognition as Don LaFontaine. In 1962, the studio needed someone to fill in for narration last minute. MGM purchased his first narration and LaFontaine kick-started his prolific career. …


Best of all, you can access all of its editing features for free!

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Hemingway Editor is a fantastic program to add to your writing toolkit. The great American novelist Ernest Hemingway wrote simple and effective prose. Most of Hemingway’s work has a readability between 4th and 6th grade. His books were accessible to any adult. Inspired by this simplicity, Hemingway Editor makes your document easier to read.

Compared to Grammarly, this editor offers a lot more details about your writing. Grammarly requires a Premium subscription to take advantage of all their writing tools. In contrast, all the writing features in Hemingway Editor are free. I had several annoyances and misgivings with Grammarly. As an example, it would mark all contractions as errors. While Grammarly did identify problematic sentences, without Premium, the writing issue is unclear. While Grammarly gives you a final score out of 100 on your piece, Hemingway Editor is less judgmental. It simply tells you the readability of your writing. …


Gary Gensler is uniquely qualified to tackle the challenges

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Despite dips in value and articles claiming Bitcoin is dead, it finished 2020 strong. The world’s highest-valued cryptocurrency almost tripled its value in one year. Waves of private investments as helped bolster the cryptocurrency’s run. Larger financial institutions like JP Morgan Chase also created their own digital currency. Despite this, it may take more than 2021 for other institutions to buy into Bitcoin.

Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are decentralized from banks. When depositing money with a financial institution, you entrust them to hold it. With Bitcoin, you are responsible for tracking and securing the assets yourself. Otherwise, you entrust your digital assets to an exchange which is likely unregulated. Biden is set to announce a new lead for the U.S. Securities and Exchanges Commisions (SEC) soon. Gary Gensler will likely be tapped for this position. …


How microbes in the gut influence the body’s immune response

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The trillions of microbes in our guts might influence our immune response to COVID-19. Though it is a respiratory virus, SARS-CoV-2 infects a multitude of cells within our body. Several studies also show its ability to dysregulates our immune response. Gut microbes exist at the exciting interface of these areas of our physiology.

There is a growing interest in the microbiome as a mediator of health. Thus, a semi-regulated market for gut-health supplements has emerged. This market may reach close to 60 billion USD by 2022. In many countries, products targetting the gut microbiome are loosely regulated. In the United States, probiotics sold as dietary supplements are not regulated. …


From a winner of a national science communication competition

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Public speaking is one of the most common sources of fear and anxiety. Three in four people report feeling overly nervous about public speaking. The fear of public speaking is called glossophobia. Whether speaking in a work meeting, presenting in class or speaking in front of a large audience, this is a valuable skill to master. Over the past year, I presented scientific ideas to a non-specialist audience in many different settings. I performed stand-up comedy science talks and competed in communication competitions. I participated in a science public speaking competition called FameLab, becoming Ireland’s National Champion. …


What if you could tap into this latent super-power?

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Comic books are filled with characters performing incredible feats. From super strength and durability to super speed and flight. While your physiology and the laws of physics make these powers impossible to attain, some powers lay dormant within us. While it won’t make for a great superpower for a compelling protagonist, it is nonetheless valuable in the real world.

In 1981, Rajan Mahadevan intrigued the world by reciting 31,811 digits of pi. That is about 31,800 more digits than I can recite myself! Not to be outdone, a Japanese man named Hideaki Tomoyori recited the first 40,000 digits in 1989. This extraordinary record was only broken by Lu Chao in 2005, who recited an impressive 67, 890 digits. Are these remarkable achievements the result of natural ability? Is the area of the brain which remembers these facts, the hippocampus, enhanced? …


And how fractal shapes in our natural environment may contribute

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There is something refreshing about a walk in the park. During the winter, nothing feels better than walking through a snowy forest scape. Cardinals and bluejays hop from branch to branch. Squirrels scurry up and down trees. Even when its cold or windy, an hour of walking is just what I need to feel recharged. It is a fantastic way to break up the monotony of studying or working from home. Going for a walk unlocks a cornucopia of positive stress-relieving effects.

One study measured the stress hormone cortisol in people’s saliva. Remarkably, researchers reported decreased cortisol levels in people that lived closer to green-spaces. The presence of green-spaces alone reduced our body’s stress levels. In Wisconsinm green-spaces associated with decreased levels of depression, anxiety and stress symptoms. The authors also found that living near green-spaces associated with fewer symptoms and prevalence of these disorders. People moving from urbanized to greener areas showed improvements across mental health measures. It is clear that the great outdoors reduces our levels of stress and improves mental health. …


And why Dogecoin?

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Bitcoin’s early success inspired innovators and imitators in the cryptocurrency space. This lead to a bloom of new types of crypto tokens. Amid the popularity, a meme-inspired coin was launched in 2013. Created as a joke based on the Doge meme, the Dogecoin now has a >$570 million market cap. One tweet on Sunday, December 20th, 2020, spiked its price by almost 20%.

One word: Doge.

This tweet came after an exchange with Crypto-enthusiast Michael Saylor. Saylor answered some of Musk’s questions about Bitcoin. Saylor however, could not convince Musk that the investment would be worth it. Just before tweeting his Dogecoin affirmation, Musk proclaimed Bitcoin was almost as bs as fiat money. Musk’s Twitter account is followed by more than 40 million users. …


And the tools you need to recharge!

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Many academics and grad students work beyond 40 hours most weeks. Experiments may warrant us staying a little longer in the lab or even coming in during the weekend. Working from home keeps us glued to screens. We anticipate emails, questions, or slack messages. We encounter distractions if you are a parent or caregiver. We are more stressed than usual. We are prone to feel unproductive during the last few weeks. But this does not justify or necessitate your work during the holidays. Take this time to mute your email notifications, delete that slack app and recharge.

The Burdens of Pandemic-Related Stress

There is plenty of evidence that this pandemic negatively impacts our mental health. Two-fifths of participants indicated they thought about leaving academia because of this stress. Specifically, adapting and designing online modules is stressful. Many academics might not have the expertise, tools or support for seamless implementation. Faculty and mentors bear the secondary emotional trauma of their students and trainees. Women face the disproportionate burden of childcare. Many of us are also living and studying thousands of kilometres away from home. …

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