Article: Drawn to Science

This invited commentary in Nature is a pep-talk for science educators considering integrating drawing into their science teaching and assessment. The full article is available for free here.

Excerpt: “Fundamentally, creativity is a whole-brain process, and artists and scientists use the same parts of their brains to do complex, creative tasks. Ensuring that students understand the value of drawing can help motivate them to draw.

When my colleagues try to integrate drawing into their laboratory and field courses, however, they frame their motives more matter-of-factly. For example, one biology-lab coordinator noticed that students mainly interact with specimens by photographing them. She suspected that students did not gain much from taking these photos, on the basis of their exam scores.”

Full citation: Invited. Merkle, B.G. 2018. Perspective: Drawn to Science. Outlook: Science and Technology Education. Nature 562: S8-S9. doi.org/10.1038/d41586-018-06832-0.

Drawn to Science Communication: Art-Science Synergy as a Career and a Way of Life

I recently gave an invited career talk at the 2020 annual conference of the Ecological Society of America. In case others are interested, I thought I would share the video (with captions) here.

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There have also been a number of responses to this talk which have led me to consider doing some recorded Zoom/video conversations, to capture discussion, advice, and more. Stay tuned for more on that front, and feel free to submit questions, advice, and resources via the comments section!

Article: Poetry as a Creative Practice to Enhance Engagement and Learning in Conservation Science

This article was such a fun research and writing project. We were working from the foundational question of how to connect scientists to the value of the practices of reading and creating poetry.

While the paper reports on ways of doing this in university classes, the advice, examples, and resources in the article will be equally useful for K-12 educators.

The article is available via open-access (for free) at the BioScience website. It is also featured here on the Wyoming Public Radio website, where you’ll find more context about the goals we had for writing this article.

Meanwhile, here’s a sample of what you might find useful.

Article abstract (aka summary):

“Creativity is crucial to the capacity to do science well, to communicate it in compelling ways, and to enhance learning. Creativity can be both practiced and enhanced to strengthen conservation science professionals’ efforts to address global environmental challenges. We explore how poetry is one creative approach that can further conservation scientists’ engagement and learning. We draw on evidence from peer-reviewed literature to illustrate benefits of integrating science and poetry, and to ground our argument for the growth of a science-poetry community to help conservation scientists develop skills in creative practices as a component of professional development. We present examples from literature as well as two short poetry exercises for scientists to draw on when considering writing poetry, or deciding on forms of poetry to include, in their practice. Opportunity exists to grow science–poetry projects to further our understanding of what such initiatives can offer.”

Our article also made the cover!

Our photo made the cover! See details in the text, below. Photo © B.G. Merkle, 2018.

Reproductive structures emerging from a complex lichen community, photographed in Parc Jacques-Cartier (Quebec, Canada) provide an opportunity for close observation and focused reflection in much the same way that our poetry article indicates that poetry may help focus scientists’ and science students’ attention. The mutualistic potential of combining poetry and science evokes the underlying biology of lichen. Rather than an individual organism, lichens are the result of a symbiosis of fungi, algae, and/or cyanobacteria. As we noted in our paper, art and science, when integrated, can facilitate innovation, creative thinking, and more compelling learning experiences than when these disciplines are practiced in isolation.

Full article citation: Januchowski-Hartley, Stephanie R., Natalie Sopinka, Bethann G. Merkle, Christina Lux, Anna Zivian, Patrick Goff, and Samantha Oester. Poetry as a Creative Practice to Enhance Engagement and Learning in Conservation Science. BioScience 68(11): 905–911. https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biy105.

Article: Creative convergence: exploring biocultural diversity through art

I had the great honor of collaborating with my friend Dr. Jean Polfus and her Sahtu Dene community collaborators on this publication. In it, we detail how art can be used as an inclusive, innovative research method for ecological research.

The article is available via open-access (for free) at the Ecology and Society website.

Screenshot of a figure from the paper. The paper is available for free to download/view here.

Meanwhile, here’s a sample of what you might find useful:

Excerpts from the article abstract (aka summary):

“Interdisciplinary approaches are necessary for exploring the complex research questions that stem from interdependence in social-ecological systems […] Identifying biocultural diversity requires a flexible, creative, and collaborative approach to research. We demonstrate how visual art can be used in combination with scientific and social science methods to examine the biocultural landscape of the Sahtú region of the Northwest Territories, Canada. Specifically, we focus on the intersection of Dene cultural diversity and caribou (Rangifer tarandus) intraspecific variation. We developed original illustrations, diagrams, and other visual aids to increase the effectiveness of communication, improve the organization of research results, and promote intellectual creativity […]Collaborative visual products, like posters that represented different caribou types, allowed Dene partners to more clearly articulate subtleties within caribou intraspecific variation that are manifest through distinct dialects, place-based relationships, and cultural practices. Our results point to the potential for visual art to be used to improve communication, participation, and knowledge production in interdisciplinary and cross-cultural research collaborations and to enhance the sustainable stewardship and protection of biodiversity.

Full citation: Polfus, J. L., D. Simmons, M. Neyelle, W. Bayha, F. Andrew, L. Andrew, B. G. Merkle, K. Rice, and M. Manseau. 2017. Creative convergence: exploring biocultural diversity through art. Ecology and Society 22(2): 4-17.
https://doi.org/10.5751/ES-08711-220204

Darwin wouldn’t draw. Seriously.

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He said so himself. And he regretted it.

Exhibit A, from The Autobiography of Charles Darwin:

“[Not being urged to practice dissection] has been an irremediable evil, as well as my incapacity to draw.”

It was actually Darwin’s shipmate on the HMS Beagle, Conrad Martens, who made the sketches best known from that expedition. And, it wasn’t until well after Darwin’s famous voyage to the Galapagos that a publisher sent an artist back to that region with the express responsibility to illustrate Darwin’s observations.

Most publications from Darwin’s era were similarly professionally illustrated, with many of the illustrations based on specimens he collected. However, these illustrations were not Darwin’s own work.

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“Tree of life” sketches (Charles Darwin, in the public domain)

Mind you, Darwin did occasionally sketch, as can be seen in his diagrams of “trees” roughly indicating how organisms were related.  And, there are a handful of rough sketches of plant cross sections and geologic formations scattered through his myriad notebooks. But, these few sketches pale alongside the copious volumes of written notes and manuscripts he made.

Darwin maintained he couldn’t draw.

So he didn’t ever do it.[1] Continue reading Darwin wouldn’t draw. Seriously.