Science Journalism Program


By Rachel Buhler

Two journalists who received fellowships from the MBL Logan Science Journalism Program are spending the next week with scientists pursuing environmental field research at Toolik Field Station in Arctic Alaska, including studies of global climate change.

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Michael Werner and Meera Subramanian at the Arctic Circle, 150 miles north of Fairbanks.

The two fellows, freelance journalist Meera Subramanian and freelance journalist/ filmmaker Michael Werner, both attended the program’s hands-on course at the MBL in June, undertaking field and laboratory research to “step into the shows of the scientists they cover.”  Last Tuesday, they flew into Fairbanks, Alaska, as the starting point for their journey to Toolik, which entails a minimum eight-hour drive and a passage across the Arctic Circle.

Subramanian has been blogging  — with striking photos and videos of the Arctic tundra and its scientist inhabitants — on the program’s blog, “A Toolik Field Journal.”

Over the years, the Logan Science Journalism Program has granted fellowships to hundreds of journalists from prominent news organizations, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Science, National Public Radio, The Washington Post, USA Today, CNN, and Scientific American. Journalists from Africa, Brazil, Sweden, India, Japan, the United Kingdom and other countries have also received fellowships.

Contact: Laurel Hamers

508-289-7652, mblnews@mbl.edu

WOODS HOLE, Mass.- In hospitals across the country, doctors guard against casual use of antibiotics: overuse of these powerful drugs encourages the emergence of drug-resistant bacterial strains that pose a public health threat. On our farms, however, it’s a different story. The discovery that antibiotics could improve yields in livestock production was made in 1948, at the start of the antibiotic era, and within a decade the drugs’ administration to farm animals for non-medical purposes had become routine.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Author and independent journalist Maryn McKenna, a senior fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University, will address the use of antibiotics in agriculture—and the tradeoff this practice sets up between public health and the economic benefits of increased farm productivity—in a lecture at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) on Saturday, July 26. McKenna’s talk, “Losing the Miracle: The FDA and the Controversy over Livestock Antibiotics,” will take place at 7:00 PM in the MBL’s Lillie Auditorium, 7 MBL Street, Woods Hole. The event is free and open to the public. Parking is available in the MBL parking lots.

By 1969, the first alarms had been raised that antibiotic-resistant bacteria that developed on farms could spread to human populations through manure, runoff, meat and even farm workers themselves. Consequently, in 1977, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed withdrawing its approvals of penicillin and tetracycline for agricultural use. The agency was persistently stymied in its efforts, and 37 years later, it has finally succeeded in implementing only voluntary controls. While Europe has imposed outright bans on growth promoters and there are country-specific controls on other antibiotic uses, non-therapeutic use of antibiotics remains common in U.S. agriculture. Simultaneously, public health, medical, and even Congressional opposition have risen—and so has the rate of emergence of antibiotic resistance worldwide.

Maryn McKenna

Maryn McKenna

McKenna, winner of the 2013 Byron H. Waksman Award for Excellence in the Public Communication of Life Sciences, primarily writes about public health, global health, and food policy. She was the 2013-2014 Knight Science Journalism Project Fellow at MIT and a finalist for a James Beard Foundation Award. She writes and blogs for numerous national publications, including Wired, Scientific American, and National Geographic’s The Plate, and is also the author of the award-winning popular science books SUPERBUG: The Fatal Menace of MRSA (2010) and Beating Back the Devil: On the Front Lines with the Disease Detectives of the Epidemic Intelligence Service (2004). McKenna is currently writing a book on antibiotic use in agriculture, to be published by National Geographic in 2015.

The Byron H. Waksman Award for Excellence in the Public Communication of Life Sciences is awarded annually by the Waksman Foundation to an institution or individual who demonstrates excellence in the communication of some aspect of life sciences. McKenna’s lecture at the MBL is sponsored by the Waksman Foundation and the MBL’s Logan Science Journalism Program.

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The Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) is dedicated to scientific discovery and improving the human condition through research and education in biology, biomedicine, and environmental science. Founded in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, in 1888, the MBL is a private, nonprofit institution and an affiliate of the University of Chicago.

Karin Klein, an editorial writer at the Los Angeles Times, and Kodi Kozacek, a reporter for Circle of Blue, are getting a good look at the life of ecosystems field scientists at a remote arctic outpost this week. They are observing the action during the short, productive summer season at Toolik Field Station, 350 miles north of Fairbanks, Alaska, through Polar Fellowships awarded by the MBL’s Logan Science Journalism Program.  Kozacek’s first dispatch, “Where the Sun Never Sleeps (And Neither Do the Scientists)” is on the fellowship’s blog, A Toolik Field Journal.

River sampling near Toolik Field Station. Credit: Chris Neill

River sampling near Toolik Field Station. Credit: Chris Neill

Several MBL Ecosystems Center scientists are deeply involved in climate-change research at Toolik through the Arctic Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) grant from the National Science Foundation. Led by MBL Senior Scientist Gaius Shaver, the Arctic LTER is a collaborative, multi-institutional project with the long-term goal of understanding and predicting the effects of environmental change on arctic landscapes. The arctic region has warmed significantly over the past 30 years, and arctic lands and freshwaters are changing in response.

Toolik Field Station was established in 1975 by a group led by MBL Distinguished Scientist John Hobbie and Senior Scientist Bruce Peterson; Shaver joined the fledgling arctic research group a year later. Hobbie recently co-authored Alaska’s Changing Arctic: Ecological Consequences for Tundra, Streams, and Lakes (Oxford University Press, 2014), a synthesis of findings from the Arctic LTER.

Today, Toolik Field Station is operated and managed by the Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, with support from the Division of Polar Programs, National Science Foundation.

Toolik Field Station is in the footholds of the Brooks Mountain Range (above) on the North Slope of Alaska. Credit: Chris Neill

Toolik Field Station is in the foothills region of the Brooks Range (above), North Slope of Alaska.                     Credit: Chris Neill

 

 

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By Chris Neill

Logan Science Journalism fellows Codi Kozacek (left), Susan Phillips and Nick Clark help Baltimore Ecosystems Study research assistant Heather Goodman collect water from trash in an abandoned lot in inner Baltimore. Tiny amounts of water in trash serve as breeding habitat for mosquitoes. The BES studies the relationship between income levels, urban habitat and the composition and abundance of urban mosquito communities. Credit: Chris Neill

MBL Logan Science Journalism Environmental fellows Codi Kozacek (left), Susan Phillips and Nick Clark help Baltimore Ecosystems Study research assistant Heather Goodman collect water from trash in an abandoned lot in inner Baltimore. Tiny amounts of water in trash serve as breeding habitat for mosquitoes. The BES studies the relationship between income levels, urban habitat and the composition and abundance of urban mosquito communities. Credit: Chris Neill

In urban West Baltimore, the mosquito Aedes albopictus is an increasing nuisance. Another species, Culex pipiens, is an important vector for West Nile virus. Both species are more common in low-income neighborhoods because they breed in ephemeral standing water created by trash, such as plastic cups and old tires.

Six MBL Logan Science Journalism Program (SJP) Environmental Fellows, led by Baltimore Ecosystems Study (BES) scientist Shannon LaDeau and BES researcher Heather Goodman, sampled larval mosquitoes and surveyed mosquito habitats in two inner-city blocks in West Baltimore last week. Back in the laboratory, they identified mosquito species under dissecting microscopes.

The SJP Environmental Fellows ventured to inner-city Baltimore to participate in one of the world’s largest coordinated studies of urban ecosystems. The BES is one of the National Science Foundation’s 26 Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) projects.

The Baltimore Ecosystems Study examines how the human-built ecosystem of a large U.S. city influences ecological process such as nutrient flows in watersheds and plant species composition along gradients from the inner city to outlying “exurbs,” and how peoples’ attitudes to green space and other ecological features shape the structure of city neighborhoods.

The Environmental Fellows spent two days with BES scientists. They also collected water samples from streams running from the inner city to an outlying area with Peter Groffman, and from storm-water detention ponds managed in different ways by neighborhood associations with Chris Swan.

The Logan Science Journalism Program’s Environmental Hands-On Research Course is led by MBL Ecosystems Center Director Chris Neill and Ecosystems Center Senior Research Assistant Richard McHorney. The Environmental Fellows are joining the SJP Biomedical Fellows at the MBL this week to complete their fellowship in Woods Hole.

Jim Motavalli, one of 12 journalists who recently spent 10 days in Woods Hole and at Hubbard Brook, NH, learning the ropes of ecosystems field science, reflects on his experience here. Jim took part in the Logan Science Journalism Fellowship program, which has been offered at the MBL since 1987.

 

Core sampling at Harvard Forest. Photo by KM Kowalski

An SJP fellow core sampling at Harvard Forest in 2012. Photo by KM Kowalski

 

From Kathiann M. Kowalski

The Environmental Fellows in the MBL’s Logan Science Journalism Program have returned to Woods Hole after two full and exhausting days of field work at the Harvard Forest. Besides being an incredible living laboratory for lots of ecological research, Harvard Forest is a place of great beauty. The view of the hemlock forest canopy was especially breathtaking.

Hemlocks in Harvard Forest. Photo by KM Kowalski

Sadly, Harvard Forest Director David Foster reports, most of the hemlocks there may be dead in as little as ten years. Hemlock wooly adelgid infestation will drastically change the face of the forest.

Closer to ground, our group took carbon dioxide readings from plots at the MBL’s heated soil experiment area. That experiment examines questions related to climate change.

We also took core samples from Black Gum Swamp. We want to see what organic material the sediments contain as we go deeper and further back in time.

Core sampling at Black Gum Swamp, Harvard Forest. Photo by KM Kowalski

Now we’re working with the core samples and data from our field work. We’ve heard the saying that even a bad day in the field beats a good day in the office, and I do miss the beauty and serenity of the majestic hemlocks and the rest of the trees.

On the other hand, it’s also fun trying to sift through the data so we can see what it tells us. And we’re looking forward to preparing our presentations for the end of the week. Now we just need Excel, PowerPoint, and the rest of our computer programs to cooperate.

The Environmental Fellows in the MBL’s Logan Science Journalism Program spent the weekend gathering data at Harvard Forest in Petersham, Mass. Here’s how one day went down:

By Kathiann M. Kowalski

Our first full day of field work was both exhausting and fascinating. During the morning, we sampled meter-square plots to determine how moose and deer grazing affect trees in Harvard Forest. Highstead ecologist Ed Faison explained his research in this area. Then we counted species, took measurements, and noted any signs of grazing. In other words, “Eaten, or not eaten?”

As with any good science experiment, we had a control area. Within the control area, deer and moose are free to wander at will. Although none came near us, we saw evidence of lots of grazing. At least one moose also left some scat for us to observe.

We then took measurements in two experimental areas. One was fenced in to keep moose and deer out entirely. The other had an opening two feet up from the ground. Deer could scoot under, but moose were out of luck. The complete exclosure showed almost no signs of grazing. The partial exclosure had some evidence of grazing, but still less than the control area. We’ll wait for data analysis back at the lab to see if more specific conclusions can be drawn.

After lunch back at Shaner Hall, we headed out into the field again—this time to observe and examine evidence of the hemlock wooly adelgid and its impacts on the forest. Forest ecologist David Orwig described his research and the spread of this Asian pest across the Eastern seaboard. Then we counted wooly adelgid egg sacks on the undersides of marked leaves. The highest count I got on one branch was 317; yet another branch on the same tree had only 3.

Again, we measured the types, height, and diameters of trees in one-meter plots for a control area. Afterward, we took similar measurements in an experimental area where researchers had run cuts along the trunks of Eastern hemlocks. The resulting “girdling” mimicked the effects of the wooly adelgid by causing the trees to starve. While there were far fewer Eastern hemlocks in the experimental area, there was a surprising amount of understory growth going on. One of our one-meter plots had a whopping ten trees in it!

In addition to the sampling and protocols, we learned some important things about doing science in the field. For one thing, there’s lots of preparation and staging. Once our transects were finally laid out, doing observations and taking measurements took way more time than any of us anticipated. You have to do the work carefully and methodically. Working with a buddy helps—not just to share work but also to remind each other to follow each step exactly. Like many other professions, doing a good job means taking the time to do it carefully and to do it right.

The hike in and out of the hemlock forest followed a beautiful trail, complete with babbling brook. It’s scary to think that a pest like the wooly adelgid could kill those majestic trees and transform the area.

Scampering around the hills without trails was more challenging, especially when carrying tape measures, meter sticks, meter frames, and other paraphernalia. I did fall on my butt twice—fortunately suffering just a bruise. And the bugs were indeed biting—despite multiple applications of spray, long clothing, and so forth. Chris Neill and Rich McHorney say we’re just not used to the exertion. In any case, none of us felt the least bit guilty about the delicious blueberry pie at dinner.

All in all, though, it was a good day. I know I’ll sleep well tonight!

Welcome back to @MBL! Here to help launch the 2012 edition of the MBL’s blog are the Logan Science Journalism Fellows, 11 sharp journalists who were selected to come to Woods Hole and undertake hands-on scientific research guided by MBL investigators.

The Biomedical Fellows have already met one of their model systems, the sea urchin, and mastered pipetting techniques; today they’ll collect the urchin’s sperm, fertilize its eggs, and watch the fascinating process of cell division unfold. They are in the lab with longtime MBL Whitman investigators David Burgess of Boston College and Charles “Brad” Schuster of New Mexico State University.

The Environmental Fellows left yesterday for Harvard Forest, a Harvard University-run environmental research station in Petersham, Massachusetts, that is one of the best-studied forests in the world. Under the leadership of MBL Ecosystems Center scientist Chris Neill, the fellows will “hook in” to four ongoing research studies at the forest, and will choose one to focus on for their final research presentation to their peers.

Below, Environmental Fellow Kathiann Kowalski gives her impressions of the first day of the program.

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Welcome from Woods Hole! After orientation on Thursday morning, MBL Communications Director Andrea Early led us jolly good science journalism fellows on a walking tour of the MBL campus and the village of Woods Hole. The view of MBL from across Eel Pond on School Street was gorgeous.

The MBL as seen across Eel Pond. Photo by K. Kowalski

For me, the MBL’s Stony Beach was a major highlight of the tour. The quiet beach on Buzzards Bay is just two blocks from campus and offers a place to read, relax, and enjoy the views. I should have time to walk to the beach on at least a few mornings. (This time of the year, the sun comes up well before 6 AM in Massachusetts, and lab work in Woods Hole generally won’t start until 9.)

The MBL's hangout, Stony Beach. Photo by K. Kowalski

On Thursday afternoon, the Environmental Fellows piled into the MBL van, and our fearless leader Chris Neill drove us to Harvard Forest in the wilds of central Massachusetts. Piling out, we grabbed our gear and got ourselves settled into the lovely old farmhouse that will serve as our “dormitory” for the next few days.

Harvard Forest farmhouse. Photo by K Kowalski

During dinner, Chris, MBL Ecosystems Center scientist Rich McHorney, and Clarisse Hart, Harvard Forest’s outreach manager, gave us an overview of the history and ongoing studies at the forest. The area was originally primary forest, but by 1830 it was almost all cleared for farmland. Starting in 1850, however, people began to abandon the farms—partly because the Erie Canal, steam power, and development of the Midwest made it easier to ship food in, and partly because the Civil War took many men away from their homes. Now the area is back to dense forest with hemlocks, white pine, red oak, and more.

After dinner, we did the first step in our scientific work—selecting sites to sample for two projects. One will look at the impacts of moose and deer, which are recolonizing the forest area. The other will examine effects of the hemlock wooly adelgid, an invasive pest.

Rich attached double-sided, random-number charts to a dartboard, and we started pitching. Wherever a dart struck determined the x and y axis values for where we’d start taking measurements in the field. Of course, our aims are all awful, so the results were indeed totally random. Random sampling is important in scientific studies to avoid researcher bias.

Random sampling by dart throwing. Photo by K. Kowalski

On Friday morning, we head out into the field. Let’s hope the DEET does its job and keeps the biting bugs at bay.

Nine science journalists and editors are rubbing elbows with polar researchers at the lab bench and in the field as part of the MBL’s Science Journalism Program at Toolik Field Station in Arctic Alaska. The Polar Fellows were awarded the unique opportunity to learn about Arctic climate change from the experts while participating in data collection and analysis. Before returning home on July 2, the Fellows will have visited the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Brooks Range, the Arctic coastal plain, and the Prudhoe Bay oil field.

In true journalistic fashion, the writers have been keeping a blog of their Arctic experience. Check it out here: http://toolikblog.wordpress.com/.

The 2010 MBL Polar Fellows are:

Victoria Barber, News Editor, The Arctic Sounder
Michael Barnes, Freelance Science Documentary Producer/Director
Julia Gross, Freelance Print Journalist, Germany
Louisa Jonas, Louisa Jonas Media
Julia Kumari Drapkin, Global Post, Argentina Correspondent
Susan Moran, Freelance Print Journalist
Ben Shaw, Producer/Editor, National Geographic Weekend
Chelsea Wald, Freelance Science Journalist
Gretchen Weber, Associate Producer, Climate Watch, KQED

Polar Fellow Gretchen Weber, associate producer for KQED’s Climate Watch, snapped this stunning shot in Alaska’s Brooks Range.

Polar Fellow Gretchen Weber, associate producer for KQED’s Climate Watch, snapped this stunning shot in Alaska’s Brooks Range.