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If you have been following this project you will know that I am attempting to develop a mod for the popular video game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
The mod is meant to be educational – but not in a conventional sense. I want people to play it and not feel like they are being forced to learn something, rather for people to play it because they want to and in the process of the game realise that there is something useful here.
For more information on this project and its background check out my initial post, my set at Science Showoff and also where I am hosting the project over at Dark Creations – with a detailed project outline.
I have now completed the initial mapping of the province of Skyrim in the continent of Tamriel. I did this using the immensely helpful UESP map which details the locations of the major types of ore veins to be found in Skyrim. The most common ore veins (in order of abundance) are iron, corundum, ornichalcum, quicksilver, silver, moonstone and malachite. Malachite unfortunately barely even occurs on the UESP map as it is found in so few places, so I have not included it in this map.
The map here is very rough. It is hard to get accurate locations from one map to another, but I have tried my best. This means that every location is likely to be relatively inaccurate. In addition, because of the nature of geologically mapping a hypothetical location, there is not much possibility of identifying ‘contacts’ between different rock types.
Why are ‘contacts’ so important? The location that two or more rock types are in contact with each other is crucial for mapping in the field. It is through identification of contacts between rocks that geologists are able to define where a body of rock is below the surface. In nature you will see exposures of rocks at the surface – when you are walking along and you see some rock sticking out of the grass that is obviously part of the hill you are walking on, or a road that has cut away at the rock around it. These rocks don’t just occur there though. The rock goes below the ground where you can’t see it, and the purpose of geological mapping is to find out where the rock is below the surface. If you know where the rocks are below the surface this is one of the keys to understanding how they got there.
To do this requires an understanding of the type of rock you are looking at – is it hard or soft – which will determine whether you are likely to see it on a hill or on flat land. Contacts between one rock and another provide definite boundaries that you can mark off on your map and are one of the most important pieces of information for geologists in the field.
We can’t do this on the Skyrim map because 1) it is imaginary 2) the scale of the maps means that this kind of observation is difficult 3) I am not going to spend hours and hours in Skyrim looking at rocks and veins which ultimately, because it is imaginary, won’t have a beautiful contact visible there and 4) I would rather spend my time in Skyrim plundering ruins, killing dragons and doing cool quests.
And of course,when I come to develop a storyline around the geology of the area, the geology will need to be simplified – and because this is a game and imaginary I am allowed a certain amount of creative license!
I have grouped where one or more ore locations of the same type can be found into ‘blobs’ that you can see on the map. Each blob is colour coded to represent a specific ore.
Red = iron
Blue = corundum
Purple = ornichalcum
White = quicksilver
Grey = silver
Yellow = moonstone
Above is the map I have created with the locations of various types of ores (blobs drawn on over the coloured contour map). It might be difficult to see, so I recommend clicking on it and trying to zoom in. Unfortunately, when you get to this level of detail on the map of Skyrim, there is less consistency in the geological data. However, this was to be expected.
What I now aim to do is open this project up a bit to other geologists out there who I know are interested in mapping Skyrim. I would like to call on your expertise to come up with hypotheses about the geological evolution of Skyrim. I am going to leave you the option to try to come up with something highly accurate, or to use your own artistic license in interpreting this geology to develop a hypothesis that makes sense but also includes some fun and interesting geological processes. I will not determine how the particular rocks/minerals mapped here were formed, because I would like to leave this open to geologists’ own interpretations.
Leave your ideas in the comments below (or you can always email me at janeliz.robb at gmail.com) and I will collate them together and see what I think would be most suitable for making into a storyline for a new quest in Skyrim. For this, I will take into account the simplicity of the geological evolution if the area – I want to make something that is simple and easy to create a geological map of and that allows the creation of a viable new mineral that can be mined. Once a final hypothesis has been determined, I will write a post that describes this in a simple way for others who don’t know about geology to keep up to date with the project.
So, have a bit of fun with it and let me know your ideas!
Earlier this month I published my first academic article in Geology Today. (Wooooo!) Which subsequently sent me into a new drive for publishing my masters research.
And is also why I have decided to write this blog post.
When I published my article in Geology Today, a Wiley journal, I was criticised over Twitter by someone saying:
“OHHHH the IRONY – “public” behind paywall !!!”
My article was entitled: ‘A call for increased public engagement in geology higher education’, which – although it may sound like it – is not actually about increasing public engagement with geology higher education, but actually within. I think that increasing the amount of science communication training and skills of geology students through adaptations within the curriculum will actually increase student learning, transferable skills and at the same time enable them to become more effective researchers who can communicate their research well. The article is aimed at geology lecturers in higher education, and tailored to provide advice and options. Which I believe is very different from writing an article about engaging the public with geology and putting it behind a paywall.
Of course, the person who made the comment wouldn’t know because they couldn’t access the article…but this was clearly stated in the abstract (which is accessible), which I am therefore assuming they didn’t read.
After me stating this however they responded with:
“Agreed, but a bt nitpicking is on place, in 21th century communication science should include public”
Yes, and my article is encouraging this from a standpoint of within academia encouraging greater engagement at the early stages of scientific development in education. Please, if you are going to have an opinion on an article – read it first. Even if that means waiting for it to get onto the author’s website for free. (And it’s 21st not th.)
So OK, I will now confess: I didn’t even look to check if Geology Today was open access or not because when the editor of a really good international journal asks you to write a feature article for them you just do it. Especially if you want to get your foot in the door and get noticed for the work you are doing as an early career researcher/scientist.
I think it important to note here that I genuinely am for openly accessible scientific data (especially that which has been publicly funded) and for the improvement and opening up of the peer review process (but I also see problems with opening peer review up to the scientific masses – ensuring someone actually does it, quality insurance and so on). But at the same time it won’t always solve what I am personally interested in – better dissemination of science to the ‘public’. I think we will still need excellent science communicators to do this.
Which is why I was then compelled to write this blog post. If you are an early career researcher and are dying to get your first publication out to make you employable, then would you turn this down just to be open access (OA)? I wouldn’t, and didn’t. Maybe others would choose differently, but unfortunately I didn’t and I am still proud of being able to write Robb (2013) on my CV (and anywhere else I can get away with it, ahem).
There has been some recent discussion that those who continue to publish behind paywalls are immoral, and at the time I disagreed with this statement and I do even more now. If you decide to boycott non OA journals then this will produce a stifling effect on academic research, which is surely the opposite of what we want. We are already seeing the big publishers changing their tunes to OA, with Wiley even announcing they are doing so on Wednesday.
So now I am asking myself the question: am I immoral? Honestly, I don’t think so. Nevertheless, I am in a dilemma about where to publish my masters thesis – do I send it to a higher impact journal that is tailored to the community of researchers I want it to reach most and put it behind a paywall and enhance my own visibility and CV at the same time, or do I do the ‘morally right’ thing and publish OA at the risk of it never reaching the people who it will influence most (and where might I get the money if I have to pay to process it?)? (For information, my masters research is about conservation of geological collections in museums, and will benefit most by being read by conservators and museum curators of lots of heritage collections.) I’m not sure what to do, but I hope to draw on some wisdom of others including my supervisors and peers for this decision.
And for your further enjoyment (or not, as the case may be) have a look at my article!
Have you ever had that moment where you just KNOW you are a scientist because of a particular type of thought or thought process?
For example: the other day I arrived at my local gym and as I was on my way downstairs to the changing rooms my bag’s metal ‘hangy-things’ that dangle off the zip came into fleeting contact with the metal bannister. The result was a highly musical tone (don’t ask me what note) that lingered for quite a while. I can’t be certain, but I am sure that any normal person would probably not have noticed this at all, but the first thing that went through my head after ‘That was a nice sound’ was ‘Hmm, and the precise density, shape, form and possibly rate and length of contact of the two metals were what defined that sound, and I wonder what all the other sounds are that could have been made with a slight change in material property of either of the two objects would have made’, before I stopped myself for being far too much of a geek when I should be going for a relaxing steam and swim and thinking of something vaguely normal.
This is not a lone occurrence either. This happens to me at least once a day, over such things as how bubbles nucleate on the raised letters/shapes at the bottom of pint glasses (one of the world’s most poignant questions), how our minds are drawn to specific cues in advertisements and so on. I find myself constantly trying to work out the world, but not out of some sort of need to have an answer to everything and more out of an innate curiosity and willingness to always learn more through logic and problem solving. I love to wonder about things, whether my analyses are correct or not does not mean that much to me – although if I see flaws or gaps in my mental reasoning I make a note to find out more about this at some later date in my life. I love being able to work my way up from my basic understandings of chemistry and physics to understand the real world, and this is exactly what always makes me the most excited about science: how the smallest thing can provide answers to some of the biggest questions.
Take physics for example, and how many scientists across the globe get so excited about a tiny quark or boson and this helps contribute to answering questions that concern the WHOLE UNIVERSE! On a smaller scale, geology. I loved the day when I was in class and we were discussing igneous petrogenesis and how the discovery of a tiny rare earth element in the tiniest of quantities inside a mineral could point to the fact that this rock was formed from eruptions at a volcanic arc in the middle of the ocean – because that tiny element is soluble in water!! A simple enough concept, but it was not that makes me love science – it’s the fact that something so small can tell you about something so large, plate tectonics in this case.
Have you ever had the same feeling of ‘wow I’m a geek!’? If so, let me know by tweeting me or mentioning in the comments. If anyone has then I am sure it will make for an interesting blog post, and also hopefully help us see what makes us tick as scientists, and maybe, just maybe we can use this to see what might make others tick when it comes to science too.
OK, so I might be a bit late to this blog party, but I still think the future of the Royal Institution is a current issue.
So to begin, I agree with Martin Robbins.
I have to say, when I first heard that the Ri was being sold I was totally flabbergasted: I didn’t actually know what the Ri was. I had to Google it. And then I saw their website and ‘Ohh, the Royal Institution! They do the Christmas lectures!’ and instantly wanted to help keep the Ri going. My motives were purely associated with the fact that this was (is) another institution that practices science communication and in my books that’s great. There can be no excess of science communication, as there will be no excess of science (as long as people continue to remember someone has to actually do the sciencey bits too).
So I read, and I listened and I remained inert – not wishing to sign petitions because although my knee-jerk reaction is to save something that helps communicate scientific messages something was nagging at me about the whole issue in the discussions I had been reading (i.e. Miodownik’s article and various other Twitter names twittering on about the issue). It wasn’t until I finally got round to looking at the Association of British Science Writer’s Google groups thread on the topic that I actually read Martin Robbins’ inflammatory titled article. And that was when it hit me, I totally agree that the Ri should be sold. That is, the building should.
I honestly believe that we don’t need the building of the Royal Institution to continue the spirit of science and scientific discovery. You don’t need to be there, in that same room, to be able to get excited about Michael Faraday performing the first ever demonstration of electricity, or to feel the importance of science as a whole. What you need is passionate communicators that can do this solely with their words and their own excitement. What will really capture an audience is the passion with which the orator speaks and not the place that they are in – the audience will be transported to another time and place in their minds if their muse is eloquent enough and for this you can be anywhere. We don’t need to forget the history of the Ri, nor do we want to, we just need to realise that to move forward with science letting the building go might be the best option and lets spend that 60 million pounds where it is most needed.
Which is why it is great to see more recently that there is not just discussion and/or outrage about the Ri and the possibility of selling the building. A recent article by Sir Richard Sykes, chair of the Royal Institution outlines their plans for a Future Direction Committee which will determine the new vision for the Ri that includes science communication, advocacy, public engagement and crucially the opinions of the wider scientific community on this vision. Mark Miodownik, a member of the new committee, also put a call out on Twitter asking for views on the future of the Ri to be sent to future [at] ri.ac.uk. So, anyone who was and is up in arms about the whole thing should really make their views heard through this avenue of communication.
I really look forward to how this develops, and I hope that the science community will come up with something innovative and befitting the Ri’s future purpose. And I also hope that whatever the idea, we have the resources to be able to carry it out. As we have seen before with the Ri, great ideas are great until we look at the bank books.
It was with the arrival of the excellent blog post on Science, LIVE: A Made for TV Experiment that brought the topic of TV science and Prof. David Nutt’s new show: Drugs Live to my attention. Later I also read of a discussion between Prof Nutt and Julia Manning asking whether it is right to take ecstacy in a TV trial.
In addition to my angle on the issue of science communication related to this issue, the entirely separate issue of ‘is it even right in the first place?’ was addressed in the latter article. Maybe unsurprisingly, I completely side with Julia Manning, and feel that a scientific study funded by a TV programme is not viable. I can’t understand how this can be published in a journal when the topic has been funded by a body that has a personal interest in the outcome. I know, the Medical Research Council (MRC) didn’t fund it because it doesn’t fit with their portfolio of addiction, but I still feel there is more to the story of the study and its quest for funding that I can’t see. Another issue that I found distressing about this article was the fact that Prof. Nutt continued to take personal offence to Julia’s criticisms. His overuse of the work ‘I’ worried me to the point that I felt he viewed the study as a reflection of him personally and not there to provide help to those suffering from depression and the doctors who will treat them. Some examples:
“I should be commended for finding a way of doing quality science, which otherwise wouldn’t happen.”
“I’m looking to innovate…Your argument with me is essentially fuelling that prejudice.”
Maybe my feelings are completely unfounded, but this made me question the purpose of the show, bearing in mind that I have doubts about the quality of the communication of the process of scientific research, in Prof. Nutt’s own words: “…show the whole process – from design to analysis – of a scientific experiment being performed.”, and what benefits (if any) it will bring to the public and the medical sciences. Will the show stir up more questions amongst the public about drugs and science, and will they be the right ones?
Moving on to my main point about the quality of the scientific communication within the show, I have serious doubts about whether the public will really understand the whole process of a scientific experiment being performed from an hour long TV show. Translating the results of ‘ground-breaking’ science in a show this length probably has its own difficulties, but here we are supposed to be witnessing the whole ground-breaking study within the 57 minute long programme. Mark Stokes discusses this issue in his article that I mention above as the basis for this post.
People may ask questions like: why have we not found the cure to cancer yet if scientific studies can be undertaken so quickly? The biggest miscommunication here is the rigour and process of science rather than helping people understand it. There needs to be more support for people to gain a feeling for the logical thought process that comes along with all scientific studies, the way that research questions are developed, the background knowledge that needs to be acquired before you begin, the decisions regarding the best methods to use and the pitfalls and changes of direction that projects may take along the way.
Another thing I am very much personally against is simplifying science so much that you end up telling scientific lies to your audience in order to get across a basic concept. This is easy to do, and to an extent even universities do it: I remember as I entered my 3rd year of my undergraduate degree being told by tutors in our first lecture to forget everything we have been taught so far because although it helps us understand the basic principles of geology, its not necessarily all true. This of course was an exaggeration, and was based very much on the fact that we don’t know all the facts (by a long way) in geology as with all sciences. Whenever I communicate science however, I try not to back down from telling people the whole story. Yes, this is a more complex way of addressing science communication and involves a lot more work on the communicators part to get very complex issues into manageable words but it CAN be done. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is one of the reasons why so many senior scientists are so difficult to talk to about their research, because sometimes it takes so much to find the words to describe what you can say in one word of scientific jargon it’s hardly worth the trouble! I personally find analogies incredibly helpful, as I use these in my own mind to understand concepts and situations so try to think of something everyday to describe and then apply to a situation. I think Dawkins and his extended use of analogies is partly responsible for this.
So, I would like to post the question: Is TV an effective way of communicating science, and should we be thinking much more about how and why we would use this particular medium for science communication? I think in the case of Drugs Live, the answer is no, TV was not a good was of communicating this study for the reasons outlined above. However, I think many other science TV programmes are excellent and at the very least inspire many people to get involved with science or have an interest in the natural world. TV and online video is a great medium for connecting to a diverse audience and should be used to help raise awareness about science. I am still inspired when I see David Attenborough and Iain Stewart (the ‘star’ of geology TV shows), and I also love shows about history and archaeology as well. These shows do not attempt to undermine years of research in one hour, but intend to draw attention to wonders of nature or modern science and I think they really work well. (Time Team was in some ways more like Drugs Live however, as from the smallest piece of evidence a whole town could be re-imagined right down to the colour of people’s dress…although something I really enjoyed watching maybe it was also not the best piece of communication.)
So what do I think is a better form of communication of scientific processes that takes advantage of modern technology? For me, it’s blogging, as this can form part of an active dialogue in communication, where readers can comment and writers can link simply to their inspiration from other articles or academic references. These discussions on blogs can even be part of further posts, or brought to wider Twitter discussions. With so many diverse questions and opinions people can learn much more easily about the process behind science, and enhance understanding simultaneously by a range of knowledge and opinion.
People are currently talking about blogging and online science and the effects that comments can have on the opinions of the readers (see this post for a little background). I believe that the worry that negative or unfounded comments can negatively influence readers’ opinions only enhances the argument for more science communication regarding the scientific method. The public appear to rely on the accumulated opinions of others to base their own opinions on. If anything this is good as it means that people want to get engaged and will listen to others opinions on the matter. People will be increasingly dependant on opinions of others when they do not have the tools or knowledge to assess for themselves what makes sense and what does not. Unfortunately the less someone knows and the more silly comments there are then the worse the end product of communication is. What we want is to keep this consensus of listening and commenting on others opinions as a form of knowledge sharing and enhancement but also to focus more on increasing the public’s ability to evaluate arguments themselves through effective communication of the scientific process.
In conclusion, TV can be a great communicator but I have yet to be convinced of the value of Prof. Nutt’s form form of communication and scientific study.
I recently wrote a post about the geology of Skyrim on a transcript of a stand-up set I did at an event in London that details the basic questions needed to be asked about how to understand the geology of the area, and the interpretations gained from them.
My idea to start this project comes from a love of the game and the amazing scenery in-game. I am also a geologist with an undergraduate and masters degree in geology and geological conservation in museums. I have a passion for communicating science, especially geology, and thought that Skyrim is a fantastic medium to reach out to lots of people who might not know about geology. I believe that through the game I can help people realise that geology can be cool, and can bring an extra something to gameplay next time they sit down to play.
My mission is now to take the short set I did and transcribed on my blog to the next level, by making a better map of the geology of Skyrim and then translating this to a mod, so that gamers can see the interpretations of the geological history for themselves. In addition, I would like to create a quest for the game which allows players to map the area themselves, and make inferences about the geology to reach the ultimate goal of the quest.
To make this a reality I will need someone – or a team – of modders who are very familiar with Bethesda’s Creative Kit modding software and can advise me on what is possible with the software. I would love it if anyone interested in taking this project forward could contact me via Twitter @JLizRob or email janeliz.robb [at] gmail.com.