Upworthy.com features #ScienceFail

#ScienceFail on Upworthy


We’re flat­tered. Really.

Over the past four days, Rachael Bloom’s #Sci­ence­Fail story has received almost 80,000 views on Vimeo. The folks at Upworthy.com selected it for fea­ture. And peo­ple in the twit­ter­sphere are say­ing that her nar­ra­tive of science’s messi­ness is some­thing that needs ampli­fi­ca­tion. Ditto to that.

As always, we’re thank­ful for all the hard work from Dr. Jeff Pol­ish (of The Monti fame) who curated all of our #Sci­ence­Fail sto­ries. He’s just awe­some all around.

And — notably, we’re hear­ing a call for Round 2 of sci­en­tists shar­ing epic fail­ures. A sequel, how fun! Should you have ideas as we con­sider #Sci­ence­Fail: Part Deux or want to sup­port its pro­duc­tion, con­tact us.

Story onwards.

– The SwS Team

#ScienceFail hits YouTube and SoundCloud

You asked for it. So, here it is — a dig­i­tal win­dow into our smash hit #Sci­ence­Fail event in part­ner­ship with The Monti. Thanks to UNC News for pro­duc­ing this short video. Today, it hit the uni­ver­sity home­page. We’re pretty proud to show off this glimpse of young sci­en­tists talk­ing about sci­ence through the human story.


It’s not quite This Amer­i­can Life, but this audio pod­cast of #Sci­ence­Fail could be a third cousin once removed of the radio sto­ries that inspired us. Maybe? At least we talk about fly­ing bal­loons into vol­canos. So there’s that. Lis­ten in.


Our #scienceFAIL champion storytellers

Locked. Loaded. Ready to fail. We are on the eve of our #sci­ence­FAIL live sto­ry­telling event. The final lineup of blast­phe­mous sto­ry­tellers chron­i­cling their epic fail­ures in sci­ence are the following:

Photo of Danny Bowman

  • Danny Bow­man - Ph.D. stu­dent in vol­cano seis­mol­ogy at UNC

Photo of Jack Zhou

  • Jack Zhou — Ph.D stu­dent Nicholas School of the Envi­ron­ment at Duke University

Photo of Kate Hertweck

Photo of Rachael Bloom

  • Rachael Bloom — Ph.D stu­dent in genet­ics at Duke University

Photo of Vanessa Volpe

  • Vanessa Volpe - PhD stu­dent in Devel­op­men­tal Psy­chol­ogy at UNC

We are also hon­ored and hum­bled to host Dr. Smi­ties and Chan­cel­lor Folk as our sto­ry­telling lumi­nar­ies. Sci­ence, as seen from the out­side, if often por­trayed as a thought­ful, pol­ished, and inevitable rev­e­la­tion of how the world works. Sci­ence, from the insider’s view,  is any­thing but. Sci­ence can be hap­haz­ard, mys­te­ri­ous, frus­trat­ing, serendip­i­tous, won­drous, humor­ous and infu­ri­at­ing. This won’t be your typ­i­cal PBS spe­cial or NYTimes sci­ence piece. Be pre­pared for an imi­tate por­trait of sci­ence from the sci­en­tists themselves.

#ScienceFail | Our Nobel Laureate Storyteller

In 2007, a British-born pathol­o­gist and UNC pro­fes­sor Dr. Oliver Smithies flew to Stock­holm. It wasn’t just another sci­ence con­fer­ence. He was off to receive a Nobel Prize in Phys­i­ol­ogy. The les­son he brought with him wasn’t all about tri­umph. Fail­ure was one of three most impor­tant lessons in his career, he said at the Nobel ban­quet. Here’s the trick: learn not to fear it.

  “Field Morey is a dis­tin­guished flight instruc­tor. He taught me to fly 30 years ago, a dif­fi­cult task because I was over 50 years of age! But he taught me some­thing more impor­tant than fly­ing – namely, that it is pos­si­ble to over­come fear with knowl­edge!


This same les­son applies to sci­en­tists – the fear of fail­ing – which many sci­en­tists have when try­ing some­thing new – can be over­come  in the same way – with knowl­edge.” 2007 Nobel Prize Banquet

At the age of 88, Dr Smithies still flies glider planes - and runs exper­i­ments. In fact, he showed us today in his UNC lab. Then he did one more thing that impressed us: he vol­un­teered to tell his #Sci­ence­Fail story at our Jan­u­ary 16th show!

The Monti, Sci­en­tists with Sto­ries and More­head Plan­e­tar­ium are deeply hum­bled by this honor. We know you will be too when you hear sci­en­tists, young and old, embrac­ing the very human part of sci­ence we call fail­ure. If you can’t attend, we’ll post pod­casts and videos soon after.

(Oh, hey, did we men­tion that Dr. Smithies invented gel elec­trophore­sis? Come on. We know you were absolutely enam­ored by elec­trophore­sis back in Bio 101.)

Oliver Smithies Nobel Prize 2007

Announcing #ScienceFail | your story on stage.


“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” 

- Thomas Edison

As sci­en­tists, we all know that the process of doing sci­en­tific research is never a straight line. It’s filled with dead-ends and land mines that can chal­lenge a per­son to the very core. Some find suc­cess in the road blocks, while oth­ers find frus­tra­tion. Regard­less, we all know that every sci­en­tific paper ever pub­lished has a pro­found per­sonal story behind it. What were the strug­gles and sac­ri­fices that led to these sig­nif­i­cant find­ings? How did fail­ure lead to suc­cess? How did suc­cess lead to failure?

We want YOUR story for an excit­ing event on Jan­u­ary 16th. Sci­en­tists with Sto­ries and the UNC More­head Plan­e­tar­ium are team­ing up with The Monti, a pop­u­lar live sto­ry­telling series, to pro­duce a one-of-a-kind show. The theme is #Sci­ence­Fail.

Here’s your chance to share your story of mishaps, sac­ri­fice, and heart­break to a live audi­ence under the dome of the UNC More­head Plan­e­tar­ium. We are now accept­ing pitches for this event. Chan­cel­lor Folt will be telling a story that evening, and we’re look­ing for six grad­u­ate stu­dents to share sto­ries from the early-career perspective.

Please sub­mit a 100-word pitch to pitch@themonti.org that illus­trates your #Sci­ence­Fail story. The best pitches will be ones that illus­trate a strong sense of what the story is about with­out reveal­ing every detail that hap­pened. They will also include at least one exam­ple of the sci­en­tific process at work. Selected pitches will be devel­oped over the next two months with one-on-one help from Jeff Pol­ish, founder and direc­tor of the Monti.

The dead­line for pitches is Novem­ber 14th. We look for­ward to hear­ing from you.


We have returned — from a workshop like no other

THE entire crew from Sci­en­tists with Sto­ries, workshop-ers included, have safely returned from a wildly  suc­cess­ful week learn­ing and prac­tic­ing the doc­u­men­tary form in Man­teo, NC. Surely every­one left with their own adven­ture sto­ries, new media skills, and cer­tainly a lot of new friends. I encour­age all of them to write-in with their own tall tales. Below are just a few of my own thoughts and reflec­tions after an extra­or­di­nary week learn­ing the art of sci­ence com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Mod­i­fied and reposted from Hack My Sci­ence. ~ Lomax




Hav­ing just returned from a week­long sci­ence doc­u­men­tary film­mak­ing work­shop, let me be clear — film­mak­ing is hard work. Some of the most gru­el­ing, yet reward­ing, sat­is­fy­ing, soul-fulfilling work I have done in recent mem­ory. Orga­nized by the stu­dent run group Sci­en­tists with Sto­ries — me and about a dozen other folks co-produced five short doc­u­men­taries on coastal com­mu­ni­ties in the Outer Banks, NC and their rela­tion­ship with the environment.




Our work will be fea­tured as a web series on the Mon­i­tor National Marine Sanc­tu­ary web­site in early Spring 2014. That said, in less than a 6 days time, we shot, edited, and rough cut our docs for a com­mu­nity show­ing on the final day of the work­shop. Did I men­tioned that we shot, edited, and pre­sented our work in 6 days? Just checking.




Led by sci­en­tist film­maker Neil Losin of Day’s Edge Pro­duc­tions, we all learned the art and sci­ence of mak­ing com­pelling doc­u­men­tary films. As a sci­en­tist, I often feel dis­tanced — both emo­tion­ally and phys­i­cally — from my research sub­jects.  Prob­a­bly for good rea­son. But shoot­ing doc­u­men­tary films forces you by neces­sity to con­nect and engage with your sub­jects. It’s your respon­si­bil­ity to rep­re­sent indi­vid­u­als, even entire com­mu­ni­ties, both fairly and hon­estly. You must lis­ten, under­stand, and respond in order to gar­ner their respect and can­did per­spec­tives — the foun­da­tional ele­ments for doc­u­ment­ing life.




We were warmly wel­comed by the fish­er­man (and fish­er­women) that call the Outer Banks home for gen­er­a­tions. Hour long inter­views were often fol­lowed by gra­cious invi­ta­tions from our sub­jects to join them on the next day’s fish­ing expe­di­tion, or fam­ily potluck. It was truly an honor to be wel­comed into the homes of peo­ple who define the word community.




After long days of prepar­ing for inter­views, scout­ing loca­tions, col­lect­ing B roll, clam rack­ing (yes, that’s right), boat rides, and fish­er­men tall-tales, I increas­ingly felt refreshed and renewed with a sense of con­nec­tion. I started to ask myself — where is my com­mu­nity — I think the answer was stand­ing all around me.



The Grand Poobah of #SciComm — Carl Zimmer — speaks on science and film

When the grand mas­ter of sci­ence com­mu­ni­ca­tion, Carl Zim­mer, speaks, we the folks of SwS listen.

Carl (as I like to call him) talks with film­maker and founder of Imag­ine Sci­ence Films, Alexis Gam­bis, about the some­times awk­ward mar­riage of sci­ence and cin­ema — and how it can be done better.

We love how Carl sug­gests that sci­ence films, like all other forms of sci­ence com­mu­ni­ca­tion, should not exist within a small sub-discipline of jour­nal­ism or media writ large, but should be infused just below the surface.


Little Monsters and Snake Lovers, meet Science.

Here at Duke, three botanists recently named a botan­i­cal genus after Lady Gaga. Rolling Stone called. The New York Times picked it up. The media was abuzz about, yup,  ferns. In many ways this was bril­liant. Per­son­ally, I was com­pletely turned off by it all.

Because here’s the thing about celebrity: it’s a pow­er­ful thing. Evo­lu­tion­ar­ily speak­ing, of course.

As the sci­ence mag­a­zine Nau­tilus points out in this month’s issue, our pri­mate senses feed off social hier­ar­chies and affil­i­a­tion. Even if you scoff when walk­ing past the tabloid stand, your savanna-wandering brain is fir­ing off big time.  There are a lot of rea­sons why celebrity feeds off our pri­mate legacy (read Nau­tilus for more). So, is it uneth­i­cal when a sci­en­tist har­nesses that for atten­tion grab­bing? After all, the nam­ing of species after celebri­ties is really catch­ing on.  While the researcher may be for­got­ten, that name lives on in per­pe­tu­ity, like the Elvis wasp, Pre­seu­coila imall­shookupis (I’m not mak­ing that up-is.) So, let’s stop and think about this.

I (Clare, here) pro­duced a short audio doc­u­men­tary to explore the ethics of attach­ing celebrity to sci­ence. What I dis­cov­ered through my inter­views was eye-opening, for me at least. Maybe pop cul­ture does have a legit­i­mate role in the sci­en­tific record. As do fear, pol­i­tics, and love. The King Cobra con­vinced me of that. (Lis­ten to the piece to hear for yourself.)

Sci­ence is the com­muning and lay­er­ing of human thought. So why not let the human sto­ries help tell the sci­ence? We’ve already got 7 bil­lion pri­mate brains ready to fire  just for that.

Lis­ten for “A Fern Named Gaga” on local pub­lic radio sta­tion this fall. It will be part of an hour-long spe­cial on Nam­ing. Thanks to John Biewen and the Cen­ter for Doc­u­men­tary Stud­ies for the guid­ance, train­ing, and pro­duc­tion. You guys rock. 




Missed our info meeting? G+ Hangout to the rescue!

Inspired by other groups using Google Hang­out for broad­cast­ing amaz­ing things (i.e., astro­nauts), we boldly tested the waters.

Here you can view the 30-minute vir­tual info ses­sion we hosted on August 30, 2013. We gath­ered your ques­tions from Face­book, Twit­ter, and email to illu­mi­nate more details about our upcom­ing sci­ence doc­u­men­tary work­shop.

In short, we encour­age any Duke and UNC grad­u­ate stu­dent to apply. Even if you have a sched­ule con­flict, apply!  You may be able to par­tic­i­pate in future events. Your appli­ca­tion is a way for us to get to know YOU.

Don’t for­get that work­shop appli­ca­tions are due Sep­tem­ber 6, 2013. Got more ques­tions? Just use our con­tact page to reach out. We love mail.

This blog­post would not be com­plete with­out thank­ing a few peo­ple. First, we want to thank Lau­ren Heese­man, Research Coor­di­na­tor of the Mon­i­tor National Marine Sanc­tu­ary for join­ing our G+ Hang­out. The Sanc­tu­ary has been a won­der­ful part­ner in host­ing us and col­lab­o­rat­ing on edi­to­r­ial development.

Sec­ond, we want to thank Liz Neely at COMPASS for G+ Hang­out advice. We’re glad she picked up our call, since Google is still work­ing out some kinks. Here’s the how-to guide for host­ing a G+ Hang­out on Air that Liz passed along via the folks at +Star Party. We think you’ll find it use­ful. We sure did.

(Read­ing over this blog post, we’re now a bit sus­pi­cious as to why it’s the outer space gurusNASA astro­nauts and star gaz­ers — that are guid­ing every­one on the G+ Hang­out front. Coin­ci­dence? We’re not sure. The truth is out there.)