Conference aims to get science writers quoting UF sources
Published: Monday, November 4, 2013 at 5:51 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, November 4, 2013 at 5:51 p.m.
If you were to tell dog owners that their beloved best friends actually originated from vermin, some might drop their dogs’ leashes on the spot.
But when Clive Wynne, a psychology professor at Arizona State University specializing in animal cognition, shared this nugget of evolutionary insight during an annual science writers conference at the University of Florida this weekend, the writers wanted to know more.
Wynne described how dogs evolved to attract human interest by becoming more docile and developing a bark, which can be protective to humans. They became both skilled hunters and edible, he said, pointing out that in Switzerland, 16 percent of a recently surveyed sub-population said they have eaten dog.
Wynne was one of several renowned scientists who spoke at the conference, which was jointly organized by the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing and the National Association of Science Writers. The University of Florida hosted the five-day annual conference that began on Friday and ends today.
Many of the speakers were UF experts in scientific fields.
According to Joe Keys, the chair of the conference’s steering committee and director of research communications at UF, hosting the conference in Gainesville was an opportunity to showcase some of the science that’s done locally but has national and international importance.
“The whole motivation was to put UF more on the radar of national science writers,” Kays said. He said that many of the writers — some freelance, and others from prestigious publications such as the Wall Street Journal and Scientific American — came from New York, Los Angeles, Canada and from overseas.
“Many had no idea that there was a giant world-class research institution in the middle of Florida,” he said.
“Our hope is that over the next months and years, people at UF will be used as sources in stories.”
Many of the speakers also discussed cutting-edge research that might not be ready for public disclosure for a couple years, he said, adding that he hopes the science writers will remember UF as the first place that they heard about the research.
Kevin Folta, chair of UF’s department of horticultural sciences, discussed how changing the light conditions of plants can alter their nutrients and appearance.
“We’re all becoming plant whisperers,” Folta said, adding that with the world’s climbing population, we need not only more food, but more nutritious food.
Since plants are environmentally modifiable organisms (EMOs), changing their light conditions — using more red and blue light, for example — can boost healthy compounds such as antioxidants, which are known to prevent and fight cancer. The approach is also more efficient, Folta continued.
“If you’re a small farmer and you don’t want to grow five types of lettuce, how can you instead change the lighting? We can write the software that drives the hardware that is the plant.”
He speculated that one day the grocery store produce section and even your home refrigerator might have multi-colored lights to bring out the best in your fruits and veggies.
Kays said about 400 people registered for the conference.
Dr. Richard Davidson, a newly retired professor of medicine, health policy and epidemiology at UF, attended the conference for the first time.
“I’ve written 120 articles for peer-reviewed journals, but it’s nothing like writing for the lay public,” Davidson said.
“I don’t know if I’m creative enough (to do it.) But I’m curious to find out more.”
Contact Kristine Crane at 338-3119, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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