Science in Action: How Science Works | California Academy of Sciences

(music) A couple years ago a group of citizen scientists for the Western Cave Conservancy discovered a large, odd looking spider in a cave in southern Oregon. They sent it to scientists in California. Recently, those scientists declared that spider a new species, Trogloraptor, and a member of a new family of spiders. Sounds straightforward, right? Wrong! (buzzing sound) Science definitely is not a linear, step-by-step fashion. And science is unpredictable, it’s dynamic. And I don’t think it ever concludes. It just keeps going. To communicate the real process of science, Judy and her colleagues developed this science flowchart to better explain how science works. You may start in one area and you find a need to communicate with the community of scientists that you work with who might have additional or other ideas and all of that helps to shape what science is and how we go about the process of science. So let’s take a look at the Trogloraptor discovery flowchart. It’s less like a linear process and more like a pinball machine. (pinball machine sound effects) Let’s follow the path using the spider that the citizen scientists found as the pinball. They sent it to scientist Tracy Audisio, who is very curious about what lives in caves. She examined it for about two hours one night, trying to identify it by making observations and conferring with a colleague. They were stumped. The two researchers worked with the Academy’s Charles Griswold and brought the specimen to him. He began his own observations. I looked at it through the vial not under a microscope and I thought, Oh, this is a brown recluse. It’s about the same size but when I looked at it closely all the brown recluse characters, that is, various details of its anatomy were wrong. The eyes were placed in the wrong arrangement, the jaws were wrong, the spinning organs were wrong, everything about it was wrong. Science often comes down to trial and error. The scientists shared ideas and then… Well, first we went to the books and it didn’t fit anything. After that, we carefully compared the new spider to descriptions of all spider families known in the world today and we also consulted books on fossil spiders. Along the way, the researchers made hypotheses about what this spider was and what it wasn’t. Charles looked at the Academy’s collections and others. The more we looked at it, the more we realized that the details were wrong for every known family, living or extinct. What do you do in science when you’re stumped? Reach out to the scientific community. You consult your colleagues who are knowledgeable, who know some things better than you do, and present the case for your conclusions, the evidence, and ask, What do you think of this? The word came back that, No, we’ve never seen this before. They made a hypothesis: We believe it’s a new family, related to the goblin spiders, but to suggest a new family is a very big deal. It doesn’t happen very often, and the last time this happened in North America was more than 100 years ago. Time for more input from the scientific community. So we wrote the publication; they sent the paper and its conclusions to anonymous scientists. And they also agreed that we’d done a good job. (sound of fireworks) So let’s celebrate! (rewind sound) Wait. Remember what Judy said? And I don’t think it ever concludes. It just keeps going. Keeps going. Keeps going. And that’s true with Trogloraptor. In the arachnology lab at the California Academy of Sciences, we’re very interested in this major group of spiders. And we have a big team of scientists– students, postdoctoral researchers– who want to understand the evolution of goblin spiders. So they’re asking more questions, making more hypotheses and observations, doing more testing on Trogloraptor. It has a surprising respiratory system, the way it breathes. The remarkable claws, which caused us to give it its name are the subject of an anatomical study. Facundo Labarque has actually dissected the feet of Trogloraptor and looked at the attachment of tendons. My PhD student is leading an effort to understand the phylogeny of the Haplogyne spiders, especially the goblin spiders, through the use of molecular data. And Trogloraptors in general? Those spiders live happily on in that cave and probably other nearby caves. The caves are protected. So let’s look at that process again, sped up this time. (speedy pinball sounds) Pinball machine, right? And this process is true not just for scientists, but the rest of us, too. We all do science everyday. You know, we all make observations, we ask questions, we communicate with people we know about our ideas, we come back to those original ideas. So I like to think that it demystifies science a bit. Everybody can do science.

17 Replies to “Science in Action: How Science Works | California Academy of Sciences”

  1. Holy shit! Even people who are supposed to be the experts in science no longer know what in the hell it is. We’re doomed .

  2. Is there any way to get a printout or a poster to show this version of the scientific method! I would love to post this in my classroom for students to reference and emphasize the versatility of the scientific method.

  3. Please clean your camera. There is an obnoxious black dot on the camera that I can't unsee. Also, the pinball machine is the most annoying thing I have ever heard. Next time, please try and make sure the people are louder than your background music…

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