Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Squirrels and Obesity, Sleazy State Hire - Good Reporting From Kathleen McCoy and Shannyn Moore

I want to thank two other monitors of the local scene for their good work. Shannyn Moore and Kathleen McCoy have been doing pushing the local journalism's boundaries for a while now, but I want to point out two recent contributions.

Kathleen got seriously interested in new media (a year studying it at Stanford) before going from the Anchorage Daily News to the University of Alaska Anchorage.  She's now combining both those worlds with regular pieces in the ADN in a column called Hometown U about the many interesting things UAA faculty are doing.  That's something I thought that the University radio station should have been doing for a long time.

Kathleen's stories bring to life the science and teaching going on at UAA.  She is taking complex stories and presenting them in an interesting and informative way.  She is NOT dumbing down the science, but she is making it accessible.  Here are a couple of snippets from recent articles:
"Arctic ground squirrels are the Olympians of hibernation, opting to sleep through the harshest weather of the year (just the time we humans would prefer a trip to Hawaii).
In torpor, they perch on the very brink of life and death at temperatures that would freeze water and blood; even a small cut on a paw can endanger their careful balance and tip them toward death."
This goes on to discuss the National Institutes of Health research microbial ecologist Khrys Duddleston is doing at UAA.   The piece goes on to show how Duddleston is looking for a way to use the squirrels' survival technique to combat human obesity. 

Or this one about a UAA class:
"UAA tried out a new biology class this fall, called exploration ecology.
Think of it as education outside the box, in real-time.
The polar opposite of one professor standing in front of a giant survey class, handing out a dusty syllabus and saying, "Read chapter six and then do the labs." 
All semester long, biology professor Douglas Causey and his 12 students have been tromping through fields, counting invasive plants, chipping out stream ice to see what's swimming underneath and hanging recording devices to capture bat echolocation -- all in the Three Rivers area near Girdwood, home to Twentymile, Portage and Placer rivers."

Read more here: http://www.adn.com/2012/12/01/2710327/hometown-u-uaa-students-work-in.html#storylink=cpy
 The rest is here.

Her articles show not just the science but something about the scientist as well and her personal connections to her research.  While some scientists would argue that's irrelevant, others think it's important to understand how scientists choose their subjects and make their breakthroughs:
"Jocelyn Krebs got the call every parent dreads. Her son was 19 months old when it came. She had "known for a while that something was up with him," she said. Rhys -- pronounced Reece -- is now 4 years old.
As a molecular biologist at UAA, Krebs studies exactly how a one-cell fertilized egg develops into an incredibly complex adult. She's intimately aware of all the ways this miracle can go awry."
This is good journalism because it's good writing on an important but often unseen part of the community - university faculty working quietly on their research and with their students doing significant things here in Anchorage that most of us wouldn't know anything about without Kathleen's stories.

The second person I want to salute is Shannyn Moore - local television, radio, newspaper, blogging dynamo proved the importance of journalistic oversight with an opinion piece a couple weeks ago about a particularly questionable state hire for a workers' comp hearing officer.
"So why did Gov. Sean Parnell recently go all the way to Pennsylvania to fill a vacant Hearing Officer position in the labor department (you know, the department that promotes Alaska hire)?
And what Pennsylvanian did we bend over backwards to hire?
The answer to the second question is: an ex-judge named Paul Pozonsky, who is apparently under investigation right now by a Pennsylvania grand jury for destroying evidence in 17 criminal cases, which led to his being stripped of the ability to hear cases, and who was the subject of a year-long "Protection From Abuse" order for domestic violence."
 According to Lisa Demer's ADN story on Dec. 14, this article had an impact:
After reading Moore's column, [Gov] Parnell became concerned that the hiring process was flawed, Leighow wrote in an email this week.
After Pozonsky resigned,  Shannyn kept on asking why and how he was hired in the first place and the state is investigating that too. 

Thanks Kathleen and Shannyn.  

Read more here: http://www.adn.com/2012/12/01/2709454/shannyn-moore-how-does-a-pennsylvania.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.adn.com/2012/12/15/2725458/hometown-u-uaa-molecular-biologist.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.adn.com/2012/12/01/2710327/hometown-u-uaa-students-work-in.html#storylink=cpy

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