Science for Progress

because science is fundamental in the 21st century

7: Funding Adviser: career at the Interface of Science – with Cristina Oliveira

Most academics won’t stay in academia… or let’s say, not every PhD will land a permanent position as a researcher. With the increasing numbers of PhDs this situation is becoming more serious. In this context, we want to interview people who work in so called ‘alternative careers’. Some of these careers are still related to academia. We hope these interviews will be of interest to people in general, since they may learn something more about how academia works. For PhDs who may not stay researchers, it should be interesting to know what kinds of careers they can have beyond the ivory tower.

In this first career episode, Cristina Oliveira explains her job as a ‘funding adviser’ – not to be mistaken with ‘funding manager’. She works with the social science faculty at the New University of Lisbon (Universidad NOVA FCSH). She explains how she got into this job, and the tasks that her job entails. She needs to stay up to date with the available funding opportunities, network with funding providers and researchers, and help researchers with their application process.

If you are interested in such a profession at the ‘interface of science’ in Portugal, Cristina is part of the ‘Plataforma de Inferface à Ciência’ (Platform for the Interface of Science), which you can reach through their website, and their Facebook group.

#6.2. Creationism, Nuclear Power, and Alternative Medicine – with Diana Barbosa

This is the 2nd part of my conversation with Diana Barbosa from COMCEPT, the Portuguese Skeptics Community (find the 1st episode here). In the first part of the episode we got an overview over scientific skepticism and what kinds of topics they would usually discuss. In a nutshell, skeptics are fighting against non-scientific viewpoints making their ways into mainstream opinion.

Now we talk a bit more in detail about creationism, nuclear power in the context of climate action, and alternative medicine:

Religion in and of itself is not necessarily a scientific topic, because religion and science don’t deal with the same fundamental questions. Where religion focuses on spirituality, science tries to explore and understand the natural world. However there are instances where religious writings make statements about the natural world and this is where things become problematic.

Creationism is the believe, that all life was created by one or the other deity. And we talk about creationists that believe that there is a contradiction between their religious dogma, and the theory of evolution, and abiogenesis – the theory that life emerged from non-living organic material, popularly named the primordial soup.

In the view of Creationists, accepting the Theory of Evolution is equivalent to denying their deity’s existence, which of course, they find unacceptable. In several countries there are influential creationist groups that are trying to change how evolution is taught in schools, and to insert ‘inteligent design’, a pseudoscientific version of creationism, into the science classes.

Then we talk about denial of scientific evidence in environmentalist groups. A recent hot topic is, of course, the fight against climate change. There is an ongoing debate over the question, how we can reduce carbon dioxide emissions in power production. Diana suggests that in contrast to the opinions of environmentalist groups, nuclear power is a viable option.

In the final part, we talk about “alternative medicine”. It appears that this lobby is strong enough to avoid being outlawed to begin with. Instead, Portugal recently decided to regulate these “professions”. They now require formal training in actual medicine. While this sounds like a good approach, in reality this gives anti-scientific practices legitimacy. And universities are now offering formal degrees in alternative medicine, further legitimizing these practices in the public eye. This is why Diana and COMCEPT are against the current regulation.

#6.1 Skepticism in Portugal: COMCEPT – with Diana Barbosa

I had an extended conversation with Diana Barbosa (@diraquel on Twitter) from the skeptical society in Portugal, COMCEPT. This is the first of two parts to this episode where Diana Barbosa answers questions about what skepticism is, what skepticism is NOT, and how it is different from other, related movements. We get an overview of the goals and activities of COMCEPT meetings, and how to become a member!

Being skeptical means to be doubtful. Scientific Skepticism, however, isn’t simply doubtful of everything. The skeptic can be convinced by scientific evidence. Having started mainly as a movement to overcome superstition, such as the believe in the supernatural, modern skeptical societies deal with various forms of evidence denial in the public realm. COMCEPT addresses these topics in an educational way. They prefer informing the public over debating evidence denying individuals and groups.

Diana and her colleagues founded COMCEPT six years ago and have grown to almost 30 members since. However, they have thousands of followers on their facebook presence. At their monthly meetings, which alternate between Lisbon and Porto, COMCEPT discusses relevant topics of the day. It’s a flexible format: sometimes they watched a documentary or movie, and sometimes they invite experts to their conversations. They further have an annual convention, and published a book (in Portuguese) addressing the questions, what skepticism is. And finally they “award” the worst anti-scientific person or organization with the “Flying Unicorn” prize, each April 1st.

COMCEPT finances itself through membership fees and donations. Please consider supporting their cause!

#5: Mental Health during your PhD – with Lauriane Nallet

Working on your PhD is a stressful phase, and the academic culture isn’t making it better. In this episode I talk to Lauriane Nallet, who is a PhD student in Switzerland. She has a personal history with depression and even PTSD. Lauriane shares what she learned at a workshop on mental health issues in grad school, and also her own experience with mental health issues: symptoms to look out for, how she found help, and what therapy could do for her. We also talk about some aspects of academia that contribute to the stress, including high expectations for work load and ‘passion’, and the ‘publish or perish’ culture.

Visit Lauriane’s blog!

clarifying comment

We mention an article claiming a 6x increased prevalence of depression in graduate students. The article is being criticized for methodological confines. However, another study which was conducted using methods with fewer confines, still finds a 2.8x higher prevalence for depression in PhD students when compared to highly educated workers.

A brief introduction to the Portuguese skeptics community COMCEPT

I interviewed Diana Barbosa about COMCEPT, a Portuguese skeptics community.

Diana told me about events they will be at over the next two weeks. However, the full episode is scheduled for June 1st.

So I cut together a brief intro into COMCEPT and promo for two events!

For Saturday afternoon, May 5th, COMCEPT is invited to talk about their book ‘Não Se Deixe Enganar’ (Don’t fool yourself), a guide to skepticism, as well as other books and science communication at the livraria barata.

On May 12th, COMCEPT will have their monthly meeting. These meetings alternate between Lisbon and Porto. Diana was excited to announce that their guest this month, in Porto, will be João Júlio Cerqueira, the creator of the SciMed blog about scientifically supported medicine.

#4: Founding Science for Progress, and the representation of science in public.

Guest: Dr. Dennis Eckmeier
Guest Host: Hugo Bettencourt

“We face a dilemma in conveying the scientific process to the public, and even within academia: Real science doesn’t fit the elements of effective storytelling.”

Dennis had been vocal on topics surrounding academia, science and pseudoscience on social media for several years. Thus, he readily volunteered to co-organize the March for Science in Lisbon, in 2017. He wants to disseminate the understanding of science, humanities and academia by the public, but also systemic changes within academia.

In the first part of this episode he explains how he decided to found Science for Progress, and what our current goals are. The second part is about the image of scientists in the public. In Dennis’ opinion, story telling in scientific reporting, science journalism, but also in pop culture, creates a distorted image of scientists. The dilemma is that good story telling that consumers enjoy, does not fit the reality of scientific research.



#3: The March for Science in Germany

Guests: Dr. Tanja Baudson and Claus Martin, coordinators of the March for Science in Germany

“The population says, ‘this external funding lowers the trust in science!’ “ – Tanja Gabriele Baudson

“I think our task as citizens and as people interested in science, and in truth, and in freedom, [is] to prevent that something like what happened in the United States is going to happen in Germany aswell.” – Claus Martin

Mark the date! The March for Science 2018 is on April 14th! Last year, the March for Science in Germany was the largest (in terms of number of marches) outside the USA. Dr. Tanja Gabriele Baudson, giftedness researcher and visiting professor at the University of Luxemburg, and Claus Martin, a director and composer from Mühlheim, brought local organizer teams together, and coordinated them! In our first external interview, the two describe how they decided to take the initiative. We also cover what they identified as the issue underlying the spread of anti-science sentiments in Germany: a lack of trust in science in the population due to the influence of third party funding. And finally we talk about activities planned for this year’s March for Science in Germany.

further information


#2: Science History & Philosophy, and Research in Museum Collections

Science History & Philosophy, and Research in Museum Collections

“people should learn scientific knowledge to be able to discuss important topics and use science for good”

Our guest is Gabriella Ferreira, a masters student in Science Philosophy. She talks about her work at the Museu Nacional de História Natural e da Ciência, and her studies of Science Philosophy. Gabriella showcases the importance of historical collections for current research efforts. Work done in natural history museums can be applied to conservation purposes, and to study the evolution of species.

She further talks about the history of science. Some of the questions posed by ancient natural philosophers are still studied, today, using modern science. We also talked a bit about modern bio-ethical problems.



#1: Science Communication and FameLab

Science Communication and the FameLab Competition

In 2017, Hugo Bettencourt was finalist of the Portuguese section of the science communication competition ‘FameLab’, and appeared at the Noite Europeia dos Investigadores 2017. Here, he talks about this experience.

FameLab is an international science communication competition initiated by the British Council. Hugo explains the application process, and what is expected from the presentations. He also shares some of what he learned in the special science communication workshop for finalists. At the end he had a great experience and made some friends. And it even got him some additional gigs as a science communicator.