Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Several of my fellow ScienceBloggers have already endorsed GrrlScientist and asked their readers to vote for her to become the official blogger on an Arctic expedition. I hereby risk the wrath of my SciBlings, with no malice toward GrrlScientist whatsoever, because I feel I must endorse my good friend Wesley Elsberry for the job instead. I urge you all to vote for him by clicking here (registration is required, but it’s quick and easy).

It’s not a particularly comfortable situation to be doing this and going against a colleague. I hope there are no bruised feelings and, if there are, she will forgive me for provoking them. But Wesley and I have been good friends for many years and I truly believe that he is the best person for this job for several compelling reasons.

First, he has experience at doing shipboard research. His PhD thesis was on the evolution of echolocation in whales and he has spent time aboard ships doing every imaginable kind of work. That kind of experience could prove invaluable to the research team.

Second, he has an astonishingly diverse skill set that is doubled when you add in his wife Diane, who would be going with him. They are both very experienced wildlife biologists with scads of experience in field research, but they also bring other skill sets to the table that could end up being very useful aboard the ship when something inevitably goes wrong.

Wesley’s master’s degree is in computer science. He is not only an accomplished programmer — he is just finishing up a post-doc at Michigan State where he added new functionality to the artificial life program Avida, allowing its digital organisms to use movement to develop patterns of behavior, thus opening new avenues of research with the platform — but he has also invented and built his own computer equipment for field research on marine mammals.

Diane brings her own strengths to the team. In addition to having a PhD in wildlife biology and years of experience in field research, she also has a degree in electrical engineering. Both of them have, after spending their entire adult lives doing such research, become experts at creative problem-solving while stuck in the middle of nowhere with very limited resources. On an Antarctic expedition, that could make the difference between success and failure.

Wesley and Diane are like utility players in baseball. There’s no position they have not at some point not only played, but played well. That kind of experience and versatility is incredibly important when you’re stuck out on a ship thousands of miles from anywhere and the inevitable hardships of field research, especially in such a harsh environment, come along.

When salty sea spray short circuits a key piece of equipment, it’s a big plus to have an electrical engineer on board. When the gremlins inside the computers get their dander up and start misbehaving, you’re a lot better off having someone who can rebuild it or reprogram it on the fly on board. They can add a great deal to the expedition in addition to blogging about it, something Wesley has been doing for years at his own blog and at the Panda’s Thumb.

Oh, and there’s another bit of expertise that could come in handy. Wesley is an expert photographer, having actually made a living as a photojournalist at one point. He could not only document the trip with words but with pictures. He is fully equipped to do so (believe me, I’ve had to fit his camera equipment into my car, no easy task). And add to the photography an expertise in sound recording. He has shotgun mics, hydrophones (mics that can record underwater) and even a geophone (a mic that can record very low frequency sounds and vibrations underwater). Those abilities could add visual and multimedia elements to the reports on the expedition that others likely would not have the ability to produce.

I strongly urge you to vote for him for the position. And again, none of this is in any way meant as a negative toward GrrlScientist or anyone who has endorsed her candidacy for the position.