Category Archives: Ronin Scholarship

Banerjee on International Scientific Collaboration

Ronin Institute Research Scholar Soumya Banerjee has posted a preprint of an analysis of scientific collaboration networks, focusing on patterns of collaboration within and among different nations. He writes that

Our latest article looks at a scientific collaboration network and finds novel patterns and clusters in the data that may reflect past foreign policies and contemporary geopolitics. Our model and analysis gives insights and guidelines into how scientific development of developing countries can be guided. This is intimately related to fostering economic development of impoverished nations and creating a richer and more prosperous society.

More information on the work can be found via the following links:

Paper –

Talk –

Slides –

Code –

Ruth Duerr and Colleagues Win International Data Rescue Award

Congratulations to Research Scholar Ruth Duerr, who accepted the 2016 International Data Rescue Award in the Geosciences on behalf of a team of researchers from multiple institutions. From an article on the award in Eos:

This year’s winning project, “Revealing Our Melting Past: Rescuing Historical Snow and Ice Data,” is an effort to digitize the Roger G. Barry Archive at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado Boulder. The archive is a trove of snow and ice data in many formats, including prints; images on microplates and glass plates; ice charts from early expeditions to Alaska, the Alps, South and Central America, and Greenland; and handwritten 19th century exploration diaries and observational data.

“This is a project that is all about rescuing glacier photos that go all the way back to the late 1800s,” said Ruth Duerr, a project team member who represented the group at the award ceremony. “For science, it is giving you a 150-year record of individual glaciers around the world and how they have changed in terms of mass lost or gained; mostly lost,” said ESSI president-elect Duerr, a research scholar in science data management and software and system engineering at the Ronin Institute for Independent Scholarship, which is based in Montclair, N.J.

As also noted in that article,

The award was announced just 2 days after news broke that some other scientists are frantically copying unrelated U.S. government climate data out of their fear that the data could vanish during the Trump administration. That fear is based in the idea that some likely appointees are climate science skeptics.

So, congratulations to Ruth, and to everyone involved in the project! Check out the Eos article for some fantastic photographs that show the dramatic consequences of climate change over the past century.

Help Fund Scans of Dolphin Genitalia

Research Scholar Diane Kelly and her collaborators at Mount Holyoke College are raising money right now to fund CT scans of dolphin genitalia. From the project description at Experiment:

Our goal is to assess the depth of penile penetration during copulation and to explore which anatomical landmarks are in contact and where. The penises of adult males will be inflated with saline and inserted into the vaginas of adult females from the same species. The penises will be inserted as deep as possible to simulate copulation.

After the genitals are CT scanned together, they will be dissected to identify anatomical landmarks (Orbach et al. 2016), which will then be located on the CT scan images. The depth of penile penetration and the points of contact between the male and female genitalia will be identified and compared across species to explore broad patterns of genital coevolution.

So, maybe you’d like to help support some cool marine reproductive biology, or maybe your tastes, like those of Christian Grey, are singular. Either way, visit the project site for some inspiring science and horrifying images.

Ranalli on Thoreau

Ronin Institute Research Scholar Brent Ranalli has had two articles published recently in the Thoreau Society Bulletin. Both also appear on the Society’s blog. The first, co-authored with naturalist Cherrie Corey, seeks to identify the mystery mushroom that Henry David Thoreau describes in his journals as resembling a traditional New England “election cake.” The second uses literary sources to reconstruct Thoreau’s walking gait and asks what the gait reveals about the man.

Better Know a Ronin: Mickey von Dassow

Mickey von Dassow is a biologist who is interested in exploring how physics contributes to environmental effects on development and recently joined the Ronin Institute as a Research Scholar.  Here is a edited version of an interview I did with him from last year (full version).

Mickey von Dassow

Can you describe your background?

My background is in biomechanics and developmental biology. My Ph.D. asked how feedback between form and function shapes marine invertebrate colonies. During my postdoc I worked on the physics of morphogenesis in vertebrate embryos, specifically focusing on trying to understand how the embryo tolerates inherent and environmentally driven mechanical variability. Since then I have been independently investigating interactions among ecology, biomechanics, and development of marine invertebrate embryos, as well as teaching courses.

Tell us more about Independent Generation of Research (IGoR) ?

IGoR is a wiki for sharing research ideas, skills, and resources among novice, amateur, and professional scientists. The goal is to make it easier for everyone to do scientific research, regardless of how they make a living.  One of the main motivations was that I often need devices that are just beyond my own skills to make, but which hobbyists with other skills could easily help me make. This got me thinking that I could do more and better science if there was an easy way for me to build collaborations with amateurs who have different skill sets. I also realized I would have much more fun doing science if I had a way to keep doing it whether or not I get the next grant or research job. Amateurs, such as Benjamin Franklin, Charles Darwin, or Grote Reber (the inventor of the radio telescope), used to be major contributors to scientific research. Today’s technologies should make it much easier for people to do science outside of a career, but we need ways to pool people’s talent and experience.

Where do you see “citizen science” going in the next 5 or 10 years?

I should say that IGoR is inspired by “citizen science,” but is a bit different from most citizen science. At the moment, most (but not all) citizen science seems to follow a model in which a few experts design a way to obtain a lot of data by getting many volunteers to do some low-skilled, repetitive task. However, there is a lot of interest in community-generated approaches (such as Public Lab, iNaturalist, OpenROV, and others), and approaches where there is real feedback between professionals and citizen scientists, involving creative and intellectual input from citizen scientists.

How does citizen science relate to the “open-science” movement?

As far as I can tell, the open-science movement seems to be focused mostly on open data and open publication models, but there are a lot of other strands to it. One strand that IGoR is definitely a part of is trying to move away from a status quo in which research is almost all done by people employed as researchers by big institutions. Open science, open source generally, citizen science, and the Maker/Hacker movement, all seem to be pushing against the divide between the professional and everyone else….

Are there particular kinds of research areas or projects that tend to fall through the cracks of traditional funding agencies (NSF, NIH etc.)?

Yes. Funding agencies and universities like high-tech science. If you use a big machine that goes ping to do it, you have a much higher chance of success than if you just need to watch something with your own eyeballs, even if the intellectual merit is the same or better. Funding agencies are also driven by fashion, so in biology anything “omics” is in, and organisms seem to be pretty much out for the moment. Finally, they are not good at funding brand new projects, or new or unknown researchers. For example, researchers often say you need to do the project before you can get funding for it, and then use the funding for the next step. This makes perfect sense: your best bet with limited money is the big lab, with lots of toys, piles of preliminary data, and oodles of publications to prove they can do the job. However, that makes it hard for new researchers, small labs, or people trying new directions. Cutting those researchers out reduces the diversity of research questions and perspectives.

My hypothesis for why “omics” and traditional model organisms dominate (even when there are better ones for particular problems) is positive feedback. If approach or field X is fashionable it will garner higher profile publications and more funding, so people doing X will have more opportunities, and other people will pay more attention to X, hence X seems even more exciting and an even better bet for funding or new hires. But, attention and funding are limited, so the more those go to X, the less they go to everything else. As I write this, it suggests that the answer is to make funding, and also publication visibility, a non-zero sum game. That gets back to finding new ways to support science, and to tell people about it, which encourage diversification of questions and approaches.

What kinds of changes in the institutional structures of science (e.g., peer review, publications, promotions etc.) would encourage more citizen science, open science or independent scholarship?

I think one of the biggest things that academic institutions could do is to teach students that independent scholarship is possible. There will never be enough funding for everyone who wants to do research (and is skilled at it) to make a living doing it. However, we all know that some of the deepest conceptual advances, notably Darwin and Wallace’s theory of evolution, came from people who were not employed as scientists. There are still many of important questions that can be addressed by an individual investigator on a shoestring budget.

So, if we value science (or scholarship generally), we need to create an environment in which research can be an avocation rather than a career. The most important parts of that are to make that choice socially acceptable within the scientific community, and to teach people – starting in undergrad and going through all career stages – how to make it work. There are many resources describing how to succeed in academia (or whatever other career one might choose); but, there are few, if any, guides to doing research successfully when one is not doing it for one’s job.

Are there other new models of doing research, outside of mainstream academic research institutions, that you have seen out there that inspire you?

Community labs are one that excites me a lot, and is an inspiration for IGoR. They could be great for getting novices, amateurs, and independent professionals working together to do substantive research; their main limitation is that they are few and far between. The Ronin Institute aims to create a more flexible approach to being an independent scholar, so that more professional-level scholars can do research. Even simple things like providing an institutional affiliation for applying for grants could be very helpful.

What’s your favourite organism?


Do I have to choose just one? Ctenophores might be it right now. The way they glide through the water with waves of iridescence running down bands of beating cilia, is incredibly beautiful. I love the fact that they coordinate a lot of their motion and sensation using interactions among cilia: a very different approach than most animals. They also have some very cool developmental features. For example, some of them can regenerate half or more of their body as adults, despite the fact that (for the most part) each embryonic cell forms a particular part of the body, and cannot be replaced when lost. There is a point in their development where they gain the ability to regenerate. However, I love lots of invertebrates, and I can’t look at ciliates without wondering why I don’t study them.

Read the full interview

Second Round of Conference Scholarships Awarded

Following the success of our first round of conference support funding, the board authorized that allocation of additional funding to support travel to academic conferences, as well as research-related travel. So, in addition to our first round of awardees, we offer our congratulations to Michael Clarage, Michelle Coughlin, Ruth Duerr, Vicenta Salvador, and Eleanor Wynn.

Smallbridge HallMichelle Coughlin’s award helped to support her trip to the UK to do research for the her next book, The First First Ladies, about the wives of America’s colonial governors. She sent along a number of gorgeous photos of the homes related to Penelope Pelham Winslow, who was married to Plymouth Colony Governor Josiah Winslow. It is great to be able to see the impact of the conference scholarship program.

Our next round of funding is scheduled for January 2017. In the meantime, we are raising funds to continue — and expand — this program. The members of the board have pledged to contribute an additional matching $1000 if we are able to raise $3000 for this program by the end of 2016. So, please consider helping us by making a contribution. You can donate online: select “Conference Scholarships” to direct your donation specifically to this program. To find out more, check out our donation page.

Jeff Rose Walks Out of Africa

Here’s a clip from First Peoples, a 2015 PBS series about the prehistory of the human race. This clip features archaeologist (and Ronin Institute Research Scholar) Jeff Rose talking about his field work in Oman and the very earliest expansion of anatomically modern humans into the Arabian Peninsula, the first step out of Africa in our rapid expansion around the globe. Check it out!

Ronin Institute Research Scholars Honored with Awards

Ronin Institute Research Scholars Ruth Duerr and Soren Scott were honored last week by the Federation of Earth Science Information Partners (ESIP) at the Federation’s January 2016 meeting.


ESIP Awardees, featuring Ruth Duerr (second from left) and Soren Scott (far right). Photo by Bruce Caron.

Headlining the awards ceremony was Ruth Duerr’s receipt of the Martha Maiden Lifetime Achievement Award for Service to the Earth Science Information Community, which recognizes “individuals who have demonstrated leadership, dedication and a collaborative spirit in advancing the field of Earth Science information”. Ruth has held numerous leadership positions within ESIP, where she has been a consistent champion of data accessibility and stewardship. The nominating committee noted that “Ruth’s dedication to the principles of Earth science information access and sharing are exemplified by her service as an ESIP liaison on many community initiatives, both nationally and internationally, that have led to improvements in capabilities and understanding of the issues necessary to facilitate access to and sharing of Earth science information”.

Soren Scott received the ESIP Catalyst Award, which “honors those who have brought about positive change in ESIP and inspired others to take action”. Current ESIP President Peter Fox noted that Soren “was able to make stagnant and dormant ESIP initiatives become active again in a very short period of time”.

Congratulations to both Ruth and Soren for this well deserved recognition!