Category Archives: Graphic design

Trigger warning for creationist visitors to National Zoo

Here’s a photograph I took several years ago at the National Zoo’s “Think Tank” exhibit on primate cognition. Darwin Day is one week so I thought I’d share.

Colin Purrington Photography: Evolution graphics &emdash; Think Tank warning for creationists

The text is a little hard to read so here’s transcription:

“This exhibit is about animal thinking. It contains some things you may agree with, some you may disagree with, and others that may even trouble you. Come explore and see what you think.” 

The warning sign was crafted by Smithsonian staff to cater to snowflake creationists who complained about the “Changes over millions of years have resulted in today’s humans” panel that covered the age of the earth, human evolution, and how natural selection works. 

The “see what you think” part suggests to visitors that the facts presented within are up for debate and thus shouldn’t undermine somebody’s alternative views about human origins or the age of the earth. But, of course, the warning signage undermines the experience for all visitors. I.e., a curious but uninformed visit might assume that the exhibits are just wild guesses about what might have happened. A shameful use of tax dollars, in my opinion.

Posted in Biology, Education, Graphic design, Photography, Science | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Make conference posters great again!

Make conference posters great againRight after the U.S. Presidential election I traveled to Canada to give a talk on how to design large-format posters for medical conferences. Obviously, I couldn’t resist basing my title on the silly Trump slogan, “Make America great again.” But my title actually makes sense: most posters currently displayed at conferences are bad, whereas the United States was until a few days ago a pretty great country and thus didn’t need to be made great again.

I’m not going to post my slides online, but here are some of my posts on how to design conference posters, if you’re interested. Link #1 is my tome on the topic that I’ve been updating since 1997.

  1. Designing conference posters
  2. Layout for conference poster
  3. Templates for portrait-style science posters
  4. The fine print on poster sessions
  5. Charts with bling
  6. Justified
  7. Logos on conference posters
  8. More on placement of logos on scientific posters
  9. Boxes of bling for scientific posters
  10. Fabric conference posters
  11. Example of bad scientific poster
  12. Open letter to poster session organizers

It was great to leave the country. Really, really hard to come back.

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A simple name change for antibiotics could save lives

In depressing medical news this week, the World Health Organization reported that 64% of adults believe that antibiotics can be used to treat flu and colds. That’s terrible because those 64% are likely to pressure their doctors for antibiotics when they don’t need them, which in turn will speed the evolution of bacteria resistant to the drugs … and then people die from bacterial infections that used to be treatable.

Cartoon image of Batman slapping robin for thinking antibiotics can treat common coldThere are several beliefs that contribute to this statistic, and I think it’s important to tease them apart so we can better craft outreach strategies. The one that gets the most attention, of course, is when people (e.g., Robin in the popular Batman meme I based on original by Dr Nick Bennett and his wife) think that colds are caused by bacteria. A second reason is that some people think viruses are a kind of bacteria and thus treatable with antibiotics.

But there’s a third, even more important explanation that gets almost no attention: people thinking antibiotics are effective against a wide range of microorganisms (i.e., not just bacteria). Why on Earth would people think this? I think kids are almost certainly to blame. When young kids are sick, they don’t really care about the whole virus-versus-bacteria thing … they just know something is infecting them and that the parents keep chanting “antibiotic” over and over again. So I think it’s unavoidable that kids construct a definition for antibiotics before they even start kindergarten (pollsters: can you ask?). Kids are also genius at figuring out word meanings when they don’t get full information from teachers or parents, so it is probable that many assume that the anti (against) and biotic (living) parts of “antibiotic” mean that the drug kills all life. (This is, indeed, what the word “antibiotic” used to mean before microbiologists commandeered it to mean something else.) Although kids might be told later in life (in high school, college) that antibiotics target only bacteria, the correction might not stick in the average person’s brain. In addition to the above, ignorance about antibiotic efficacy is probably increasingly pulled from the Internet. If you doubt me, just type “antibiotic definition” into Google and read the top five or so definitions: they all say that antibiotics can kill microorganisms.

If “antibiotic” (the word) is the source of so much confusion, replacing it with a better word might cause people to stop asking for it, which could save lives via preserving antibiotics. Luckily, the word “antibacterial” is just waiting there, perfect for the job. The anti and bacterial parts of the word convey its meaning unambiguously, plus it’s an old word (older than antibiotic!), and is already used by the general public. You can even Google the definition if you don’t believe me: all the definitions indicate it is a drug that kills bacteria (and only bacteria). It would join other words such as “antifungal” and “antiviral”, all of which tend to be used and understood by both doctors and patients.

Cartoon image of Batman slapping robin for thinking antibacterials can treat common coldThere would, of course, be a certain amount of work associated with the switch. For example, websites promoting antibiotic awareness would need to run a Search and Replace macro to insert “antibacterial” everywhere instead of “antibiotic”. That might take 10 minutes for a large site. And brochures and cartoonish wall art for waiting rooms would have to reprinted, but the result would be that waiting patients and parents would be measurably less confused on what antibacterials do. And once everything was converted to “antibacterial”, outreach organizations like WHO and CDC could focus on the more important issues such as making people understand what colds are (please see Batman comic #2) and making sure that the full course of antibacterials is taken.

Note that I’m not suggesting everyone stop using “antibiotic” altogether. But in terms of public outreach, discussion with patients, and the names on drug containers, we should give it a try.

What would also be great is if pollsters could replace “antibiotic” with “antibacterial” for half of the survey participants. Currently, most physicians and “antibiotic awareness week” coordinators LOVE the word “antibiotic” and can see no fault in it; they blame ignorance levels on the educated, ignorant masses. But if poll data could show them that ignorance goes down by (say) 50% after adoption of “antibacterial,” they might rethink their opposition to change.

BONUS FACT: Alexander Fleming used the word “antibacterial” 19 times in his paper describing the isolation of penicillin. He used “antibiotic” 0 times. He got a Nobel prize for the work.

Posted in Biology, Education, Graphic design, Health, Science | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

It is not the strongest of the species that survives

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most adaptable to change.”

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most adaptable to change Charles DarwinThis quote by Leon Megginson, a professor of business management in Louisiana, is one of the most popular quotations on the internet. And one of the most misattributed, — most people think it’s something Charles Darwin wrote. But he didn’t.

To encourage proper attribution, I thought I’d seed the internet with three images that give Dr Megginson his credit. The hope is that these images might eventually get included in Google search results when people are searching for pre-made slides that have the quote. 

It is not the strongest species that surviveThe first version features a Galapagos marine iguana with its mouth open, as if it was saying something. It’s actually yawning, so use cautiously if you are a boring speaker. 

The second slide is a photograph of Leon C. Megginson himself, in front of chalkboard. Nobody likes this version of the quote but I’d thought I’d include it just so that people can see the lack of facial hair.

The final image is a photograph of Charles Darwin, the man who clearly inspired Megginson. 

It is not the strongest of the species that survivesAs proof of why we need to get the word out about the quote’s source, here’s a feed showing how all the recent usage on Twitter.:

Most of the tweets are from nutritionists, motivational speakers, and business management types.

By the way, the misattribution exists even among people who should know better. E.g., the quote is found on the wall of the Charles Darwin Foundation’s gift shop, and on the floor of the California Academy of Science.

If you need an actual quote from Darwin, there are hundreds of thousands to choose from. Just browse Darwin Online for all his books (~42 of them!), articles (~246), letters, and notebooks. There’s also the Darwin Correspondence Project.

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