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Our Danish sister-site Universitetsavisen has talked to a Copenhagen scientist who studies a breed of false-headed water snakes
Heavily researched articles on water fleas and sea snakes don’t exactly bring the term ‘sexy’ to mind, but marine expert Arne Redsted Rasmussen has managed to get people around the world excited about them.
»My basic philosophy is that researchers should not be so afraid of communicating science to the public. Of course we should stick to the truth. But if you constantly have to take into account what your colleagues might say, then it sucks when you try to make your research known to others,« he says to Universitetsavisen.
Arne Redsted Rasmussen is a visiting scientist at the Zoological Museum.
In 2006 he was on a highly publicised Danish research expedition, the Galathea 3, from Cape Town to Perth and Sydney to the Solomon Islands in the Pacific. New knowledge about sea snakes from the trip is now published in two internationally recognized scientific journals. For laymen, the articles have been quoted over 250 times in international media.
Scientists don’t research dangerous, exotic or so-called ‘sexy’ animals hoping that the public will be excited about them. According to Rasmussen, it should be the other way round. The scientists’ job is to find the one thing within their own research field that makes it exciting to others.
»I know someone who for example works with planktonic copepods, professor Thomas Kiørboe of the Technical University of Denmark. If you ever get the chance to hear Thomas Kiørboe hold forth about these small marine crustaceans, you would fall of your chair. You think they are boring, don’t you? Not when Thomas Kiørboe talks about them,« he says.
Sea snakes can be poisonous, and some sea snakes are aggressive. This could be why they are popular in the mass media. But according to Arne Redsted Rasmussen, it is not only the danger that gets the media’s attention. Donning a wetsuit on the Galathea 3-expedition to photograph his ‘sexy sea snakes’ raised eyebrows among research colleagues who may have felt that he was frivolous. But Redsted Rasmussen disagrees.
»It is as important a part of the work as a researcher to convey the science to the public, as the research results in itself,« he says.
»There will always be envy if you appear somewhere, where other scientists think that they should have been,« he says.
A word of advice to other scientists:
»Don’t worry about what others will say about you.«