My week of parasites.

I was at a conference last week, with very limited internet and similarly limited ability to look at TV news. So imagine my surprise, seeing snippets on Twitter of the Higgs boson (or a boson of some kind) being found, and weird reports about Korea wanting to go whaling. A very strange week indeed.

The funny thing about the Higgs boson is the kerfuffle surrounding the choice of font for Fabiola Gianotti’s presentation during the video-link from CERN to the ICHEP conference in Melbourne. She used comic sans. Cue shocked gasp. Comic sans is a font that polarises people: they either like it or they hate it. I’m in the latter camp, and went so far as to tell a group of students last year that they’d lose marks if they used comic sans in oral presentations in my class. It’s infantile, and according to New Scientist (link above) is the most attractive for to read – for 9 -11 year olds. I’d have thought that CERN would have their own fancy powerpoint template anyway for their scientists to use. The slide I saw looked quite undergraduate indeed.

I feel quite qualified to comment on presentations, having sat through more talks than I can count at the annual conference for the Australian Society for Parasitology, held in Launceston, Tasmania. I tweeted a little about the public event, held last Monday night, which was all about parasites of wildlife (so go check out my twitter feed if you’re interested. I’m not sure how to get hyperlinks for individual tweets).

Prof Ian Beveridge (Uni Melb) discussing parasites as integral parts of biodiversity.

I learned many things, including:

  • the effect of amoebic gill disease on farmed salmon in Tasmania,
  • myxozoans from octopuses,
  • temperature and salinity affects development of monogeneans on farmed barramundi,
  • mixed infections of trypanosomes seem to cause the highest pathology in woylies (Bettongia penicillata), and
  • hares are potentially important transmitters of helminths of importance in sheep farming.

This is just the stuff I can recall off the top of my head. I don’t recall seeing any comic sans in any of the presentations I saw though.

It wasn’t all hard work though. I visited a wildlife park and saw a stack of Tasmanian devils.  They are so very cute, which probably makes the whole Devil Facial Tumour Disease thing all the more distressing (although we shouldn’t make the assumption that ugly animals deserve to be diseased. They don’t.). Here’s three devils showing the lovely individual variation in white markings on their fur.

Tassie devils (at Trowunna Wildlife Park).

I hope to write more about devils and their substantial health problems shortly. But I’d like to make the point now that Devil Facial Tumour Disease is a transmissible cancer, NOT a parasite, as incorrectly stated by the Launceston Examiner newspaper).

Finally, I’m losing sleep by staying up too late watching Le Tour. Allez Cadel!!

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3 thoughts on “My week of parasites.

  1. Poor little devils… and I was interested in your comments on comic sans (as well as a lot of other things in this post) – when I was teaching it was a font which seemed to encourage reading among reluctant learners; it is a bit cosy, though and I’d not use it in any other context.

    • Hi Lois, thanks for the comment. There is a time and a place for comic sans – and your example is a good one (anything that gets people reading is a good thing). I think it’s a good font for things like party invitations, not presentations on ground-breaking news about the Higgs boson.

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