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Profiles of Native Science – Dennis Taylor: Science Enthusiast, Citizen Scientist, & Journalist

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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This entry is a guest post from Dr. Daniela Hernandez.  She is a science writer, presently at the Salinas Californian and a AAAS Mass Media Fellow. She will soon be writing for Wired, so you can follow her now on Twitter @danielaphd. Here she interviews her mentor and friend, Mr. Dennis Taylor, an editor at The Salinas Californian and Aududon Society Volunteer.

Neuroscience, physics, Contagion, birds and twitter are recurring topics of my conversations with Dennis Taylor, the Community Conversations editor at The Salinas Californian, where I am currently an intern.

Although he might tell you he doesn’t understand a lick of science, he is quite knowledgeable especially about physics, which fascinates him, he says. Just last week, he told me about a show he’d seen on NOVA about electrons, Albert Einstein and quantum physicist Neils Bohr. The conversation then moved on to neuroscience and how neurons communicate with each other.

Every time I speak with Dennis about anything remotely scientific, a look of genuine excitement and interest comes over him. I noticed this my first day when he told me about an interview he’d heard about the science behind the movie Contagion.

As much as science intrigues him, he’s also hungry to learn about social media, especially twitter. We recently had a mini-lesson on how to use short links, hashtags, mentions and retweets. (You can follow him on twitter @scribedenny.)

So when Danielle Lee tweeted a call for blogs celebrating Native American Heritage Month, Dennis came to mind. 

During one of our chats, he told me about his Native American heritage and his family’s history. During another, he told me about the work he does with the Audubon Society. And I recently found out he blogs!

During my two months at The Salinas Californian, he’s been a great source of support and a fabulous mentor.

He may not be a scientist by training, but he is passionate about it. Here is a brief Q&A with him, some of which has been edited for clarity:

Tell me about your background, with a focus on your Native American roots?

In the 1700s it was quite common in Virginia and Kentucky (the “wilderness” then) for Scots-Irish to marry Native American women. European women weren’t familiar with living in the wilderness.  They didn’t know what to plant, when to harvest, the seasonal cycle, how to clean and preserve deer and other game. Some died, some went back to the coastal cities. Consequently European men began to marry Native American women – in that area they were mostly Choctaw or Cherokee. My great-grandmother was full-blooded Cherokee. My Cherokee grandmother taught me about the sacredness of life – they made no distinction in their core values between the death of a human and the death of a deer, or fox, or bird. That value system stayed with me my entire life. Neither my father nor I would kill an animal unless it was intended for food. But we did hunt.

What inspired you to volunteer at the Audubon Society?

I have always stayed abreast of developments in threatened species – what are the
pressures reducing their numbers? And overwhelmingly the greatest pressure is
habitat loss. I stumbled into the Audubon Society because I wrote a story about
an older gent who I would walk with as he would check “bird houses” constructed
by the Audubon Society that were hung in trees or perched atop poles in open grasslands. Norm was his name, and what we were doing was providing habitat
that was lost to sprawling home construction.  He had several miles of trails with over 100 houses he would need to check weekly. He died about a year after we began working together and Audubon came to me because no one knew the
species and the trails like I did.

What kind of work have you done for them?

I collect that data onto a spreadsheet and transfer it to a database at Cornell University, which tracks bird populations all over the country. So when you read a story about “Western Bluebirds in Decline,” that’s how they know. The program used to be called the Bluebird Recovery Project, but about three years ago it was changed to the Cavity Nesting Project, to more accurately reflect what we do. We track all species of birds that must nest in hollows of trees. In my region this includes western bluebirds, tree swallows, chestnut-backed chickadees and white-breasted nuthatches. When you cut a tree to build a house in an oak forest,  you eliminate habitat for these particular birds.

DNLee About the Author: DNLee is a biologist and she studies animal behavior, mammalogy, and ecology . She uses social media, informal experiential science experiences, and draws from hip hop culture to share science with general audiences, particularly under-served groups. Follow on Twitter @DNLee5.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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