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Buddhini Samarasinghe
54,746 followers -
Molecular Biologist & Science Communicator
Molecular Biologist & Science Communicator

54,746 followers
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Buddhini's posts

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Signs of Spring

It's been a quiet few months over winter dormancy but now my plants are starting to show signs of life. The Woodland Anemones are already flowering with gorgeous purple flowers, while the Crocuses are putting forth beautiful goblet shaped flowers. The Tulips and Daffodils are peeking up through the compost, while the Agapanthus and the Nerines are showing tiny green shoots amidst the dead foliage from last year. I think this is probably one of my favourite things about this time of the year; the sense of hope and expectation for at least some good things that lie ahead. 
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18/02/2017
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Herd Immunity

It's that time of year again when I share another Edge essay. To those of you who aren't familiar, every year, the Edge Foundation asks a thought-provoking question (known as the Edge Annual Question) and invites scientists and intellectuals to contribute with essays. This year's Edge Annual Question asks, "What Scientific Term Or Concept Ought To Be More Widely Known?". I had the pleasure of being invited to submit a contribution again this year and managed to find the time over the Christmas break :)

When I saw the question I immediately thought of 'Confirmation Bias', because...well just look at the state of the world around us right now :/. But alas, this year Edge were restricting responses to one per topic, first come first served. Even though I asked about Confirmation Bias within a couple of hours of the invitation email, apparently there were already 2 others who had made similar requests! So instead, I thought I'd write about something a bit more focused but is still incredibly important, given the increasing denialism and needless controversy around the topic.

The concept I chose is 'Herd Immunity'.

"Vaccines are one of the greatest successes of public health. They have helped us conquer diseases such as smallpox and polio, helping us live longer, healthier, more productive lives. And yet, because of decreasing levels of vaccination, the threshold required to provide protection through herd immunity becomes unattainable; as a result, previously eradicated diseases are starting to reappear. A vaccine can be seen as an act of individual responsibility, but it has a tremendous collective impact. Vaccination on a large scale not only prevents disease in an individual, but also helps protect the vulnerable in a population. To convince the general public of its necessity and encourage more people to get vaccinated, the concept of herd immunity must be more widely understood"


Full essay here: https://www.edge.org/response-detail/27173

I realise that writing about this topic will doubtless bring a rush of anti-vaccine activists over to tell me how wrong I am. Unfortunately, despite evidence to the contrary, these people view vaccine efficacy and safety as a matter of opinion, rather than one based on scientific fact. As such, comments will be moderated, and I will switch comments off when I cannot be around to babysit the discussion. Chances are, you are following me because I write about science. Thank you, for your interest and enthusiasm in science. However, topics like herd immunity and vaccines are a part of science. If that makes you uncomfortable or angry, please feel free to remove me from your circles because I will not hesitate to remove and block you if you troll my posts

Image: Herd Immunity in action (Wikipedia)

Happy New Year, everyone! :)
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A Wall of Kew

We finally hung up some art in our hallway - even though we moved into our new apartment just over a year ago, we haven't had much time to focus on making it 'pretty'. The vintage poster from Kew helps define the theme, so that the botanical watercolours I've been working on have some sort of cohesion. My goal was to try and trick people into thinking that these were pressed leaf specimens instead of paintings and as long as you don't look too closely I think it works - I really like how these have turned out :D
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2017-01-01
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Dark chocolate mousse cake with raspberries. Yum! Pretty happy with how it turned out although I do wish the raspberries were more evenly sized! 
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Your Friend Has Been Abused: What Do You Do?

This is a fantastic article by +A.V. Flox on practical steps we can all take to support survivors of abuse.

"The key is not to approach these situations like a prosecutor, looking for a “perfect” victim and a “perfect” villain, but to acknowledge that people are complicated and, in general, capable of everything between great good and gross harm. If people who harm actually were monsters, we would know them on sight, and they would not continue to move within our communities. But very few people are completely monstrous, so we must not rely on finding an obviousness that does not exist"

When I finally started talking publicly about Scott Lewis's abuse (https://goo.gl/LBde6D), I had an incredible amount of support from my friends and family. It's how I found the strength to finally speak publicly about something I buried for three years. All those people knew how to center the survivor in their efforts; they helped me understand that what happened to me wasn't my fault, and that the responsibility for the abuse lies squarely with the abuser.

But I've also had the misfortune to encounter people who were woefully ill-equipped to support survivors. Friends of Scott Lewis's, who were unable to accept the fact that he was an abuser, despite the fact that countless people came forward independently with their stories of how he harmed them. They remained silent, tacitly supporting his behaviour, while continuing to tweet copiously about being an ally to marginalised people. The hypocrisy has been so disappointing, and it has made me very cynical whenever I see activists who spend more time talking about what great allies they are rather than, you know, actually being allies. I'm still not sure what makes us, the survivors of Scott Lewis's abuse, unworthy of their advocacy, but life is too short to waste with people like that.

I am heartened and hopeful after seeing how survivors and supporters can band together. Appreciating the good things in my life and the progress I have made is how I reclaim my power, and finally put this awful shitty encounter behind me for good. Thank you, to everyone who has been a part of my healing :)

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Last Hangout for 2016!

Today I did my last Google Hangout for 2016. Appropriately, the topic was 'grief'. I'm not sure if it's very noticeable, but I tried to approach this slightly differently by making it more conversational and less 'interviewy'. Like the sort of thing Terry Gross would do :P. This article is beautiful, and I think of all the Mosaic articles I've read this one felt the most personal. It's an intense topic, and I hope you enjoy listening to this as much as I enjoyed speaking to Andrea.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H8wAxxvZjLw

Andrea's article: https://mosaicscience.com/story/complicated-grief-bereavement-death-loss-CBT

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Shiny new Francis Crick Institute

This morning I finally got a chance to see the gorgeous new Francis Crick Institute (aka The Crick) near King's Cross in London. When I was a science comms manager at Cancer Research UK, some of the writing I did was to help fundraise money towards this building. Now I am at the Medical Research Council, (which is also a partner of The Crick), and I anticipate I'll continue writing about the ground breaking science that will happen here. Sometimes it feels like there's no escaping the gravitational pull of this massive building that apparently has over a million square feet in floorspace, but that's a good thing because I can only image how cool the discoveries will be. 
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24/11/2016
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Facebook LIVE Interview!

Those of you who follow me on that other social network may have noticed that I posted about doing my first ever Facebook LIVE interview. I am pleased to report that it went really well!

I was so nervous before doing this because I have never done a Facebook LIVE event before but it was awesome! The +Mosaic  science team were wonderful and a pleasure to work with. It's my first proper 'face to face' interview with someone and while it's still awkward to see myself on camera (I don't think I'll ever get used to that!) I hope that Geoff's story about the engineer who fixed his own heart makes up for it!

See full video here: https://www.facebook.com/mosaicscience/videos/vb.592368587469654/1311131618926677/ (it will be uploaded to YouTube later, but I wanted to share it here while it's still fresh!)

Link to article: https://mosaicscience.com/story/engineer-who-fixed-his-own-heart

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Seasons of Maple

I had this last week off work without any specific plans to travel, so it was lovely to relax with lots of sleeping, reading, walking, and other hobbies I had neglected because it's difficult to find the time with a full time job. But a visit to Kew Gardens recently (lots of photos, but that's a separate post!) during the gorgeous abundance of autumn leaf colours inspired me to attempt painting it.

I've always loved maple leaves, for the sheer vibrancy of their colours and the variety of shapes. I also have a bare wall along the hallway of our house that badly needs a picture or three so with that in mind, I set out to do a 'botanical illustration' type painting of maple leaves in various stages of colouration.

I sketched the leaves using the ones I picked up as a guide, and then I used masking fluid around the edges to help maintain the crispness as I layered the washes of watercolour over it. I'm really happy with how it turned out! If anyone is interested in details (paints, brush types, techniques used etc) I'm happy to share :)
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2016-11-20
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Abuse, and the erosion of trust

It’s been over a month now since I found out that I wasn’t alone in being emotionally abused and taken advantage of by Scott Lewis, a serial abuser who targeted multiple people in the scicomm and astronomy communities. You can read my original post about it here: https://goo.gl/9Doqhu. However, there are still some things I don’t feel comfortable speaking publicly about. During this past month I’ve had to grapple with a lot of memories that I had pushed aside for years – uncomfortable truths that I didn’t really want to confront because denial is always an easier short-term strategy. But I now realise that my silence about these things can contribute to the problem; people don’t often realise how truly awful abuse is until they personally experience it, and of course, survivors of abuse are often too traumatised to talk about it in a way that bystanders can understand or relate to. This is just one of the many ways that abuse isolates people, and I hope that by being open and frank about what I went through and how it changed me, more people can understand these insidious effects of abuse. And with that understanding, I hope that more bystanders can step up and publicly support survivors of abuse instead of just staying silent and hoping the drama just goes away.

Last week I met a friend for lunch, someone I have known for about two years, and I told her about this stuff for the first time. She was shocked, and then she said “You are such a strong person, and you come across so hilariously cynical. You have such a good bullshit filter. I can’t imagine you becoming a target of someone like that”. That’s when I realised that she has no idea how trusting I used to be, because she’s only ever known me post-abuse.

I have never experienced emotional abuse like this before. I was lucky to have never met someone like Scott until 2012. I didn’t ever have a need for boundaries before I met him. I didn’t know how to construct them. Now, when people are impressed by my boundaries, I am reminded of the reason why. The reason my house has such good fire protection now is because my entire house was burnt down three years ago, and it was devastating.

That erosion of trust has been so difficult to grapple with.

One of the primary ways that Scott gained my sympathy, and consequently my trust, was by talking to me about his mental health struggles. These conditions are very real for countless people who struggle every day with illnesses like depression. Mental health already has a lot of stigma attached to it in our society. I don’t want people to think that mental health problems are the cause of abuse. It is not. Scott didn’t emotionally abuse me because he was depressed. He did those things because he is an abuser. I say this because ever since I began to understand what he did to me, I actively have to shut down an inner voice that says “maybe they are saying it for sympathy like Scott did” when someone starts opening up to me about their mental health problems. I hate how cynical he has made me.

The reverse is also true. When I am going through something difficult, I don’t talk to people about it anymore. I am paranoid that I will come across as someone actively seeking pity, the way Scott did with me. In the past 3 years, I have been through so much; 6 months of forced separation from my husband due to immigration hassles, then 9 months of prolonged job-hunting and unemployment that destroyed what was left of my self-confidence post-abuse, then the sheer exhaustion of travelling between three cities every week for 10 months. I only confided in my closest friends and family about how difficult it was, and I walled myself off even from them when I felt things were really hopeless. I used to be a very open and trusting person and I don’t even recognise how to be that anymore, not without a lot of effort on my part to keep reminding myself that Scott was an anomalous data point, the exception rather than the norm. I hate how paranoid he has made me.

In 2009 my father passed away from advanced lung cancer. Watching someone I love slowly fade away like that while being helpless to stop it is still one of the hardest things I have ever had to experience. But what happened with Scott and the effects thereafter have been even harder to come to terms with. The betrayal, and the resulting loss of trust in my own judgement and integrity has been so hard to deal with. Even worse, the enduring lens of paranoia through which I now view every other relationship in my life is often exhausting. I wish there was a way to help people understand what this is like.

It is only because I am in a better place mentally that I now feel safe enough to try unpacking some of these things and attempt to talk about it publicly. I do this not for sympathy or attention, but for the purpose of shining a light on a topic that rarely gets talked about. I have not only endured, but I have prevailed over what he did to me. If you think I am strong because of this, remember that his abuse did not make me strong; I am strong despite it.

Photo: random doodle from a few years ago that seemed apt for this topic.
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