ScienceOnline2010 – interview with Ernie Hood

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years’ interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.
Today, I asked Ernie Hood to answer a few questions.
Welcome to A Blog Around the Clock. Would you please tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?
Ernie Hood pic.jpgHi Bora. Thanks for your interest, and for all that you do.
I’m one of those science writers who comes to the profession from the writing side as opposed to the science side. I have a BA in English from Brown University and an MA in Communications from UNC-Chapel Hill. After grad school, I worked in local television news for a few years (great training for working on tight deadlines), and then a partner and I started a video and audio production company, where I plied my trade for the ensuing twenty years. Working with science-based corporate clients such as Glaxo-GlaxoWellcome-GSK, Rhone Poulenc, Ciba Giegy, Organon Teknika and many more, I eventually discovered my love of science and an ability to communicate scientific concepts simply and effectively. In 2003, after dabbling in science writing on the side for a few years, I elected to pursue it full time. Becoming a freelancer was and is nerve-wracking (just ask one), but I’ve never looked back and thoroughly enjoy what I do.
I like to think that my work makes some small contribution to bettering the world through enhanced appreciation of science–that’s much more rewarding than contributing to some corporation’s profit margin. And I’ve found that scientists are much easier to work with and more appreciative of quality work.
Geographically, I was born and raised in a suburb of Boston (go Sox!), spent some years in Florida, moved to Chapel Hill in 1976 to attend grad school (go Heels!), and have been here in the Triangle ever since. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.
Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?
I’ve been fortunate to work on a wide variety of engaging projects over the course of my career. For example, in the mid-90s my production company produced a weekly, national magazine show on PBS called BreakThrough: Television’s Journal of Science and Medicine, which aired on more than 200 stations, won several international awards, and was warmly received by the scientific community. I was Senior Writer on the show, contributing studio and promotional copy while supervising and editing the work of our team of reporter/field producers. It was an intense experience that has served me well to this day in terms of developing a passion for the science and for getting it right without pandering or sensationalizing.
In my second career as a science writer, I’ve written more than 80 articles for Environmental Health Perspectives, the monthly journal published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the flagship journal in the environmental health field. I’ve attended numerous scientific conferences and written meeting reports. I’ve written or edited several book chapters, including twice contributing chapters to the NIH Director’s Biennial Report to Congress. I’ve even been a co-author of two peer-reviewed publications, which was quite a thrill for this English major. I also perform a variety of writing and editing tasks for several academicians around the country. More recently, drawing on my media production experience, I’ve been producing podcasts for several clients–great fun.
What is taking up most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?
Much (too much!) of my time these days is taken up by two volunteer labors of love–my radio show and SCONC.
For the past four years, I’ve hosted a weekly science interview radio show on WCOM-FM in Carrboro, North Carolina, called Radio In Vivo: Your Link to the Triangle Science Community. Each week I bring in a Triangle-area scientist and we discuss his or her work for an hour, which allows a thorough, in-depth examination. I’ve had guests from all walks of science (including Bora Z himself, of course!). It’s quite a challenge to book new guests and prepare for each week’s show, sometimes on a rather steep learning curve, but I never tire of helping scientists communicate about their work and promoting the scientific enterprise here in the Triangle. There are now more than 140 hour-long shows in the archive at the program’s website, radioinvivo.net. I also serve on three different committees at the radio station, doing what I can to help support and sustain WCOM–a remarkable example of all-volunteer community radio at its best.
I’ve also had the honor and privilege of serving as president of Science Communicators of North Carolina (SCONC) since 2009. We put on events monthly at area venues, typically featuring a speaker or two along with time for socializing, networking, and good food and drink. We seek to aid our members’ work opportunities and professional development, and to showcase the extremely important function our profession fulfills, serving as the vital liaison between the scientific community and the diverse audiences to be addressed.
Goals? Well, the chances of playing left field for the Red Sox or being a rock star or a pro bass fisherman seem increasingly remote these days, so I guess today I’ll settle for maintaining my health, watching my daughters thrive as adults, and eventually, dare I say it, hanging out with some grand-kids!
What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?
I think my favorite element of science communication is simply the joy of constantly discovering fascinating new developments, and sometimes having the opportunity to introduce them to a wider audience. I don’t need to remind your readers how cool science is, and it’s thrilling to use the many new tools at our disposal to send that message out to folks who do need to be reminded–or informed in the first place…or disabused of misconceptions and misinformed opinions. We need all of the virtual weapons we can get in our ongoing battle against ignorance, apathy, and politically motivated misrepresentation.
How does blogging figure in your work? How about social networks? Do you find all of this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?
So far I don’t blog, and I marvel at people like you who do, and who generate so much material all the time. When you say A Blog Around the Clock, I think you must mean that you actually do blog around the clock, and I can’t begin to understand how you aren’t chronically sleep-deprived. I do follow several blogs, such as yours, Terra Sigillata, Deep Sea News, Science in the Triangle, and Mister Sugar, for example. Also I consult blogs frequently in the course of my reporting and writing work and when preparing for radio interviews.
As for social networks, I am on Facebook and Twitter, although I tend to lurk more than actively post. I just can’t imagine anyone caring what mood I might be in at any given time, or the fact that I’m drinking coffee somewhere. With that caveat in mind, I do find the networks to be valuable for staying in touch with the professional community and for publicizing new editions of the radio show and upcoming SCONC events. Sometimes it’s difficult to ignore all the chatter – the social networks are quite addictive and can be a distraction. On the other hand, they’re a great way to keep one’s ears to the ground. Does the word ambivalent come to mind?
What was the best aspect of Science Online 2010 for you?
This was my third year at the conference, and it just keeps getting better and more valuable. I was especially pleased at the breadth of the content this year, with the program expanding far beyond its roots in strictly covering science blogging. As we’ve seen, the many disparate elements of science communication are blending together in exciting new ways, and the meeting certainly reflected that trend. Also, as so many of your respondents have mentioned, it was a terrific opportunity to meet and interact with some of the most accomplished people in our field, face to face in “meat space.”
I was one of the recipients of a Flip video camera at the conference, and spent a good bit of time shooting interviews and posting them to YouTube. I was amazed by the quality of the image emerging from a camera the size of a transistor radio, the 2-hour digital recording capacity of the device, and the ease of operation and uploading. Took me way back to my TV news days, when it took two people and a camera and recorder weighing 40 pounds each to shoot on 15-minute tapes the size of a hard-back book. We’ve come a very long way! It’s exciting to contemplate the potential uses for this groundbreaking technology – I’m sure we’re just seeing our first glimpses of its capabilities and possible applications. From now on, there’s little excuse not to have video in our scientific communications when it’s become so easy and so powerful. I just hope we’ll keep the quality up and not put out mediocre material just because we can. We don’t do that in our writing, and we should not succumb to the temptation to do so in other communications. Small soapbox issue there…
Thanks, Bora – see you next year at Science Online 2011!
Thank you so much for the interview. And see you at the next SCONC event!

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4 responses to “ScienceOnline2010 – interview with Ernie Hood

  1. “When you say A Blog Around the Clock, I think you must mean that you actually do blog around the clock, and I can’t begin to understand how you aren’t chronically sleep-deprived.”
    He does. He is.

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  3. Pingback: ScienceOnline2011 – introducing the participants | A Blog Around The Clock

  4. Pingback: ScienceOnline2011 – introducing the participants « Science in the Triangle