Monthly Archives: May 2011

New posts on SciAm blogs

Flew to NYC early this morning, so just catching up. There are some cool new posts on vairous SciAm blogs, posted yesterday and today, that you may be interested in:

Health Reporting and Its Sources By Hadas Shema.

Too Hard for Science? The Genetic Foundations of Intelligence By Charles Q. Choi.

Getting a Little Racy: On Black Beauty, Evolution and the Science of Interracial Sex By Jesse Bering.

Homogenetic Enumeration: A Numerical System Guaranteed to Move You By Mary Karmelek.

Enjoy, comment, share…

Open Laboratory 2011 – submissions so far

The submission form for the 2011 edition of Open Lab is now open. Any blog post written since December 1, 2010 is eligible for submission.

We accept essays, stories, poetry, cartoons/comics, original art.

Once you are done submitting your own posts, you can start looking at the others’, including on aggregators like ScienceSeeker.org, Scienceblogging.org and Researchblogging.org.

As I always do, I will keep posting the full list of submitted entries once a week until the deadline – see the listing under the fold.

You can buy the last five annual collections here. You can read Prefaces and Introductions to older editions here.

Help us spread the word by displaying these badges (designed by Doctor Zen:

Continue reading

New posts on the @SciAm blogs

There are two new posts on the Expeditions blog this weekend: one posted yesterday, the other one today:

Problems Without Passports: Scientific Research Diving at USC Dornsife–Contrasting Reef Ecosystems in Guam by Mareika Vandeveer and Justin Bogda.

Problems Without Passports: Scientific Research Diving at USC Dornsife–The News from Guam by Caitlin Contag.

Enjoy – support the students, read, comment, share….

Housekeeping

I am moving my homepage (coturnix.org) and blog (blog.coturnix.org) to a new server over the next day or two so the homepage and blog might be down for a short while. This has nothing to do with SciAm – just my own personal homepage maintenance….

New posts on SciAm blogs

On the Guest Blog – two posts today.

First, in a response to an SA article that was perhaps a little bit too optimistic, Joseph A. Dick offered a detailed analysis – Helium Hokum: Why Airships Will Never Be Part of Our Transportation Infrastructure

Charles Q. Choi nabbed a big name today – Too Hard for Science? E. O. Wilson–A Vertical Map of Life on Earth.

Over on the Expeditions blog, Wendy Whitcombe – one of the students in the Problems Without Passports course – penned her first post: Some History Should Not Repeat Itself

And on the Anecdotes from the Archive, Mary Karmelek discovered another gem in the SciAm archives: How to Find the True Shape of a Soldier.

Read, comment, share…

ScienceOnline2011 – interview with Seth Mnookin

Continuing with the tradition from last three years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2011 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January 2011. See all the interviews in this series here.

Today I chat with Seth Mnookin (blog, Twitter)

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?

I grew up in Boston, did my undergraduate studies at Harvard, and have been living in New York for the last dozen years. I majored in History and Science, so I’m coming at my work from a sociological/philosophical perspective.

Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?

Depending on whether you were being charitable, you could either call my career trajectory peripatetic, eclectic, or schizophrenic. I started out as a rock critic in the mid-1990s. Since then I’ve covered city government and local crime for The Palm Beach Post, Rudy Giuliani’s tenure as mayor for The Forward, and the 2000 presidential campaign for Brill’s Content. Since 2003, I’ve mainly been writing features for Vanity Fair and working on books. My first book, Hard News, was about the plagiarism scandals at The New York Times, and my second one, Feeding the Monster, is about the year I spent living with the Boston Red Sox. I’ve traveled to Iraq and embedded with Stephen Colbert for Vanity Fair.

In 2008, I began working on the what became The Panic Virus, about the vaccine controversies of the past several decades. It’s the first time I’ve focused on science in my professional work, and it reminded me of why I studied it in the first place…and in the fall, I’ll have a chance to dive back into academia when I head over to MIT as a lecturer in their Graduate Program on Science Writing.

What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?

Since the book came out, I’ve spent much more time than I would have thought deal with the incredible amount of anger and vitriol that surrounds any discussion of this issue. It’s incredibly difficult not to get caught up in it — and in some ways, I think it represents the flip side of the ways in which the Internet has created a more frictionless environment that can be incredibly helpful for science writers and researchers. When someone posts a blog entry about my family, or accuses me of being part of some convoluted conspiracy, it’s hard not to want to throw up an equally vituperative response. Going down that rabbit hole, however, can end up taking over your life.

As for goals, I hope my next project is one that I don’t need to rush to finish in a year or two, either for financial reasons or because of some news-peg or time-related pressure. The Panic Virus was the most rewarding experience of my professional life on almost every level — but I don’t think I could subject myself (or my family) to another year of 14+ hour days.

The other thing I’ve become passionate about is the really crucial importance of reliable, responsible, and compelling science writing — and promoting/nurturing/advancing that type of work is something I hope to be more and more involved with in the years to come.

What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?

Ask me again after our panel at the World Science Festival next week!

I think one of the most interesting aspects of science communication vis a vis the web will be how notions of accountability evolve. Obviously, social networks have allowed for a sort of hive-factchecking mechanism and in many cases seem to be forcing “mainstream” journalism to be more responsible when covering complex issues involving science — which is a wonderful thing.

I don’t think we’ve fully come to grips with the implications of the different types of “speech” that we use online. Should a scientist’s Twitter feed be held to the same level of accountability as his or her published work? Does a reporter’s personal blog reflect on the institution he or she works for? If not, why not? If I retweet something or post a link to an article/study on Facebook, does that imply that I approve of it? What’s the difference between suggesting something is being worthy of attention and that it’s worthy of respect?

All of those are issues that haven’t really been worked out, and I think that there’ll be some fireworks over the next few years as we seem them come up more and more.

How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook and others? How do you intergrate all of your online activity into a coherent whole? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?

Twitter and Facebook have been the two most instrumental tools in reaching a broader audience — more important than reviews or radio interviews. The vast majority of the events I’ve done related to my book have come about through social network contacts, starting with ScienceOnline and going through talks I’ve given in Las Vegas, Denver, LA, and San Francisco. In a time of declining book sales, it’s hard to overstate how important those interactions have been — both to spark new ways of looking at the issue and to keep people interested in my work.

That said, I need to make sure my hair-trigger, instant-gratification tendency to post every thought on Twitter or comment on every last post doesn’t end up leeching time away from the rest of my work. Time management is not one of my skills, so it’s something I need to constantly be aware of.

When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any cool science blogs by the participants at the Conference?

I first started reading science blogs in earnest in 2009, and that was related to work on my book. It was a little bit like pulling on a piece of yarn on a sweater: I’d started reading one post by one writer and eight hours later would wonder what had happened to my day. There are so many blogs by SciO11 participants that I read regularly it’d be impossible to list them all. The most direct impact here has been my joining the PLoS blog network, which happened through my contact with SciO11′er Brian Mossop…and one of the thrills of being there has been seeing my writing appear alongside that of Steve Silberman, whom I’ve been reading since the 1990s and has long been a writing hero of mine.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2011 for you? Any suggestions for next year?

Without a doubt the connections I made — socially, intellectually, professionally. I think I’d need to attend for another year before I felt competent to make suggestions about what might be done to improve it.

Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, or to your science reading and writing?

One of the most remarkable aspects of SciO11 for me was the incredible sense of support and enthusiasm and respect everyone had for each other and each other’s work. I’ve written about the media; I’ve covered politics; I’ve been a crime reporter. Most of the time, my experience has been that reporters view competition for writing jobs as a sum zero game: If someone else is succeeding, that means there’s one less opportunity for them. It’s such an entirely different dynamic when it comes to science writing.

I have various theories as to why this is, but in the end, I don’t think it really matters. There’s an enormous need for good science writing and an enormous amount of topics that need to be covered.

Thank you so much for the interview. See you next week in NYC and hopefully again in Raleigh in January.

New posts on SciAm blogs

On the Guest Blog, we are continuing our philosophical week of sorts, with: The Politics of the Null Hypothesis by Stephanie Zvan.

On the Expeditions blog: The South Pacific Islands Survey–We’re in the Cook Islands!By Lindsey Hoshaw.

Enjoy, comment, share…

Is education what journalists do?

We had a great discussion this afternoon on Twitter, about the way journalists strenuously deny they have an educational role, while everyone else sees them as essential pieces of the educational ecosystem: sources of information and explanation missing from schools, or for information that is too new for older people to have seen in school when they were young. Also as sources of judgement in disputes over facts.

While journalists strongly deny their educational role, as part of their false objectivity and ‘savvy’, everyone else perceives them as educators – people who should know and then tell, what is true and what is false, who is lying and who is not. People rely, as they cannot be in school all their lives, on the media for continuing education, especially on topics that are new. And people are then disappointed when, as usually happens, journalists fail in that role by indulging in false balance, He-Said-She-Said reporting, passionately avoiding to assign the truth-value to any statement, or self-indulgent enjoyment of their own “skill with words” in place of explaining the facts.

Fortunately for you all, you do not have to wade through all the tweets to see the entire discussion, as Adrian Ebsary has collected it all using Storify – read the whole thing (keep clicking “Load more” on the bottom of the page until you get to the end):

Informer or Educator: Defining the Journalist’s Role

As you can see, while there is some snark and oversimplification here and there due to short format, the discussion was pretty interesting and constructive. This is also a demonstration that useful discussions can be had on Twitter.

Whenever someone says “you cannot say anything in 140 characters” I respond with “who ever said that you only have 140 characters?”. To their quizzical look, I add “You are not limited to one tweet per lifetime – if you need 14,000 characters, you can write 100 tweets”. But, by writing 100 tweets, and making sure that each tweet – not just the collection of 100 – makes sense, has punch to it, and is hard to misunderstand or misquote out of context, one has to write and edit each tweet with great care. Twitter does not allow for sloppy writing!

Picking a theme for a few hours or days, and tweeting a whole lot about it during that period, is usually called ‘mindcasting‘. But it is even better when a bunch of other people join in and mindcast together – everyone learns something from the experience.

Now read the Storify and, if you have time and energy, respond with an essay on your own blog, as a continuation of the mindcasting process.

Update: And the first responses are in:

Whose Job is Public Science Education?

Are Journalists Educators? Does It Even Matter?

New posts on SciAm blogs today

Cool, new stuff…

This morning, John Wilkins penned The Evolution of Common Sense, on the Guest Blog.

Do (non-human) animals commit suicide? Mary Karmelek wonders, in Was This Gazelle’s Death an Accident or a Suicide?, on the ‘Anecdotes from the Archive’ blog.

And on the Expeditions blog, Jim Haw continues with the Problems without Passports class – The Endangered Endemics and the Aggressive Invader.

As always: read, comment, share…

There is some incredible stuff on SciAm blogs today!

First, on the Guest Blog – three posts today:

Too Hard for Science?–Journey to the Core of the Earth By Charles Q. Choi – A grapefruit-size probe could help solve mysteries right beneath our feet.

The Data Are In Regarding Satoshi Kanazawa By Khadijah Britton – A Hard Look at Last Week’s “Objective Attractiveness” Analysis in Psychology Today.

Physics and the Immortality of the Soul By Sean M. Carroll – watch the commenters squirm!

On the Expeditions blog:

The South Pacific Islands Survey–Our First Student Questions! By Lindsey Hoshaw.

And some other recent posts are getting a lot of play on Twitter and being linked elsewhere:

On Cross-Check: The Genuine Articles: Why I’m Upbeat about Science Journalism’s Future By John Horgan.

On Anecdotes from the Archive: In 1892 Live Music Was Just a Phone Call Away By Mary Karmelek.

On Bering in Mind: Sex, Sleep and the Law: When Nocturnal Genitals Pose a Moral Dilemma By Jesse Bering.

Enjoy, comment, share…

Open Laboratory 2011 – submissions so far

The submission form for the 2011 edition of Open Lab is now open. Any blog post written since December 1, 2010 is eligible for submission.

We accept essays, stories, poetry, cartoons/comics, original art.

Once you are done submitting your own posts, you can start looking at the others’, including on aggregators like ScienceSeeker.org, Scienceblogging.org and Researchblogging.org.

As I always do, I will keep posting the full list of submitted entries once a week until the deadline – see the listing under the fold.

You can buy the last five annual collections here. You can read Prefaces and Introductions to older editions here.

Help us spread the word by displaying these badges (designed by Doctor Zen:

Continue reading

Two new posts on the SciAm Expeditions blog

There are two new posts on the Expeditions blog – one yesterday, one today – both from the Problems Without Passports: Scientific Research Diving at USC Dornsife course:

First, Why Palau? by David Ginsburg, one of the instructors.

Then, Catalina Island, by Caitlin Contag, one of the students.

Enjoy, comment, share with friends…

Scientific Communication all-you-can-eat Linkfest

About a week ago, Catherine Clabby (editor at American Scientist), Anton Zuiker and I did a two-day workshop on science communication with the graduate students in the Biology Department at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC. Here are some of the things we mentioned and websites we showed during those two days.

Links shown by Anton for the personal web page session:

Official homepage of Aaron Martin Cypess, M.D., PH.D.
Stanford Medicine faculty profiles
Web Pages That Suck
Anton Zuiker (old homepage)
Biology: Faculty at Wake Forest
Official homepage of Thomas L. Ortel, MD, PhD
Official homepage of Matthew Hirschey
About.me
Joe Hanson’s About.me page
Jakob Nielsen’s Utilize Available Screen Space
Official homepage of Jacquelyn Grace
Laboratory and Video Web Site Awards
Web Style Guide

Link to the step-by-step page for creating a WordPress blog:

Simple exercises for creating your first blog

Links shown during the social media session:

Anton’s Prezi presentation
Delicious link sharing
Twitter and a tweet
Facebook – you know it, of course. Here’s the fish photo
LinkedIn
Tumblr
Posterous
Bora’s take on Tumblr and Posterous

==========================

From Cathy Clabby:

References:

Good books on writing well:

Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Write by Roy Peter Clark
On Writing Well by William K. Zinsser
Eats Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss.
The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White

Excellent articles on how to avoid gobbledygook when writing about science:

Deborah Gross and Raymond Sis. 1980. Scientific Writing: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Veterinary Radiology
George Gopen and Judith Swan. 1990 The Science of Scientific Writing. American Scientist

Web resources for good-writing advice:

Websites with smart writing advice:

Roy Peter Clark from the Poynter Institute offers these 50 “quick list” writing tools.
Purdue University’s OnLine Writing Lab
Carl Zimmer’s banned words (updated regularly on The Loom, his Blog)

You are what you read:

Newsstand magazines with excellent science writing:

The New Yorker
Discover
National Geographic
Scientific American
American Scientist
Outside

Books featuring clear, vivid science writing:

The Beak of a Finch by Jonathan Weiner
The Map that Changed the World by Simon Winchester
Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher by Lewis Thomas
Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel
The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes
The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee
The Best American Science Writing (a yearly anthology with a changing cast of guest editors)
The Best American Science and Nature Writing (another yearly anthology)

==========================

From Bora:

Workshop on conferences in the age of the Web:

How To Blog/Tweet a Conference:
How To Blog a Conference
On the challenges of conference blogging
What a difference a year makes: tweeting from Cold Spring Harbor

How to present at a conference mindful of Twitter backchatter:

How the Backchannel Has Changed the Game for Conference Panelists
On organizing and/or participating in a Conference in the age of Twitter

Icons to put on your slides and posters:

Creating a “blog-safe” icon for conference presentations: suggestions?
CameronNeylon – Slideshare: Permissions
Andy and Shirley’s new ONS Logos

A good recent blog post about the changes in the publishing industry (good links within and at the bottom):
Free Science, One Paper at a Time

Open Notebook Science:
Open Notebook Science
UsefulChem Project
Open Science: Good for Research, Good for Researchers?

A little bit of historical perspective on science, science journalism, blogging and social media (and you can endlessly follow the links within links within links within these posts):
The line between science and journalism is getting blurry….again
Why Academics Should Blog: A College of One’s Own
The Future of Science
Visualizing Enlightenment- Era Social Networks
“There are some people who don’t wait.” Robert Krulwich on the future of journalism
A Farewell to Scienceblogs: the Changing Science Blogging Ecosystem
New science blog networks mushroom to life
Science Blogging Networks: What, Why and How
Web breaks echo-chambers, or, ‘Echo-chamber’ is just a derogatory term for ‘community’ – my remarks at #AAASmtg
Is education what journalists do?
All about Stories: How to Tell Them, How They’re Changing, and What They Have to Do with Science
Telling science stories…wait, what’s a “story”?
Blogs: face the conversation
Identity – what is it really?
Books: ‘Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science’ by Michael Nielsen
#scio12: Multitudes of Sciences, Multitudes of Journalisms, and the Disappearance of the Quote.

Where to find science blogs (and perhaps submit your own blog for inclusion/aggregation):
ScienceBlogging.org
ScienceSeeker.org
ResearchBlogging.org

A blog about science blogging, especially for scientists – well worth digging through the archives:
Science of Blogging

A blog post about science that was inspired by a previous post on the same blog:
1000 posts!

A blog post about the way a previous blog post put together a researcher and a farmer into a scientific collaboration:
Every cell in a chicken has its own male or female identity
In which I set up a collaboration between a biologist, a farmer and a chimeric chicken

A blog post demonstrating how to blog about one’s own publication:
The story behind the story of my new #PLoSOne paper on “Stalking the fourth domain of life”
Comments, Notes and Ratings on: Stalking the Fourth Domain in Metagenomic Data: Searching for, Discovering, and Interpreting Novel, Deep Branches in Marker Gene Phylogenetic Trees

Another example:
Comments, Notes and Ratings on: Order in Spontaneous Behavior
Paper explained in video at SciVee.tv
Author’s blog and site. See some more buzz.

Collection of links showing how Arsenic Life paper was challenged on blogs:
#Arseniclife link collection

A blog post about a scientific paper that resulted from a hypothesis first published in a previous blog post:
Does circadian clock regulate clutch-size in birds? A question of appropriateness of the model animal.
My latest scientific paper: Extended Laying Interval of Ultimate Eggs of the Eastern Bluebird

A post with unpublished data, and how people still do not realize they can and should cite blog posts (my own posts have been cited a few times, usually by review papers):
Influence of Light Cycle on Dominance Status and Aggression in Crayfish
Circadian Rhythm of Aggression in Crayfish

Good blogs to follow the inside business of science and publishing:
Retraction Watch
Embargo Watch
DrugMonkey and DrugMonkey

Who says that only young scientists are bloggers (you probably studied from his textbook):
Sandwalk

My homepage (with links to other online spaces) and my blog:
Homepage
Blog
Twitter
Facebook

How to find me on Scientific American:
A Blog Around The Clock

Scientific American and its blogs (new blog network, with additional blogs, will launch soon) and social networks:
Scientific American homepage
Scientific American blogs
Scientific American Facebook page
Scientific American official Twitter account
Scientific American MIND on Twitter
Scientific American blogs on Twitter

Cool videos:
Fungus cannon
Octopus Ballet
The Fracking Song

Why blog?
Science Blogs Are Good For You
To blog or not to blog, not a real choice there…
Bloggers unite
Scooped by a blog
Scientists Enter the Blogosphere
“Online, Three Years Are Infinity”
Studying Scientific Discourse on the Web Using Bibliometrics: A Chemistry Blogging Case Study
The Message Reigns Over the Medium
Networking, Scholarship and Service: The Place of Science Blogging in Academia

Great series of post about scientists using blogs and social media by Christie Wilcox:

Social Media for Scientists Part 1: It’s Our Job
Social Media for Scientists Part 2: You Do Have Time.
Social Media for Scientists Part 2.5: Breaking Stereotypes
Social Media For Scientists Part 3: Win-Win

Why use Twitter?

What is Twitter and Why Scientists Need To Use It.
Twitter: What’s All the Chirping About?
Social media for science: The geologic perspective
Why Twitter can be the Next Big Thing in Scientific Collaboration
How and why scholars cite on Twitter
Researchers! Join the Twitterati! Or perish!
Twitter for Scientists
PLoS ONE on Twitter and FriendFeed

Some good Twitter lists and collections/apps:
Attendees at ScienceOnline2012
Scientific American editors, writers and contributors
SciencePond
The Tweeted Times

Some interesting Twitter hashtags:
#scio12 (chatter about ScienceOnline conference, and discussions within that community)
#scio13 (people already talking about next year’s event)
#SITT (Science In The Triangle, NC)
#madwriting (writing support community)
#wherethesciencehappens (pictures of locations where science happens)
#icanhazpdf (asking for and receiving PDFs of papers hidden behind paywalls)
#scimom – scientists and mothers and scientist-mothers.
#scienceblogging
#sciwri – science writing
#sciart – science and art
#histsci – history of science
#IamScience – a great initiative, see: original blog post, Storify, Tumblr, Kickstarter – and see the related Tumblr: This Is What A Scientist Looks Like

The Open Laboratory anthology of science blogging:
The Open Laboratory – what, how and why
The Open Laboratory at Lulu.com
The Open Laboratory 2011 updates
A couple of Big Announcements about The Open Laboratory

ScienceOnline conferences:
ScienceOnline2011
ScienceOnline2012
ScienceOnline2011 programming wiki
ScienceOnline2012 programming wiki
ScienceOnline2012 homepage
ScienceOnline2012 official blog
ScienceOnline2012 coverage blog
ScienceOnline2012 organizing wiki
ScienceOnline2012 blog and media coverage
ScienceOnline2013 organizing wiki
ScienceOnline participants’ interviews

Probably the best and most current book on science communication for scientists is ‘Explaining Research‘ by Dennis Meredith – see the book homepage and the associated blog for a wealth of additional information and updates.

Probably the best book for preparing oral (and to a smaller degree poster) presentations is Dazzle ‘Em With Style: The Art of Oral Scientific Presentation by Robert Anholt.

For posters, dig through the archives of this blog:
Better Posters

Lots of new posts on the SciAm blogs today!

Fun! Two posts on the Guest Blog and two on the Expeditions blog – something for everyone:

The South Pacific Islands Survey–5 Things You Didn’t Know about Life on a Boat by Lindsey Hoshaw.

Levees and the illusion of Flood Control [Explainer] by Anne Jefferson.

Problems without Passports: Scientific Research Diving at U.S.C. Dornsife–Why Guam? by Jim Haw.

Too Hard for Science? An Early Warning System for Killer Asteroids by Charles Q. Choi.

Read, enjoy the weekend, post comments, share on social networks…..

Addendum – more posts later in the day:

On the Guest Blog – Curing Paralysis–Again by R. Douglas Fields.

On Bering in Mind – Sex, Sleep and the Law: When Nocturnal Genitals Pose a Moral Dilemma by Jesse Bering.

And on Anecdotes from the Archive – In 1892 Live Music Was Just a Phone Call Away by Mary Karmelek.

New posts on the SciAm blogs

There are two new posts – one yesterday and one today:

On the Guest Blog, Kristina Bjoran who just graduated from the MIT Science Writing program, wrote Looking for Empathy in a Conflict-Ridden World, a nuanced look at brain imaging research.

And on the Expeditions blog, we are adding a second, simultaneous field research journey – Problems Without Passports: Scientific Research Diving at USC Dornsife – Getting Ready for Guam and Palau.

Enjoy, comment, share…

New posts on the SciAm blogs…

Two new posts today…

On the Guest Blog, Lynda Sharpe asks, wonderfully, So You Think You Know Why Animals Play…

And on the Expeditions blog, Lindsey Hoshaw writes from the middle of the ocean – The South Pacific Islands Survey–Pop Quiz.

Read, comment, share…

Cicadas, or how I Am Such A Scientist, or a demonstration of good editing

Charles Q. Choi runs a bi-weekly series on the Guest Blog over at Scienctific American – Too Hard for Science? In these posts, he asks scientists about experiments that cannot be or should not be done, for a variety of reasons, though it would be fun and informative it such experiments could get done.

For one of his posts, he interviewed me. What I came up with, inspired by the emergence of periodic cicadas in my neighborhood, was a traditional circadian experiment applied to a much longer cycle of 13 or 17 years.

Fortunetaly for me, Charles is a good editor. He took my long rant and turned it into a really nice blog post. Read his elegant version here – Too Hard for Science? Bora Zivkovic–Centuries to Solve the Secrets of Cicadas.

Now compare that to the original text I sent him, posted right here:

The scientist: Bora Zivkovic, Blog Editor at Scientific American and a chronobiologist.

The idea: Everything in living organisms cycles. Some processes repeat in miliseconds, others in seconds, minutes or hours, yet others in days, months or years. Biological cycles that are most studied and best understood by science are those that repeat approximately once a day – circadian rhythms.

One of the reasons why daily rhythms are best understood is that pioneers of the field came up with a metaphor of the ‘biological clock‘ which, in turn, prompted them to adapt oscillator theory (the stuff you learned in school about the pendulum) from physics to biology.

And while the clock metaphor sometimes breaks down, it has been a surprisingly useful and powerful idea in this line of research. Circadian researchers came up with all sorts of experimental protocols to study how daily rhythms get entrained (synchronized) to the environmental cycles (usually light-dark cycles of day and night), and how organisms use their internal clocks to measure other relevant environmental parameters, especially the changes in daylength (photoperiod) – information they use to precisely measure the time of year and thus migrate, molt or mate during an appropriate season.

These kinds of experiments – for example building Phase-Response Curves to a variety of environmental cues, or a variety of tests for photoperiodism (night-break protocol, skeleton photoperiods, resonance cycles, T-cycles, Nanda-Hamner protocol etc.) – take a long time to perform.

Each data point requires several weeks: measuring period and phase of the oscillation before and after the pulse (or a series of pulses) of an environmental cue in order to see how application of that cue at a particular phase of the cycle affects the biological rhythm (or the outcome of measuring daylength, e.g., reproductive response). It requires many data points, gathered from many individual organisms.

And all along the organisms need to be kept in constant conditions: not even the slightest fluctuations in light (usually constant darkness), temperature, air pressure, etc. are allowed.

It is not surprising that these kinds of experiments, though sometimes applied to shorter cycles (e.g., miliseconds-long brain cycles), are rarely applied to biological rhythms that are longer than a day, e.g., rhythms that evolved as adaptations to tidal, lunar and annual environmental cycles. It would take longer to do than a usual, five-year period of a grant, and some experiments may last an entire researcher’s career. Which is one of the reasons we know so little about these biological rhythms.

~~~~~~

Living out in the country, in the South, just outside Chapel Hill, NC, every day I open the door I hear the deafening and ominous-sounding noise (often described as “horror movie soundtrack) coming from the woods surrounding the neighborhood. The cicadas have emerged! The 13-year periodic cicadas, that is. Brood XIX.

I was not paying attention ahead of time, so I did not know they were slated to appear this year in my neck of the woods. One morning last week, I saw a cicada on the back porch and noticed red eyes! A rule of thumb that is easy to remember: green eyes = annual cicadas, red eyes = periodic cicadas. I got excited! I was waiting for this all my life!

Fortunately, once they emerge, cicadas are out for a few weeks, so my busy travel schedule did not prevent me from going to find them (just follow the sound) to take a few pictures and short videos.

There are three species of periodic cicadas that emerge every 17 years – Magicicada septendecim, Magicicada cassini and Magicicada septendecula. Each of these species has a ‘sister species’ that emerges every 13 years: M.tredecim, M. tredecassini and M.tredecula. A newer species split produced another 13-year species: Magicicada neotredecim. The species differ in morphology and color, while the 13 and 17-year pairs of sister species are essentially indistinguishable from each other. M.tredecim and M.neotredecim, since they appear at the same time and place, differ in the pitch of their songs: M.neotredecim sings a higher tone.

So, how do they count to 13 or 17?

While under ground, they undergo metamorphosis four times and thus go through five larval instars. The 13 and 17-year cicadas only differ in the duration of the fifth instar. They emerge simultaneously, live as adults for a few weeks, climb up the trees, sing, mate, lay eggs and die.

When the eggs hatch, the newly emerged larvae fall from the trees to the ground, dig themselves deeper down, latch onto the tree roots to feed on the sap, and wait another 13 or 17 years to emerge again.

There are a number of hypotheses (and speculations) why periodic cicadas emerge every 13 or 17 years, including some that home in on the fact that these two numbers are prime numbers (pdf).

Perhaps that is a way to fool predators which cannot evolve the same periodicity (but predators are there anyway, and will gladly gorge on these defenseless insects when they appear, whenever that is, even though it may not be so good for them). Perhaps this is a speciation mechanism, lowering the risk of hybridization between recently split sister species?

Or perhaps that is all just crude adaptationist thinking and the strangeness of the prime-number cycles is in the eye of the beholder – the humans! After all, if an insect shows up every year, it is not very exciting. Numerous species of annual cicadas do that every year and it seems to be a perfectly adaptive strategy for them. But if an insect, especially one that is so large, noisy and numerous, shows up very rarely, this is an event that will get your attention.

Perhaps our fascination with them is due to their geographic distribution. Annual cicadas may also have very long developmental times, but all of their broods are in one place, thus the insects show up every year. In periodic cicadas, different broods appear in different parts of the country, which makes their appearance rare and unusual in each geographic spot.

In any case, I am more interested in the precision of their timing than in potential adaptive explanations for it. How do they get to be so exact? Is this just a by-product of their developmental biology? Is 13 or 17 years just a simple addition of the duration of five larval stages?

Or should we consider this cycle to be an output of a “clock” (or “calendar”) of sorts? Or perhaps a result of interactions between two or more biological timepieces, similarly to photoperiodism? In which case, we should use the experimental protocols from circadian research and apply them to cicada cycles.

Finally, it is possible that a ling developmental cycle is driven by one timing mechanism, but the synchronization of emergence in the last year is driven by another, perhaps some kind of clock that may be sensitive to sound made by other insects of the same species as they start digging their way up to the surface.
The problem: In order to apply the standard experiments (like construction of a Phase-Response Curve, or T-cycles), we need to bring the cicadas into the lab. And that is really difficult to do. Husbandry has been a big problem for research on these insect, which is why almost all of it was done out in the field.

When kept in the lab, the only way to feed them is to provide them with the trees so they can drink the sap from the roots. This makes it impossible to keep them in constant conditions – trees require light and will have their own rhythms that the cicadas can potentially pick up, as timing cues, from the sap. So, the first thing we need to do is figure out a way to feed them artificially, without reliance on living trees for food.

Also, we do not know which environmental cues are relevant. Is it light cycle? Photoperiod? Or something cycling in the tree-sap? Or temperature cycles? What are the roles of developmental hormones like Juvenile Hormone or Ecdysone? We would have to test all of them simultaneously, hoping that at least one of them turns out to be the correct one.

Second, more obvious problem, is time. These experiments would last hundreds of years, perhaps thousands! Some experiments rely on outcomes of previous experiments for the proper design. Who would do them? What funding agency would finance them? Why would anyone start such experiments while knowing full well that the results would not be known within one’s lifetime? Isn’t this too tantalizing for a scientist’s curiosity?

The solution? One obvious solution is to figure out ways to get to the same answers in shorter time-frames. Perhaps by sequencing the genome and figuring out what each gene does (perhaps by looking at equivalents in other species, like fruitflies, or inserting them into Drosophila and observing their effects), hoping to find out the way timing is regulated. This will probably not answer all our questions, but may be good enough.

Another way is to set aside space and funding for such experiments and place them into an unusual administrative framework – a longitudinal study guided by an organization, not a single researcher getting a grant to do this in his or her lab. This way the work will probably get done, and the papers will get published somewhere around 2835 A.D.

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See? How long and complex my text is? Now go back to the post by Charles to see again how nicely he edited the story.

New posts on the SciAm blogs

Two new posts today.

On Expeditions blog, Lindsey Hoshaw continues the daily dispatches, now with first research findings – The South Pacific Islands Survey–We discover what’s floating in the Pacific Ocean!

And on the Guest Blog, Charles Choi interviewed me – Too Hard for Science? Bora Zivkovic–Centuries to Solve the Secrets of Cicadas

Read, enjoy, comment and share…

ScienceOnline2011 – interview with Holly Bik

Continuing with the tradition from last three years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2011 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January 2011. See all the interviews in this series here.

Today I chat with Holly Bik (blog, Twitter):

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?

Geographically I’m based at the University of New Hampshire, but mentally I’m always in the city – I love the urban lifestyle because it makes me happy, and ironically I’m now living in the rural land of North Face clothing and Crocs. I’m one of those scientist bloggers, currently working as a postdoc with sights on academia. My background is nematode taxonomy and molecular phylogenetics, but now I’m turning into a computational biologist because of the way my field is moving. I hear myself talk about servers and CPUs nowadays, and I think “Who IS this person?!”

Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?

I’m born and bred American, but after graduating high school I moved to London to complete my Bachelor’s degree and then Ph.D. I did my doctoral research at the Natural History Museum, London – the NHM is such a fantastic institution, and it was there that I really got hooked on science communication. I often participated in “Nature Live” meet-a-scientist events run for the general public (inevitably I would be talking about nematode worms and someone would ask me a question about Finding Nemo). One of the highlights of my career so far was participating in a 6-week scientific research cruise to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge in 2009.

What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?

Research! I absolutely love the field I’m in – ‘eukaryotic metagenetics’ – we’re using cutting-edge DNA sequencing technologies (datasets containing millions of sequences) to look at species ‘barcodes’ and study microscopic eukaryote communities in marine sediments. I thought that my schedule would calm down after I finished my Ph.D., but now I’m ten times as busy as a postdoc (they don’t tell you this in grad school). Instead of working on one, focused project with a finite end goal, as a postdoc I am now spread across four or five projects, writing grants, travelling to meet collaborators, and in constant demand from students. And then trying to fit in some science communication on the side. I wish I was a vampire so I didn’t need to sleep.

What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?

I’m really passionate about dispelling the stereotype of the old and stuffy scientist, and I think that reaching out to a younger, tech-savvy generation is a very powerful approach for mustering up excitement towards science. Our 21st century lives are built on scientific knowledge. Yet technology is now so commonplace that it is easy to forget about the hunter-gatherer human species living on the savannah a few short Millennia ago. Science is testament to the awesomeness of human brainpower – everyone can be a scientist, because everyone has the innate cognitive ability to think logically. Society gives us the perception that science and math are so hard, but they really aren’t – scientists are trained to do their job, just like anyone else. I think practicing law and being a plumber are hard, but that’s because I was never trained to do either.

How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook and others? How do you intergrate all of your online activity into a coherent whole? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?

Blogging is something I do outside the lab, on my own time, because I think it is vitally important to communicate why and how we scientists do research. I could just as easily sit in my Ivory Tower and only talk to other scientists (and on the academic track, focusing only on your research is often necessary and encouraged). As for integrating online activity…I’m still pretty new to this, so sometimes I find that the barrage of information is just too much; you almost get sucked into this desperate urge to keep up – blog more, tweet more, blog first, tweet first. As I’m getting used to the online science community, I’m taking the attitude that more infrequent, but quality, posts leave me the most satisfied and don’t interfere too much with my Postdoc responsibilities. I’ve really enjoyed joining the online science community, and everyone I speak to is always so supportive.

When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any cool science blogs by the participants at the Conference?

I first discovered science blogs a few years ago when I googled “hot scientist shoes” – Dr. Isis’s blog came up as one of the top hits (try it!) and I remember bookmarking the site immediately and being stunned that actual scientists maintain blogs. From then on I only read a couple blogs very intermittently – then I met Dr. M at the Deep-sea Symposium in Iceland last year, was amalgamated into the DSN crew, and the rest became history. I discovered the concept of blog networks at the conference, so I’m having fun exploring them all and learning about the different bloggers.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2011 for you? Any suggestions for next year?

The microbrew beers! (I’m a marine scientist, I had to say that…) The diverse program of topics was really great, and the passionate, interactive discussions in some sessions were fabulous. For me, the best aspect was being immersed in this whole other world–science journalism and media–that I’m keenly interested in yet separated from because of my day job as a researcher.

Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, or to your science reading and writing?

Oh boy, if I typed down everything here I’d have carpal tunnel by the end. I learned some tricks journalists use to get scientists to loosen up (“ask them about a personal item in their office…”). I guess I never really thought about it before, but science is all about the story; I knew this beforehand, but hearing it repeated over and over at ScienceOnline really brought it to the front of my mind. Now whenever I sit down to write something (whether scientific manuscript or blog post), I always ask myself “What is the plot?” and write a succinct summary sentence to use as a guide. I am also more focused on my own writing process – playing with literary devices to improve my style and really suck in readers.

Thank you so much for the interview. I hope you I’ll see you again next year.

Open Laboratory 2011 – submissions so far

The submission form for the 2011 edition of Open Lab is now open. Any blog post written since December 1, 2010 is eligible for submission.

We accept essays, stories, poetry, cartoons/comics, original art.

Once you are done submitting your own posts, you can start looking at the others’, including on aggregators like ScienceSeeker.org, Scienceblogging.org and Researchblogging.org.

As I always do, I will keep posting the full list of submitted entries once a week until the deadline – see the listing under the fold.

You can buy the last five annual collections here. You can read Prefaces and Introductions to older editions here.

Help us spread the word by displaying these badges (designed by Doctor Zen:

Continue reading

Cicadas, Brood XIX, northern Chatham Co, NC [Videos]



On SciAm blogs yesterday

Back from Winston-Salem, sorry for the delay in posting these…

On the Guest Blog, Charles Choi is having some humorous fun – Too Hard for Science? Freeman Dyson–ESP.

And on Expeditions blog, recovered from sea sickness, Lindsey Hoshaw and the crew are starting to do research – The South Pacific Islands Survey–South Pacific Flotsam.

Read, comment, share…

Two new posts on the SciAm blogs today

There is a new post on the Scientific American Guest Blog today:

Flying in the Coffin Corner–Air France Flight 447 by Keith Eric Grant.

Also, on the Expeditions blog, Lindsey Hoshaw continues her dispatches – The South Pacific Islands Survey–Forecast: Stomach Turbulence

Read, comment, share….

New on the SciAm Guest Blog

Today on the SciAm Guest Blog – Bedbug Revival 2011: What You Need to Know by Amy Maxmen.

Read, comment, share…

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American Scientist Pizza Lunch: how bird calls accomplish more than you might think

Before we take a break for the summer, join us for one more Pizza Lunch talk.

At noon on Tuesday, May 24, come hear biologist Kendra Sewall discuss how bird calls accomplish more than you might think. A postdoctoral researcher in Steve Nowicki’s lab at Duke, Sewall studies how the calls serve as badges of social identity.

Thanks to a grant from the N.C. Biotechnology Center, American Scientist Pizza Lunch is free and open to science journalists and science communicators of all stripes. Feel free to forward this message to anyone who might want to attend. RSVPs are required (for the slice count) to cclabby@amsci.org

Directions to Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society in RTP, are here.

Today at Scientific American

I would be remiss if I did not proudly announce that Scientific American received the 2011 National Magazine Award (so-called ‘Ellies’) for general excellence. If I understand correctly, SciAm never won one of these, and was not even nominated in the past 27 years. This year, out of two nominations, we won one. The excitement in the office, even from the telecommuting distance, is palpable.

This is a great time to be working at SciAm – a fantastic team, with a fantastic leader, with vision and courage to always experiment and explore the new media ecosystem.

Now, as I understand the way it works, the Award has to be given to a particular issue or set of issues of a print magazine. I think SciAm won this for its September, November and December issues of 2010 (after the redesign of the print magazine). But the strength of the organization is not just in the print magazine, but in all sorts of things that are pulled together and feed back on each other – the fantastic website, the print (and online) magazine, the sister-publication SciAm MIND, the international editions, the popular multimedia (especially podcasts), the blogs (more to come), explainers, in-depth reports, the 166-years of archives (just added 1910-1947 to the archive collection – all of it will be available soon), iPhone and iPad apps, special editions and books, the education efforts, including the citizen science and Bring Science Home projects, involvement in offline events and projects, and vigorous participation by everyone in the social media.

Now, back to regular programming….

On the Expeditions blog, we say goodbye to the Catlin Arctic Survey – Going home – and say hello to the new field trip – The South Pacific Islands Survey – Destination: The Cook Islands! – dispatches from the garbage patch by
Lindsey Hoshaw.

On the Guest Blog, a new post by Diana Gitig: When, and Why, Did Everyone Stop Eating Gluten?

And, since I was traveling and could not post this, you may have missed two of Charles Choi’s posts – Too Hard for Science? Simulating the Human Brain and Too Hard for Science? Dean Kamen–Defying Gravity

Read, enjoy, comment and share….

Open Laboratory 2011 – submissions so far

The submission form for the 2011 edition of Open Lab is now open. Any blog post written since December 1, 2010 is eligible for submission.

We accept essays, stories, poetry, cartoons/comics, original art.

Once you are done submitting your own posts, you can start looking at the others’, including on aggregators like ScienceSeeker.org, Scienceblogging.org and Researchblogging.org.

As I always do, I will keep posting the full list of submitted entries once a week until the deadline – see the listing under the fold.

You can buy the last five annual collections here. You can read Prefaces and Introductions to older editions here.

Help us spread the word by displaying these badges (designed by Doctor Zen:

Continue reading

ScienceOnline2011 – interview with Pascale Lane

Continuing with the tradition from last three years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2011 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January 2011. See all the interviews in this series here.

Today I chat with Pascale Lane (blog 1, blog 2, Twitter).

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?

Geographically I am a child of fly-over country. I grew up in Missouri, trained in Chicago and Minnesota, and have held faculty positions in St. Louis and Omaha. My family will be relocating to Oklahoma this fall.

I trained first as a medical doctor, with training as a pediatric nephrologist (kidney specialist). I caught the research bug during fellowship, and I have pursued this direction in my career ever since.

Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?

My career direction changed in 2008 when the American Society of Nephrology hired me to edit a brand-new magazine, ASN Kidney News. Up to that time, I read an occasional blog post, but never embedded myself in social media. As part of our media endeavor, I knew we needed more online presence, especially interactive Web 2.0 stuff. I started a blog, signed up for Facebook, and began tweeting. Now I have personal accounts, magazine accounts, and a new online media project, AWEnow.org.

What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?

In addition to my online activities, I am changing my career direction. My “hobby” for the last decade has been faculty development. Both MDs and PhDs become faculty members at medical colleges without strong teaching or administrative skills. Some clinicians lack writing skills. Most medical centers must help faculty become more proficient in these areas, and other skills often need ongoing improvement. For example, I helped develop a writing workshop at Nebraska that has drawn in more than 100 participants for 3 years in a row. My new job in Oklahoma will include 1/3 of my time as Associate Dean for Faculty Development. I plan to organize comprehensive support for all career activities, as well as doing research on what actually works.

What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?

The web serves up a lot of bad information. I feel we should counter it with the truth, and make real science and medicine available in an accessible manner to anyone who wants to read it. I also love learning about all science. Since I started in social media, I read a wider variety of science and information.

How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook and others? How do you intergrate all of your online activity into a coherent whole? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?

Blogging started as part of a paid job, editing ASN KIdney News, and social media goes along with it. I run TweetDeck on my computer to follow accounts and activity during the day, and my BlackBerry and iPad let me track things on the hoof. I can turn the gizmos off (like during leisure activities or when I’m seeing patients). I am finding that a lot of organizations, including academic health centers, have no idea where to begin with all of these new activities. My social media skills have become a bonus rather than a detriment, as I seek out new opportunities.

When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any cool science blogs by the participants at the Conference?

I recently served on the Animal Care and Experimentation Committee for the American Physiological Society. A couple of years back, they sent around a post by Dr. Isis on the importance of the IACUC for the investigator. I browsed through some of her other posts, and discovered another woman out there who loved biomedical science and shoes! As I became involved in that blog, after a very brief period of lurking, I made other connections in this portion of the blogosphere/twitterverse. Now I am part of the Scientopia group. At the conference, I was shocked to discover a like-minded blogger at the Lincoln campus of University of Nebraska, Kiyomi Deards. Less than an hour away, and I had not heard about her!

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2011 for you? Any suggestions for next year?

Meeting online friends in the flesh was clearly the best part of ScienceOnline. And the free books. Anyone who sends me a pre-publication book will get a read and review. I read fast, and I have fairly broad interests. In that way, I am the perfect book reviewer!

Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, or to your science reading and writing?

So much happened at Science Online… In my “real life” almost no one else I know has the passion for writing that I do, along with the science thing. I felt like the mother ship had called me home, with all of these similar-interest alien beings. I do remember a number of speakers suggesting that online activities would get little attention until tenured full professors put them on their CV, so I did. My blogs are now part of my “permanent record.”

I’m still working on making a Prezi of my CV. Getting a house ready to sell has slowed me down a bit. Anyone out there looking for a home in Omaha?

Thank you so much for the interview. I hope you can come again next year.

New Osama-related posts on the SciAm Guest Blog

There are two new posts on the Scientific American Guest Blog, one posted last night, the other one just a few minutes ago, both related to the science behind the capture and death of Osama bin Laden:

Threat of Future Cyber Attacks by Al Qaeda Remains Low by Scott Borg.

Did Rapid DNA Analysis Verify Osama Bin Laden’s Death? by Susanna Speier.

Read, comment, share…

ScienceOnline2011 – interview with Thomas Peterson

Continuing with the tradition from last three years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2011 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January 2011. See all the interviews in this series here.

Today I chat with Thomas Peterson, research meteorologist at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, NC.

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?

After obtaining a B.S. from the University of Wisconsin – Madison, my wife and I moved to a small town not far from there where I worked in a hospital as a respiratory therapy technician. Ten years later after being laid off from the hospital and working a variety of odd jobs such as picking apples and writing a book published by Prentice Hall, we moved to Fort Collins, CO where I enrolled in Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University obtaining M.S. in cloud microphysics and Ph.D. in satellite climatology. While I thought satellite data were the wave of the future, my career turned out focusing on historical weather station data. Currently I am the Chief Scientist at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, NC.

Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?

I started out my professional career leading the effort to create NOAA’s century-scale land surface climate data set which is now used by NOAA and NASA to help monitor global temperatures. My early years were spent focusing on science on the data, such as how to detect artificial biases in the data and remove them. Later I moved on to science with the data, such as assessing how the global climate has changed. The expertise I gained during this process got me invited to participate in a variety of fascinating international activities, such as Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?

While I still have some time to conduct original research, I now spend most of my time consulting and coordinating on a wide variety of projects. In February 2010, I was elected President of the World Meteorological Organization’s Commission for Climatology which means I also lead the activities of over 200 volunteers from 54 countries. An example of this work that really excites me is holding regional climate change workshops where we bring in a few world-recognized experts along with scientists from about a dozen neighboring countries, guide the local scientists in applying quality control to the daily data they brought and then teach them how to assess how extremes are changing in their countries. These workshops help us both understand global climate change better and educate scientists around the world.

What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?

My professional grandfather (my Ph.D. advisor’s Ph.D. advisor) famously said that to make sense out of satellite data was like trying “to get a drink from a fire hydrant.” That same analogy can be applied to making sense out of information that is available on the web. Rather than adding my few few drops to this deluge, I mainly communicate the old fashioned way by giving talks to lay and professional audiences.

How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook and others? How do you intergrate all of your online activity into a coherent whole? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?

I admire those who have time and energy to blog sound scientific information and respond to the comments they get. It seems a lot like teaching. I once considered a career in teaching but determined I had enough patience to be a good teacher or to be a good father, but not both. Now I don’t think I have enough patience for either. But as the head of an organization that depends on the dedication of its hundreds of volunteers, I realize the importance of keeping the volunteers engaged. Towards that end, the Vice President of the Commission for Climatology, Serhat Sensoy from Turkey, has created a Facebook page for us. Under Serhat’s tutelage, I am slowly moving into the use of social media to keep a community informed.

When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favorites? Have you discovered any cool science blogs by the participants at the Conference?

My earliest memories of blogs were those that attacked me and my work. It is a strange experience to, for example, dedicate years of your life improving the availability of global climate data and then be accused of deleting data. As a counterpoint, though, I do appreciate several humorous science blog posts that both accurately address the science and at times provide insights that resonate with my experiences all too well, such as “1) Any errors, however inconsequential, will be taken Very Seriously and accusations of fraud will be made. 2) If you adjust the raw data we will accuse you of fraudulently fiddling the figures whilst cooking the books. 3) If you don’t adjust the raw data we will accuse you of fraudulently failing to account for station biases and UHI [Urban Heat Island]. 4) . . .”

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2011 for you? Any suggestions for next year?

The interactions. While the talks were fascinating, the questions and answers were more so.

Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, or to your science reading and writing?

During my talk at ScienceOnline2011, I mentioned that after speaking before a subcommittee of Congress, a Congressman took us aside and told us that climate scientists are in a knife fight and we need to fight back. Our response to him was yes but the way scientists fight back is to do more sound peer-reviewed science. One person at the meeting tweeted a brief reference to me saying ”knife fight” and soon a blogger who was not at ScienceOnline2011 was taking me to task for my attitude and for using such harsh rhetoric. As a result of experiences like that, I’ve noticed in myself as well as colleagues an increasing concern for structuring sentence fragments in papers so they would be less susceptible to being taken out of context and misinterpreted. Unfortunately, this hampers effective communication complex concepts.

Thank you so much for the interview. I hope you can come again next year.

Three major themes, and a gazzillion new blog posts at Scientific American: Osama, floating duckies, and citizen science

This was an incredibly busy day on Scientific American website! And I was offline most of the time, in flight to Boston, praising the technology that lets us schedule blog posts in advance.

First, take a look at a redesigned homepage. Like?

There were at least three big themes on the site today….

First, the news of the death of Osama bin Laden prompted us to take a look at the scientific angles to the story. You can see the collection of articles in our In-Depth Report: Osama bin Laden: The Science of His End. Included in the collection are some articles from the archives, but also several new ones:

How Do You ID a Dead Osama? By Christie Wilcox.

Off the Grid: A High Tech Military Deployed the Ancient Art of Stealth to Capture Their Man By Gary Stix.

Bin Laden’s Death Might Not Pose a New Threat By Fred Guterl.

How Biometrics Helped to Identify the Master Terrorist By Christine Gorman.

Appointment in Abbottabad podcast by Steve Mirsky.

The second big theme of the day is the new Education page and the new Citizen Science program at Scientific American:

Welcome to Scientific American’s Citizen Science Initiative! By Larry Greenemeier.

Welcome to ‘Bring Science Home’ by Katherine Harmon.

It’s a Solid… It’s a Liquid… It’s Oobleck! by Katherine Harmon.

Kids Learn Better When You Bring Science Home By Peggy Ashbrook.

The third big theme of the day are ocean currents and what we learned about them by tracking (often through citizen scientists) floating plastic toys:

Slabs, Sneakers, Gyres and the Grotesque by Matthew Garcia.

Overboard: 28,000 toys and one man, lost at sea by Lindsey Hoshaw.

A True Duck Hunt: interview with Donovan Hohn by David Manly.

How Does a Floating Plastic Duckie End Up Where It Does? By Eric Heupel.

Finally, our twice-a-week topic is back again today, bringing the number of posts on the Guest Blog up to seven, the record number for a single day: Too Hard For Science? Recreating What Killed Pompeii by Charles Choi.

As always: read, enjoy, comment, share…

ScienceOnline2011 – interview with Robin Lloyd

Continuing with the tradition from last three years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2011 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January 2011. See all the interviews in this series here.

Today I chat with Robin Lloyd (Twitter), editor of Scientific American Online and thus a colleague I work with closely every day.

Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?

I’m a sociologist who left academia and fell into science writing as a second career via a stint as a temporary receptionist at a news wire service in Los Angeles. My boss at that job learned that I had a Ph.D. and figured I might be able to fill-in for the woman who wrote a daily list for clients of the next day’s press conferences. She had carpal tunnel syndrome and never came back. After a couple years of doing her job, answering phones, making coffee and photocopies, and learning how to write simple, useful sentences, I asked for and grudgingly was given a real newsroom job.

My editors sneered at my academic background (probably, rightly so) and figured they could punish me by handing off all science stories to me, ranging from physics to economics findings, daring me to understand them because I had a Ph.D. in something or other. So I started this science writing phase in general assignment journalism (cops, courts, celebrities, city councils, school boards, bird ladies and barbershops) before I got to cover science much of the time.

Then I received a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship at MIT and became CNN.com’s science writer in 1999, which I soon ditched to become Employee No. 35 at Lou Dobbs’ Space.com. To survive the dot-com crash, I fled after a couple years to a good media relations job that allowed me to learn and write about paleontology, biodiversity and systematic biology at a world class natural history museum for five years; then I got back into full-time science journalism at an online-only network of science web sites where I’d been moonlighting while at the museum. Now I’m on the news editor on web side of things at Scientific American. I’ve been very fortunate.

My favorite project lately is a feature I wrote for Scientific American on mobile phone-enabled socio-economic programs designed to advance the well-being of women and youths in the developing world. I could write about robotic space probes and fossils all day, but I really enjoy my job–editing daily online science news and features for Scientific American.

My goal is to be helpful, advance science communications and rational thinking, promote peace and harmony, take care of my boyfriend, cats and worms (composting), paint the kitchen and organize the basement.

What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?

Blogging, clear writing, Twitter.

How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? Do you find all this online activity to be a necessity in what you do?

I blog occasionally for Scientific American and I think of blogs I’d like to start all the time but I’m consumed these days with editing others’ work. I find Donna Haraway’s, Neal Stephenson’s and John Varley’s concepts of cyborgs helpful in integrating my online activity into a coherent whole. I use Twitter every day, usually for at least an hour total. It’s invaluable. Facebook is becoming a mini-Twitter for me, less of a social network, more informational.

When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any cool science blogs by the participants at the Conference?

The first science blog I paid much attention to was John Hawks’ blog. My favorite blog is Polite Dissent’s Medical Reviews of “House”.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2011 for you?

The best aspect of Scio11 was meeting science bloggers in person who I’d been following on Twitter and learning that not all non-scientist bloggers want to be journalists. I gained a lot of respect for science blogging and its diversity, and I made new friends. I think the conference was very smartly organized — not sure I can think of how to improve it. No plastic bottles?

Thank you so much for the interview. I’ll see you next time I am up in the office!

Open Laboratory 2011 – submissions so far

The submission form for the 2011 edition of Open Lab is now open. Any blog post written since December 1, 2010 is eligible for submission.

We accept essays, stories, poetry, cartoons/comics, original art.

Once you are done submitting your own posts, you can start looking at the others’, including on aggregators like ScienceSeeker.org, Scienceblogging.org and Researchblogging.org.

As I always do, I will keep posting the full list of submitted entries once a week until the deadline – see the listing under the fold.

You can buy the last five annual collections here. You can read Prefaces and Introductions to older editions here.

Help us spread the word by displaying these badges (designed by Doctor Zen:

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Best of April 2011

I posted only 25 times in April.

The big news of the month is that The Open Laboratory project has a new publisher and a new guest editor.

April was not as busy month travel-wise as March (or upcoming May), but I did go to NYC once, and packed the two days with lots of work and fun which, among else, resulted in a new blog post at SciAm: Giant Dino exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History, or, why I should not be a photojournalist.

I keep interviewing attendees of ScienceOnline – there are two new ones this month: Dave Mosher and Alice Bell. More to come tomorrow…

I made sure that the Scientific American Guest Blog was busy all month as well, full of great posts on a diversity of topics – check them all out:

Under-represented and underserved: Why minority role models matter in STEM By Danielle N. Lee

Too Hard for Science?: Making astronauts with printers By Charles Q. Choi

What’s the deal with male circumcision and female cervical cancer? By Michelle Clement

Short Story Science: Lenina versus the Pneumococcus By Cindy Doran

World Health Day: Combat Drug Resistance By Gozde Zorlu

Radiation levels explained: An exposure infographic By Lena Groeger

Dear chemists By David Ropeik

Too Hard for Science?: The sense of meaning in dreams By Charles Q. Choi

Bambi or Bessie: Are wild animals happier? By Christie Wilcox

Regeneration: The axolotl story By David Manly

Too Hard for Science? The adventures of a biomolecule in a cell By Charles Q. Choi

Blaming parents: What I’ve learned and unlearned as a child psychiatrist By Justine Larson

Too Hard for Science? Creating naked singularities By Charles Q. Choi

Seafood At Risk: Dispersed Oil Poses a Long-Term Threat By Allie Wilkinson

Should everyone have access to life saving medicines? By David Ng

Trains, nukes, marriage, and vaccines (and anything else): Why the facts don’t matter By David Ropeik.

Too Hard for Science? Philip Zimbardo–creating millions of heroes By Charles Q. Choi.

Too Hard for Science? A digital panopticon By Charles Q. Choi.

Man discovers a new life-form at a South African truck stop By Rob Dunn.

Superfetation: Pregnant while already pregnant By Khalil A. Cassimally.

Animal Emotion: When Objectivity Fails By Kristina Bjoran.

Too Hard For Science? David Brin – Raising Animals to Human Levels of Intelligence By Charles Q. Choi.

And we continued the Arctic series on the Expeditions blog: The Catlin Arctic Survey: The science, The Catlin Arctic Survey: Thermohaline circulation, The Catlin Arctic Survey: A melting ocean by Victoria Hill.

Previously in the “Best of…” series:

2011

March
February
January

2010

December
November
October
September
August
July
June
May
April
March
February
January

2009

December
November
October
September
August
July
June
May
April
March
February
January