Category Archives: ScienceOnline2011 Interviews

ScienceOnline2011 – interview with John Hawks

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 John Hawks (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’ve been based in Madison for nine years, at the University of Wisconsin. I was born and raised in Norton, Kansas – a small, rural town halfway between Kansas City and Denver. I loved science when I was a kid, but it really wasn’t until I was halfway through college that I realized that I could be a scientist. I started as an English and French major, but I gradually made my way into anthropology.

I’ve taught evolution in Kansas, Michigan, Utah, and Wisconsin. Kansas gets a bad rap on this. Speaking from experience, the Kansas kids are the best. There’s a real sense in which a practical knowledge of animals and plants helps give a background for understanding evolutionary changes. This is how Darwin came up with the idea in the first place, after all. I really think that people who know animal breeding on an intuitive level are already primed to understand natural selection, and kids in rural Kansas (and rural Wisconsin) have that background.

Teachers need the resources to show these kids the human fossil record, and exercises to pull them into 21st century genetics. Why do we make kids sit four or five times through the same boring stuff about Mendel, when you can run a genome browser on any computer?

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

I began my career working with fossil hominins, and still do a lot of work with skeletal collections. Early on, I realized that genetics really had the potential to become a much more important source of evidence about the past, and I taught myself genetics.

I was telling someone the other day that I’m an anthropologist because it’s those questions about our evolution that always guide what I do. I’ve published on the whole range of our evolutionary history: the earliest hominins and the timing of the human-chimpanzee divergence, the origin of Homo, the Neandertals, late Homo erectus and the origin of modern humans, and the very recent part of our evolution in the last few thousand years.

A few years ago my friend Greg Cochran and I reasoned that natural selection in humans ought to have become much stronger and faster in the recent past, because the human population really grew rapidly in size after we developed agriculture. That realization led us to some really interesting work on the recent evolution of human populations. People have been evolving in all kinds of interesting ways, and understanding that history may help us to identify the genes that make a difference in human variations and diseases.

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

My students and I are working with archaic human genomes from several Neandertals from Europe, and one from a site called Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains. This week I’m flying to Novosibirsk to travel out to the site. Denisova is fascinating because it’s a mystery: a population that we didn’t suspect existed from fossils alone, but for which we now have a complete genome. In some ways the problem of modern human origins has been solved. What’s exciting is that we’re discovering things about ancient humans that are not evident from their bones — things about immunity, muscle, the digestive system, and potentially the brain.

To my mind, the central problem in human evolution right now is the origin of our genus, Homo. I’ve been working on this question from a genetic perspective, and it’s also a very exciting moment in the fossil and archaeological records with new discoveries in South Africa and the Republic of Georgia. Over the next two years I will be directing a lot of effort to this problem and I expect that our view two years from now will be pretty different from today.

Stories about fossil hominins engage me, and I use genetics to add detail to them. We have the power now to find out things that nobody ever knew about our ancestors — and I just love figuring out how.

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

The primary data of human genetics are more than ever available for free to the public. There is no barrier keeping high school students from doing the same kind of work on the Neandertal genome that my graduate students are doing today. I’m running a public forum this summer on personal genomes, and I can give the participants all the websites and software that we use to analyze genomes, because they’re all available for free to anyone. I find that tremendously empowering.

At the same time, I’ve gotten to a point in science where I’m often part of conversations that are more restricted, more closed. And it’s frustrating. I look at the web as a way to broaden our conversations, to bring in people who have knowledge and skills. I’m interested in more open scientific meetings, where being in the room isn’t a prerequisite to effective participation.

Streaming, live-tweeting and live-blogging are very important to me as ways to broaden the audience of scientific meetings. I am excited by ways of digitally archiving conversations and meetings, and sending those out to different levels. Why shouldn’t scientific meetings have a K-12 feed going out from them for students to follow? Why don’t we exploit the opportunity, when we have a thousand scientists together, to create content that can go out to the public in some compelling way?

I’m inspired by people who find ways to share new ideas. Paleoanthropology is a field where top researchers still get away with hiding their data from scrutiny. That culture has to change. Science means that others must be able to confirm observations independently. The web has made it possible to share data on a wide scale — as we see today in genetics, astronomy, and other data-intensive fields. The human fossil record is a drop in the bucket compared to the data that will be collected every night by the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope. And those astronomical data will all be open. What is stopping us from making the human fossil record available to schoolkids all over the world?

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?

My blog is my scientific memory. I really mean that, and I’ll explain why.

Several years ago I decided to commit to using a content management system, and I started using a series of Perl scripts to translate content from plain text files and present it as XHTML. For five years I ran everything that way off my own server with a simple versioning system: Published and unpublished files differ by a single letter in the file extension, the whole thing was updated across several computers and the server by rsync. It’s a beautiful system (at least, at small scale) and it meant that I could seamlessly present myself with a different blog than the public.

I wanted to structure my own notes, build an argument, maintain references consistently across multiple posts, and reuse material in scientific papers as I needed. I write 1 or two long posts every day, and maybe five or six short ones. I share the things I think are worth sharing, or are ready to share, which is really one or two short posts a day and a long post every 3 or 4 days. My computer is full of stuff I don’t publish. A lot ends up in scientific papers, some of it just serves as background for later work, and all of it makes up my structured, organized databank of knowledge about human evolution. My memory. I search this body of writing when I start thinking about how to address a new topic, and more often than not I’ve already written something relevant, giving me a place to start and build new material.

Twitter is like ham radio. I keep up with my faraway friends and meet new people, and a whole crew of folks around the world may be listening in. Yesterday I was carrying on a conversation about leprosy — you’ll see that on my blog maybe weeks from now.

There are certain people who just make me smile when they update.

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?

When journalists started to realize that science blogs were a phenomenon, in 2005 or so, I’d been going for a while and had pretty good traffic, so I was ranked right up there on the lists of science blogs to read. I’m really gratified that my readership has grown continuously since then.

I have some great favorites that I’ve read from the start, or at least for several years. Razib Khan, Mo Costandi, Sabine Hossenfelder, Michael Eisen, Alex Golub, Daniel MacArthur. Genomes Unzipped is just full of compelling stuff, and they’re sharing data and tools along with writing about genetic testing.

I feel sad when people stop writing. There have been all these genetics grad students and postdocs over the years who wrote pseudonymously, and who mostly stopped when they got tenure-track jobs. Grant applications kill creativity.

In the last couple of years I’ve seen a tremendous growth in biological anthropology and archaeology blogs and social networks. For a long time I felt really lonely, and now I find I’m not so much the hepcat anymore. Right now, it’s Kristina Killgrove, Julienne Rutherford, and Kate Clancy in biological anthropology, Julien Riel-Salvatore and Colleen Morgan in archaeology, who really impress me.

I follow the Scientopia feed and just admire the energy of the bloggers on that network. I feel like many of the young, exciting bloggers are embedded within their school or professional networks more than “science blogging” as a category. I think we need some more ways to draw good people across disciplines. I was telling somebody the other day that the Scientific American guest blog has become the place to be seen.

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

I’m organizing a conference and I want it to be just like ScienceOnline. I’ve never been to an event that made it so natural to establish lasting contacts with people, to talk about common issues across scientific disciplines, to expand the conversation outside the room.

The challenge is to raise the bar. At a given moment, the people in the room may be the most engaged, but they’re only the crest of a much larger wave moving science communication forward. How do we connect the energy with patrons who want this to happen?

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?

Some moments I will never forget.

Thank you so much for the interview. I hope to see you again here next January!

ScienceOnline2011 – interview with Bonnie Swoger

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 Bonnie Swoger (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 am a science librarian at a small public liberal arts college in central New York. I started out as a geologist, completing a masters degree without really knowing what I wanted to do with it. I spent a few years teaching introductory geology before realizing that what I was really interested in was how scientists communicate with each other. Through the eyes of my students, I was able to see that this world of scientific communication (which I took for granted) was difficult for some of them to access and understand. I decided that I could help students navigate this world as a librarian.

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

My regular work day consists of answering reference questions (most of the science-related ones come my way), teaching undergraduate students about the nature of the scientific literature (and how to access it) and working with faculty. At the moment, I am exploring ways of convincing faculty who are not immersed in science blogs and other “new” forms of scientific communication to pay attention to these developments. In turn, I work with these faculty to teach their students about how scientists communicate – including traditional methods and new-fangled technologies.

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

I am very interested in the slowly changing nature of peer review (open review, post publication review, etc.). Most researchers still rely (and teach their students to rely) on the traditional system. They are very wary of some of the new experiments. I would like to see faculty be open to these developments so that they can teach their students about them. The peer review system will change – it isn’t set in stone – and it may get more complicated for undergraduate students to recognize “quality” work. At the moment, they typically have one litmus test – peer review. Even though that test isn’t failsafe, it’s easy to apply. As the peer review system changes, professors will have to educate their students on how things work. I think that librarians can be a useful partner in this education.

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 discovered science blogs prior to my career switch, when I was teaching geology. The discussions about “Web 2.0″ and “Science 2.0″ were part of what encouraged me to pursue librarianship – I wanted to help students learn about these new developments. I am especially fond of the thoughtful blogs written by some outstanding science librarians Christina Pikas and John Dupuis, both of whom are ScienceOnline participants.

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 started blogging about two years ago, just after I got involved with Twitter. For me, the blog forces me to think through various issues that arise in scholarly communication, publishing and education. I can also reach out to science faculty in my quest to convince them to spend time teaching their students about scientific communication – don’t assume they just pick it up as they go. Twitter has become a very important source of professional development for me, as well as introduced me to some wonderful colleagues. Although there aren’t a lot of faculty at my institution who use it, I can follow practicing scientists and keep up with publishing trends. I learn about a lot of new resources and developing news stories via Twitter, often making me the most informed person in the room regarding scholarly communication.

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

My favorite aspect of this conference is the diverse group of folks who attend. Scientists, teaching faculty, journalists and librarians rarely sit down and talk about how scientists communicate with one another. It allows each group to gain a better understanding of the processes, strengths and limitations of the other groups. Because I concentrate on undergraduate education, I would love to see a conversation with teaching faculty, librarians and students about strategies to teach undergraduates about science communication (new and old).

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?

For me, the most interesting discussions at ScienceOnline2011 centered around alternative metrics for measuring scholarly “impact”. At the conference, scientists and scholars who were engaged in new forms of scholarly communication argued passionately that the Impact Factor was horrible and everyone seemed to be in agreement that new metrics were needed. Back at my institution, the case for new metrics isn’t as clear. There is still a distrust among many rank-and-file researchers about blogs and data sharing and pre-prints as legitimate scientific work. While they don’t love the impact factor, they don’t see the pressing need to develop new metrics because the things they may measure (downloads, bookmarks, etc.) aren’t as tried and true as citations. There seems to be a dichotomy in the science community – those who are actively engaged in newer forms of scholarship and those who just aren’t interested. Before any alternative metrics can gain acceptance, a large portion of the scientific community may still need to be convinced of the importance of what the alt metrics are measuring.

Thank you so much for the interview. I hope to see you again in Raleigh in January.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

ScienceOnline2011 – interview with Alice Bell

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 we chat with Alice Bell (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 a Londoner. In terms of my scientific background, I don’t really have one other than a tiny bit of 1st year undergrad chemistry. I make no pretense to be a scientist. However, I do see myself as part of the scientific community, as long as you define scientific community quite broadly (which I think you should). I’m a sociologist and social historian, so I’m interested in people, it just happens that the particular thing about people I find the most fascinating is when they try to talk to each other about science.

I teach science communication at Imperial College most of the week, and do a bit of freelance science writing, science communication consultancy and research with the rest of my time. In the future, I may go back to academia fulltime, or back to focus exclusively on more practical work, but I quite like the mix (I’ve find doing a bit of one helps with the other) even if it can be hard to juggle at times.

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

I got into science communication when I was 16, though I didn’t realise this until I was a bit older. I did some press work in tech policy and some theatre in education work on mental health issues, and then I got a full time job as an Explainer at the Science Museum (I basically got paid to stand around and chat to kids about physics, sometimes I’d make paper planes or do a show where I had to set fire to bubbles or get kids to sit on a chair of nails… it was a fun job!).

I ended up doing a degree on the history of science, and then another on the sociology of education, and then a PhD on children’s science books. I kept working throughout this: part-time at the museum, but also some freelance writing. I had a job working for the UK’s National Year of Science website, which I guess was my first real work in online science (c.2001-3). After my PhD, I was lucky enough to get a lectureship at Imperial, and I developed courses for their MSc in Science Communication on science’s interactions with fiction, children and online media, as well as bringing some more sociology and policy into the core course. I went part-time last year, taking a post which involves working with scientists more, and has allowed more time to write professionally.

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

I’m about to spend two months in North America – mainly DC, but some time in Ottawa, Toronto, Philadelphia, Chicago and New York. I want to spend most of my time focusing on writing up some research, but I hope to learn more about the similarities and differences between UK science communication and the cultures in the US and Canada while I’m there.

Back home in London, I seem to keep getting pulled into a whole load of science-themed scrapes and japes like running events or producing charity calendars… (generally agreeing to stuff late at night in the pub and then later crying over the length of my to do lists).

I have an idea for a book, but I think I’m going to come back to that in the summer and see if I still like the idea before taking it further. I have a couple of ideas for academic research projects too, but I’m keeping quiet about them for now.

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

Um… All of it? Or at least a load of different bits of it. When I characterise my research interests for my CV I tend to say I’m interested in science writers, with a particular focus on those who write for children, and those who write online. In reality, my interests stretch a lot further. As a teacher, I cover a fair bit of public engagement and other ideas about the rights and wrongs of science communication, as well as some science policy and things like the use of fiction or humour in science communicaiton.

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?

In a similar interview to this, I once said that I blog to play around with an idea and/or keep a record of things I’ve done, in the hope that doing so in public will be useful in some way. I’d stick with that.

I was thinking more about why I blog after ScienceOnline2011, and I think it’s because I like conversing with people. It’s the possibility for interaction and mutual learning. I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s true. I also love the possibility for serendipitous discovery online. I take all the talk of echochambers, etc, and I think it’s important to think about Balkanisation of online niche communities, but digital communication does also allow for an awful lot of accidental stumbling upon awesomeness (and awesomeness accidentally stumbling upon you).

… and yes, it’s a necessity because it’s what I work in. Blogging is a research object for me, by which I mean it’s something I look at, as well as something I do for myself.

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?

You know, I don’t remember? Um… I guess I first discovered blogs a bit over a decade ago, and kept an eye out for science ones. I remember writing an essay as an undergrad about online communities of fossil enthusiasts c.2001 but I don’t think I looked at any blogs. I suppose I started reading more of them as there were more, and then engaging with the online science writing community a bit more actively when I had to develop a course on science online about two years ago. It was developing that course that pulled me into the community properly, for sure.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2011 for you?

Meeting people! Even the embarrassment of realising that I’d just greeted Brian Switek with ‘OMG you’re Brian the Dino Man’ (it’s always so hard to know what to say when you ‘meet’ someone you actually know already).

Thank you so much for the interview. It was great to finally meet you in person. I hope you will come again next January!

ScienceOnline2011 – interview with Dave Mosher

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 we chat with Dave Mosher.

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’m a freelance science journalist who somehow carves out his existence in New York City. My roots are back in Ohio, however, where my first teachers injected me with science as a wee lad. I’ve been foaming at the mouth for it ever since, so much that I thought I wanted to do biological research as a career. Until I actually did some of it in college. The monotony got to me fairly quickly.

Having an unofficial license to ask dumb questions about science all day — and then write about it — seemed like a good career path for me, so I added a journalism degree. The rest is history.

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

Right now, I’m a contributor to Wired.com/Wired Science and an editor (out of love) for The Time Hack — an ambitious exploration of time perception by Matthew Danzico, an amazing/intelligent/talented friend and BBC journalist.

Before all of that, I worked for Discovery.com and Space.com/LiveScience.com. Those jobs combined with a potpourri of internships prior to them took me to some interesting places in space and time. For example: Flying into the shadow of a total solar eclipse near the North Pole, living in a house full of Russian physicists for three months, chasing space shuttles and astronauts across the country, etc.

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

I’ve been working extremely hard for Wired Science since I joined the team in October 2010, but I’m now splitting my time in half between that and freelancing. Needless to say, there are a lot of rabbits out there I now have time to chase! Other than world domination, my goals are pretty simple: Do what I love, do it the best I can, and somehow make a living in the process.

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

Science has the unique ability to provide the most current, thorough and valid conclusions about the universe we live in. No other discipline, belief, philosophy, manner or being — or whatever you want to call it — can claim that. Meanwhile, the Internet is a vast and evolving communications organism.

When you pair science with the web, some truly astonishing shit happens. Notwithstanding the phenomenally improved scientific collaboration, data sharing, publication speed, etc. you have a prime medium to satiate the public’s interest in science. Sharing tales of this knowledge with people, using one of the greatest inventions our species has produced, is something that’s difficult to describe in words. You can tell stories unlike any other medium can, with a barrage of text, video, audio, and — budget permitting — a healthy dose of interactivity.

How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook and others? How do you integrate 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?

It’s funny to me, as I write for a living, but my personal blog is often the first thing I neglect in pursuit of other passions/hobbies, e.g. photography, reading, movies, travel, tickle fights, etc. Pounding out a news story or blog post for pay is easy enough, but my personal space transforms me into a strange, inefficient and over-thinking writer. I’m not sure why, so someone’s welcome to tell me. Anyway, I’m trying to overcome this hurdle and develop my blog into a place for asides that emerge during my news reporting. You know, the stuff you can’t write or explore in the mainstream (e.g. what do penis spines look like?).

Social networks, especially Twitter, are crucial to my work in so many ways. Once I get over the initial time investment of understanding how they work, I learn to make them work for me . An example with Twitter: Without it, I wouldn’t be as up-to-date on the latest science news, find as many exclusive story ideas, gain familiarity with topics that I can eventually cover, or stay on top of trending/emerging themes in science. There was a post I read about how some people are extraordinary filters of information (I can’t recall where). Well, it’s true. Just look at Steve Silberman, a friend of mine and a fantastic science writer. He’s one of my top sources of information because he’s an extraordinary filter of what’s out there on the web. He almost always shares items that are interesting and relevant to me. Build a diverse network of these people from many disciplines, and you can save yourself oodles of time, not to mention self-loathing for not being an omniscient Internet-scanning robot.

“Integrate … into a coherent whole” isn’t the right phrase for how I treat social networking; it’s more like compartmentalization. I say this because I don’t have the cognitive capacity to handle a firehouse of tweets from hundreds of people everyday, let alone my RSS reader. So I break things up into groups that make sense. On Twitter: writers, scientists, publications, PIOs, etc. On Facebook: friends, family, professional colleagues, etc. In this way, social networking becomes manageable — ignore what you don’t have time for/aren’t interested in at the moment, and focus on what’s important. This style makes my online activity a positive and powerful element in my daily routine.

When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favorites?

I encountered them in college and started my first (now-defunct) science blog in 2005, but it wasn’t until 2006 that I was fully conscious of how many were out there, their depth and their promise. That was thanks to an internship at Discover magazine under Amos Zeeberg, an amazing web editor who’s still kicking butt there today.

A few favorites are Not Exactly Rocket Science, Technology Review’s arXiv blog, and the Knight Science Journalism Tracker. A sort of related and guilty pleasure of mine is Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, which posts original pee-your-pants-funny comics — many of which are about science.

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

The best part, plain and simple, was meeting people I knew only over the internet. The event allowed me to get a real feel for who these strangers are, and foster some true human-to-human connections with them. It was also fun to see how much people distort their actual physical appearance online (e.g. silly avatars, pics outdated by 10 years, MySpace’d mugshots, etc.).

Suggestions? Sure. Science writer David Harris, on his own accord, hosted a great Twitter-based networking game at NASW in 2010. It forced me to meet new people that I still speak with today, and I think a social networking-powered activity like that would be phenomenally appropriate at ScienceOnline2012. Note that great prizes to motivate people really helps.

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?

All of the sessions stick with me to this day, but I found the most value in those on creating/maintaining online journalism standards and what makes online science writing better/different/worse. These both cemented concerns I’ve encountered during my work, as well as introduced me to new ways of seeing things. I certainly feel more cognizant of problems I could cause (and avoid) as a writer.

Thank you so much for the interview. I hope to see you again soon, and at ScienceOnline2012 in January.

ScienceOnline2011 – interview with Jessica McCann

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 we chat with Jessica McCann from the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology at Duke.

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My husband and I moved to NC from Hawaii, where I was studying a bacterial symbiosis between the luminescent bacterium Vibrio fischeri and its squid host. I ended up there after I met my mentor during an undergrad semester at Woods Hole Marine Lab. When the squid-Vibrio lab moved to Wisconsin, we decided to move to NC instead, for two huge reasons: to be close to my husband’s family, and for me to continue graduate school in one of richest (not talkin’ cash) science environments in the country.

So now we live in Chapel Hill, NC, just a couple miles west of Carrboro and we will probably never move. But I was born in Maine, and grew up right on the border between Maine and NH in a little town called Portsmouth. I still spend lots of time up there and really miss it. I do not, however, have a Maine accent. Somehow my sisters and I avoided it, even though both of my parents have it “wicked bad.” When I hear that New England accent on This Old House, though, it feels like someone wrapped warm blanket around me, it reminds me so much of home.

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

I LOVED my squid-vibrio project in Hawaii, and it got me interested in animal-bacterial relationships. The squid specifically harvests V. fischeri from the million-plus bacteria per milliliter of seawater it sees to make use of the light made by V. fischeri. I like thinking about how we and other animals recognize “good” bacteria from “bad”, and know which ones to harvest and which to repel/destroy.

For my PhD thesis, I studied a very “bad” bacterium, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and how it pushes proteins out of itself and into you. One of the highlights of my graduate career, though, was when I was writing for Endeavors, a magazine that describes the research and creative activity at UNC. I had some patient, fabulous and hilarious editors and wrote four articles about UNC science faculty there. It was a wonderful experience, and what spurred me into trying to find a “non-traditional” sci career path that includes science writing – which led me to Scio11 (well, first it led me to Scio10, but I had no chance of getting in last year).

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

Now I study Haemophilus influenzae, a bacterium that walks the line between good and bad. Most children have H. influenzae living in their nasal passages/upper respiratory system with no related symptoms. But in some circumstances, usually after a viral infection, H. influenzae causes ear infections, the most common reason for antibiotic prescriptions in the US – as any parent knows, I’m sure. In adults, H. influenzae infections cause severe pneumonia in people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The thing about H. influenzae, though, is that it doesn’t make any recognizable “virulence factors,” (like the cholera bacteria with it’s toxin for example). It really just gets your immune system to kick up serious inflammation, and its the inflammation that causes all the symptoms we associate with ear infections and pneumonia. I am specifically studying how H. influenzae attaches itself to host cells, both in health and disease. I hope that we might one day block this attachment, and keep noses free from H. influenzae colonization in the first place.

I am also really getting into the ethical questions that arise when scientists set up global biomedical research collaborations. I won’t say too much about it here, as I’m trying to decide on whether to start a blog – there are sooooo many good ones out there already. If I do start one, though, it would be about global science ethics.

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

I use Twitter to keep up on interesting papers and the evaluation of those papers in the blogosphere. I read science blogs like mad. I am a fan of the open access science publishing movement, and am starting a campaign to get more of my senior colleagues to post comments on research online – it would be amazing to read critical discussions of papers RIGHT BELOW THE PAPER, in the comments section. Yet these comments are still pretty rare, at least in my field.

I also love open access data. Being able to mine someone else’s spreadsheets of how human genes change their expression patterns to respond to bacterial infection, for example, really informs my work and how I decide to proceed with experiments. I am still a n00b when it comes to Mendeley and other online science tools, but can see these becoming more and more critical to how science gets done.

One more thing. I turned to scientist-moms on the internet for advice and support after I had my gorgeous daughter. I seriously don’t think I could have made it through those first months back at work after maternity leave, where 60-80 hour work weeks are expected, without knowing about all the successful, lovely sci moms who had come before. I was one of those women in science who, during grad school, never encountered any bias or hardship due to my being female. I had a great female PI who seemed to have it all – family, great grant success, respect in the community, and was a wonderful mentor to boot. I was like, “it used to be harder for women, but it’s better now!”

But then I started my post doc and had a daughter. Everything changed (I wanted to write “Everything came crashing down,” but that’s a little dramatic, no?). While our little family is humming along now, I still feel like some aspect of work-love-motherhood life is always suffering. Not sure what to do to fix it, though, except maybe pay post-docs more so we can hire people to clean every once and a while. Don’t think the culture will change anytime soon.

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 am the LEAST organized person I know, so there are no coherent wholes in my life. Just lots of incoherent holes. Heh heh. But I do love Twitter, I love how quickly it moves, and how science discussions get updated over the course of minutes and hours instead of the weeks and months it takes by more traditional routes.

But one of the things I hate about twitter is how quickly it moves. I have about a 20-30 minutes to spend with social media most days in the lab, and there is no way I can click through more than one or two links. When I try to go back and find them at the end of the day, it is impossible and they are lost to me forever (maybe there is an app for storing tweets for later that I don’t know about?).

But blogging and social media aren’t really a part of my work (not yet, anyway). Things are still pretty old-fashioned around here, and we stick to bench work most of the time. The science blogs I read now usually describe work outside of my field – the good ones that condense the latest, coolest research. In my own field, I stick to the primary lit and sometimes seek out opinions on anything controversial from the few experts I know that are online.

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?

We have had a subscription to Wired forever, so I have been a fan of Steve Silberman for some time. But I got into science blogs first through Carl Zimmer’s books. My husband got me “Evolution: the Triumph of an Idea” and “Parasite Rex” for one particularly geeky birthday, and then his blog was my gateway drug to science blogs in general. One of my favorite things about the conference was learning about all of the great writers and creativity I can now use to feed my addiction: Scicurious, Glendon Mellow’s artwork and tweets, and all the articles on Deep Sea News are a few of the many new additions to my daily routine. The best thing: I was so intimated to know that the people behind all this great work were going to be at Scio11 and I might actually talk to one of them. EVERYONE WAS SO VERY NICE, not to mention smart and witty. It was awesome.

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

I loved the workshop on writing effectively with Ed Yong and Carl Zimmer (“Death to Obfuscation). For a scientist with a very dry writing style and tendency towards passive voice, that workshop was the most helpful. I also loved Robert Krulwhich’s keynote, it was so inspirational. I didn’t get to attend the full Scio10 meeting but was a guest of Burroughs Wellcome for the Monti opening night of story telling, and think that would be an awesome thing to see again next year. I didn’t think the book readings went over all that well, it was too loud and social to really hear the person reading on stage, and that must have been tough for the readers. I do think the readings are a great idea, though, and maybe could be organized around a seated audience?

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 things that I was ambivalent about (but mostly against) before Scio11 was opening up the peer review process. My reasoning was that peer review makes a finished paper better and, like making sausage, not a process you want to be in on. The panel on open science really made me think twice. Then a few recent papers published in top tier journals had me wondering about the questions the reviewers might have asked and the speed at which this work got published – and wishing I could see the initial reviews. And, for students especially, seeing the nuts and bolts of the review process might help us design better experiments and better research from the get-go. I still believe that reviewers should be anonymous, however. Science is a very, very small world. You might review an author’s work one day and need reagents from that author the next. Not sure this will ever actually come about, though. A generation or two might have to pass before open peer review gets implemented.

Thank you so much for the interview. I hope to see you again soon, and at ScienceOnline2012 in January.

ScienceOnline2011 – interview with Jennifer Rohn

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 we chat with Jenny Rohn, editor of LabLit, blogger at Mind The Gap and the editor of The Open Laboratory 2008.

Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock.

Thanks for having me! I’m in exalted company.

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’m Jenny, and I am a little hard to describe. Primarily, I’m a scientist. For the day job, I’m doing post-doctoral cell biology research at University College London, studying the genetics behind cell shape and movement. But I also do lots of other things on the side. I write novels about scientists (‘lab lit’), I blog about the scientific life at Mind The Gap, and I write articles, columns and essays for various newspapers and publications. I also moonlight as a freelance science journalist, mostly short news pieces. I do a bit of broadcast work and public engagement – BBC radio, podcasts, working with kids, sitting on panels, that sort of thing. And my baby is LabLit.com, a webzine about science, culture and literature that’s been going since 2005. I was born and raised in America, but I left in 1997 for my first post-doctoral stint and never looked back. Just recently I became a British citizen, so now I have dual nationality.

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

My career started out perfectly normally, and then it all went horribly wrong. I did all the usual geeky things you need to become a successful scientist: wore thick glasses, sat in the front row and got straight A’s in school; went to a good university (Oberlin College); and a good graduate school for my PhD (University of Washington, Seattle). I was totally on a conveyor belt. I worked the requisite 80-hour weeks all through grad school and ended up with something like 8 first-author papers on feline leukemia virus. I was the cat virus woman! My first post-doc, in the lab of Gerard Evan in London, seemed to be carrying on in that tradition – it was a famous lab working on apoptosis (cell death) just when it was getting hot, and I’d inherited a project that had recently earned a Nature paper. Things were rolling along – and then Gerard decided to move his lab to UCSF. Disaster! I’d only just moved to England and was loving it; I didn’t want to go back.

My partner at the time ended up landing a post-doc in the Netherlands, and I felt I had to follow. So I answered a job ad for a senior scientist at a tiny start-up biotech company in Leiden that seemed made for me: they needed a virologist to work on cancer and cell death: it was the combination of all my experience in one job. It was really brilliant while it lasted. I ended up leading a team of eight people and doing a lot of fascinating translational research in collaboration with Schering, a big German pharma; I was finding drug targets, writing patents, and doing all the cool biotech stuff, but at the same time the labs were incubated in Leiden University, so I was participating in academic life too. It was stimulating and fulfilling — and then the company went bankrupt, pulled under by shareholder bickering. And I found myself out of a job and on the dole in Amsterdam.

I’d already started writing novels after moving to the Netherlands, but suddenly I had a lot more time on my hands. I finished a second one and started in on a third. I found a London agent, but she was having problems selling the first book because of its scientific themes. They eventually sold and are now published, but only many year later. If anyone out there is interested in a couple of entertaining tales about scientists in action, do check out Experimental Heart and The Honest Look, both from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press!

That whole strange spring and summer, I tried to find a job and I wrote like crazy; I almost felt I was going mad sometimes. Being unemployed after being so career-kamakaze for so long was utterly bewildering and disorienting. I started to question everything about myself – my self-esteem plummeted. There were no jobs. Finally, I took the decision to leave research and took a position as a lowly assistant editor at BioMed Central, the open access publisher. This was pre-PLoS, and hardly anyone had even heard of open access. I visited hundreds of labs around the world, trying to convince famous scientists to submit their precious papers to this completely obscure and unknown journal. Needless to say, charm was not enough. I moved on to a chemistry society after that, managing its five peer-reviewed journals, but I missed research more and more and eventually cooked up a way to return. Now I’m nearing the end of a career re-entry fellowship from the Wellcome Trust and wondering if I’ll be able to stay in science when the money runs out.

I also started dabbling in politics last year, founding Science Is Vital, a grassroots organization formed to persuade the British government not to implement the drastic cuts to the science budget that it was threatening to. We had only six weeks to make a difference, but we ended up with 33,000 signatures on a petition, 2,000 demonstrators at a rally in Central London, 110 Members of Parliament signing our early day motion, hundreds of pieces of news coverage, and a packed lobby day in parliament. It was an amazing feeling to see so many scientists waking up from their usual apathy, and a number of credible sources credited our campaign as making a real difference to the eventual outcome (a cash freeze for science). Science Is Vital decided to stay organized and we plan to fight against any threats in the future.

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

At the moment, I’m obsessing about how to land a job next year and stay in scientific research. With the current economic climate, and a rather unconventional CV due to my career break, it’s not going to be easy to find something. I’m in my 40’s so I’d prefer not to do yet another post-doc. But four years, the length of my career re-entry fellowship, was not quite enough time to get up and running and develop a mature line of research beefy enough to found a lab on. I have good ideas, data and collaborations, and I think I’ll manage to swing something. But it is a very anxious time for me. The common sense part of my head urges me to leave research for something more stable and predicable — I even get occasional job offers outside of science. But at the moment, I’m not ready to give up the dream, so I’m not going to blink until the final hour.

I know I’m not the only post-doc facing these barriers, so in recent months I’ve become interested in the idea of lobbying for an improvement in the career structure for scientists. I’ve talked about it recently in an op-ed in Nature and am in discussion with various groups and stakeholders about what we might do about it in the UK. One of the joys of living in such a small country is that you have greater access to the sorts of people and processes you need to make a difference.

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

I’d like to see more scientists telling their stories online – not, actually, details about the facts and figures of what they are studying in the lab, but more about their lives in science, the processes of science, what goes on in their day-to-day work. The fly-on-the-lab-wall account. I think if more people understood what our job really entailed, and what the scientific method is, and that it’s practiced by actual human beings, there’d be more understanding and acceptance of science as a whole. This doesn’t have to be blogging – it could be tweeting stuff from the lab, or making lab video diaries and sticking them up on YouTube. Not everyone can write, but I think everyone has a story to tell. Stories are powerful mediators of change. It’s the same reason why I think we need more scientists in novels and films and other sorts of fiction: it’s a wonderful stealth communication medium.

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?

My blog isn’t there to facilitate or transmit my research results, as I’ve said. It’s there to illuminate my scientific life. But since I’m a writer and a novelist, my blog and Twitter have become very important for self-promotion. (I feel as if Facebook might be on the way out, at least with my network. All the important conversations now seem to happen on Twitter, or in the comment threads of blogs.) And I’ve made lots of useful contacts that way. I can’t imagine a world without Twitter, now. And Twitter was absolutely instrumental for the success of Science Is Vital – we never could have got 33,000 signatures, or a few thousand scientists at a demo, in 4 weeks without it. Malcolm Gladwell thinks Twitter couldn’t start a revolution, but I think we proved him wrong.

When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites?

I was a real late-comer – I didn’t start blogging until 2007. My life is so out of control and busy that I tend only to read blogposts that are highlighted on Twitter and catch my attention – so a wide variety but not much regular loyalty. I love my new home on Occam’s Typewriter and my fellow bloggers there – it’s a relaxed and friendly environment, so do check us out. I avoid blogs where the authors or commentors are nasty or rude – I have enough stress in my life without voluntarily courting more. I like it if people disagree, but if they can’t do it with respect and courtesy, I’m not interested. I’m particular not interested in people who are nasty or rude behind a pseudonym – I understand why some bloggers need to be anonymous, and totally respect that, but for that subset who are going to be offensive, I see the pseudonym as just being cowardly. It’s really easy to be be nasty when you’ve not attached your name or reputation to that view. And does being nasty really achieve anything? Does it persuade more people to your side of the argument?

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2011 for you?

I met so many amazing people – including you, at last! At the end of the day, it’s all about the people.

Thank you so much for the interview. It was great to finally meet you in person after all these years! I hope to see you again soon, and at ScienceOnline2012 in January.

ScienceOnline2011 – interview with David Wescott

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 we chat with Dave Wescott (@wescott1)

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’ve worked at a big PR firm for over 8 years. I grew up in Boston and I now live in Durham NC. If you’re talking about my philosophy about science communication, I’m more in Neil deGrasse Tyson’s camp than, say, Richard Dawkins’ camp, though I can see the value in both approaches. Politically I’m decidedly left-of-center. My background isn’t in science – it’s in politics, health care management, and strategic communications.

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

The noteworthy moments in my career focus on the convergence of communities and ideas. When I worked for a public hospital’s pediatrics department in Boston, I organized a group of health care providers to lobby state legislators for better child nutrition provisions in the state welfare law. When I worked for Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) I focused on things like the intersection of intellectual property and global health, or business incubation and higher education, or energy and economic justice. Now that I work in public relations, I bring mom bloggers on tours of vaccine facilities and connect environmental bloggers with large energy companies. I’ve also done a lot of work in crisis communications – I once led a conference call discussing a plane crash while standing a few hundred feet from a burning train wreck.

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

My true passion is my family. Boston Red Sox baseball is a big deal, too. Beyond that, I want to forge stronger ties between science bloggers and mom bloggers. Online moms have extraordinary power – far more than most people realize. Companies listen to them. Policy makers listen to them. Moms make the overwhelming majority of decisions in life – what to buy, who to vote for, when to get health care, and so on. They do most of the work. They do most of the child-rearing. If moms are making decisions based on the right information and with the right context – the kind of context you can get from science bloggers – the world will be a much better place.

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

Media convergence. I love watching science writers who have influence in multiple channels – print, broadcast, and online. To me, effective communication is about being where the people are. I’m also interested in developing new ideas of outreach to people who may not have an active interest in science but may develop one if they get the right information under the right circumstances. Darlene Cavalier has been very kind to me in this regard – she lets me write a “best of the science blogosphere” post at Science Cheerleader, where the readership tends to be kids and moms.

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 central to my job. I’m a VP in social media for my company and helped establish the practice. As for social networking tools I find Twitter to be very effective. My favorite tool, however, is Delicious – I find enormous power in its simplicity. Organizing and sharing links is an essential task when your job involves interacting with multiple online communities. I’m really upset that Yahoo! may be abandoning Delicious soon.

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’ve known about science blogs for a long time, but I really got into them after drinking with Jonathan Gitlin at Ars Technica. That dude is brilliant with a capital SMART. I met Jonathan and his wife Elle (also brilliant) at a Drinking Liberally event in Lexington, Kentucky a few years ago and I’ve followed his stuff ever since. He told me about ScienceOnline, and now I’m hooked. I read a ton now but I’m partial to Deborah Blum, Jason Goldman, Chris Mooney & Sheril Kirshenbaum, and Maryn McKenna. I have a young son, so David Orr’s Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs is a must. (More dinosaur pics, please!)

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

I loved the panel on parenting and science blogging – the panelists were outstanding. I did notice that very few people in the room read parenting blogs, however. I’d love to see a panel about outreach to other online communities. The next logical step for science bloggers and science blogging networks is to expand the audience – that will require stepping out of a comfort zone for many.

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?

The one quote that still resonates with me from #scio11 came from Steve Silberman at the panel on “keepers of the bullshit filter.” He said you can’t call bullshit on someone if you’re anonymous. I know this is a sensitive topic for many in the science blogsophere, and some of my favorite science bloggers don’t use their names. But as a PR guy with a political background it’s so important. It goes to the heart of credibility. It drives me nuts when I see so many political ads out there funded by people who don’t want you to know who they are. If I tried to hide my identity or my interests while speaking for a client I’d be slaughtered for it, and rightfully so. If you want to influence people with your writing, I think it’s important to be transparent and to own your words.

Thank you so much for the interview. I hope to see you again soon, and at ScienceOnline2012 in January.

ScienceOnline2011 – interview with Jason Priem

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 we chat with Jason Priem

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 a Floridian living in the frozen climes of North Carolina. Philosophically, I see my work in improving scholarly communication as the tip of a much bigger iceberg. The biggest current limit on the world-improving potential of science is the inefficiency of our antiquated communication infrastructure. If we can move the scholarly communication system into the current century, we can make science, and thereby the world, a lot better.

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

I like always doing new things, so I’ve moved around a lot; I was an artist, then a history and english teacher, then a web designer, and now I’m a 2nd-year PhD student in information science. I’ve worked mostly on what a lot of us are calling altmetrics–new ways of measuring scholarly impact that capture more than traditional citation could. So for instance, we’re studying the impact that scientific articles by looking on Twitter, blogs, or in Mendeley or Zotero.

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

Well, I’m doing a number of studies related to altmetrics; right now I’m really excited about altmetrics11, a workshop we’re putting on this summer that will showcase some of the great emerging research into altmetrics. (Shameless plug: we’re still accepting submissions through March; see http://altmetrics.org/workshop2011/).

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

It’s tough to pick one. But right now I’m incredibly excited about the potential of the web to decouple the traditional functions of the scientific journal. Right now, journals distribute, certify, archive, and register scientific knowledge…but what if we separated those functions out, and let the market improve each one individually?

A service like ArXiv can provide free archiving and distribution. Why not just overlay peer review on top of that, as a service? I could add multiple peer-review “stamps” to the same article. I could even get a peer-review stamp for a blog post I write. As these decoupled services compete, the evolve and diversify; we get a nuanced, responsive, open way to share science.

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?

Like a lot of other folks, I find that the speed and ease of Twitter have tended to make my blog posts more thought-out but less frequent. I’m on FriendFeed occasionally because a lot of folks I follow are, but I never entirely cottoned to it…I love the minimalism of Twitter. I’ve also really enjoyed attending some recent conferences via Twitter; I felt more present as a virtual attendee at #beyondthepdf, for example, than I have at other conferences I’ve attended IRL. So social media is not just a net positive, but an essential part of my work.

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

I really enjoyed the sense of community, the open-mindedness, and the energy at SciO. It was great being around so many people for whom “well, we’ve always done it that way” wasn’t an ok answer. I think one improvement I’d suggest would be to make even more use of synchronous technologies like EtherPad to involve participants in sessions in real time. Talking is great, but it’s serial; the online environment lets us add a background of parallel cognition that can really enhance a session.

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?

Well, our altmetrics session was amazing (for me, anyway); there were some really useful ideas and questions that have helped to inform my work since. It was also really great getting to talk with some of the industry folks who are really pushing scholarly communication forward, like Sara from PLoS, Jan and Jason from Mendeley, and Lou from Nature Blogs.

Thank you so much for the interview. I hope to see you again in January.

ScienceOnline2011 – interview with Holly Tucker

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 we chat with Holly Tucker.

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 guess like many of us connected to Science Online, I wear many hats. It depends on what time of the day it is, and what I’m feeling most passionate about. As my day job, I’m on the faculty at Vanderbilt University where I hold appointments in the Center for Medicine, Health and Society and the Department of French & Italian. (How’s that for multiple hats already!) My research and writing focus on the early history of medicine.

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

I started my academic life in French Studies, particularly seventeenth-century French history and culture—most appreciated by science types as the era of “scientific revolution.” I did my grad work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which has one of the top programs in the History of Science. This was before interdisciplinary studies were de rigueur (sorry, had to sneak some French in), so my dissertation focused on early literature. But I knew that I would include the History of Science, if not in my dissertation proper, then in my career trajectory. So I also took courses in the History of Science, which were among the highlights of my graduate work.

Once at Vanderbilt, I made a risky move. I chucked the dissertation and more or less reinvented myself—and this, on a tenure track. My first book was on the history of embryology and childbirth before epigenesis…in France. It all worked out apparently; I was tenured about six years ago.

Since then, I’ve been making a series of bold moves–at least for an academic. I decided that I wanted to stop writing for the same ten people–and research and write with an eye to a broader audience. Since then, and in addition to specialist articles in my field, I’ve written freelance for publications such as The New Scientist, The Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, and The Christian Science Monitor. My most recent book, Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine and Murder in the Scientific Revolution, is just out with W.W. Norton and getting great reviews (whew!). Now that you know some of the backstory, you can see why reviews like this one in The Economist mean a lot to me.

Actually, I wish more academics would make it part of their scholarly work to reach out effectively to a broader public. Which leads me to the next question…

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

As a humanist and more particularly someone who works in history, I’m indebted to the journalists and researchers who are committed to communicating science in ways that don’t require a hyper-specialized Ph.D. in a given field. I count on the best journalists and researchers–some of whom I have gotten to know thanks to Science Online–to guide me on which “breakthroughs” are really significant and which studies are all about smoke and mirrors. I also depend on them to translate the scientific research in ways that make it accessible without assuming their readers are simple minded.

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?

“Serious academics” are not supposed to waste their time with such “plebeian” things as social media and blogging. Or so the conventional wisdom dictates (for now). But when I made the decision to explore the larger dimensions of my research, I learned quickly that it would be impossible to do so without integrating online work into the equation.

When I posted my first tweet two and a half years ago, I felt horribly vulnerable and awkward. The same when I started my history blog, Wonders & Marvels. In fact, I did not use my real name for a long time (hence @history_geek) and did everything I could to conceal my identity. I still use @history_geek because it captures my interests perfectly, but my name and affiliations can now be found in a simple mouse click.

As the years have gone by, I have come to see blogging and social media as one big, wonderful classroom. It’s a place where researchers can share the results of their work, along with behind-the-scenes tidbits. This puts a human face to what we do. And it’s exactly what we must do at a time when entire programs in the humanities are being shut down and when funding in the sciences is getting more and more scarce.

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?

The panel with Tom Levenson and Dr. Isis covered a lot of ground and made some points that I agree absolutely with. First, for those of us working in academe, online engagement will never be a substitute for heavy-hitting research, publication and grants. If you have a strong tenure case going in, your community engagement may be viewed as value-added—at best, it might be counted as part of your service or teaching dossier. At worst and especially if you do not have a strong tenure case, your community engagement will be construed as a distraction and perhaps even as the reason behind lack of success.

The second take-home point of the panel was one that I heard between the lines, actually. There was a justifiable fear among attendees that their senior colleagues don’t “get it.” And the majority of senior colleagues probably don’t (not yet). However, for those of us in the Science Online community who are working from a position of relative security, we have a responsibility to be as open and intentional about our online work as possible—so we can help create a safe space for this type of work for everyone. I’m going up for promotion from Associate to Full as we speak. I wasn’t going to mention my blog and other online work in my materials. Science Online changed that.

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 really am wondering if Richard Grant, Jenny Rohn and I weren’t separated at birth. Their blog Lablit is now part of my required reading. It’s a website for anyone who writes about or is just intrigued by the fiction of science. What is there not to love?

And while it’s not a blog per se, I also learned about Skeptically Speaking at Scio11. Desiree Schell told me that she likes to imagine her show as the science nursery for Terry Gross’ Fresh Air. Now that I am a devoted listener, I understand why. And seriously, who can resist an entire show on Semen Science?

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

Change nothing, nada, rien. Ok, one thing: I think there should be a cool science t-shirt beauty pageant. If I were a judge at Scio11, I’d have to say Maryn McKenna gets the crown with the Staphylococcus aureus cartoon guys. The runner up: the guy who was wearing the human-walrus shirt during the history of science panel (remind me who you were!). But walrus man had an unfair advantage; I work on chimeras in history, after all.

Thank you so much for the interview. I hope to see you again in January.

ScienceOnline2011 – interview with Taylor Dobbs

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.

We are starting the series with Taylor Dobbs.

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 am an undergrad journalism student at Northeastern University. I have very little science background, but I’m fascinated by the way technology can influence the dynamics of society. Cell phones, the internet, and – more recently – Twitter and smartphones – have dramatically changed the way society works. I’m interested in following how these types of changes progress and unfold in the future.

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

My career trajectory is only up from here. I have literally never been paid for any journalism or science that I’ve done. The most recent interesting development: I’m trying to sell my first story. I’m hoping to be able to pay for a haircut soon, so the sooner the better. I’ve been mostly working on class assignments, but I’ve stumbled across an interesting story about health care fraud. Mostly, I’m covering the unfolding WikiLeaks story at my blog The World Exposed.

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

Most of my time goes into school and The World Exposed. My passion is really in what I’m doing online with my blog and as web editor for my school’s newspaper. My goals: get paid. As much as I love journalism, I’m in this to make money and support myself. I’m hoping that the work I’m doing at The World Exposed and with the school paper will help build my resume to the point where someone will pay me to do this stuff.

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

The web has the amazing power to make science interesting to everyday people. As someone who isn’t as passionate about science as many of those at Science Online, I admit (with some shame – I know this stuff is important) that I have a lot of trouble reading about science. With interactive models, infographics, videos, and conversational technologies (such as twitter and blog comments, to name some basic ones), the web has the power to make science much more accessible. A great example is Hans Rosling’s 5-minute video on the last 200 years of the socioeconomic history of the world. If someone asked me to read an essay about that, I would… not. But the video was interesting and amazingly cool to watch, and I learned along the way. That is the power of the web:

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?

If there was no net activity in what I do, I wouldn’t have been at Science Online. My primary focus right now is a blog, and twitter is a close second. The two go hand-in-hand. It started off with my just tweeting heavily about WikiLeaks. From there, I realized I could assemble some of the best things I’m reading online into a themed narrative on my blog. I still tweet about it, but I also blog. There’s no point in doing anything with your career online without going in head first. People love the internet because it’s a conversation, so that’s what I use it for. I ask questions, go back and forth with people about their thoughts, and it ultimately becomes a gain for all parties.

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 discovered science blogs through my dad, who now blogs for Wired but had been in a few places before that. I visit his blog and Jonah Lehrer’s the most. There are no blogs I follow religiously, but if I see that people are all a-twitter about any given post, I give it a look.

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

The best aspect for me was being in a group of people with the experience and know-how of veterans in the journalism world but the enthusiasm of a startup. I loved being able to converse with people who said anything other than “You’re going into journalism? In this economy? I hear underwater basket-weaving majors are making more money these days. You’re screwed.” More than that, there was no feeling of competition. It was a collaborative effort to make everyone at the conference better at what they do, and I really think it worked.

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?

Everyone at the conference was doing their own thing and doing it well. Nobody showed up in a private jet or a Lamborghini (that I know of), but nobody showed up unhappy either. What I took away is that you really can get by doing what you’re passionate about. I always here people say “Do what you love and worry about the money later,” but with the exception of pro athletes some other professions, I never saw proof until Science Online.

Thank you so much for the interview. I hope to see you again in January.