Category Archives: Technology

Quick update: UNESCO Belgrade, and NYTimes

I am in Belgrade, my hometown, participating in the First SEE Regional Science Promotion Conference October 2nd and 3rd, Belgrade, Serbia and the UNESCO South East European (SEE) Science Journalism School. Longer blog post about it later, after it ends.

Also, if you missed it on social media, I was quoted in New York Times yesterday, in Comment Ban Sets Off Debate, about the value of comments on science news articles and blog posts, as this is a hot topic these days after PopSci closed comments (and was also hot topic back in January when I wrote this post about it). Short quote, but does not misrepresent what I said (and yes, we chatted for an hour, that’s how it works), and gave me a new nickname “Weed Wacker” among my bloggers ;-)

WCSJ2013 in Helsinki, a photo-tour

Flying directly from SciFoo in California to WCSJ2013 in Helsinki, Finland is a pretty long trip that requires a pretty big airplane. Those of you who know me well, know I am obsessed with airplanes, am an addict of FlightAlert, choose JetBlue on domestic flights in order to continuously monitor flight statistics, and my first requirement when someone else is booking my flights is “the biggest airplane you can get”. So I was quite pleased to be riding on this big bird, the original Jumbo Jet:

Boeing 747, ready to go from San Francisco to Heathrow, London.

Boeing 747, ready to go from San Francisco to Heathrow, London.

What I really liked, though, was something that is apparently banned on US air carriers, but both of Finnair flights (to and from London to Helsinki) had – a cockpit cam! While the screen shows many more different flight stats than JetBlue does, and one can also watch the view from a camera facing straight down (which is really nice when approaching the Land of 1000 Lakes), during the last few minutes of flight, during landing, everyone’s screen is automatically turned on to the cockpit cam. It feels like playing a video game, piloting the airplane down onto the runway!

Cockpit cam view, just seconds after landing at Heathrow from Helsinki.

Cockpit cam view, just seconds after landing at Heathrow from Helsinki.

Helsinki is gorgeous:

Plenty of water

Easy to relax on the square in front of the University

Cathedral in the middle of the day

Cathedral in the middle of the night, i.e., that two-hour period when it's not as bright as usual in the middle of the summer!

I checked in:

Of course, I added my Twitter handle to the nametag ;-)

And picked up the Program:

It's all there, black on white.

First morning plenary, by Hans Rosling “A fact-based world view – people, money & energy”

Hans Rosling

Hans Rosling, giving the first plenary

A Hans Rosling slide

A Hans Rosling slide

A Hans Rosling animation

Hans Rosling polled us, and we all failed miserably!

The first morning plenary panel was What about ethics?

Deborah Blum at the first morning plenary panel

Deborah Blum on Chemophobia

Deborah Blum on Chemophobia

Deborah Blum on Chemophobia

JAYFK makes an appearance

SA Guest Blog makes an appearance

Chemophobia

More Chemophobia

Even more Chemophobia

I went to many sessions, but did not take photos in each one. And those I took from the back row with my iPhone, as you can see, are not very clear, but OK….

What happens outside USA and UK?:

Nina Kristiansen, Chief Editor of ScienceNordic

Says who? – Challenging the experts on medical knowledge:

Mikael Fogelholm, Professor in Public Health Nutrition, University of Helsinki. (I think)

Wearing many hats? How to preserve independence was already covered in great detail by Kai Kupferschmidt and Anne Sasso.

The day ended with an evening at the National Archives of Finland:

City of Helsinki welcomes science writers

Second day’s morning plenary – Deborah Blum: “The Poisoner’s Guide to Life (And Communicating Chemistry).”

Deborah Blum communicates chemistry

Deborah Blum communicates chemistry

Then, there was a plenary panel, The Rise of the Science Blog Network: Lessons from All Corners of the World, organized by Deborah Blum, moderated by Lynne Smit, with panelists Betsy Mason, Alok Jha, Ed Yong and yours truly:

View of the panel while being on the panel.

Alokh Jha explaining something I agree with a moment later (perhaps we all agreed too much!).

You can watch the whole panel webcast here (You can watch webcasts of all the plenary talks and panels):

Next panel was “The ‘killer’ science journalists of the future.” But if you’ve ever been to my blog, you know I wrote a lot about it already, see: #sci4hels – ‘Killer’ science journalists of the future ready to take over the world!, and #sci4hels – the ‘killer’ science journalists of the future want your feedback, and #sci4hels – What makes one a “killer” (science) journalist of the future?. Of course, preparing for this for almost a year, they did an amazing job and were rightfully stars of the event (but also see this and this).

Last strategy meeting before the panel

It's about to start!

In front of a packed auditorium

Rose Eveleth introduces the panel

Lena Groeger demoes Cicada Tracker

Kathleen Raven tackles the tough questions from the audience.

Erin Podolak and Kathleen Raven, relaxed and happy during a break a little later.

A deserved outing:

On the island...

An old fortress

A church

Reindeer calf for dinner.

An old cannon

Geese and goslings

The third day started with the plenary talk “Mental preparation for a vulnerable world“:

Janne I. Hukkinen's slide

Late breaker session: Big data, big brother:

Dino Trescher (Germany), editor and founder of Constart Correspondent Network.

Making Sense of Uncertainty:

Making sense of uncertainty

Closing Plenary: New Horizons:

Ivan Oransky

Connie St.Louis

Barbecue dinner at Heureka, the Finnish Science Centre, was the last event:

Entrance to Heureka

The rainbow colors of the building

The Fire dance

Plenty to play with

Easy to roll a ball in the water

Phase space in sand. It's beautiful!

In the basement of Heureka, in the replica of a WWII bomb shelter, at the moment the bomb struck and lights went out.

Breakfast with Vesa Niinikangas, outgoing WCSJ President.

A sparrow at the Helsinki airport, at my gate.

Beautiful city, I hope to be back one day.

They eat horses, don’t they?

“Behave, or I’ll send you to Italy!”.

That’s a strange threat! Wouldn’t it be wonderful to go there to visit the wine country, see the art in Florence, learn some history in Rome, and enjoy the Adriatic beaches?

Not if you hear the above and you are a horse! Especially if you were a horse back in the day when I used to ride in my now-extinct homeland of Yugoslavia.

With total number of horses in the country small and dwindling after the cavalry was disbanded in 1948, with fast urbanization of the country reducing the number of horses working the fields, and before equestrian sports started taking off again in the late 1980s, there was no need for a dedicated horse slaughterhouse. Occasionally a really urgent case would be slaughtered in a cattle slaughterhouse. A horse in agony after an injury would be killed on the spot (e.g., on the racetrack) and its meat donated to the perennially strapped-for-cash Belgrade Zoo for lions and other carnivores, But most horses at the end of their lives ended up on trucks headed to the meat market of Italy (and probably a few also to Austria – but I don’t have access to any documents, just what everyone in the horse business at the time knew).

With all the horse meat ending up in Italy, there was not much left for domestic consumption. Thus whole generations grew up without ever tasting it. The culture gradually changed. A horse butcher had a store in Belgrade for about a decade in the 1960s, but had to close due to low demand. Later, in mid-1980s, another entrepreneurial butcher opened a horse-meat store, this time promoting it as a delicacy rather than utilitarian, cheap alternative to beef. That store did not last long, either.

While there is no taboo against eating horse in the Balkans, there are definitely cultural forces that prevent it from being as popular as it is for its neighbors to the West, And those forces are divided by generations.

According to the elders, especially those with clear memories of World War II, horse meat was a poor man’s food, only to be consumed in times of war or famine. If you can afford beef, pork, lamb and chicken, why should you stoop so low as to eat the tough, acidic horse meat?

On the other hand, youngsters saw horses in a much less utilitarian way. They did not remember thousands of cavalry horses, cart horses, and draft horses filling the countryside. They did not remember poverty and hunger. Every horse they met had a name, be it a nice riding school pony, or a stunningly beautiful sports horse.

Obviously, neither of the two age groups could be easily persuaded that horse meat is a delicacy.

I saw that generational divide myself one day, back in the 1980s. We grilled some horse steaks…at the barn, right after we finished riding, grooming and petting our horses. There were horses inside, happily munching their oats in their stalls. There were other horses outside, sliced and roasting on the grill. How conflicted everyone’s feelings were!

But that was an excellent opportunity for all of us to discuss and debate the ethical, utilitarian, economic, nutritional, ecological and other angles of horse consumption. Why older people found it easier to eat the meat than the younger folk? Why was it easier for men than for women? Why some found it delicious, while others hated its texture and taste? Many of the young, pony-obsessed girls wouldn’t touch it, while younger boys gave it a try despite obvious disgust.

In the end, it all came down to names. You cannot eat an animal whose name you knew when it was alive. Name gives it a personality. An animal whose name you know is also an animal you know well – its looks and behavior and personality. It’s a friend. Friends don’t eat friends.

The steaks we had came from a horse we knew nothing about. Not the name, not age, sex, breed, color, anything. Perhaps the previous owner really loved that horse, cried when loading it onto the slaughterhouse truck. Just like one day, certainly, someone in Italy was going to eat the flesh of our horses we loved, and could do it because of not knowing those horses personally.

But by buying and eating that horse’s meat, we helped that previous owner recover some of the financial loss. Perhaps it was a farmer who lost a horse essential for working his farm. Without taking the meat price for the old horse, the farmer would not be able to buy a new horse, and would not be able to work the farm and feed his family. The circle of life would have been broken, both the human one and the equine one.

That was the economy of individual horse ownership by regular people. Of course, if you are rich or live in a rich country, and if you can afford to keep all your horses out on pastures until they die the natural death, by all means do that. But most people cannot afford that. And yet they need to have horses for their livelihoods. Eating horse meat is an essential part of such an economy.

I can attest that this statement is true.

I can attest that this statement is true.

But then it got tricky. The problem became more complex. After all, it is relatively easy for an individual to decide not to eat horse meat because of ethical concerns. But that is the meat of a dead horse who died in order to provide that meat. So, how do you try to use ethical considerations to explain why you refuse to eat meat of the horse who is still alive? I am talking about marinated, delicious testicles of the stallion who is still prancing out in the paddock. In a country where offal is a perfectly normal part of everyday cuisine, and one can order sweetbreads in any decent restaurant. No harm was done to any animal. So, why not eat it? Not an easy question to answer. And it’s pretty obvious that the answer is not rooted in ethics, economics, ecology, nutrition or health concerns. It is psychological and aesthetic, thus it is rooted in culture.

And this is where we switch gears, as we need to start comparing cultures, in this case Balkans with America.

“Behaving or not, you’re going to Mexico!”

The question “shall we eat horse meat?” is coupled with the related question “shall we slaughter horses?”. In both countries, most of the horse slaughter (and consumption) is outsourced to other countries (Italy in the case of the Balkans, Mexico in the case of USA). Yet the attitudes are different. There, if there were more horses and there was more appetite for meat, there would be horse slaughter in place with almost nobody’s objection. Without too much emotional opposition to eating horses, economic forces would be allowed to dictate what happens on the ground.

Here, there is an overabundance of horses, but because there is no appetite for meat at all, slaughtering horses is considered a very bad idea. Hence such outcry when the slaughter of horses was recently made legal again after a long time (and opening a slaughterhouse is fraught with difficulties).

If unicorns were easier to catch, they would be a staple diet in at least some cultures.

If unicorns were easier to catch, they would be a staple diet in at least some cultures.

The shift in culture that I started observing in the 1980s there, already occurred much earlier here in the States. Horses are still used in agriculture there, especially in more mountainous regions where tractors are ineffective and uneconomical. Many small farmers cannot afford tractors, or have too little land to need one. Older people still remember the life on the farm, and even kids have seen horses working in the field. The movement from country to city happened too recently.

Here, agriculture has long ago moved from small farmers to gigantic agribusiness. Very few people have any personal experience with a horse working the land. Most horses are used for pleasure and sport – they have names and are treated as pets, rather than as beasts of burden.

Also, there is an overproduction of horses here. So many horses are bred, often of poor quality, that many never get to be ridden at all – they go straight to Mexico while still young. It is not that just old, sick or lame horses get slaughtered, it’s healthy foals! It’s not just a natural circle of life, it’s production of horses directly for slaughter.

Then, there is the issue of food safety. There is a reason Europe does not allow import of American horsemeat, no matter how much demand there may be there (and demand is dropping there as well). One never knows if the meat came from a racehorse (or if it’s horse meat at all). The rules for drug use (from steroids to painkillers) in racehorses in the USA are so lax compared to other countries, that it is almost certain that the meat of an American racehorse is unfit for human consumption. And how can one know if the steak or sausage came from a draft horse or a racehorse? With eating horse in America being potentially dangerous, it’s not strange that people don’t do it, and the cultural tradition of eating horses quickly dies out. If your parents never ate horse meat, you won’t either. Cultural food habits start at home.

But there are other reasons why American culture is so strongly against eating (and thus slaughtering) horses. I vaguely alluded to some of those already, but now need to be more explicit. And for this, we need to go back to the old master, anthropologist Marshall Sahlins and his 1976 essay La Pensee Bourgeoise: Western Society as Culture, in which he takes a close look as to why Americans eat cows and pigs, but don’t eat horses and dogs.

Manly Men in the Feed Lot.

True, “in most parts of the world, people are grateful to eat whatever is available to them.” Vast areas of the planet have scant vegetation. Plant agriculture is impossible due to poor soil. People need and want to live there anyway, at least as nomads if not settlers, but cannot sustain themselves on an occasional root or berry. They have to carry their food with them, but that also takes up energy. So the best way to survive in such harsh environments is to have the food walk along with them. Cattle, goats, sheep, camels, donkeys, mules, asses and yes, horses, are the sources of daily nourisment, both meat and dairy.

In places of plenty, in times of plenty, one can afford to have culture, rather than necessity, dictate what foods are deemed OK and what foods are not:

Yet the point is not only of consuming interest; the productive relation of American society to its own and the world environment is organized by specific valuations of edibility and inedibility, themselves qualitative and in no way justifiable by biological, ecological, or economic advantage.

There is no nutritional reason not to eat horse. If anything, horse meat may have some advantages over beef. If production of horse meat was a viable, large industry due to high demand, it would have similar environmental impact as beef industry has now, and the economics would be the same as well. Low demand is due to culture, which determines even how food taste is perceived. It is not surprising that food preferences then become deeply ingrained, and offers of locally unusual foods elicit strong negative responses based entirely on emotions, rather than rational calculations. So even during times of crisis and famine, those cultural and emotional obstacles prevent the population from taking advantage of available food sources, regardless of governmental, corporate, scientific or media efforts to help enlighten the population about it. The angry reactions are based entirely on cultural norms and emotional sense of disgust. Sahlins uses this example from the Honolulu Advertiser of 15 April 1973:

“Horses are to be loved and ridden,” Gallagher said. “In other words, horses are shown affection, where cattle that are raised for beef … they’ve never had someone pet them or brush them, or anything like that. To buy someone’s horse up and slaughter it, that, I just don’t see it. “

Sahlins again:

In a crisis, the contradictions of the system reveal themselves. During the meteoric inflation of food prices in the spring of 1973, American capitalism did not fall apart-quite the contrary; but the cleavages in the food system did surface. Responsible government officials suggested that the people might be well-advised to buy the cheaper cuts of meat such as kidneys, heart, or entrails-after all, they are just as nutritious as hamburger. To Americans, this particular suggestion made Marie Antoinette seem like a model of compassion (see fig. 10). The reason for the disgust seems to go to the same logic as greeted certain unsavory attempts to substitute horsemeat for beef during the same period.

When I came to the States, I understood that I would not be eating horse here at all. Which is fine with me – I tried a steak once and a sausage once, and while they were OK, I can totally live without them. But when we castrated a couple of colts at the barn, none of the whites would touch the testicles. But they were expertly prepared by an African American friend and we ate them with great appreciation.

Salome serves roasted unicorn head, which inludes cheecks, lips, tongue and brain.

As I wrote at length a few years ago, one of the specifics of American cuisine, due to culture, lies in its history. When we talk about Balkans food preferences, we are covering pretty much everyone who lives there – the class divisions and cultural divisions were always quite miniscule there. But when we talk about American food preferences, we tend to forget a big chunk of American culture. Whites prefer beef to other species, and will almost universally not eat offal. But there is a whole parallel culture, often unmentioned. The soul food, the Southern food, all the offal and innards and roadkill and strange foods that were cooked, and recipes perfected into delicacies by generations of African Americans, descendant of slaves who fixed steaks for the white masters and learned how to utilize everything else from the slaughtered animals. They have no problem with offal – or horse – as that is an intergral component of that subdivision of the American culture. Sahlins:

The poorer people buy the cheaper cuts, cheaper because they are socially inferior meats. But poverty is in the first place ethnically and racially encoded. Blacks and whites enter differentially into the American labor market, their participation ordered by an invidious distinction of relative “civilization.” Black is in American society as the savage among us, objective nature in culture itself. Yet then, by virtue of the ensuing distribution of income, the “inferiority” of blacks is realized also as a culinary defilement. “Soul food” may be made a virtue. But only as the negation of a general logic in which cultural degradation is confirmed by dietary preferences akin to cannibalism, even as this metaphorical attribute of the food is confirmed by the status of those who prefer it. I would not invoke “the so-called totemism” merely in casual analogy to the pensee sauvage. True that Levi-Strauss writes as if totemism had retreated in our society to a few marginal resorts or occasional practices (I 963a; 1966). And fair enough-in the sense that the “totemic operator,” articulating differences in the cultural series to differences in natural species, is no longer a main architecture of the cultural system. But one must wonder whether it has not been replaced by species and varieties of manufactured objects, which like totemic categories have the power of making even the demarcation of their individual owners a procedure of social classification. (My colleague Milton Singer suggests that what Freud said of national differentiation might well be generalized to capitalism, that it is narcissism in respect of minor differences.)

Marshall Sahlins then delves into the question of words and names. As he reminds us, Red Queen said, “It isn’t etiquette to cut anybody you’ve been introduced to.” Horses (and dogs) have names. Most cows (and pigs) don’t.

Muscles of accepted food animals have cute monikers that hide what parts of the animal and which animal they came from. There is beef and pork and mutton. There are steaks and t-bones and round and chuck. But un-acceptable species don’t have such cutesy names for their muscles. Horse meat is called horsemeat. Dog’s would be dog-meat. Nothing to hide. Likewise, names for innards are not cutesy, hiding the obvious source: liver is liver, tongue is tongue, kidneys are kidney (though intestines become tripe, and testicles, probably due to puritanism, become whitebreads). Sahlins again:

Edibility is inversely related to humanity. The same holds in the preferences and common designations applied to edible portions of the animal. Americans frame a categorical distinction between the “inner” and “outer” parts which represents to them the same principle of relation to humanity, metaphorically extended. The organic nature of the flesh (muscle and fat) is at once disguised and its preferability indicated by the general term “meat,” and again by particular conventions such as “roast,” “steak,” “chops,” or “chuck”; whereas the internal organs are frankly known as such (or as “innards”), and more specifically as “heart,” “tongue,” “kidney,” and so on-except as they are euphemistically transformed by the process of preparation into such products as “sweetbreads.”The internal and external parts, in other words, are respectively assimilated to and distinguished from parts of the human body-on the same model as we conceive our “innermost selves” as our “true selves”-and the two categories are accordingly ranked as more or less fit for human consumption. The distinction between “inner” and “outer” thus duplicates within the animal the differentiation drawn between edible and tabu species, the whole making up a single logic on two planes with the consistent implication of a prohibition on cannibalism. It is this symbolic logic which organizes demand. The social value of steak or roast, as compared with tripe or tongue, is what underlies the difference in economic value. From the nutritional point of view, such a notion of “better” and “inferior” cuts would be difficult to defend. Moreover, steak remains the most expensive meat even though its absolute supply is much greater than that of tongue; there is much more steak to the cow than there is tongue. But more, the symbolic scheme of edibility joins with that organizing the relations of production to precipitate, through income distribution and demand, an entire totemic order, uniting in a parallel series of differences the status of persons and what they eat.

Of course, there are cultural (and language) differences between nations as to how they name the animals and how they name edible body parts. French is quite different from English in that regard, for instance. In Serbian, the words for muscle-meats from various animals are not cutesy but directly derived from the names of those species: govedo=govedina (cattle=beef), tele=teletina (calf=veal), ovca=ovcetina (sheep=mutton). Where eating animals is both an economic and a cultural necessity, where there is no taboo or even mild unease about eating meat, there is no need to come up with linguistic camouflage.

But what I find most interesting in Marshall Sahlins’ article is this passage:

The exploitation of the American environment, the mode of relation to the landscape, depends on the model of a meal that includes a central meat element with the peripheral support of carbohydrates and vegetables-while the centrality of the meat, which is also a notion of its “strength,” evokes the masculine pole of a sexual code of food which must go back to the Indo-European identification of cattle or increasable wealth with virility. The indispensabilitty of meat as “strength,” and of steak as the epitome of virile meats, remains a basic condition of American diet (note the training table of athletic teams, in football especially). Hence also a corresponding structure of agricultural production of feed grains, and in turn a specific articulation to world markets-all of which would change overnight if we ate dogs. By comparison with this meaningful calculus of food preferences, supply, demand, and price offer the interest of institutional means of a system that does not include production costs in its own principles of hierarchy. The “opportunity costs” of our economic rationality are a secondary formation, an expression of relationships already given. by another kind of thought, figured a posteriori within the constraints of a logic of meaningful order. The tabu on horses and dogs thus renders unthinkable the consumption of a set of animals whose production is practically feasible and which are nutritionally not to be despised.

The American meal – a big juicy beef steak surrounded by a little bit of vegetables mainly as decoration – as a manly man’s meal. The meal of the pioneer, the cowboy, the self-sustained, survivalist, rugged individualist. The beef steak as a descendant of the steak a hunter hunted in the past. Beef steak as a product of the hard work in the harsh environment in the vast expanses of the American West. Only the toughest need apply. The cultural mythology that led to placing beef at the pinnacle, that led to distaste for eating any other species (not for macho men!), that led to taboo against eating horses (companions and co-workers in the difficult production of beef), and that eventually led to hyperproduction of beef for the growing population by consolidating it from small farms into huge feed lots owned by large agribusiness. So, both the illogical, uneconomical, and environmentally damaging food instructure in the States AND the taboo against eating horse may stem from the same cultural source – the early self-sufficient pioneer man.

But that was centuries ago. Surely we have progressed since then. Remember when Michael Pollan made the full circle, from feed lot (symbolic hunt) through a series of organic and local small operations back to the non-symbolic, real hunt, he had difficulty pulling the trigger. We are more civilized now.

In his book A Primate’s Memoir, Robert Sapolsky relates how he adjusts his own diet depending on where he is. Earlier in his career he used to split his year in half. During the half spent teaching neuroscience at Sanford, he was a vegetarian. In America, one has that choice. But in the other half of the year, studying baboons in the field in Africa, he ate what the locals fixed. Yes, a zebra leg. Not just that he would have insulted the hosts by refusing, but if he refused it would incur additional expense and effort of the hosts – they would have to find nutritious plant food every day for him, something that is not as easy to do in that region. There are good reasons why local diet is mainly based on hunted animals.

Thus, the deep roots of the American culture may prevent us from ever eating horse. Although it makes no economical, health, nutritional or environmental sense, that is OK as it makes cultural sense and we can afford this taboo.

But we should re-analyze why outdated machismo is still guiding the way our food instructure works in damaging ways and perhaps do something constructive about it to bring it along into the 21st century, somewhat away from beef and gigantic feed lots and toward a more sustainable, environmentally friendly, public-health reasonable, nutritionally balanced food system.

~~~~~

References:

Marshall Sahlins, La Pensee Bourgeoise: Western Society as Culture, in Culture and Practical Reason (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976) (pp. 166 – 179)

Images:

Photo of me: original photo by Russ Creech, photoshop by Mindy Weisberger.

Unicorn on the grill and on the platter, original art from Taymouth Hours, 14th century, at British Library, additional photoshop by Sarah J Biggs. Originally posted on April Fool’s Day by Julian Harrison at Medieval manuscripts blog of the British Library.

ScienceWriters2013 – great program in Gainsville in November.

ScienceWriters 2013 conference, organized jointly by National Association of Science Writers (NASW) and the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing (CASW), will be held this year on November 1-5, 2013, on the campus of The University of Florida in Gainesville.

You can follow the event on Twitter by following @sciencewriters and the hashtag #sciwri13.

The official Schedule was just released, and it is, as usual, a fantastic lineup of lectures, workshops and panels. Just check out the list of speakers!

As I have been over the past few years, I will be involved this year as well. I am a co-organizer of two sessions during the NASW professional development day:

On Saturday, November 2nd, 11:00 am to 12:15 pm:

A view from the future

In our new, rapidly changing media ecosystem, it is easier than ever to write about science — but harder than ever to be heard above the din, to build a reputation, and to make a living. How are science writers and journalists adapting to these shifting rules? Links, documents, data and transcripts, in addition to quotes, are expected by readers. How do today’s science writers use these ingredients to establish trust with online-only readers? How important is the brand name of the media organization vs. the byline of the writer? With researchers now able to directly communicate with the public, how has the role of the writer changed? These panelists, who occupy different niches within the Web-based media ecosystem, have successfully adapted to the new “rules,” and are helping shape the future of science communication. Twitter hashtag for this session is #vftf13.

Organizers:

Bora Zivkovic, Blogs editor, Scientific American.
Deborah Blum, Author; professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Moderator:

Nadia Drake, Reporter, Wired

Speakers:

Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato, Editor, EverydayHealth
Kelly Poe, Reporter, Greensboro News & Record
Cassie Rodenberg, Freelance, blogger at Scientific American
Julianne Wyrick, Student, UGA Program for Health and Medical Reporting

==========

On Saturday, November 2nd, 3:45 pm to 5:00 pm:

Rising above the noise: Using statistics-based reporting

Science writers must produce written, audio or visual stories that capture and hold the attention of a reader/listener/viewer. With so much information just one “swipe” away, editors and consumers are demanding stories that stay fresh and relevant long after the initial post. The one-word solution to such predicaments? Statistics. In this session, science writers with deep backgrounds in mathematics will provide key takeaways attendees can use immediately to help their stories rise above the noise. The takeaways will include: necessary vocabulary for talking about statistics, a framework for understanding how numbers can be manipulated, a checklist to ensure quality data, and, not least, examples of stories built solidly with statistics. Statistics is not a “catch-phrase” for serious journalism. It is key for better reporting and better story-telling.

Organizers:

Kathleen Raven, Freelance journalist,
Bora Zivkovic, Blogs editor, Scientific American.

Moderators:

Kathleen Raven, Freelance journalist

Speakers:

Hilda Bastian, Blogger & editor, National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) at the National Institutes of Health
Evelyn Lamb, Mathematician & writer, Scientific American
Regina Nuzzo, Freelance journalist & associate professor of statistics, Gallaudet University
John Allen Paulos, Author & mathematics professor, Temple University

===========

FtBCON: Science Communication

Earlier today I was on Google Hangouts, with the host P.Z. Myers, discussing science communication, the changing media ecosystem, how to push back against anti- and pseudo-science, and more. Take a look:

Bring science and health journalism to #ONA13

The Online News Association Conference is one of the most popular events in the field these days, where prestigious ONA awards are also given to innovators in online journalism. The ONA13 will be held in Atlanta this year, on October 17-19th.

Unfortunately, there is rarely anything on the program that specifically touches on science or health journalism, despite it being a somewhat different – and difficult – area of journalism with some very specific challenges.

Luckily you, the community of science and health readers, can help out. The Program is, at least partially, built through community vote. You can see all the session proposals here. You can ‘vote’ for any of them by clicking on the little heart icon (the “Like” on Tumblr) and/or by reblogging it on your own Tumblr.

If you scroll down again and again and again, you will finally reach the only science-related proposal: Science and Health Go Social: What Journalists Need to Know. You can help this session become a part of the official program by liking and reblogging it, perhaps adding your own commentary.

The session was proposed by Patricia Thomas who runs the excellent Grady Health and Medicine Journalism program at the University of Georgia in Athens.

The proposed panelists are:

- Maryn McKenna, blogger at Wired, frequent contributor to Scientific American, and the author of Superbug and Beating Back the Devil.

- Barbara Glickstein, Health journalist, public health nurse and the Co-Director of The Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College City of New York.

- and me.

So, just click here and ‘heart’ the proposal and help us get there and start a discussion on challenges specific to science and health reporting in the rapidly evolving new media ecosystem.

#SciFoo in pictures

Yes, I was at Science Foo Camp ten days ago, returning to the event after six years (you can see my posts from the 2007 event here). As before, this was an energy-filled event, and a great opportunity to meet creative people who do interesting stuff, and not just to schmooze with old friends. As the sessions’ topics are decided at the last minute and the conversations in sessions are very informal, it is hard to ‘report’ from them in a straight-forward, journalistic manner. From a very constructive session on women in STEM, and another one on dealing with denialist online commenters, through insightful discussion on use of animals in research, to several sessions on citizen science, there was definitely plenty of stuff to learn and to make one think.

Instead, I’ll just post pictures and add some of the story in the captions. New iPhones have decent cameras, I take lots of pictures, so why not use them to tell the story about the trip and convey some of the atmosphere there.

On the way there I was stuck at Denver airport for a couple of hours. Southwest's computer system went down so they grounded the entire fleet. Half of my plane was already boarded, but my bad boarding number left me at the comfortable, air-conditioned gate instead where Southwest served us our pretzels, peanuts and drinks.

Thus, I arrived in California very late. This is why the hotel is called "Wild Palms".

The same hotel where we all stayed back in 2007...

Unfortunately, no time this year for a dip in the pool....

....or to enjoy the scenery...

...because the buses were already waiting...

...yes, Google buses....

...and this is how one knows this...

...they brought us to Google campus...

...where many arrive by bike....

....yes, Google bike.

Googleplex has waterfalls....

...and wildlife...

...and a statue of Sylvia Earle....

...and more wildlife...

...and a smart car....

...and a statue of the fish-eat-fish world...

...and some more wildlife.

I registered...

...got a cool t-shirt...

...had some famous Google food for breakfast...

...and tried to make tough decisions which of many proposed sessions to attend.

....after which we had some more of the famous Google food...

...but if that wasn't enough, there's lots of food around at all times...

...that one can sample....

...before the next meal comes...

Of course, it's not all about food. It's also about explaining science with cats!

Like this...

...and this (there's much more, this is just a tiny sample).

One can find interesting things even in the bathroom!

...and on the display tables.

One could use the DNA Lego code...

...to put together sentences...

....including this one that reads "I met Bora".

But Scifoo is really about the people....

...and more people...

...and more people...

...and even more people.

That is, until one spots the Farewell Chocolate Table...

And, of course, chocolate is essential as the Fifth Food Group.

Until it's time to say goodbyes and go off to the airport and a long flight to Helsinki - about which, next time!

ScienceOnline Events Update

As we reminded you a couple of weeks ago, ScienceOnline community and the organization are busy preparing a number of upcoming events. Today, we need to give you some important updates on the planning, program and registration for the three major events coming up soon, so you can start planning today: ScienceOnlineClimate, ScienceOnlineOceans and ScienceOnlineTogether 2014. Head on to the official SciO blog to see the details.

Quick Programming Note–#SciFoo and #WCSJ2013/#sci4hels

Just a quick note. If you will be at Science Foo Camp (a.k.a. SciFoo) on June 21-23, find me and say Hello. I last went to this meeting in 2007 and I am happy to go back after a long break. Not sure what the event rules are, but I expect to livetweet quite a lot (at @BoraZ).

Likewise, if you will be at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Helsinki, Finland, on June 24-29th, find me and say Hello as well. On the 26th, I’ll be on a plenary panel – The Rise of the Science Blog Network: Lessons from All Corners of the World at 09:00-10:30am, and then immediately after that enjoying the other panel I organized – The ‘killer’ science journalists of the future at 11:15am-12:45pm. But you already know all about it, as I have blogged about that panel several times.

During those 10 days or so, I will be online pretty sporadically (except to livetweet from my phone), so be nice to the other bloggers on the network!

#sci4hels – What makes one a “killer” (science) journalist of the future?

It is only four weeks till the World Conference of Science Journalists commences in Helsinki, and our #sci4hels panel has been hard at work, for months now, at preparing for the event. We had discussions on Twitter (account, list, hashtag), set up the Google + and Facebook pages, and put together a website/blog.

Over the past few months, we also engaged the community with our questions. The first question was about the need for specialization (also see), which also feeds into the question of a need for specialized skills, like coding (see this and this).

The second question was “What does a new science journalist do to get noticed? How do you get people to read your work, give you assignments, follow you on Twitter, and generally just know who you are?” This provoked a lively discussion on Twitter.

The third question, upon noticing that all the panelists are female (and many of the upcoming science writers are, too), was a discussion about breaking the glass ceiling in the media organizations.

We all pitched in together for the Question #4: How Should Science Journalists Deal with Breaking News?.

The final, fifth question was: “What is the obligation of a science journalist when it comes to education?

Obviously, we covered a very broad range of topics. But now we need to focus. We’ll only have 90 minutes in Helsinki, and the attendees will come to hear and learn from “killer” science journalists of the future, hoping to get some advice on how to join their ranks and become one of those “killers”, successful in the fast-shifting world of modern media.

On Thursday we will publish our final post and open it up for discussion. Here, I want to make some quick, broad, Big Picture thoughts of my own.

What are the characteristics of a “killer science journalist of the future”?

Understanding that being in print, on radio, or on TV is sweet, still pays better, and still carries a cache with some audiences, but that this picture is changing fast. These 20th century types of one-way broadcast media are rapidly losing audiences, while new generations are essentially using only the Web for information, education and entertainment. Thus, it is smart to focus primarily on the online world, while still occasionally getting some money from the old media when possible.

Understanding that the currency of reputation in the new ecosystem is trust. As the readers rely less and less on the banners on top of the page and more and more on the names in the bylines, it is essential to build one’s own personal reputation and not to rely entirely on the institutional reputation of the media outlet for which one writes.

Understanding that, for one to gain the currency of trust in an online world, one has to constantly use the currency of trust – the hyperlink. A killer science journalist of the future profusely peppers one’s articles with links. Every place in the article that makes a statement should contain a link. Every such spot that does not have a link automatically is a red flag for the modern reader. What is the author trying to hide? Is the originator of information not credited properly?

If information is gained from a document, the document should be linked. If it comes from an article or a blog post, it should be linked. If it comes from a scientific paper, that paper should be linked. If there is a two-sentence quote, presumably taken out of an hour-long interview, it is important to link to the complete interview – transcript or audio or video recording. Every link is a gain of trust. Every lacking link is a loss of trust. Digital natives understand this almost instinctively. Modern online journalism is in many way just like science, including the importance of proper citation and credit for the past ideas on top of which one builds one’s new edifice.

There is no expectation that most readers will actually click on the links. The links are there as a proxy, a sign to the readers that the author has done the due diligence of actually doing the necessary research and finding the relevant sources (what quotes used to do in the old media, but now have the opposite effect online), and generally understands the way the Web requires proper credit of all sources of information. In cases of controversial statements, a small proportion of readers may click on links (even if they are behind paywalls – some readers will have access) and tell the other readers in the comments if the links actually support the statements in the text.

Understanding that the new media ecosystem is an open system. An open system is much stricter and faster in enforcing both the traditional journalistic ethics and the additional online ethics, and much harsher and faster at meting punishment on transgressors of such ethics than the old-style, closed ecosystem. Feedback is instantaneous, and often devastating. The best way to deal with criticism is complete transparency, humble admission of errors, and civil countering of incorrect information if such is presented in the feedback.

A digital native does not take harsh feedback personally, is used to harshness of online comments, shrugs it off but does not ignore the feedback – understanding that it is always a learning experience that helps one get better at the job. It is also understood that responding to feedback and involving the readers in the learning process is one way of getting better, earning trust, and gaining good reputation.

Understanding that self-promotion is not a dirty word the way it was in the 20th century. With a glut of information, and glut of overall online communication, it is necessary for the author to be seen and heard above the din. The only way to do this is to have the link circulate widely online, especially on social media. For the link to appear on social media in the first place, the author has to place it there first. If the piece is accurate, well documented, and well written, it will be spread around. For the link posted by the author to be seen, the author has to have sufficient number of people to send it to, particularly people who already trust and respect the author. Thus, building and nurturing one’s own community of friends, colleagues and readers, and being a part of other people’s similar circles, reciprocating the goodwill, is essential. This is the essence of the principle of horizontal loyalty (or “Friends In Low Places”).

Understanding that all of the above is still not enough. Doing it all correctly, diligently discovering information, linking to all the sources, not stealing ideas from bloggers and then linking only to traditional sources, being humble, respectful and transparent, and generally making a coherent article day after day, week after week, is still not enough. One day soon, everyone will be doing it technically correctly. How does one get noticed in such an environment then?

Yes, sometimes you’ll have to write a dull article for money. Perhaps too often. But the pieces that will really take off – and the pieces that will bring the reputation and trust, not just traffic – are pieces that are written with passion. So, follow your own curiosity and find your passion. Find your own obsession and turn it into your beat. Become a Go-To expert on the topic of your obsession. Ditch the boring old inverted pyramid (it was invented due to space limits of paper, something that vanished online) and start writing in an exciting way.

Or, if your passion is not any narrow topic, then your expertise – or your signature stuff, something for which people will keep coming back over and over again to check your work – may be something else: absolutely beautiful writing, or amazing visuals, or stunning art or photography, or video, or animation, or hand-coded interactive infographics, or whatever makes you excited. If you are excited, your readers will be excited, too. They will support you, tell their friends about you, and make you successful in the process. As long as the basic journalistic ethics and the additional online ethics are met, it is this added passion that will make the difference between successful writers and those who are…not so much…

Let’s Not Spring Forward.

Cross-posted from Zocalo Public Square.

Even cows don’t like Daylight Saving Time. Come Sunday morning, when the milking machines get attached to their udders a whole hour too early, the otherwise placid bovines on dairy farms around the United States will snort in surprise and dismay. They may give less milk than usual. They could take days or weeks to get used to the new milking schedules.

We are no different. While most of us won’t be hooking ourselves up to udder pumps, our bodies next week will experience a disturbance very much like the cows’ – one that can affect our mental and physical health. The reason lies in the clash between sensitive, eons-old biology deep within our cells, and human-imposed time-keeping traditions that are barely a century old. Twice every year, when we “spring forward” and “fall back,” our bodies must do battle between “sun time” and “social time.”

Before the mid-19th century, time was more flexible. Each town and village maintained the local church clock more-or-less in sync with the natural light-dark cycles of the sun. The spread of railroads changed all that. The need to keep trains moving in and out of stations at predictable times forced the adoption of a standardized time. That, in turn, led to the formation of time zones.

Daylight Saving Time (DST)—the resetting of all clocks twice a year—was first proposed by New Zealand entomologist George Vernon Hudson in 1895, for quite selfish purposes. He was studying daily cycles in insects and wanted to be able to do more of it during daylight hours. But his idea of maximizing daylight soon spread. The first country to adopt DST was Germany in 1912. Most other countries soon followed, including the United States, which instituted DST in 1918.

The leading argument in favor of DST has always been that it saves energy. Back in the early 20th century, most energy was used for lighting. So, the argument went, placing work and school schedules within daylight hours would save electricity. People wouldn’t need to use light bulbs to navigate around their homes, offices, factories, and fields in the dark, and they would have more time in the evening to indulge in commerce and entertainment.

Today, the situation is very different. The proportion of total energy that is used for lighting is miniscule compared to other, time-independent uses like factories, computers, nuclear plants, airport radars, and other facilities that run 24/7. Energy companies themselves have measured the effect, and have concluded that DST does not save energy.

With this knowledge, some nations have started re-thinking the concept. Russia, for example, abandoned the clock change in 2011, keeping one time all year round. Iceland and Belarus did the same. On the other hand, in 2007, U.S. Congress, clinging to the notion that DST saves energy, moved the onset of DST three weeks earlier than before. That change, I think, makes a difficult transition even more stressful.

Although Congress can impose these changes, it’s a bit unclear who exactly has the right to determine whether DST is implemented. Until very recently, a large number of individual counties in the state of Indiana refused to go through the clock-changing ritual. Arizona doesn’t change its clocks at all—the only state in the union (apart from Hawaii) to defy DST altogether. This lack of clarity about who is in charge may be one of the reasons why a more sustained effort to abolish DST has been unsuccessful nationwide.

Whether or not DST saves energy is the least of the reasons why it’s a bad idea. Much more important are the health effects of sudden, hour-long shifts on our bodies and minds. Chronobiologists who study circadian rhythms know that for several days after the spring-forward clock resetting – and especially that first Monday – traffic accidents increase, workplace injuries go up and, perhaps most telling, incidences of heart attacks rise sharply. Cases of depression also go up. As the faint light of dawn starts preparing our bodies for waking up (mainly through the rise of cortisol secretion), our various organs, including the heart, also start preparing for increased function. If the alarm clock suddenly rings an hour earlier than usual, a weak heart can suffer an infarct.

The reason for negative health effects of DST is that, in essence, the entire world is jet-lagged for a few days. Unlike some animals, like honeybees and reindeer, humans have a very robust circadian clock system that resists abrupt shifts.

Every cell in our bodies contains a biological clock which coordinates the events in those cells—for example, when gene transcription turns on and off, or when specific proteins are made. When we are exposed to a light-dark cycle that is different from what we experienced the previous days, some types of cells synchronize to the new environmental cycle faster than the others. Cells in our eyes, for example, may adjust in about a day, while cells in our brains take a couple of days. Cells in the digestive system and liver may take weeks. So, for weeks after the DST clock change, our bodies are like a clock shop in which each timepiece cuckoos at a different time of day—a cacophony of confusing signals.

Our bodies are constantly being pulled apart by conflicting demands of the natural ‘sun time‘ and culturally imposed ‘social time‘. People living in urban areas may be better shielded from the sun time than their rural counterparts, because of artificial lighting and the skyglow it produces, but nobody is completely isolated from its influence. Twelve noon according to the clock is not twelve noon according to the planet. Citizens of Barcelona and Bucarest are almost two hours apart in their perception of sun time, yet live in the same social time—the same time zone that encompasses most of Europe.

Even those of us who are lucky enough to work from home and can generally set our own work schedules are not completely immune to the effects of DST. I still have to drive my daughter to school at the time prescribed by the local clock, not by local sunlight. My colleagues have expectations about when I will pick up the phone for a teleconference or respond to their emails. I am supposed to show up for my dental appointment at 7am, not “two hours after dawn”.

But if I ever buy a cow—and that is not as crazy as it sounds since I live next door to a dairy farm—I have a plan. Of course I’ll ignore the bi-annual clock changes, which I hear many smart dairy farmers already do. But I’ll go a step further and ignore social time altogether, milking her at the sun time her nervous system can understand, probably the crack of dawn. Whatever I do, I will never make her suffer through the sudden shift of DST. And none of us human animals should suffer it, either.

Image: Dirk Hanson

ScienceOnline2013 – interview with Karyn Traphagen

Every year I ask some of the attendees of the ScienceOnline conferences to tell me (and my readers) more about themselves, their careers, current projects and their views on the use of the Web in science, science education or science communication. So now we continue with the participants of ScienceOnline2013. See all the interviews in this series here.

Today my guest is Karyn Traphagen, the Executive Director of ScienceOnline (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 and other) background?

I was born in New Jersey (please don’t hold that against me).

I suppose, in retrospect, I was one of the Apollo generation kids and that has affected me more than I realized. I clearly remember being a very young child and standing by some adults who were debating whether or not we would really get to the moon and back. I grew up with the Gemini missions and Apollo missions. My entire elementary school would gather in the gymnasium around one television to watch launches and splashdowns.

After I started kindergarten we stayed in the same house until I graduated from high school (remarkable when you learn that I have moved 26 times since then). I was the oldest of four girls. My father was part of my life until I was in middle school (and then he entered my life again after I had my own children), but it was my mother who really instilled in me the interest and discipline and confidence that make me so curious and adventurous.

One of my favorite memories is constructing furniture with my mom. In those days there were no IKEA designers with clear instructions. We had all those foreign diagrams and crazy languages to guide us. I learned at an early age how to persevere, tinker, and make it work. I guess you could say we had a Maker culture and DIY house before the terms were popularized.

I also had an amazing chemistry set (which no doubt is illegal these days).  Of course, all the illustrations were of boys, but that didn’t bother me one bit. I had a picture of my mom before she was married and she was working in a lab with all manner of science glassware. I thought that was the best picture ever of my mom. Even though she stopped working in the lab to get married and have us kids, I thought it was perfectly normal to want to do science. It didn’t even occur to me that I couldn’t figure these things out. I also had a small mirror microscope that was nearly impossible to get to work. But I still had slides and slides of samples I collected. Even today my office is full of geologic and botanical specimens I’ve collected.

It wasn’t until later in life that I realized we were really poor growing up because I always thought we had the most amazing house. It was a tiny rental duplex. But we had file cabinets full of paper, pens, glue, tape, crayons, cardboard, glitter, and all sorts of creative stuff. What I didn’t realize was that it was all cast-offs from mailing rooms and offices (the paper was discarded stationary and onion skin paper for carbon copies). So, again, my mom was ahead of the times with re-purposing and recycling even before the first Earth Day had been organized.

Speaking of Earth Day, I can remember as a young girl how much I loved that first festival. My best friend and I were so impressed that we started our own Anti-Pollution Club. I doubt we really did very much to affect the trash and pollution in our town, but I know it did change us.

Another thing that changed me was the monthly arrival of the National Geographic magazine. Someone must have given us a subscription, because I’m sure we couldn’t have afforded it. But I (absolutely) loved reading about Jane Goodall. I wanted to go sit in the jungle and be like her. I would lose myself in the photos of space and dive in the ocean with Jacques Cousteau. I would crawl down into the earth with the stories about insects and their habits. And volcanoes! Who knew, at that time, that I would live in Hawai’i for a while and get to walk on newly cooled lava and then watch red hot lava flow into the ocean? My love of science owes a debt of gratitude to NatGeo for the visual imagery and stories they brought to me.

In high school, I was part of the “advanced track.” This meant that I had double periods of math and double periods of science every year. Double periods of math! I was invited to be part of the school’s Math League team. I hardly noticed that there were only two girls on the team. Double periods of science meant lots and lots of labs. Let’s just say that having a lab partner who sutured our fetal pig back together each night should give you a glimpse of the kind of classmates I had. But I also played violin, taught myself guitar, and sang in the choir. I became a thespian and loved drama (apparently, both on stage and off). You see, it was just the beginning of my interest in everything. I owe it to my mom that I always thought that if I was interested in something I could just go out and learn it and do it. So, I just kept doing that.

I graduated from high school early. In part, because of a dare/challenge. There were three of us who thought it would be great to graduate early (no idea why we thought that at first). The school told us “No, you can’t do that. It isn’t allowed, it’s never been done.” Hmmpff. That’s one of the surest ways to get me to try to make something happen. So, we looked at the specific policies and rules in place, and found a loophole that would allow us to graduate in three years (by doubling up on some coursework). We appealed to the school board, and they agreed. We were the first to do that. It also meant that I was in the graduating class of female students who were first invited to apply to West Point. I didn’t go to West Point, or any of the other amazing opportunities I was offered. Instead, my education and career “trajectory” began to look more like I was tacking in a sailboat.

The short story is Life and Family (capital L and F) became priorities for various reasons. The result is that along the way I got married, had 2 daughters (both awesome), had my 2 youngest sisters come into our house under our guardianship, had my other sister live with us for a time while she finished her undergrad degree, ran several entrepreneurial endeavors, learned a lot of new things, and moved a lot.

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

Trajectory assumes a smooth path that obeys the law of gravity and as I’ve already noted, my journey has taken a rather torturous, meandering route. But (and please forgive me for this), as Tolkien’s oft-quoted poem says: “Not all those who wander are lost.”

While meandering, I hiked and backpacked all 46 of the Adirondack High Peaks (becoming an ADK46er along with my husband and our 2 daughters). I have taught physics to high school students, undergrads, & grad students. I did research with cadavers to help develop a tibia index to make more biofidelic crash test dummies. I coded. I studied (and taught) ancient languages and their writing systems, like Ugaritic, Aramaic, Biblical Hebrew, and Babylonian. I studied Tolkien linguistics (and created a Tengwar Primer). I created miniature medieval calligraphy pieces (with period techniques for pigments and gilding). Less academic, I taught myself how to make molds of my own ears so I could design elf ear prosthetics. Yes, really.

I coached a cross country team. I bicycled a few century rides. I went to South Sudan to help train teachers whose lives had been disrupted by decades of war. I studied in Stellenbosch, South Africa. I taught English during some summers in Hungary. I took students on week-long sailing trips in the Bahamas. I worked at the Museum of Life and Science (Durham, NC) with the Animal Department—lemurs and snakes and bears, oh my!

And, then my life also took a turn back to Space. I’ve been to several NASATweetups (now called NASAsocials) where I was able to meet people like Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson (& amazing NASA people) while we watched rockets launch missions to the moon and Mars. My name is on a chip on the Mars Curiosity rover! I absolutely love how NASA has re-invented itself in the public eye.

Eventually, all the experiences and education came together in a kind of perfect storm that led me to Bora and Anton and ScienceOnline.

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

ScienceOnline! It’s an amazing privilege to represent the ScienceOnline community and work to build the projects, tools, and resources that create the opportunities for conversation, community, and collaborations. I’m so grateful for my friendship with Bora and Anton and for their trust in me and their encouragement to take the momentum from the last 7 years of conferences and move forward, as an organization, in new and exciting directions.

We have topical events (ScienceOnline: Oceans; ScienceOnline: Climate and more) being developed. Regional events around the world are springing up. Tools and resources (such as ScienceSeeker are being developed. And then, of course there are the logistics of a new organization to work on.

I think the distinctives that characterize our events are our focus on conversation and relationships. There are many valuable science conferences and associations that are more presentation focused, but we prioritize face-to-face meetings between people who have met or work together online so that they can build relationships which will lead to new collaborations and better science communication.

What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most? You are obviously a veteran blogger. And you’ve been using Twitter for at least two years longer than I have. What platforms and what types of online activity you found most useful, or most gratifying to use? How does blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, Google Plus and Facebook? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do? What new platforms or method of online communication, if any, are you excited about?

I don’t blog as much as used to, or as much as I would like. My current personal blog is stay-curious.com and I still have all these ideas, but a lack of time. I’ve been writing for ScienceOnline (organization documents, grants, policy, copy for projects, etc) but it’s not the same! I miss having time to introduce people to aspects of the world they live in that they may not have noticed.

Twitter has been a wonderful way to stay involved online with content creation when I don’t have the time to do long blog posts. I think the various social media platforms are invaluable for data acquisition, data sharing, data analysis, science outreach, professional development, community, and communication. I like to explore ways to exploit the tools in ways their creators never imagined. A good example of this is how Fraser Cain (of Universe Today) took the Google+ hangouts to a completely new level with virtual star parties. I don’t think the Google developers ever dreamed that telescopes would stream live images of distant worlds into our homes via G+ hangouts. This excites me for the future because there are tools we haven’t even created yet and new ways of sharing information and community still to discover.

I’m most excited about the platforms we have yet to create.

I can’t imagine not being online. But I do sometimes need to unplug (albeit briefly). I love to get out in nature to hike, explore, collect small things. I like to be alone. I like to think. I’m training for the Rocketman Triathlon which will have the bicycle portion go through the launchpads at Kennedy Space Center! Oh, and I’ll be doing the triathlon with Camilla Corona, the NASA mascot for the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). She’s a rubber chicken. After that, I’m looking forward to exploring Alaska in May.

What is the best aspect of ScienceOnline for you, now that you are the Executive Director? How is it different from when you were just an attending participant?

Well, I’m an introvert (amazing how many of the attendees seem to claim this trait). It has become much easier to talk to people because they all know who I am now. It is harder for me to remember all the new people though! I have some ideas for next year to help with this (but I’m not telling yet!)

I love the creative details that I’ve been able to bring to life at the conferences, but I’m so excited to be thinking big picture, to draw in all my previous experiences/skills and work to enable others to bring out their own potential and skill.

I’ve been most surprised by the opportunities to mentor. I guess I keep thinking “Who am I to give counsel or advice? I’m still growing up!” But apparently, I guess I have lived a fair bit and done a few things and it may be helpful to a handful. So, yes, I do enjoy encouraging and listening to some of the members of our community who have come to me in that way.

I know you always have surprises for all of us – including some that even Anton and I don’t know about until the conference starts! Is there one of those little surprises that you are willing to reveal in advance, right now?

I do love to surprise and delight people. At tweetups I often bring toys (as you know!) to give people something fun to try out and play with. For the conference(s), I try to think of ideas to keep it fresh, to make it fun, to make people more likely to think creatively. I work hard at cultivating an atmosphere that allows conversation. Sometimes breaking down the “professional” barriers by playing with some origami or LEGO blocks at a table helps people to interact in a more casual and engaging way.

What does the future hold?

If I knew that, do you think I would tell you? All I can say is that I’m always ready for an adventure.

Thank you so much! It is exciting to see ScienceOnline move into the new future under your leadership.

 


Science Studio update – and a new challenge

The other day I gave you a quick update on various projects and events, including the update on Science Studio – the multimedia version of Open Laboratory project. With eight days to go, our Kickstarter project is only $500 shy of the $5000 we need to get the podcasting project funded. As the response from the community was so strong, Rose, Ben and I thought we could do more – include video if we can crack $8000. Do you think we can do it? I bet we can, but we rely on you, and your ability and willingness to spread the word. Here is what Rose says:

Oh man, people, you are awesome. We’re so close to our goal I can taste all the amazing audio we’ll be bringing you. It kind of tastes like electricity.

But you know what, we’ve still got eight days left. And Ben, Bora and I want to make this the best thing we possibly can, so we’ve decided to up the ante a little bit. Right now, we’re focusing on audio. And, like we said, there’s a ton of that. But there’s all sorts of other stuff out there too, video, animations, graphics, interactives, maps, the list goes on. We didn’t think we’d be able to do it all, but if we get a little more of your help, we can chip away at that giant pile of amazing content.

So here’s the challenge. If we can crack $8,000, we’ll add video to the mix. That’s right, from Minute Physics to TED Ed to Vsauce to Instant Egghead to Creature Cast to Vi Hart. We know you love video, and we love it too. Let’s make this happen together, everybody.

What do you say? Are you up for the challenge? Let’s play.

Quick updates: #scio13, #wjchat, Science Studio, @scifri

As you probably know, last week was ScienceOnline2013 – I still need to wind down, and catch up, before the regular blogging will resume. For those of you who missed it, you can catch up on coverage on the Scio13 Information Central page, see the media and blog coverage to date, or watch the recordings of morning Converge talks (a number of other recorded sessions will be available at the same link later). Or join us in the still very active conversation on Twitter using #scio13 hashtag.

During the event, last week, I was also a guest on the NPR Science Friday show with Ira Flatow, mostly discussing the paper (and my post about it) on the effect of blog/article comment threads on the audience understanding of the articles. You can listen to that radio segment here.

One of my projects, the Science Studio (the podcast/multimedia version of Open Laboratory) has only 9 more days to go on Kickstarter and still needs $1214 to reach the goal. Take a look….

Finally, today at 8pm EST, go on Twitter, set up a search for the #wjchat hashtag, and participate in the discussion on science journalism, science blogging and more, with myself acting as the host.

Photo: Dirk Hanson

Commenting threads: good, bad, or not at all.

Proposed alternative title: “This post is not about climate change”

Yes, we've all been there....

Yes, we've all been there....

A couple of weeks ago, an article was published in Science about online science communication (nothing new there, really, that we have not known for a decade, but academia is slow to catch up). But what was interesting in it, and what everyone else jumped on, was a brief mention of a conference presentation that will be published soon in a journal. It is about the effect of the tone of comments on the response of other readers to the article on which the comments appear.

I have contacted the authors and have received and read a draft of that paper. Since it is not published yet, I will not break all sorts of embargoes by going into details, but can re-state what is already out there. An article about nanotechnology, a topic most people know very little about and usually have no a priori biases for or against, was presented to the test subjects. Half the people saw the article with (invented) polite, civil and constructive comments. The other half was given the same article but with uncivil comments – essentially a flame-war in the fake commenting thread. The result is that readers of the second version quickly developed affinity for one side of the argument and strongly took that side, which affected the way they understood and trusted the original article (text of which was unaltered). The nasty comment thread polarized the opinion of readers, leading them to misunderstand the original article.

The assumption is that on hot topics, like climate change, readers already come to the article with pre-concieved notions, and thus the civility of the comments would have no effect on them – they are already polarized. Choosing nanotechnology as a topic was a way to see how comments affect “virgin minds”, i.e., how the tone of comments starts the process of polarization in new readers.

They specifically chose a topic about which most people know very little and do not already have any opinion. Neither the article nor the comments contain sufficient information to turn the readers into experts on the subject. So they have to use mental heuristics – shortcuts – to decide what to think about this new subject. Uncivil, aggressive comments resulted in quick polarization. Readers, although still not well informed about the topic, quickly adopted strong opinions about it.

1-9-90 rule

As many of you may already know, there is this thing called a 1-9-90 rule of online participation. In any given online community, about 1% of the participants produce most of the content, another 9% participate regularly by editing (e.g., on a wiki), commenting (on blogs and articles), occasionally producing new content (in forums, etc), and the remaining 90% are ‘lurkers’ who do not publicly participate but only read (though these days, many of them participate a little more publicly, if not creatively, by “Liking”, tweeting, and otherwise sharing the content in ways that are visible to others, but without adding any thoughts of their own). The exact proportions vary from site to site, but are usually close enough to 1-9-90 for the general rule to hold.

For sites like this one – a media organization and a blog network – the 1% are pre-ordained: our editors, staff, freelancers, network bloggers and guest bloggers. In other word, they are selected, not self-selected, and many of them can do it only once or very rarely. The 9% are active commenters, and the 90% read and perhaps share, but never say anything on the site itself.

Where are the comments?

Many people have noticed that the quantity of commenting, especially on blogs, has sharply decreased over the last couple of years. One reason is that discussion of the article or a post is now happening elsewhere – on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus…) or online communities (Reddit, Digg, Fark, Slashdot…), and are not physically attached to the original post. The trackback functionality is disabled on many sites due to enormous amount of spam.

Some new commenting systems are trying to re-attach such detached discussions back to the original post, but that is still not completely technically feasible – one can certainly not bring in a conversation happening on someone’s private Facebook wall. Some of those 9% of readers, instead of commenting on the post (at least a brief “Nice post, thank you”) are now sharing the link elsewhere and perhaps discussing it elsewhere, without the author of the original article ever being able to see that discussion.

Instead of “silent” participation leading gradually to more active participation as one becomes more comfortable with the site, it seems the opposite is happening: mildly active users are now becoming silent users as it is easier to click “Share on Facebook” than to post a brief comment.

But there is another problem here – most of the good, nice, constructive commenters may have gone silent and taken their discussions of your blog elsewhere, but the remaining few commenters are essentially trolls.

The question every blogger in this situation has to ask is – what to do next?

One option is to give up on comments entirely, and perhaps completely shut down the commenting functionality, trying, at the same time, to find and track discussions wherever they may be happening. A veteran blogger, Dan Conover just did that – go read his explanation why.

Commenting is not an essential element of blogging. Some of the most popular blogs never had comments, e.g., Andrew Sullivan’s The Dish, Josh Marshall’s Talking Points Memo (though his site has plenty of other spaces for the community to be active), or John Hawks’ blog. They always got plenty of reader feedback via email, and now also get it via social media where all of them are quite active.

Another option is to do some serious and time-consuming work on building the commenting community and motivating readers to post comments. It is much harder now than is used to be. And the presence of those few remaining comments – most of them vile and nasty – does not motivate serious people to add constructive comments into a cesspool of primitive discourse. Which brings us to the topic of…

Comment moderation

What does it mean to moderate comments? Different people have different ideas about it, but many focus on technical fixes.

Spam filters – most spam filters already come pre-programmed to eliminate specific types of spam, e.g, those that contain words like Rollex, Vuiton, Viagra, Texas hold-em (unfortunately, sometimes just “Texas”) as well as various XXX words. Some spam filters allow the blogger to manually add or remove terms that trigger the spam filter. Other blogging software allows one to “teach” the spam filters over time, by sending comments to Spam, or by rescuing valid comments out of the spam folder.

Pre-comment moderation – in which the blogger sets up the software to send email notification each time there is an attempt at commenting. The blogger then goes to the dashboard, reads the comment and makes a decision: to set the comment live, to trash it, or to ‘teach’ the spam filter by sending the comment to Spam.

Post-comment moderation – in which all comments initially go live, but the blogger is generally online a lot, gets email notifications about each posted comment, and can quickly react and, if necessary, delete or spam the offensive comment. In some cases, the first time someone comments, their comment is held in moderation, but if the comment is approved, subsequent comments go through automatically.

Sophisticated graded moderation – some sites have been experimenting with more complex commenting systems which allow for, e.g., upgrading and downgrading comments (so upgraded comments get moved up to the top, while downgraded comments may become invisible); or letting valued commenters earn badges and special privileges over time, so their comments may show up on top, perhaps in different color, or with different types of signs or avatars; or allowing users to report inappropriate comments to the moderators. Other sites are starting to experiment with annotations in place of comments. Also see Dave Winer who separates main blog from comments – he requires an additional click or two to comment. I find this an interesting strategy, to make it harder to comment, thus filters in only who have something to say, and are motivated to do so, perhaps because they have been reading Dave for a decade and consider him a friend. Other bloggers may have the opposite problem – too few comments, so they want to make commenting easier in order to get comments, but then they are likely to get trolls first.

Modifying comments – leaving the inappropriate comments on site, but altering them in ways that makes them much harder to read, or making the commenter look silly, e.g, by inserting a picture of a bunny rabbit, or disemvoweling or using the Kitten Setting. The lightest ‘touch’ is to leave the comment as it is, but remove a link contained in the comment if it leads to a site you do not want to send traffic to. And yes, all of this is completely legal, and a very good strategy.

Engagement – the most important element of comment moderation is the presence of the author in the commenting thread. Responding to readers’ comments, thus showing that they are being read, observed and appreciated, is the most effective way to make sure that the discussions stay on topic and do not veer over the line of appropriateness. Sometimes a comment hurts, or makes you angry. Sleep over it. Then come up with a smart, witty, civil and firm response. Be in control of your own commenting threads:

So, why are so many comment threads so nasty?

Because they are not moderated! At all! In ALL of the senses listed just above. If commenters think your commenting thread is a public space where they can do whatever they want because nobody’s watching, they will do whatever they want. And that is not pretty. And then the potentially constructive comments never get posted, because normal people do not want to waste their time thinking and writing comments that will just get flamed.

If you don’t delete or disemvowel inappropriate comments, people will think you are not even reading the comment threads. If you don’t show up in person, nobody will know you are even interested in their thoughts. If you don’t delete the trolls, the trolls will take over and the nice people will go somewhere else.

Early online discussion spaces, e.g., newsgroups, were largely unmoderated affairs (with some exceptions). It was a Wild, Wild West. When first blogs appeared, the spirit of free speech permeated the early online discussions – bloggers felt they should let everyone have their say, because their blogs were rare spaces where people could do that.

Then traditional media got into the game and started allowing comments on their articles. And that is where everything broke down. Due to a grave misunderstanding of an old court case by the legal departments (I really, really hate to use nasty words like “idiotic”, but my Thesaurus has come up empty with suggestions for apt synonyms) at some media organizations – which then spread to all of them – newspapers decided not to moderate their comments at all! Not using any of the methods listed above. Actively preventing authors and editors from deleting, editing or responding to comments! Really! What did they expect to happen – intellectual treatises occurring on their own in each comment? Perhaps they thought the comments would be just like Letters to the Editor, but already edited, chosen and filtered automatically before they even arrive?

Yes, all methods of comment moderation are perfectly legal and don’t let any media lawyer tell you otherwise – they keep getting it wrong.

Free Speech is a very American concept. Most of the other 200 nations on the planet do not provide constitutional protection of free speech. And Internet is global.

And even within the USA, the concept of free speech does not mean everyone has the right to say everything everywhere. It does not mean you have the right to say your stuff on my blog. It means you have the right to start your own blog. Just because I have commenting functionality on my site, does not mean you have the right to post whatever you want on it. Every host of every site has the right to delete, edit, or modify any comment in any way, to ban users, and to implement whatever moderation norms and techniques one wants.

Commenting is a privilege, not a right. You have to earn it.

While early bloggers were generous, giving their rare online spaces up to public discussion, there is no need to feel so generous any more. Starting one’s own blog is easy these days, and ranting on social media is even easier. There is plenty of space for people to discuss stuff, and that does not have to happen on your site – the era of such generosity is mostly over, and most veteran bloggers have severely tightened their commenting rules over the years.

And yes, some blogs are still rich with vibrant commenting communities – e.g., Atrios, Pharyngula, etc. They have people there who talk to each other every day, often ignoring the topic of the actual post. And then mega-blogs, like DailyKos, are a completely different animal, where community provides most of the content, in form of diaries (as well as lots of comments).

My blog is my living room in my home. I set the rules. I determine the tone. I determine the topic of conversation. When you post a comment on my site, you agree to abide by my rules, you stick to the topics I determined, and you keep the tone I deem OK to be used in my home (imagine reading out loud your comment in front of my wife, mother and kids). I have the right to warn you and to kick you out of my home – it’s my party, after all. You have no right to be here, no right to say anything – it is up to me to welcome you here, and up to you to ensure you are welcomed.

Another way to think of your blog (which I heard from Anton Zuiker) might be as a classroom where you are the teacher. It is important to keep control if you want to facilitate a constructive discussion. Unless you are willing to use your time and energy to keep control and engage in the discussion yourself, you may be better off not having comments at all.

If I delete your comment, it is not censorship (and if you cry “censorship” I will laugh out loud). You are free to start your own blog and start working on increasing its Google Rank so it becomes visible in searches. It takes time and effort, but I will not lend my Google Rank to you to use for your blatherings. Do the work yourself.

And if you are a blogger, and your comment threads are nasty, you have only yourself to blame.

In this comment on a recent post of mine, I was commended for having a good, vigorous, constructive discussion. How did I manage to do it? By swiftly deleting about a dozen trolling comments as soon as they were posted. If I did not do that, half of the good comments would not have been posted as their authors would not have bothered. The discussion would have veered off-topic onto some silly tangent, and trolls would have taken over.

And it is not about blocking every opinion that is different from mine. Obviously, some of the commenters disagreed with me on the content and conclusions of my post. And there are a couple of comments there by obvious climate dieniers that I left standing because they were on-topic and civil in tone, despite me not agreeing with them one bit. It is not about censorship, it is about tending the garden of one’s commenting threads, by nurturing the good flowers and removing the weeds.

“You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” – Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Different websites and blogs have different goals. This one, see the banner above, has the word “Scientific” in it. This means something. This means that the discussions are about science and about the way science and society interact. This also means that the content of our site tries to present factual information about the world, as best discerned from scientific data.

This magazine is 167 years old. The magazine and its website and blogs often cover the latest studies that add just a new twist to an old, established body of work. Some articles summarize larger, established bodies of work.

Early in the magazine’s history, during its first couple of decades of existence, it was established that biological evolution is a fact. Since then, we cover, daily, new twists and turns in details of exact mechanisms of how evolution works, or about its results, e.g., discoveries of new fossils or new living species. But the fact of evolution is long established. Thus, almost none of our articles discuss this fact. Thus, a constructive comment thread on any of those news articles would involve discussions of those fine points of mechanism, or details of the new finding. A comment thread that debates the fact of evolution is off-topic. It is not “vigorous debate”, it is a comment thread hijacked by creationist trolls. They are entitled to their beliefs and opinions, but they are not entitled to their facts. Evolution is a fact. Questioning the fact of evolution is not a part of discussion of a particular new finding or mechanism. There are other online forums that discuss that – this is not one of them. Thus, such comments are trolling, and need to be deleted so people who do have a scientific mindset have a free and welcoming forum to discuss the details of the study described in the article.

The same goes for climate change. It is a fact that global warming is true. And it is also a well established fact that humans played a big role in it. And the notion that if we broke it we should fix it is what responsible humans do. Thus, an article about a new study about climate or weather or energy or infrastructure is not a proper forum for debating the well-established facts. There is no debate there. Thus, such comments need to be deleted.

Now let’s go back to the very beginning of this post and the forthcoming article about the effect the tone of comments affects readers. If we leave the creationist or denialist troll comments up, what does it do to the rest of the readers? It polarizes them, it makes them more certain about things than what their actual knowledge warrants, while at the same time repelling experts from wading into the mud-pool to correct, over and over again, the untrue statements and anti-facts posted by denialist trolls.

How do you decide what is a trolling comment?

The first definition of trolling is ‘posting comments in order to derail the discussion’, to take it away from the topic of the original article and onto a topic the commenter wants to discuss – his/her own pet peeve.

If you want your comment threads to remain clean and civil, and to stick to the topic in the article, you HAVE to delete off-topic comments.

So, if I write about a wonderful dinner I had last night, and somewhere in there mention that one of the ingredients was a GMO product, but hey, it was tasty, then a comment blasting GMOs is trolling. Any comment that contains the word “Monsanto” instantly flies into the spam folder.

If I write about a wonderful weekend mountain trek, and note I saw some flowers blooming earlier than they used to bloom years ago, then a comment denying climate change is trolling. I am a biologist, so I don’t write specifically about climate science as I do not feel I am expert enough for that. So, I am gradually teaching my spam filter to automatically send to spam any and every comment that contains the words “warmist”, “alarmist”, “Al Gore” or a link to Watts. A comment that contains any of those is, by definition, not posted in good faith. By definition, it does not provide additional information relevant to the post. By definition, it is off-topic. By definition, it contains erroneous information. By definition, it is ideologically motivated, thus not scientific. By definition, it is polarizing to the silent audience. It will go to spam as fast I can make it happen.

For a science site, every comment that insert non-scientific, anti-scientific, nonsensical, ideologically or religiously motivated anti-facts, is by definition not just trolling, but spam. Like online Viagra sales. Literally! There is more and more evidence that a small subset of trolling posts (e.g., those aggressively promoting climate denialism) may be paid for by astroturf organizations funded by some vested interest groups. By peppering every article and post that can remotely have anything to do with their topic of choice, they provide an illusion that their pet movement is bigger than it really is, or that support for their position is more widespread than it really is (which then, if it works, results in the actual rise in the support for their anti-science positions). This then encourages the others (after they got persuaded quickly, without having their own sufficient knowledge, as the nanotechnology paper showed) to keep posting additional comments for free. The first troll comments are supposed to be seeds for more trolling. Which is why it is essential to cut them at the root. You do not want to provide a free platform for a paid political operation.

I am certainly not using cowardly, mealy-mouthed He-Said-She-Said mode of writing my own posts, so I will also not allow for a He-Said-She-Said pseudo-debate to develop in my comment threads. You don’t like it? Deal with it. Go and complain in the comments on Watts’ posts, or on your Facebook wall.

And the idea that deleting inappropriate comments reinforces the formation of “echo-chambers” is a complete myth. Plenty of different opinions are out there, many more of them much more easily available than before the Web. The commenting threads are not a place to showcase the whole spectrum of opinions, no matter how outrageous some of them are, but to educate your readers, and to, in turn, get educated by your readers who always know something you don’t.

My own moderation rules

You are reading this on my own, personal blog. I know, the distinction is fuzzy. The blog is hosted on Scientific American, and I am an editor at Scientific American, thus this blog is in some way a public face of the organization. But writing this blog (or even hosting it on this site) is specifically not included in my contract and in my job description. This remains my own, personal blog. I host it here because it makes sense to me – it is easy (I am here all the time anyway), it feels natural, and it provides me a greater visibility than if I self-hosted it elsewhere.

Now, I am aware I represent the organization in public. Thus, I am very careful that everything that goes up on this blog is following the range of topics and the discourse standards of SciAm. If I think something I have to say does not really fit here, I post it on my Twitter or Facebook or Google Plus or Tumblr. And even there I am aware that I am still seen as a public face of SciAm so I am careful what kind of language I use, how I behave, etc. Deleting trolls, and not providing a platform for anti-science ideas, is good behavior for a scientist, a science writer, and an editor at Scientific American. It demonstrates I care for the truth.

If I want to say something that does not fit my public role as an editor, and if we cannot meet in person or chat on the phone, I will send you an email. I treat email as the last remaining channel for private, confidential communication, so if I tell you something in an email, it is between you and me, and not to be shared with others.

So here, on my personal blog, I like NOT to have pre-written Moderation Rules. Sure, I can be capricious, which keeps commenters on edge. But, really, I am putting a lot of thought into comment moderation, and I think carefully about each comment. I make decisions on a case-by-case basis. What is my post about? The same comment may be appropriate on one post and not on another.

Blasting in here with “Al Gore!” makes it easy for me to decide – you are not coming here to do anything but start a flame war and perhaps get a rise out of me. Perhaps you are paid-per-comment (or you were duped into doing it for free). Your comment is going straight to spam. A few more times, and I’ll ban you (and as there is no way to ban a commenter from just one blog, I’ll ban you site-wide, after consulting with colleagues, something I did only a couple of times in the last two years – I am careful, and do not ban easily, though there are dozens of other regulars who are under my careful watch and coming dangerously close to getting banned, which is fine, as that opens the field for better commenters to take their place).

But if you come in with strong language, or ideas that are not constructive, but I detect that you are just uninformed about my commenting standards (perhaps you just arrived from YouTube or DailyMail or 4chan), I will welcome you in a comment, explain that my kids are watching (so mind your language), and explain my “three strikes and you’re out” rule I sometimes employ on commenters like that. The commenters who get greeted that way either disappear forever, or they make the three strikes so get banned, or they tone it down and become regular, productive members of my commenting community (even though some of the same people may have been banned from many other science blogs).

I also have moderation powers on several other spots on the site, e.g., on Guest Blog, Expeditions, The SA Incubator, The Network Central and if I post myself on some of the other spots (Observations, @Scientific American, or on the main site). I employ pretty much the same rules there, though I am even more careful, and put even more thought into each comment. I especially want to protect our guest bloggers – some of whom are academics and not used to rowdy online behavior – from at least the worst core of our regular trolls.

The rest of the bloggers on the network employ their own rules, use their own judgement. Some pre-moderate, some post-moderate, some are very strict, some are very lenient. And we do not (yet) have more sophisticated commenting tools here. Especially female bloggers often have little choice but to be strict in their moderation, as the Web seems to bring out the nastiest mysogynists in droves.

I do not moderate the rest of the site – articles or posts written or edited by other SciAm staff are moderated by them.

Now, I know that I used the example of Global Warming Denialism here the most – mainly because it is currently the most acute problem on our site – but the same goes for people harboring other anti-scientific ideas: creationists, anti-vaxxers, knee-jerk anti-GMO activists, and others.

This post is not about climate denial, it is about commenting and comment moderation. It is about the fact that eliminating trolls opens the commenting threads to more reasonable people who can actually provide constructive comments, thus starting the build-up of your own vigorous commenting community.

There are seven billion people on the planet, many of them potentially useful commenters on your site. Don’t scare them away by keeping a dozen trolls around – you can live without those, they are replaceable.

Thus, on this post, comments about climate will be deleted.

Image Source.

ScienceOnline – crossing a river with Anton Zuiker

I have been conducting these ScienceOnline interviews for years now, and somehow I never got to interviewing you – one of the founders! It’s high time, don’t you think? So, without further ado, 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 background? How did you get into medical journalism?

Thank you, Bora. Like you, my last name starts with a Z, so I’m used to waiting for everyone to be called to the front of the classroom to speak. I think that that was one of the early experiences that taught me to pay attention to others. So, it’s been a pleasure to read your interviews through the years and to admire all the unique individuals who have been drawn to ScienceOnline. You’ve done an amazing thing in asking them to share a bit about their lives. The Web — the world — is a better place when we can stop to listen to each person’s story.

I live in Carrboro, North Carolina. I came here 12 years ago, and before that the longest I’d lived in one place was five years as a boy in Idaho. I’ve also lived in Ohio, the South Pacific, Hawaii, Illinois, U.S. Virgin Islands, Arizona, Minnesota and California. I’m the oldest of five sons. My father was a Peace Corps Volunteer (1965-67, Dominican Republic) and coordinator for the VISTA program, then became an attorney. My mother was a parochial-school teacher and principal. In 1981, my parents were watching the nightly news when the television sparked and died. They put it in the closet and never got another, probably the most important parenting decision in my life. I’m a voracious reader because of them. On St. Croix, the house we rented had stacks and stacks of National Geographic, and I set my mind to becoming editor of that journal. Inspired by the photos, I joined the eighth-grade photography club to learn to develop my own pictures.

My high school years were spent in DeKalb, Illinois, my mother’s hometown. I played varsity soccer, was elected student body president, edited an award-winning literary journal, worked summers detasseling hybrid seed corn and walking soybean fields, and with a couple of friends formed a juggling troupe named for the 18th-century Swiss scientist Daniel Bernoulli (our terrific physics teacher suggested that). My dad regularly took me and my brothers into Chicago to visit the Museum of Science and Industry and to see the Blackhawks and White Sox and Cubs (he taught me how to keep the box score, and always have hope), and his stories about being a hard-working vendor — ‘Beer, here!’ — were often more interesting than the games we’d come to see. Dad also taught me to think about the consequences of my actions, and to keep a record of my activities. My mother encouraged me to make new friends and to persevere when my math homework brought me to tears.

When I entered college at John Carroll University in suburban Cleveland, I knew I wanted to be a journalist and to live a life of service, including following in my father’s footsteps and joining the Peace Corps. I also thought long and hard about becoming a Franciscan friar, but decided to become a different kind of father. I fell in love, but moved to Hawaii, where I got to interview astronomer Jerry Nelson in the Keck Observatory. Eventually, I returned to Cleveland, married Erin, and worked as an arts magazine editor. Together we joined the Peace Corps and went to the Republic of Vanuatu, later returning to the U.S. via Australia, Asia and Europe.

So, geographically, I’ve been around. Around the world, quite literally. And philosophically, I’ve learned to be open to that world and its possibilities. My parents taught me to make the best of each and every situation, and how to talk with people to find our similarities and marvel in our differences.

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

You’re probably still wondering how I got into medical journalism. That came out of my time in Vanuatu. Erin and I both got giardiasis and dengue, and she also got vivax malaria. We saw Hansen’s disease and filariasis and malnutrition and ciguatera poisoning. In the heat of the tropical days, I swayed in the hammock reading the Control of Communicable Diseases manual. When later we moved to North Carolina for Erin to get her masters of public health, I learned about the science and medical journalism program at the UNC j-school, and studied under Tom Linden. I was taking Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases when SARS broke out, and one of the class instructors happened to be Ralph Baric, a coronavirus expert. By now, I knew I was never going to be editor of National Geographic, so instead I was aiming for the New Yorker: my masters thesis project was a 12,000-word narrative feature about acute HIV among college students.

An important thrust to my career trajectory, though, also came from my time in the Peace Corps. That was in the late 90s, and I recognized that when I was done on my island with no running water and no electricity, my childhood dream of being in print would have to change with the World Wide Web. I got a job at an Internet startup company in January 2000, just in time to watch the tech bubble burst from the inside. But I created my first website, became a blogger, and never looked back.

Over the last decade, you and so many other friends and colleagues have helped me combine my passions for journalism, community development and connecting on the Web. We call this the BlogTogether spirit — supporting individuals as they connect through social networks, and then creating ways for them to come together for face-to-face conversations. Those conversations, we’ve seen, promote the golden rule: blog about others as you’d have others blog about you. (I didn’t become a priest, but I’ve found my mission, you could say — or sing, as David Kroll did in Minister of Ether.)

I’m not going to be editor of National Geographic. I may never get into the pages of the New Yorker. But I do hope my career keeps me involved in supporting thoughtful observations about our world.

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

I have a great job, as communications director for the Duke University Department of Medicine. It’s in a vibrant academic medical center, and we use a blog to reflect the activities of our faculty and trainees, such as Nobel laureate Robert Lefkowitz. I was in his office a while back, and loved hearing him talk about how science and humor are alike in helping us see connections.

I recently figured out an important connection in my own life. My paternal grandfather, Louis Sisco, organized the annual Sisco Picnic, and I often helped him set up for that. His devotion to gathering the extended family, and his attention to the details in planning the event, rubbed off on me. I’m pretty sure that’s one of the reasons I’ve spent the last 10 years organizing events and meetups, from the Narratives of HIV series to BlogTogether Backyard Barbecues to our shared ScienceOnline conferences. This year, though, I’m taking a break from organizing events. ScienceOnline has become an official organization, and Karyn Traphagen is charging ahead with great momentum and ideas – hers is a detail-oriented mind that my grandfather would admire. I now serve ScienceOnline, Karyn and the rest of our community as chairman of the board, and I will focus on that role. I’m excited to see where this all goes.

Not having to sweat the details of the conference means I have more time to write, and so I’m more actively writing on my blog. I’ve learned that the more I write on my blog and in my personal journal, the more balanced I am. That’s helping me to spend more time with my daughters, who need me to encourage them through their math homework, and two-year-old Oliver, who needs me to explore in the woods with him just like my dad did when I was young.

I’m in my forties now, and spending this decade learning to be a better storyteller. I love to hear great stories at the Monti, and Jeff Polish inspired me to convene the Talk Story narrative variety show. Karyn showed us postcards she wrote to her mother, and my friend Carter Kersh has gone on to tell two stories at The Monti, for which he’s been nominated for the Hippo Awards. I’ve stumbled through a few of my own stories. I may never be a great storyteller, but I do know that I’m becoming an even better listener. If my gift in life is to facilitate conversations and help other people share their stories, then I’ll continue to do that as humbly as I can.

Through my writing, my listening, my living, I’m trying to be ever more thoughtful, kind, patient and passionate.

You once described your life philosophy as crossing-a-river. What does that mean and how does it work?

I’ve spent a lot of time at the edge of the water – watching contemplatively as mountain rivers cascade, or expectantly as ponds begin to freeze over, or contentedly as the sun sets over oceans and seas in which I’ve just surfed or snorkeled or paddled. As my family moved around, and my parents taught me to find opportunity in each new place, I came to see my life as a journey across a wide river strewn with stepping stones, each stone offering new possibilities for forward or lateral movement toward that other river bank. Some steps are shorter and seemingly less memorable, others further and riskier. I’m certain I’ve fallen in a few times – the story I’ve told my daughters the most is the one about rafting on the New River, tumbling over and losing my favorite Greek fisherman’s cap – but I’m also sure that each moment has strengthened and deepened.

(As I’m writing this, sitting in 3CUPS sipping keemun hao ya, there’s a young guy at the next table over, strumming an ukulele. That makes me remember meeting the gentle giant Israel Kamakawiwoole and Big Island lutier David Gomes. Part of the allure of my crossing-a-river metaphor is the joy in looking back at the steps I’ve taken and the people I’ve met along the way.)

When I graduated from college and decided to move to Hawaii — away from the woman I dearly loved — a mentor told me something simple and profound. “Anton, if it doesn’t work out, you can always come back.” I took it to mean that I need never feel trapped, or choiceless. After two great years in Honolulu, I did return to Cleveland as Erin was finishing college. Ever since, she’s been my companion on that river crossing.

You have been blogging for a very long time, you are one of the pioneers of the form, and you have helped many other people start their own blogs. How do you see the evolution of the blogging form in the near future, both regarding your own blog, science blogs, and blogging in general?

As I used to explain in our Bloggging 101 tutorials, blogging developed in some of the same ways as the early Internet, from What’s New pages to filtering lists to personal-perspective journals. After all these years, blogs can be any or all of these types of online writing.

Social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook and YouTube and Flickr and Instagram have given us tools to share short messages and photos and videos. It feels to me that blogs posts have lengthened (you’re the outlier, of course!), and are more essay like. Last fall, we held the Back to the Blog meeting at Duke University to discuss some of the trends in blogging, including minimal styling, responsive design and using social media to alert your networks to your new posts.

I’m still gung-ho about blogs. I still know more people who don’t have blogs than I know people who do blog. That’s a lot of people to recruit to the blogging life.

That includes scientists, of course. One of the early foundations of the ScienceOnline community was the colorful tapestry of science blog networks, and now in ScienceSeeker we have a fantastic tool for mining the rich daily output from science blogs. But even in my own institution, Duke University, there aren’t that many scientists actively blogging. You remember the keynote speaker at our first ScienceOnline conference back in 2007: Dr. Hunt Willard suggested it would have to be the postdocs and fellows who would need to be trained to use online tools. At Duke, Dr. Zubin Eapen and the cardiology fellows are a shining example of that; Dr. Matt Sparks is another. It’s going to be fun to see others take up online science just as avidly and successfully.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my own blog recently, both in terms of the design and my writing style. I started my blog in 2000 to honor my grandfathers and relatives, and to share my own life and work and travels. I think of my style as storyblogging, in which I start with a current happening, relate it to a story in my or my family’s past, and make an observation. After 13 years of writing, I’d begun to doubt whether I had anything else to record. And, yet, when I search my archives for an anecdote or reference I’m sure I’ve blogged before, I don’t find it. I’m only halfway across my river, so I guess I’ve got a lot more to share. But I also know that Narcissus sat along the water and reflected on himself to unhappy consequence, so I want to challenge myself to add other layers to my blogging, such as deeper exploration of one of my areas of interest. You’ve written much about niche blogging, so maybe I’ll finally develop a niche other than myself.

You have been involved, for a long time, in different nodes of the blogosphere: science blogs, medical blogs, technology blogs, food blogs, local North Carolina blogs — what have you learned from these different communities? What’s on your blogroll of blogs to read daily?

I’ve learned that no matter the subject or node, when interesting people are given the tools — pencil, press, microphone or weblog — to delve deeply into their interests and reflect their areas of specialty, we end up with an awesome deluge of information, insight and inquiry. Niche blogs are great for the ways they focus on a topic or industry, and I understand your argument for writing only about one’s area of expertise. But I’m also convinced that when a writer steps out of his or her niche to provide glimpses of other interests or fragments of experience, we learn more about the person. And knowing more about each other helps us relate to each other better. I believed that at the beginning of the BlogTogether experiment, and over the last seven years, the ScienceOnline community has simply astounded me with its respect and friendship and inclusiveness and camaraderie.

I’ve been reading Dave Winer for a decade, learning from him and using his new World Outline tools, and I cherished the chance to go for a bike ride with him last summer. Michael Ruhlman and Ilina Ewen and Dean McCord are my food and beverage inspirations. 33 Charts, by Dr. Bryan Vartabedian, is quite relevant to my medical communications job. I read design blogs, web technology blogs, blogs by business leaders and venture capitalists, and personal organization blogs. I use Reeder to scan RSS feeds, and I’m rebuilding my river here. On Sunday evenings, I iron my shirts for the week, listening to podcasts by The Monti, Story Collider, StoryCorps and Joel Dueck.

Family looms large in your life and in your writing. Your personal blog is essentially a chronicle of several generations of your family, with you as an acute observer and eloquent archivist. Tell me what family means to you. Are you hoping that your children will continue preserving the family’s stories?

When I was in the fifth grade in Idaho, my mother was my teacher. One day, her assignment to the class was to write a story about the first snowflake to fall in winter. Around that same time, my father would gather me and my brothers in the kitchen, where he used the bare white wall to show his Peace Corps slides. In the mailbox each week, we’d get typewritten letters from my grandfathers: Zuiker Chronicles, from Frank the Beachcomber, were travelogues and camporee reports, while the two-page ‘peek into grandpa’s diary’ detailed the daily routines of Grandpa Sisco. The narrative lives of my ancestors were a daily presence in my youth. I’m a writer because of them.

In middle school, one of my favorite authors was James Michener. I read Caravans and Space, and when I read The Source, I became enamored with archaeology. Years later, on a holiday break during college, I visited my father on the island of St. Thomas. He hooked me up with a friend working on a dig in the hills where construction for a mall had uncovered a pre-Columbian Arawak village. I spent just a day there as a volunteer, carefully brushing dirt and picking out charcoal from a fire pit. Even the tiniest of details of the past, I learned, are important for understanding human history.

The Zuiker Chronicles Online and The Coconut Wireless weblog at mistersugar.com – in many ways, these are my ways of sifting through the little details in the lives of me and my family, and trying to find meaning in the connections.

Erin, my wife, has taught me so much about communication, about being honest and open and always aware of circumstances and contributing factors. While she can gab on the phone for hours, I get twitchy after 60 seconds on the phone, so we make time each week to just sit and talk, and we make sure to listen to the other, looking for the small details about each other that we didn’t know or recall. When we started our family, Erin helped me understand the importance of communicating with our children, reviewing the days activities and reciting bedtime routines. That’s a concept — the small just, just ahead — that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately as I try to incorporate a river of news into my work and blogging.

My children lovingly joke about my blogging, and they know I’m trying to be a better storyteller. But what I hope they take with them into their adulthood is the appreciation that I was present in their lives, much as my father was present in mine, and his father and grandfather before. I hope they feel the connections to those who have come before. I hope they extend those connections into the future.

Even more than medicine and science, your writing revolves around community, storytelling and food. You have been a force in gathering and growing the local online (and offline) community around stories and food. Tell me more about some of the projects and events you organized over time, and what looms in the future?

My mother has no sense of smell or sense of taste. She made a delicious Crock-pot Swiss steak, and tasty chocolate chip cookies, but I didn’t really know what garlic was until I got to college. Our dinners weren’t gourmet, but I do remember them as family meals, all of us sitting down together (no books allowed).

Erin’s mother happens to be an amazing cook, and I quickly figured out that my culinary ignorance offered me a perfect way to hang out in the kitchen, learn how to cook, help out with the dishes, and generally show Erin’s parents that I was going to be a good companion for their daughter. It worked. Now, I love to cook for Erin and our children, and of course I chronicle our meals at home and out on my blog. Most Sundays, I roast a chicken according to the instructions of Michael Ruhlman, whom I’ve hosted three times for food blogging events. I enjoy the process of reading recipes, gathering ingredients and putting them together for something tasty, such as the slivovitz that we enjoyed last week. One lesson I learned: don’t make kimchee, with its fermented shrimp paste, when your wife is six months pregnant.

Good food, good wine, good friends, good conversation — I crave these, and The Long Table has been one way I try bring them all together. Our first dinner was quite fun, with a bunch of people standing up to tell their own food-related stories. With ScienceOnline in good hands, I hope to do more of these dinners in the next few years. I still want to organize a food blogging conference, and maybe someday we can do a conference on food-science blogging.

What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most? What platforms and what types of online activity have you found most useful, or most gratifying to use? What new platforms or method of online communication, if any, are you excited about?

Well, the intersection of story and science is what got me into medical journalism, and it’s what still drives me today. The ScienceOnline community is filled with great examples of science stories told well. I’m watching #scio13 and ScienceSeeker daily to keep up. And the blitz demonstration sessions at ScienceOnline2013 will surely introduce me to new platforms and approaches.

I mentioned my high school physics teacher above. He assigned our class to work in teams on an experiment. My buddies and I wanted to study the Doppler effect, so I borrowed a tape recorder from my Grandpa Sisco, and met Kevin and Craig on a quiet country road late one night. We drove our cars past each other at different speeds, Craig in his Camaro with horn blaring, me in my Catalina with the tape recorder on. Just now I had to look up Doppler on Wikipedia to refresh my knowledge, but that experience of learning together with friends never dissipated.

Collaboration, clearly, is key these days in science. At Duke, a lot of my communications plan aims to help our investigators connect with their faculty colleagues to explore new multidisciplinary and team-science collaborations. On the Web, I’m interested in exploring how we can build personal network publications, something beyond multi-author blogs and something that can feature contributions from those who aren’t already writing on the Web. Many of my friends and relatives still do not have blogs of their own, and I’m interested creating some sort of online publication with them. Marco Arment’s new app/pub, The Magazine, and the writing platform Medium are helping me think about the possibilities.

You’ve been at every ScienceOnline conference, of course. What’s most memorable of any or all of them? How do you hope ScienceOnline2013 is similar or different?

Actually, ScienceOnline2013 is going to be my first. Learn why in my blog post on The Coconut Wireless.

What I’ve most enjoyed about ScienceOnline is watching the interactions, seeing the passions, witnessing the partnerships. You and I started with a conversation in a cafe, and we’ve gained a friendship and a community. I sincerely hope that all who attend ScienceOnline2013 and the many other events to follow will similarly be better persons because they openly engaged in the conversation.

Please share three descriptive words you hope people would use when talking about you.

Passionate. Pleasant. Present.

ScienceOnline2012 – interview with Anthony Salvagno

Every year I ask some of the attendees of the ScienceOnline conferences to tell me (and my readers) more about themselves, their careers, current projects and their views on the use of the Web in science, science education or science communication. So now we continue with the participants of ScienceOnline2012. See all the interviews in this series here.

Today my guest is Anthony Salvagno.

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 background? Any scientific education?

My name is Anthony Salvagno (@thescienceofant) and I am a biophysics PhD student at the University of New Mexico. I was born and raised in New York and attended SUNY Albany for my undergrad where I received a BS in mathematics and a BS in physics. Originally I intended to do astronomy research, but after an internship at the Arecibo Obsedrvatory, I changed my career path and became deeply interested in biology.

Now I am an open notebook scientist, which means that I publish and share all of my research openly in real-time. I’ve been pursuing open notebook science for the past 4 years and have a wealth of knowledge to share. I’m always looking for others who share their science, and am always willing to talk to peers who want to share but aren’t sure how. If you fall into either category or just want to have a conversation feel free to contact me!

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

My research is comprised of two completely different topics that are enveloped by my open notebook. The first project is called Shotgun DNA Mapping. Essentially, I can unzip DNA using a microscope objective and a high-powered laser (optical tweezers). Our lab has an algorithm that allows us to simulate this mechanism, and we can then compare our actual results to a library of simulated results. We are testing this with the yeast genome, but hope to one day expand it to the human genome.

I also study how heavy water affects living organisms. Back in the early 1930’s Dr. Gilbert Lewis first purified heavy water (D2O) from naturally occurring water. He then tested how tobacco seeds would grow in 99% D2O. This launched a series of experiments by a lot of scientists studying how heavy water affects various organisms. The research trail ends around 1969, with a lot of questions left unanswered. My research picks up where these studies left off and I extend them by using deuterium depleted water. I’m asking if life evolved a use for D2O since it occurs naturally in drinking water at very low concentrations.

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

I have too many passions to deal with! It’s almost spring time so that means it’s time to start my vegetable garden real soon. Food is a passion of mine and my brother and I are hoping to open a food truck in Albuquerque in Fall 2013. There is a lot to learn about the food industry, food trucks, and business management and I’m learning all I can.

I also enjoy graphic design and do random odd jobs every now and then. I specialize in designing creative business cards and invitations. I also have dabbled in logo design and like to think I’m proficient in brand management. I’m working on a couple of graphic novels when I have time (still in the writing phase), and I’m also working on a story-time style book for adults.

As an extension of graphic design, I love

Virtually Speaking Science

Tune in tomorrow (Wednesday, January 16th) at 6pm EST to Virtually Speaking Science, online radio show about science. Host Tom Levenson and I will spend an hour talking about…well, whatever Tom asks, but likely about ScienceOnline, science reporting and blogging, the new media ecosystem, science communication, and other topics Tom and I have been discussing online and offline for the past several years. I hope you tune in….

‘Echo-chamber’ is just a derogatory term for ‘community’

I wrote this post back on February 27, 2011, but decided to re-post it here as the talk of echo-chambers is once again showing up in various articles and blogs. This was an expanded version of what I said at AAAS meeting in Washington DC and the original post (see the link) contains a longish intro, providing some more context, which I decided to cut out of the post here.

========

Social norms build and enforce echo-chambers

You want to remain in a friendly relationship with the people you see (or potentially can see) often: neighbors, family, colleagues and friends. Nothing makes for a more unpleasant interaction than discussion of politics, ideology or religion with the people you disagree with.

Thus, there is a social norm in place: politics and religion are taboo topics in conversation. It is considered bad manners to start such conversations in polite company.

This means that most people are not exposed to views other than their own in their day-to-day interactions with other people.

In a small tightly-knit community where everyone’s politics and religion are the same (and people tend to move to such places in order to feel comfortable, on top of most likely being born in such a community to begin with), there is no need to discuss these topics as everyone already agrees. If the topic is discussed, there are no other opinions to be heard – it’s just back-slapping and commiserating about the evil enemies out there.

In mixed communities, the taboo against discussing politics and religion is strongly enforced. Again, as a result, there is not much chance to hear differing opinions.

There is no more airtight echo-chamber than a small community which interacts predominantly within itself, and not so much with the outside world.

Mass media builds and enforces echo-chambers

If you are born and raised by parents with a particular set of beliefs, you will also inherit from them the notions of which media outlets are trustworthy. If you were raised in the reality-based community, you are unlikely to waste much time with the media of the fantasy-based community (and vice versa). If your parents read Washington Post, you are unlikely to read Washington Times. You’ll prefer New York Times and not New York Post. MSNBC rather than Fox News. NPR rather than Limbaugh show on the radio.

But it is even worse than that – the choice is really not as broad. The media shapes the public opinion by choosing what is and what is not respectable opinion, i.e., ‘sphere of legitimate debate’ – what opinions to cover as serious, what opinions to denigrate and what opinions to ignore. There are many ideas that people hold that you will never see even mentioned in the US mass media and some of those are actually very legitimate in the Real World.

Furthermore, the press then divides the ‘respectable opinion’ into two opposites, gives voice to each of the two, and will never actually tell you which of the two is more reasonable than the other – “we report, you decide”, aka, He Said She Said journalism.

By presenting every issue as a battle between two extremes (and the fuzzy, undefinable “middle” is reserved only for them, the wise men), the mainstream press makes every opinion something to be sneered at, both those they deem worthy of mentioning and the unmentionable ones.

By refusing to acknowledge the existence of many stands on any issue, by refusing to assign Truth-values to any, by looking down at anyone who holds any opinion that is not their own, the mainstream press fosters the atmosphere of a bipolar world in which enmity rules, and the wagons need to be circled – the atmosphere that is so conducive to formation and defense of echo-chambers and yet so devoid of airing of any alternatives.

The Web breaks echo-chambers

When an individual first goes online, the usual reaction is shock! There are people in the world who believe what!?!?

The usual first response is anger and strenuous attempts at countering all other ideas and pushing one’s own.

But after a while, unbeknown to the person, all those various novel ideas start seeping in. One is not even aware of changing one’s own mind from one year to the next. Many ideas take time to process and digest and may quietly get incorporated into one’s gradually enriching and more sophisticated worldview.

We all learn from encountering all those other opinions even if we vehemently disagree with them. And we cannot help bumping into them all the time. There are no taboo topics online, no social norms preventing people from saying exactly what they think.

Forming, finding or defending a vacuum-sealed echo-chamber online is extremely difficult, if at all possible.

Your Facebook friends will post stuff that reveals their politics is different than yours (and you did not even know that about them before – they seemed so nice in real life!). By the time you get around to blocking them…it’s too late – the virus has already entered your head [this one sentence added 2-27-11].

People you follow on Twitter because of some common interest (e.g., food or knitting or parenting or technology or geographic area) may be very different from you when concerning some other interest, e.g., religion, and will occasionally post links to articles that contain opinions you have never heard of before.

If you are, for example, a liberal and tend to read only liberal blogs, you will constantly see links to conservative sites that are being debunked by your favourite bloggers – thus you will be exposed to conservative ideas daily.

If your interest is science, you are even luckier. The mainstream media, if it links to anything at all, tends to link either to each other or to governmental sources (e.g., CDC, USDA, etc.). Political bloggers link a lot more, but again the spectrum of sources is pretty narrow – they link to MSM, to governmental pages, and to each other (including the “opposition” bloggers).

But science bloggers link to a vastly broader gamut of sources. If mass media is linked to at all, it is usually in order to show how bad the coverage was of a science story. Linking to each other is important (and that includes linking to anti-science sites when needed to counter them), but what science bloggers do that others do not is link to scientific papers, documents, databases, even raw data-sets (including some Open Notebook Science bloggers who pipe data straight from their lab equipment onto the web).

What echo-chamber? Contrary to what some uninformed op-eds in the mass media like to say, the Web breaks echo-chambers that the social norms and mass media have previously built.

The online and offline social networks can work synergistically to affect real change

Many curmudgeons like to say that the Web does not do anything on its own. They (unlike behavioral biologists) do not understand the distinction between Proximal Causes and Ultimate Causes. Web is a tool that allows, among other things, many more people in much shorter time to organize to do something useful in the real world.

Release of Tripoli 6 was an instance in which massive outpouring of support online (centered around now-defunct blog ‘Effect Measure’) forced the mainstream media to cover the story which then forced the hand of politicians to do something.

Likewise, in the case of resignation of George Deutsch from NASA, it was investigative work by a blogger, Nick Anthis, that energized the blogosphere, which pushed the MSM to finally report on the story, which forced the event to happen.

PRISM was an astroturf website built to counter the pro-open-access NIH bill in the US Senate. Outpouring of online anger at the tactics by the publishers’ lobby inundated the senatorial offices – as a result the bill passed not once, but twice (GW Bush vetoed the first version of the large omnibus bill it was a part of, then signed it with no changes in the language on this particular issue) and the Senate is now educated on this issue.

But probably the best example is the Dover Trial (Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District) that made Intelligent Design Creationism illegal to teach in US public schools. The ruling by Judge Jones (pdf) is one of the most powerful texts in the history of judicial decisions I am aware of.

There are anti-evolution bills popping up somewhere in the country seemingly every week. But because of the Dover ruling, they are all illegal. Most don’t make it to the committee, let alone to the floor of the state legislatures. Others are soundly defeated.

Before Dover, both Creationist sites and pro-evolution sites, when linking to me, would bring approximately the same amount of traffic to my blog. After Dover, getting a link from PZ Myers, Richard Dawkins, Larry Moran or Jerry Coyne brings substantial new traffic. Links from Creationist sites? Essentially undetectable by traffic trackers – I discover them only when I search my blog URL to specifically see if there are new links out there. Creationism, while still popular with many people, is politically essentially dead. The Dover ruling castrated it.

But Dover Trial would not have gone that way, and would not result in such a gorgeously written document by the Judge, if it was not for a small army of bloggers who contribute to the blog Panda’s Thumb. A mix of scientists from different disciplines, lawyers, etc., this group has been online – first on Usenet, later on the blog – for a couple of decades before the trial.

This is a group of people who battled Creationists for many years, online and offline, in courtrooms and political campaigns, in classrooms and in print. They know all the characters, all the usual creationist “arguments” (and provided all the answers to them in one place), all the literature, etc.

It is one of them who discovered that the new Intelligent Design “textbook” is really just a reprint of an old Creationist book, in which the word “Creationists” was replaced by “Intelligent Design proponents” throughout the text….except in one place where they made a typo: “Cdesign proponentsists”.

Ooops – a huge piece of evidence that Intelligent Design Creationism is just a warmed-up version of the old-style Creationism masquerading as something new. The Panda’s Thumb bloggers were at the trial as expert witnesses who provided all the expert evidence that Judge Jones needed to make his decision. People who organized on the Web have helped a meatspace history come to pass.

The online and offline social networks can work synergistically if the ecology is right

When looking at the role of online communities and networks in meatspace events, counting the numbers of networked citizens (or ratio of networked to non-networked citizens) is not sufficient – one also needs to know their geographic distribution, and their connectedness with non-networked citizens. The most fresh example are the so-called “Twitter revolutions” in the Arab world.

There are at least two possible scenarios (or thought experiments) that demonstrate the importance of ecological thinking about social networks:

1) There are 10 people on Twitter in a country. All in the same city, all in the same college dorm, good friends with each other. No communication with other people. No Twitterati in other cities. Nobody knows that other people in other cities have the same negative feelings toward the government.

2) There are 10 people on Twitter in a country. One each in 10 different cities. They communicate with each other via social networks continuously. Each is also a center of the local community of thousands of non-networked people using offline methods of communication. Through this connection, they become aware that there are millions of them, all over the country, and that a revolution is feasible.

In scenario 1, there are 10 buddies dreaming of revolution. In scenario 2, there are thousands of people in ten cities organizing revolution. In both, there are only 10 people on Twitter. Yet, the outcome is likely to be very different (I am aware that March 1991 demonstrations against Milosevic in Serbia were likewise coordinated by about a dozen people, well positioned around the city, who had email – most of us learned about the existence of email years later).

Thus, the ecology of the networkers, their spatial and temporal distribution, and their effectiveness in informing not just each other but many non-networked citizens, are important data one needs for this exercise.

‘Echo-chamber’ is just a derogatory term for ‘community’

I shamelessly stole this sub-heading from Chris Rowan on Twitter.

A great example of a case where the Web produced a community (aka echo-chamber) but that was a good thing, is the case of American atheists.

Before the Web, each atheist in the USA thought he or she was the only one in the country. The social norms about the impoliteness of discussing religion, as well as the real fear of reprisals by the religious neighbors, made atheism completely invisible. No need to mention that the media never mentioned them – they were outside of the “sphere of legitimate debate”.

But then the Web happened, and people, often pseudonymously, revealed their religious doubts online. Suddenly they realized they are not alone – there are millions of atheists in the country, each closeted before, each openly so after! It is not a surprise that “no belief” is the fastest-growing self-description in questions about religion in various nation-wide polls and censuses.

President Bush Senior, himself not very religious, could say that atheists are not real American citizens. A decade later, his son G.W. Bush, himself a fundamentalist, could not say that any more – his speechwriters made sure he mentioned atheists in the listings of all the equally American religious groupings.

Not all online communities need to be politically active. Discovering people with the same interest in knitting is nice. Exchanging LOLcat pictures is fun. But such interactions also build ties that can be used for action in the real world if the need arises.

Without the Web, I would not know many people whose friendship I cherish. Without the Web I would not have this job. Without the Web, me and many of my friends would have never gone to a meeting like AAAS or ScienceWriters or WCSJ. There would be no such meetings as ScienceOnline, SpotOn London, SciBarCamp, SciFoo, and others.

Every time I travel I make sure that people I know online – from blogs, Twitter, Facebook etc. – know I am traveling. I say on which date, at which time, I will be in which restaurant in which city. Twenty people show up. Most I have never met in real life before. But after sharing a meal, a beer, a handshake and a hug, our weak ties become strong ties. Superficial relationships become friendships. If there is a need to organize some real-world action – we can rely on each other to participate or help.

I have a separate Dunbar Number in each city I visited. And I try to connect them to each other even more than they are already connected via online communication. Which is one of the reasons we organize conferences and one of the reasons I am online all the time.

Related:

As Science Bloggers, Who Are We Really Writing For? by Emily Anthes.

Are science blogs stuck in an echo chamber? Chamber? Chamber? by Ed Yong.

Why the NYTimes “Green Blog” Is Now Essential

A few days ago we woke up to the news that the New York Times is eliminating their environment desk.

Predictably, the immediate reaction of many was “oh, noooo!”.

After all, whenever we hear such news, about a science or health or environmental desk being eliminated at a media organization, this means the reporters and editors of that beat have been fired.

But New York Times did not fire anyone. Instead, they will disperse the environmental reporters around the building. Instead of all of them sitting together, chatting with each other, they will sit next to other people, chatting with political, economic, science, health, education and other reporters.

The concern also arose as this piece of news came as a part of broader news of cost-cutting at the New York Times and actual impending layoffs of high-level editors.

And concern is certainly warranted. But there is potential for this to be a good thing. It all depends on the implementation.

My first reaction, quoted here, was that this may be a way to modernize environmental reporting at the Times. After all, reporters were not fired, the senior editors may be. All the environmental expertise is still at the Times, but now outside of its own ghetto, able to cross-fertilize with other beats, and to collaborate with reporters with other domains of expertise.

My cautiously positive reaction to this news probably comes from my recent thinking (and blogging) about three aspects of modern media. One is about the distinction between beats and obsessions. The other one is about the importance of expertise in today’s journalism. And the other one is the distinction between push and pull models of science (and other) communication.

Let me parse these a little bit more….

Beats vs. Obsessions

I wrote at length about this before, but let me restate it briefly, the part that is the most relevant to this situation.

….But another way the difference is explained is that an obsession is actually broader, not narrower, by being multidisciplinary. Instead of looking at many stories from one angle, it focuses on a single story from many angles. This may be a way to solve some Wicked Problems….

By dispersing environmental reporters from a dedicated desk to other desks, New York Times eliminated the environmental beat. Now environmental reporters are free to follow their own obsessions – whatever aspect of the environment they most care about at any given time. In essence, The New York Times is starting to quartzify itself (did I just invent a new word? I bet Quartz folks will be pleased). Instead of the environmental vertical, The New York Times will now have an environmental horizontal – environmental angle permeating a lot of other stories, as environmental reporters talk to and influence their new office neighbors.

Importance of Expertise

I have argued many times before, and most recently and forcefully here, that having or building expertise on the topic one covers is an essential aspect of modern journalism. Being a generalist will become harder and harder to do successfully. Specialization rules. And there are many kinds of expertise and ways of being a specialist.

It is much easier to turn an expert into a journalist than a journalist into an expert (though that is certainly not impossible), and there have been many calls lately (here is just the latest one) for journalism schools to insist on science, and even more importantly on math and statistics classes as requirements for their students.

I will now make an assumption that all NYTimes environmental reporters actually have sufficient expertise to report on the environment. They are now bringing that expertise to other desks. And they are now forced to discuss this with people whose expertise lies elsewhere. They will get into debates and discussions. They will teach each other. They will change each others minds on various things. They will be prompted by those discussions to dig in deep and do some research. That will inspire them to write the next piece and next piece, possibly in collaboration with each other. By forcing cross-fertilization between people with different specialties, NYTimes will force them all to learn from each other, become more sophisticated, to tackle more complex and nuanced stories, and to produce better articles. That’s the theory… We’ll see if that happens in practice. It all depends on implementation.

Push vs. Pull

You may have seen this excellent post that Danielle re-posted the other day.

I know I talk a lot about push vs. pull methods for science communication, but the earliest appearance of the concept on my blog is this brief but cool video clip. Soon after, I described and explained the concept in much more detail here and here. I have since applied it to a bunch of other topics, from the role of new/upcoming journalists to the different reporting strategies for different areas of science to strategies for gaining trust in the broader population to differences between science reporting on blogs vs traditional media to narrative storytelling in science.

I have argued many times that, despite the proliferation of many new outlets that may do reporting better, traditional big venues, like The New York Times (and just a few other ‘biggies’, like BBC, Guardian, Washington Post, The Economist, PBS, NPR and not many more), will continue to play an important role in the media ecosystem for quite some time. These are trusted brands for far too many people who grew up in that world. And they generally do a good job, even if nobody can be perfect, and expert bloggers are quick to point out errors as they appear.

But, nobody but a few crazy news junkies, all of whom are probably in the business anyway so not the target audience, reads any newspaper, including The New York Times, every day, every page, every article. I’ll tell you a secret – print edition of The New York Times lands on my front porch every night. My wife reads some of it sometimes. It is there mostly in case something I see online is so long that I want to sit back and read it on paper rather than on screen. Or if a friend of mine publishes something so I want to cut it out. Or my name appears in it, and I want to cut it out and save it, to show my Mom.

But back in the old times, when I actually read newspapers on paper, how did I do it? I pick up the paper. I open it up. I take out all the sections I am not interested in – Sports, Auto, Business, Real Estate, Classifieds, etc. – and throw them directly into the recycling bin. Then I read the parts I am interested in (front sections, domestic and world news, opinion, Sunday Magazine, Week In Review, Book Review). When I was a kid, I read the comics first, then TV and movie listings, then Kids section, perhaps some nature/science, perhaps some sports.

Other people have their own preferences. If there is such a thing as “Environment” section, or “Health” section, or “Science” section, how many people do you think automatically recycle them and go straight to Sports instead?

A dedicated Environment section is a pull method. It pulls in readers who are already interested in the topic. Others never see it. And being online doesn’t change a thing – it works the same way as on paper, in its own ghetto, isolated from the stuff people actually read.

The ‘push’ method inserts science/health/environment stories everywhere, in all sections of the paper, linked from all the pages of the website. It includes science/health/environment angles into many other stories. People interested in politics, economics, education, art, culture, comic strips, whatever, get a steady diet of relevant information mixed into their breakfast. They can’t avoid it any more. It is pushed onto them without their explicit request.

Let’s hope that The New York Times is thinking this way, as that would be the best possible outcome.

Central importance of the Green Blog

The managing editor Dean Baquet was reported to say this about the Green Blog: “If it has impact and audience it will survive”.

That is disappointing. Green Blog’s destiny is not, and especially now should not, be decided by the vagaries of traffic. It has suddenly become much more essential to the Times than they know, or so it seems. Let me try to explain…

Dispersing all the environmental reporting all around New York Times is a potentially great “push” strategy – feeding the unsuspecting readers a steady diet of environmental thinking.

But dispersing all the environmental reporting all around New York Times also makes it very difficult for the “pull” audience, the readers who are interested in environment, to find everything. People who are interested in environment, people like me, will be forced to look into automatically recyclable sections, like Business or Real Estate for articles with potentially environmental angles. That takes time and energy we don’t have, so we’ll rather miss those articles.

Now, some tech-savvy know-it-all is likely to post a comment “Use Tags”. Sure, you are a programmer, you know what tags are. Can you explain that to your grandma? Can you teach her how to use them?

No, the answer is Green Blog.

Green Blog should now become not just a cool place for interns to build their reporting chops, but also:

- place where all environmental reporters link to, explain, describe and quote from all their articles that appear elsewhere in the Times,
– place where someone puts together, every week, a summary and round-up of all environment-related Times articles of the previous week,
– place where all environmental reporters come to crowdsource their stories, get feedback and expert information from readers as they are working on their more and more complex stories
– place where all environmental reporters come to see each others work, now that they are not sitting next to each other,
– a central place where people like me can come and at a single glance see all of the Times environmental reporting in one place, and
– a central place where someone like Andy Revkin can check each day to see what else is going on in the Times regarding environment, so he can blog about it on Dot Earth.

This is like what ethologists call the “central foraging place”, like a beehive. Honeybees (readers) get information (blog posts) from other foragers where the flowers (NYT articles) are, so they go there (following links) to get nectar. They then return to the hive (Green Blog) to deposit the nectar (their comments), to tell others where else the flowers are good (e.g., on other sites beyond NYT) and to get new information so they can go for another run, again and again.

Now that there is no Environment desk and no Environment editor, the Green Blog should assume those two roles.

Now, if only higher ups at the Times get to read this post. If you know them, can you share the link to this post with them?

Image: Everystockphoto.com

#sci4hels – the ‘killer’ science journalists of the future want your feedback

If you are a really regular, diligent reader of this blog, you may remember back in September when I announced a panel I have organized for the next year’s WCSJ2013. The eighth World Conference of Science Journalists, organized by World Federation of Science Journalists will be held in Helsinki, Finland on June 24-28th, 2013, and in that post I explained in great detail what the panel will be all about, what was my initial motivation for proposing that panel, and the systematic method I used to pick, out of dozens and dozens of excellent potential candidates, the four people who will travel to Finland and dazzle everyone there.

The session is:

The ‘killer’ science journalists of the future

The science media ecosystem has never been as big, as good or as vibrant as it is today. Many young writers are joining the ranks of veterans each year – and they are good! Many of them have science backgrounds. They all write really well. And they are digital natives, effortlessly navigating today’s online world and using all the tools available to them. But some of them are going beyond being well adapted to the new media ecosystem – they are actively creating it. They experiment with new forms and formats to tell stories online, and if the appropriate tool is missing – they build it themselves. Not only can they write well, they can also code, design for the web, produce all types of multimedia, and do all of this with seemingly more fun than effort, seeing each other as collaborators rather than competitors. I’d like to see the best of them tell us what they do, how they do it, and what they envision for the media ecosystem they are currently building.

The panel will explore skills and attitudes needed to succeed in the emerging science media ecosystem and in building that ecosystem to be even better, more efficient, and having a broader reach. It will explore how to make the world better both for science journalism and for science journalists. We will explore what skills and attitudes are important for new, up-and-coming science writers to become successful and to help bring in a better science media world into being.

Different people have different goals. Some will be hired as staff writers or editors in specialized science media organizations, others in general-purpose media organizations, be it online, print, radio, television, or other types of media. Some will pool resources with friends and start new media organizations. Some want to become successful Public Information Officers for universities, institutes, companies, organizations of governmental entities. Others want to become successful as freelance writers. And yet others may want to become respected, popular science bloggers while keeping their other daytime jobs.

We will explore issues related to necessary technical skills, attitudes toward tasteful self-promotion, required levels and types of expertise, and more, both as advice to individuals, and as advice to science writing programs and journalism schools on how to upgrade their teaching philosophies to adapt to the 21st century.

The panelists are not waiting till June, though. They have already started, and will use the next seven or so months to discuss all of these issues in various ways. It’s not just what they will say during the 60 minutes of the panel, but also how they will do it – show, not tell. This will not be a traditional series of droning talks with dreaded PowerPoints. As veterans of ScienceOnline conferences, they know how to make a panel dynamic, interactive and exciting. The panel itself is not all, it will be just the final highlight of months of discussion, and hopefully the discussions will continue after the panel as well, provoked by the panel.

First, make sure you visit, bookmark and regularly check the updates on the panel’s Homepage! The website will be active, continuously adding resources, tools, important links (including to the blog posts by all of us and reactions by others), and hoping to foster discussions of the topic. They may have other ideas as well, perhaps a Question Of The Week, some Google Hangouts, we’ll see.

If you are going to be in Helsinki at the WCSJ2013, we hope the website/blog will motivate you to attend our panel. It should also help you come prepared, so you can join in the discussion.

If you cannot be there, the discussions will occur – and are already occurring – online: before, during and after the panel, so please join in.

For now, follow our discussions on the website and our blogs, as well as on Twitter by searching for the hashtag #sci4hels. Also follow us on Twitter at @sci4hels and subscribe to our Twitter List. Also check out our Facebook page and our Google Plus page.

We’d like to hear from you. Science journalism students and professors. Editors at specialized science media outlets and at general media outlets. Founders of new media start-ups. Freelancers. PIOs and directors of internal communications. Bloggers. Researchers. People who entered the science journalism profession “horizontally”, bypassing schools of journalism and going straight from science, perhaps via blogging, into the business. And most importantly the audience, the users of science content – what do you like, what do you want, what do you expect?

We have already published several blog posts on the topic, gearing up toward the event. And we will collect those, as well as other relevant articles, on the Essential Readings page. These can be a good starting point for the discussion. See, for now:

Erin Podolak:

The Question of Code

Kathleen Raven:

Generalists and specialists can coexist

Erin Podolak and Bora Zivkovic:

The SA Incubator: Helping Hatch Science Writers Since July 2011
The SA Incubator, or, why promote young science writers?

Bora Zivkovic:

#sci4hels – ‘Killer’ science journalists of the future ready to take over the world!
Beats vs obsessions, columns vs. blogs, and other angels dancing on pins
Nate Silver and the Ascendance of Expertise
The other kinds of expertise

Finally, in case you missed it back in September, let me introduce the panel again:

Organizer:

Bora Zivkovic

Bora Zivkovic was born in former Yugoslavia where he studied veterinary medicine and trained horses. He moved to the USA in 1991 and did his graduate research on circadian rhythms in birds at North Carolina State University. He is currently Blogs Editor at the Scientific American, where he manages a network of almost 60 top-notch science bloggers. He is also a Co-Founder and Director of ScienceOnline.com and the series editor of the annual anthology ‘Best Science Writing Online’ (formerly known as “Open Laboratory”). In his spare time, Bora teaches Introductory Biology to non-traditional students at N.C.Wesleyan College. Homepage, blog, Twitter, ScienceOnline, Open Laboratory.

Moderator:

Rose Eveleth:

Rose Eveleth is a producer, designer, writer and animator based in Brooklyn. She switched from studying krill as a scientist to studying scientists who study krill as a journalist. Now she tries to explain sciencey stuff for places like The New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed, BBC Future, Smart Planet and OnEarth. She’s a regular blogger for Smithsonian Magazine’s newest online endeavor – Smart News, and a part time editor of all things animated at TED Education. In her spare time she makes weird collages, bikes, and day dreams about hanging out with a pack of foxes. Homepage, blog, Twitter, Facebook page, The SA Incubator interview, Scientific American articles, Scienceline posts

Panelists:

Lena Groeger:

Lena Groeger is a journalist-designer-developer who builds data driven interactive web applications and graphics at ProPublica, an investigative news organization in New York City. She has a masters degree from NYU in science journalism, and is particularly interested in psychology and neuroscience. Homepage, blog, Twitter, ProPublica articles, new job announcement, Scientific American articles and blog posts, Scienceline posts.

 

Kathleen Raven:

Kathleen Raven is a freelance science and health writer based in Athens, Ga. She recently wrapped up a science writing internship at Nature Medicine in New York City. In May 2013, she will graduate from the University of Georgia’s Health & Medical Journalism M.A. program. Last year, she earned her M.S. degree there in conservation ecology. Homepage, blog, Twitter, Reuters Health articles, Spoonfull of Medicine articles, Scientific American articles, Scientific American blog posts, The SA Incubator interview, ScienceOnline2011 interview.

Erin Podolak:

Erin is a member of the narrative reporting team at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, MA in the United States. At Dana-Farber she concentrates on writing about basic science, clinical research and new technologies for several different types of cancer. Erin recently completed her Master’s degree in Journalism with a specialty concentration in science communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She also studied science writing at Lehigh University where she earned her Bachelor’s degree in 2009. Erin has held a variety of internships in journalism and communications, including a year of writing science news for the website of the journal BioTechniques. In addition Erin writes and manages her own blog Science Decoded – one woman’s adventures navigating science and the media. Homepage, blog, Twitter, Incubator interview.

The other kinds of expertise

If you read my old and new posts about the media, science journalism, etc., you know I come down strongly on the side of specialists and against generalists. But it is a caricature, a simplification I have to use to make my posts clearer, and to cut my posts down to a semi-manageable length ;-)

Yes, people are hungry for information. They are asking to be educated, not served content. And education requires expertise.

If people were not hungry to be educated, and if there was no inherent trust in experts, there would be no interest in either editing or using Wikipedia, there would be no interest in TED talks, and there would be no interest in either producing or using MOOCs and other forms of online education. I am far from being the only one who sees an article in a newspaper and, before sharing the link anywhere, first double-checks it with an expert blogger. Which is why expert bloggers are so popular.

We used to read a newspaper, nodding along, assuming they got it all right, until we get to an article that covers a topic on which we actually know something, an article within the domain of our own expertise. Then we scream bloody murder: “Why can’t they ever cover X correctly, idiots!”. The assumption everyone had was that media covered everything well except the domain of our expertise.

The emergence of the Web, especially the expert blogs (and expert commenters), opened our eyes. We saw that every expert is complaining about (and skillfully dissecting) the coverage of their own area of expertise, leading to the conclusion that the traditional media covers everything poorly. We started losing trust in the media and consuming it less. The way media reacted to economic consequences of lost trust was to fire experts and hire generalists who were asked to cover seven different topics per day, not covering anything well. Audience asked for expertise and for education that could only be provided by specialists, yet the media responded by offering more and shorter articles all written by diluted generalists.

But these are extremes I needed to use in my past writing in order to make a point clearly and strongly. So, here is the missing piece, about varieties of expertise that exist between the two extremes of super-expertise of hyper-specialists and the super-diluted non-expertise of hyper-generalists.

Temporary Expertise

If you work for one of those media mills, expected to churn out several articles per day, good luck with that. The work will, inevitably, be shallow, superficial, formulaic and sprinkled with inaccuracies.

But if you have the luxury of having time to write something longer, perhaps a feature, or a series of articles or blog posts on the same topic, then you have time to become a temporary expert. You have time to read books and articles on the topic, to study, to interview many experts, to take a class, to go to a meeting or conference or a series of public lectures, to think about it, process it, digest it, internalize all of that knowledge. You have time to learn enough to be able to write a piece that is accurate.

Expanding into new Expertise

Every one of us is an expert on something, at least one thing, probably several things.

This also means that each one of us is completely non-expert on many other things.

One can argue that each one of us is the expert on our own personal experiences. And if one writes about that, this can certainly be wonderful, riveting reading. But it’s fiction, and entertainment, even if it hints at some bigger generalities about human condition. It is not expertise, and it does not educate or inform.

And then there are topics we all think we are experts on and like to pontificate about. For example: politics. But even there, there are people who know the arcane rules of the Senate, or details of how Electoral College works, or actually sit down and read through thousands of pages of the bill going through the House. Such people have a much more deserved reputation of being experts than the rest of us cheering for our side.

My personal rule: never write about topics I am not at least somewhat expert on. And if I write about politics, to make it clear it is personal opinion, colored by my own background – from comparing USA to ex-Yugoslavia, to having studied some psychology of voter behavior.

There is no money you can pay me to write about exoplanets (or baseball!!!). I find the topic fascinating, but I have zero background. It would take me months of intense, focused, time-consuming study to even reach the level of “temporary expert” (and several years to become a real expert). Thus, I’d run my draft of the article by real experts…who should have written the piece themselves anyway, right?

My narrowest expertise is in “role of gonadal steroid hormones in the development of individual, strain, age and sex differences in circadian and photoperiodic time-measurement in Japanese quail”. While doing my own research on this, I also read a lot and thought a lot about related topics. I know quite a lot about sex hormones, brain and behavior, about circadian rhythms, and about bird physiology and behavior. Even more broadly, I studied quite a lot about animal physiology, animal behavior, and evolution. I took several graduate courses in history and philosophy of science. I have written blog posts about biological clocks in non-bird organisms, from bacteria, protists, fungi and plants, to arthropods, mammals and even humans (although I systematically avoided the literature on humans throughout grad school). I have written blog posts about other aspects of bird behavior. I have written about evolution and ecology and hormones.

So, a few weeks ago, when a bunch of people started asking if NYC subway rats would drown or survive Sandy, I decided I had enough background to be able to extend my area of expertise to rats. This is not my area of expertise, but I knew enough to know where to look, how to evaluate information, and how to quickly get up to speed. So I wrote a blog post about it (and a follow-up) and ended up linked and quoted all over the media. I was a ‘temporary expert’ on rat behavior during floods, but this expertise was not isolated from my other expertise – it is tangential to it, quite closely related.

When I write about human clocks, that is expanding my expertise. When I write about sleep, that is expanding my expertise. Those are not the cores of my expertise, but they are related enough, close enough that I can figure it out pretty fast.

The worst situation is when one is not even aware that a topic requires expertise and pontificates anyway. Remember a few years ago when old-skool, curmudgeon journalists wrote op-eds making fun of blogs (and later Twitter), each one of them instantly revealing they have never actually seen a blog?

Or today’s example – this one – which appears totally ignorant of a decade of writing, studies, companies, software and other stuff related to Open Access publishing (and scientific publishing in general, and alternative methods of peer-review). How does one even start critiquing such a piece? Where does one start, when so much has happened in the decades since the last time those arguments may have appeared valid? With the definition of “publishing”? Or “what is publishing for?”. Or “at what point in the timeline of scientific process does publication fall (hint: not at the end)?” Or “when did pre-publication, publisher-driven peer-review become accepted (hint: around 1960 or so, before which science worked perfectly fine for a few centuries)?”

So, better to stick to one’s own expertise, and then slowly expand to neighboring topics. Don’t jump head first into a topic you know nothing about. People will know. And they will point and laugh.

Technical Expertise

There are many more ways to tell a story than just a block of text. There is art and illustration. There are comic strips and cartoons. There is data journalism and infographics. There are talk podcasts and non-talk sound files. There are photography and slide-shows. There are animations and videos. And there is interactive stuff – “move the sliders!” – where users can change inputs to see how it changes the output.

Just like long articles (and blog posts) have a much longer staying power than short ones, good multimedia packages also are treated differently by users, regarded as valuable resources, something to save, bookmark and share with friends.

People who make that stuff are not topical experts. They have other kinds of expertise. They have technical skills needed to make that. They may have heightened sense of visual aesthetics. A really good ear for rhythm and timing. They may be really good at math. And as this kind of work usually takes more time, they may become ‘temporary experts’ on the topic as well.

Just like we, as users, run to topical experts, our “Go To” people to learn about the topics that are in the news, so producers of media run to their own “Go To” people when they want to produce videos, or infographics, or multimedia packages.

Many people produce videos, but not all have the same appeal. There are many good cartoonists out there, but there is a reason why we all flock to XKCD, PhD Comics and The Oatmeal – they are really, really good. For data journalism, infographics and interactive stuff, some big old organizations are really good at that, e.g., The Guardian and The New York Times, but we also check out ProPublica which really specializes in that format and sets the standard for everyone else.

For a multimedia package to work both short-term and long-term, it has to be appealing, inviting, intuituve to explore, entertaining, informational, educational, beautifully and clearly written (the text parts of it), and 100% factually accurate. Thus such a package is usually done by a team, at least two people: a topical expert, and a multimedia expert. Both are experts, both are specialists, both are journalists, and both can become hot commodities in the media market.

Amazing Writing

Let’s go back to the wild days of those silly “bloggers vs. journalists” op-eds a few years ago. It is interesting how they all had the same pattern, using some of the same arguments.

“But who will report the news as it happens, from the scene?” BOOM. Here are twenty examples of bloggers who did exactly that.

“But who will do in-depth, investigative reporting?” BOOM. Here are twenty examples of bloggers who do that every week.

“But who will cover local town councils and school boards?” BOOM. Here are twenty examples of bloggers who are doing an amazing job with that.

“But who will speak truth to the power?” BOOM. Here are twenty examples of bloggers who did just that.

“But who will effect positive change, affect legislation, diplomatic efforts?” BOOM. Here are twenty examples when bloggers did exactly that.

“But the word Blog is funny!”

Eh? That’s an argument? Well, “nut graf” is funny, too. And so is “lede”. And “word limit” is a funny concept.

“B-b-b-but at least we can write! So there!”

To which the only appropriate response is a throaty laughter.

I don’t think you mean what we mean when you say “writing”….

Writing is not just the ability to compose grammatically correct sentences. Writing is not the ability to put together sentences really fast in order to turn in the copy on deadline. Writing is not the ability to follow the formula of the 500-word inverted pyramid news piece that is just like all such pieces everywhere, including all the tired old metaphors, topped by over-hyped headlines. Though all of those skills can be useful sometimes. And writing is not keeping readers’ attention because they cannot avert their eyes from the train-wreck of an op-ed you just wrote.

Writing is the ability to get the reader who finished your first sentence to decide to read your second sentence. And third. And then fourth. And all the way to the end. And then say “Wow, this was good, let me share with all my friends”. Topic, length, form, format – those do not matter. It can be a tweet, it can be a book. It can be about duck penises, it can be about cancer. A good writer writes riveting, beautiful prose. Not convoluted, Victorian-style prose, but clear, exciting prose imbued with one’s personality.

Writing is also the ability to write riveting, can’t-put-down prose without giving up one inch of factual accuracy.

People who write riveting prose but what they say is BS are not good writers, they are what I like to call ‘seductive’ writers. I already mentioned David Brooks last week as a good example of a ‘seductive’ writer.

The way he invented stuff out of thin air about neuroscience and psychology was much worse error by Jonah Lehrer, another ‘seductive’ writer, than any plagiarism, “self” or “non-self” (non-responsiveness to expert criticisms in comments was his #2 error, and complete lack of interest in being a part of the science blogging community from which he could have learned both neuroscience and ethics was his #3).

There is a reason why we all stop whatever we are doing and go read long new pieces by the likes of Deborah Blum, Steve Silberman or David Dobbs. They do beautiful writing, their writing is assuredly 100% factually accurate, it is always interesting, and we always learn something new.

What I am trying to say is that good writing is a form of expertise. Many can quickly put together a formulaic news piece. Relatively few are really good writers in the sense I am trying to convey here. Media organizations that want to be successful have to try to lure in and hire some of those good writers, no matter what their area of topical expertise, or how much they explore neighboring topics to extend their expertise, or how much they tend to hit new topics and become temporary experts on those (and how much time they need for this). Some topical experts are also good writers. Some technical experts are also good writers. Mix and match, combine the different types, give them freedom and incentives to collaborate with each other, and you can have an awesome newsroom.

Expertise: the next generation

You are probably aware that one of the things I most like to do is “scouting” for talent, discovering new, up-and-coming science writers, bloggers and journalists, giving them opportunities, mentoring them, promoting their work, helping them become visible and successful.

Several science writing programs in the USA are churning out small armies of such amazing new writers each year (unfortunately, most other US schools and all the rest of the world are yet to catch up).

Many of them have background in science, thus have real scientific expertise to draw from. Others have always been fascinated by a topic and explored it in great detail over the years. So they are topical experts, always working on expanding their expertise, but being careful not to jump into something they don’t know anything about.

Many of them are skillful with a variety of modern tools, can troubleshoot them, modify them, and generally get them to work the way they want. Many experiment with a variety of other, non-textual forms of communication. Many can code and thus make their own tools if needed. Thus many of them are also technical experts.

They tend to be sticklers for accuracy. They do triple fact-checks on every word, number, symbol and punctuation point before turning in the piece. This also makes them good temporary experts whenever the assignments calls for it.

And many of them are beautiful writers as well, keeping my attention all the way to the end.

So, the new generation seems to combine all kinds of expertise. And working with them is a pleasure. They are so…professional!

Working with one of them, e.g., for a Guest Blog post, is so easy! We do not exchange 500 emails, half of which are irrelevant, half of which are CCd to irrelevant other people, half of which contain bits and pieces of the assignment (and I am the one who needs to track the most recent versions and patch them all together?), half of which contain images in wrong formats I cannot use, etc. No, the usual exchange is about six emails:

Email #1: Hey Bora, here is my pitch.
Email #2: That sounds great. Do it. When do you think you can have it done?
Email #3: How about April 15th?
Email #4: Deal. April 15th at 12 noon EDT it is.
Email #5 (on April 15th at noon): Here it is (attached), let me know if you want any changes.
Email #6: Perfect. Published. Thank you so much. The URL is: http…. “

What I get is perfectly formatted text (not for Word, for WordPress), perfectly sized images with links and credits, author bios, and perfect embed codes that render multimedia exactly the way they should look. Publish-ready.

I sit down ready to edit and realize, fifteen minutes later, that I have come to the end without having to make a single change, not even to fix any typos as there were none. And I really enjoyed reading it. And that is not easy – I am a jaded, old blogger with ADHD, so keeping my attention all the way to the end is hard, and making me enjoy it even harder.

Yet these new generations keep doing this to me! Over and over again (sure, some of the veterans are also extremely good, but there the experience varies). Just the latest example – this post was due at 1:00pm. I received it (including images, embed code, etc) at 1:00pm. It was published at 1:16pm. It came in perfect. All I needed to do was read, copy, paste and click “Publish”, then spend a couple of minutes promoting it on social media and my work for the day was done. Easy. How nice for me. More time for me to read something else, or write a post of my own. Or take a long weekend.

They are really good, which makes me hopeful for the future. Now go ahead and hire them (you can find many of them in the archives here)! If you don’t, they’ll start their own media empires and vanquish the competition that still hires generalists ;-)

Related:

Nate Silver and the Ascendance of Expertise
Beats vs obsessions, columns vs. blogs, and other angels dancing on pins
#sci4hels – ‘Killer’ science journalists of the future ready to take over the world!
The SA Incubator, or, why promote young science writers?
Science Blogs – definition, and a history
#scio12: Multitudes of Sciences, Multitudes of Journalisms, and the Disappearance of the Quote.
Blogs: face the conversation
Is education what journalists do?
Telling science stories…wait, what’s a “story”?
The line between science and journalism is getting blurry….again

Nate Silver and the Ascendance of Expertise

Nate Silver is now a meme (also source of the image on the left).

I usually pepper my posts with links, but today I feel lazy, so I listed a bunch of links at the bottom – hours of fascinating reading you can have after you read my post!

Who is Nate Silver?

Nate Silver likes to play with numbers. He started out with sports, then burritos, then politics. He, using statistics, correctly predicted most (not all, but almost all) presidential and congressional races in 2008, 2010 and 2012. Back in 2010, he came to ScienceOnline and moderated a session (together with Arikia Millikan) on using math to study human behavior online – the Web Science.

What does Nate Silver do?

Twenty years ago, there were only a few pollsters out there and they did relatively few polls. Today, there are many polling organizations and they, especially in the home stretch of an election, poll incessantly, every day. They do national polls, state-wide polls, even local polls. Over the years, they refine their methodology. Some predict outcomes better than others, for a variety of reasons.

Nate Silver averages all the polls, weights each poll according to the statistics of past performances, and produces a daily-changing set of numbers predicting outcomes of various electoral races. For the Presidental elections, unlike pundits focusing on national polls, he rightly focuses on state polls, especially in swing states, in order to predict the winner of the Electoral College – the only thing that really counts (we can discuss if that is right or wrong, but that is how the game is played now, so that it what he measures).

What did Nate Silver not do?

As a couple of bloggers (see links at the bottom) pointed out, Nate Silver did not do Big Data. These are pretty small and limited data-sets he has at his disposal. In aggregate, they are powerfully predictive, but that is not Big Data, though the motivations and methodologies are similar.

As Silver started in sports statistics, being a part of the Moneyball movement in baseball, people assume that what he is doing now is the same thing. But it is not. It is also not the same as what he did with burritos, though that comes closer.

In baseball (and later in basketball, though horse racing and betting industry has been doing this for a century at least), there are hard data. Player hit the ball or did not. Caught the ball or did not. The ball ended in a spot X or did not. It was a home-run or it wasn’t. Empirical data. Are two players good buddies or not does not matter that much at that level – they are both professionals and will do their best regardless of interpersonal relationships, body language and other subjective parameters. Thus, stats in sports work well, as they are based on clearly measurable things. From such stats, one can rank players and teams, and predict with quite a high degree of accuraccy which teams will win and which will lose. Or which horses have which odds for winning a race.

So again, What did Nate Silver do?

People focus on numbers, imagining they are hard data. But remember that the numbers come from polls. Polls are questionnaires. What Nate Silver did was social science.

Polls ask questions. People answer them differently. They may have conscious or unconscious biases. They will have different backgrounds and different levels of being informed. Some will lie on purpose, to skew the polls, as part of their activism. Some will lie unconsciously because they are afraid to tell what they really think. People respond differently if they are polled over their land-line phones (public) and differently if called on their cell-phones (private), and differently in online polls versus being asked in person, face to face (e.g., in exit polls). Some people put a lot of thought into their answers. Others want to do it as fast as possible and go with gut feeling, or even almost-random responses.

Different pollsters will ask similar questions, but with slightly different wording. And we know that wording affects the responses. The order of questions also affects responses.

Each pollster can only reach a limited number of people, so the small sample size results in a pretty large error.

But when Nate (and others) averages the polls, he increases the sample size, thus reducing the error. When he takes into account the past accuracy of pollsters and weights them accordingly, he further reduces the error. People who lie in opposite directions cancel each other. Pollsters who are biased in opposite directions cancel each other. A well-balanced, weighted average can take care of all of that, and produce a much more accurate prediction.

But importantly, it is still not numbers from physical measurements. It is statistics (and yes, Statistics is a sub-discipline of Mathematics) applied to messy human minds and brains and emotions and moods.

It’s people!

Why Nate Silver now?

A lot of it has to do with the current political climate. I wrote my thoughts about it on my Tumblr as I did not think it was appropriate to post it here, but go take a look.

In short, it is a backlash to alternative reality, alternative facts, alternative science, alternative math. It is a backlash to the self-perpetuating cycles of mutual lying between rightwing media, rightwing politicians, rightwing donors and rightwing voters, each preventing the others from straying one millimeter away from this alternative fantasy world. It is a backlash against anti-empiricism, anti-science, anti-facts, head-in-the-sand, “we make reality now” mindset. Practical solutions require dealing with the world as it is, not the world one imagines to be or wants it to be.

And when postmodernism in public life reaches a point of saturation, and when people have had enough of it, and when there is a backlash, people will go for as extreme opposite as they can find. In this case: math. Numbers. Hard, cold numbers. Unbiased analysis. No “gut feelings”. Which is why they go for Nate. Which is why they tend to ignore that Silver’s numbers are people.

Why Nate Silver and not other numbers guys?

Because Nate is a blogger. Really. Others put data out there as well (see links at the bottom). Nice graphs and charts and tables. Great numbers, essentially the same as Nate’s. But they don’t tell a story about the data. He does. He’s been doing it for years. He has regular readership. He has a recognizable voice. He has earned trust not just by the strength of his predictions, but also by the strength of his writing, his personality that shines in his blog posts, his transparency about his thinking and about his methodology.

People focus on Nate and trust Nate because he is an expert, but more importantly because he is an expert who can tell the story. An expert who can explain stuff in ways that people understand. He narrates his work and his numbers.

Why Nate Silver’s blog?

A number of people, some unhappy that other number-crunchers did not reach Nate’s fame (or rightwing wreath), explain his prominence by the fact that his blog is hosted by New York Times (see links at the bottom). Even the NYTimes public editor suggested that his fame is due to the association with the NYTimes brand.

This is upside down. And she got instant and strong backlash. It is Nate who is the brand. NYTimes profits more from having Nate on their site (the traffic to his blog just before and during the election day dwarfed all the traffic to everything else on their site) than he does from being associated with them. He is strengthening their brand, by being an expert on site, rather than the other way round.

NYTimes reported on Nate’s traffic in a pretty vague way – number of site visits that included visits to Nate Silver’s blog. But we know that very few people go to sites via homepages. Older people and people within the news business may still have that habit. But most people do not. I bet that at least 90% (and more likely 99.99%) of the traffic to Silver’s blog on the election day did not come from the NYTimes homepage, or any other page on the site. It came from direct links, social media, “dark social”, emails, bookmarks, RSS feed readers, searches, etc.

Nate Silver and the Ascendance of Expertise

What New York Times does smartly, to enhance its brand, is to hire people with real expertise, people like Nate Silver (and Paul Krugman etc.) and give them a prominent spot on the site (and even sometimes in the paper version). Washington Post does the same with Ezra Klein. Many media outlets, including the one you are on right now, have set up blogging networks specifically in order to attract and host writers with real expertise.

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago:

Landing on the New York Times page after you followed a link tells you something about it, to a certain extent. You still have to figure out if you trust the article you are about to read. Your expectations are higher than if it was Daily Mail, but you are still on guard. How do you decide in advance? By the name in the byline. If it is Maureen Dowd, you expect entertainment, but not much depth. If it’s David Brooks, you expect seductively beautiful writing that is based on pseudo-sociology he picked out of thin air to conform to his ideology. But if it’s Paul Krugman, you know you will get a better understanding of some aspect of economics because the guy knows his stuff – he is an expert.

And you know exactly what you’ll get if you see the byline of Nate Silver.

Expertise engenders trust. When I write about biology, my readers trust me as I am an expert. When I write about media, people trust me a little bit less because my expertise in this came later, was not “official” (i.e., no graduate school degrees), and is mostly based on my own impressions and experience, though my track record so far has been pretty good. When I write about politics…why would anyone trust me? Everyone has a political opinion, right?

What is important to note is that there is hunger out there for expertise. I started as a political blogger. Back in 2003/2004 there was a bunch of us starting political blogging. We each tried to add a particular angle, or bring in our other expertise (I focused on psychology of ideology, a nascent field now called ‘political psychology’), but mainly we pontificated about politics and performed acts of media criticism and of political activism. After the 2004 election, many of us specialized. Ezra Klein focused on health care and became a “Go To” person for it, resulting in his hire by the Washington Post. Many others did something like that and got hired as campaign managers, or writers, or consultants, etc.

I focused on science and ended up at Scientific American. In January 2005 I started a science blog, separate from my political blog. And instantly, with my very first post, the new blog reached the same traffic levels as the old blog. There were comments, questions. In science, I was an expert, and people trusted me and were hungry for information.

I said and wrote this many times, but long posts that do not shy away from nitty-gritty details (including numbers, formulae, technical terms if explained first, even Latin names for animals – see super-successful Tetrapod Zoology blog right here on the network) do extremely well. They may not get an instand surge of low-quality traffic from Slashdot, Digg, Reddit, Stumbleupon or Fark, but they accrue tons of traffic over time. Such pieces are not seen as entertainment, but as resources – something to be saved, bookmarked and shared with friends. Such pieces keep getting re-discovered and re-shared for years after initial publication. They provide value that a one-hit wonder, entertaining piece does not. They provide value that standard, short, news pieces do not – they provide context and detail and quality of explanation that comes from expertise, something that a 400-word piece cannot possibly contain, as there is not enough space for it. Longform writing works.

What is expertise?

How does one become an expert?

There are two ways. There is the 20th century method (yes, 20th century is an outlier on everything), in which one does hands-on research on a very narrow project while, hopefully, reading a little bit more broadly, resulting in an official badge of expertise – an MS or PhD or MD or some such degree.

And then there is the historically traditional method that is making a big come-back now – having a deep interest in the topic and doing it yourself, reading, discussing with others, doing own research, blogging about it, writing and reporting on it for years, establishing oneself as an expert on the topic. This is how the most respected journalists became most respected – by becoming the Go To experts on a particular topic.

The generalists and pundits – or, if you want, foxes as opposed to hedgehogs – are the reason why the audience is losing trust in the traditional media. They have seen expertise, and they are not going back.

There is something importantly different about l’affaire Silver, though. Most of the cases in the past were impressionistic. We used our own ‘gut feelings’ to say that a particular blog post by an expert X was better than a traditional news article by a journalist Y. But now we can back up our gut feelings with numbers. This case is empirical. Expert blogger Nate Silver was correct, while pundits and traditional bloviators were not…and here are the numbers.

How does expertise fit inside the new media ecosystem?

It is easy here at Scientific American. We are an expert publication almost by definition. When news breaks, and there is a science component to it, others come to our site to get the reliable scoop on it. Generalist news organizations link to our articles on the scientific aspects of news stories. All our editors are experts on the topics they write about (and some even have the 20th century badges of expertise, i.e., PhDs and such). And then we have the blog network, where we have about 50 additional experts in other fields.

Being on, or regularly reading, Scienceblogs.com over several years, where science bloggers were treated as ‘media’, taught us a lot. We learned from one another, learned from our own mistakes, and learned by analyzing mistakes of traditional media. We encountered and studied the traditional journalistic ethics and best practices and incorporated the best of it into our blogging. The Pepsigate scandal was a particularly useful teaching moment for all of us. We became better writers, better journalists, and better bloggers. The distinctions between these blurred.

But we remained experts in our domains. And we resisted some of the traditional media trappings. Being Web natives, we vehemently resist the alien concept of “word count”. No blogger I know ever counts words in their posts (if they do, they are too ashamed to say it publicly). The post is done when it’s done, when all the historical, philosophical, social and methodological context is included, all details hashed out, all conclusions finalized. And we know that #longform works best. And we resist detached “objectivity”. We know we gain rapport and trust with our readers if we insert ourselves into our stories, explain what is the personal connection, where does our expertise on the topic come from, what are our potential biases on the topic, why are we particularly excited about this topic and decided to write about that and not about something else.

As I said yesterday, the traditional and new forms are fusing, learning from each other, getting better as a result, and we are all better off because of it. The line between blogs and columns, and between beats and obsessions is getting fuzzy, and that’s a good thing. Many traditional journalists are now also blogging, experimenting with forms and formats, and then transferring those into their more traditional writing.

This is why forward-looking media organizations are hiring experts. And why the pundits and bloviators, once their contracts expire or they retire, will gradually disappear from the media ecosystem (this will take many years, especially on TV which is the most resistant to change). This is why journalism schools are training experts. This is why media organizations are hiring bloggers. And then some of those bloggers get desks in the office, salaries equal to staff, benefits, etc. One day, that will be the norm. Let’s hope.

Links:

Nate Silver: the verdict.
Under Attack, Nate Silver Picks the Wrong Defense
The Times’s Washington Bureau Chief, and Legions of Others, in Defense of Nate Silver
New York Times wants to hold Nate Silver to newsroom standards
Sorry, Margaret, You Need to Get Out More
Your Employee Is an Online Celebrity. Now What Do You Do?
Nate Silver probability map vs. Actual map
Three Lessons From The Nate Silver Controversy
Here’s What the New York Times’ Nate Silver Traffic Boom Looks Like
In defense of Nate Silver: Pundits bare their misunderstanding.
‘How Can That Be?’ More on the ‘They Can’t Both Be Right’ Saga
Wrath of the Math: Obama Wins Nerdiest Election Ever
Silver Medal
In Defense of Nate Silver, Election Pollsters, and Statistical Predictions
The Nate Silver backlash
Data, uncertainty, and specialization: What journalism can learn from FiveThirtyEight’s election coverage
Nate Silver gets a big boost from the election
Why Math is Like the Honey Badger: Nate Silver Ascendant
Nate Silver of 538.com and his critics in the press corps. Get your literacy up.
Nate Silver’s Braying Idiot Detractors Show That Being Ignorant About Politics Is Like Being Ignorant About Sports
In defense of Nate Silver — and basic math
Today’s War on Nate SIlver: Quiet Flows the Don Edition
The Passion of Nate Silver (Sort Of)
Pundits versus probabilities
What’s FiveThirtyEight Good For?: The Inevitable Nate Silver Backlash
How did Nate Silver Get the Election Odds so Wrong?
Math and Discipline — Why Nate Silver’s Accuracy Isn’t About “Big Data”
Nate Silver the Real Winner of Election 2012
How did Nate Silver predict the US election?
Among the top election quants, Nate Silver reigns supreme
Drew Linzer: The stats man who predicted Obama’s win
Was Nate Silver the Most Accurate 2012 Election Pundit?
Climate science is Nate Silver and U.S. politics is Karl Rove
Debunking Two Nate Silver Myths
Whatever Nate Silver Does, Isn’t Science
How a nerd named Nate Silver changed political reporting forever.
Nate Silver: Why I Started FiveThirtyEight
Pundit Forecasts All Wrong, Silver Perfectly Right. Is Punditry Dead?
Can Nate Silver’s example save political journalism?
Gallup is very upset at Nate Silver
Nate Silver on the Election, Pundits, and His Drunk Alter Ego
Foxy Nate Silver and why old-media hedgehogs could soon be old news

Tune in to State Of Things today at 12noon EST.

WUNC is the local NPR station. The State Of Things is one of the popular North Carolina programs, usually featuring local people doing interesting stuff. This week is the Science Week there.

I will be on today. The show starts at 12 noon EST, but my segment is at the end, so around 12:40pm or so. The topic is The Best Science Writing Online 2012 (aka “The Open Laboratory”) anthology. We mention and discuss a few of the articles from the book (sorry, I love all 50, so this was hard, like choosing a favorite child – Sophie’s Choice). And use this as a starting point for discussing how the Web and blogs are changing the way science is written and communicated these days.

I hope I did well – you’ll tell me, I know! At one point, host Frank Stasio surprised me. As you know, apart from the 50 essays, the collection also includes a poem. I have read the poem perhaps once or twice months ago, silently to myself. Frank asked me to read it out loud. Cold. I hope I pronounced all the words right, let alone read it the way a poem would be read! Yikes!

Anyway, The State Of Things runs at 12noon EST and is rebroadcast at 9pm. There is livestreaming online, and they are also pretty fast at putting the recordings up as podcasts (should be up around 3pm or so). Tune in!

Beats vs obsessions, columns vs. blogs, and other angels dancing on pins

It seems we like dichotomies when discussing changes in the media. We pick two words, and then fight over them.

I have no intention to revisit the stale old debate about journalists vs. bloggers, as it was silly to begin with, and was resolved back in 2005, oh wait, in 2008, or was it in 2009, or, oh, OK, in 2010…ah, well.

That old debate was just un-serious. People who used to write anti-blog screeds did a dereliction of journalistic duty, writing pieces about phenomena they knew nothing about, and did not bother to get informed and educated about. All the scorn that was heaped upon them at the time was fully deserved.

I am more interested in some more recent discussions, where two words are compared by people who put some thought into it and wrote interesting pieces about it, not just knee-jerk emotional reactions. Perhaps there is nothing to it, in the end, but I’d like to know at least WHY is it so important to so many people in the media to have these discussions in the first place.

Beats vs obsessions

Recent launch of Quartz, an innovative online magazine, incited a round of articles and blog posts discussing the distinction between traditional media ‘beats’ and the new concept, inaugurated by Quartz, of ‘obsessions’.

The distinction is fuzzy, to say the least, and not everyone can figure out the difference yet. The ‘obsessions’ are just another effort at replacing ‘beats’, now seen as an archaic concept originating in the necessities of internal organization of media outlets printing on paper.

I guess the main difference people are noting is that obsessions are narrower – in scope of the topic, or (geographic) space, or in time. A crime beat is a broad category. Obsessively following every detail of a particular crime for a while until it’s solved (or there is nothing more to say), is an obsession. Once the story is over, obsession is closed, and the reporter moves to a new topic.

But another way the difference is explained is that an obsession is actually broader, not narrower, by being multidisciplinary. Instead of looking at many stories from one angle, it focuses on a single story from many angles. This may be a way to solve some Wicked Problems. So, looking at the Big Picture of crime, e.g., causes of crime and what measures potentially reduce crime in various parts of the globe, cultures, past eras, etc, from every angle possible, is also an obsession.

Finally, the third difference I saw in these articles, is the question of institutional organization. A beat is organized to cover a particular institution. Crime beat is coverage of cops and courts and prisons, not sociological causes of crime, or lives of criminals. You don’t cover war, you cover the military. You don’t cover policy, you cover Congress. You don’t cover education, you cover schools and school boards. You don’t cover health and medicine, you cover hospitals.

You learn the jargon, you learn their rules and laws, you learn who’s’who in that institution, and you make nice with your sources in institutions you cover. An obsession breaks out of those boundaries and covers a phenomenon or topic or theme from a perspective of people interested in that topic, different angles your audience brings to it. You need to be much more responsive, do more listening and less preaching. Notice how SciAm categories are not disciplinary (e.g., Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, Biology…), but broader themes as people are interested in them (Evolution, Space, Energy & Environment, Mind & Brain, Technology…).

Columnists vs. bloggers

At about the same time, another distinction arose, that between columnists and bloggers (see the Storify of tweets of this discussion as well).

Here, the distinction IS essentially zero.

But let’s not confuse IS with OUGHT.

Obviously some people see a difference and are trying to put their finger on where exactly it is. Is column edited, blog not? Mostly yes, but there are edited blogs and un-edited columns.

Are blogs online, columns on paper? Everything is online these days (and everything can and sometimes is re-purposed for the print edition as well, or vice versa in old-skool organizations that are not digital-first yet but are still somehow surviving).

Columns have word-limits, blogs don’t (thus blog posts tend to be longer than columns)? Online, there is no need for word-limits no matter what the format.

Columns are paid, blogs are not? Ask all the professional bloggers about it, heh, though this may still somewhat persist quantitatively rather than qualitatively, with columnists being paid at a higher rate than bloggers for purely historically contingent reasons, not tied to quantity or quality of writing. There is also a balance of control in play, i.e., more you pay someone, more editorial control you can exert over that person’s work, but can reciprocate by giving the dignified title of “columnist”.

This blog network has three bloggers who consider themselves to be columnists. They started out as columnists in traditional media, and feel insecure without the safety net of copy-editors. Those three bloggers’ posts do get copy-edited (and if necessary edited, though not by me – I only edit Guest Blog and Expeditions with its outside authors). Other bloggers know they can use our copy-editing services, but it never occurs to them to ask – they are used to doing everything themselves without a safety net. I did the kindest, gentlest arm-twisting to persuade the three columnists to use the word “blogger” when they refer to themselves, for a number of reasons. First, everyone is equal, and I do not want to have perceptions that some people are more equal than others. If you use blogging software, you are a blogger. But more importantly, the word “blogger” gives you more freedom. Let me explain…

Column is an old term, and we all have a pretty good idea what it is, what to expect when we read one. There are traditions in length, form, format, language, tone, style, etc. Those traditions are now overly restrictive. On the other hand, word ‘blog’ is new and still being defined. It is about regular posting online, with experimentation being an important aspect of it – all kinds of lengths, forms, voices, styles etc can be used and nobody will find it unusual if the site is called a “blog”. Photoblogs, podcasts, videoblogs, are just as unsurprising as purely textual ones. Humor, funny photoshops, or profanity are just as “normal” on blogs as are long treatises, deep expertise and long lists of references. Heck, just look around our network: huge diversity of styles and forms, even though you can argue that the range of “acceptable” is narrower here than in the blogosphere as a whole.

Emotional effect of words

A few days ago, I discussed the distinction between beats and obsessions with a veteran journalist who’s been doing this for decades. We discovered that we have very different, essentially opposite, emotional reactions to those two words.

For him, the word ‘beat’ denotes something regular, steady, reliable and predictable, like a beat of a metronome, or heartbeat. Something that is comfortable and comforting. On the other hand, ‘obsession’ seemed dangerous to him, unpredictable, almost pathological. Obsessed people are not reliable, one never knows what crazy thing they will do next.

For me, the word ‘beat’ has a negative connotation. It is something aggressive, implying violence, as in ‘beating the dead horse’, or self-satisfactory, as in ‘beating off’. On the other hand, for me ‘obsession’ is a sister-word to ‘passion’. Without obsession, work is not worth doing. Without obsession, love is not worth loving. Without obsession, or passion, nobody will do anything risky and innovative, which is what we need in times of disruption of the entire system. During ten years in research, I was obsessed with it, thinking, dreaming, doing and breathing my science 24/7. I am just as obsessed with science communication, building the new media ecosystem, and discovering/promoting new writing talent now.

I was stunned by this difference in our reactions. Perhaps this is because English is second language to me, so my impressions of the words are colored by the context in which I first encountered them years ago when I was learning English? Or is it due to our temperamental (or even age) differences, me being always anti-authoritarian and kinda revolutionary, always proselytizing the new thing, the new order? Am I the one being crazy here?

So (and thanks to K.R. for giving me this idea in the first place), I checked the original etymologies of the two words. Apparently, we are both half-right. Both words are aggressive. The etymology of ‘beat’ indeed has something to do with physical violence. But etymology of ‘obsession’ is just as bad – implying near-possession by demons! But words evolve…

As someone who entered the media horizontally (from science to blogging to newsroom) as opposed to vertically (through j-school, or starting in the mailroom and working my way up), I am not emotionally wed to terms like ‘beat’, or ‘column’. For me, they have the patina of the old days of constraining tradition, not the comfort of ‘good old days’ I don’t remember (or don’t remember as “good”).

On the other hand, whenever one encounters a new word (or a word new to the person), it always looks strange. One way to deal with strangeness is to find it funny and laugh. This was the commonly voiced reaction by curmudgeon journalists to the new words like ‘blog’ and ‘twitter’. If they find the word funny, then the phenomena those words denote are not worth studying or taking seriously, but are perfectly OK to make fun of in public. They thought they were savvy, but they quickly discovered they looked stupid, in public. They fell for their own emotional reactions.

Oh, did I mention I hate the word “verticals”? How uni-dimensional (and hierarchical) for a network that is the Web!

Other subtle effects of words

There is another subtle difference in the way I subconsciously (well, consciously as of today) respond to the words “beat” and “obsession”.

Beat is repeated action. Obsession is a continuous action.

Oh, wait! Column writing is a repeated action. Blogging is a continuous action.

Or rather, beat (and column) is a repeated action, it’s work. Obsession and blogging are constant emotions that spur one into action all the time, out of love.

This is something related to a theme I often talk about (and write about, e.g,. here and here).

Blogging, unlike writing a column (or writing news pieces, or features, etc.), rarely produces stand-alone pieces that can be read in a vacuum. Blogging at its best is a series of posts, each building on what was previously written, and each connected to what other people have written (or what one has written elsewhere).

I have a beat here at my blog. Animal physiology and behavior, especially in respect to time (daily and seasonal rhythms), and especially when studied out in the field, within ecological and evolutionary contexts. Most of my blog posts on those topics are more or less stand-alone pieces. They link to scientific papers, or media coverage, but rarely link to my older posts.

I also have an obsession – studying the way the media ecosystem is changing. My blog posts on this topic are all connected. Which is why, just like the one you are reading right now, my posts on this obsession are chock-full of links, both to my older posts (so you can see where I am coming from, how my thinking evolved, etc) and to other people’s writing (to see the context within which I am thinking, who are the other people who are influencing me, etc).

A number of our other editors also do both. They produce perfectly traditional self-contained news pieces for the Observations blog (and elsewhere on the site, or in the print magazine), and fantastically gripping, innovative and experimental blog posts on their own personal blogs here (see their blogs on the pull-down menu above: Brainwaves, Streams of Consciousness, Talking Back, Octopus Chronicles, Budding Scientist, Critical Opalescence, Degrees of Freedom).

Our network bloggers are all over the spectrum here – most have some topics that are beats, some topics that are obsessions. For example, John Platt has a beat – endangered species (though he does obsess about a couple of species he writes about over and over again). Cassie Rodenberg has an obsession – addiction, from every possible angle: chemical, medical, societal, historical, ethical, legal, political, psychological, journalistic, artistic, and even personal. One can read most of Platt’s posts in isolation. One has to read many of Rodenberg’s posts before becoming acquainted with her enough to be able to, for example, post an appropriate comment.

So, most of us here on the network are sometimes columnists, sometimes bloggers, sometimes just wonderful storytellers, and sometimes something in-between. And that is probably the best. It is up to readers to recognize where they have just landed after following a link to a blog post. Is it a traditional piece that stands alone? Or is it a post that is one of many in a series, and digging through the archives and following for a few weeks or months are needed to really start understanding what is going on – at which point you will be richly rewarded because you have discovered a person with unique expertise and unique voice?

And this brings us to the next pair of words journos love to discuss: generalists vs. specialists.

Generalists vs. specialists

The Web has allowed many angles, many points of view, and yes, many truths to be available to everyone. Some of those angles and truths are more legitimate than others, but who’s the referee any more? It used to be the gatekeepers of the traditional media, but with so many voices out there now, and the trust in traditional media at a historic low, the MSM is not a referee of truth any more. It cannot do that as an institution, but it can regain some of it by hiring people who are referees of truth by virtue of having the relevant expertise.

Landing on the New York Times page after you followed a link tells you something about it, to a certain extent. You still have to figure out if you trust the article you are about to read. Your expectations are higher than if it was Daily Mail, but you are still on guard. How do you decide in advance? By the name in the byline. If it is Maureen Dowd, you expect entertainment, but not much depth. If it’s David Brooks, you expect seductively beautiful writing that is based on pseudo-sociology he picked out of thin air to conform to his ideology. But if it’s Paul Krugman, you know you will get a better understanding of some aspect of economics because the guy knows his stuff – he is an expert.

Every expert will have naysayers. There is always some fringe group that for emotional, political or financial reasons has an interest in promoting an alternative, illegitimate “truth” (see: global warming denialists, creationists, anti-vaxxers, anti-GMOs, animal rightists, etc). But for most people, expertise matters. Most people rightfully believe what Krugman says about economics. I hope people believe me when I write something about circadian rhythms. Expertise counts.

Expertise does not require a PhD in the topic. There are several bloggers on this science blogs network that came originally from English degrees, or journalism. But they developed obsessions for some areas of science, and over the years they became experts. And you know they are experts because they keep writing about it over and over again, they back up their claims with copious links to trustworthy sources, and they get general agreement from other experts in the same field in the comments or in responses on their own blogs. Over time, they earned respect and reputation for being experts on the topics they usually write about (and nothing wrong with occasionally using the blog to test new ideas in a new field, as a learning tool, perhaps as a test for moving from the old obsession to a new one).

A generalist who covers a different topic each time will never become known for expertise in any group of readers passionate about any of those topics. The articles and posts may be OK, but they will never be as inspiring or awesome as articles written by experts. A generalist may gain reputation among editors as a reliable freelancer who does good work, meets deadlines, is easy to work with and does not require too much time and effort to edit. But that reputation is inside baseball, it does not turn the writer into a personal brand, but one dependent on (usually declining, and often disappearing) institutional brands. In the world of “Friends in Low Places“, that is probably not the best strategy.

Thus, it is not surprising that j-schools are now trying to train experts, though that may be misguidedly turned into training computer programmers instead of journalists. Furthermore, some places are now taking existing experts and turning them into journalists.

When an expert keeps writing, that is more likely to be an obsession than a beat. It is more likely to look like a blog than a column. It will be continuous, rather than repeatable. It will be a constantly developing corpus of work, rather than a collection of unrelated articles. It will be an opportunity to gain regular audience and to build reputation, respect and a personal brand that is easy to move from one institution to another (or to freelancing). A person with a brand is attractive to hire by media organizations that understand that their institutional brand depends on the quality and reputation of the expert writers they hired – as bloggers, treated and paid as if they were columnists of yore.

“Bloggers vs. journalists” really makes no sense any more, does it?

ScienceRewired #srw12, #Back2Blog, #sciwri12 and other recent and future events

Back on October 10th, I skyped in a keynote address to the inaugural event of the ScienceRewired group in Adelaide, Australia. Here is a fast liveblog of my talk, and here is the video of the talk in full:

Kylie Sturgess has blogged and storified the entire event here.

=========

On October 13th, I participated in the first Back To Blog event at Duke. Organized by Cara Rousseau and Anton Zuiker, it was a wonderfully invigorating little unconference about the current state of blogging. And while Dave Thomas, Anton Zuiker, Paul Jones and I at one point or another stood up and talked a little, the entire event was a conversation with a very engaged audience. From veteran bloggers (I felt like a n00b in the presence of Anton, Paul, Henry Copeland and others who have been doing this several years longer than I did) to complete novices hoping to start blogging, and everything in-between, this was a very energizing and exciting event. Fenella Saunders, Dave Thomas and Anton Zuiker then blogged about it all.

=========

You already know I spent last week at the meeting of the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology. What is next?

Science Writers (NASW/CASW) meeting is on October 26-30, here in Raleigh, NC. One of the highlights of the year, this will be my third ScienceWriters (I went to New Haven in 2010 and Flagstaff in 2011) and this time I will get to play a host. I am one of the co-organizers of the panel – Follow 1500 People on Twitter? Learn to Manage the Information Deluge – for which we set up a wiki where you can add your own tips and resources, and please use both the official #sciwri12 hashtag and the session-specific tag #sciwri12deluge.

And then, on November 9th, we will have the seventh #TriSciTweetup at the Mystery Brewing Company in Hillsborough, NC. Join us if you can.

#sci4hels – ‘Killer’ science journalists of the future ready to take over the world!

Finland, Finland, Finland!

Every now and then, a meeting happens somewhere in the world, and I am not there but watching the tweets with the official hashtag makes me thoroughly jealous I am not. It just seems like there is interesting stuff going on, important information exchanged, and everyone is having great fun. I know, I know, that is how many of you feel during ScienceOnline flagship meetings (currently at #scio13 hashtag). But for me, one of those jealousy-inducing events is the World Conference of Science Journalists, a large, international gathering of science journalists, reporters, writers, editors and the like, organized by World Federation of Science Journalists every two years.

I first saw the tweets from WCSJ three years ago, when it was held in London, UK. Last year, it was supposed to happen in Cairo, Egypt, but the events in the country made it potentially unsafe to hold the conference there, so the venue was quickly moved to Doha, Qatar. Although I was supposed to be on two panels there, the last-minute change in venue made both the logistics and the finances impossible for me to attend. So I watched from the sidelines again, in sadness and frustration.

Next year, the 8th World Conference of Science Journalists will be held in Helsinki, Finland, hosted and co-organized by the Finnish Association of Science Editors and Journalists, FASEJ. The official hashtag is #WCSJ2013.

And I’ll be there!!!! And I am so excited!

I will be on a panel organized and moderated by Deborah Blum. I hear this will be one of the Plenary Panels, which, from what I understand, means it will be held in the biggest room and nothing else will be occurring simultaneously. So potentially all the attendees will be there at the time. I better prepare well!

But I am even more excited about another panel, for which I am the organizer, though not a moderator or panelist. I am absolutely thrilled that my proposed panel has been accepted for the program. Let me tell you more about it, why I proposed it, and what to expect if you come to see it in person next summer. A little background first…

Why I do what I do.

As you may already know, discovering, helping and promoting new talented writers is something I see as central to my own work. A number of them found a permanent spot on the blog network here at Scientific American. Some of them have already been so successful, they are not even considered “new” any more, just a year after the launch.

Others have published on our Guest Blog, which has tremendous reach and reputation, and authoring articles there has led to jobs, TV appearances and book contracts for some of the authors who appeared there. Some of them subsequently got permanent slots on our blog network, or internships at Scientific American, or had their articles published in our web or print versions of the magazine.

Some of them had their pieces published in one of the past sixth editions of Open Laboratory anthology that I edit. And I invite a number of them each year to attend ScienceOnline, our flagship conference, where they moderate sessions, teach workshops, or report from the event itself.

Finally, I started an entire blog, The SA Incubator, specifically to promote new writers and to help them develop a new media ecosystem and then thrive in it.

Another way I try to help is by getting involved in science programs in schools of journalism. I am currently a visiting faculty at the NYU SHERP program, and am on the advisory board of the UNC program for Health and Science Journalism.

Why do I do this? Because media ecosystem, and science reporting as a part of it, is undergoing tremendous disruption right now. I am trying to help creative new people build a new ecosystem for the future – a kind of media that is sustainable, profitable and, most importantly – good!

I am trying to help Friends In Low Places find each other, gather their creative energies together, and take over the media world.

The ‘killer’ science journalists of the future

Science media ecosystem has never been as big, as good or as vibrant as it is today. Many young writers are joining the ranks of veterans each year – and they are good! Some of them have science backgrounds, which can be helpful. They all write really well. And they are digital natives, effortlessly navigating today’s online world and easily using all the available tools.

But some of them are going beyond being well adapted to the new media ecosystem – they are actively creating it. They experiment with new forms and formats and, if the appropriate Web tool is missing – they build the tools themselves. Some of them not only write well, but can write computer code, do web-design, produce all types of multimedia, and all of that with seemingly more fun than effort, seeing each other as collaborators rather than competitors.

I have proposed this kind of session, a panel of new, rising stars (this one is really, officially titled “The ‘killer’ science journalists of the future”), several times in the past, for various other meetings and it was always rejected. Perhaps the organizers automatically choose current stars over future stars, or established names over newcomers. But I am very happy that the Finnish organizers think out of the box and deem it important to include new voices in their event. Not just that it will be very useful for the young journalists, for networking, but also useful for all of us of an older generation to carefully listen and learn.

Just like I spent nine months diligently studying the science blogosphere before I picked the final line-up for this blog network, I applied equally studious effort to picking the members for my panel. I guess I am just that systematic (or obsessive-compulsive, you choose).

I started with several dozen names, including all the SA Incubator interviewees to date, from all around the world. I read every word of every article they ever published. I read the entire archives of their blogs. I studied how each uses social media, like Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, Tumblr, etc. I looked at their art, photography, videos, podcasts, infographics and other multimedia projects. I actually talked to a number of them. And I gradually narrowed down the numbers, over a period of about two months, to four – one moderator and three panelists.

I wanted the best possible panel, including not just Web-savvy people, but also people who creatively and experimentally build the new media ecosystem, people with different backgrounds, career trajectories, talents, interests, skill sets, and personal goals, as well as four people who don’t only do it all, but also eloquently think, talk and write about it. They are all upcoming superstars. This panel will rock!

As you know, the media ecosystem in general, and science media ecosystem in particular, suffered a severe disruption in the USA over the past few years. The media ecosystems in the rest of the world are hanging by a thread and will soon be just as disrupted as the American one. Everyone is scrambling to find new ways of delivering news, and keeping their jobs while doing it. Media organizations are experimenting with new ways of doing things. And some journalism schools are starting to adapt to the new needs of the media.

Over the past few years of intently watching the science media world, I have noticed something interesting. Some, still very few unfortunately, science journalism programs in the U.S. have completely changed the way they think about training young journalists. As a result, over the last couple of years, they are producing exactly those kinds of people I like to call “killer journalists of the future” – creative, ambitious, experimental, curious, self-starting, hard-working, entrepreneurial wizards. I could have picked a dozen or two of their most recent graduates and they would all be good.

From my experience as an editor over the past two years, these new journalists are more professional to work with than many of the veterans I had to work with recently, and better than almost any of the recent students coming from other schools in the USA and the rest of the world. I get the drafts of their articles and reading them is not work, but sheer pleasure. I try to edit, and discover there is no need to apply my virtual red pen to a single word or punctuation mark. Heck, it is all perfectly formatted, so all I need to do is copy and paste exactly the way I got it. And their articles then go viral! They can certainly write straight-forward, traditional news pieces on assignment, but they really fly when given space and freedom to do something creative, try a new, different approach to telling a story.

It is unfortunate that a number of other US schools and all of the schools in the rest of the world are still teaching within an out-dated, 20th century model, doing a disservice to their students. This is why I think it is so important for the global audience at WCSJ2013 to see what these particular people have to say – they are the new breed, and we should all carefully listen to their experiences. It is especially important for the rest of the world to see what the American experience is about to bring to them, how to learn from it and adapt to it before they are, too, hit as hard by the new realities.

Interestingly, just as I received the wonderful news that this panel was accepted, the Nieman Journalism Lab started a series of articles exploring exactly this topic: the skills needed by the new media world, and how those skills are acquired either in j-schools or on the job, or by self-starting by blogging, for example.

Upon receipt of the official acceptance message from the WCSJ organizers, I finally contacted the four people I chose for the panel. They are all very excited about this. And, being of a new generation, they are not waiting six months to start preparing PowerPoint presentations! That is not how they operate (and no, their panel is not going to have PowerPoints or anything boring like that – they are “killers”, after all, they will make it exciting and fun).

Instead, they instantly sprung into action. They immediately started to discuss the topic on Twitter, first by using all four handles which turned out to take too much character space, so they quickly came up with the official hashtag for their panel – #sci4hels.Make sure you set up a Tweetdeck column for it as Helsinki time approaches!

They will write a series of blog posts exploring the topic, in advance of the event. The first one is already up – The Question of Code (which was then linked by the Nieman Journalism Lab in their Friday weekly review) – and several more are coming (I may write one myself, though this one is already long and detailed, and the original post still stands). And they have organized to meet in person in January, during ScienceOnline2013, to hash out the details of their panel (yes, brilliantly, all four of them are fast enough typists to have managed to register!).

Here they are:

Moderator:

Rose Eveleth: homepage, blog, Twitter, Facebook page, Incubator interview, Scientific American articles, Scienceline posts

Panelists:

Lena Groeger: homepage, blog, Twitter, ProPublica articles, new job announcement, Scientific American articles, Scienceline posts

Kathleen Raven: homepage, blog, Twitter, Spoonfull of Medicine articles, Incubator interview

Erin Podolak: homepage, blog, Twitter, Incubator interview

I am incredibly excited to work with such an amazing group. I am excited to see how quickly they sprung into action, to make this panel useful and memorable. And I am excited to see that the WCSJ organizers agree with me that their voices are an extremely valuable addition to the program.

Important updates on ScienceOnline and OpenLab

Hello, lots of news today.

ScienceOnline

ScienceOnline now has a new homepage and URL at http://scienceonline.com – check it out.

Registration for ScienceOnline2013 opens on Monday morning at 9am EDT (followed by two more windows of opportunity later in the week). Get more information here.

The Program is now public – see it here.

OpenLab

The Best Science Writing Online 2012, the sixth annual anthology in the series, will be released this Tuesday, September 18th.

On that day, we will have an Online Chat – please join us on Tuesday at 12 noon EDT.

On the same day, for those of you who can make it to New York City on Tuesday evening, we will have an informal launch with a sale, reading (a few authors will be present) and signing, as a part of the #NYCSciTweetup. Join us if you can and bring your friends.

ScienceOnline2012 – interview with David Ng

Every year I ask some of the attendees of the ScienceOnline conferences to tell me (and my readers) more about themselves, their careers, current projects and their views on the use of the Web in science, science education or science communication. So now we continue with the participants of ScienceOnline2012. See all the interviews in this series here.

Today my guest is David Ng (blog, The Science Creative Quarterly, Twitter).

Hi Dave, and welcome to A Blog Around The Clock!

Hi Bora, thanks for having me. You know, I just read your about section and I totally forgot that you are a chronobiologist. I also just realized that I’ve never actually been interviewed by a chronobiologist before. Which is very cool – being interviewed and also the word “chronobiologist” generally. I wish I could call myself a chronobiologist…

Well thank you… chronobiology is a very interesting field… Anyway, would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself?

You mean apart from the fact that I wish I was a chronobiologist?

Yes, apart from that. For instance, my readers would like to know where…

…Because having the word “chronobiologist” on my business card would be awesome. In fact, if it were me, I would have it in a huge font size, just over the bit where it says I’m from Vancouver, Canada, University of British Columbia. Is the word “chronobiologist” on your business card?

Well, no…

Oh man! You should totally put it on your business card!

Well… I’ll take that into consideration. But anyway… my readers… my readers would like to know where you are coming from, that is to say your background and how you feel about science generally?

Well, sometimes, how I feel about science is kind of complicated. Although I suppose that is the point. Science – what it is, why it’s important, and how we can share it – is, as you know, a pretty nuanced thing. That’s what makes it great and wonderful, yet challenging and occasionally scary. The problem is that not everyone appreciates this diversity in perspective. In other words, not everyone considers the idea that science is a kind of culture all to itself – they tend to think of science as a collection of facts, homework even, or maybe even something that only works within defined stereotypes. Makes them tune out and… Sorry, what was the question?

I was asking about how you feel about science… which I think you kind of answered…

Oh yeah, right… Did I answer it? Ummm, maybe this picture can clarify things a bit…

I suppose that also works. So then, what about your background? Any scientific education?

Look Bora, we’ve already established the fact that I’m not a chronobiologist – there’s no need to rub it in…

No, no… I didn’t mean to rub anything in. I just mean, er, tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?

Oh right… Well, my training was in molecular genetics, and cancer research specifically, but the last decade or so, I’ve been mostly considered an academic in science literacy – working on projects related to science education and science literacy.

You mean projects that use genetics as a subject matter?

Well, yes, there’s a bit of that – but it’s more about my faculty position being administratively (shall we say) “interesting,” meaning that I’m in the fortunate position to be involved in all sorts of different kinds of science communication projects, and all sorts of different types of science education projects, and OMG! WE SHOULD TOTALLY START A PROJECT ON CHRONOBIOLOGY!

Ummm… Sure… But first tell me what do you mean by administratively “interesting?”

Well, in a nutshell, I’m a Faculty member without a faculty. How this came to be, appears to be a bit of a mystery at my institution, but I suspect it had something to do with my old boss being smart enough to realize that a faculty position that deals with science literacy needs to have as much room as possible to explore. Put another way, what this means is that I have the usual academic perks, but without most of the usual academic ties that can often lead to bureaucratic limits. In other words, there’s a lot of freedom to explore different projects. Add to that, the fact that I have a lab that is quite well equipped from an infrastructure point of view, amazing colleagues (Joanne Fox – also not a chronobiologist – in particular), and a pretty decent track record in acquiring funding, culminating in ideal circumstances to try lots of different things.

Such as?

Well, conventional things might be hosting genetics fieldtrips for high school students, or providing professional workshops for working scientists, or simply being involved in our university’s undergraduate/graduate community through an advocacy role or by being directly involved in various courses. But I have to admit – it’s the unconventional stuff that is really fun and interesting.

Like what?

Well, lots of different things actually. Examples might include the launching of an elementary school fieldtrip program that was designed by the collaborative efforts of Science Graduate Students and Creative Writing Masters of Fine Arts students. That was pretty interesting, and wonderful too, at least from the feedback from teachers and students involved. Another strange one, which has been getting attention on and off, is this crowdsourcing initiative we have called Phylo or Phylomon. It’s basically a game project that revolved around biodiversity education and Pokemon culture. AND DID YOU NOT HEAR MY SUGGESTION FOR A CHRONOBIOLOGY RELATED PROJECT?

Ahem… Are any of these things taking up the most of your time and passion these days?

Actually, the Phylomon project has taken off in all sorts of interesting directions. Lots of activity there, and there’s movement now for all manner of different decks to be produced in collaboration with specific organizations or groups (like museum decks or we could even have a ScienceOnline deck for example). Because of its fluid crowdsourcing nature, the direction it goes is super open in principle. I’m currently recruiting folks to work on a new game mechanic that could highlight some evolutionary biology concepts for instance.

Anything else?

Yes, I’ve been really thinking a lot these days about grand things like “What exactly is science?” and “What does it mean to be scientifically literate?” In doing so, I’m thinking that it would be fun to focus on a project that tries to address these fundamental questions at a level where younger children can contribute. Maybe produce some well crafted resources for teachers, that could first exist as a “scientific method field trip” or “scientific method camp.” I like the idea of starting off with field trips and camps, because here we could actually see things in action with the kids and assess how effective they are. Basically, something that gets kids to value “questioning everything” but to also do this by using that thing we call the scientific method, the good and the bad. Just banging around some ideas here, but wouldn’t that be lovely?

Yes!

Although, I imagine really really tricky to do well.

Yes…

…But worth a go, I think. This is why I’m hoping to talk to a lot of very clever people over the next couple of months. Actually, I’m going to want to talk to you Bora, maybe even include you in a roster of sorts. Every roster needs a chronobiologist. You probably know this already, but it looks very impressive.

Well, I’m not sure about that, and plus, I’d have to check my schedule…

Yes, of course, of course – but that is why ScienceOnline and social networks and all of this web stuff – well, it’s just so wonderful! Because, now, more than ever, it’s easier to connect with other folks, and there must be other chronobiologists out there!

Oh yes, I’m definitely not the only one… There are many of us out there. Related to that, what type of social networks do you use?

…I mean, how amazing would it be, to have TWO chronobiologists on the project’s committee. Doesn’t that all but practically guarantee any funding requests? I think I saw that written somewhere once.

Well, I don’t know about that. Anyway, what networks do you use? And do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?

I guess I’m most fond of twitter. I find twitter to be both useful and fun. #Ihuggedachronobiologist

So a net positive?

Yes, although maybe not a necessity, but certainly very very helpful.

And do you blog?

Not as much as I’d like. Years ago, I started a web publication called The Science Creative Quarterly, but that was more about showcasing creative science writing. Then, for a while, I wrote a blog with Ben Cohen called the World’s Fair. We initially came together because we were both interested in science humor (Editor’s Note: Here are links to some humor from Ben and Dave), or at least exploring different ways of science writing. In other words, we didn’t take things seriously all of the time, which made for an interesting experience. We had good time with all sorts of silly things, like hosting puzzles (as a vehicle to look at hypothesis formation, and paradigm shifts) or creating basketball tournaments between different science concepts (as a general run down of some fundamentals of science).

Oh yes, I remember that. The basketball tournament was pretty epic. But what you’re telling me is that you don’t blog anymore?

Well… these days, I sort of blog. I have a site called Popperfont, but that is mainly a repository of funny, pretty, or surreal science things I find daily on the net. You know, the kind of stuff that might be good to include in a slide as a transitional break – in case your science talk gets a little too unwieldy, and here’s an amusing image which gives the audience a teeny tiny lift before you segues to this and that. I also, on occasion, contribute to Boing Boing, which is always fun – usually a humor angle is involved with these posts which sometimes works well and sometimes not so much.

So you sort of blog?

Maybe curate is a better word? In many ways, I’m more of a consumer of the web science writing, usually by checking links via twitter, and perusing the usual excellent suspects of science blogging (although I should note that I consider the writings of Maggie Koerth-Baker, Marie-Claire Shanahan and Alice Bell required reading, especially with the scientific method stuff in mind). Anyway, I don’t write as much as I would like: part of it is a time thing, but another part is that I secretly don’t have the confidence to self identify as a writer – still a muscle that needs some major practicing I think.

Yes, practice does makes perfect as they say. Although, if I may say, that’s probably a good reason to do more.

Yes, too true… And, ironically, I am working on a book right now, so there is that. Maybe you can read it when I’m finished and give me a quote or something.

Well, I can see what I can do.

Yeah, something like, “I enjoyed the book so much, that time just flew by – TIME JUST FLEW BY – get it?” And make sure you sign off with “Bora Zivkovic, Chronobiologist.” My agent would totally dig that.

Er, sure… Now onto the conference. What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2012 for you?

(O.K. being serious here) I think for me – and especially because my lab tackles so many divergent ways of science communication – ScienceOnline was just about the perfect place to survey and discover all of the many different ways you can talk about and interact with science culture. It was, frankly, awesome. Add to that, the idea that when all is said and done, everybody at the conference is working towards more or less the same thing – expanding the notions of science literacy, and sharing that knowledge with the world – plus the conference had a truly friendly vibe and a refreshing lack of egos. It is basically one of the best conferences I’ve been to, and the whole package definitely made for a very productive experience overall.

Any suggestions for next year?

YES! I think it would be great to somehow formalize and capture all of the great content that was being discussed. But more in a formal “this works as an excellent resource to be shared” way. And I say this as a potential moderator begrudgingly giving myself more work. Still, I don’t think it’s a stretch to ask moderators to contribute a proper write up after the session when all is said and done. It doesn’t seem like a bad trade for getting a guaranteed spot in the conference, and wouldn’t that collection of resources be something else?

O.K. Well, Dave, I think we’re about done here. Thanks for taking the time to do this, and hopefully, we’ll see you at the next conference. Any last words?

You know, it just occurred to me that I don’t actually know what the heck a chronobiologist is – does it have something to do with time travel?

I’ll explain it to you at the hotel bar in January, but you’ll have to get to that date the usual way, day by day…

ScienceOnline2012 – interview with Matthew Francis

Every year I ask some of the attendees of the ScienceOnline conferences to tell me (and my readers) more about themselves, their careers, current projects and their views on the use of the Web in science, science education or science communication. So now we continue with the participants of ScienceOnline2012. See all the interviews in this series here.

Today my guest is Matthew Francis (blog, Twitter).

Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself?

“]”]I’m a physicist, freelance science writer, former college professor, ex-planetarium director, and wearer of jaunty hats. (And yes, that’s part of my standard biography.) I hold a Ph.D. in physics and astronomy from Rutgers University, and my undergraduate degree is from Central College, a small liberal arts college in Iowa. While I majored in physics, my minors were in math and English.

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

As you can tell from the “former” and “ex-” in the paragraph above, my career has followed an unpredictable trajectory. I fully expected to retire from teaching at a college, but when my university faced serious financial troubles, they decided to eliminate the physics department. However, I’ve always loved writing, so I decided to see if losing my job could be turned into an opportunity. In my last year of teaching, I began a blog, “Galileo’s Pendulum“, and in the last six months started writing a book. I am also contributing physics editor for “Double X Science“, a blog aimed at providing good science content for and about women.

“Galileo’s Pendulum” covers a variety of topics in physics, astronomy, and related fields, mostly for non-scientists. I try to mix some lessons about how science works in practice into my writing as much as possible, since it’s an area of common misconceptions. In particular, as a theoretical physicist, I try to emphasize the importance of evidence in all aspects of science, since it’s too commonly assumed that coming up with “theories” is a matter of sitting alone in a room and thinking hard. Real science is far messier and more glorious than that – and there’s romance even in the messiness.

A similar theme plays in my book-in-progress, which is tentatively titled Back Roads, Dark Skies: a Cosmological Journey. For this book, I am traveling to various observatories and labs across the United States where the real work of cosmology is done, meeting scientists and viewing the equipment they use. Cosmology is big science: many projects involve hundreds of researchers, and the ways they go about learning about the Universe are as important as their discoveries. After all, the most important question one can ask in science is, “How do we know?”

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

I still think of myself as an educator even now, though I’m no longer in the college classroom. I want to share the wonder of physics to those who think of it as something beyond them, or even something to fear. In this era when the very goals of education are being challenged (at least for the children of poor and working-class families), it seems more important than ever to stress the importance of science, not just in daily lives, but in our intellectual structure. Science can be a source of joy and wonder for everyone, whether they are scientists or not.

The Web and social networking allow me to connect with those who are truly interested in finding what I write. My audience isn’t huge, but it’s pretty diverse: I have people from Iran and clergy from Wisconsin, a few kids, and even a handful of professional physicists among my readers. I don’t think that would even be possible without the Web. Twitter is really my community, since I haven’t identified any other professional science writers in Richmond (yet at least). My best professional contacts in the last two years have come through Twitter, including the entire ScienceOnline community.

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 started reading Sean Carroll’s “Preposterous Universe” website many years ago, but the first science blog I followed in earnest was Phil Plait’s “Bad Astronomy”, thanks to his earlier website debunking the Moon landing conspiracy nonsense. (For those joining late: a small but vocal group of people deny we ever landed astronauts on the Moon, and have a long list of “evidence” to support this view. Even if you don’t believe the testimonies of the people involved in the projects, the evidence in favor of the Moon landings is really strong, and Plait has done a really good job collecting it and debunking the conspiracy theorists.) Through his site, I discovered Carl Zimmer’s “The Loom”, Ed Yong’s “Not Exactly Rocket Science”, Jennifer Ouellette’s “Cocktail Party Physics”, and Sean Carroll’s later blog, “Cosmic Variance”.

I hesitate to even begin listing the blogs and writers I learned about through ScienceOnline, since there are so many! Suffice to say nearly every science writer I follow on a regular basis is part of that community, and many of the others I learned about through my friends in the ScienceOnline extended family.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2012 for you? Any suggestions for next year? 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, blog-reading and blog-writing?

I loved the chance to meet my online friends in real life, and interact with them in a structured but still informal setting. A lot of the best professional connections were actually out of the sessions: talking with people about what they do, and how. The session that inspired me the most was the “Geometry and Music” session led by Deborah Blum and David Dobbs: using geometry (which I use extensively in research) and music (which I am obsessed with) to recognize shapes within narratives in your own stories.

My first ScienceOnline was 2012, and I had the privilege of leading a session, despite my newbie status. I hope to be leading at least one session in 2013 as well (hint, hint).

Thank you so much – hope to see you soon!

 

The Scienceblogging Weekly (August 26th, 2012)

The week was too busy to finish this on Friday. Then on Saturday the news broke that Neil Armstrong died – something I wanted to highlight as a special topic – so I decided to wait another day and give people a chance to wrote posts and articles about Neil. So, with a delay, the weekly linkfest is here!

 

Blog of the Week:

We are all in the gutter is a an astronomy and astrophysics group blog. The title of the blog comes from the quote “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” from Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde. Emma, Niall, Rita and Stuart are astronomers, astrophysicists, star-gazers and space geeks at various career stages, having fun with their blog, exploring the universe from every angle they can possibly think of.

 

Top 10:

Unless They’re Zombies, Fossils Don’t Live by Brian Switek:

I hate the phrase “living fossil.” The term should be eradicated from the vocabulary of science writers, and anyone who employs it should be promptly encased in Carbonite. “Missing link” is the only slogan that pisses me off more. My acute allergic reaction to the idiom may be a little overwrought, I admit. But, to me, “living fossil” is nonsense that obscures more than it elucidates. Take the coelacanth, for example….

Hyenas Eschew Lent, Chew Donkeys Instead by Anne-Marie Hodge:

Anyone who has ever attended a holiday parade or gone on a summer vacation knows that cultures tend to create their own seasonal patterns. In much of Western culture, December is a time of much celebrating and feasting, while similarly wintry January is relatively dreary and dull (after New Year’s celebrations subside). This raises a question: how do the behaviors and culture of a society affect the animals that depend upon that society’s garbage for their food? The progressive encroachment of human settlements into the habitats of wild animals has opened opportunities for animals to avail themselves of human refuse. A raccoon in North America is likely to find a juicy watermelon rind in July and leftover turkey remains in November. Perhaps equally enticing for a roving dumpster-diver, but by no means nutritionally equivalent….

Why Is the Night Sky Turning Red? by Amy Shira Teitel:

The idea of a red sky at night used to invoke beautiful images of vibrant sunsets, the product of warm sunlight bathing the sky near the horizon. The adage of “red sky at night, sailor’s delight” refers to a calm night ahead; a red sunset suggests a high-pressure system in the west is bringing calm weather. But red skies at night have taken on a new meaning in recent decades. As outdoor lighting become increasingly prominent, our night skies are gradually turning from black to red….

When will we find life in space? by Phil Plait:

One of the reasons I love astronomy is that it doesn’t flinch from the big questions. And one of the biggest is: are we alone? Another reason I love astronomy: it has a good shot at answering this question…

Paleo-politics: The really long view by Will Femia:

…..The other explanation is that the Cretaceous ended when, 65 million years ago, an asteroid (or asteroids) slammed into the earth, right across the future-Gulf of Mexico at the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. Not only did the impact and resulting fallout from that asteroid kill the dinosaurs, it also wiped out huge quantities of marine life, including many of the “tiny marine plankton with carbonate skeletons” (I’m guessing some version of Coccolithophore? Anyone?) that would become the rich soil that slaves would farm on land their ancestors would inhabit in voting districts that would favor Democratic candidates around the turn of the second millennium of the Common Era……

What the Dark Knight knows about holding our urban lives together by Scott Huler:

There’s a lot not to love about The Dark Knight Rises, the crazyish new chapter in the latest Batman cycle: a series of actions and explosions so unconnected that they make a Rorschach test look like a syllogism by comparison; Marion Cotillard’s death scene, which lacked only her eyes rolling up and her tongue lolling sideways from her mouth to equal those put on by toddlers on playgrounds; and Christian Bale’s Batman growl — close your eyes and you think Cookie Monster is saving Gotham City….One thing the movie got right, though, is its focus on the infrastructure systems that serve as the beating and vulnerable heart of our urban existence. Every major plot point directly relates to the built environment and the networks that make every element of our lives possible….

Science For Princesses by Janet Stemwedel:

I have always known that I loved science, that delicious alliance of imagination and methodical testing that could help you figure out something about how a piece of the world worked. However, being born at the tail-end of the 1960s, I grew up in a culture that wanted me to know that girls were not supposed to like science. In fact, between toy commercials and TV shows, teachers and peers, I got the message pretty quickly that science is not something for girls. Rather, girls should turn their attention to more important matters . . . like being properly feminine. There was a way that girls were supposed to be—neat and tidy and pretty and pink and quiet and well-behaved. I was not any of those things. I didn’t want to be any of those things. I didn’t know how to be any of those things. And, as far as I could tell, trying to be those things was not going to help me get my hands on the science-y stuff that I wanted. So what was the point?….

How to Annoy E.O. Wilson by Michelle Nijhuis:

…….During a panel at the Aspen Environment Forum in Colorado, as she describes here, Emma piqued Wilson with her talk of making more nature — of expanding our definition of the natural world to include places humans have invaded, altered, and restored. Spending billions trying to return coastal areas like the Everglades to pre-Columbian “purity,” she added, is a lost cause. Better to invest in upslope reserves, and perhaps even learn to admire the tenacity of invasive species…..

Father’s age dictates rate of new mutations by Virginia Hughes:

With every passing year, men are increasingly likely to transmit new mutations to their children, according to the largest study yet of the so-called paternal age effect, published yesterday in Nature. The findings could help explain why older men are more likely to have a child with autism or schizophrenia than are younger men, the researchers say….

I Am Science…and a Nerd by Craig McClain:

I am a nerd. I was a nerd. I will be a nerd. Perhaps in kindergarten I wasn’t, where nerdom had difficulty establishing itself among the simple lessons of the alphabet, counting, and colors. In kindergarten, we are more or less the same in deficiencies and achievements. But after that, I am pretty confident my geek flag flew. I cannot remember ever being a bad student. Repeated straight A’s and the honor role defined me….

 

Special topic 1: Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong’s message to the future by Amy Shira Teitel

Neil Armstrong: Ace Engineer and Hotshot Test Pilot by Amy Shira Teitel

Neil Armstrong’s legacy went to waste but a new space race is on the cards by Alok Jha

Neil Armstrong: 1930 – 2012 by Phil Plait

Pow! ZOOM! To the Moon! by Phil Plait

Debunking myths about Neil Armstrong by James Oberg

Rocks remember, and so do we by Ethan Siegel

What Neil Armstrong Knew Is What We Never Will by Charles P. Pierce

Keep in mind as you put together your Neil Armstrong packages tonight… by Charles Apple

The Man and the Moon by Anthony Lane

As We Say Goodbye to Neil Armstrong, Should We Also Let Go of Our Space Fantasies? by John Horgan

For Neil Armstrong, the First Moon Walker, It Was All about Landing the Eagle by Andrew Chaikin

Neil Armstrong by Babbage

Neil Armstrong Talks About The First Moon Walk by Robert Krulwich

Neil Armstrong by Neil Gaiman

Neil Armstrong’s Last Interview by Jeff Marlow

RIP Neil Armstrong, star of the first big story of my news career by Steve Buttry

The Cold War Push Behind Neil Armstrong’s ‘One Small Step’ by Andrew C. Revkin

Rest in Peace, Neil Armstrong by Matthew Francis

 

Special topic 2: rape and pregnancy

Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) serves on House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology by David Kroll

Here is Some Legitimate Science on Pregnancy and Rape and What Do You Do When There is No Best Dataset? A follow-up on pregnancy and rape statistics by Kate Clancy

The sperm don’t care how they got there, Rep. Akin by Emily Willingham

Sure, women cannot get pregnant from rape. Also, all mean people are ugly and puppies are immortal. by Melanie Tannenbaum

Legitimate rape, seminal priming, and preeclampsia by Jon Wilkins

Unfamiliar sperm, Tibetans, and cheese: Why evolutionary biology doesn’t excuse Todd Akin by Jeremy Yoder

What people who talk about “legitimate rape” really mean by Naomi McAuliffe

Todd Akin and the Anti-Science House Science Committee by Brandon Keim

‘Legitimate rape’ – a medieval medical concept by Vanessa Heggie

Backstory: the reporter who interviewed Akin by Mike Hoyt

A letter to Paul Ryan about forcible rape by Dr. Jen Gunter

Pregnancy Flowchart by Adam Weinstein

Hard words: Do we know what we’re talking about when we talk about rape? by Kathryn Blaze Carlson

The Crackpot Caucus by Timothy Egan

Why Sex Education Helps End Rape by Erica Grigg

Akin breakin’ science by Phil Plait

It’s trigger warning week by Laurie Penny

Rape exceptions aren’t legitimate by Irin Carmon

Where Akin got the idea that rape victims rarely get pregnant by Tim Townsend and Blythe Bernhard

An Open Letter to Rep. Akin From a Woman Who Got Pregnant From Rape by Shauna Prewitt

Todd Akin’s Abortion Position Reflects GOP Platform by Laura Bassett

Conservative Media Dismiss Akin “Rape” Comments As “Dumb,” But Rhetoric Is Reflected In GOP Policies by MIKE BURNS & SOLANGE UWIMANA

The Problem With Men Explaining Things by Rebecca Solnit

Todd Akin and the Right’s False Fact Machine by Josh Barro

Words and deeds by David Wescott

Rep. Todd Akin’s statements have a familiar ring to them… by Sassquach

Legitimate takedown: Todd Akin meets the women of the Internet by Virginia Heffernan

A Canard That Will Not Die: ‘Legitimate Rape’ Doesn’t Cause Pregnancy by Garance Franke-Ruta

The Official Guide to Legitimate Rape by Katie J.M. Baker

Todd Akin’s “Legitimate Rape” Comment Was Not a Misstatement. It Was a Worldview. by Laura Helmuth

Rep. Todd Akin’s Rape Remark At Odds With Science Of Pregnancy by Jeanna Bryner

What Does Todd Akin Think “Legitimate Rape” Is? by Amy Davidson

 

Special topic 3: superbug at NIH

The “NIH Superbug”: This Is Happening Every Day by Maryn McKenna

Genome detectives unravel spread of stealthy bacteria in a hospital by Ed Yong

Not a failure, a lesson. The NIH Clinical Center KPC Outbreak by Eli Perencevich

The NIH Superbug Story—a Missing Piece by Judy Stone

Hunting a Superbug by Deborah Blum

‘Superbug’ stalked NIH hospital last year, killing six by Brian Vastag

NIH should have notified it of superbug outbreak, Montgomery County official says by Brian Vastag

Like a Game of Clue, Genomics Tracks Outbreak, Revealing Evolution in Action by Ricki Lewis

Genome Detectives Solve a Hospital’s Deadly Outbreak by Gina Kolata

Govt. Gene Sleuths Stop Superbug That Killed 6 by The Associated Press

 

Best Images:

Drake equation: How many alien civilizations exist? by IIBStudio

Sunday Morning Anole Cartoon: When Lizard Biologists Compete by Rich Glor

If you were to summarise the world into 100 people, how would the population turn out? by Charlie Hilton

Conventional Wisdom by Randy Yeip

Are those pictures of Mars from the Curiosity rover? by Is Twitter Wrong?

Miss Insomnia Tulip’s Anatomical Macaroons by AnatomyUK

Votive Ear by Jai Virdi

Glow-in-the-dark cockroaches look like Jawas by Jess Zimmerman

London Zoo animal audit – in pictures by The Guardian

Animals in the News by Alan Taylor

 

Best Videos:

How Did Apollo-era Astronauts Sleep in Space? and Learning to Land on the Moon by Amy Shira Teitel

Amazing Color Differences In Lizard Populations Separated By Little Distance by Jonathan Losos

Can dinosaurs still be badass with feathers? by Charlie Jane Anders

Camera shutter speed synchronized with helicopter blade frequency by whataboutlarry1

Why Insect Wings Don’t Fracture by Sid Perkins

The High-Resolution Life of a Neuron by Brandon Keim

Curiosity Drops in on Mars in High-Res by JPLnews

Doodling in Math Class: Connecting Dots by Vi Hart

Jessica Wise: How fiction can change reality by TEDEducation

Learning By Play by Nadja Popovich

 

Science:

Three Ways of Looking at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by Miriam Goldstein

Thomas Kuhn: the man who changed the way the world looked at science by John Naughton

Kuhn the Irrationalist by Peter Coles

A brief history on how I became an Animal Behaviourist… by Kate Mornement

How Domed Dinosaurs Grew Up by Brian Switek

Microbes manipulate your mind by Mo Costandi

Kissing bug – the real vampire of Latin America by Samantha Price

Is solidarity a thing of the past? by Kurt Cobb

No, immunology should get the same scrutiny as psychiatry. And vice versa. by Tim Skellet

So, you’ve dropped a vial or lost a sample box in your liquid nitrogen container…now what? by Brian Krueger

Breeder by Melissa Wilson-Sayres

‘Beam Us Up, Mr. Scott!': Why Misquotations Catch On by Maria Konnikova

Superbug Summer Books: EXPERIMENT ELEVEN by Maryn McKenna

Chemical Free Dirt (for the Fairytale Garden) and Smoked Out and No, no. Not Nicholas Kristof on Chemicals Again by Deborah Blum

Why are languages so different—and disorderly? by Philip Ball

Aphids, carotenoids and photosynthesis by Ian Le Guillou

Do Be a Dick (sometimes): Emotions and Skeptics by Ashley F. Miller

Tesla’s Revenge: Filmmakers Kickstart Electrifying Docudrama About Cult Genius by Hugh Hart

The neurology of Psalm 137 by Vaughan Bell

Book review: Connectome by Sebastian Seung by Moheb Costandi

TGIPF: Penis in My Head by Christie Aschwanden

First US stem cell trial for autistic children launches today by Kathleen Raven

Stem cell clinical trial for autism: proceed with caution by Emily Willingham

Is a trial of stem cell therapy in autism scientifically and ethically justified? by Orac

Would Rachel Carson Embrace ‘Frankenfoods’? – This Scientist Believes ‘Yes’ by Pamela Ronald

Debunking the Hunter-Gatherer Workout by Herman Pontzer

Morality and Basketball by Sean Carroll

Republican spending plan casts shadow on science by Amy Maxmen

Making Liquor Recommendations by Dr24hours

Richard Dawkins in Playboy by Faye Flam

Amateur Scientists Discover Asian Needle Ant Has Expanded its Range by Thousands of Miles, Unnoticed by Rob Dunn

Dogs Chasing Their Tails Are Akin to Humans With OCD and Celebrating 1,447 Years of the Loch Ness Monster and Go to Sleep, All-Nighter Cram Fests Don’t Work and Want to Avoid a Mid-Life Crisis? Get Friends and Crafty Bonobo Shows Humans Aren’t the Only Stone Tool-Makers by Rachel Nuwer

Asperger’s Doesn’t Make You an Asshole by Heina

Bodies in art, art in bodies by John Hawks

NASA’s Amazing Gliding Gemini Capsules by Amy Shira Teitel

Can Identical Twins Get Away With Murder? by Brian Palmer

What can survive on Mars? by Steven A. Edwards

How to Learn a Language Nobody Speaks and Lance Armstrong Surrenders Against Doping Charges and Will be Banned for Life by Rose Eveleth

Rockstars, Ethograms and Behavior (Problems) by Julie Hecht

Planetary alignment pyramid scheme by Phil Plait

We Can Save the World by Eating Bugs and Drinking Urine by Erin Biba

Clothes Make the Man—Literally and The Neuroscience of Optimism by Jordan Gaines

Wasps Follow Order of Succession When Queen Dies and The Shambulance: Zero-Calorie Noodles? by Elizabeth Preston

Friday Weird Science: This quail has a cloth fetish by Scicurious

Vowel Movement: How Americans near the Great Lakes are radically changing the sound of English. by Rob Mifsud

How to Teach a Horse the Rules of the Road by Miriam Kramer

Remnants of a stellar suicide pact and The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Scientific Talk by Matthew Francis

Helium-Breathing Gibbons Sing Like Human Sopranos by Tanya Lewis

Siberian Princess reveals her 2,500 year old tattoos by The Siberian Times reporter

The birthplace of English? by Tim De Chant

Anti-Terrorism Campaigns and the Criminalization of Public Non-Conformity by Gwen Sharp

Hormones Explain Why Girls Like Dolls & Boys Like Trucks by Natalie Wolchover

The Nature of Consciousness: How the Internet Could Learn to Feel by Steve Paulson

New Morbid Terminology: Coffin Birth by Katy Meyers

Are You a Hero or a Bystander? by Sue Shellenbarger

Invasive species provide important lessons for surviving climate change and New species of barbet discovered in Peru by GrrlScientist

Just how big were dinosaurs? by Dave Hone

How Plantain Trees Could Become an Energy Source by Rhitu Chatterjee

Night Thoughts of a Classical Physicist by Ann Finkbeiner

WWWTP? Time’s Aspirin Structure Causes Headache by See Arr Oh

Candidates clam up on climate by Curtis Brainard

Overlooked and Underfoot: Sidewalk Cleaning in New York City by Ashley Taylor

Spawning coral monitored for effects of climate change by Melissa Gaskill

10 Myths About Space Travel That Make Science Fiction Better by Charlie Jane Anders

Goo-eating snakes and the eggs that evade them by Andrew Durso

Bonobo Stone Tales: The Making Of A Story by Charles Choi

Replacement Parts and Newly discovered rat that can’t gnaw or chew by Ed Yong

Artist Patricia Olynyk inspired by light pollution by Casey Rentz

Scoop: A preview of Romney’s energy plan by Philip Bump

Neuroscience: Solving The Hard-On Problem by Neuroskeptic

Every Step You Take by Wendy Lovelady

Fighting the stereotype that math is only for boys by Patricia Valoy

The Wall Street Journal Does It Again: Another Whopper Of A Lie On Climate Science by Dana Nucitelli

It’s all about objective multiples… by Mia Cobb

Medieval Women as Physicians by Tracy Barrett

Was Vincent van Gogh Color Blind? It Sure Looks Like It by Colin Schultz

Ego v. Efficiency at the U.S. National Science Board by Jeffrey Mervis

The Science of Bad Neuroscience by Neurobonkers

Social Position Drives Gene Regulation of the Immune System by Daniel Lende

Q&A: Alexandra Cousteau by Emily Fisher

The evolutionary history of dragons, illustrated by a scientist by Annalee Newitz

Egg-ceptionally Bad by Cassandra Willyard

The Free Will Confusion (1): On “My Brain Made Me Do It!” by Stephan Schleim

Should we teach algebra? by Paul Raeburn

The Rats of War: Konrad Lorenz and the Anthropic Shift by Liam Heneghan

Why College Binge Drinkers Are Happier, Have High Status by Maia Szalavitz

How many species are there? by Zen Faulkes

 

Media, Publishing, Technology and Society:

How to Succeed in Journalism when You Can’t Afford an Internship by Alexandra Kimball

Who are the offline-academics? by Katie Wheat

Sick of Impact Factors: Coda by Stephen Curry

Taking the Impact Factor seriously is similar to taking creationism, homeopathy or divining seriously by Bjoern Brembs

There are cons to open acces? Really? by Bjoern Brembs

“You’re not entitled to your own facts” vs. That’s your opinion. Kiss my ad. by Jay Rosen

Twitter rewrites the script for political conventions by Martha T. Moore

Barbara Mack: best media lawyer I ever worked with by Steve Buttry

Ask A Writer: “How Do I Write What The Audience Wants To Read?” by Chuck Wendig

The End of My Writing Career / Author Sharon Potts by Clay Stafford

Research As You Go by Steven Johnson

The ridiculous SVP embargo is back again by Ross Mounce

Intellectual power and responsibility in an age of superstars by Daniel W. Drezner

Coming in the side door: The value of homepages is shifting from traffic-driver to brand by Adrienne LaFrance

Google Hiring Data Reveals Two Things Women Can Do To Get Hired And Promoted More by Nicholas Carlson

A Day In My Life As A Freelance Science Writer by Charles Choi

Turn Off the Phone (and the Tension) by Jenna Wortham

Adulthood, Delayed: What Has the Recession Done to Millennials? by Derek Thompson

Why Are Young People Ditching Cars for Smartphones? by Jordan Weissmann

The Cheapest Generation by Derek Thompson and Jordan Weissmann

How Wikipedia Manages Sources for Breaking News by Heather Ford

Ex-NPR Hill reporter: Lied to daily by Patrick Gavin

Report: Social network demographics in 2012 by Pingdom

6 questions journalists should be able to answer before pitching a story by Tom Huang

Plagiarism, defamation and the power of hyperlinks and The billion-dollar question: What is journalism for? and Why it’s better for fact-checking to be done in public by Mathew Ingram

Rutgers Professor’s Research Shows Social Network Sites Foster Close and Diverse Connections by Lisa Intrabartola

Don’t blame Twitter when journos tweet stupid things; blame stupidity by Steve Buttry

How long-form journalism is getting ‘a new lease of life’ in the digital world by Rachel McAthy

Why fact-checking matters by Emily Willingham

Rotary Dial by Ftrain

The closing of American academia by Sarah Kendzior

Be More Productive. Take Time Off. by Jason Fried

Journalist Of The Day: SciAm’s Bora Zivkovic talks about the evolution of social by Chao Li

 

Blogs of the Week so far:

May 11, 2012: Academic Panhandling
May 18, 2012: Anole Annals
May 25th, 2012: Better Posters
June 1st, 2012: Vintage Space
June 8th, 2012: Tanya Khovanova’s Math Blog
June 15th, 2012: Russlings
June 22nd, 2012: Parasite of the Day
June 29th, 2012: March of the Fossil Penguins
July 6th, 2012: Musings of a Dinosaur
July 13th, 2012: Contagions
July 21th, 2012: Life is short, but snakes are long
July 27th, 2012: Science Decoded
August 11th, 2012: Powered By Osteons
August 18th, 2012: Do you believe in dog?

The Scienceblogging Weekly (August 18th, 2012)

Blog of the Week:

Do you believe in dog? is a brand new blog. It is written by two dog researchers, one in New York City, the other in Yarra Valley just outside of Melbourne, Australia. Julie Hecht you may already know from her wonderful blog Dog Spies, her writing in The Bark, or her research which we covered here at SciAm. She studies (and teaches about) dog cognition. Mia Cobb, the Australian, did her research in animal behavior on birds and ants, but now works on issues of dog shelters, welfare and performance science of working dogs. What is the coolest thing about the blog is that the two of them write for each other, addressing each other in each post, thus teaching and learning from each other in a dialogue to which we are all invited to participate in and contribute.

 

Top 10:

Tales from the OR by Summer Ash:

WARNING: This post contains my blood and guts, literally. If you’re squeamish, I recommend skipping this one. What follows is my journey through the operating room at Columbia-Presbyterian on July 18, 2012. Apologies, but I couldn’t help starting off with yet another pop culture reference (this time from Wes Anderson’s Rushmore)….

An example of why it is important to distinguish evolution as fact, theory, and path. by T. Ryan Gregory:

I, and others, have pointed out that there are three aspects of evolution: evolution as fact, evolution as theory, and evolution as path. Evolution as fact refers to the historical reality that species are related through common ancestry. This is supported by a massive amount of evidence from a wide array of independent sources. Evolution as theory refers to the proposed explanations for how “descent with modification” occurs — mutation, natural selection, genetic drift, etc. Evolution as path refers to the actual patterns that have occurred during the history of life, such as when certain events (e.g., branching points, extinctions, etc.) took place, how lineages are related, when and how many times certain traits evolved, and such. The important point is that these three components are largely independent…

The Childhood Aquatic by John Romano:

There is a structurally integral part of my psyche that is the keystone to my existence. I am not sure how it was placed in such a vital position, but it seems this part of me is embedded in my DNA. Something that I can never remember being without. The absolute and total fascination with the natural world….

Abraham Lincoln and The Embalmer by Romeo Vitelli:

The assassination of Abraham Lincoln on April 15, 1865 shocked a nation still recovering from four years of bloody civil war. Along with the hunt for his killers and the uncovering of the assassination plot against the President and several other members of his administration, there was also the logistic nightmare of his funeral and the need to transport the President’s body by train from Washington D.C. to his final resting place in Springfield, Illinois. Since the funeral train would retrace the route that Lincoln had traveled to Washington following his election, the body would be viewed by millions of mourners along the way during the numerous planned stops. All of which raised the question of how to keep the body preserved long enough to reach its destination. Considering the fact that funeral embalming was a relatively new development at that time, some very special arrangements needed to be made…

Inspiration from bassist Victor Wooten shows me a new way to deal with my “child-as-scientist” frustrations by Marie-Claire Shanahan:

I have a confession to make: I cringe a little every time I see a school science or science outreach program justified by saying something like, “Young children are natural scientists, truly curious about the world” (That particular quote is from the Delaware Museum of Natural History). I feel like a curmudgeon about it because it often comes with really good intentions to get students actively involved in doing science (something I definitely support)….

How a Tick Bite Made Me Allergic to Meat by Helen Chappell:

The last time I ate a hamburger, I spent the night in the emergency room. There wasn’t anything wrong with the hamburger itself—aside from being a bit overdone—but it sent me into anaphylactic shock. It wasn’t always this way…

Are wolves really all that? by DeLene Beeland:

Have conservation scientists become carried away, touting the ecological benefits of wolves where there are perhaps — dare I say it? — not as many as we believe there to be? Perhaps some people in the media, and even some in science, have gotten carried away with the ecological changes that wolves are actually capable of mediating, says globally-renowned wolf biologist L. David Mech in his most recent paper “Is science in danger of sanctifying the wolf?” …

Losing One’s Head: A Frustrating Search for the ‘Truth’ about Decapitation by Lindsey Fitzharris:

If you ever find yourself in a pub with me, chances are that at some point, the conversation will turn to death. Not just death, but the terrifying and horrible ways people have succumbed to it in the past. I have often heard a story retold about a man who attended the execution of his friend during the French Revolution. Seconds after the guillotine fell, the man retrieved the severed head and asked it a series of questions in order to determine whether or not it was possible to retain consciousness after decapitation. Through a system of blinking, the victim allegedly communicated his message back to his friend. The ending to this story changes according to the whims of the narrator… or perhaps the number of drinks he or she has consumed by that time. I wondered: was this the 18th-century equivalent to an urban legend? Or could there, in fact, be a degree of truth in this ghastly tale?….

A Dirty, Deadly Bite by Brian Switek:

Dragons aren’t real. At least, the fire-breathing wyverns and coiling wyrms of medieval lore aren’t. Those reptilian menaces were products of superstition and pre-scientific ideas about prehistoric creatures. They were ugly amalgamations inspired by our fears and actual fossil remains of long-extinct mammals and dinosaurs. But in the early 20th century, reporters excitedly relayed the discovery of what quickly became known as the Komodo dragon – ten foot long lizards that had coexisted with humans on South Pacific islands for thousands of years, but had only just been recognized by western science….

The Itsy Bitsy Drummer by Helen Shen:

Rrrr… RRR… Thack! Thack! Thrusting his front legs skyward, the male jumping spider shakes his rear end to send thumps, scrapes, and buzzes through the ground. He’s playing for a female’s attention, dazzling her eight eyes with semaphore while drumming out seductive seismic signals. A few missteps could turn the spider’s performance into a dinner show—with the star as the main dish. The ferocious female demands precise choreography, set to a groovy beat that UC Berkeley behavioral ecologist Damian Elias is working to decipher….


Best Images:

On Cephalopods and Science Fiction by Jen Richards

Beautiful periodic table from LIFE magazine’s 1949 special on the atom by Frank Swain

Curiosity’s photos (cartoon) by Viktor Poór

A bacterium on a diatom on an amphipod on a frog on a bump on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea!<!–

The Spider Wars by bonybones

UNDERCOVER by Jun Takahashi

The Olympics Are Over and Here Are the Best Infographics by Rose Eveleth

They fell out of the sky! by Bill Harding

Elgar’s Explosion by Eva Amsen

Teaching history by Zach Weinersmith

Old Friends by Beatrice the Biologist

Tasting the rainbow: The ants whose multi-coloured abdomens show exactly what they’ve been eating by Mohamed Babu

Anole Raids A Hummingbird Feeder by Karen Morris

Unicorn Blood Parasite by The-Episiarch

Cures of all Kinds by Jai Virdi

 

Best Videos:

The GMO Song: “OMG GMOs!” by Andrew Bean, David Holmes, Sharon Shattuck, and Krishnan Vasudevan

Do watch this – probably the best ever debris flow video, from Austria last week by Dave Petley

Tricky Mister! Indirect Sperm Transfer in Primitive Hexapods by The Bug Chicks

Helmet Cam Strapped to Hunting Falcon Captures “Birds-Eye-View” Footage by Michael Zhang

Seat vibration test: oscillate the human by Marc Abrahams

Lice on a Bird: Convergent Evolution in action! by Bug Girl

 

Science:

Where Fire Meets the Sea by Tanya Lewis

Curiosity Landing: What’s With All the Peanuts? and Apollo’s Youthful Glow and The Soviets’ First Space ‘Rendezvous’ by Amy Shira Teitel

The benefits of seeing a “challenge” where others see a “threat.” and Why do swimmers hate Lane 8? and The psychology of doping accusations: Which athletes raise the most suspicion? by Melanie Tannenbaum

Could you be an Olympic athlete? by Catherine de Lange

Mysterious Tides: Toxic blooms of marine algae are getting worse, and some think we’re to blame. by Marissa Fessenden

Astrobiology: Worth It? by GunnarDW

Olympics Physics: The Long Jump and Linear Regression by Rhett Allain

Diseases That Just Won’t Quit by Tim Wall

Think Like a Doctor: A Peculiar Heartbeat Solved! by Lisa Sanders

The Bullying Culture of Medical School by Pauline Chen

Two Tales of Symbiosis by Elio Schaechter

Where the Minutes Are Longer: The Weird Science of Telling Time on Mars by Rebecca J. Rosen

Stop Calling Sherlock a Sociopath! Thanks, a Psychologist. by Maria Konnikova

Why cocaine users should learn Bayes’ Theorem by Precocity

Science on crack, 2: Walter White & cooking crystal meth by Puff the Mutant Dragon

We live in a geocentric world! by Thony C.

Murder by Physics by Matthew Francis

In Vietnamese community, treating taboos on cancer by Erin Loury

Years After Slash and Burn, Brazil Haunted by ‘Black Carbon’ and Science Takes Fat Out Of Chocolate, Replaces It With Fruit and Defending a Sanctuary With Paint and Song by Rachel Nuwer

Why We Need Ecological Medicine by Rob Dunn

Is PTSD A Product of War, or Of Our Times? by David Dobbs

A very modern trauma by Vaughan Bell

Curious about Curiosity: the Science Lab on Mars (Part I) and Search for Water (Part II) and Life on Mars (Part III) by Claire.W

Popping up trouble with butter and Alzheimer’s by biochembelle

A New Species Discovered … On Flickr by Adam Cole

Cells = drugs = government regulation? by Ada Ao

On the loss of a mentor: Al Malkinson, lung cancer researcher, scholar, gentleman by David Kroll

The Hidden Power of Whale Poop by Brandon Keim

What do you do when you’re sick? by Jai Virdi

Choice of Wood in Cremation Pyres by Katy Meyers

Food and trust of science and Does a Ph.D. train you to head a lab? by Zen Faulkes

Africa Grows Too Hot to Grow Chocolate by Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato

Community health workers help HIV patient change attitude, life by Helen Shen

Hyenas Show It’s Better to Be Creative than Try, Try Again and Close Look at Bison DNA Reveals Our Dirty Fingerprints by Elizabeth Preston

CDC: Pretty Much Everyone Is Fat by Maryn McKenna

Why did people start mummifying their dead in the driest place on Earth? by Ed Yong

Found in translation: where do cures come from? by Jenny Rohn

Mouse Eyes Come With Built-In Bird Detectors by Sophie Bushwick

Atop Everest, two Sherpas and a watchmaker forged a friendship that changed their lives by Samantha Larson

Here’s an Omical Tale: Scientists Discover Spreading Suffix by Robert Lee Hotz

Flavors of Uncertainty: The Difference between Denial and Debate by Wendee Holtcamp

Tracks of an Oak Killer by Erin Loury

What is fair in the Olympics? Is sex a special case? and What is DNA? by Genegeek

That Eternal Question by Nicholas Suntzeff

Choosing the Paths Less Traveled? There’s an App for That by Henry Grabar

“Canopy” Meg Lowman (forest ecologist) – podcast by Samantha Larson

Scientific reproducibility, for fun and profit by John Timmer

Good Scientist! You Get a Badge. by Carl Zimmer

Reproducing Scientific Results – On Purpose by Derek Lowe

Common Lab Dye Found to Interrupt Formation of Huntington’s Disease Proteins by Kathleen Raven

No, that’s not a picture of a double sunset on Mars and An unreal Mars skyline by Phil Plait

How to Patch the PhD Problem by Alison McCook

Lead’s Everlasting Legacy by Meghan D. Rosen

Tweeting my genome #twenome and “Run away!”: a one-size-fits-all solution by Alex Brown

The Rise of the Three-Parent Family by Annalee Newitz

The Political Benefits of Taking a Pro-Climate Stand in 2012 by Connie Roser-Renouf, Anthony Leiserowitz, Edward Maibach

The Circadian Advantage: How Sleep Patterns Benefit Certain NFL Teams by David K. Randall

Book Review: Newjack Guarding Sing Sing by Erin Podolak

Dear HigherEd Communicators: John Tesh is Kicking Our Asses by Elizabeth Monier-Williams

When Yellow Fever Came to the Americas by Michelle Ziegler

The Mind of a Flip-Flopper and Cow Week: Angry cows vs. angry mothers by Maggie Koerth-Baker

PhD2.0 and anecdotes from the trenches by Jeanne Garbarino

The Sea Longs for Red Devils by Daniela Hernandez

Cooperating For Selfish Reasons by Miss Behavior

The Mix-Up that Ended the World by Erik Vance

Intimate Life of Mosquitoes by Lowell Goldsmith

What Anti-Trafficking Advocates Can Learn from Sex Workers: The Dynamics of Choice, Circumstance, and Coercion by danah boyd

Confessions of a Fake Scientist by Phil Edwards

Baby, You Light Up My World Like Nobody Else by Rachel Wang

Nothing Says Baby-Makin’ Like Desiccated Bacon and Scientists create a “Dow Jones” for ocean health by Allie Wilkinson

The Evolution of Shark Week, Pop-Culture Leviathan by Ashley Fetters

The Smell of Fear (No Tweets Necessary) by Natalie Angier

Post-Antipsychiatry by The Neurocritic

Where Have All The Cults Gone? and Is Poker A Game of Skill or Luck? by Neuroskeptic

Brain’s Drain: Neuroscientists Discover Cranial Cleansing System by Daisy Yuhas

This Woman Wants You to Buy Her, Piece by Piece by Rose Eveleth

My Brain Made Me Do It: Psychopaths and Free Will and How PTSD and Addiction Can Be Safely Treated Together and Couples Therapy Can Help PTSD and Improve Relationships by Maia Szalavitz

On quack cancer cures, and “alternative medicine” as religion by Xeni Jardin

Scientists can block heroin addiction now? and Offbeat tales: The summer heat takes its toll and Morning wrap-up by Paul Raeburn

How to Put a Curator in a Box: Part 1 and Ask an Exhibitionist #1: What’s the fake water? by Helen Chappell

Sharks and lasers, not just for entertainment! by Craig McClain

Giant cluster phenomenally fertile by Nadia Drake

Emma Marris: In Defense of Everglades Pythons and A Song Tries to Go Beyond the ‘OMG’ Reaction to GMOs by Andrew Revkin

The Emerging Revolution in Game Theory by The Physics arXiv Blog

“A simple feat… only expensive”: The Oatmeal tries saving Tesla’s lab by Casey Johnston

How many colors are really in a rainbow? by Ethan Siegel

Spiders Weave Better on LSD-25 by Clyde

Are Drug Companies Faking an Innovation Crisis? Uh, No. by Derek Lowe

Gorilla Joy Without a Doubt by Marc Bekoff

Turning Trauma Into Story: the Benefits of Journaling by Jordan Gaines

A Lesson in Rocketry by Marie-Claire Shanahan

PhD what is it good for? #leavingacademia by Jerry Nguyen

Contraception, healthcare and the costs women will leave behind by Katie Rogers and Ruth Spencer

The problem with poker by Pete Etchells

Rare Discovery: Hook-Legged Spider Found in Oregon Cave by Douglas Main

Why I’m Working Toward my Ph.D. at a Museum by Alejandro Grajales

How not to criticize psychiatry, part 1 by Tim Skellet

Book Review: The Wolverine Way, by Douglas Chadwick by DeLene Beeland

On Sciences and Humanities: Reflections on Coyne and Konnikova by German Dziebel

Citizen scientists may beat the pros in identifying at-risk species by Kate Shaw

The Long-Lived Legacy of the Cambrian’s “Wonderful Life” by Brian Switek

Bigger and Smaller by Lucy E. Hornstein

Scissor Sisters by Sally Adee

Brain network: social media and the cognitive scientist (pdf) by Tom Stafford and Vaughan Bell

 

Media, Publishing, Technology and Society:

Sick of Impact Factors by Stephen Curry

A smear campaign against Impact Factors…and the Sheep of Science by Drugmonkey

Deep impact: Our manuscript on the consequences of journal rank by Bjoern Brembs

Chess ratings and Impact Factor and Self archiving science is not the solution by Zen Faulkes

On publishing in PLoS One, and what’s the matter with ecology? by C. Titus Brown

Should supreme court justices use Google? by Paul Raeburn

Geneticists eye the potential of arXiv and Neanderthal sex debate highlights benefits of pre-publication by Ewen Callaway

9 ways to find helpful people and organizations to follow on Twitter by Steve Buttry

Instead of a press release: Options to add to your press release diet by Denise Graveline

Jonah Lehrer and the Problems with “Pithy” Science Writing by Karthika Muthukumaraswamy

Using Links as Citations Helps Gizmodo Defeat a Defamation Claim–Redmond v. Gawker Media by Eric Goldman

Discover magazine moving to Wisconsin and Discover magazine update by Paul Raeburn

New! New! New! (not yet) and If I were making a Twitter clone… and Making a Twitter clone, day II by Dave Winer

Magazines Don’t Have a Digital Problem, They Have a Bundling Problem by Hamish McKenzie

Should journalists specialize? by Kallen Dewey Kentner

Science Outreach in North Carolina by Russ Campbell

Stop Publishing Web Pages by Anil Dash

Author Platform Lessons from #1 New York Times Bestseller Rebecca Skloot by Dan Blank

To Think, To Write, To Publish by Maria Delaney

Do We Need Another Information Sharing Platform? by Jalees Rehman

How The American University was Killed, in Five Easy Steps by Debra Leigh Scott

13 ways of looking at Medium, the new blogging/sharing/discovery platform from @ev and Obvious by Joshua Benton

How To Lose Twitter Followers by Neuroskeptic

What to Do With Political Lies by Garance Franke-Ruta

Science Communication in the PhD process by Heather Doran

Science News staffers complain about misappropriation of their copy by UPI and UPI’s second response on misuse of copy by Paul Raeburn

UPI shirks responsibility by Curtis Brainard

News stories that aren’t news by John L. Robinson

Student Paper Editors Quit at University of Georgia by RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA

Letter from the Editor in Chief by Polina Marinova

Students walk out on University of Georgia newspaper by Andrew Beaujon

UGA Red & Black staff walks out today in protest. Is it now Red & Dead? by Maureen Downey

Witness describes confrontation between Grady NewSource Reporter and Red & Black Publisher by Grady Newsource

Study: Journalists’ lousy understanding of fair use leads to self-censorship by Andrew Beaujon

Five types of problem writer by Ann Friedman

Jonah Lehrer’s Mistake — And Ours by Peter Sims

Making Studies Out of Nothing at All by Taylor Kubota

On being a journalist, getting quotes by Razib Khan

Mendeley Acquires SciLife, a Social Network for Scientists and Researchers by Darrell Etherington

Nikola Tesla museum campaign earns $500,000 online in two days by Adam Gabbatt

Lessons on the Internet for LAMs from The Oatmeal: Or, Crowdfunding and the Long Geeky Tail by Trevor Owens

Further Decline in Credibility Ratings for Most News Organizations by Pew

The Update by Matt Thompson

Metrics, metrics everywhere: How do we measure the impact of journalism? by Jonathan Stray

Why we are poles apart on climate change and Doing science is different from communicating it — even when the science is the science of science communication by Dan Kahan

Hey, Twitter — shouldn’t it be about the users? by Mathew Ingram

The first steps towards a modern system of scientific publication by Joe Pickrell

Reflections on science blogging by Puff the Mutant Dragon

 

Blogs of the Week so far:

May 11, 2012: Academic Panhandling
May 18, 2012: Anole Annals
May 25th, 2012: Better Posters
June 1st, 2012: Vintage Space
June 8th, 2012: Tanya Khovanova’s Math Blog
June 15th, 2012: Russlings
June 22nd, 2012: Parasite of the Day
June 29th, 2012: March of the Fossil Penguins
July 6th, 2012: Musings of a Dinosaur
July 13th, 2012: Contagions
July 21th, 2012: Life is short, but snakes are long
July 27th, 2012: Science Decoded
August 11th, 2012: Powered By Osteons

ScienceOnline2012 – interview with Helen Chappell

Every year I ask some of the attendees of the ScienceOnline conferences to tell me (and my readers) more about themselves, their careers, current projects and their views on the use of the Web in science, science education or science communication. So now we continue with the participants of ScienceOnline2012. See all the interviews in this series here.

Today my guest is Helen Chappell (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 background? Any scientific education?

I’m a recovering physicist from North Carolina, and I recently returned to the Old North State after three years’ exile at a Colorado grad school studying nanocrystalline solar materials. Turns out I’m too much of a generalist at heart to be happy doing physics research, so I escaped into science journalism in 2011 via the AAAS Mass Media Fellowship Program (highly recommended for any would-be science journalists out there doing research). I also have a background in informal education — I used to give star talks and develop summer camps, among other things, at a planetarium — so I’ve ended up sort of floating around between research, education, and writing circles. That meant ScienceOnline was right up my alley. I wish I’d heard about it before last year!

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

As of this spring, I’m an exhibit developer at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences. My path has been informal education -> astronomy research -> materials science research -> chemical physics research -> science journalism -> informal education. Lots of meandering to end up almost in the same place, I suppose, but exhibit development is an amazing fit for me so far. It has a lot of the variety of journalism with less pressure, and there’s time to really pay attention to your craft. I also get to work closely with scientists, so my research background is a huge help.

I’m also trying to keep my foot wedged in the door of the writing world, by doing a tiny bit of freelance work here and there (I had a recent piece for Discover), blogging for work at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences Exhibits Blog, and blogging for play at B-Scides.

I’m really enjoying building the exhibits blog at the museum. I’m always fascinated by “the making of” pretty much anything. Taking folks behind the scenes of the exhibits is my excuse to geek out about what I do — and since I’m new to exhibit development, I’m also learning a lot along the way. If you have a question for us about how exhibits are made, email me or tweet it with the hashtag #AskAnExhibitionist, and I’ll blog the answers.

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

I’m still figuring out long-term goals, though I expect I’ll be happy doing exhibit development for a good long while. I’m investing a lot of energy into figuring out how to get better at what I do, since it’s brand new for me. II’m still enough of a scientist to geek out about literature searches, and the literature about museum visitor behavior and visitor-oriented design strategies is completely new to me, so there’s a lot to geek out about.

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

Something I’ve spent a lot of my time thinking about recently is how to use the web and mobile technology to expand the museum experience beyond exhibits and programs (or really any experience). We’ve dabbled with QR codes in a few places, but it’s definitely still an experiment, and we’ve yet to figure out what works best. Using mobile technology in the exhibits can be a sticky issue, though, because not everyone can get — or even wants — a smartphone (like me, for instance). Especially as we’re an accredited state museum, universal accessibility (or the closest we can get) is key. I’d love for us to have a modern-day, mobile-driven version of the audioguide tour with video and interactive content, but it’ll be a huge challenge keeping it accessible.

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

In the exhibits group at the museum, we use blogging as a way to give folks a behind-the-scenes tour. As a writer, I use blogging mostly as a place to get some practice in, and get my fix for writing about things I think are cool without jumping through all the editorial hoops at a polished publication. Blogging is definitely a net positive for me.

Social networks, though, I’m less active in. I’m on a bunch of them, but I mostly use them as a place for folks to find me if they need to, and as a way to keep my finger on the pulse of the online science world when I’m looking to catch up or get a distraction. They’re probably a slight net positive, or else I wouldn’t be using them, right? I hope that’s true, at least.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2012 for you? Any suggestions for next year? 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, blog-reading and blog-writing?

The best aspect of ScienceOnline for me was definitely the social one — it’s not often you get to share space with 450 of the most creative, talented, and wacky folks around, all of whom share interests with you. It was the most freely-mixing conference I’ve ever been to, where established top dogs and newbies mingled easily, unlike at so many stratified science meetings. The social aspect outlasts the actual conference, too, and I’ve kept up with lots of folks I met online and even in person (especially since I’m a local).

Perhaps my strongest takeaway, though, was the #iamscience project. Having left research fairly recently, I was struggling with losing my identity as a scientist. The #iamscience project made me feel like I was in excellent company. I’m still a scientist, just not a research scientist, and that’s awesome.

Thank you! See you soon!

Upcoming events

Tomorrow is the fifth #TriSciTweetup, this time with a little more structure to it than usual. We’ll meet at NC Museum of Natural Science in Raleigh NC, for the inaugural Lightning Talks with Brian Malow on Thursdays at the Daily Planet Cafe. We’ll start at 6pm. At about 7pm several people (including myself) will get up and say something interesting and scientific for 5 minutes each, perhaps answer a question or two from Brian, or from the audience, then continue having fun until the Cafe closes later in the evening.

Open Laboratory 2012 is getting published on September 18th. There may be a live event in NYC on that day, in which case I will travel to the City and perhaps we can have a #NYCscitweetup associated with the event. More information TBA.

On October 15-20, I’ll be at the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology Annual Meeting in Raleigh NC. Kate Wong and I will report to you from there.

Science Writers (NASW/CASW) meeting is on October 26-30, also in Raleigh, NC. Registration just opened today. I’ll be there, as a co-organizer of one of the panels. This is a great opportunity to network with the best of the best science communicators, get the most current “state of the field” updates from top scientists, and to learn and network. Join us if you can.

Registration for ScienceOnline 2013 will open in about a month. More information what to expect – here.

The Scienceblogging Weekly (August 11th, 2012)

Blog of the Week:

Kristina Killgrove (Twitter) is a bioarchaeologist. Her blog Powered By Osteons covers a wide spectrum of topics on archaeology, bioanthropology, and the classical world. But what it has the most, and is most exciting, are bones. Lots of bones. Human bones. Skulls and femurs and pelvises and what we can learn about the past from studying them.

 

Top 10:

Satisfying Curiosity: preparing for the Mars landing by John Rennie:

…All the Mars rovers so far, from the trailblazing Sojourner to the overachieving twins Spirit and Opportunity, have been extraordinary exploratory robots, but Curiosity represents an ambitious new extreme. Most obviously, it’s much bigger: Curiosity weighs almost a ton and is the size of a small car, whereas Spirit and Opportunity were half as long and a fifth as massive and Sojourner was not much bigger than a large cat….

Muscles and the Lactic Acid Myth by Larry Moran:

…It’s all a myth. Lactic acid has nothing to do with acidosis (the buildup of acid in the muscles). In fact, it’s not even clear that acidosis is the problem, but let’s deal with that another time….

Is a PhD required for good science writing? by Emily Willingham:

…..In fact, as someone who has a PhD in science but has been a writer longer than I’ve been a scientist, I’d argue that it might be better not to have specific training in science if you’re reaching for an audience of nonscientists, depending on what your goal as a writer is. If your goal is to tell a great science story that keeps the nonscientist reading and thinking, “wow” or “I get it,” then scientific training might be an anti-requisite. If your target is critique and analysis of science, then scientific training could be quite useful as long as you don’t let your deep background blind you to what your readers might not understand as well as you…..

What Grown-Ups Can Learn From Kids’ Books by Maria Konnikova:

….The little prince isn’t alone in carrying insights that are lost on a child. What of Alice in her wonderland and mirrored adventures? Alice’s story may have been born from a tale told to children one lazy afternoon, but it became much more: a deep philosophical meditation….

Olympic Physics: Air Density and Bob Beamon’s Crazy-Awesome Long Jump by Rhett Allain:

Even now, there are those who claim that the long-jump record of 8.9 meters that Bob Beamon set in 1968 was so crazy awesome because he accomplished it in Mexico City, which is almost 8,000 feet above sea level. The argument is that the air is thinner, and so there is less air resistance, and Mexico City is further from the center of the earth, and so the gravitational forces are smaller. Does any of this have any impact? And if so, does it really matter?…

Is corn the new milk? Evolutionarily speaking, that is. by Jeremy Yoder:

It is a widespread misconception that, as we developed the technology to reshape our environment to our preferences, human beings neutralized the power of natural selection. Quite the opposite is true: some of the best-known examples of recent evolutionary change in humans are attributable to technology. People who colonized high-altitude environments were selected for tolerance of low-oxygen conditions in the high Himalayas and Andes; populations that have historically raised cattle for milk evolved the ability to digest milk sugars as adults….

In the Bronx, Rights Get Fuzzy by Cassie Rodenberg:

I’ve been working with photographer Chris Arnade to document stories in Hunts Point, Bronx and often-ignored areas of New York City. Over the course of the last year, we have noticed the impact the city’s Stop and Frisk policy has on the neighborhood. Recently, we made the decision to start documenting that in action should we see it. This Sunday, we did:…

What do Christian fundamentalists have against set theory? by Maggie Koerth-Baker:

I’ve mentioned here before that I went to fundamentalist Christian schools from grade 8 through grade 11. I learned high school biology from a Bob Jones University textbook, watched videos of Ken Ham talking about cryptozoology as extra credit assignments, and my mental database of American history probably includes way more information about great revival movements than yours does. In my experience, when the schools I went to followed actual facts, they did a good job in education. Small class sizes, lots of hands-on, lots of writing, and lots of time spent teaching to learn rather than teaching to a standardized test. But when they decided that the facts were ungodly, things went to crazytown pretty damn quick….

Stop Calling Sherlock a Sociopath! Thanks, a Psychologist. by Maria Konnikova:

I’d like to get something off my chest. It’s been bugging me for a very, very long time. Sherlock Holmes is not a sociopath. He is not even a “high-functioning sociopath,” as the otherwise truly excellent BBC Sherlock has styled him (I take the words straight from Benedict Cumberbatch’s mouth). There. I’ve said it…

What’s the difference between “transparency” and “invisibility”? by Greg Gbur:

In writing my previous post on The Murderer Invisible, I started thinking again about the relationship between something being “transparent” and something being truly “invisible”. Most of us can appreciate that, under the right circumstances, a transparent object like a glass window can be very hard to see, but most of us also appreciate that glass is not even close to fitting the popular perception of invisibility. In fact, though we encounter plenty of transparent things in nature, we don’t encounter invisible things….

 

Special topic: Curiosity:

Mars needs rovers! (and it just got a big one) by Matthew Francis

What Curiosity Will and Won’t Teach Us About Martian Life by Jeffrey L. Bada

A lifetime of curiosity: An interview with JPL director Charles Elachi by Nadia Drake

How Did We Get That Incredible Photo of Curiosity’s Descent on Mars? by Alexis Madrigal

Landing Curiosity on Mars was Way Harder and Way Less Expensive than the Olympics by Rose Eveleth

Watching Curiosity’s Mars Landing Live on a 53-Foot Screen in Times Square by Laura Geggel

Me and Curiosity by Taylor Kubota

“Curiosity” Driven Science by Larry Moran

Long day at the office as scientists get in sync with Mars by Bridie Smith

Curiosity’s first color photo of Mars is only its second-most exciting photograph yet by Robert T. Gonzalez

Meanwhile in Mars…. by Shibin Dinesh

Curiosity Rover: Driving Lessons on Mars by Tamara Krinsky

Engineering Life to Survive on Mars and Aid Human Colonization by Tanya Lewis

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2012/08/08/158433038/amazingly-earth-like-curiosity-beams-first-full-frame-photo-of-mars by Eyder Peralta

See what it’s like to be a flight controller for Curiosity by Ruth Suehle

SCUBA Diving through the Endless Martian Desert by Thomas Hayden

Poet Laureates of Mars: Meet the NASA Team Behind Curiosity’s Twitter by Benjamin Soloway

 

Best Images:

Mars orbiter catches Curiosity by the tail by Eric Hand

Mars orbiter catches pic of Curiosity on its way down! and Curiosity landing site: the whole mess by Phil Plait

Curiosity Rover’s Home on Mars: A Powers-of-Ten Visual Explainer by Alexis Madrigal

Classic Scientific Illustrations by Ian Wang

Stickleback by Simone

 

Best Videos:

The only existing video footage of Mark Twain, as filmed by Thomas Edison by Robert T. Gonzalez

3D-printed exoskeleton gives a little girl use of her arms by Sean Ludwig

Curiosity’s Descent by JPLnews

Fred Guterl by The Daily Show

Forget Wireless Keyboards and Touch Your Plant Instead by Katie Pratt

The Scienceline music video awards by Kelly Slivka

How Math Comes to Mind: Intuition, Visualization, and Teaching by Stanislas Dehaene and Steven Strogatz

High Speed Video of Flipping Cats by destinws2

Mark Achtman on Plague Genetics by Michelle Ziegler

 

Science:

Superbug Summer Books: THE POWER OF HABIT by Maryn McKenna

Olympic Greatness: Biology or Motivation? by Melanie Tannenbaum

Backpacking Lizards For Science: Radio-Tracking Puerto Rican Anoles by Jonathan Losos

Will Climate Doubt Dry Up with the Drought? by Bob Deans

Undead: The Rabies Virus Remains a Medical Mystery by Monica Murphy and Bill Wasik

In Antarctica, Dreaming of Mars by Alexander Kumar

How to Unstick a Gecko and Mom’s Genes Make Males Die Sooner by Elizabeth Preston

Laboratory dye repurposed against protein clumps found in Huntington’s disease by Kathleen Raven

Stress Is a Real Killer—for Dragonflies by Douglas Main

Only Young Scientists Overthrow Old Concepts? and What Does “pH” Mean? by Larry Moran

Award-winning teacher Michael Lampert: WHY I LOVE SCIENCE by Casey Rentz

Sandpipers forgo sleep for days because there’s too much sex to be had and Prisoners pitch in to save endangered butterfly and A circuit for aggression in the brains of angry birds by Ed Yong

The Largest Waves in the Sea Aren’t at the Beach by Kim Martini

Plants with Personality by Emily Anthes

What’s up with social psychology? by Thom Baguley

The Molecular Olympics by Stuart Cantrill

Free online tool helps identify bat calls by Mark Kinver

New Forensics Tool for Catching Elephant Poachers and Man Wears Artificial Uterus for Science & His Wife and Celebrating 80 Years of LEGO by Rachel Nuwer

Historiography of the Market for Health by Jaipreet Virdi

Sleep research reveals keys to health by Lydialyle Gibson

Olympic Diving Physics by Paige Brown

Apollo 15’s Bizarre Contraband Stamp Debacle and How NASA Engineered the Enduring Apollo Flags by Amy Shira Teitel

Explaining Risk: Know Your Aristotle by Trisha Greenhalgh

Species Traits and Community Assembly by Jacquelyn Gill

First-Ever National Survey on Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes Shows Mixed Support by Matt Shipman

A Cult of Quantity by Will

Nope, these birds are not lesbians by Annalee Newitz

The Spruce Street Swamps by David H.

Psychology and Its Discontents by Carol Tavris

The Kangaroo’s Tale: How an errant elevator door ended an odd form of popular entertainment by Jack El-Hai

Ehux: The Little Eukaryote with a Big History by Jaime E. Zlamal

A New Generation of “Digital Ornithologists” by Abby McBride

The story behind “Scaling Metagenome Assembly with Probabilistic de Bruijn Graphs” by C. Titus Brown

What Lurks In Logs by Carl Zimmer

The Sham Ph.D. by Dave G Mumby

In Defense of Algebra by Nicholas Warner

A Mysterious “Alien” Creature Identified by NC Museum Researchers by jasoncryan

Fear of a Black Hole by Matthew Francis

Skeletons in the Closet by Heather Pringle

Serbian entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina pledges to revolutionise its “unsatisfactory” science by Mićo Tatalović

TGIPF: Slug Sex Redux by Cassandra Willyard

Anorexia nervosa, neurobiology, and family-based treatment by Harriet Brown

Ten clues to the modern poisoner by Deborah Blum

Cheetah Sets New Land Speed Record, Beats Bolt by 4 Seconds by Tanya Lewis

Science settles some decades-old debates about the best way to swim by Michael Ann Dobbs

Seven climate-change diseases to ruin your day by James West

Anolis sagrei (Cuban Brown Anole) in Valdosta, Georgia! 04 August 2012 by Janson Jones

Stiletto snakes by Andrew Durso

 

Media, Publishing, Technology and Society:

Judge Posner: Embedding Infringing Videos Is Not Copyright Infringement, And Neither Is Watching Them by Mike Masnick

Everything That’s Wrong with Political Journalism in One Washington Post Item by Jay Rosen

Scientific Communication As Sequential Art by Bret Victor

How to Write a Malcolm Gladwell Book by Zach Weiner

Where peer-review went wrong and Some more of peer-review’s greatest mistakes and What is this peer-review process anyway? by Mike Taylor

Chipping away at “hard” — for the poets and What has podcasting accomplished? by Dave Winer

Oracles, Big Answers, & Pop Sci’s Neglect of Mystery by David Dobbs

Journalism at the speed of bytes – a timely report by Lawrie Zion

Advice and examples on how and what journalists should tweet by Steve Buttry

PeerJ: are we reinventing the wheel? by Eduardo Santos

Blogging about blogging, and tweeting about tweeting: what I have learnt after 100 tweets by Michael McCarthy

Whither Science Publishing? by Bob Grant

Beware, Tech Abandoners. People Without Facebook Accounts Are ‘Suspicious.’ by Kashmir Hill

Downgrading Facebook. Tech Abandoner? Or Rational Lifestyle Choice? by Haydn Shaughnessy

Security Questions: The Biggest Joke in Online Identity Verification by Rebecca J. Rosen

All in a Single String by Maria Konnikova

Who’s That Woman In The Twitter Bot Profile? by Jason Feifer

Why Cartoons, sex and music are necessary in science communication by Emily Coren

Social Media for the Physiologist – A Modern Utopia or a Brave New World? by Dr. Isis with contributions from Danielle Lee, Pascale Lane, and Kristy Meyer

An Unexpected Ass Kicking and 7 Things I Learned From My Encounter With Russell Kirsch by Joel Runyon

Enter an Elevator with Confidence by Heather R.

Evidence-based, informative and on YouTube? How to communicate science in the Internet age by Dorothy Bishop

The Future of the Internet is…a la Carte by Matt Shipman

If #Google Plus is “Deserted” I Hope It Stays That Way by Tinu Abayomi-Paul

The false-balance trap by Paul Raeburn

Cheating in Online Courses by Dan Ariely

There’s only one truly open platform — the web by Mathew Ingram

The balance trap by Natasha Loder

Knit Together by Mindy Weisberger

 

Blogs of the Week so far:

May 11, 2012: Academic Panhandling
May 18, 2012: Anole Annals
May 25th, 2012: Better Posters
June 1st, 2012: Vintage Space
June 8th, 2012: Tanya Khovanova’s Math Blog
June 15th, 2012: Russlings
June 22nd, 2012: Parasite of the Day
June 29th, 2012: March of the Fossil Penguins
July 6th, 2012: Musings of a Dinosaur
July 13th, 2012: Contagions
July 21th, 2012: Life is short, but snakes are long
July 27th, 2012: Science Decoded

ScienceOnline2012 – interview with Adrian Down

Every year I ask some of the attendees of the ScienceOnline conferences to tell me (and my readers) more about themselves, their careers, current projects and their views on the use of the Web in science, science education or science communication. So now we continue with the participants of ScienceOnline2012. See all the interviews in this series here.

Today my guest is Adrian Down.

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

If you asked me five years ago where I’d be today, my predictions would come nowhere close to the truth.  I’m currently a graduate student at Duke University getting a Ph.D. in ecology.  Five years ago, I was farming in the jungles of Hawaii.  I had just spent four years in California getting bachelors degrees in physics and mathematics from UC Berkeley.  All I knew at the time was that my experiences teaching and working with plants provided more fulfillment than a career as a physicist seemed to promise.  It was my passion for plants that led me to Hawaii’s Big Island.

With no electricity to power a computer and the nearest approximation of night life 20 miles of rutted gravel road away, I had a lot of time to read and think once the sun went down in the jungle.  The longer I spent farming, the more I thought about data.  If we knew which plants were performing best in what conditions, we could optimize farm design, create thriving hybrid agricultural and natural ecosystems.  The farm was my lab, and I wanted numbers to crunch.  It was then that I realized I am a terminal scientist.  For some of us, you can take the scientist out of the lab, but you can’t take the scientific method out of the scientist.  When I decided to come back to academia, ecology was an obvious choice, given my fascination with the continuum between natural and agricultural ecosystems in Hawaii.

I went back to school to study sustainable agriculture.  These days, I study methane.  Specifically, I’m developing techniques to “fingerprint” methane sources.  If you’ve got high methane concentrations and you want to know where that methane is coming from, I can help you.  There are a lot of sources of methane to the atmosphere, including wetlands, cows and other ruminants, landfills, and leaks in natural gas infrastructure.  Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, so a comparatively small reduction in methane emissions can have a large climate change benefit.  Understanding where methane is coming from is an important step in reducing emissions.

My transition from agro-eocology to biogeochemistry wasn’t because of cows’ prodigious methane production.  I got involved with methane because my Ph.D. advisor, Rob Jackson, started researching hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, a relatively new technique for extracting natural gas from deep in the Earth.  There are a number of things that swayed me to my current course of study.  In the course of my current degree, I’m learning a variety of tools and lab techniques that are broadly applicable to a number of systems.  I think (or maybe I should say, “I hope” ) there are ways to apply some of these same techniques in a more agricultural context in the future.  I also get to do research that can have immediate and positive impact on policy and, ultimately, both climate change and human health.  The United States is experiencing a once-in-a-generation transition in our energy source from coal to natural gas, and it’s exciting to be on the cutting edge of research in that area.

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

Working in the context of a contentious issue like fracking means that communication is an essential part of what we do in my research group.  I’ve been interested in scientific communication ever since I started working with high school students in Oakland and San Francisco while at UC Berkeley.  Teaching has been a passion of mine ever since I got my feet wet in college, and I used to relish the challenge of communicating complex ideas from physics in a clear and engaging way.  Physics needs communicators because its a field many see as intimidatingly complex and frighteningly difficult.  Now, I work on a topic that is socially, rather than mathematically, complex and can be frighteningly contentiousness.  For some, this would be a nightmare, but for me, I take it as part of my training as a scientist.  I don’t know yet what I want to do with my Ph.D., but I hope that my future career is centered around scientific communication in some form or another.

We are in the unique position that we have to do most of our communicating and explaining to the general public, rather than to other scientists.  The web is absolutely essential in this regard.  Almost all of the discussion of fracking, including our science, takes place online.  As with many contentious issues, some people seek out information that supports their point of view and ignore other information.  I have seen research from our group be interpreted in diametrically opposed ways by people with different opinions.

Seeing the varying reactions to our research has left me with some lasting lessons in science communication.  The first is that simply putting science in the public domain is not enough.  Without some knowledgable interpretation, its very easy for scientific conclusions to be misunderstood or taken out of context.  The second is that we as scientists can no longer rely solely upon the news media to convey our findings or their meaning to the public.  We need to engage more directly with new media, such as blogs and social media, if we want to have any hope of staying relevant to the public.  These are the means by which people are increasingly acquiring information and forming opinions.

How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work?

On a personal level, science blogs are how I keep up with the world of science.  As a confirmed science nerd and inveterate triviaphile, I read widely outside my field.  A good science blog post, at least for my tastes, explains results and conclusions with added context and without the jargon that can make reading outside my field challenging.  I scan a number of science blog feeds and read in the neighborhood of five to ten posts daily.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2012 for you? Any suggestions for next year? 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, blog-reading and blog-writing?

ScienceOnline 2012 was a valuable experience for me.  I got to meet with some of the people behind the blogs I enjoy and whose writing I admire, like Ed Yong.  Through the workshops, I learned some of their techniques to their success.  It was interesting to me to notice the distinctive culture of science writing, which is different than that of academic science.  As a scientist interested in communication with the public, and with science bloggers as one mediator of that conversation, its helpful for me to understand the differences between the professional cultures of these two professions.  Understanding one’s audience can lead to better communication, even when the audience isn’t the public directly.

The one thing that I would like to see more of at future conferences is interaction between scientists, science writers, and educators who could make use of science blogs as a part of science education curricula.  I think science blogs and social media can bring science to younger students in a way that is more intuitive to how they are used to interacting with news and information.  People who realize they can follow scientific discoveries without an advanced science background are potentially more apt to stay engaged with and value science as a form of inquiry.  Science literacy and the ability to interpret claims based on scientific data are hugely important to an informed public discourse.  Science blogs are one avenue for members of the public to stay informed and thereby be better equipped to evaluate how science is used by non-scientists to promote ideas or make policy decisions.  Getting scientists, science writers, and educators together can help improve the process of getting engaging science to the public, especially students, who need scientific literacy now more than ever.

Thank you! I hope to see you again in January.

Blogging and social media on Rhode Island

If you closely follow my updates here and on social media, you may have caught that I gave a lecture and two workshops last week at the Metcalf Institute for Marine & Environmental Reporting in Kingston, RI, organized in partnership with Rhode Island NSF Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (RIEPSCoR) and Rhode Island Sea Grant. The event was on July 30 at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography.

I had a great time – the audience was active, inquisitive and asked great questions. My lecture was losely based on this post, providing more of a historical context for the two workshops (one on blogging, one on social media) which were much more practical (and for which this wiki is probably the best resource to start with, rather than a series of my fractured and over-involved blog posts on the topics which are more suited for people already deeply steeped in blogging and social media).

In the afternoon, John Murphy from Brown University talked about behaving professionally online, especially as a “face” of an organization, about legal aspects of online communication within an organization, and about best practices for balancing professional and personal in social media. The day ended with a panel on blogging during graduate school, with Daniel Blustein, Katie PhD and BiochemBelle, all three veteran active users of blogs and social media.

Unfortunately, the audio of the video recording did not function well, so there will be no video posted online, but there are tweets and blog posts that can help you see what transpired on that day:

#riscweet! How to Effectively Communicate Science on the Web, a Storify of tweets by Viet Le

URI Sci Comms Day with Bora Zivkovic, sketchnotes by Katie PhD.

The art and craft of science blogging, blog post by Daniel Blustein.

Leading Science Blogger Shares Social Media Tools, summary article at URI’s Metcalf Institute for Marine & Environmental Reporting website.

Science Communication in the Digital Age: #riscweet! How to Effectively Communicate Science on the Web, another summary article at URI’s Metcalf Institute for Marine & Environmental Reporting website.

Thank you Sunshine Menezes and Sara MacSorley for inviting me and for excellent organization of the event. I had great fun.

The Scienceblogging Weekly (August 4th, 2012)

Blog of the Week:

Beatrice the Biologist says this about itself: it is “part science blog, part comic, and part incoherent rambling: science edutainment at its finest.” Written – or rather drawn – by Katie McKissick, each post is a visual delight and will make you chuckle…and learn.

 

Top 10:

Gavin’s Story: Whole Exome Sequencing Finds Mystery Mutation by Ricki Lewis:

In a hotel ballroom on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania on a midsummer Saturday in 2010, an unusual roll call was under way at the Family Conference for the Foundation for Retinal Research. Betsy Brint, co-head of organization, was calling out what sounded like code words – CEP290, GUCY20, LRAT – and for each one, a few people would stand up, excited, then form little groups. After all 18 abbreviations had been called, representing the genes known to cause Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA), a few sets of parents were left standing. Troy and Jennifer Stevens, of Chino, California, were among those whose childrens’ genes and mutations were still a mystery….

Alain de Botton Tries Hand at Sex, Fails by AV Flox:

…..The next sections jump into “evolutionary-biological interpretation,” which we took to mean science, and which gave us the distinct impression that the author’s research of sex stopped at the work of William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson instead of starting there. That’s not surprising, though. ….

Even Deadly Snakes and Monkey Shit Couldn’t Stop Me From Excavating Maya Ruins in the Jungle by Charles Choi:

Snakes. In the ancient Maya ruins where I’m working at with archaeologists, the creatures we fear most are probably the snakes. That fact might sound like the punchline to an Indiana Jones joke, until you hear about the most dreaded serpent here in the jungles of Belize. The fer-de-lance is likely the deadliest snake in Latin America, packing an amputate-if-you’re-lucky bite if it goes untreated. Its long fangs can go right through a boot, and it’s aggressive – unlike many snakes that seem more afraid of us than we are of them, the fer-de-lance won’t hesitate to strike. ….

The importance of being Aquaman, or how to save the Atlantean from his briny fate by Andrew Thaler:

….There’s no way around it. Even with the huge amounts of heat Aquaman would produce as he burned through his daily 48,000 Calories, he is going to get cold. With little body fat and no fur to speak of, his heat retention potential is pitiful. Fortunately, there are plenty of simple solutions to the thermal problem. Unfortunately, almost all of them involve visible changes to his physique….

Moths, Memory, and Motivation by James Hathaway:

….We quickly found out that something that seemed simple – catching a bunch of pretty colored insects and putting them in boxes – was actually demanding and nearly endlessly complex and mysterious. A lot of the butterflies that were the coolest, the rarest, the most beautiful, lived in strange places – treetops, the edges of swamps and streams, sunlit clearings in deep woods – and only flew in certain seasons and specific times of the day – early spring, late afternoon. We learned why – mating rituals, foodplant availability, lifecycle requirements. We didn’t just read, we observed. We learned that the books were not always right – insects are really variable and behave differently in different locales. We developed hypotheses, collected information that supported or contradicted them. We learned, at least concerning a couple dozen species of butterflies in the part of upstate New York where we lived, how nature worked. Nature taught us the science we needed to use, and science taught us what there was to know. (Not that we knew enough to call it “science, “ of course.) It was like the world had opened up. ….

Pain Control by Shara Yurkiewicz:

She had only been in the hospital twice in her life: once when she was nine and now, 60 years later. She had gotten tonsils out then. She was getting tumors out now. Her abdomen hurt when she was awake. Her abdomen would also hurt during exploratory surgery, although she wouldn’t be able to feel it under general anesthesia. Her body would feel it, though, and could respond by dangerously spiking or plunging her vitals. She needed an epidural before surgery to keep the pain under control…..

Bad Chemistry by Deborah Blum:

The start of the story is this: In December 2008, a 23-year-old research assistant named Sheri Sangji accidentally set herself on fire while working in a chemistry laboratory at the University of California, Los Angeles. She died 18 days later in a hospital burn unit….

Is Childhood Pertussis Vaccine Less Effective Than We Thought? by Maryn McKenna:

Delicately and cautiously, health authorities in the United States and other countries are beginning to open up a difficult topic: Whether the extraordinary ongoing epidemic of whooping cough, the worst in more than 50 years, may be due in part to unexpected poor performance by the vaccine meant to prevent the disease….

Meet the people who keep your lights on and Blackout: What’s wrong with the American grid by Maggie Koerth-Baker:

Power was restored today in India, where more than 600 million people had been living without electricity for two days. That’s good news, but it’s left many Americans wondering whether our own electric grid is vulnerable. Here’s the good news: The North American electric grid is not likely to crash in the kind of catastrophic way we’ve just seen in India. I’m currently interviewing scientists about the weaknesses in our system and what’s being done to fix them and will have more on that for you tomorrow or Friday….

New OCD Symptom: Tail Chasing by Elizabeth Preston:

…Dogs with compulsion may pace, chase imaginary flies, or lick their flanks until they get sores, despite their owners’ best efforts to make them stop. Certain breeds are especially vulnerable. A staple of canine compulsion is tail chasing, which frequently strikes bull terriers and German shepherds. On one forum, user MatrixsDad complains that his German shepherd “is constantly chasing and barking at her tail…She comes up and puts her backside against anyone who’s standing around so she can get a better view of her tail before she starts chasing it.”…

 

Special topic 1: Jonah Lehrer

Jonah Lehrer’s Deceptions by Michael C. Moynihan

Jonah Lehrer Resigns From The New Yorker After Making Up Dylan Quotes for His Book by JULIE BOSMAN

The deception ratchet by Bradley Voytek

Jonah Lehrer, Bob Dylan, and journalistic unquotations and More unquotations from the New Yorker by Mark Liberman

Neuroscience author resigns from The New Yorker after admitting to fabricating Dylan quotes. by Paul Raeburn

Jonah Lehrer’s Grievous Oraculism by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Jonah Lehrer throws it all away by Roxane Gay

How we decide (to falsify). by Janet D. Stemwedel

Original thoughts? by Eva Amsen

Can cheaters repent? by Christie Aschwanden

Jonah Lehrer debacle lesson: Do your homework by Randy Lewis

‘It’s hard to start at the top,’ says Sharon Waxman of Jonah Lehrer by Steve Myers

What Jonah Lehrer reveals about popular science writing by Daniel Bor

Jonah Lehrer Turned His Back On Science by Khalil A. Cassimally

15 Minutes of Meaning for Jonah Lehrer by Alexis Madrigal

Why I Still Really Like Jonah Lehrer by J.S. Adams

On Bob Dylan And Jonah Lehrer, Two Fabulists by Ann Powers

Jonah Lehrer’s missing compass by Seth Mnookin

 

Special topic 2: Algebra

Abandoning Algebra Is Not the Answer by Evelyn Lamb

Does mathematics have a place in higher education? by Cathy O’Neil

When Andrew Hacker asks “Is Algebra Necessary?”, why doesn’t he just ask “Is High School Necessary?” by Rob Knop

Yes, algebra is necessary by Daniel Willingham

Why Algebra Matters (and Why Andrew Hacker is Off-Target) by RiShawn Biddle

“Is Algebra Necessary?” Are You High? by Blake Stacey

A modest proposal by PZ Myers

Algebra Is Necessary, But What About How It’s Taught? by Melanie Tannenbaum

It’s Not the Algebra, It’s the Arithmetic by Mike the Mad Biologist

On Algebra, High Expectations, and the Common Core by Dana Goldstein

The end of algebra by Alexandra Petri

Mathematical Illiteracy in the NYT by Mark C. Chu-Carroll

In Defense of Algebra by Evelyn Lamb

Scientific American Math Doc Defends Algebra Ed by Steve Mirsky

Why We Need m(x)+b: A Response to “Is Algebra Necessary?” by Erik Kimel

 

Best Images:

Macro photographs of snails and insects in the rain by Vadim Trunov

An ant that protects herself with… um… butt foam and More hanging larvae by Alex Wild

URI Sci Comms Day with Bora Zivkovic by Katie, PhD

Teaching Molecular Biology with Watercolors by Rachel Nuwer

Could a Whale-Powered Bus Be the Future of Transportation? by Rachel Nuwer

Hypogean Wildstyle: Dominik Strzelec’s Byzantine Geology by Paul Prudence

Quite Possibly the Cutest (Accurate) Dinosaur Illustration Ever by Annalee Newitz

 

Best Videos:

Watch 131 Years of Global Warming in 26 Seconds by Climate Central

Women in science … on television?!? Evidently not by Emily Willingham

Is There Life On Mars? by KPCC

Ben Goldacre at TEDMED 2012 by TEDMED

London Plague of 1665 by Michelle Ziegler

Field Biology: setting and baiting traps by DNLee

Twitter Algorithm Predicts When You’ll Get Sick (8 Days In Advance, With 90% Accuracy) [STUDY] by Shea Bennett

Curiosity (the New Mars Rover) Explained by phdcomics

100 Gallons: Reflections From A Nation Powered By Water by Powering A Nation

Best Anole Documentary Ever by Jonathan Losos

Sight by Eran May-raz and Daniel Lazo

How Did Apollo Astronauts Learn to Land on the Moon? by Amy Shira Teitel

 

Science:

Antibodies found in Peruvians suggest natural resistance to rabies in local vampire bats and NIH emerges with new emergency medicine research hub by Kathleen Raven

What’s next for scientific teaching? by Zen Faulkes

Deep-sea squid can break off all its arms onto an enemy by Ed Yong

Catching Fraud: Simonsohn Says and Why Don’t Social Scientists Want To Be Read? and Social Science and Language, Again and DSM-5 R.I.P? by Neuroskeptic

If You Compare Yourself With Michael Phelps, Will You Become A Better Swimmer? and We Won. They Lost. by Melanie Tannenbaum

A trustworthy guide to black hole astronomy by Matthew Francis

Velcro Hairs Allow Ants to Hang Their Larvae by Alex Wild

I, For One, Welcome Our New Fishy Overlords by Ian O’Neill

Is this study the bane of crypto-zoologists? by Esther Inglis-Arkell

Vacation Adventure: The La Brea Tar Pits by Erin Podolak

Are climate sceptics more likely to be conspiracy theorists? by Adam Corner

Michael Phelps, Losing the 400IM, and His Taper by Daniel Lende

What Is the Nocebo Effect? by Joseph Stromberg

Why do women leave science? by Zinemin

Muller is still rubbish by William M. Connolley

Breakthrough: The First Complete Computer Model of a Living Organism by George Dvorsky

How The Fukushima Exclusion Zone Shows Us What Comes After The Anthropocene by Colin Schultz

Interdisciplinarity, Heritability, and Public Policy by Kris Hardies

Why Dogs Chase Laser Beams (and Why It Can Drive Them Nuts) by Natalie Wolchover

The Hunter Hunted: Searching for the Body of an Anatomist by Lindsey Fitzharris

The Devil’s Technology by Ross Chapman

Lives of the Deaf by Jaipreet Virdi

Clouding the Olympic issue, China style by Claire

I want to ration your health care by PalMD

Galápagos Redux: When Is It OK to Kill Goats? by Virginia Hughes, Michelle Nijhuis and Jason G. Goldman

Broken heartland: The looming collapse of agriculture on the Great Plains by Wil S. Hylton

Why Experts are Almost Always Wrong by Rose Eveleth

Work-Life Balance for Whom? by Athene Donald

Stiletto snakes by Andrew Durso

New Lights to Help ISS Astronauts Stay Alert by Liat Clark

The Vomit-Inducing Gemini 8 Mission and NASA’s Manned Grand Tour of the Inner Planets by Amy Shira Teitel

Artificial Beginnings: Understanding the Origin of Life by Recreating It by Eric Sawyer

To know a tiger is at least to start tolerating them, study shows and Tigers, people, and finding ways for both to thrive by Sue Nichols

Higgs Discovery: Personal Reflections by Matt Strassler

Did Gymnast Jordyn Wieber Perform Too Soon? In Olympic scoring, the last shall be first. by Karla Starr

Chop Like A Girl by Michelle Nijhuis

Curiosity readies for dramatic entrance and Mission control before the party and Curiosity to look for habitable environs by Nadia Drake

Why is Pluto not a planet? by Tristan Avella

Once upon a time: The possible story of viruses by Audrey Richard

How to pronounce “Muller’s Ratchet” by Jon Wilkins

The evolution of music by James Gaines

Sex testing and the Olympics: myths, rumours and confirmation bias by Vanessa Heggie

Light Pollution’s Potentially Harmful Effects Highlighted In New Film by Lynne Peoples

Taking the scenic route by Kelly Slivka

wesome Harry Potter Fan Decodes Wizarding Genetics: It’s All About Trinucleotide Repeats by Susana Polo

How the Elephant Makes Its Rumble by Veronique Greenwood

Swiss sheep to be outfitted to cry ‘wolf’ by text message by Agence France-Presse

TGIPF: Sex When You Can’t Hang On by Erik Vance

Human cycles: History as science by Laura Spinney

A HOT topic in transit by Taylor Kubota

Stiletto snakes by Andrew Durso

 

Media, Publishing, Technology and Society:

Imagining a ‘World Without Patents’… by Mark Summerfield

Five years as a science blogger – my experiences and how it began by Stephan Schleim

9 Reasons Why Running A Science Blog Is Good For You by Julio Peironcely

Top ten tips for blogging for scientists by Paul Knoepfler

The art and craft of science blogging by Daniel Blustein

Science Reporting Gone Wrong by Paige Brown

Reddit as a Science Outreach Tool by Brian Kahn

Setting Sail Toward a Science Communications Career by Liz Neeley

Journalists slow the environmental debate by Mari Kildahl

The journalistic method: Making the jump from science to journalism by Jessica Morrison

Does journalistic ‘balance’ hurt America? by Trudy Lieberman

The missing millions of Kibera and Kidnapped at birth and Grandma Obama’s support for domestic violence by Martin Robbins

#riscweet! How to Effectively Communicate Science on the Web by Viet Le

A New Age for Truth by Craig Silverman

Big data is our generation’s civil rights issue, and we don’t know it by Alistair Croll

 

Blogs of the Week so far:

May 11, 2012: Academic Panhandling
May 18, 2012: Anole Annals
May 25th, 2012: Better Posters
June 1st, 2012: Vintage Space
June 8th, 2012: Tanya Khovanova’s Math Blog
June 15th, 2012: Russlings
June 22nd, 2012: Parasite of the Day
June 29th, 2012: March of the Fossil Penguins
July 6th, 2012: Musings of a Dinosaur
July 13th, 2012: Contagions
July 21th, 2012: Life is short, but snakes are long
July 27th, 2012: Science Decoded

The Scienceblogging Weekly (July 27th, 2012)

Blog of the Week:

Science Decoded is a wonderful mix of science, book reviews, and thoughts about the media, written by Erin Podolak, alumna of the University of Wisconsin program for Science Journalism, and now a science writer for The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

 

Top 10:

A Killer Without Regret by Deborah Blum:

In the summer of 1920, a 29-year-old son of Minnesota farmers docked his boat (acquired with stolen money) at a small island in New York City’s East River. One by one he hired out-of-work sailors to crew for him. And one by one, he shot them in the head with a Colt .45 and dumped their bodies in the water. Before he was executed in 1930, Carl Panzram put the sailor body tally at 10 although he estimated that was only about half his total murder count. “For all these things, I am not in the least sorry,” he wrote in a jail house confessional. “I was so full of hate that there was no room in me for such feelings as love, pity, kindness or honor or decency.”…

The marathon & Olympic movement on Huffington Post by Greg Downey:

Many people think they know the story of the very first ‘marathon.’ Pheidippides, reputedly the fastest man in the Greek army, allegedly ran from the battlefield at Marathon twenty-five miles to Athens in 490 BCE to announce a Greek victory over the invading Persians. Bolting into the Athenian assembly, he shouted, νικωμεν (nikomen), ‘We have won!’ and promptly keeled over dead….

Galápagos Monday: The People Problem by Virginia Hughes:

…Two-thirds of the jobs on the islands are in the service sector. The tourists come, of course, because of the amazing plants and animals. They contribute money directly to conservation efforts, and their patronage boots the economy and allows the government to set up its own conservation management systems. That’s all great, except — more people also means more: ships, construction, roads, vehicles, hotels, restaurants, water and energy use, garbage, and sewage. All of that threatens the habitats and health of the plants and animals. In other words, the whole thing is unsustainable. The growing economy in the Galápagos is simultaneously supporting more science and conservation efforts and destroying the things that need to be studied and conserved. The economy is eating itself….

Geometry Proves Sheep Are Selfish Jerks by Elizabeth Preston:

Sometimes what looks like friendly behavior is really an attempt to get one’s neighbor eaten by a wolf before oneself. Sheep, for instance, seem cozy enough in their flocks. What’s a better way to travel than surrounded by 100 percent merino? But the real reason they stick close to their neighbors is to save their own woolly rear ends…

Noisy sex means death for flies if bats are listening by Ed Yong:

Some folks just can’t help being loud in bed, but noisy liaisons can lead to a swift death… at least for a housefly. In a German cowshed, Natterer’s bats eavesdrop on mating flies, homing in on their distinctive sexual buzzes….

Wisconsin frac sand sites double by Kate Prengaman:

Tucked behind a hill in rural Trempealeau County, farmland undergoes an industrial transformation. Outside this city of 1,300, Preferred Sands turns Wisconsin’s sandy soil into a hot commodity. A wall of green trees opens to a vast expanse of sand buzzing with activity. Excavators mine and conveyors carry the sand from towering stockpiles up into the processing plant. Every week, this facility ships 7,500 tons of sand by rail to oil and gas fields in Texas, North Dakota and Pennsylvania. …

Language Serves the Group by Edmund Blair Bolles:

Steven Pinker has posted an important essay on group selection. You can gather its thesis from the title, “The False Allure of Group Selection.” Since I am on record saying that group selection (really, multilevel selection) was critical to the evolution of language, I read the essay with strong interest. Let me say right off that I was astonished to find that the essay makes no remarks about the evolution of language. Pinker is a famous proponent of language’s evolutionary origins and biological basis, but he says nothing of group selection and language. Instead he criticizes ideas that group selection explains religion, culture, and nations. I am skeptical of those claims too. Pinker is a fine writer and I got several chuckles out of his examination of various shallow appeals to group selection. Was I laughing at my own doom?…

Ending the AIDS epidemic by John Rennie:

Thirty-one years into the HIV epidemic, health authorities are finally starting to sound hopeful about the prospects for curbing it. If that sentence sounds bitter or sarcastic, it isn’t meant to be. Rather, it’s an honest assessment of how long and frequently depressing the era of HIV and AIDS has been, and of how much misery it has spawned. But it also acknowledges reasons to think that maybe, just maybe that’s beginning to change….

Ending U.S. chimpanzee laboratories will save chimpanzee research by Brian Hare:

…The non-lab research model has now become the dominant research model. In my area of research a collection of just five zoos and African sanctuaries recently published more scientific papers in higher impact journals than all five active U.S. chimpanzee laboratories. These non-lab researchers contributed data relevant to fighting HIV, Malaria, Parkinson’s, Autism, Alzheimer’s, and a myriad of other human ailments. They did this while studying chimpanzees that live life freely in extremely enriched environments. …

One way to successfully invade a habitat: eat the competition by Jeremy Yoder:

The Asian Harlequin ladybug, Harmonia axyridis, eats aphids like they’re Popplers, and it’s been repeatedly introduced into the U.S. and Europe to do exactly that. But since it was first introduced, H. axyridis has spread of its own accord, and displaced native ladybugs. This isn’t just because the Harlequin ladybug eats more aphids, or breeds faster, than the locals; it looks like part of the Harlequin’s success is due to the fact that it eats its native competition….

 

Special topic: Sally Ride

American Astronaut Sally Ride Dies at 61 by John Matson

Remembering Sally Ride by Nadia Drake

Sally Ride’s Astronaut Class Completely Changed NASA’s Demographics by Amy Shira Teitel

What Sally Ride Did For STEM Education by Austin Carr

Sally Ride’s Space Flight Was Not Exactly A Great Moment for Feminism by Laura Helmuth

The Women Who Would Have Been Sally Ride by Alexis Madrigal

Rest in peace, Sally Ride by Matthew Francis

First Female U.S. Astronaut, Sally Ride, Comes Out In Obituary by Chris Geidner

Sally Ride by The AstroDyke

Why Aren’t There Any Openly Gay Astronauts? by Natalie Wolchover

Thank you, Sally Ride by Meg Urry

 

Best Images:

Sketching at the American Museum of Natural History by Marissa Fessenden

Manatees by Jen Richards

Sunday Morning Anole Cartoon by Rich Glor

Anole Photo Of The Day by Jonathan Losos

Sharks, Art, and Conservation by Heather Goldstone

Dapper Days in China by peacay

 

Best Videos:

MIT video models airports most likely to spread diseases by Kathleen Raven

Leprosy Facts: Ancient Disease Still In Our Midst by Cara Santa Maria

The Art of Hatching by Allison DeVan

Bear Cam: Watch Brown Bears Catch Salmon in Alaska by Tanya Lewis

Why Whales are Weird by Joy Reidenberg

Ask Jay Rosen Anything: What Does Political Journalism Get Wrong? Get Right? by Andrew Sullivan

Olympicene – Periodic Table of Videos by periodicvideos

 

Science:

Science on crack: the chemistry of illegal drugs, 1 by Puff the Mutant Dragon

The International AIDS Conference Returns: So Much Still To Do by Maryn McKenna

“We took a rat apart and rebuilt it as a jellyfish.” and Aging termites put on suicide backpacks full of chemical weapons by Ed Yong

How Do You Choke Away the British Open? The Science of the Tight Collar by David Dobbs

A Brief History of the Eustachian Tube and The Catheter by Jaipreet Virdi

The Secret Life of Western Corn Rootworm Beetles by James Hamblin

Soccer’s Big Data Revolution by Khalil A. Cassimally

FDA advisory panel looks positively on new eye drug by Kathleen Raven

Autism Outreach on Wheels: Students Design Mobile Clinic for A.J. Drexel Autism Institute by Rachel Ewing

Batman Movies Don’t Kill. But They’re Friendly to the Concept. and Batman Returns: How Culture Shapes Muddle Into Madness by David Dobbs

Inside the Minds of Mass Killers by Daniel Lende

How Urban Parks Enhance Your Brain by Eric Jaffe

World’s Coolest Animal Bridges and Should Dolphins and Whales Have Human Rights? by Rachel Nuwer

How Aldous Huxley, 118 Today, Predicted the Present Far More Accurately than George Orwell and Mapping Afghanistan’s Geology from Really, Really Far Away by Rose Eveleth

There is no greenhouse effect by Robert Grumbine

And Finally the Hounding Duck Can Rest by Carl Zimmer

What’s next for scientific teaching? by Zen Faulkes

Speciation in Bears by Larry Moran

Scientists make curing HIV a priority by Erin Loury

New Study Suggests Humans, Not Climate, Killed Off Neanderthals by Colin Schultz

When Bad Theories Happen to Good Scientists by Matt Ridley

Lemurs Most Threatened Mammals on the Planet by Karl Leif Bates

A year of anarchy in science by Michael Brooks

The Secrets of Geek Mating Rituals by Annalee Newitz

On Leaving Academia by Terran Lane

How Not to Counsel Smokers by Lucy E. Hornstein

The Colorado shooting suspect: how “smart?” by David Kroll

Why don’t we consume dairy products from mammals that aren’t cows? by Benjamin Phelan

Can Sleep Deprivation Cause Psychotic Behaviour? by Romeo Vitelli

Is Mythology Like Facebook? by John Bohannon

Crossing valleys in fitness landscapes by Bjørn Østman

How NFL and NBA cheerleaders and citizen scientists came together. by Darlene Cavalier

Unraveling the left brain/right brain theory by Amanda Mascarelli

The Aurora Shootings and The Mean World Syndrome by David Ropeik

What is this “Mass Spectrometer”? by Penny Higgins

Shark Teeth Have Built-In Toothpaste by Jennifer Viegas

Meet the Skeptics: Why Some Doubt Biomedical Models – and What it Takes to Win Them Over by Kristin Sainani

The Stoneflies: Old or New? by Christopher Taylor

Wrong for the Right Reasons by Matthew Martyniuk

Search Trends Reveal Sexual Seasons and A Case Study in Voodoo Genetics by Neuroskeptic

The brewer’s yoke, the domestication of microbes by A Schooner of Science

The horrible truth about Spiderman’s Anatomy by Bug Girl

Nixon’s Contingency Plan for a Failed Apollo 11 by Amy Shira Teitel

Once an Archaeologist…? Plan B Careers in Archaeology by Becky Wragg Sykes

Diagnosing the Killer in Colorado by Deborah Blum

Olympic Physics: Tennis and Olympic Physics: Diving by Matt Shipman

It Takes an 8-Year-Old to Outsmart a Crow by Elizabeth Preston

Why You Can’t Fake A Good Horn by Carl Zimmer

“The Redder the Better” . . . Sometimes by Anne-Marie Hodge

Exploring the Mind of the Mountain Gorilla by Kimberly Gerson

Cuts loom for US science by Ivan Semeniuk & Helen Thompson

Skepticism And The Second Enlightenment by Kyle Hill

Greenland Melt Was Predicted In Advance By Paper Awaiting Publication by Dan Satterfield

Drought hurts shipping industry, raises prices by Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato

Olympic Pseudoscience by Steven Novella

Velcro Hairs Allow Ants to Hang Their Larvae by Alex Wild

Circadian Rhythms: Our Eyes, Our Rhythms by Anita Slomski

Scientists in North Carolina will take close look at ants from Chicago by Jessica M. Morrison

DIYBio: Placenta Stem Cells for Research and More by Ada Ao

Beginnings – three simple words by Pete Etchells

Why climate change doesn’t spark moral outrage, and how it could by David Roberts

TGIPF: The Bed Bug and His Violent Penis by Brooke Borel

 

Media, Publishing, Technology and Society:

The Making of PeerJ and Open Science, SciBarCamp and Les Horribles Cernettes by Graham Steel

Thomas Friedman’s Lessons for Anthropologists by Daniel Lende and Greg Downey

ABC News: armchair psychologist: The network offers irresponsible speculation about the Colorado shooter by Curtis Brainard

How We Play Today by Jamie Rosenberg and George Myers

Anatomy of a Zombie Lie… by Tom Levenson

Grief in the Age of Social Media by Callie Schweitzer

A Self-Made Man Looks At How He Made It by John Scalzi

Another science startup that’s changing how research is done. An interview with Elizabeth Iorns of Science Exchange. by William Gunn

If you email it, they will comment and No Comment? by Ethan Perlstein

Blogging expertise by Zen Faulkes

Explaining the news through song: A personal case study by David Holmes

Taming the Impact Factor by Iddo Friedberg

The dark side of data by Mike Loukides

The Death Of SEO: The Rise of Social, PR, And Real Content by Ken Krogue

Blogging, Tweeting, and Other Digital Activities: A Beginner’s Guide to the Internet for Early-career Scholars by Melinda Baldwin

Enduring lessons from being fired 20 years ago by Steve Buttry

Social Media and the Science Classroom, a Twitter Discussion by Michele Arduengo

What Users do with PLOS ONE Papers by Martin Fenner

The Great Sieve: This Is What Browsing Scientific Research Looks Like by Rebecca J. Rosen

Content Factor: A Measure of a Journal’s Contribution to Knowledge by Joseph Bernstein and Chancellor F. Gray

Meet Lena Groeger: @ProPublica’s newest news app developer by Elizabeth R. Miller

Who should see what when? Three principles for personalized news by Jonathan Stray

Predicting the growth of PLoS ONE by Najko Jahn

UK government will enforce open access to development research by Alok Jha

Who’s Talking About ScienceOnline? Interactive Map Of 1000 #Scio13 Twitterers by Mary Canady

An open Twitter-like ecosystem by Dave Winer

A new era for the Nature Network blogs by Lou Woodley

Why a high Google rank is becoming ‘worthless’ by Brad Shorr

BuzzFeed’s strategy by Chris Dixon

ScienceOnline Project Postcard by Karyn Traphagen

Bunch of Fives – Why Blogging is Great, and Tips for Starting by Suzi Gage

How BuzzFeed wants to reinvent wire stories for social media by Justin Ellis

The State of Educational Blogging in 2012 by Sue Waters

How journalists can do a better job of correcting errors on social media by Craig Silverman

Sharing stories with sources before publication is risky, but can improve accuracy and To show or not to show? by Steve Buttry

Quantifying impact: A better metric for measuring journalism by Greg Linch

Going paperless: eliminate stacks of paper by converting paper magazine subscriptions to digital subscriptions by Jamie Todd Rubin

Are You Reading These 17 Science Blogs? You Should by Julio Peironcely

No credit for Uncle Sam in creating Net? Vint Cerf disagrees by Charles Cooper

They Didn’t Build That by Paul Krugman

So, who really did invent the Internet? by Michael Hiltzik

WSJ mangles history to argue government didn’t launch the Internet by Timothy B. Lee

 

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

Blogs of the Week so far:

May 11, 2012: Academic Panhandling
May 18, 2012: Anole Annals
May 25th, 2012: Better Posters
June 1st, 2012: Vintage Space
June 8th, 2012: Tanya Khovanova’s Math Blog
June 15th, 2012: Russlings
June 22nd, 2012: Parasite of the Day
June 29th, 2012: March of the Fossil Penguins
July 6th, 2012: Musings of a Dinosaur
July 13th, 2012: Contagions
July 21th, 2012: Life is short, but snakes are long

The Scienceblogging Weekly (July 21th, 2012)

Blog of the Week:

Life is short, but snakes are long is written by Andrew Durso who is a PhD student at Utah State University, where he studies the behavior, physiology, and ecology of toad-eating snakes. So, everything on his blog is about snakes. And every post on his blog has something about snakes that you have not known before.

 

Top 10:

Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math by Bill McKibben:

If the pictures of those towering wildfires in Colorado haven’t convinced you, or the size of your AC bill this summer, here are some hard numbers about climate change: June broke or tied 3,215 high-temperature records across the United States. That followed the warmest May on record for the Northern Hemisphere – the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th-century average, the odds of which occurring by simple chance were 3.7 x 10-99, a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe…

The Mystery of the Missing Chromosome (With A Special Guest Appearance from Facebook Creationists) by Carl Zimmer:

There’s something fascinating about our chromosomes. We have 23 pairs. Chimpanzees and gorillas, our closest living relatives, have 24. If you come to these facts cold, you might think this represented an existential crisis for evolutionary biologists. If we do indeed descend from a common ancestor with great apes, then our ancestors must have lost a pair after our lineage branched off, some six million years ago. How on Earth could we just give up an entire chromosome….

Are Warnings About the Side Effects of Drugs Making Us Sick? by Steve Silberman

Your doctor doesn’t like what’s going on with your blood pressure. You’ve been taking medication for it, but he wants to put you on a new drug, and you’re fine with that. Then he leans in close and says in his most reassuring, man-to-man voice, “I should tell you that a small number of my patients have experienced some minor sexual dysfunction on this drug. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and the good news is that this side effect is totally reversible. If you have any ‘issues’ in the bedroom, don’t hesitate to call, and we’ll switch you to another type of drug called an ACE inhibitor.” OK, you say, you’ll keep that in mind…..

Battling antivaccinationists at FreedomFest by Orac:

Like so many other skeptics, I just returned from TAM, which, despite all the conflict and drama surrounding it this year, actually turned out to be a highly enjoyable experience for myself and most people I talked to. As I’ve been doing the last few years, I joined up with Steve Novella and other proponents of science-based medicine to do a workshop about how difficult it is to find decent health information on the Internet, and how the “University of Google” all too frequently puts quackery on the same level as reliable sources of medical information because all that matters for most search engines when it comes to ranking search results is the number and kinds of sites that link to a given site…..

Epic fraud: How to succeed in science (without doing any) by John Timmer:

Running scientific experiments is, frankly, a pain in the ass. Sure, it’s incredibly satisfying when days or weeks of hard work produce a clean-looking result that’s easy to interpret. But often as not, experiments simply fail for no obvious reason. Even when they work, the results often leave you scratching your head, wondering “what in the world is that supposed to tell me?” The simplest solution to these problems is obvious: don’t do experiments….

One Molecule for Love, Morality, and Prosperity? by Ed Yong:

Imagine a molecule that underlies the virtues that glue societies together. Imagine that it brought out the better angels of our nature with just a sniff and could “rebond our troubled world.” Imagine that it was the “source of love and prosperity” and explained “what makes us good and evil.” Well, carry on imagining. This is a story about oxytocin, and oxytocin is not that molecule….

How We Changed Penguins Just by Watching by Elizabeth Preston:

If a penguin falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, I don’t know what kind of forest that is—but everyone who’s interested in penguins is probably hanging out a lot closer to the South Pole. The charismatic birds let scientists and tourists alike get a close look without too much trouble. And all that familiarity has the potential to change penguins, and other closely watched animals, for good….

What Would Happen If a Lion Fought a Tiger? by Natalie Wolchover:

This ultimate cat fight has happened more times than you might expect. The Romans pitted African lions against Asian tigers in the Coliseum, to the rip-roaring pleasure of the Plebeians. A few fights were also staged in the early decades of the 20th century, and on several modern occasions, accidental cross-species encounters at zoos have quickly developed into gruesome scenes guaranteed to scar any nearby schoolchildren for life. But how do these lion versus tiger showdowns go down?…

In Search of Grote Reber by Matthew Francis:

Unlike most sites where the business of cosmology is done, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory—known colloquially as Fermilab—isn’t in a remote spot. The facility is in Batavia, Illinois, part of the sprawling metroplex of Chicago, and it’s just a short drive from two major tollways. The Standard Model describes a plethora of particles, but it has nothing on the number of fast-food joints and auto shops within ten minutes’ drive of the Fermilab gates. My friend hosting me during my stay in Illinois wasn’t even aware of the lab’s location, despite having friends living close by—the area around it is that dense…

Dancing in digital immortality: The evolution of Merce Cunningham’s “Loops” by Ashley Taylor:

The modern dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham died in 2009, and his company gave its final performance at the end of last year. Many of his dances will live on in the memories of former company members who go on to restage them. But there’s one solo, “Loops,” that Cunningham never taught to another dancer. This piece lives on through a different medium: digital motion capture…

 

Special topic: Science of Superheros

Batman and Gotham: A Deeply Dysfunctional Love Story by Adam Rogers

The horrifying physiological and psychological consequences of being Aquaman by Southern Fried Scientist

Dear Science, leave Aquaman alone! by AmasianV

Why Aquaman is the best damn superhero in comic history by Cyriaque Lamar

Physics Shows Batman’s Cape Is Suicide Machine by Liat Clark

The Fall and Rise of the Dark Knight-the Difficulties of Batman’s Life While He Exists by E. Paul Zehr

Science sways superheroes by Alan Boyle

 

Best Images:

The Goddamned Particle by Perrin Ireland

Your Skeleton – on the Internet by Daniel Lende

Animals With Misleading Names by Rosemary Mosco

The Bizarre, Breathtaking Science Photos of Fritz Goro by Tanya Lewis

American World War II Plague Posters by Michelle Ziegler

Beautiful biodiversity illustrations by Becca Stadtlander

 

Best Videos:

Friday Science Cinema by Justine E. Hausheer

When astronomers get video cameras…… by Niall

NSF Rhode Island Video Boot Camp participant Dr. Sunshine Menezes delivers her message. by NSFMessengers

Tagging Giants: Studying Whale Sharks in Cendrawasih Bay by Mark Erdmann

Variety is the Spice of Lice by TheFieldMuseum

Five Men Agree To Stand Directly Under An Exploding Nuclear Bomb by Robert Krulwich

Chuck Norris, tapeworms, and the future of science: video of my keynote talk by Carl Zimmer

 

Science:

Patients, Prisoners, and Mass Shootings — A Timeline by David Dobbs

Gorilla Youngsters Seen Dismantling Poachers’ Traps—A First by Ker Than

Life on the Leg of a Crab by Craig McClain

Can you Shoot an Arrow Backwards – into Space? by David Dilworth

How to “downplay the achievements of science” by Eoin Lettice

Why Facial Disfigurements Creep Us Out by Joseph Bennington-Castro

Wisconsin’s Sand Rush by Kate Prengaman

A Way to Trap Carbon Deep in the Ocean and City Officials Declare War on Lawn Gardens by Rachel Nuwer

From Living Room to Lily Pad: Is the Fatal Amphibian Chytrid Fungus Spread via Pet Frogs? by Sarah Fecht

Just good friends? Attraction to opposite-sex friends is common but burdensome by Christian Jarrett

Just My Luck (or is it?) by David Nussbaum

The Bra Is 500 Years Older Than We Thought and 400 Years Worth of Water Discovered in Sub-Saharan Namibia by Colin Schultz

Learning from the Tubeworm by Michelle Nijhuis

The Real Life of Pi by Noby Leong

How would you like to sleep with the fishes? by aranyak

‘Get Over It’: Climate Change Is Happening by Eric Roston

Recycling the Seasons by Erin Gettler

Fusing chromosomes by John Hawks

No sweet outcome for PhD worker bees by Elizabeth Gibney

Q&A With Mariette DiChristina: Born a Scientist by Jeanne Garbarino

Lion’s Mane Jellyfish Image: This Is (Literally) How Things Blow Up On The Internet! by Anthony Wing Kosner

The Endless Summer by Mark Bittman

Performance enhancement: Superhuman athletes by Helen Thompson

Discovery of ‘God particle’ has UNC roots by Samuel Mason

Just the facts ain’t enough, ma’am by Wilson da Silva

Artificial Volcanoes Aren’t the Solution to Warming by Erik Klemetti

Dolphins May Be Math Geniuses by Jennifer Viegas

New Science Emboldens Long Shot Bid for Dolphin, Whale Rights by Brandon Keim

What it’s Like to Witness a Grunion Run by Jason Goldman

Everything Is a Remix: The Sound of Horses Racing on TV Is Actually a Sample of Buffaloes Charging and Exploding Chocolate, Poisoned Scuba Suits, and the Bulgarian Umbrella: A Survey of Strange Assassination Tech by Alexis Madrigal

Secrets of the clam tongue: a case study in opportunistic science outreach and New nightmare fuel: the giant scaleworm Eulagisca by Miriam Goldstein

Pardon me–is this stool taken? by Bug Girl

10 species named after famous people by Bethan Jinkinson

Pancakes, served with a side of science by Aatish Bhatia

One fish, two fish and 400,000 zebrafish by Kathleen Raven

The Dirty Dozen: A wish list for psychology and cognitive neuroscience by Chris Chambers

Brain Scanning… Or Vein Scanning? by Neuroskeptic

What was the oldest Olympic sport? by Greg Laden

Dr Hornstein hasn’t gone the way of the dinosaur by Lucy Hornstein

Science Metaphors (cont.): Sub-Grid Physics by Ann Finkbeiner

Will we ever run the 100 metres in 9 seconds? by Ed Yong

Dinosaur Aunts, Bacterial Stowaways, & Insect Milk by Katie Hinde

Geneticists Evolve Fruit Flies With the Ability to Count by Liat Clark

Scientists take a bird’s eye view to prevent bird-aircraft collisions by Allie Wilkinson

Technique gets clear images from light reflected off blank paper by Matthew Francis

Vitamin D gets frequent testing, but the results are a bit quizzical by Jessica M. Morrison

How Placebo’s Evil Twin Makes You Sicker by Elizabeth Preston

Galápagos Monday: When Conservation Means Killing by Virginia Hughes

‘Canopy Meg’ wants you to care about the rainforest by Samantha Larson

Person With Autism Manages To Do Something by Zoe

Using zombies to teach science by Tara C. Smith

Ecomorphs Converge On Suites Of Correlated Traits by Yoel Stuart

Is Society Becoming Over-Medicalized? Interview with Executive Editor of Reuters Health, Dr. Ivan Oransky by Shiv Gaglani

How land-inefficient is organic agriculture? by Mark Lynas

Record Heat Wave Pushes U.S. Belief in Climate Change to 70% by Mark Drajem

 

Media, Publishing, Technology and Society:

That plan to archive every tweet in the Library of Congress? Definitely still happening by Andrew Phelps

More on the Library of Congress and Twitter by Dave Winer (also see my Science Blogs – definition, and a history)

v1 by Rethink Digg

Example Visualizations using the PLoS Search and ALM APIs and More fun with Visualizations by Martin Fenner

ScienceWriters2012: The NC Scouting Report by Rosalind Reid

Could the iPad save magazines? by Molly Mirhashem

The techies in journalism are not the problem by Anna Tarkov

Readership of papers vs. blog posts by Jeremy Fox

Why Flip The Classroom When We Can Make It Do Cartwheels? by Cathy N. Davidson

Higgs this, boson that by Richard Panek

Beginner Blogging – The Prequel by Renee Dobbs

Power to the People (When it Comes to Funding Research) by Aurélie Coulon

Curation techniques, types and tips by Steve Buttry

No Internet For One Year: Tech Writer Tries Life Offline by Joanna Stern

Why Dave Winer Invented the Blog and How blogging came to be by Dave Winer

Introducing #smarttakes: pop-up aggregation from the Guardian by Ruth Spencer

‘False Balance’ in Some Coverage of Carolina Sea-Level Controversy by Sara Peach

Brought to book: Academic journals face a radical shake-up by The Economist

All’s Not Fair in Science and Publishing by Frederick Southwick

Let journalists do their jobs by David Wescott

How Academics Face the World: A Study of 5829 Homepage Pictures by Owen Churches, Rebecca Callahan, Dana Michalski, Nicola Brewer, Emma Turner, Hannah Amy Diane Keage, Nicole Annette Thomas and Mike Elmo Richard Nicholls

MIT Economist: Here’s How Copyright Laws Impoverish Wikipedia by Robinson Meyer

Why ‘future of journalism’ confabs fail by Alan D. Mutter

Why paywall journalism is changing how journalists write by Tim Burrowes

ProPublica gets $1.9 million from Knight to expand its efforts in data journalism by Adrienne LaFrance

The trouble with content by Jeff Jarvis

The Scholar’s Frenemy by PHLane

Dealing with Edits and Comments by hurleybirds

Don’t Have Time to Tweet-bollocks! Twitter can even save you time as a scientist. by Scott Wagers

Communicating science in the age of the internet by Deevy Bishop

Laptops in Lecture? by Rhett Allain

What was the first science blog? by Paul Raeburn

Scientific particles collide with social media to benefit of all by Marie Boran

On science blogs this week: Scandal by Tabitha M. Powledge

Standing on the Shoulders of Bloggers: Carnival frustration searing my soul. by Thony Christie

The Rise of Open Science by Roger Câmara

The Web Is Not the Internet (You’re Probably Getting That Wrong) by Abraham_Riesman

Delete the Save Button by Farhad Manjoo

How Reddit Became the Internet’s Vigilante Voltron by Wylie Overstreet

 

======

Blogs of the Week so far:

May 11, 2012: Academic Panhandling
May 18, 2012: Anole Annals
May 25th, 2012: Better Posters
June 1st, 2012: Vintage Space
June 8th, 2012: Tanya Khovanova’s Math Blog
June 15th, 2012: Russlings
June 22nd, 2012: Parasite of the Day
June 29th, 2012: March of the Fossil Penguins
July 6th, 2012: Musings of a Dinosaur
July 13th, 2012: Contagions

The Scienceblogging Weekly (July 13th, 2012)

Blog of the Week:

Contagions is a blog written by Michelle Ziegler (Twitter, Facebook, the other two blogs by Michelle – Heavenfield and Selah – are focused entirely on history and not on medicine or science). In Contagions, Michelle explores infectious disease – there is a lot about the Plague – from history to epidemiology to most recent scientific papers. Sometimes gruesome, always fascinating.

 

Top 10:

Is Autism an “Epidemic” or Are We Just Noticing More People Who Have It? by Emily Willingham:

In March the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the newly measured autism prevalences for 8-year-olds in the United States, and headlines roared about a “1 in 88 autism epidemic.” The fear-mongering has led some enterprising folk to latch onto our nation’s growing chemophobia and link the rise in autism to “toxins” or other alleged insults, and some to sell their research, books, and “cures.” On the other hand, some researchers say that what we’re really seeing is likely the upshot of more awareness about autism and ever-shifting diagnostic categories and criteria….

New technique identifies magnetic cells in animals by watching them spin by Ed Yong:

A migrating robin can keep a straight course even when it flies through a cloudy night sky, devoid of obvious landmarks. That’s because it can sense the Earth’s magnetic field. Something in its body acts as a living compass, giving it a sense of direction and position. This ability – known as magnetoreception – isn’t unique to robins. It’s been found in many other birds, sharks and rays, salmon and trout, turtles, bats, ants and bees, and possibly cows, deer and foxes. But despite more than 50 years of research, the details of the magnetic sense are still elusive….

The Sex Scholar by Kara Platoni:

Decades before Kinsey, Stanford professor Clelia Mosher polled Victorian-era women on their bedroom behavior—then kept the startling results under wraps….

Bloggers and Bowerbirds by Erin Kissane:

There are still a lot of elbows being thrown in the squabble about “creation” versus “curation,” and it seems to be getting worse. As humans tend to do, we’re talking past each other and pretending to simplicity in the face of the complex and the weird. Here’s what I think is going on. I think we’re getting tripped up by two things: clumsy language and a misapprehension about competition for limited resources….

Citations, Social Media & Science by Morgan D. Jackson:

This morning I was reading a newly published paper that I found intriguing, not only for its content1 but also for who it cited — sort of. Among the regular cadre of peer-reviewed journal articles supporting the author’s findings were two blog posts by University of Glasgow professor Roderic Page. Rod is a major proponent for digitizing and linking biodiversity literature with all aspects of a species’ pixel-trail across the internet, so I was excited to see his blog being “formally” recognized. As I finished reading the paper and reached the References section, I skimmed through to see how a blog citation might be formatted. Much to my dismay, after breezing through the L’s, M’s, and N’s I found myself within the R’s, with nary a Page in sight…

Investigation: Drug Resistance, Chicken And 8 Million UTIs by Maryn McKenna:

…I’ve been working with a great new group, the Food and Environment Reporting Network — one of the grant-funded journalism organizations that have arisen in the wake of the collapse of mainstream journalism — on an important, under-reported topic. Which is: Over the past decade, a group of researchers in several countries have been uncovering links between the use of antibiotics in chicken production and the rising occurrence of resistance in one of the most common bacterial infections in the world. The infection in question is UTI, which just about every woman I know will recognize: It stands for urinary tract infection, and on average one out of every 9 women in the United States suffers one at least once per year. There are 6 million to 8 million UTIs in the US each year, costing at least $1 billion in healthcare spending….

The hows and whys of human attraction by Barbara J. King:

Robin Dunbar may not be a household name, but some of his thinking has reached the status of household ideas. You’ve heard that 150 is an approximate upper limit on the number of our family-and-friend relationships because that’s how many connections we can track? That’s Dunbar. You’ve read the theory that language evolved as a sort of replacement for hands-on grooming among our primate relatives when group size got big? That’s Dunbar too. Now, in The Science of Love and Betrayal, Dunbar, who is Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford, asks seductive questions about love and friendship. Why do men and women pair-bond when so many other animals don’t? How do biology and sociality intersect in explaining human attraction to others? …

Crimes and Misdemeanors: Reforming Social Psychology by Dave Nussbaum:

The recent news of Dirk Smeesters’ resignation is certainly not good news for social psychology, particularly so soon after the Diedrik Stapel case, but I believe it can serve as an opportunity for the field to take important steps towards reform. The reforms that are needed the most, however, are not restricted to preventing or detecting the few instances of fraud by unscrupulous researchers who are intentionally falsifying data. What we should be more concerned about are the far less egregious, but much more common offenses that many of us commit, often unknowingly or unintentionally, and almost never with fraudulent intent….

The Vampire of Venice Returns, or What Is that Brick Doing in that Skull’s Mouth? by Kristina Killgrove:

It seems like every spring there is renewed coverage of a partial skeleton that was found on the island of Lazaretto Nuovo (one of two 15th-16th century leper colonies near Venice) in 2009. I’ve never covered it here, but since I was alerted to an airing of a documentary about the skeleton on Italian TV this week, I thought it may be time to track the progress of the so-called Vampire of Venice (“il vampiro di Venezia” in Italian, and not to be confused with a similarly named Dr. Who episode)….

How the Deaf Brain Rewires Itself to ‘Hear’ Touch and Sight by Nadja Popovich:

Our experiences help shape our brains. So it might make sense that for a person born without hearing, the part of the brain that’s meant to process audio would be underdeveloped. But according to a new study, those who have been deaf since birth actually use the sound-related part of the brain — known as the primary auditory cortex — to do even more heavy lifting than their hearing counterparts. …

 

Special topic 1: #arseniclife:

The Case (Study) of Arsenic Life: How the Internet Can Make Science Better by Rebecca J. Rosen

Live-blogging Arsenic Life by Carl Zimmer

Discovery of an arsenic-friendly microbe refuted and Q and A: Critical ‘Arseniclife’ studies released by Dan Vergano

Pair Of Studies Rebuts Arsenic-Based Life by Carmen Drahl

Arsenic Death by ChemBark

“Arsenic bacteria”: Coffin, meet nails by Ashutosh Jogalekar

Arsenic Life, Cold Fusion, and the Allure of Wishful Thinking by Matthew Francis

Another chink in the Ingelfinger armor? Arsenic life talk forces Science to release paper early, without embargo and Science has “not asked for a correction or retraction” of arsenic life paper, and why situation is unlike XMRV-CFS by Ivan Oransky

Arsenic-Life Discovery Debunked—But “Alien” Organism Still Odd by Richard A. Lovett

Consider the publication embargo… and NASA’s cowardly responses to their #arseniclife FAIL by Rosie Redfield

New research points toward “no” on arsenic life by Phil Plait

Annoying Arsenic Claim Debunked for Good – We Hope. by Faye Flam

Notorious Arsenic-Tolerant Bacterium Needs Phosphorus After All by Quirin Schiermeier

Despite refutation, Science arsenic life paper deserves retraction, scientist argues by David Sanders

Two studies show ‘weird life’ microbe can’t live on arsenic by Alan Boyle

Latest on #ArsenicLife by Jonathan Eisen

Journal retreats from controversial arsenic paper by Marc Kaufman

New Science Papers Prove NASA Failed Big Time In Promoting Supposedly Earth-Shaking Discovery That Wasn’t by Matthew Herper

 

Special topic 2: glut of PhDs:

WaPo: Not enough jobs for science PhDs by David Kroll

The STEM PhD Glut Makes the Mainstream Media by Mike the Mad Biologist

Subtleties of the Crappy Job Market for Scientists by Julianne Dalcanton

The wages of a life science Ph.D. (not high!) and More on jobs & Ph.D.s by Razib Khan

“Alternate careers” is just the next exploitation strategy? by DrugMonkey

Too many scientists? by Puff the Mutant Dragon

Washington Post: “U.S. pushes for more scientists, but the jobs aren’t there.” by Chemjobber

Life as PhD student by Elf Eldridge

 

Best Images:

TICKS ON A SNAKE by teresa.frog.applause

On Writing by Abstruse Goose

Here’s Something You Don’t See Every Day by Jonathan Losos

Arctic Biologist Shares Astonishing Sea Creatures With the World by Pete Brook

Visual Field by xkcd

 

Best Videos:

Nobel laureate occasionally hangs out on street corners, answering physics questions by Maggie Koerth-Baker

Snake Stunt: Drinking While Dangling by Andrew C. Revkin

Talent Search » TED@Vancouver » Carin Bondar: Reproduction and survival in the animal kingdom

Talent Search » TED@Sydney » James Byrne: How plants have sex

Stomach Bacteria Show Early Human Travels by skepTV

Piecing together Patagonia’s ancient vegetation by Melanie Connor

Opening Keynote from Cameron Neylon – Network Enabled Research by Open Repositories 2012

‘Big Ass Shark’ Unexpectedly Swipes Fish Off Girl’s Line Like Something Out of a Movie by Neetzan Zimmerman

The Higgs Boson, Part II: What is Mass? by MinutePhysics

Alan Turing: His Mind, His Life (VIDEO, Part Two) by Cara Santa Maria

This is What Snake Venom Does to Blood! by fragrancemad

Is Apollo 18 Real? by Amy Shira Teitel

#CurlyHairMafia on the Secret of NIMH by DNLee

From Galileo to Galaxy Zoo: Astronomy in the Digital Age by Alessandro Mangiafico

 

Science:

No, the web is not driving us mad and Why I am always unlucky but you are always careless by Vaughan Bell

Where are the Canadian media in analysing the Death of Evidence protest? by Marie-Claire Shanahan

The Dead Sea is Dying: Can
A Controversial Plan Save It?
by Dave Levitan

Trajectory of a falling Batman by Ben Goldacre

The mundaneness of science by Christie Aschwanden

Brain Scans Predict When Poker Players Will Bluff and Why Successful Leaders Share Their Harems by Elizabeth Preston

Egg-eating snakes and This blog is supposed to be about snakes, but if you can’t make exceptions for family, then you’re a jerk by Andrew Durso

Doubt Is Good for Science, But Bad for PR by Stuart Firestein

When you throb with pain…are you feeling the beat? by scicurious

Little fellah bums by Michael Wellan

Silk cages preserve vaccines and antibiotics for months without refrigeration and Urban noise can turn sparrow females into bad mums and Chicken vaccines merged to form live viruses and caused outbreaks of irony and Uncertainty shrouds psychologist’s resignation by Ed Yong

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley slashes funding for coastal science and sustainable development by David Shiffman

Daily Mail, HuffPo Dumb Down Dinosex by Brian Switek

Q&A With Deborah Berebichez: Seeing the World Through Physics Glasses by Double Xpression

Mathematics and HIV by Jessica Wapner

Thai Farmers Fight ‘Global Warming Fines’ by Prangtip Daorueng

Why Crowds Can Turn Deadly by Emily Badger

You can hide those lying eyes by Zen Faulkes

You can’t ban redheaded sperm by David Winter

Zombies and Volleyball: The Benefits of the Bystander Effect by Melanie Tannenbaum

Q: Why Do We Wear Pants? A: Horses by Alexis Madrigal

There is something and not nothing by Roger Ebert

Want to Get Teens Interested in Math and Science? Target Their Parents by Anna Mikulak

Scientific History and the Lessons for Today’s Emerging Ideas by The Physics arXiv Blog

A striking experiment shows how you can run on quicksand and Black hole shines a light on dark galaxies by Matthew Francis

Why Canada’s scientists need our support by Alice Bell

Why Eugenics Will Always Fail by Esther Inglis-Arkell

Gnathia marleyi — or not by Susan Perkins

Will We Ever Find All the Dinosaurs? by Brian Switek

Should we all be guinea pigs? by John Rennie

Pipes, Reins, & the Cerebral Winepress: Mechanical Metaphor in Vesalius’ Fabrica by Marri Lynn

The climate of the climate change debate is changing by Myles Allen

Lizards Can’t Take The Heat – But Can They Take The Cold? by Martha Munoz

Crackpots, geniuses, and how to tell the difference by Maggie Koerth-Baker

Relativistic Baseball: What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90% the speed of light? by xkcd

I saw the (negative) sign: Problems with fMRI research by Dana Smith

Nikola Tesla and the magic of science by Danica Radovanovic

Why George Will Is Wrong About Weather And Climate by Jocelyn Fong

If “Fifty Shades of Grey” Had Been Written by a Biology Textbook Author by Ricki Lewis

Keeping Parkinson’s Disease a Secret by Kate Yandell

Distrusting Scientific Research by Kelsey Tsipis

Weird Fiction Monday: Mass Effect: Apocalypse by Greg Gbur

Could the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier Fly? by Rhett Allain

Planet of the Mega Disasters by Faye Flam

Dr. Drew Cashes In by Charles Seife

Galápagos Monday: The Sad Sex Life of Lonesome George by Virginia Hughes

Crowdfunding Questions With Petridish.org Co-founder Matt Salzberg by Travis Saunders

Roid Age: steroids in sport and the paradox of pharmacological puritanism by Greg Downey

Traditional Sexual Values Challenged in Classic Animal Study by Brandon Keim

Painless Injections by Tianyou Xu

Down, boy! The politics of humping by jwoestendiek

Notes on Some of Those 79 “New” Shark Species by Chuck Bangley

What’s the difference between “Opossum” and “Possum”? by Jason Bittel

A Brief History of Money by James Surowiecki

Tree Rings and Climate: Some Recent Developments by Michael E. Mann, Gavin Schmidt, and Eric Steig

The American Heat Wave and Global Warming by MarkCC

Brain Time by David Eagleman

Increase in wildfire frequency and severity – is it real? by Kelly Ramirez

 

Media, Publishing, Technology and Society:

If Mitt Romney were running a “post-truth” campaign, would the political press report it? by Jay Rosen

Chronicling Mitt’s Mendacity, Vol. XXV by Steve Benen

SPARC Europe’s response to the inaccuracies in the article by the Daily Mail’s City Editor on 18 June by Alma Swan

Wheeler: Spoken word, handwritten letters make lasting impressions by Burgetta Wheeler

The Blogfather on science blogging by NASW

Twitter and the Arab Spring: New Evidence by Henry Farrell

Predatory Open-Access Journals? by Sarah Hird

Academic blogging: minority scholars cannot afford to be silent by Denise Horn

Should Applied Funding Go To Academia Or Startups? by Elizabeth Iorns

The Importance of Open Access: An Interview with Patient Advocate Graham Steel by PatientsLikeMe

Are you sure that’s true? Truth Goggles tackles fishy claims at the moment of consumption by Andrew Phelps

The Dreamers’ dreams: young immigrants tell their stories by Ruth Spencer

Retraction tracking by Zen Faulkes

J-school grads turn to startup scene by Anne Field

Thoughts on the Finch Report, part 1 and Part 2 by Mike Taylor

A history of science blogging and Reflections on 10 years in science blogging by Razib Khan

A History of Science Blogging and Communicating Science to Society by Larry Moran

Bora’s Science Blogging Post by Eva Amsen

Video Tip of the Week: ScienceSeeker for science blogging by Mary Mangan

Sharpening ideas: From topic to story by Dan Ferber

Challenging ‘He Said, She Said’ Journalism by Linda Greenhouse

Are we stuck in filter bubbles? Here are five potential paths out by Jonathan Stray

Alan Alda warms up science communication with the Flame Challenge and The Flame Challenge winners, and other attempts to get science communication out of its rut by Peter Linett

Darpa Wants You to Be Its Hackathon Guinea Pig by Arikia Milikan

Science journalism through the looking glass by Chris Chambers and Petroc Sumner

How the byline beast was born by Jack Shafer

The left’s gone left but the right’s gone nuts: Asymmetrical polarization in action by David Roberts

Confessions of an Internet Addict by Alexis Madrigal

Science, Blogging and Plagiarism by Michael McBurney

How future-safe was the first Harvard blogging site? by Dave Winer

Why Blogs Fail by Neuroskeptic

Takes Two to Tango by Karen McLeod

How to live-tweet from an event by Tia Fisher

Is Open Access a Moral or a Business Issue? A Conversation with The Pennsylvania State University Press by Prof. Hacker

Reflections on Games For Change by Eric Martin

All’s Not Fair in Science and Publishing by Frederick Southwick

The ultimate geek road trip: North Carolina’s mega data center cluster by Katie Fehrenbacher and 10 reasons Apple, Facebook & Google chose North Carolina for their mega data centers and The controversial world of clean power and data centers and The story behind how Apple’s iCloud data center got built and That’s a wrap: The 4-part series on North Carolina’s mega data centers

What should society journals do about open access? and What does it cost to publish a paper with Elsevier? by Mike Taylor

The Blob versus the blog: arguing how social media is changing science and Transformative idea for peer review: reviewing & grading the reviewers by Paul Knoepfler

Three Keys to Clearing Two Social Media Hurdles by Farris Timimi

How the iPad helps scientists do their jobs by Joel Mathis

Reforming Copyright Is Possible by Pamela Samuelson

Piecemeal existence: For today’s young freelancers, what will traffic bear? by Ben Adler

The significance of plot without conflict by Still Eating Oranges

Science Blogs – definition, and a history

I have been asked recently to write an article, somewhat along the lines of this one but longer, and with a somewhat different angle, asking a little bit different questions: What makes a science blog? Who were the first science bloggers and how long ago? How many science blogs are there? How does one differentiate between science blogs and pseudo-science, non-science and nonsense blogs? The goal of the article is to try to delineate what is and what isn’t a science blog, what are the overlaps between the Venn diagram of science blogging and some other circles, and what out of all that material should be archived and preserved forever under the heading of “Science Blogging”.

We’ve had these kinds of discussions for years now… but I’ll give it my best shot. And I need your help – let’s crowdsource this a little bit. I was active on Usenet in mid-90s, started political blogging in 2003, but only joined the science blogosphere somewhere around late 2004 or early 2005. I am much more familiar with biology and neuroscience corners of the blogosphere than, for example, math, space or psychology circles (thought I increased my breadth as I was assembling this network). There were several science bloggers before me, posting their stuff for several years before I discovered them. They will know stuff I don’t. I hope bloggers, old and new, join me in this project, fix my errors, add missing information, and more, in the comments (and perhaps someone can put the final result on Wikipedia later on).

Defining a science blog

Defining a science blog – heck, just defining a blog – is difficult. After all, a blog is just a piece of software that can be used in many different ways.

What is considered a science blog varies, and has changed over the years. Usually it is meant to be a blog that satisfies one or more of these criteria: blog written by a scientist, blog written by a professional science writer/journalist, blog that predominantly covers science topics, blog used in a science classroom as a teaching tool, blog used for more-or-less official news and press releases by scientific societies, institutes, centers, universities, publishers, companies and other organizations. But is a blog written by a scientist that never covers science really a science blog? Is a blog by a PhD in dentistry who spews climate denialism in every post a science blog?

What is considered a science blog also changes with the advances in technology. There is now a fine-grained division of blogging into macro-, meso- and microblogging. Initially, this distinction was made by technology. Macroblogging happened on platforms like WordPress or Blogger, mesoblogging on sites like Posterous or Tumblr, and microblogging on social media like Twitter and Facebook. But technology moves, and now it is possible to do all three “sizes” (or is it “speeds”?) on any of those platforms – and some people do.

Is a one-liner posted on a blog the same as a one-liner posted on Twitter? Some posts on Facebook and Google Plus are longer and more thorough than some others that use the more traditional blogging platforms like WordPress, Blogger or Drupal. Yet G+ is very new and Facebook, until recently, had quite a short word-limit. Many people used blogging software to do very brief updates back when that was the only game in town. Today, quick updates, links etc. are done mainly on social media and many bloggers use the traditional blogging software only for longer, more thorough, one could even say more “professional” writing.

Finally, blogging is not just about text. There is photoblogging, videoblogging, podcasting etc. And for each of these specialized types of blogging, one can potentially use a traditional blog software, or instead choose to do it on social networks, or on specialized sites, e.g., Flickr, Picassa, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, YouTube, DeviantArt etc. Does all of that count?

The beginnings of science blogging

Pin-pointing the exact date when the first science blog started is a fool’s errand. Blogs did not spring out of nowhere overnight. The first bloggers were software developers who experimented with existing software, then made some new software, fiddling around until they gradually hit on the format that we now think of a ‘blog’ today. The evolution was gradual in the world of blogging, and it was also gradual in the more specific world of science blogging.

The earliest science bloggers were those who started out doing something else online – updating their websites frequently, or participating in Usenet groups – then moving their stuff to blogging software once it became available in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

As much of the early online activity focused on countering anti-science claims, e.g., the groups battling against Creationism on Usenet, it is not surprising that many of the early science bloggers came out of this fora and were hardly distinguishable in form, topics and style from political bloggers. They brought a degree of Usenet style into their blogs as well: combative and critical of various anti-science forces in the society. And certainly, their online activity had real-world consequences and successes, for example the Dover trial for which a decade of resources accumulated by the bloggers and their community, in some cases presented at the trial itself by those same bloggers, helped defeat a Creationism bill in a resounding manner that, in effect, makes all future efforts to introduce such bill relatively easy to defeat.

Phil Plait, Chad Orzel, Razib Khan, Derek Lowe, David Appell, Sean Carroll, P.Z.Myers (whose blog started as a classroom teaching tool), Tim Lambert, Chris Mooney, and Carl Zimmer were some of those early science bloggers. Panda’s Thumb blog and Larry Moran’s Sandwalk are for all practical purposes direct descendants of the old Usenet groups. Real Climate has, I believe, similar origins. Among early adopters of blogging software, rare are the exceptions of people who instantly started using it entirely for non-political (and non-policy) purposes, just to comment on cool science, or life in the lab etc., e.g., Jacqueline Floyd, Eva Amsen, Jennifer Ouellette, Zen Faulkes and Grrrlscientist.

In those early days, we pretty much all knew, read, linked, blogrolled and responded to each other, despite a wide range of interests, backgrounds, topics, etc. As the blogosphere grew, the nodes appeared in it, concentrating people with shared interests. Those nodes then grew into their own blogospheres. Medical blogosphere, skeptical blogosphere, atheist blogosphere and nature (mostly birding) blogosphere used to be all part of the early science blogosphere, but as it all grew, these circles became separate with only a few connecting nodes. Those connecting nodes tend to be veteran, popular bloggers with large readerships, as well as bloggers on networks like this one which tend to want to have representatives from many areas, e.g., medical bloggers mixed in with paleontology bloggers mixed in with space bloggers, etc.

Some key moments in the evolution of science blogging

I will now try to identify some of the events and developments in the history of science blogging that, in my opinion (and please disagree in the comments), were especially important in the direction science blogging evolved: the changes in styles, the growth in size, and the rise in respectability.

Tangled Bank, and other science blog carnivals

What is a blog carnival?

It is a crowd-sourced online magazine, occurring at a regular interval, usually rotating hosting blogs for each edition. Bloggers submit their best posts from a particular period or on a particular topic to the next editions’ host who accepts (or rejects) the entries, and edits a blog post that contains nicely arranged and introduced links to all the entered posts. Thus, it is a well-defined, well-archived, regular, rotating linkfest. Usually all the included bloggers link back to the carnival from their blogs (as well as other online sites, e.g., social networks) thus bringing attention and traffic to the host, as well as to all the bloggers whose work is included in that edition.

The very first such “rotating blog magazine” was started in 2005 under the name “Carnival of Vanities” (from which the phenomenon got its name) and the concept quickly spread like wildfire.

One of the very first carnivals was started by by P.Z. Myers. This was Tangled Bank (unfortunately, the archive appears to be gone). This weekly rotating linkfest helped science bloggers discover each other, promote themselves and each other, encourage new people to start blogging, and start building a community. Several spin-offs showed up later, e.g., Grand Rounds (medicine), Skeptics’ Circle (countering pseudoscience), I and the Bird (birds), Circus of the Spineless (invertebrates), Berry Go Round (plants), Change of Shift (nursing), Friday Ark (animals, mostly photos), Encephalon (neuroscience), The Accretionary Wedge (earth science), Carnival of the Blue (marine science), The Giant’s Shoulders (history of science), Festival of the Trees, Carnival of Mathematics, Carnival of Space, and a few dozen others. Some of those are still around, but most have closed after a good multi-year run.

I have written quite a lot about blog carnivals before, what they are, why people should participate, and how carnivals affect journalism and science.

With the more recent development of social media, the carnivals are not seen as important for community building as they once were. First came the feed readers, and feed aggregators (especially FriendFeed) that made it easier for one to track and filter blog posts and other content by topic or some other criteria. The primary function of the carnivals – to build community – could easily be done in these new spaces. Then Twitter came along, though it took some time for people to figure out how to use it, to invent various Twitter norms (e.g., RT, hashtags, @reply), and to build apps that make Twitter more useful (though this is now endangered).

A little bit later, Facebook bought FriendFeed and imported all of its good functionalities (e.g., “Like” button, “Share” button, “Friend of Friend”, “Pages”, video embed, toggling between “Top stories” and “Most recent” on the homepage feed, etc.), lifted the word-limit on status updates, made importing other feeds easy, and made long-form blogging easy as well. Finally, a year ago, Google Plus was launched – essentially FriendFeed on steroids, linked more and more intimately to all the other Google stuff, from your Gmail to Google Docs to YouTube to Picassa. Give them another year, and G+ will become what FriendFeed would have been if it was not sold and continued to be developed.

All of those platforms make community-building easier than traditional carnivals. It is easier to do. It is easier for newbies to join in and get noticed. It is easier for one to individualize a degree of engagement with that community. But easier the community-building gets, harder it is to perform the second key role of carnivals – as archives. Each edition of a carnival is a magazine, a snapshot of the moment, and a repository of pieces that both their authors (by submitting) and hosts (by accepting) thought were good and important. And when a carnival dies, and the archives’ host subscription expires, all those historically important links are gone!

In place of carnivals, what people tend to like these days are linkfests done by individuals who serve as trusted filters. I started doing it myself a couple of months ago, picking perhaps a third of the links I tweet over a period of a week and organizing those links in a single blog post.

In the very first installment of my Scienceblogging Weekly, I wrote:

Ed Yong’s weekly linkfests (like this one) and monthly Top 10 choices he’d pay for (see this for an example) are must-bookmark resources.

Some other bloggers are occasional or regular sources of links I pay attention to, e.g., John Dupuis on academia, publishing, libraries and books, Chad Orzel on academia and science – especially physics, Mike the Mad Biologist on science and politics, and the crew at the Knight Science Journalism Tracker for the media coverage of science. And at the NASW site, Tabitha Powledge has a must-read On science blogs this week summary every Friday.

These one-editor carnivals seem to be the fashion of today. But old-style carnivals were, in my opinion, better both at community building and as historical archives.

Research Blogging

Second important moment was the start of a new blog, Cognitive Daily, written by Dave and Greta Munger. They pioneered the form of blogging that was later dubbed ‘researchblogging’ – discussing a particular scientific paper (which is referenced at the bottom), usually in a way that lay audiences can understand.

At the time, science blogging was developing its own norms, as there is no such thing as “word limit” online (blog posts tend to be much longer than traditional news articles, not cutting out any relevant context out of the article), bloggers instinctively understand the value of links (which forces them to research much more thoroughly than the usual daily news article), blogs tend to have a more chatty and personal style, yet most science bloggers are either experts in their fields (thus no need to interview other experts just to get the quotes) or have acquired expertise by covering a topic for decades (e.g,. Carl Zimmer on evolution), thus can speak with authority.

Even today, but especially in the early days, bloggers usually did not care to cover brand new papers the moment the embargo lifts. In the early days, coverage of papers was quite rare. Apart from debunking pseudoscience, much of early blogging was more educational than journalistic – covering decades of research on a topic, or explaining the basics. If they covered a paper, bloggers were just as likely to cover an old, historical paper as a new one.

But when Dave and Greta started their blog, others took note. With the researchblogging style, not only can the blogger report on a paper, but there is also a way to embed videos, polls, animations, etc, to make the readers engage much more actively – which their readers did. In many a post they did a sort of quick-and-dirty replication of studies online, with readers as volunteer subjects.

This format of blogging rapidly took off – many bloggers started emulating it, and especially new bloggers immediately started doing this style of blogging, probably vastly outnumbering the anti-pseudoscience bloggers today. Formation of the ResearchBlogging.org site (more about it below), with its icon, code and aggregator, also made this type of blogging attractive to newcomers. Probably the best example is Ed Yong, who instantly took to the format, blogging about at least one paper per day, often covering nifty papers that the rest of the media missed. And Ed covered new papers. The moment embargo lifted. This was obviously journalism even to the most traditional eyes. This was something that other journalists, or people hoping to get into journalism, could also do. So they did. In droves.

Blog Networks

Third important moment in the history of science blogging was the start of science blogging networks. The first one was NPG’s Nature Network. It was essentially an accident – the site was supposed to do something else, but ended inviting people to write blogs instead. Unfortunately, due to technical architecture, it is not well connected to the rest of the world (for example: posts, if they show up on Google Blogsearch at all, show up with several days of delay). One had to remember to go there instead of having the links thrown in one’s face wherever one may be online. Also, the initial strategy of the network was to ask researchers to blog, but very few of them took to the format very well – most of their blogs had one post and then died. Those few who did start blogging well, found themselves isolated, not knowing who is reading them, or even how many did. After a decade, the network has undergone some changes, the bloggers have rotated in and out with some excellent writers there now, and it appears to be more visible now than it used to be when it first started.

The second network (launched in January 2006), Seed Media Group’s Scienceblogs.com was what really made a difference. Here was a media organization vouching for the quality of bloggers they hired to write on their site. And they picked bloggers who already had large readership and traffic, as well as clout online, the likes of P.Z.Myers, Orac, Grrrlscientist, Tara Smith, the Mungers, Revere, David Kroll, Tim Lambert, Ed Brayton, Razib, etc. This gave the network’s bloggers respectability, and the rest of the mainstream media got into a habit of checking Scienceblogs.com as their source of science news online.

A couple of other networks started relatively early in the history (Scientificblogging.org which was later renamed Science2.0, Discover, Discovery News, Psychology Today, Smithsonian…), but mainly dwelled in the shadow of Scienceblogs.com until the infamous #Pepsigate (more about that below). I wrote quite a lot about the role of networks at the time of Pepsigate, in my farewell post at Scienceblogs.com and a couple of more subsequent posts immediately after.

Open Laboratory

The fourth important moment was the first edition of the Open Laboratory, annual crowdsourced anthology of the best writing on science blogs. After five years of getting published at Lulu.com, the sixth edition is about to get published by FSG, imprint of Scientific American at MacMillan. Here was, as early as January 2007, a collection of some amazing blog writing about science, in traditional book format, built by the community itself. It really helped the community define itself. Gaining an entry into the anthology became a big deal. The Open Laboratory was a project designed to go together with the first ScienceOnline conference, and although the publication date is now completely different from the date of the meeting, the books are still a project of the ScienceOnline organization. The conference itself added to the feeling and spirit of the community in a way that gatherings of techie, skeptical, atheist or political bloggers could never accomplish.

For many people, seeing words printed on paper still carries a certain dose of respectability. After all, the real estate of the paper is expensive. A book is a result of a large investment of time, money and effort – either bottom-up, by the author (sometimes perceived as a result of a big ego), or top-down, with an editor choosing what material is worth the investment.

Open Laboratory turned that on its head. Authors submit what they think is their best work, trusting that a jury of peers will fairly assess them, choose the best pieces, perhaps improve them a little bit (more this year than in previous years), and that the entire community will help promote the final product. Inclusion of a blog post in #openlab is not just a result of the whim of an editor, but a result of two or three rounds of judging by multiple people all of whom are also science bloggers and writers. This mutual trust matters.

Awards

Early on there were Koufaxes, later Webbies, and all sorts of other blogging awards. Some of those had awards for science blogging. But if the managers of the award allow bloggers who only pretend to be scientists and use seemingly-scientific language to push pseudoscience (e.g,. global warming) into the Science section of the awards, then real science bloggers react with disdain, then ignore that particular award in the future. When the award is set up essentially as a popularity contest, and when such anti-science bloggers, due to hordes of followers, win such contests, then there is no real reputation linked to that victory, thus there is no need for science bloggers to expend their energies or in any way promote such awards.

Fortunately, over the last few years, a reputable award for science blogging emerged (the fifth important moment in the evolution of science blogging), the 3 Quarks Daily Award, with three rounds, one with reader voting, one with jury voting, and final judgement by the prominent judge who declares the final winners out of ten or so finalists. The winners get money, and proudly sport the 3QD buttons on the sidebars of their blogs.

The aftermath of #Pepsigate

The sixth important moment was #Pepsigate, when Scienceblogs.com broke up and about a quarter of the bloggers left. The time was ripe for it – there were too many science bloggers around, yet only blogs at Scienceblogs.com got any traffic or respect. That was an unstable situation. So many good bloggers were out there, writing wonderfully, but were essentially invisible under the shadow of “The Borg”.

In the wake of #Pepsigate, existing networks (e.g., Discover, Nature Network) redesigned their sites and brought in some of the bloggers fleeing Scienceblogs.com. New networks sprung up almost instantly to lure in more of these blogging veterans. There were new networks started by organizations like Wired, The Guardian, PLoS, NatGeo, AGU, ACH as well as self-organized science blogging collectives like Scientopia, Field Of Science, Science3point0 and Lab Spaces. The last one to launch was Scientific American network which just celebrated its first anniversary last week.

Being on one of these networks became a stamp of approval for the bloggers, and we quickly built Scienceblogging.org site (which is about to undergo a thorough rebuild and redesign, also a project of ScienceOnline organization) to help people find all of the networks, collectives and key group blogs all in one place. While the inclusion there is not as stringent a process as it is on ScienceSeeker.org, this site is also a proxy for quality in some ways, as most of the blogs appearing there wear the imprimatur of traditional organizations, be it the media, publishers, or scientific societies, or the warranty by their colleagues who invited them to join their collectives. This site has, to many in the mainstream media as well as bloggers and readers, replaced scienceblogs.com as the “homepage” where they start their day.

Aggregators

I have already mentioned above that an important moment in the history of science blogging was the start, by Dave Munger, of the website ResearchBlogging.org which aggregates blog posts from science blogs but only if the posts contain the code indicating that the post is covering a paper. The code also renders the citation correctly in the post itself. As the site has editors who decide which applicants can be accepted (or rejected), this became an unofficial stamp of approval, the first method of distinguishing who is and who is not a science blogger.

A couple of years later, when PLoS started accepting bloggers onto their press list, being a member of ResearchBlogging.org was the criterion used for acceptance to the press list (I should know – as I was the one doing the approval at the time as their blog/online manager). A little later, PLoS introduced its Alt-metrics on all of their papers. One of those metrics counts the number of blog posts written about the paper. Going through Google Blogsearch and Technorati bring in all sorts of spamblogs, or people who use blogging software to post copies of press releases, instead of genuine science bloggers. Thus PLoS used ResearchBlogging.org as a filter on their papers.

As ResearchBlogging.org is owned by Seed Media Group, now controlled by NatGeo, and as there seems to be no technical support, financial support, or development of the site any more, people who are using it are advised to switch instead to the successor site, ScienceSeeker.org – another project of the ScienceOnline organization, a much better site that serves the same purpose but also does much more, has some funding (and is asking for more) and is in constant development. Dave Munger is, again, one of the key people involved in the development of this site. At ScienceSeeker.org, one can filter by discipline, or only show posts that have the ResearchBlogging.org code in them, or only show posts that ScienceSeeker editors have flagged as especially good. Both ResearchBlogging.org and ScienceSeeker.org now count (as far as I know) around 1200 blogs on their listings (with much, but not total, overlap). More blogs need to be added for the site to become a more comprehensive collection, but blogs that are on there are a pretty good snapshot of the core of the scientific blogosphere today.

Size of the science blogosphere

It is relatively easy to count science blogs in “smaller” languages, e.g., German, Italian, French, Spanish or Portuguese, with several dozen each at most. It is much more difficult to count science blogs written in English, Russian, Chinese or Japanese – those most likely count in multiples of thousands. But it is impossible to make a good estimate as it depends on one’s definition.

Searching Google or Technorati brings up many blogs with a “science” tag that have nothing to do with science – or worse (spam blogs, anti-science blogs, etc). Researchblogging.org and ScienceSeeker.org are still too small to be useful for counting the total size of the blogosphere.

How does one count blogs that have not been updated in six months – on hiatus or dead? How does one count multiple blogs by the same person, perhaps not even updated simultaneously but successive editions of the blog (e.g., as the person moves from one network to another)? One blog or many? Does one count classroom blogs, at least those that are not set on ‘private’? How about institutional news blogs? Are they “real blogs” or just an easy software to use to push press releases? And do press releases count? We can fight over this forever, I guess, so I’d rather concede that blogs are uncountable and to leave it at that.

Rising power and respect

I have written recently, much more briefly than here, about the history of science blogging and the problem of delineation of who is in and who is out. In that article I also mentioned some events that added to the respect of science blogs, e.g., Tripoli 6 affair, George Deutch affair, the PRISM affair, and #arseniclife affair (finally concluded last night!), though there have been many other cases in which science bloggers uncovered wrongoing, or forced media to pay attention to something, or forced action on something important. Some of those cases involved clearing the record within science, others had effect on broader society or policy.

Each one of these cases strengthened the respect for science bloggers. In some cases they did a much better job reporting than the mainstream media did. In others, they tenaciously persisted on a story until they finally forced the mass media to pick up the story and broadcast it to bigger audiences that, in turn, could effect a change (e.g,. by calling their representatives in Washington). In many ways, science bloggers shocked the old system and built a new system in its place.

Increased reputation also came from cases in which bloggers solved scientific problems online, in public, for everyone to see. The most famous case is, of course, the Polymath Project, in which Tim Gowers and his readers solved an old mathematical problem in the long comment section of his blog post. The details of the project, as well as why it was so important for open science, were wonderfully detailed in Michael Nielsen’s book Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science.

The best such example to date is the #Arseniclife affair because it did two things simultaneously. First, the scientists with relevant expertise took to their blogs to critique, criticize and debunk the infamous paper about the uptake of arsenic instead of phosphorus by the DNA of a strange bacterium living in a Californian lake. That is not so new – bloggers criticize studies all the time, with expertise and diligence and thoroughness.

But importantly, the second thing also happened – the attempt at replication of the experiment was live-blogged by Rosie Redfield, describing in painstaking detail day-to-day lab work, getting technical feedback from the commenters, resulting in the Science paper demonstrating that experiment could not be replicated. This was a powerful demonstration of the process of Open Notebook Science as one of the things that scientists these days can do with their blogging software.

Professionalization of science bloggers

You may have noticed a few weeks ago the so-called Lehrer affair (scroll all the way down here for several representative links). In the aftermath, Seth Mnookin used his blog to further explore the professionalization of blogs and the blurring of the lines between blogging and mainstream journalism: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

One of the most interesting reactions by some of the Scienceblogs.com bloggers during #Pepsigate was “we are not journalists, I am not the media”. But they were. If your blog is indexed by Google News, hosted by a media company, you are the media. New media perhaps, but still media. More personal, more conversational, but still media.

The issue with Jonah Lehrer was something people called “self-plagiarism”, i.e., re-using one’s own old words in a new article. This is the clash between old media (“our content is exclusive!”) and new media (“my blog is my writing lab where I develop my ideas over time”). Judging from all the discussions, journalists, bloggers and readers are all over the place regarding this issue. Is it OK to re-use one’s old words if one is not paid? Is it OK if one is transparent (perhaps using links to old posts, or quotes – I am all for it and do it myself a lot)? Is it OK on a blog but not in an article (and how does a reader know what is what)? Is it OK to reuse one’s own tweet or Facebook update (because it is not always thought of as “blogging”, attitude which I find silly), but not OK to reuse words that occurred on a WordPress platform? What is the real difference here?

Obviously, the times are in flux. Some science bloggers would rather not be considered media, and not asked to write the way journalists write. Some prefer to use their blogs as writing labs, often repeating and reiterating ideas and words and sometimes entire passages in new contexts, with a new angle or twist, gradually adding and changing their own thinking over the years, introducing new readers to old ideas (after all, who digs through the years of archives?), with no intention of ever turning that material into commercial fare, e.g., a magazine article or a book.

If your beat is debunking anti-vaccination misinformation, how many ways can you do that if you post every day? And getting a couple of hundred dollars per month for editor-free posting on someone else’s site is not really “professional writing” in a traditional sense. Writing under the banner of a well known media organization, while it confers respectability by virtue of being chosen to be there, does not automatically means that blogging is the same as reporting news or writing professional op-eds. There is much more freedom guaranteed. More editorial control would require much more money in exchange.

On the other hand, some science bloggers see their blogs as potential marketing tools for themselves as writers. Their blogs are a different kind of a “writing lab” – a place to write more fine-tuned kinds of pieces, more ‘journalistic’, in hope of being seen and then getting gigs and jobs in the media. They tend to cover new papers, rather than write broader educational pieces. They try to proofread and polish their posts better. And why not? Nothing wrong with that. Just like there is nothing wrong with NOT wanting to do that either. Many scientist-bloggers really have no journalistic ambitions. Others do. Each has different goals, thus different writing styles and forms, slightly different ethics (neither one of them wrong, just different), and different understanding what their blogs are all about.

During one of those debates about professionalization of science bloggers, I sometimes heard a sentiment that bloggers with no journalistic ambitions should not confuse everyone by being on networks hosted by media organizations. As an editor of one of those networks, I beg to differ. I want all kinds of bloggers, all styles and formats, because I want to diversify our offering, I want to have something for every kind of reader – from kids to postdocs, from teachers to researchers and more. I want to blurry the line between old and new media, make it so new, more Web-native forms of stories become a norm, not just the old tired inverted pyramid.

The world of media is rapidly changing and, in many ways, returning to the many-to-many communication that we are used to, the 20th century broadcast model being the only weird exception in history. Mixing and matching various styles of communication in one place, especially a highly visible place, is a good thing for science, as each piece will be interesting to a different subset of the potential audience, which will keep coming back for more, looking around, learning how to appreciate other styles as well.

I want cool science to be everywhere in the media ecosystem – from movies and television, to theater and music, to newspapers and magazines, to books and blogs and tweets. I want the science communicators to practice the new journalistic workflow which assumes, almost by definition, that a lot one says will be repeated over and over again in various places in various contexts. Self-plagiarism does not make sense as a concept in this model. Self-plagiarism IS the new model – that is how good ideas get pushed (as opposed to pulled) to as many audiences, in as many places, over as many years as possible.

On one hand, bloggers need to adjust. Moving from indy blogs to Scientific American put a lot of our bloggers into a phase of self-reflection. They sometimes try to write perfect posts (and sometimes need encouragement to just throw things up on their blogs even if they are not entirely perfect). But blog posts are not supposed to be, with occasional exceptions, polished, self-contained pieces. A blog post is usually one of many in that person’s series of posts on the same topic, reflecting personal learning and growth over the years. Or a post on something new to the person, a way to organize one’s own thoughts about a very new topic. That post is also a part of an ongoing conversation the blogger has with regular readers and commenters. That post is also part of a broader online (and sometimes also offline) conversation.

A blog post is just a ginormous tweet in a series of other ginormous tweets, usually, but an occasional polished diamond is certainly welcome as well. It is a writing lab, after all, so occasionally a perfect article may appear. But focusing on that goal is misguided – a blog is a place to think in public. And if the media host understands that, then there is no question or problem of “self-plagiarism”.

On the other hand, readers also need to adjust. When they arrive at a media site, they should learn not to expect a self-contained inverted pyramid every time. Blogs have been around for fifteen years, they are not so novel any more, it’s easy to see if a place is a blog, if it reads like a blog, and one should know what one should expect on a blog. I think that most complaints in the comments are really trolling – people who dislike what scientific research concluded complain about typos, or format, or length, in order to divert the discussion that makes them personally uncomfortable. Our bloggers have full moderation powers to deal with such comments in any way they see fit.

Saving science blogs forever

A couple of weeks ago I was at a meeting at the Library of Congress about archiving and preserving all the science that is happening online – from data to journal papers to discussions. This includes blogs and social media as well. Here are is my own personal summary of what I learned there.

- Capacity. Apparently, this is not a problem. LoC has as much space as needed to save everything forever.

- Technical difficulties and link rot. Saving plain text is easy. But many formats, and especially concerning multimedia, will require some tough technical gymnastics. There are so many formats out there, it will be hard to make a repository that is easily searchable, browsable, complete, and usable. But it is not impossible.

I am a total technological Luddite – apart from HTML (and heavy use of the Web) I do not know anything about computers, code, internet and how it all works. But I know that if Dave Winer puts a lot of effort and time into a project and thinks it is important, one is wise not to ignore it. It may not work, or it may, but his track record suggests one should pay attention. After all, he picked up an abandoned old project and from it developed RSS (no, not RSS readers, the actual RSS infrastructure underneath it) – yes, the stuff that all of the Web runs on right now, how do you think you get all those articles brought to you, listed, automatically tweeted, etc.? Via RSS, of course. Dave also developed the first blogging software, promoted it, blogging took off, and now blogs are ubiquitous. Dave invented podcasting, and now it’s all the rage.

So I am watching carefully what he is doing with Radio2 and River2. I still have to play with it, see if I can figure out how to do it myself, but my first impression is that RSS, a super-simple blogging platform and something like open source Twitter had a wild orgy and this is their offspring. This looks like an easy, simple and open way for anyone to put any kind of content anywhere online, to curate one’s own and others’ content, and to easily move stuff from one place to another. And this last piece is, I think, the key. One can move a blog post, or entire blog, from one place to another and that does not change the URL and does not break the links. If something like this takes off and everyone uses it, the problem of link rot will become very minor.

And link rot is a big problem. After #Pepsigate, many bloggers feel the freedom to move from one network to another, or on and off networks, with considerable ease and speed. What happens to the archives? A couple of weeks ago, someone at National Geographic flipped the wrong switch and years of archives from almost a 100 science blogs were gone. Completely gone, even blocked from viewing at Wayback Machine and Internet Archive and Google Cache and what not. It took a dozen of tweets to get the attention of some of their bloggers who contacted the relevant person who flipped the switch back on Monday morning, making all those historically very important archives accessible again. See how easy it is to erase history? Perhaps with Radio2+River2, if it is universally used, this would not be a problem. Wait and see.

- Curation. For a huge archive to be useful to users – and that’s what such an archive is for – it has to be organized in a meaningful way. Should it be by topic? Or by person? By narrow area, or by a whole discipline (human genome or entire genetics)? Or by technological platform (tweets to the left, datasets to the right, blog posts straight ahead)? Or separate independent blogs from network and institutional blogs? If all of the stuff all of the science bloggers in the world have ever posted on all of their blogs is to be archived and preserved, how should that material be organized? Chronologically, minute by minute? Or in chunks akin to blog carnivals? Or sorted by topic? Should papers be connected to blog posts that discuss those papers? Should #arseniclife be its own “unit”?

Another problem is privacy. Facebook has many privacy settings. Tweets, and some blogs, occasionally switch from private to public to private – what is a repository to do with stuff that is uncertain if it is private or public at any given time? Should the archiving be opt-in? In that case, how does one ensure that most of the people opt in so the repository is of decent completeness?

Also, many blog posts are reactions to other sites. A blog post may debunk a claim from a creationist, or anti-vax or GW-denialist blog, linking to it and quoting from it. If science blogs are preserved, but anti-science blogs are not, there will be link rot right there, preserving reactions without the context of the reactions. So perhaps all those antiscience and pseudoscience blogs should also be preserved – they may be bad science, but they are an important aspect of today’s society and will be interesting to future historians. In which case, how does one label them? They are clearly not science blogs (although some of them pretend to be), so they should not be just thrown into the same bag. Which is why this delineation between “real” science blogs and other stuff has to be made.

And how will this decision be made and by whom? Should something like ScienceSeeker be used as an edited, peer-reviewed collection of respected science bloggers? If so, how does one get more bloggers to know about this and apply to it?

The Scienceblogging Weekly (July 6th, 2012)

Blog of the Week:

Musings of a Dinosaur is a blog written by a physician, family practitioner, Lucy E. Hornstein, author of the book Declarations of a Dinosaur: 10 Laws I’ve Learned as a Family Doctor. Having a small general family practice is different from beeing a specialist in a large hospital. Approach to patients is different. The way one runs the business is different. The thoughts about electronic medical records (a frequent topic of the blog) are different. A valuable perspective, wry and funny and insightful.

 

Top 10:

Maxwell’s demon goes quantum, can do work, write and erase data by Matthew Francis:

At any temperature above absolute zero, particles in a system move randomly, an effect known as thermal fluctuation. The random character of the fluctuations means they cannot be put to work in a mechanical sense (the measure of the energy unavailable for work is called entropy). 19th century physicist James Clerk Maxwell proposed a tiny intelligent “demon” that could harvest the thermal fluctuations to restore their usefulness; later work in the 20th century showed that the demon itself would have entropy, which would keep the thermodynamic books balanced.

Interesting by Shara Yurkiewicz:

I pull up a test result for my patient, and the senior resident standing behind me lets out an excited squeal. “I’ve never seen the imaging come back positive for this,” she says. Our two-week-old infant, who already has a rare infection, also has a rare associated structural abnormality. It’s not benign, but it is fixable. The fix usually requires surgery. As we walk over to the patient’s room to update her mother, my senior gushes about the zebra that was uncovered on the ultrasound. She asks me if I’m excited. “I dunno,” I mutter, which is somewhat more diplomatic than my disgust that she is. ”Her kid has to get surgery now.”

The world’s smallest fly probably decapitates really tiny ants by Ed Yong:

…Even though flies as a group aren’t exactly giants, the new species was around half the size of the previous smallest species. Brown named it Euryplatea nanaknihali after Nanak Nihal Weiss, a young boy from Brown’s home town in Los Angeles. Weiss is an entomology fanatic and Brown hopes that the name will help to keep his interest for years to come….

Creationists and Climate “Skeptics” – Separate Species or Just Different Breeds? by Faye Flam:

Several of the regular readers of this column have told me that since I’ve been brave enough to tell the truth about evolution, I should do the same for climate change and expose it as a hoax. In one case I replied that in my stories I always strive to reflect the truth to the best of my abilities. He wrote that he was “disappointed.” These evolution-accepting climate change “skeptics” are an interesting breed, revealing some key differences in the ways they and creationists approach science. Self-described climate skeptics are much more scattered in their views than are creationists, but they are better organized and together speak with a louder, and angrier voice….

Printing dinosaurs: the mad science of new paleontology by Laura June:

In April of this year, I headed out to a marl pit in Clayton, New Jersey to watch a team of Drexel University students and their teacher, Professor Kenneth Lacovara, dig for fossils. Marl, a lime-rich mud, had been mined and used as the 19th century’s leading fertilizer, but since around World War II (with the development of more advanced, synthetic fertilizers), demand for it has steeply lessened, and there aren’t many marl mining businesses left in the US. The marl pits of Southern New Jersey are famous for something else, though: they have been incredibly rich in fossil finds. In February, Dr. Lacovara had announced that the Paleontology department at Drexel would team up with the Engineering department for what would largely be a novel new project: scanning all of the fossils in the University’s collection (including some previously unidentified dinosaurs of Lacovara’s own finds in other parts of the world) using a 3D scanner. The Engineering department would then take those scans and use a 3D printer to create 1/10 scale models of the most important bones. But, he reported, that wouldn’t be the end of it: they intended, he said, to use those scale polymer “printouts” to model and then engineer fully working limbs, complete with musculature — to create, in effect, a fully accurate robotic dinosaur leg or arm, and eventually, a complete dinosaur….

Childbirth and C-sections in pre-modern times by Kristina Killgrove:

Basically since we started walking upright, childbirth has been difficult for women. Evolution selected for larger and larger brains in our hominin ancestors such that today our newborns have heads roughly 102% the size of the mother’s pelvic inlet width (Rosenberg 1992). Yes, you read that right. Our babies’ heads are actually two percent larger than our skeletal anatomy…

Self help: forget positive thinking, try positive action by Richard Wiseman:

For years self-help gurus have preached the same simple mantra: if you want to improve your life then you need to change how you think. Force yourself to have positive thoughts and you will become happier. Visualise your dream self and you will enjoy increased success. Think like a millionaire and you will magically grow rich. In principle, this idea sounds perfectly reasonable. However, in practice it often proves ineffective….

The Uncertainty Principle for climate (and chemical) models by Ashutosh Jogalekar:

A recent issue of Nature had an interesting article on what seems to be a wholly paradoxical feature of models used in climate science; as the models are becoming increasingly realistic, they are also becoming less accurate and predictive because of growing uncertainties. I can only imagine this to be an excruciatingly painful fact for climate modelers who seem to be facing the equivalent of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle for their field. It’s an especially worrisome time to deal with such issues since the modelers need to include their predictions in the next IPCC report on climate change which is due to be published next year….

The living rainbow: A fatal flaw in a classic study of sexual selection by Jeremy Yoder:

A key component of classical sexual selection theory is the idea that males maximize their evolutionary fitness—the number of children they ultimately have—by mating with lots of females, while females maximize their fitness by selecting only one or a few high-quality partners. It’s pretty clear that this model works well for some species (like ducks), but also that there are many it doesn’t fit so well. Now it looks like one of the “classic” experimental examples of sexual selection may actually fall into the latter category….

Dr. Google and Mr. Hyde by David Gorski:

….Like all major new technologies, the Internet has a good side and a bad side. In many cases, the same property is both good and bad, and one place that this is particularly true is in medical information. The Internet has an abundance of medical information, all there for the reading and learning, and various discussion forums that began with online BBS services and the now mostly obsolete global discussion community of Usenet allow people from all over the world who would never have communicated directly with each other before to share information and experiences. Unfortunately, there is a dark side to this. Regular readers of this blog know what that dark side is, too. The same technology that allows reputable scientists and doctors to publish reliable medical information to the world at very low cost also allows quacks and cranks to spew their misinformation, nonsense, pseudoscience, and quackery to the whole world at very little cost. And, boy, do they ever! In many ways, the quacks are a far more effective online presence than skeptics and supporters of science-based medicine. I mean, look at SBM itself. We’re still using a generic WordPress template. Now look at an antivaccine website like The International Medical Council on Vaccination or Generation Rescue or the antivaccine blog Age of Autism. Look at quack websites like NaturalNews.com The comparison, at least when it comes to web and blog design, is not flattering…..

 

Special topic: Higgs boson:

What is the Higgs boson? – video by Ian Sample and Laurence Topham

What Is the Higgs Boson? [Video] by George Musser

Higgs Boson VIDEO: A Metaphor To Explain The Particle, Or Further Confuse You by Cara Santa Maria and Henry Reich

Sonnet on a Higgs-Like Particle (video) by Vi Hart

New Particle Resembling Long-Sought Higgs Boson Uncovered at Large Hadron Collider by John Matson

If You Want More Higgs Hype, Don’t Read This Column by John Horgan

Beyond Higgs: On Supersymmetry (or Lack Thereof) by Glenn Starkman

Mr Boson, I presume…? by Charles Ebikeme

Live-Blogging the Higgs Seminar by Sean Carroll

Science Friday by Sean Carroll

Higgsteria: We Didn’t Need No U.S. Super Collider by Gary Stix

Pros and Cons of building particle accelerators – Werner Heisenberg by Beatrice Lugger

Higgs? Probably not tomorrow and Discovering a boson and Linux at CERN and The mysterious Mr. Higgs by Gianluigi Filippelli

Who gives a Higgs? by Jacqui Hayes

What If the New Particle Isn’t the Higgs Boson? by Natalie Wolchover

Why the Higgs Particle Matters by Matt Strassler

The Best Analogies Scientists and Journalists Use To Explain the Higgs Boson by J. Bryan Lowder

High on Higgs by Subhra Priyadarshini

Stop calling it “The God Particle!” by Dr. Dave Goldberg

The Higgs Boson explained by PhD Comics by Jorge Cham, via Nathan Yau

Scientists’ search for Higgs boson yields new subatomic particle by Brian Vastag and Joel Achenbach

The Higgs Boson – Certainly, certainly (?) there! (at least, I am pretty certain it is) by Julian Champkin

Gallery: how Wired readers picture the Higgs Boson by Ian Steadman

The Art of Science – Particle Accelerator Art by Michele Banks

Gettin’ Higgy With it: A Roundup of Higgs Boson Jokes on Twitter by Xeni Jardin

Higgs! by Phil Plait

Higgs Boson: the jokes edition by Khalil A. Cassimally

Scientists might have found the Higgs Boson by Maggie Koerth-Baker

Higgsdependence Day! by Matthew R. Francis

Physicists Find Elusive Particle Seen as Key to Universe by DENNIS OVERBYE

How the Discovery of the Higgs Boson Could Break Physics by Adam Mann

CERN Announces Discovery of Higgs-like Particle by PRI The World

What It Means to Find “a Higgs” by Mariette DiChristina

So What’s the Big Deal About the Higgs Boson, Anyway? A Physics Double Xplainer by Matthew Francis

A Moment for Particle Physics: The End of a 40-Year Story? by Stephen Wolfram

Higgs-like discovery from the inside by Jon Butterworth

The Higgs Boson and my mom by Laura Jane Martin

What Higgs Boson Evidence Looks Like by Ira Flatow

Higgs boson: Prof Stephen Hawking loses $100 bet by Nick Collins

Physicists Detect New Heavy Particle by Virat Markandeya

Hipster Pop Quiz: What is the Higgs Boson? by Motherboard

These Hipsters Have No Idea About the Higgs Boson by Megan Garber

CERN Finds New Particle (And it Might be the Higgs Boson!) by Miriam Kramer

Does 5-sigma = discovery? by Hyperspace

It’s true, they say they have the Higgs in the bag. Big news. Just imagine the hubbub were it deemed imaginary. and Goldarned god particle by Charlie Petit

So the Higgs boson walks into a… by Eryn Brown

Lighter side of the Higgs boson by Alan Boyle

Nobel Laureates in Physics React to the Higgs-Like Particle News [Video] by Nature magazine

Do You Understand The Higgs Boson? by Fake Science

It’s kind of a Higgs deal by Zen Faulkes

Field Day by Rheanna Sand

 

Best Images:

Snake Oil? The scientific evidence for health supplements by David McCandless and Andy Perkins

Unusual Bridges For Animals – Wildlife Overpasses by THE WORLD GEOGRAPHY

Horoscoped by David McCandless

The complete history of philosophy visualized in one graph by Simon Raper, via George Dvorsky

Paper birds – now with some internal anatomy by Diana Beltran Herrera

How Do We Know by The Census Bureau

 

Best Videos:

Curiosity’s Seven Minutes of Terror by NASA

Hermit Crab in Glass Shell turning over by Robert DuGrenier

Virtual Pigeon Attracts, Baffles Randy Males by Rachel Nuwer

Stephen Colbert Interviews Neil deGrasse Tyson at Montclair Kimberley Academy – 2010-Jan-29 by teridon

Fracking by Carin Bondar

Watch a giant African land snail enjoying a nice cool shower by Lauren Davis

Science Is A Girl Thing: Chris Hardwick, Cara Santa Maria Talk Women In STEM On G4’s ‘Attack Of The Show’ by Cara Santa Maria

Speed Comparison: GT vs. F1 cars by mclaren777

Why We Need to Broaden Participation in Science by RMCRSLDM

Science Writing in the Age of Denial, April 23, 2012 videos by University of Wisconsin-Madison

What Happens Inside the Large Hadron Collider? by George Musser and Rose Eveleth

Som Sabadell flashmob by Banco Sabadell

Octopus ‘vulgaris’ hatchlings hatching by Richard Ross

Ophiarachna Predatory Brittle Star FEEDING ACTION! by ChrisM

Deep-Sea Cephalopods Hide Using Light by AMNHorg

 

Science:

The Good-Old Days of Contraception: Lemon-Peel Diaphragms and Beaver-Testicle Tea by Sophie Bushwick

TGIPF: Iceland’s Phallological Museum by Alex Witze and Jeff Kanipe

The Myth of the Rational Scientist by Byron Jennings

Do scientists need an equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath to ensure ethical conduct? by Lou Woodley

Will We Ever Find Dinosaurs Caught in the Act? and Pterosaurs Done Wrong by Brian Switek

Trees, grass, carbon dioxide and the battle for dominance by GrrlScientist

Franz Boas and Neuroanthropology by Daniel Lende

Altmetrics and the Future of Science by Samuel Arbesman

Lunch: An Urban Invention by Nicola Twilley

The Making Of Meat-Eating America by Dan Charles

How To Start Your Own Farm by Forrest Pritchard

Foie Gras Hypocrisy by Matt Pressberg

U.N. Report from Rio on Environment a ‘Suicide Note’ by Mark McDonald

A “rule-of-forearm” for collecting data in Botswana by Andrew J King

Microbiomes mediating microevolution by Zen Faulkes

Dietary supplements: Manufacturing troubles widespread, FDA inspections show by Trine Tsouderos

Grizzlies move into Polar bear territory by Rebecca Deatsman

The Unsung Scientist, Louis-Antoine Ranvier by Cynthia McKelvey

Turning trauma into story: the benefits of journaling by Jordan Gaines

The tyranny of π: A semirational rant on an irrational number by Jonathan Chang

Draining the Desert? by Kate Prengaman

BOOK REVIEW: Companions in Wonder: Children and Adults Exploring Nature Together by Michael Barton

Ancient impact crater may be largest ever found by Stephen “DarkSyde” Andrew

Rising Heat at the Beach Threatens Largest Sea Turtles, Climate Change Models Show by Rachel Ewing

You Can See Poor From Space by Philadelinquency

Maya Lin: A Memorial to A Vanishing Natural World by Diane Toomey

The Problems With Forecasting and How to Get Better at It by Nate Silver

Ray Bradbury and the Lost Planetarium Show by David Romanowski

Opossums: Survival Machines and Opossum Reproduction by Jason Bittel

Conducting Cells in Mosses by Jessica M. Budke

What’s the difference between one kid with a fever and one without? by Connor Bamford

You want to cut me where? by Steven Salzberg

Birds of the Sun by Christopher Taylor

Coffee: a caffeinated chronicle by Jordan Gaines

Inner Ears Reveal Speed of Early Primates and The Shambulance: Ab Toning Belts (or, Muscle Tone Is All in Your Head) and Flightless Giant’s Flower Diet Revealed by Poop Fossils by Elizabeth Preston

Reviving the ‘apparently dead’ in Georgian Britain by Alun Withey

Don’t trust the religious by P.Z.Myers

Mother Nature Wants to Eat You, or: The Trouble With Alternative Med by Puff the Mutant Dragon

Galápagos Monday: World Within Itself by Virginia Hughes

Not in Our Genes by Bryan Appleyard

On the merits of science literacy by Alice Bell

Defining a hybrid species by Retrieverman

Sleep Research in the Blind May Help Us All by Steven Lockley, Ph.D.

Male Lactation- there’s probably something wrong with you by Noby Leong

Bill McKibben on the Global Warming Hoax by Bill McKibben

Why the Left-Brain Right-Brain Myth Will Probably Never Die by Christian Jarrett

Do Bears Sense That Hunters Are Afoot? and Thinking About Your Own Demise Inspires Environmentalism by Rachel Nuwer

Infrastructure and You by Marie-Claire Shanahan, Scott Huler and Tim De Chant

Bottles Full of Brain-Boosters by Carl Zimmer

New Study: Climate Deniers Are Emoting–Especially the Conspiracy Theorists and The Politics of Ice and Fire by Chris Mooney

What’s Behind The Record Heat? by Douglas Main

Jungle Science and the Future of Conservation by Mireya Mayor

A Poison for Assassins and Tiny Fireworks by Deborah Blum

“Why Do We Have to Learn This Stuff?”—A New Genetics for 21st Century Students by Rosemary J. Redfield

Darwin, Darwinism, and Uncertainty: book review by Matt Young

You’re Not as Happy as You Think You Are, Behavioral Scientists Report by Thomas Hayden

Strange sounds: How the brain makes sense of degraded speech by Julia Erb

Do We Need “Evolutionary Medicine”? by Harriet Hall

What the Germs in Your Bellybutton Say About You by Jason Tetro

Just a Reminder by Mike Haubrich

Night Shift by Rob Dunn

When Killer Whales Attack by Kieran Mulvaney

Voyager 1: The Little Spacecraft That Could by Amy Shira Teitel

Marriage is a tool society uses to reproduce by Greg Laden

Supplements: Something Smells Fishy by Cassandra Willyard

Cost of scientific research – and political naivity by Ken Perrott

The time has come: public participation in science policy making. and Harnessing Citizen Scientists: Let’s Create a Very Public Office of Technology Assessment by Darlene Cavalier

Get to know the narwhal! by Heidi Smith

Worm kills insects by vomiting Hulk-like bacteria by Ed Yong

The Tasmanian Echidna’s Four-Headed Penis by Lucy Cooke

Why Do Flamingos Stand On One Leg? by Matt Soniak

The First Poem Published in a Scientific Journal by Maria Popova

Truth and Reconciliation for Group Selection (pdf) by David Sloan Wilson

With a snail’s help a fish transitions from dying to dead by Craig McClain

Can You Learn To Be Synaesthetic? and False Positive Neuroscience? by Neuroskeptic

The Psychologist: Vladimir Nabokov’s understanding of human nature anticipated the advances in psychology since his day by Brian Boyd

 

Media, Publishing, Technology and Society:

The Geek Poet Strikes Back by Beth McNichol

A field guide to ocean science and conservation on twitter by Andrew Thaler

How to solve impossible problems: Daniel Russell’s awesome Google search techniques by John Tedesco

Should Google and Amazon be allowed to control domains? by Mathew Ingram

Calling Dr. Google by Jeff Jarvis

Belated thoughts on the Finch Report on achieving Open Access by Mike Taylor

The ‘Busy’ Trap by Tim Kreider and Have You Fallen Into The Busy Trap? by Brad Feld and Do We All Work Too Much? And Do We Really Have a Choice? by Walter Frick

The Death and Rebirth of Television News: “All of Life is Reduced to the Common Rubble of Banality” by Steven Lloyd Wilson

The Enlightenment project could inspire our media by Matthew da Silva

What Twitter could have been by Dalton Caldwell

A manifesto for the newspaper’s public editor in the social media era by Dan Gillmor

Why Google Plus isn’t dead — well, yet by John D. Sutter

SciWriteLabs 8.3: Adjudicating the Lehrer plagiarism accusations. Plus: Do Arianna and Oprah deserve lifelong bans? by Seth Mnookin

The Great American Novel by Maria Konnikova

Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit by David Graeber (also see reactions by Henry Farrell and Cassiodorus)

Journatic worker takes ‘This American Life’ inside outsourced journalism by Anna Tarkov

Positive signs from Wiley on open access and Dear Wiley: please use Creative Commons Attribution for your open-access activities by Mike Taylor

On Tides, Visibility, and Quiet Revolutionary Acts by Dana Hunter

The View from Nowhere Interviews Trenberth by Michael Tobis

Social Networking For Scientists – The Wiki by Christie Wilcox

Save your darlings: Blank on Blank gives new life to old tape by Adrienne LaFrance

Hooray for the Awesome Wave of Lady Scientists in Action Movies by Alyssa Rosenberg

Long-form journalism project Matter aiming for September launch by Rachel McAthy

The Predictable Comment by The Digital Cuttlefish

Dramatic Growth of Open Access by Heather Morrison

The 2012 presidential election: what voters want – the community agenda by Jay Rosen and Nadja Popovich

Website Tests How Political Opposites Actually Discuss Differences by Marissa Alioto

Sorry, Your Tweets Can Still Be Subpoenaed by Adam Martin

Why You Should Be An Open Notebook Scientist by Anthony Salvagno

Startups that Catalyze Science by Samuel Arbesman

ScienceOnline2012 – interview with Trevor Owens

Every year I ask some of the attendees of the ScienceOnline conferences to tell me (and my readers) more about themselves, their careers, current projects and their views on the use of the Web in science, science education or science communication. So now we continue with the participants of ScienceOnline2012. See all the interviews in this series here.

Today my guest is Trevor Owens (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 background? Any scientific education?

I’m a digital archivist at the Library of Congress, I teach a very open and public digital history graduate seminar at American university and I am finishing my doctoral work in social science research methods in the College of Education and Human development at George Mason University.

I come to science from a historical bent; my BA is in the history of science. More specifically, I started out working on the history of science education. I wrote my thesis on the history of children’s books about Einstein and Curie. More recently I have been doing research on science communication and public understanding of science in places like gaming communities, or in discussions of statues on Yelp.

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

Coming from a history/library/archives background I’m fascinated in the transformation going on in science communication are changing about the nature and discourse of the scientific enterprise and public understanding of science. When historians look back on late 20th and early 21st century science they will undoubtedly be interested in understanding how the web has facilitated, altered and otherwise shifted scientific inquiry and the dissemination of scientific knowledge. If we want to be able to reflect back on the science of our times I think we need to be thinking about collecting and preserving science and science communication that is happening on the web.

So I would say that I am interested in doing what I can to help document and explore what is changing and what is staying the same around the nature and practices of science and science communication.

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

I worked on a few projects at the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University for about five years. In that time i was primarily focused on Zotero, a free and open source research management tool. Before that I worked on the games+learning+society conference for a few years. I’ve been at the Library of Congress for the last two years. In all of those roles I end up gravitating toward thinking about the role, nature, and place of science in society.

I can give a few examples of how these things all end up coming together in some of my recent publications. Each of these explore different subjects but they are all really about getting at ways we can go about understanding science in our world as documented in a range of digital modes.

Teaching intelligent design or sparking interest in science? What players do with Will Wright’s Spore. This article, forthcomming in Cultural Studies of Science is about figuring out how we should go about assessing the impact of a game like Spore on public understanding of science. My goal here was to think through how we could work from something like the Sporum, the games online forums, as a way to explore the ways that people are thinking about the game. In the end, this offers some initial evidence to suggest that a lot of the games players get past the problematic way the game presents evolution and use the game as a catalyst to get into some really interesting and fun thinking and discussion of science.

Tripadvisor rates Einstein: Using the social web to unpack the public meanings of a cultural heritage site. Near the US Capitol, in front of the National Academy of Sciences sits a gigantic bronze statue of Albert Einstein. The monument was created to celebrate Einstein and the sense of awe and wonder his work represents. This article explores the extent to which perspectives of the monument’s public supporters and critics can be seen in how people interact with it as evidenced in reviews and images of the monument posted online. I looked at how folks appropriate and discuss the monument on sites like  Fickr, Yelp, Tripadvisor, and Yahoo Travel, to explore how the broader public co-creates the meaning of this particular memorial.

Modding the history of science: Values and habits of mind in modder discussions of Sid Meier’s Civilization This article explores the issues involved in interpreting a game through analysis of the ways modders (gamers who modify the game) have approached the history of science, technology, and knowledge embodied in the game. Interestingly looking at online discussions of the game suggests that Civilization III cultivates an audience of modders who spend their time reimagining how the history of science and technology could work in the game.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2012 for you? Any suggestions for next year?

It’s all about the people. I’ve been to ScienceOnline twice, in 2012 and in 2010 and found both experiences to be very enlightening and invigorating. To begin with, I am a big fan of unconferences, there is a good bit more excitement in the air at them. Beyond that, there are a lot of conferences out there that people have to go to for professional reasons, this remains an event that people go to because they want to go. Everybody is there powered primarily because of how much they care about science and science communication and while it can be physically and mentally exhausting it is really great at recharging your drive for the work.

Thank you! Hope to see you again in January.

The Scienceblogging Weekly (June 29th, 2012)

Blog of the Week:

This week’s choice was easy – March of the Fossil Penguins, written by Dr. Daniel Ksepka. What is there not to like? Penguins! Fossils! Straight from the keyboard of the leading world expert on the topic. Enjoy!

 

Top 10:

How presidential elections are impacted by a 100 million year old coastline by Craig McClain:

Hale County in west central Alabama and Bamberg County in southern South Carolina are 450 miles apart. Both counties have a population of 16,000 of which around 60% are African American. The median households and per capita incomes are well below their respective state’s median, in Hale nearly $10,000 less. Both were named after confederate officers–Stephen Fowler Hale and Francis Marion Bamberg. And although Hale’s county seat is the self-proclaimed Catfish Capitol, pulling catfish out of the Edisto River in Bamberg County is a favorite past time. These two counties share another unique feature. Amidst a blanket of Republican red both Hale and Bamberg voted primarily Democratic in the 2000, 2004, and again in the 2008 presidential elections. Indeed, Hale and Bamberg belong to a belt of counties cutting through the deep south–Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina–that have voted over 50% Democratic in recent presidential elections. Why? A 100 million year old coastline….

The Curious Case of the Poisoned Cows by Deborah Blum:

On a bright morning in early June, a Texas rancher named Jerry Abel turned his small herd of cattle out to graze. The 18 cows moved hungrily into that field of fresh grass. Within a few hours, only three were still alive. Abel’s 80 acre ranch sits just a little east of Austin and the story was strange enough that on Sunday a local CBS affiliate picked it up. “There was nothing you could do,” Abel told KEYE about his desperate efforts to save the animals. “Obviously, they were dying.”…

In the Steps of a Hungry Acrocanthosaurus by Brian Switek:

Compared to mounted dinosaur skeletons, fossil footprints might seem like mundane objects. They only record one small part of a fantastic creature, and it is harder to envision a whole dinosaur from the ground up than the wrap flesh around a skeletal frame. But we should not forget that dinosaur footprints are fossilized behavior—stone snapshots of an animal’s life. And sometimes, trackways record dramatic moments in dinosaur lives….

When It Comes to Numbers, We’re All Late Bloomers by Elizabeth Preston:

Good news for aspiring jelly-bean jar estimators who are under 30! Your intuitive grasp of numbers may not have peaked yet. Unlike other cognitive skills, the ability to approximate keeps improving well into adulthood. Since the skill is tied to mathematical smarts, this news might bring hope to struggling students….

Summer of Smoke by Christie Aschwanden:

June 8, 2012, Cedaredge Colorado—It was an ordinary Friday afternoon. I was at my desk writing when I looked out the window and saw an enormous plume of smoke billowing from the back of our property. It was the kind of moment when you’re supposed to remain calm and remember all the wise things you learned in first aid class or girl scouts. (Stop! Drop! Roll!) Instead, I panicked.

Plague at the Siege of Caffa, 1346 by Michelle Ziegler:

The first stage of the Black Death among Europeans was said to begin with the whoosh of a Mongol trebuchet. Gabriele De’ Mussi, a lawyer from near Genoa writing in about 1348, is believed to have recorded the account of the earliest use of plague as weapon of war at Caffa in 1346….

New flu gene found hiding in plain sight, and affects severity of infections by Ed Yong:

I could write the entire genome of a flu virus in around 100 tweets. It is just 14,000 letters long; for comparison, our genome has over 3 billion letters. This tiny collection of genetic material is enough to kill millions of people. Even though it has been sequenced time and time again, there is still a lot we don’t know about it….

‘Man-sheep-dog’: inter-species social skills by Paul Keil and Greg Downey:

Paul, the lead author, interviewed sheepdog trialer Damian Wilson about his interactions with his dog, a border collie named Yandarra Whiskey. Damian and Whiskey gave Paul a demonstration of the techniques used in sheepdog competitions as they together tried to move a mob of three sheep. In a competition in New South Wales, a trainer and dog have to move three sheep who have never been herded through a difficult obstacle course, and the trainer loses points if he (or, less frequently, she) breaks from a slow, measured pace walking the course. The rules mean that the dog itself must be trained until it anticipates the sheep’s reactions, and understands, on some level, what dog and trainer, together, are trying to accomplish. Although the trialer may give commands, the dog, too, is a kind of expert….

Preview: 3-D Space Shuttle Movie Will Bring the Launch Pad to Your Living Room by Tanya Lewis:

If you missed the final launch of the Space Shuttle, or the first private spacecraft rendezvous with the International Space Station, fear not. A new documentary to be released late this year promises you a fiery, 3-D, launch-pad view of these historic flights…

A Wartime Medical Dispenser by Jaipreet Virdi:

The Napoleonic Wars brought John Harrison Curtis’ studies to a standstill, as he became one of thousands of young men conscripted to fight against Napoleo