ScienceOnline2010 – interview with Dennis Meredith

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years’ interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.
Today, I asked Dennis Meredith to answer a few questions.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?
I’m originally from Texas, but my jobs have taken me all around the country. I’ve always been fascinated by science and received my B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Texas. However, I discovered my true calling when I went into the science writing program at the University of Wisconsin, where I received an M.S. in Biochemistry-Science Writing.
Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?
Dennis Meredith pic.jpgFrom the UW science writing program, I got my first job in the UW Medical Center News Office as assistant director. After that, I took science writing jobs at the University of Rhode Island, MIT, Caltech, Cornell, and ended up at Duke as the Director of the Office of Research Communication. I was known as the DORC of Duke. Always pay attention to the acronym before you take the job! My most interesting project was the research news site EurekAlert!, which I conceived and helped AAAS develop. It now links more than 4,500 journalists to news from 800 subscribing research institutions.
What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?
I “retired” from Duke three years ago. I put the word in quotes because I’m still doing full-time science writing and consulting. My biggest project now by far is promoting my book “Explaining Research“, published by Oxford University Press. And of course, there’s my blog, Research Explainer. My central goal is really to change the culture of science and engineering to value lay-level communications more. By giving scientists and engineers the communication tools and techniques they need–from news releases to video to blogging–I hope to increase their engagement with the public and their influence in such critical areas as global warming and science education.
What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?
What fascinates me is the Web’s immense power to make each person a media outlet. What’s more, the stunning increase in power and lowered cost of media technologies such as video cameras means that everybody can be a print/radio/TV outlet. The challenge for me is helping some of the people who have the most important things to say–scientists and engineers–take advantage of these technologies.
How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?
I’ll admit some timidity when I started blogging. Even though I’ve been writing science for more than four decades, the idea of hitting a button and having my words instantly published was daunting. I’d always been “protected” by being in a magazine or part of a university news operation. Since then, blogging has not only become easier, but I’ve realized that it is a central tool in updating and expanding on the book. Since all the book’s references are online, I can easily insert a blog post into the references that contains new information or points I didn’t think of when I was writing the book.
When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any cool science blogs by the participants at the Conference?
I first discovered science blogs when I started blogging. I was delighted with the vast range of voices out there. I can’t really say what some of my favorite blogs are. It’s like asking which do you like better, tacos, ice cream, chardonnay, or oysters? I get something out of all the blogs I read, and each time I discover a new one, I find a refreshing new voice and new ideas. For me, however, the prototypical blog has been Bora’s–not to suck up to my host for this Q&A. I was struck from the beginning by Bora’s ability to so effectively blend science and communication issues in a blog, and this eclecticism has broadened my view of what a blog can and should be–a broad-ranging exploration of interesting issues, whatever they are.
What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 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?
By far the best aspect of each ScienceOnline conference has been walking into this electric atmosphere of creativity and getting a delightful, inspiring charge of energy and ideas. For ScienceOnline2010, the most productive sessions for me were those on blogging techniques, scientific visualization and video. For next year, I’d recommend a significant workshop on Web video techniques, in which participants are invited to bring their cameras, especially the pocket-sized ones, and create and edit videos. I’m now just beginning to learn how to make quality videos, and any coaching would help. What has surprised me as I’ve trained myself is how simple techniques of lighting, composition and audio can greatly improve videos.
It was so nice to see you again (as well as later at AAAS on our panel) and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again next January.