Monthly Archives: August 2010

Branding Science Blogging: Cooperatives + Corporate Networks

Two recent posts by John Rennie, Do Open Networks Threaten Brands? Part 1 and Do Open Networks Threaten Brands? Part 2, prompted me to respond – first in comments there, and then an expanded version here (and to turn a long post into something more manageable, I omitted a lot of stuff I already wrote in painful detail before, so scroll down to “additional links” for background information that may SEEM to be missing from this post).

The question is about branding. How do incipient science blogging networks manage their public image. John, for example, is not sure if SEED got what it wanted (or initially envisioned), image-wise, from Scienceblogs.com brand. But it is important to remember that Scienceblogs.com was somewhat an anomaly in many respects – it was the only game in town for a long time.

The current situation is different. There are two types of networks arising. In the new ecosystem, we are now seeing cooperatives collecting bloggers who cherish freedom, replicating some aspects of the Scienceblogs.com experience. At the same time, professional/media organizations appear to be following the Discover blogs model of exclusivity for a small number of highly respected writers/bloggers. And it is quite possible that these two types will end up being quite different animals: the blogger cooperatives vs. corporate-owned networks. One way in which Seed Scienceblogs.com was an anomaly is that the atmosphere on the site was Indie, while Seed probably expected Pro.

Blogger cooperatives

Blogger cooperatives, like Scientopia, Lab Spaces, Field Of Science, The Gam, Science3point0 and Genomes Unzipped, for example, are unlikely to have long committee sessions charting their long-term strategies, debating their image and branding, and fine-tuning their budgets. They are run on the cheap, and the essential factor is the feeling of community.

Indie networks like these are likely to collect bloggers who are not interested in being The Media, or, as individuals, breaking into the MSM. Their chances of getting indexed by Google News are slim. They cherish freedom. “Don’t you tell me how to blog” is a very important sentiment.

Freedom is essential – bloggers on indie networks are likely to post whatever the heck they like, whenever they like it, at whichever frequency they want. They will cross-post their stuff wherever else they may be online – from other blogging networks, to personal blogs, to Facebook. They will post some kick-ass science, of course, but they will also cover a lot of personal stuff. And when I say ‘personal’, I don’t mean ‘private life’, I mean using their personal experiences and views to discuss all sorts of things, from scientific findings, to life in academia and careers in science, to politics and religion. They will get into vigorous debates and occasional blog-wars. But they will also use their community spirit to accomplish important stuff, from getting a political appointee hired or fired, to having a media article corrected, to having a paper retracted, to having a successful fundraising action for someone who needs it.

They may make all the decisions as a collective, or there may be a benevolent dictator at the helm, usually the tech-savvy person who runs the server, who is likely to be very responsive to the community.

The indie networks can also be very nimble. There is no paperwork, no dinosaurian CFOs to appease. They can completely redesign the homepage in a few hours, just to do it all over again the next day. They can fix technical glitches in five minutes, not five months. As the Web is changing, they can swiftly change with it. If one day everyone abandons Twitter for some other new shiny thing, the site can start reflecting that over night. Which is why they will always run circles around the corporate networks.

Most of them do not now (except for Science 2.0, as far as I know), and probably never will, have any advertising and any income. Bloggers write for free, and the benefits are intangible – being a part of a community, and as such, being able to further one’s goals (e.g., science education) better than being alone (and no, Blogger and WordPress are not networks, they are software). It will be interesting to see if and how dynamics change if some of these indie networks start advertising and making money – will that change the internal dynamics as well as the outward-facing image?

Indie networks tend to be very interested in building and maintaining diversity – both in the traditional meaning of the term, e.g., gender, race, age, ethnicity, geography, and the more science-blogging focused sense of diversity, e.g., scientific disciplines, topics, formats, styles and voices. It is a difficult thing to accomplish, but they constantly think about it and try to do better all the time.

Indie networks are probably rather easy to join – friendly bloggers and commenters just need to apply, and the procedure is probably quite simple and easy. Thus, cooperatives may grow to be quite big over time. As the sense of community is essential, cooperatives will be joined by friends. This may seem cliquish from the outside, but it is important for the long-term health and survival of the network. On the other hand this may be an undoing for some networks in the future, as friends get in a fight….time will tell.

Without a big corporate brand behind them, there is no telling how long these networks will last. A couple of years or a couple of decades? Or longer? Will the complete archives be saved for posterity once the network dies?

And looking from the outside, what kind of image will these collectives garner? Probably as a fun and rambunctious bunch, smart people who can explain science very well, but who are also all quintessentially human, the good and the bad of it. The new collectives have no established brand to improve or tarnish – they are building their own new brands from scratch, and the brand will be defined by the self-selected and friend-selected bloggers themselves, by what they do, by their voices. No long-term strategy writ in stone – just keep blogging and the branding will evolve on its own.

Corporate-owned networks

Why would a media company want to host a science bloggers network? Good question!

I think they learned from Seed (and they are now rushing into the vacuum left by the implosion of Seed after PepsiGate, whereas they would have suffocated if they tried to do much with bloggers before). Of all the endeavors that Seed Media Group tried, only Scienceblogs.com was successful and survived. Bloggers are so much cheaper to pay for their writing than are professional writers and journalists. An online-only plaftorm is so much cheaper to run than printing a magazine or a newspaper. And bloggers are so much more fun, they bring traffic and deliver the eye-balls to the advertisers.

Bloggers are also useful in another sense. The audience has become more enlightened over the past couple of decades. The readers are bored and unhappy with, and grew mistrustful of traditional, formulaic, impersonal, “view from nowhere”, “he-said-she-said” writing. Once they discovered bloggers, why would they ever want to go back to the dry matter? Especially if they discovered expert, trustworthy bloggers who both know their stuff much better than journalists do AND are much more fun to read. You know where they are coming from, and you know you can trust them (and why), and you establish a relationship with the personality of the blogger. There is a bond that just does not exist between a reader and a professional journalist who is just a name under the headline, not a real person. What’s there not to like?

So, launching a blogger network is a good idea – a sign that the media house is trying to keep up with the times, to evolve, to remain relevant. To do something a little bit risky and experimental. But not too risky and experimental….

Well, there is this thing called The Brand. The Image. Many of those companies have been around for years, decades, even centuries. The Guardian, Wired, Nature, National Geographic, Scientific American, Discover, Discovery Channel, Psychology Today, The New Scientist, Animal Planet, etc. – old and popular brands all. They have carefully built up their brands over time. Having a bunch of unruly bloggers change that image over a short period of several months is a disconcerting idea.

So, what is one to do? Make the network small, and carefully pick the bloggers, choosing the people who are the least likely to do something provocative and tarnish the brand. Go safe.

I can just imagine a committee meeting in every single one of those companies these days. Someone suggests “How about PZ Myers, Ben Goldacre or Orac? They are hugely popular and have enormous traffic to bring to our site. A sure win?” To which the others in the room start rolling their eyes…. “Uhm, I love these guys, but they are just too risky for us. We’d gain a lot of traffic, but also alienate a lot of people. And our legal department (if we have one) would constantly be busy dealing with libel suits and death threats and such, which we cannot afford. Can we find someone safer?”

Yes, the most popular bloggers became so by being fun. And they are fun because they are provocative and uncontrollable. And a corporation needs control over the image. So how do you accomplish that?

Being a brand, you start looking for people whose names are also brands. Being a media entity, the biggest brands in your mindset are a) people who are well known science writers and journalist who also blog. You may also consider b) people who are well known in the world of science and academia, who also blog. Finally, you may also consider c) people who are well known in the world of blogging, who may also be scientists or, even better, who may be interested in a career as science writers/journalists and are thus very self-conscious about their own reputation as calm, impartial and even-handed.

Ideally, you will find people who are spanning two or all three of those worlds. But such people are rare, and probably already taken by your competitors. Or due to heavy competition, they may get too expensive for you.

So you start going down the list… and find journalists whose writing you admire, in a journalistic sense, but who may not have any experience with blogging and you are just hoping would eventually adopt the bloggy style and understand the blogging norms and mores. You give them the training wheels and hope they learn to ride the bike really fast.

What you are probably not looking at are youngsters – n00b bloggers who may actually have the greatest enthusiasm and spunk – but they have no brand names yet. Perhaps your company just does not have anybody who is intimately familiar with the vast science blogosphere beyond the Usual Suspects, someone who has been reading hundreds of science blogs for years, so you do not even know any of those young ‘uns.

And in this conservative approach – looking for ‘safe’, uncontroversial, respected bloggers who are good writers – you are likely to forget about diversity and end up with a ridiculously white, male, middle-aged lineup. And the next millisecond after the celebratory launch of your brand new network, you will have a PR disaster on your hands…blogosphere is very sensitive to this and will punish instantly.

It is interesting to look at this from the point of view of a blogger. If you are paid $200 per month or $100 or zero, you expect to have zero editorial control over you, total freedom to use the blog any way you wish, and total freedom to cross-post or mirror your content wherever the heck you want.

But if you are paid substantially more, you mentally start thinking of your blogging as “a job”. You start writing more professionally. You dig deeper into the literature and documents before writing your posts. You fact-check your own ass more thoroughly before posting. You clean up your language (including not using the word “ass” in the previous sentence). You resist getting into blogwars. You start valuing your own work more, so the idea of mirroring that paid content onto other free places where you also blog (personal blog, co-op network, Facebook) becomes less attractive – you WANT to separate your more professional work from your rants. You want all the traffic to go to the place where you are paid (especially if the payment scheme is linked to pageviews). You may link to it from all sorts of other online places, but you do not want to duplicate it in places that do not pay.

If you are paid substantially, and start thinking of your blogging in a more professional light, you will probably also be much more cognizant of the inert bureaucracy of a large corporation and much more tolerant of its slowness. If you understand that everything requires paperwork and approval by several levels of corporate hierarchy, you may fume inside, but you are less likely to protest loudly (and publicly, on your blog) if a glitch takes five months to fix instead of five minutes. It will take a lot of accumulated grievances for you to finally explode. And if you are paid very little (think Seed) or nothing (think Nature Network), then there is nothing stopping you from getting mad at your host in a very public manner. It is not your job, you are not an employee, in other words the host is there to serve you, not the other way round.

The lesson for all the new media-run networks: pay your bloggers well and they will naturally behave professionally and will not tarnish your brand.

I should clarify that “pay your bloggers well” is not necessarily to be taken literally. The pay can be in $$, but it can also be (entirely or partially) in other ways – have the bloggers associated with a very prestigious brand (yours, if you are lucky to have one), treat your bloggers as professionals, as celebrities, give them a lot of support, give them perks (e.g., exclusive right to use your image/sound/video archives), promote them, help them get their best stuff published in your magazine, give them inside information, send them to conferences on your dime (e.g., to ScienceOnline or Science Online London), etc. – some of those intangibles are worth as much or more than cold cash in the mail arriving once a month. If you cater to their whims, including fast and competent technical support, bloggers will be proud of their association with you and will do their best not just to produce quality work, but also to promote your brand wherever they go online and offline. It’s worth it.

More on the topic – long musings:

A Farewell to Scienceblogs: the Changing Science Blogging Ecosystem
Thank You
Science Blogging Networks: What, Why and How
Links ‘n’ Thoughts on emerging science blogging networks

More on the topic – additional links:

Is this something that NYTimes editors proudly allowed to get published?
Ha! We got cartooned (again).
Welcome Scientopia, a new science blogging network
Bloggers, Evolving
Weekend Readings
Quick Links
Quick Links 2
Quick Links 3
Quick Links 4

Top-down-anything does not work (videos)

Part 1: Roads unfit for people:

Part 2: Roads FiT for People:

Search terms…

It is nice to know that this new blog is already getting some traffic from searches. Some are good, some are…interesting. And some are…wow! Here is a sampling of some of the recent ones….
Continue reading

Quick Links

Does the future of science publishing depend on the future of science blogging?

Scientific blogging as a model for professional networking online

Science’s experiment in publishing

Blog post echos echo chamber question from Journal of journalism study

Cooking in a Sauna?

Charlie Rose and the Mentally Ill Brain

Old Armenian Shoe Raises Hope for Archaeology in PLoS ONE

Another publisher stonewalls on how he screwed up

Book Review: The Invisible Gorilla

On the Dissertation Care Package

The ethics of data release

I probably shouldn’t say this: I have become concerned about Miley Cyrus.

Are There Different Types of Female Orgasm?

The scientist and the anarchist (part I) and The Scientist and the Anarchist – Part II

A Different Kind Of Reading: A Look at Four Enhanced E-books

Happy employees may be the key to success…for organizations

What is Twilight (video)

Of course, I want the app….

BIO101 – From Genes To Traits: How Genotype Affects Phenotype

As you may know, I have been teaching BIO101 (and also the BIO102 Lab) to non-traditional students in an adult education program for about twelve years now. Every now and then I muse about it publicly on the blog (see this, this, this, this, this, this and this for a few short posts about various aspects of it – from the use of videos, to the use of a classroom blog, to the importance of Open Access so students can read primary literature). The quality of students in this program has steadily risen over the years, but I am still highly constrained with time: I have eight 4-hour meetings with the students over eight weeks. In this period I have to teach them all of biology they need for their non-science majors, plus leave enough time for each student to give a presentation (on the science of their favourite plant and animal) and for two exams. Thus I have to strip the lectures to the bare bones, and hope that those bare bones are what non-science majors really need to know: concepts rather than factoids, relationship with the rest of their lives rather than relationship with the other sciences. Thus I follow my lectures with videos and classroom discussions, and their homework consists of finding cool biology videos or articles and posting the links on the classroom blog for all to see. A couple of times I used malaria as a thread that connected all the topics – from cell biology to ecology to physiology to evolution. I think that worked well but it is hard to do. They also write a final paper on some aspect of physiology.

Another new development is that the administration has realized that most of the faculty have been with the school for many years. We are experienced, and apparently we know what we are doing. Thus they recently gave us much more freedom to design our own syllabus instead of following a pre-defined one, as long as the ultimate goals of the class remain the same. I am not exactly sure when am I teaching the BIO101 lectures again (late Fall, Spring?) but I want to start rethinking my class early. I am also worried that, since I am not actively doing research in the lab and thus not following the literature as closely, that some of the things I teach are now out-dated. Not that anyone can possibly keep up with all the advances in all the areas of Biology which is so huge, but at least big updates that affect teaching of introductory courses are stuff I need to know.

I need to catch up and upgrade my lecture notes. And what better way than crowdsource! So, over the new few weeks, I will re-post my old lecture notes (note that they are just intros – discussions and videos etc. follow them in the classroom) and will ask you to fact-check me. If I got something wrong or something is out of date, let me know (but don’t push just your own preferred hypothesis if a question is not yet settled – give me the entire controversy explanation instead). If something is glaringly missing, let me know. If something can be said in a nicer language – edit my sentences. If you are aware of cool images, articles, blog-posts, videos, podcasts, visualizations, animations, games, etc. that can be used to explain these basic concepts, let me know. And at the end, once we do this with all the lectures, let’s discuss the overall syllabus – is there a better way to organize all this material for such a fast-paced class.

Today, I tackle the important but difficult task of explaining why “gene for” idea is wrong and how to think in a more sophisticated manner about the way genes affect phenotype.

See the previous lectures:

BIO101 – Biology and the Scientific Method
BIO101 – Cell Structure
BIO101 – Protein Synthesis: Transcription and Translation
BIO101 – Cell-Cell Interactions
BIO101 – Cell Division and DNA Replication
BIO101 – From Two Cells To Many: Cell Differentiation and Embryonic Development

Follow me under the fold:

Continue reading

Quick Links

Do Open Networks Threaten Brands? (Pt. 2)

Blogging: The skill that begets all others

5 things journalists should learn from bloggers

Another example of the power of blogging

Blaschko’s Lines

An Ancient Sea Monster’s Fearsome Fins

The heart of an octopus is a fickle thing…

Social Cognition in Polar Bears

Expedition records show severe orangutan decline

Why Russians Don’t Get Depressed

Bleached to Death

Megafauna meltdown and Step-dads from Hell

The Zen of Presentations, Part 34: Lessons from the blind

Argument from Authority vs. Trusting Experts

Scientific spectating

Non-traditional alternatives to grant funding

Ecology in Prison

Yay! J. Neuroscience Agrees with Me that ‘Supplementary Materials’ is BS and Ruining Science! and Supplemental materials or no? and More questions about supplemental materials and Disrupting with data.

The shroud of retraction: Virology Journal withdraws paper about whether Christ cured a woman with flu

It’s Going Too Fast — Can Embargoes Manage the Real-time Web?

You Are the Person You Are Now

What I know about Marc Hauser, the recently ‘investigated’ Harvard primatologist

It’s that time again: ‘Broken’ peer review and Let us not skip so lightly past censorship effects of bad peer review, Orac.

XMRV: Not in spooge

Smells From the Past: The Fulton Fish Market

Pro gamers head to Raleigh for showdown

Toward a better agriculture… for everyone

Stop wasting food, save the world’s energy

Millions Of Barrels Of Oil Safely Reach Port In Major Environmental Catastrophe

BIO101 – From Two Cells To Many: Cell Differentiation and Embryonic Development

As you may know, I have been teaching BIO101 (and also the BIO102 Lab) to non-traditional students in an adult education program for about twelve years now. Every now and then I muse about it publicly on the blog (see this, this, this, this, this, this and this for a few short posts about various aspects of it – from the use of videos, to the use of a classroom blog, to the importance of Open Access so students can read primary literature). The quality of students in this program has steadily risen over the years, but I am still highly constrained with time: I have eight 4-hour meetings with the students over eight weeks. In this period I have to teach them all of biology they need for their non-science majors, plus leave enough time for each student to give a presentation (on the science of their favourite plant and animal) and for two exams. Thus I have to strip the lectures to the bare bones, and hope that those bare bones are what non-science majors really need to know: concepts rather than factoids, relationship with the rest of their lives rather than relationship with the other sciences. Thus I follow my lectures with videos and classroom discussions, and their homework consists of finding cool biology videos or articles and posting the links on the classroom blog for all to see. A couple of times I used malaria as a thread that connected all the topics – from cell biology to ecology to physiology to evolution. I think that worked well but it is hard to do. They also write a final paper on some aspect of physiology.

Another new development is that the administration has realized that most of the faculty have been with the school for many years. We are experienced, and apparently we know what we are doing. Thus they recently gave us much more freedom to design our own syllabus instead of following a pre-defined one, as long as the ultimate goals of the class remain the same. I am not exactly sure when am I teaching the BIO101 lectures again (late Fall, Spring?) but I want to start rethinking my class early. I am also worried that, since I am not actively doing research in the lab and thus not following the literature as closely, that some of the things I teach are now out-dated. Not that anyone can possibly keep up with all the advances in all the areas of Biology which is so huge, but at least big updates that affect teaching of introductory courses are stuff I need to know.

I need to catch up and upgrade my lecture notes. And what better way than crowdsource! So, over the new few weeks, I will re-post my old lecture notes (note that they are just intros – discussions and videos etc. follow them in the classroom) and will ask you to fact-check me. If I got something wrong or something is out of date, let me know (but don’t push just your own preferred hypothesis if a question is not yet settled – give me the entire controversy explanation instead). If something is glaringly missing, let me know. If something can be said in a nicer language – edit my sentences. If you are aware of cool images, articles, blog-posts, videos, podcasts, visualizations, animations, games, etc. that can be used to explain these basic concepts, let me know. And at the end, once we do this with all the lectures, let’s discuss the overall syllabus – is there a better way to organize all this material for such a fast-paced class.

Today, we continue with the cell biology portion of the course – covering the way cells communicate with each other, something that will come up over and over again for the rest of the course. See the previous lectures:
BIO101 – Biology and the Scientific Method
BIO101 – Cell Structure
BIO101 – Protein Synthesis: Transcription and Translation
BIO101 – Cell-Cell Interactions
BIO101 – Cell Division and DNA Replication

Follow me under the fold:
Continue reading

Quick Links

Science Bloggers: Diversifying the news

The myth of scientific literacy

On writing and blogging

P ≠ NP and the future of peer review

A Conversation about Aggregators and Professionalism

More mainstream media evidence that presentation skills need to enter the 21st Century – looking at generational divides and why default Powerpoint won’t cut it.

Sleep Deprivation Affects Moral Fiber

Inception and the Neuroscience of Sleep

Mother Tigers Pass Down Territory to Their Daughters

Evaluating the Power of Social Cues in Public Encounters

The Evolution of Ecology

Eat Yer Spinach! …and other tales from Bangkok

Carnal Carnival, meta blogging, links

Just like the NBA, “Science” is a brand

How News Consumption is Shifting to the Personalized Social News Stream

The Virology of Christ and Biblical fever = influenza. You’re kidding me, right? and Biblical flu paper going bye-bye

Internet, schminternet

Tesla who? Gen Y and a Great Mind of the Past

A bootstrap of 1000 miles begins with a single step

Borgs or blogs? You decide!

Some Snails Prefer Doing It Anti-Chiral

Paleophysiology…LOVE IT!

The Turkey Connection

Canadian biotech will grow flu vaccine in RTP

A brief history of science, part 3

Know the history of your field, be it science or pottery

It’s the End of the Book As We Know It — and I Feel Fine

Ant synonyms and linguistics envy

Country Men Laud Stoicism and Suicide…

48 hours in Belgrade

100 Best YouTube Videos for Science Teachers

The Illustrated Guide to a PhD

Is The Child The Father of the Man?

Smart (and Stupid) Metering

Roundup! Work-life balance

The Right Way to Please the Base

Once again: It’s REPUBLICANS who caused America’s exploding debt

The Worst Ethics Scandal on Capitol Hill?

Paving the ancient desert

Another Word for Walking

A Chicago cop gets a new beat

NDM-1: Novel, global, complex and a serious threat

‘All we need now are hagfish.’= New Yorker cartoon insta-caption

Shrimp On Prozac Are None Too Cheerful

Wescott’s Wednesday Wrap Up

Neurodynamics and Everyday Biology join Scientopia, while Arthropoda and Cephalove join The Gam.

The Hauser collection:

Monkey business? 2002 Cognition paper retracted as prominent psychologist Marc Hauser takes leave from Harvard
Reading the Coverage of a Retraction: Failure to replicate is not evidence of fraud
Harvard morality researcher investigated for scientific misconduct
Hauser Of Cards
Marc Hauser, monkey business, and the sine waves of science
Marc Hauser misconduct findings
The Politics of Ideas : Hauser Gone Wild
Why science is self-correcting
What kind of problem is it when data do not support findings?

BIO101 – From One Cell To Two: Cell Division and DNA Replication

As you may know, I have been teaching BIO101 (and also the BIO102 Lab) to non-traditional students in an adult education program for about twelve years now. Every now and then I muse about it publicly on the blog (see this, this, this, this, this, this and this for a few short posts about various aspects of it – from the use of videos, to the use of a classroom blog, to the importance of Open Access so students can read primary literature). The quality of students in this program has steadily risen over the years, but I am still highly constrained with time: I have eight 4-hour meetings with the students over eight weeks. In this period I have to teach them all of biology they need for their non-science majors, plus leave enough time for each student to give a presentation (on the science of their favourite plant and animal) and for two exams. Thus I have to strip the lectures to the bare bones, and hope that those bare bones are what non-science majors really need to know: concepts rather than factoids, relationship with the rest of their lives rather than relationship with the other sciences. Thus I follow my lectures with videos and classroom discussions, and their homework consists of finding cool biology videos or articles and posting the links on the classroom blog for all to see. A couple of times I used malaria as a thread that connected all the topics – from cell biology to ecology to physiology to evolution. I think that worked well but it is hard to do. They also write a final paper on some aspect of physiology.

Another new development is that the administration has realized that most of the faculty have been with the school for many years. We are experienced, and apparently we know what we are doing. Thus they recently gave us much more freedom to design our own syllabus instead of following a pre-defined one, as long as the ultimate goals of the class remain the same. I am not exactly sure when am I teaching the BIO101 lectures again (late Fall, Spring?) but I want to start rethinking my class early. I am also worried that, since I am not actively doing research in the lab and thus not following the literature as closely, that some of the things I teach are now out-dated. Not that anyone can possibly keep up with all the advances in all the areas of Biology which is so huge, but at least big updates that affect teaching of introductory courses are stuff I need to know.

I need to catch up and upgrade my lecture notes. And what better way than crowdsource! So, over the new few weeks, I will re-post my old lecture notes (note that they are just intros – discussions and videos etc. follow them in the classroom) and will ask you to fact-check me. If I got something wrong or something is out of date, let me know (but don’t push just your own preferred hypothesis if a question is not yet settled – give me the entire controversy explanation instead). If something is glaringly missing, let me know. If something can be said in a nicer language – edit my sentences. If you are aware of cool images, articles, blog-posts, videos, podcasts, visualizations, animations, games, etc. that can be used to explain these basic concepts, let me know. And at the end, once we do this with all the lectures, let’s discuss the overall syllabus – is there a better way to organize all this material for such a fast-paced class.

Today, we continue with the cell biology portion of the course – covering the way cells communicate with each other, something that will come up over and over again for the rest of the course. See the previous lectures:
BIO101 – Biology and the Scientific Method
BIO101 – Cell Structure
BIO101 – Protein Synthesis: Transcription and Translation
BIO101: – Cell-Cell Interactions

Follow me under the fold:
Continue reading

BIO101: Cell-Cell Interactions

As you may know, I have been teaching BIO101 (and also the BIO102 Lab) to non-traditional students in an adult education program for about twelve years now. Every now and then I muse about it publicly on the blog (see this, this, this, this, this, this and this for a few short posts about various aspects of it – from the use of videos, to the use of a classroom blog, to the importance of Open Access so students can read primary literature). The quality of students in this program has steadily risen over the years, but I am still highly constrained with time: I have eight 4-hour meetings with the students over eight weeks. In this period I have to teach them all of biology they need for their non-science majors, plus leave enough time for each student to give a presentation (on the science of their favourite plant and animal) and for two exams. Thus I have to strip the lectures to the bare bones, and hope that those bare bones are what non-science majors really need to know: concepts rather than factoids, relationship with the rest of their lives rather than relationship with the other sciences. Thus I follow my lectures with videos and classroom discussions, and their homework consists of finding cool biology videos or articles and posting the links on the classroom blog for all to see. A couple of times I used malaria as a thread that connected all the topics – from cell biology to ecology to physiology to evolution. I think that worked well but it is hard to do. They also write a final paper on some aspect of physiology.

Another new development is that the administration has realized that most of the faculty have been with the school for many years. We are experienced, and apparently we know what we are doing. Thus they recently gave us much more freedom to design our own syllabus instead of following a pre-defined one, as long as the ultimate goals of the class remain the same. I am not exactly sure when am I teaching the BIO101 lectures again (late Fall, Spring?) but I want to start rethinking my class early. I am also worried that, since I am not actively doing research in the lab and thus not following the literature as closely, that some of the things I teach are now out-dated. Not that anyone can possibly keep up with all the advances in all the areas of Biology which is so huge, but at least big updates that affect teaching of introductory courses are stuff I need to know.

I need to catch up and upgrade my lecture notes. And what better way than crowdsource! So, over the new few weeks, I will re-post my old lecture notes (note that they are just intros – discussions and videos etc. follow them in the classroom) and will ask you to fact-check me. If I got something wrong or something is out of date, let me know (but don’t push just your own preferred hypothesis if a question is not yet settled – give me the entire controversy explanation instead). If something is glaringly missing, let me know. If something can be said in a nicer language – edit my sentences. If you are aware of cool images, articles, blog-posts, videos, podcasts, visualizations, animations, games, etc. that can be used to explain these basic concepts, let me know. And at the end, once we do this with all the lectures, let’s discuss the overall syllabus – is there a better way to organize all this material for such a fast-paced class.

Today, we continue with the cell biology portion of the course – covering the way cells communicate with each other, something that will come up over and over again for the rest of the course. See the previous lectures:
BIO101 – Biology and the Scientific Method
BIO101 – Cell Structure
BIO101 – Protein Synthesis: Transcription and Translation

Follow me under the fold:
Continue reading

Miscellaneous PLoS news

– if an image is Worth a Thousand Words: how cells adhere to spider silk.

– incredible Media Coverage of the Marine Biodiversity and Biogeography Collection.

– a monthly (instead of weekly) post compiling the PLoS ONE News and Blog Round-Up

– new PLoS Editorial Manager (EM) for submitting manuscripts is now live, so here are the FAQs.

Carnal Carnival – everything you ever wanted to know about poop you will be able to learn in ten days from today

When people tweet on a late Saturday night, strange things can happen, including this – foundation of another science-themed blog carnival: The Carnal Carnival! Yup, it already has a homepage, and a list of hosts for 13 months in advance, and even a Twitter account.

What is The Carnal Carnival? A monthly collection of best blog posts covering, mostly from a scientific perspective, a variety of bodily functions, fluids and excretions that are usually not discussed in polite company over an elegant meal. But it is science! And it is important! And it is fun! And there is nothing that the Web has not already seen yet, as far as inappropriateness goes, so why not add some sense and some scientific rigor to these topics so people who search for strange words on Google end up actually learning something.

I volunteered to host the very first edition, here on this blog on August 20th in the morning, so you only have ten days to send in the entries.

The topic of the month is Poop! Yes, feces, excrement, frass, scat, droppings and everything about it. Let’s put together a complete online guide to every possible aspect of the topic, all in one place. Need ideas? Here are some:

How do you look for scat out in the field? What can it tell you: what animals are there, how many, where they are moving (perhaps tracking poop trails by satellite), what they are eating and how their digestive systems work? How about insect frass?

How and why various parasites use animal droppings as home during parts of their lifecycles? And what are dung beetles really doing?

Why some animals require time and privacy to poop, circling around, adopting un-natural postures, then straining (e.g., dogs, humans), while others can defecate on the run (have you seen horses pooping in mid-flight during jumping competition)? Penguin projectile pooping?

What determines the shape of the droppings? Why cows make pies, dogs and humans eject sausage-like objects, elephants and horses produce several large spherical droppings, while goats and rabbits make many little spheres? What determines color and smell?

What are the differences in anatomy and physiology of the large intestine in various vertebrates? How does a colon extract all that water from the digested material? Does that mechanism differ in animals that live in deserts and produce very dry poop versus animals that do not need to conserve water that much?

What is the physiological mechanism of defecation? What drugs and chemicals can affect it and how?

Paleontology and physical anthropology: what can we learn about extinct animals and ancient humans by studying coprolites?

Medicine (and veterinary medicine): when stuff goes wrong: causes and treatments of gas, excessive flatulence, incontinence, impacted colon (and cecum in horses), diarrhea, etc.

One word: coprophagy!

What is the best position for humans during the act of fecal excretion?

Anthropology, archeology and ethnography: historical and geographical differences in attitudes toward human (and animal) excrement.

Technology: from doing it in the woods to burying in holes in the ground to open pits to outhouses to squating toilets to sitting WCs to high-tech gizmos that sing to you and diagnose diseases from your poop. How do astronauts do it in zero gravity?

More technology: history and geographical variation in methods for getting rid of human waste. Comparative study of sewers of Great Cities.

Agticulture, environment and epidemiology: use of animal and human waste as fertilizer. Environmental effects of human waste and hog lagoons. How does fecal matter get into the food system and what can happen then? Open communal pits as sources of disease.

Have you read fiction, non-fiction or poetry that focuses on some aspect of poop? Review it!

If you have already written blog posts on these or related topics, send them in – old posts are welcome. If you have not, but have interest or expertise in something like this, you have ten days to send the permalinks of your posts to me at carnivalcarnal AT gmail DOT com (or, this month only, to Coturnix AT gmail DOT com).

If you have posts on other topics concerning strange bodily functions – check the schedule of hosts and topics for the next year and send the appropriate posts at appropriate times.

Quick Links

Busy right now, more posts later today, for now, read these posts:

Hannah Waters: Young or otherwise inexperienced science bloggers: where do we fit in?

Greg Laden: The post-Pepsiblawg world looks a lot like the pre-Pepsiblawg world

David Crotty: Letting The Inmates Run the Asylum: Are Blogging Networks Compatible with Publishing Business Plans? and response by John Rennie: Do Open Networks Threaten Brands? (Pt. 1)

P.H. Lane: Science-Speak

Kate: On the construction of an online identity

Gerty-Z: Benefits of obscurity?

Jennifer Ouellette: we can haz diversity?

Vivienne Raper: Cry about skeptics and let slip a Member Of the Public

Dave Wescott: BlogHer Recap: More Studies Needed

Dan Gillmor: Google-Verizon plan: Why you should worry

Alison Stein Wellner: Big Emotion, Small Stream — and Why I’m Not a Journalist Anymore

Mallary Jean Tenore: Coffeeshop Newsrooms Yield Stories, Sources, Understanding of Journalism and Kelly Poe: Coffee and journalism: friends or foes?

Propeller Clock (video)

BIO101 – Protein Synthesis: Transcription and Translation

As you may know, I have been teaching BIO101 (and also the BIO102 Lab) to non-traditional students in an adult education program for about twelve years now. Every now and then I muse about it publicly on the blog (see this, this, this, this, this, this and this for a few short posts about various aspects of it – from the use of videos, to the use of a classroom blog, to the importance of Open Access so students can read primary literature). The quality of students in this program has steadily risen over the years, but I am still highly constrained with time: I have eight 4-hour meetings with the students over eight weeks. In this period I have to teach them all of biology they need for their non-science majors, plus leave enough time for each student to give a presentation (on the science of their favourite plant and animal) and for two exams. Thus I have to strip the lectures to the bare bones, and hope that those bare bones are what non-science majors really need to know: concepts rather than factoids, relationship with the rest of their lives rather than relationship with the other sciences. Thus I follow my lectures with videos and classroom discussions, and their homework consists of finding cool biology videos or articles and posting the links on the classroom blog for all to see. A couple of times I used malaria as a thread that connected all the topics – from cell biology to ecology to physiology to evolution. I think that worked well but it is hard to do. They also write a final paper on some aspect of physiology.

Another new development is that the administration has realized that most of the faculty have been with the school for many years. We are experienced, and apparently we know what we are doing. Thus they recently gave us much more freedom to design our own syllabus instead of following a pre-defined one, as long as the ultimate goals of the class remain the same. I am not exactly sure when am I teaching the BIO101 lectures again (late Fall, Spring?) but I want to start rethinking my class early. I am also worried that, since I am not actively doing research in the lab and thus not following the literature as closely, that some of the things I teach are now out-dated. Not that anyone can possibly keep up with all the advances in all the areas of Biology which is so huge, but at least big updates that affect teaching of introductory courses are stuff I need to know.

I need to catch up and upgrade my lecture notes. And what better way than crowdsource! So, over the new few weeks, I will re-post my old lecture notes (note that they are just intros – discussions and videos etc. follow them in the classroom) and will ask you to fact-check me. If I got something wrong or something is out of date, let me know (but don’t push just your own preferred hypothesis if a question is not yet settled – give me the entire controversy explanation instead). If something is glaringly missing, let me know. If something can be said in a nicer language – edit my sentences. If you are aware of cool images, articles, blog-posts, videos, podcasts, visualizations, animations, games, etc. that can be used to explain these basic concepts, let me know. And at the end, once we do this with all the lectures, let’s discuss the overall syllabus – is there a better way to organize all this material for such a fast-paced class.

Today, we continue with the cell – the basic processes of DNA transcription, RNA translation, and protein synthesis. See the previous lectures:
Biology and the Scientific Method
BIO101 – Cell Structure

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Open Laboratory 2010 – submissions so far

Note: if you have recently moved your blog, please e-mail me the corrected URLs for your entries

The list is growing fast – check the submissions to date and get inspired to submit something of your own – an essay, a poem, a cartoon or original art.

The Submission form is here so you can get started. Under the fold are entries so far, as well as buttons and the bookmarklet. The instructions for submitting are here.

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

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Links ‘n’ Thoughts on emerging science blogging networks

New Science Blogging Networks

It is gratifying to note that many people seem to have carefully read my post about the new science blogging ecosystem and the new networks (it was linked a lot over the past week on other blogs and social networks). I see some of those ideas either discussed or already implemented by various new and old networks.

Scientopia (follow them on Twitter) started off with a Bang, garnering a lot of attention and immediately producing tons of great content by excited and reinvigorated bloggers.

The emergence of Scientopia did not obscure, if anything it actually highlighted, the rapid growth of other self-governing blogging collectives. Lab Spaces had an exciting week of growth and blogging. One of my favorite new-ish blogs, C6-H12-O6, is only one of the blogs to recently move to Field Of Science network. Users of Science3point0 site are starting up their blogs there as well. And The Gam also has two great new additions – John McKay of Mammoth Tales and Chuck of Ya Like Dags?.

The corporate networks are slower – that is the nature of the beast – but they are coming soon, quite a few of them. There is a new Twitter account called GuardianScienceBlogs, with just one tweet to date: “We’re coming soon…”. Interesting times…

‘Explainers’

One of the things I mentioned in my post was a need to collect, collate and organize bloggy material in ways that makes it more long-lasting and useful, especially for people who are new to a particular topic and who need a quick introductory or refresher course in order to be able to follow the ongoing discussions.

Two blogs have tried to do experiments along these lines this week.

On their shiny new blog Child’s Play, Melody Dye and Jason Goldman had a whole week worth of posts on a single topic: pros and cons and confusions regarding the “cookie” test for measuring delayed gratification in children. Then they collected the links to all of their posts (as well as a couple of good posts by other bloggers) in one place which you can bookmark, and which Melody and Jason can keep linking back to in the future, perhaps even have a link to it handy somewhere on the sidebar so it is easy find.

Ed Yong did something a little bit different. He capitalized on his spot at Discover, thus his right to use Discover images and slideshows, to put together a collection of brief explanations, each linking to one or two of his older posts, all about Bacteria living in or on us and other animals – the Microbiome. It looks really nifty! Interesting times…

Bloggers saving magazines

It is brilliant and innovative bloggers like Ed (and others, yes, Carl, Phil, Sheril, Chris, Sean, etc.) who saved Discover magazine, or so it seems, as it managed to sell for more than $1 (paid last week for Newsweek) for a small but still respectable sum guessed to be around $7 million. In the times when magazines are folding or selling for nothing, this is nothing to sneer at, and it is the online part of it – their blogging network – that saved their skin. Which is why pretty much every popular science magazine is now expanding, building or considering building a blogging network of their own right now. Interesting times…

Diversity

Yes, I wrote at length about this in my post last week. But this does not stop the blogosphere from discussing the issue as well, and it shouldn’t – this needs to be dicsussed. See these interesting and enlightening comment threads at ScientistMother and DrugMonkey.

The fact is that most of the networks (see the blogrolls of Scientopia, Lab Spaces, Field Of Science, even Scienceblogs.com…) have around 50% or more female bloggers, and also bloggers spanning a wide range of ages (and countries, as long as they all speak the same language, usually English, but check my Blogroll on the right for other examples), but are sorely lacking in the non-White department. This reflects the situation in science as a whole.

As I am privy to many back-channel conversations, I know for a fact that all of these networks have tried really hard to attract minority bloggers. There are just a handful of obviously and openly non-White science booggers out there, and I am sure they all got inundated by invitations. And as I noted in my post, they had very good reasons to be reluctant to join, even when invited by their long-term bloggy friends and commenters. It will be interesting to see if the corporate networks coming up soon will have better luck.

But the bottom-line is: do not blame the networks for being all-White as they are trying really hard not to be, and do not blame the minority bloggers for being reluctant at this point in time to join networks, as they have quite legitimate reasons for this. Once the situation in science changes, and the situation in the science blogiverse starts reflecting it, there will be many more minority bloggers and the problem of ‘tokenism’ will slowly disappear (we all hope) as they will know they are naturally included in the community anyway, so why not join networks as well.

A much more interesting is the case of diversity of disciplines. As much as all the nascent networks are trying, they apparently cannot attract any Earth Science bloggers or Ocean Science bloggers to their networks. This makes them seem bio-medically biased despite their efforts not to be.

Ocean bloggers have happily built their own community around Deep Sea News blog and Southern Fried Science blog, and The Gam network, and the Carnival of the Blue. They feel no need to join other networks since they have their own, and it is quite visible and well-known outside of their narrow circle – the MSM watches them as well.

On the other hand, geobloggers appear to feel similar to the minority bloggers – always sidelined, always misunderstood, always invited as tokens, always playing the second fiddle and being a second thought. So they are circling the wagons and trying to build their own community. Read carefully the comment thread on this post on Highly Allochthonous and listen to the podcast. They are building their own network, have built a comprehensive RSS feed and all participate in the Accretionary Wedge blog carnival. But they are sorely missing from the networks! So again: do not blame the networks for not having geobloggers (they tried hard to invite them), and do not blame geobloggers for saying no to invites (they have legitimate reasons for that as well).

What some have not read in my post, perhaps, was the “exclusivity” subheading – at this day and age, a network (unless paying enormous amounts of money to the bloggers) cannot ask for exclusivity. Why not have different blogs in various places? A solo blog for ranting, plus a couple of blogs on a couple of networks – perhaps one blog on a community network for the feeling of belonging to a community, and another blog on a corporate network that pays: where you write your most professional stuff. You can even mirror the same content everywhere so you do not have to write 3-4 times as much. This is nothing new – there are a number of bloggers out there who are already writing several blogs in several places (Grrrlscientist and DrugMonkey and Jason Goldman and Dr.Isis immediately come to mind).

There is nothing wrong with having topic-focused networks, but there is no need to be only there and not help generalist networks also showcase your discipline. Or as Grant Jacobs wrote: Blogging groups, lighten up and enjoy your niche! (the text of the post is actually much smarter than the title). More the merrier, in terms of networks, does not just mean pure numbers, it also means diversity of approaches to building networks. So go forth and experiment.

To join or not to join, that is the question

I am not going to be the one to tell you how to blog or why to blog.

But I am a little disconcerted (especially after explaining the difference in painstaking detail in my farewell post – if you link to it, please link to it here, not on Sb, thanks) that a lot of people still do not see the difference between being solo and being on a network. Comments like “URL is an URL” drive me up the wall because they reveal clear lack of understanding of how the Web works.

So I am not going to tell you if YOU should join a network or not – it is up to you and your own blogging goals, but will just try to explain again what is the difference between being on and off a network.

Perhaps we can start by reading (especially the comment thread which is revealing – the post itself is excellent and thoughtful) this post at FemaleScienceProfessor. Then also read the post and comments at Academic Jungle (perhaps also this one) as well.

FSP nicely looks at several factors (that many commenters seem to miss) that play into a decision to join a network, including increased traffic, belonging to a community (see this post as well), change in the type of audience (see this comment) and potential loss of independence.

These factors are more or less important depending on who you are. If you are a FemaleScienceProfessor, or a Larry Moran, or a Rebecca Skloot, or a Jerry Coyne, or a Cliff Johnson or a Deborah Blum, or heck, even me, you can probably afford to go solo. These bloggers have been around forever, they are well known online and offline, they have built over the years a large audience (and probably nice traffic), and they are read by at least a few people in the MSM – the ‘visibility’ factor that FSP did not mention.

But even for bloggers like these, by not being on the network they have to rely for visibility only on their direct traffic, and not the indirect visibility that comes from co-bloggers on the network and the extended visibility that comes from the virtue of MSM monitoring networks quite closely. Whenever a solo blogger needs to have a message spread more widely than the usual crowd, they need to resort to e-mails, tweeting, begging big bloggers for a link, sending stuff to carnivals, etc. Those things come spontaneously and effortlessly for networked bloggers. So if your blogging often requires that as many people as possible see something you posted in order to get important information out or to effect some action (perhaps even to affect policy), being on a network is a good idea. If not, then going solo is just fine.

What if you are not a Skloot or a Coyne? What if you are a young grad student who just started a blog? Not well known online, not well known offline. You can keep posting and trying not to quit just because nobody is commenting. You can keep commenting on other blogs. You can keep linking to other blogs. You can keep posting links to your posts on social networks like Twitter and Facebook and trying to follow/friend as many other science bloggers as you can there. You can keep sending your stuff to carnivals and occasionally hosting one. All in the hope that one day somebody will finally notice you and recognize your writing greatness. And when that happens, what form will that recognition have? Probably an invite to a network!

And these days, as The Usual Suspects are either happily remaining on Sb or NN or Discover, or moving en-masse to Scientopia, or quickly getting poached by other media-hosted networks, there are just not enough of them to go around. So all the new and growing networks are now searching for new talent to fill their blogrolls. This is a good time to be good and productive on your blog if you want to join a community.

What is important for you? If it is editorial independence and a belonging to a community, you should join a blogging co-op. Less likely your stuff will show up in Google News, but still an increase in visibility and reach.

If you are a professional writer or want to become one, you need to go to a place where you can showcase your best writing in the hope of getting noticed. You may get paid or not on a corporate network, you may not have 100% freedom to post whatever you want (especially if you are paid a lot – this become more of a professional job than just personal diary and ranting), but you will be seen by people who are potentially in a position to offer you a gig or a job or a book deal, people like those who read and write KSJ and CJR and NASW and editors of pop-sci magazines and science pages in newspapers.

A co-op is likely to be fast and nimble and flexible and will evolve quickly as the Web evolves. A corporate network is likely to be much more traditional, cautious and timid, and will change very slowly (several layers of bureaucracy, tons of paperwork, etc., so things like moving a widget from left sidebar to right sidebar may take five months to happen instead of five minutes: corp-time, not blog-time). But the corporate network is much more likely to be stable and long-lasting and not die off when some key person suddenly loses interest. So there are pros and cons and compromises in each case.

So it is up to you to decide what are your own best options. It may be going solo. It may be joining a blogging cooperative. Or it may be joining a corporate network. Or, as I said above, do all of it at once and take the best of all worlds.

BIO101 – Cell Structure

As you may know, I have been teaching BIO101 (and also the BIO102 Lab) to non-traditional students in an adult education program for about twelve years now. Every now and then I muse about it publicly on the blog (see this, this, this, this, this, this and this for a few short posts about various aspects of it – from the use of videos, to the use of a classroom blog, to the importance of Open Access so students can read primary literature). The quality of students in this program has steadily risen over the years, but I am still highly constrained with time: I have eight 4-hour meetings with the students over eight weeks. In this period I have to teach them all of biology they need for their non-science majors, plus leave enough time for each student to give a presentation (on the science of their favourite plant and animal) and for two exams. Thus I have to strip the lectures to the bare bones, and hope that those bare bones are what non-science majors really need to know: concepts rather than factoids, relationship with the rest of their lives rather than relationship with the other sciences. Thus I follow my lectures with videos and classroom discussions, and their homework consists of finding cool biology videos or articles and posting the links on the classroom blog for all to see. A couple of times I used malaria as a thread that connected all the topics – from cell biology to ecology to physiology to evolution. I think that worked well but it is hard to do. They also write a final paper on some aspect of physiology.

Another new development is that the administration has realized that most of the faculty have been with the school for many years. We are experienced, and apparently we know what we are doing. Thus they recently gave us much more freedom to design our own syllabus instead of following a pre-defined one, as long as the ultimate goals of the class remain the same. I am not exactly sure when am I teaching the BIO101 lectures again (late Fall, Spring?) but I want to start rethinking my class early. I am also worried that, since I am not actively doing research in the lab and thus not following the literature as closely, that some of the things I teach are now out-dated. Not that anyone can possibly keep up with all the advances in all the areas of Biology which is so huge, but at least big updates that affect teaching of introductory courses are stuff I need to know.

I need to catch up and upgrade my lecture notes. And what better way than crowdsource! So, over the new few weeks, I will re-post my old lecture notes (note that they are just intros – discussions and videos etc. follow them in the classroom) and will ask you to fact-check me. If I got something wrong or something is out of date, let me know (but don’t push just your own preferred hypothesis if a question is not yet settled – give me the entire controversy explanation instead). If something is glaringly missing, let me know. If something can be said in a nicer language – edit my sentences. If you are aware of cool images, articles, blog-posts, videos, podcasts, visualizations, animations, games, etc. that can be used to explain these basic concepts, let me know. And at the end, once we do this with all the lectures, let’s discuss the overall syllabus – is there a better way to organize all this material for such a fast-paced class.

Today, we continue into biology proper – the basic structure of a (mainly animal) cell. See the previous lectures:
Biology and the Scientific Method.

Follow me under the fold:
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BIO101 – Biology and the Scientific Method

As you may know, I have been teaching BIO101 (and also the BIO102 Lab) to non-traditional students in an adult education program for about twelve years now. Every now and then I muse about it publicly on the blog (see this, this, this, this, this, this and this for a few short posts about various aspects of it – from the use of videos, to the use of a classroom blog, to the importance of Open Access so students can read primary literature). The quality of students in this program has steadily risen over the years, but I am still highly constrained with time: I have eight 4-hour meetings with the students over eight weeks. In this period I have to teach them all of biology they need for their non-science majors, plus leave enough time for each student to give a presentation (on the science of their favourite plant and animal) and for two exams. Thus I have to strip the lectures to the bare bones, and hope that those bare bones are what non-science majors really need to know: concepts rather than factoids, relationship with the rest of their lives rather than relationship with the other sciences. Thus I follow my lectures with videos and classroom discussions, and their homework consists of finding cool biology videos or articles and posting the links on the classroom blog for all to see. A couple of times I used malaria as a thread that connected all the topics – from cell biology to ecology to physiology to evolution. I think that worked well but it is hard to do. They also write a final paper on some aspect of physiology.

Another new development is that the administration has realized that most of the faculty have been with the school for many years. We are experienced, and apparently we know what we are doing. Thus they recently gave us much more freedom to design our own syllabus instead of following a pre-defined one, as long as the ultimate goals of the class remain the same. I am not exactly sure when am I teaching the BIO101 lectures again (late Fall, Spring?) but I want to start rethinking my class early. I am also worried that, since I am not actively doing research in the lab and thus not following the literature as closely, that some of the things I teach are now out-dated. Not that anyone can possibly keep up with all the advances in all the areas of Biology which is so huge, but at least big updates that affect teaching of introductory courses are stuff I need to know.

I need to catch up and upgrade my lecture notes. And what better way than crowdsource! So, over the new few weeks, I will re-post my old lecture notes (note that they are just intros – discussions and videos etc. follow them in the classroom) and will ask you to fact-check me. If I got something wrong or something is out of date, let me know (but don’t push just your own preferred hypothesis if a question is not yet settled – give me the entire controversy explanation instead). If something is glaringly missing, let me know. If something can be said in a nicer language – edit my sentences. If you are aware of cool images, articles, blog-posts, videos, podcasts, visualizations, animations, games, etc. that can be used to explain these basic concepts, let me know. And at the end, once we do this with all the lectures, let’s discuss the overall syllabus – is there a better way to organize all this material for such a fast-paced class.

Today, we start with the very beginning – the introductory lecture on Biology and the Scientific Method. Follow me under the fold:

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Periodic Tables: Durham’s Science Cafe – Bonobo Handshake: Love and Adventure in the Congo

From e-mail:

I hope you can join us for our next installment of Periodic Tables: Durham’s Science Cafe! Below are the details for the evening. And remember, try to come early if you want a seat and a bite to eat before we kick things off at 7pm!

——

What: Bonobo Handshake: Love and Adventure in the Congo

“A young woman follows her fiancé to war-torn Congo to study extremely endangered bonobo apes—who teach her a new truth about love and belonging.”

Author and scientist Vanessa Woods will discuss and sign copies of her new book, Bonobo Handshake: A Memoir of Love and Adventure in the Congo. Like chimpanzees, bonobos are related to humans by 98.7%. But in contrast to chimpanzees, who live in male dominated societies where infanticide and lethal aggression are observed, bonobos live in highly tolerant and peaceful societies due to female dominance that maintains group cohesion and regulates tension through sexual behavior. How much of us is chimpanzee and how much is bonobo?

The Regulator Bookstore will be on hand to sell Vanessa’s book after her talk.

Who: Vanessa Woods, Author and Research Scientist at Duke University

Where: Broad Street Cafe, 1116 Broad Street, Durham

When: Tuesday, August 10th @7pm (2nd Tuesday of every month)

Parking: We understand that parking can be tough so please feel free to park at the NC School for Science and Math (catty-corner to Broad Street Cafe)

Additional Info

Tentative conference schedule for Fall 2010

For various reasons, mostly financial, I had to say No to a number of invitations to meetings throughout the summer (including, unfortunately, the Lindau Nobel conference and Science Online London). But in Fall I will be busy again. This is the tentative schedule. Let me know if you will be at any of these meetings so we can meet up there.

August 21st, 2010, Raleigh NC. Science Communication Conference at the Museum of Natural Science in Raleigh. See the organizing wiki (Note: I was somewhat involved in advising during the early stages of organization, will attend but will not be on the podium – as it is an Unconference, I am likely to speak up from my comfy chair in the audience). Edit: I will give the Concluding Note at the end….

September 14th, 2010, Boston MA. 140 Characters Conference. I am currently on the “reserve” list in case one of the targeted bigwigs declines the invitation. If given a chance, I will talk about real-time science communication online.

September 16th, 2010, Raleigh NC. PechaKucha Raleigh #4. I will not speak, but intend to attend. The #3 was excellent.

September 23-24th, 2010, Chicago IL. Block by Block: Community News Summit 2010 organized by Michelle McLellan and Jay Rosen, about community news online. I accepted the invitation but am not sure yet about the format and if I am expected to say something from the front or the back of the room. I am assuming that I was invited at least in part due to the local science coverage efforts here in NC, especially Science In The Triangle.

October 1st-2nd, 2010, Greensboro NC. ConvergeSouth. Very tech and business oriented this year, under a new management. But still an occasion to meet my Triad friends.

November 3-4, 2010, Greenville SC. 2010 Conference on Communicating Science. I will do the session “New Tools for Communication (Use of “New” Media)” on the 4th in the morning.

November 5-9th, 2010, New Haven CT. ScienceWriters2010 co-organized by National Association of Science Writers and Council for the Advancement of Science Writing’s New Horizons in Science Briefings®. I will be a part of a panel on November 6th, Rebooting science journalism: Adapting to the new media landscape, together with Emily Bell and Betsy Mason, organized and moderated by David Dobbs.

December 2-4th, 2010, Raleigh NC. W.M.Keck Center for Behavioral Biology Alumni meeting. As I am an alumnus, I will definitely attend to see all my old friends from grad school and am also likely to give a talk about Open Access.

And then, it’s ScienceOnline2011 crunchtime….

dit

Weekend Readings

From around the blogosphere:

Brian Switek: Back In The Saddle

Chris Rowan: The dawn of Scientopia and the evolving science blogging ecosystem

Thomas Hager: Science Blogging Uncovered

Tabitha M. Powledge (NASW blog): On science blogs this week: Deconstruction

FemaleScienceProfessor: Metablogging Interlude

Alexey Bersenev: Scientific blogging as a model for professional networking online

David Orr: Mesozoic Blogosphere

Eva Amsen: Sci Foo – blogging session

At the Museum: bonobos and bioluminescence

Two great lectures at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences:

1. Museum hosts presentation on ‘Bioluminescence Below the Bahamas’

RALEIGH ― Join Duke University biologist Sonke Johnsen for a detailed look into the world of marine bioluminescence and its use as an adaptation to help organisms hide, hunt and communicate. Johnsen’s multimedia presentation, “Deep Light: Bioluminescence and Vision 2,000 Feet below the Bahamas,” takes place at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences on Thursday, August 12 at 7pm. Free.

Johnsen is associate professor of biology and director of The Johnsen Lab at Duke, which studies bioluminescence ― an organism’s ability to produce its own light ― and other aspects of visual ecology. He recently participated in an inaugural survey of deep-sea floor bioluminescence and continues to collaborate with Edith Widder, bioluminescence expert and a former curator of GLOW: Living Lights, the first-ever museum exhibit to explore the phenomenon of bioluminescence. Now showing at the Museum of Natural Sciences, this exhibit reveals the world of light-producing terrestrial organisms, from fireflies to foxfire fungus, before traveling to the mid-ocean, where an estimated 90 percent of animals produce light. GLOW runs through September 12.

Adult tickets to GLOW are available at a discounted rate on these evenings, with tickets sold from 5 to 6:30pm. For more information, visit www.naturalsciences.org.

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2. Vanessa Woods to discuss “Bonobo Handshake” at Museum of Natural Sciences

In the midst of the war-torn Congo, there exists a peaceful society in which females are in charge, war is nonexistent, and sex is as common and friendly as a handshake. Welcome to the world of bonobos, a rare ape with whom we share 98.7 percent of our DNA. On Thursday, August 19 at 6:30pm, join author and Duke University scientist Vanessa Woods for a detailed discussion of her new book, “Bonobo Handshake,” at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences in downtown Raleigh. Free.

“For thousands of years, we have wondered what makes us human,” says Woods. “To find the answer, we study our closest living relatives, chimpanzees and more recently, bonobos. Neither species is easy to study, but bonobos are particularly difficult, being the world’s most endangered ape in the world’s most dangerous country. But this makes them all the more important, and bonobos could not only unlock the secret of what makes us human, but also teach us how being a little less human could go a long way.” Woods will be signing copies of her book in the Museum Store prior to her lecture.

Woods is an internationally published author and journalist and is the main Australian/ New Zealand feature writer for the Discovery Channel. She graduated with a Masters of Science Communication from the Centre for the Public Awareness of Science at the Australian National University and has written for various publications including BBC Wildlife, New Scientist, and Travel Africa. In 2003, Woods won the Australasian Science award for journalism. In 2007, her children’s book on space was named an Acclaimed Book by the UK Royal Society and shortlisted for the Royal Society’s Junior Science Book Prize.

ScienceOnline2010 – interview with Helene Andrews-Polymenis

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 Helene Andrews-Polymenis 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?

Sure, I’d love to. I grew up in a small rural community in the Pacific Northwest, and have lived both in the northeast (Boston for 10 years) and now in the southwest, where I live currently. My husband is Greek and my mom is German and so we travel frequently to Europe. I am part of a 2-academic science career couple, my husband and I are both tenure track faculty in the life sciences. I have two daughters, who just finished 2nd and 6th grade, both born during my academic training. As you can imagine, we have quite a crazy life.

I study infectious diseases, and am most interested in those questions at the intersection of human disease, animal health, and public health. I am currently Associate Professor in the Department of Microbial and Molecular Pathogenesis at Texas A&M. I finished my Ph.D. in molecular and microbiology in 1999, finished veterinary school in 2001, and began my faculty position in 2005.

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

I had quite a long academic training, if you count up my years in graduate school and in veterinary school. Throughout my academic training I did not think that I would have an academic position- I’m not sure what I thought I would do with all that training. It wasn’t until I was doing my postdoc that I realized that a faculty position might be in my future, and that my combined expertise in veterinary medicine and bacterial pathogenesis allowed me an ability to cross over multiple fields and look at the problems I was interested in in a different way than many other scientists might. I currently work on identifying genes necessary for acute systemic infection, and for persistence of Salmonellae in the gastrointestinal tract in natural hosts of disease. I use (and sometimes develop) animal models.

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

Well, in addition to my job I am raising two daughters and this takes most of my time. However, on the side I am also interested in science communication and discussion. I maintain a blog that discusses lots of issues of the working of science, grantsmanship, academic faculty issues, and women’s issues. In addition, I am currently involved in a project I am very excited about: the development of a site called The Third Reviewer, along with the founder of this site Martha Bagnall and a third colleague of mine, Corrie Detweiler. The Third Reviewer is an online site where recently published articles from multiple journals relevant to a given field are aggregated and where open, honest, anonymous discussion of this literature is fostered. I think this site has the potential to change the way that scientific discussion happens in very important aspects.

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

I’m interested in the changing face of science publishing- so how and what new media will be used to communicate science now and in the future. Science has very ritualized methods of communication- the peer reviewed article, the review article- and the format, accessibility and communicability of those are changing with the development of new media. I am also interested in how the discussion of scientific literature can be moved out of individual labs and small venues, into a broader framework on the internet.

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 blog and tweet under a pseudonym – and this is just something I do for fun that I hope hits an audience that will find it useful. I use Facebook in my personal life, and have just started to use it to promote individual projects in my professional life.

So far all of this online activity is something that I do for fun, but in the end it is all related to my real-life job. I hope that in the future, perhaps for faculty coming after me, these activities will be seen as mentoring activities (my blog), or innovative educational techniques (The Third Reviewer), methods etc.- and will be formally considered in materials used for promotion of faculty.

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?

Actually, I discovered Science blogs through you Bora! I noticed that someone other than my mom was visiting my family blog, where I occasionally wrote about my career. That someone turned out to be writing at ‘A Blog Around the Clock’, and that realization was what prompted me to begin writing my own blog about all of the issues I was facing as a woman with a family in science. As for the blogs I love – well, I particularly like yours, Drugmonkey, the White Coat Underground, Zuska, Mike the Mad Biologist, and about 10-12 others.

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?

I loved attending ScienceOnline2010 for the very interesting people, and the very interesting MIX of people. I was surprised to see a few faces I already knew from other parts of my scientific life, but the mix of science journalists, scientists, bloggers, librarians, programmers etc., was quite remarkable at this meeting.

It was so nice to meet you in person and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again next January.

Bed bugs and cockroaches: The insects that bug us

Our August Science Café (description below) will be held on Tuesday 8/17 at Tir Na Nog on S. Blount Street.

Just in time to lead up to BugFest the museum’s annual event highlighting the world of arthropods, our café this month will be a discussion about insects (in particular, some species that we are not too fond of… bed bugs and cockroaches!)

I first learned about bed bugs from a television documentary probably a year or more ago. Since that show, and most likely because I work in a natural history museum, I have heard more and more about these pests and how difficult they are to deal with. Because travelers can bring them home in suitcases after staying in infested hotel rooms, it is important for all of us to understand their life history. An interesting website http://bedbugregistry.com/, is a site where the public report bed bugs that they have encountered in hotels and apartments. You can see from the listings that these pests are found throughout our country.

Another pest that people are more familiar with, the cockroach, (found in all 50 states) is also very difficult to deal with — So, we’ve added them to the line up for our evening’s café discussion. Learn how to distinguish one species of roach from another and how to be on the lookout for these unwanted house (or office) guests.

Bed bugs and cockroaches: The insects that bug us

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

6:30-8:30 p.m. with discussion beginning at 7:00 followed by Q&A

Tir Na Nog, 218 South Blount Street, Raleigh, 833-7795

After disappearing from many countries for almost 50 years, bed bugs have made a comeback and are once again sucking our blood while we sleep and stowing away in our luggage when we travel. Cockroaches, on the other hand, have always been a fact of life for people living in the South, but all roaches are not the same — some are part of our outdoor environment and only end up in our homes by accident, while others are only found in buildings and produce allergens that can pose health risks.

In this Science Café, we will explore some of the urban legends related to bed bugs, observe some insects to get an idea of what to watch out for, and discuss how you can keep these tiny vampires out of your home. We will also discuss do-it-yourself options for cockroach control as well as give you some cockroach identification tips.

About Our Speaker: Richard Santangelo is a research specialist in the Entomology Department at North Carolina State University. His work focuses on urban pest control aspects of entomology, including pesticide resistance monitoring of cockroaches and bed bugs, product testing of commercial insecticides for pest control, and allergen intervention in low income housing and hog farms. Santangelo has also worked on a Colorado Spider Survey with the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and biological control of cotton pests in Arizona.

ScienceOnline interviews

I have not “cleaned up” my files here yet, so all the internal links point to the posts over on Scienceblogs.com. So I decided to put together links to all the Q&As I did with the participants of the ScienceOnline conferences so far. Many people who came once try to keep coming back again and again, each year. And next year, I guess I can start doing some “repeats” as people’s lives and careers change quite a lot over a period of 3-4 years. I should have thought of doing this in 2007! And there will be (hopefully) more 2010 interviews posted soon.

2011:

Taylor Dobbs
Holly Tucker
Jason Priem
David Wescott
Jennifer Rohn
Jessica McCann
Dave Mosher
Alice Bell
Robin Lloyd
Thomas Peterson
Pascale Lane
Holy Bik
Seth Mnookin
Bonnie Swoger
John Hawks
Kaitlin Thaney
Kari Wouk
Michael Barton
Richard Grant
Kiyomi Deards

2010:

Ken Liu
Maria Droujkova
Hope Leman
Tara Richerson
Carl Zimmer
Marie-Claire Shanahan
John Timmer
Dorothea Salo
Jeff Ives
Fabiana Kubke
Andrea Novicki
Andrew Thaler
Mark MacAllister
Andrew Farke
Robin Ann Smith
Christine Ottery
DeLene Beeland
Russ Williams
Patty Gainer
John McKay
Mary Jane Gore
Ivan Oransky
Diana Gitig
Dennis Meredith
Ed Yong
Misha Angrist
Jonathan Eisen
Christie Wilcox
Maria-Jose Vinas
Sabine Vollmer
Beth Beck
Ernie Hood
Carmen Drahl
Joanne Manaster
Elia Ben-Ari
Leah D. Gordon
Kerstin Hoppenhaus
Hilary Maybaum
Jelka Crnobrnja
Alex, Staten Island Academy student
Scott Huler
Tyler Dukes
Tom Linden
Jason Hoyt
Amy Freitag
Emily Fisher
Antony Williams
Sonia Stephens
Karyn Hede
Jack, Staten Island Academy student
Jeremy Yoder
Fenella Saunders
Cassie Rodenberg
Travis Saunders
Julie Kelsey
Beatrice Lugger
Eric Roston
Anne Frances Johnson
William Saleu
Stephanie Willen Brown
Helene Andrews-Polymenis
Jennifer Williams
Morgan Giddings
Anne Jefferson
Marla Broadfoot
Kelly Rae Chi
Princess Ojiaku
Steve Koch

2009:

Sol Lederman
Greg Laden
SciCurious
Peter Lipson
Glendon Mellow
Dr.SkySkull
Betul Kacar Arslan
Eva Amsen
GrrrlScientist
Miriam Goldstein
Katherine Haxton
Stephanie Zvan
Stacy Baker
Bob O’Hara
Djordje Jeremic
Erica Tsai
Elissa Hoffman
Henry Gee
Sam Dupuis
Russ Campbell
Danica Radovanovic
John Hogenesch
Bjoern Brembs
Erin Cline Davis
Carlos Hotta
Danielle Lee
Victor Henning
John Wilbanks
Kevin Emamy
Arikia Millikan
Tatjana Jovanovic-Grove
Blake Stacey
Daniel Brown
Christian Casper
Cameron Neylon

2008:

Karen James
James Hrynyshyn
Talia Page
Deepak Singh
Sheril Kirshenbaum
Graham Steel
Jennifer Ouelette
Anna Kushnir
Dave Munger
Vanessa Woods
Moshe Pritsker
Hemai Parthasarathy
Vedran Vucic
Patricia Campbell
Virginia Hughes
Brian Switek
Jennifer Jacquet
Bill Hooker
Gabrielle Lyon
Aaron Rowe
Christina Pikas
Tom Levenson
Liz Allen
Kevin Zelnio
Anne-Marie Hodge
John Dupuis
Ryan Somma
Janet Stemwedel
Shelley Batts
Tara Smith
Karl Leif Bates
Xan Gregg
Suzanne Franks
Rick MacPherson
Karen Ventii
Rose Reis
me
Elisabeth Montegna
Kendall Morgan
David Warlick
Jean-Claude Bradley

Welcome Scientopia, a new science blogging network

Today is an exciting day in the science blogiverse. There is a new science blogging network, a self-managed bloggers’ cooperative – Scientopia (from the press release):

Scientopia.org will launch a new blogging collective to educate and entertain anyone interested in eclectic voices of science on Monday 2 August at 1000 EDT.

Scientopia.org unites multifarious voices from the scientific community to discuss anything and everything that catches their fancy. There are a lot of science blogs out there, and a lot of science blogging networks. When the networks run with commercial interests in mind, the priorities of the bloggers and readers can get lost. Some bloggers began to wonder: what would happen if the bloggers and their readers came first? From this discussion sprung Scientopia.org.

We invite the world to ponder, argue, converse, and laugh along with us.

Each blog is produced by an individual or group that retains complete editorial control of its own content. Some bloggers are moving from other networks; others are creating new blogs.

This will be very exciting to watch. They are launching with 24 blogs with 30 bloggers, about half of whom were at some point in the past blogging at Scienceblogs.com, and thus have the “stamp of approval” by a media company. The others, by virtue of being invited to join the collective, automatically also get that ‘stamp of approval’ from their peers.

This is already a pretty large network and will be adding new bloggers later, so it will be interesting to see how the experiment works with the bottom-up instead of top-down approach to management. They have devised good mechanisms for dealing with various foreseeable problems, and for things like deciding collectively about invitations and acceptance of new bloggers.

The Scientopia network is more than a collection of individuals: it’s a scientific community. It serves the common goals of sharing our love of science, while respecting the diverse interests of its members. At Scientopia, the community — of bloggers and readers, engaging with science and each other — is not a side effect. It’s the whole point.

The theme of a few of my recent posts – that the science blogosphere is changing from one large volcanic island to a whole archipelago of equally interesting and powerful islands – seems to be unveiling as predicted. Unlike networks run by companies, the coop could act fast as they did not need committee meetings, CEO approvals, endless Excel sheets and such – they took only three weeks from the original idea to launch.

And while many excellent science bloggers remain on Scienceblogs.com (and if you have thin skin for discussions of politics and religion you can always skip the “Politics” category or subscribe only to the “Select” feed and be floored as to how much kick-ass science blogging there is at Sb), the appearance of another big network full of well-known personalities of the science blogosphere, provides us all with another place to go.

Scientopia also has its own Twitter account and you should subscribe to their RSS feed.

The bloggers who are starting at Scientopia at the day of the launch are probably most or all already very familiar to you. Here are their old and new URLs so you can check them all out:

Janet D. Stemwedel has moved Adventures in Ethics and Science from here to here.

Ethan Rop will launch a new blog – Attack Polymerase.

Former blogger from Neurotopia, Scicurious, has moved Neurotic Physiology from here to here.

Elizabeth Brown, Dorothea Salo, and Sarah Shreeves have moved their Book of Trogool from here to here.

Candid Engineer has moved from here to here.

Arlenna has moved Chemical BiLOLogy from here to here.

Jason Goldman will continue to blog at The Thoughtful Animal on Scienceblogs, but has also teamed up with the awesome Melody Dye for a new blog Child’s Play.

Christina Pikas has moved Christina’s LIS Rant from here to here.

DrugMonkey and PhysioProf (while keeping their personal rants here and here), have moved DrugMonkey Blog from here to here.

Rob Knop, who used to be on Scienceblogs ages ago (see) has moved Galactic Interactions from here to here.

Mark Chu-Carroll has moved Good Math/Bad Math from here to here.

Professor in Training has moved from here to here.

Prof-Like Substance has moved from here to the newly renamed The Spandrel Shop.

Sanitized for Your Protection is a new blog by Rebecca Montague.

Greg Gbur, better know around the blogoshere as ‘drskyskull’ or ‘gg’ has moved Skulls in the Stars from here to here.

Dr.Isis will continue to blog on her site at Scienceblogs.com but has also started a new blog – The Brain Confounds Everything.

Mike Dunford has moved The Questionable Authority from here to here.

Krystal D’Costa of Anthropology in Practice has added her second blog – The Urban Ethnographer.

Grrrlscientist who you probably know from her old Sb blog, and perhaps from her NN blog Maniraptora, has teamed up with her husband Bob O’Hara (who you may know from Deep Thoughts and Silliness) to start a new (ad)venture: This Scientific Life.

Suzanne Franks has moved Thus Spake Zuska from here via here to here.

Once upon a time, Voltage Gate was also on Scienceblogs. Heather, Jeremy and Jennifer have now moved it from here to here.

PalMD has moved White Coat Underground from here through here to his brand new digs here.

PH Lane is moving from Golden Thoughts to WhizBang.

As you may notice, my blog is not on that list. While this network looks great, I have decided to remain solo for a while and promote all the new and renewed networks springing up, and promote good science blogging in general. Good luck to all my bloggy friends on this endeavor.

Open Laboratory 2010 – submissions to date

Note: if you have recently moved your blog, please e-mail me the corrected URLs for your entries

The list is growing fast – check the submissions to date and get inspired to submit something of your own – an essay, a poem, a cartoon or original art.

The Submission form is here so you can get started. Under the fold are entries so far, as well as buttons and the bookmarklet. The instructions for submitting are here.

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

Continue reading

Best of July

I posted only 71 times in July – the all-time low. But there is a reason for that – first there was a great reduction in posting between the moment the Pepsi blog was announced on Scienceblogs.com and the moment I left Scienceblogs about ten days later. Then, since the move, my blog changed – all sorts of daily or near-daily features are now gone. No more pressure to post frequently. My blog is again my own, and I post when I want to and not when I feel like I should.

But I would like to think that reduction in quantity will not mean a reduction in quality. I passed the 10,000 post mark in July but expect it would take much more than four years to double that number again. And I think I did post some interesting stuff last month despite all the crises.

The Big Event of the month was the so-called PepsiGate and the subsequent rearrangement of the science blogging (and scienceblogging) community. I collected the initial reactions in the PepsiGate linkfest. Then wrote a thorough history and analysis of the current moment in my goodbye post at Scienceblogs.com – A Farewell to Scienceblogs: the Changing Science Blogging Ecosystem. This was followed by a ruminating Thank You post which inluded many more links to the subsequent reactions. And then I turned my sights to the future and wrote a Free Guide to Building a Successful Science Blogging Network in Science Blogging Networks: What, Why and How. A particularly bad article on the event in NYTimes Magazine provoked a lot of responses, which I collected all in one place. Oh yes, we also got cartooned (again) about all of this.

These rapid changes motivated many science bloggers and writers to do some reminiscing – you can see some of those in Bloggers, Evolving.

Since I could not do all the blogging myself, I asked for some help and got this wonderful contribution: UC Berkeley Genetic Testing Affair: Science vs Science Education – guest post by Dr.Marie-Claire Shanahan

I got interviewed, and re-posted the interview on my blog – about science, animal research, ethics creep, and more – Seven Questions….with Yours Truly.

I had more time to read books, so I reviewed ‘On The Grid’ by Scott Huler and ‘The Poisoner’s Handbook’ by Deborah Blum.

We self-organized the Zombie Day on Scienceblogs.com, for which I re-posted my old Revenge of the Zombifying Wasp and wrote a new one – Are Zombies nocturnal? (so yes, there was some actual science on the blog in July).

The series of Q&As with the participants of ScienceOnline2010 continues, with contributions from Anne Frances Johnson, William Saleu and Stephanie Willen Brown.

Open Laboratory got a new Editor.

I answered the Blogging with substance meme and tried to collect the links to all the surviving Sciencey Blog carnivals.

Work-wise, I announced the PLoS ONE Blog Pick of the Month for June 2010.

July 2010 PLoS ONE Blog Pick of the Month….

….was just announced on the everyONE blog.

Origins of Science Writers…but am I one?

The other day, Ed Yong asked science writers, journalists, bloggers and communicators to write their ‘origin stories’, i.e., how they got into science writing plus advice to people who are interested in pursuing this line of work. He received 100 comments so far which is (almost) 100 responses, from some of the top science writers in the world. I find the entire thread fascinating!. In the end I could not resist, so I posted my own comment, reproduced (with mild edits) here:

I think I need to look at the influence of my family. My grandmother was Czech. She got a degree in Philosophy at the University of Prague (at the same time as Franz Kafka and Max Brod). My grandfather came to Prague from Sarajevo, Bosnia. He received two degrees at the University of Prague: in architecture and in civil engineering. The two met at the University, fell in love, and upon graduating got married and settled in Sarajevo where my grandfather designed and built a number of buildings, some of which (including the first skyscraper in the Balkans) are now under protection as cultural and historical monuments. Being a part of elite circles of Sarajevo, they lived under the illusion they were safe. Thus, unlike their siblings who fled the city (and even the country) at the beginning of WWII, they were caught by the Nazis and placed in the concentration camp where they perished close to the end of the war.

Through smart and fast action of some friends and relatives, their daughter (my Mom) was saved and many years later she wrote a wonderful piece about her memories of the War which was published in a book. At the end of the WWII, at the age of twelve, she was adopted by her uncle (her father’s brother) and brought to Belgrade (then Yugoslavia, now Serbia). Thus it is my great-uncle and great-aunt who were the “grandparents” I actually knew and grew up with. They both had a profound influence on me. She was a Czech-born ballerina, a world-famous ballet choreographer, and the founder of the first and (still to this day) most influential ballet school in Yugoslavia, in Belgrade. He was an Army colonel, with two degrees from the University of Prague: chemistry and chemical engineering. They were both world travelers and fluent in several languages.

My parents met at the University of Belgrade. My mother was studying English, and my father was studying Philology. They both also studied a variety of foreign languages. My mother taught English for a while, but spent most of her working career working in the depths of the Serbian government. My father, together with a few friends, owned the only printing press in Serbia right after the War. After it was nationalized, he worked as editor and copy-editor for various technical publications. Occasionally he would take me with him to the printers, where they treated him like God (“one of the last old-school copy-editors who does it right” they would tell me) and where I could stare for hours at the printing presses, marveling at the engineering, enjoying the sounds and the smells and smudges of ink on my fingers.

Needless to say, both our house and grandparents’ house were full of books (as is my house today). We were all big readers of books (I swallowed massive doses of science fiction as a teenager). And we were all big readers of newspapers and magazines as well. When I was very little, I would just read the comics page, the weekly kids section, the weekly nature section, perhaps the movie and TV schedules, but as I was growing up, I made sure to turn every page and read whatever piques my interest, which was more and more as I was getting older.

My father was a language perfectionist and he made sure my brother and I learned to speak and write perfect, grammatically correct Serbian. My mother made sure we were started on English as a foreign language early on (when I was about 5). My father was also a choir singer and taught us proper diction, which is why my favorite medium is radio.

Both our house and our grandparents’ house were always full of fascinating people. Theater people, of course, from opera singers to ballet dancers to directors to composers to conductors. Artists. Art photographers. Linguists. Mining engineers. Gay couples. Writers. Physicians. Journalists. A professor of anatomy at the vet school. A food scientist who spent her entire career doing research on chocolate. A philosophy professor who later got elected into Serbian Parliament and ran for President. Many an evening the guests stayed late into the night discussing politics and all sorts of other topics, with my brother and me allowed to stay up late and listen and soak up all of that interesting intellectual discourse.

I always loved animals and planned to do something with them, perhaps become a biologist or a veterinarian of some sort. But I was also always reading and writing and discussing stuff, so a career that involved the use of language was not an unthinkable proposition. And I had a brief stint in journalism – in my middle-school newspaper where my job was to draw doodles and line-drawings (usually of animals) as fillers of empty spaces. I translated two equestrian manuals from English to Serbian. And I bought hay and oats for my horse for a year using the money I earned translating Disney comic strips (Mickey, Donald…) for a weekly.

Life interfered – I was in vet school when the war broke out in 1991. I escaped the country a week before, on one of the last trains out before the borders closed, sanctions were imposed, and the country descended into a decade of chaos. I found myself in North Carolina and, after a couple of years of getting my bearings, decided not to pursue veterinary medicine any more, but to go back to basic science – biology at North Carolina State University.

After ten years of grad school, I realized that things I was good at – thinking, connecting ideas from disparate research traditions, designing clever experiments, observing animal behavior, animal surgery, discussing, teaching, placing my work in historical and philosophical context – were going out of fashion. Instead, biology was becoming more and more an exercise in things I was bad at – pipetting all day and running gels, following recipes, doing what I am told to, working at the bench in complete silence for 13 hours a day seven days a week, getting all secretive and competitive.

So I bailed out. While I was still finishing up my last experiments, I started blogging politics. When the Kerry/Edwards ticket lost in 2004, I switched to blogging about science. The rest is history.

While much of what I do these days has something to do with writing and publishing and the media, I still find it strange to think of myself as a science journalist. I don’t even blog about recent scientific papers very often any more. I write more meta-stuff, e.g., about science communication, science blogging, science journalism, science publishing, science education, media in general etc. I have not published any articles in legacy media and while I am open to that possibility, I am not actively doing anything to make that happen – I feel at home on the Web.

Yet just last week I was granted membership in the National Association of Science Writers (my initial application was rejected as they had to follow their old “printed on paper only” rules, but this prompted them to revisit and revise their rules to allow for online-only publications). So I guess I am now officially a science writer (and will be on a panel at the NASW meeting in November).

Advice? No idea what to say. I write what I feel the urge to write, and it seems some people like it and appreciate it. Perhaps that can work for others as well, I wouldn’t know.