Monthly Archives: July 2011

Blogs: face the conversation

The 20th century was highly unusual when it comes to the media and to the way people receive and exchange information. Telephone, telegraph, telegram, telex and telefax changed the way we communicated with each other. Inventions of radio and television, in addition to the final maturation of newspapers and magazines, changed the way people got informed (and subsequently educated after graduation).

Taking a long historical view, the 20th century was an exception, an anomaly.

But several generations grew up during that anomaly. And while the return to the older communication modes ushered and modernized by the Web, presumably more “natural” to us, may make it more pleasant to receive and exchange information today than it was in the last century, for most people there is also a sense of un-ease. There are habits that need to be broken. There are conventions that need to be re-standardized. There are mental abilities that need to be re-learned.

I have touched on some of these before. For example, in this older post I argued that abilities to assign trust to sources and to employ critical thinking need to be re-learned after a century on “automatic pilot”. I am not saying that our ancestors over the millennia were perfect, but at least they tried – these abilities were part of one’s everyday mental tool-kit.

In a more recent post, I argued that people will need to re-learn to discriminate between purely information-imparting texts from narrative and explanatory texts (and non-textual media) at a glance, without making automatic assumptions like they could do in the last century, i.e., just based on the “vessel’ in which the articles were held.

Now I am going to turn to yet another change in a habit of mind that has the 20th century media as a source and that Web is trying to revert: the continuity of the story.

And for that, the best approach, I think, is to start by looking at blogs and how they are changing the type of discourse on the Web. So, what is a blog?

Blog is software

Blog is primarily a platform. It is a piece of software that makes publishing cheap, fast and easy.

What one does with that platform is up to each individual person or organization.

Some media organizations publish their daily fare – the usual stuff you expect, e.g., news articles – on a blogging platform.

Others use it for PR and marketing. Or corporate news and announcements.

Some use it to engender political action, while others use it as a personal diary. Some use it to share kids’ photos with extended family, while some use it to post travelogues.

Remember that the first blogs were collections of links, without much additional input or commentary from the blogger. The tradition continues, and many bloggers still use their platform to filter the online content, to reach out to and support each other via links, or entire linkfests and blog carnivals. Other bloggers have moved that kind of community building efforts to social networks, like Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook and Google Plus.

Some use blogs to post images, be it original art, or photography, or photoshopped humor and satire, or LOLcats. Though many have since moved to image-specific online communities and platforms, like Flickr, Picassa, DeviantArt and even Tumblr (the latter still has not fixed the problem of losing proper credit and attribution to the original artist, often leading to breach of copyright or loss of livelihood to the artists, but I will let my colleagues discuss that on appropriate blogs on the network, e.g., Symbiartic and Compound Eye.)

Some use it to document their day-to-day scientific research, in what is now known as Open Notebook Science (see Rosie Redfield for an example, though many practitioners have moved to wikis as more suitable platforms for this).

Some use it as a classroom tool (either as a place for students to easily access the lecture notes, like I do with my BIO101 adult students, or as a place where students are supposed to publish their own work, e.g., see archives of Extreme Biology).

Some scientists use blogs to talk to each other. The level of detail is so great that nobody but experts in their field can understand (e.g., some math and chemistry blogs) or with the level of expertise that lay audience does not have but can understand and appreciate anyway (e.g., some paleontology blogs, like Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week). But that is OK – we are not the target audience, their peers are.

Others science bloggers write for educated lay audiences interested in science, including scientists in other fields. Yet others are trying to reach out to completely broad and lay audiences, including children, and including audiences that do not even know yet that science is cool.

Some science bloggers focus on the latest research (the Maestro of this form is Ed Yong of Not Exactly Rocket Science blog, but many others do this and their posts are aggregated at

Others avoid discussing latest research and rather try to organize and systematically explain decades of research on a particular topic (see Tetrapod Zoology for a good example).

And yet others combine the two – using a recent paper to write “explainers” that provide historical context for it (I sometimes like to do that, e.g., see this post for an example).

I am sure I forgot another million ways blogging software can be used, and is used by other people. But these examples are illustrative – one can do whatever one wants with this software (see a good presentation about science blogs here).

Just here, at the Scientific American blog network, we have the “official” blog for corporate news and updates (@ScientificAmerican), a blog for editors to write in a standard journalistic form (Observations), a blog that is all about linking and filtering and networking and community building (The SA Incubator), a blog that combines updates/announcements with linking and community building (The Network Central), several blogs that are personal writings by our editors (though they are aware that they are always going to be seen as public faces of the organization), blogs by our network bloggers who write in various styles on a variety of topics at a broad range of “reading levels”, including those who focus on art, photography, video or music, and blogs where people outside of our organization can get published, though their work is chosen and approved by us, and lightly edited (The Guest Blog and Expeditions).

So even on a single blogging network, you can see a whole plethora of ways that the blogging platform can be used. You can find many more examples if you explore and Blog. It’s just a piece of software.

Does it mean that the medium does not affect the message? Of course not…

Blog is writing with a voice

Let’s for now ignore organizational and corporate blogs and focus only on the blogs written by individuals as themselves and for themselves.

As many have written about before (including myself, focusing on the ‘phatic’ language usually missing from 20th century-style media), individuals’ blogs are inbued with personality. This does not mean they need to reveal anything about their personal life, not even who they are, what they do, and where they live. But their personality shines from each sentence. It seeps in-between the lines. You quickly get to know “where they are coming from”.

Here you are reading a person, not a conglomerate. And our brains are attuned to listening to other people, and to evaluate how trustworthy they are by listening to their voice, their personality. The 20th century media style forces the writers to assume the impersonal form, which in the age of the Web is disconcerting – where is the voice, where is the personality, how can I possibly trust the writing of a person I cannot quite figure out? So in such cases we have to fall back on trusting the brand, the banner up on top.

Personality breeds trust (yes – honesty, transparency, generosity with links, willingness to admit errors and other signs of humanness also contribute to trust, and they are also a part of the blogger’s personality – those things tell you something important about the person). And the personality makes you come back for more, over and over again, every day, or every time your RSS feed reader tells you there is a new post. You get to know the blogger over time, and with time your trust grows (or is diminished, in which case you abandon reading it and move on). And your repeated return to the same blog over time is an important aspect of what I am talking about – the importance of understanding the continuity of conversation online.

Blogging is writing without a safety net

This is the formulation that came from Dave Winer, one of the first bloggers. The earliest mention of the phrase I could find is here.

What does that mean: Blogging is writing without a safety net?

This means that you are on your own. Your work is all yours, and it rises or falls on its own merits. Nobody is fact-checking you before you hit “Publish” (though many commenters will afterwards), and nobody is having your back after your publish – you are alone to defend your work against the critics. If you are good and trusted, you may have a community of bloggers or commenters who will support you, but there is no guarantee.

You can see, from the above paragraph, that there are two senses of “blogging is writing without a safety net”. One concerns pre-publication – there is no editor to check your work. The other concerns post-publication – nobody protects you.

How does it work on our network?

Since I got this job, I try to come up to the office once a month to participate in the editorial meetings. I find the process fascinating! It takes months for an article to go from the initial idea to proposal through several drafts to the final product that gets published in our magazine in print, on the Web, or both. Every word is parsed, every fact checked – the pre-publication safety net is big and strong.

And once the article is published, the safety net is there as well – we stand by our articles, and will defend and support the authors. They have our institutional backing (I am not sure about all the legalese and details for extreme cases, so treat this as a general statement). If an error squeezes through, we try to be honest and transparent, correct the errors, publish Letters to the Editor about it, let someone write a rebuttal on the Guest Blog, etc.

How about our blogs?

Blogging is much faster. Things get written and immediatelly posted. This is part of the definition of a blog: “software that allows frequent, fast and easy updates”. Posts written by our editors and writers on the Observations blog (as well as on their personal blogs) may get a quick check by another editor, and by copy-editor. We trust each other we’ll get stuff right. And, if there is an error, we trust each other to correct errors with transparency. Very little pre-publication safety net, but the post-publication safety net is all there, in full force.

Guest Blog and Explorations have a little bit more of a pre-publication safety net. We actively ask for submissions, and we often get proposals. Thus, we have the ability to choose whose work goes there. Quackery, pseudo-scientific rants, or angry personal attacks will not show up there (or anywhere else on our site, for that matter). Some posts get more scrutiny than others (and on a rare occasion I may ask our copy-editors to proofread a post, or even send one out for “peer review” if it is outside of my area of expertise), but there is generally not much time for fact-checking and proof-reading – most of the posts get published in more or less the same form as they arrive. The editorial decision really comes in the choice of the authors – who we trust to write a good article. Then we let them do it. If an error sneaks in – the same principle applies as always: a transparent correction, offer of a rebuttal by a decent critic, etc., but we stand by our authors and will not pull down posts just because someone says so.

How about the bloggers on our network? Again, the editorial decision was primarily mine: who to choose. Once chosen (out of thousands of possibilities – see the bottom part, the very end of my introductory post for how I made choices), the bloggers are trusted to do their best and are left on their own. Nobody tells them what to write about and how to write it (this is the #1 Rule Of Blogging: never tell a blogger what to write about and how to do it).

There is zero pre-publication safety net: nobody ever sees their posts to edit, fact-check or proofread before they post (though they have the open option to ask us to do it if they want – the network is young, three weeks only, so we don’t yet know how often that will happen). But, just as if they were our own editors, we stand by them. It is up to them to correct errors if needed, etc., but we will not ask them to take posts down or exert any strong editorial influence on them (unless it is as bad as a Kanazawa-size blunder, but I don’t think I hired an equivalent of Kanazawa). That is how blogging works.

What is interesting to watch are comments and letters we sometimes get. Some people, arriving to our site via links from who knows where, do not yet have the developed ability to instantly distinguish between heavily edited finalized articles, editorial blogs posts, guest posts and posts by our network bloggers. Their expectations are often different from what they see. And they are not yet able to quickly figure it out (which is one of the reasons for writing this post you are reading right now, and why we take care to clearly label everything on the site, e.g., look up: it says “Blog” there).

Especially if they are unhappy with an article, they may use their misunderstanding of the form as an excuse for angry calls for lynching (or deletion of the article). If they are activists for something, they do not appreciate the very existence of articles that do not 100% toe their line. So they often misread the form on purpose, as they think they can intimidate us that way.

So, yes, our network bloggers are SciAm bloggers. And yes, their posts are SciAm publications (yes, “real” publications: they can put those posts in their portfolios, or use them as ‘clips’ when applying for jobs or memberships in journalistic organizations). But saying “I can’t believe SciAm would publish this” or “How can SciAm possibly let this author publish this”, shows basic misunderstanding of how the modern media works and what the media blogs are – we don’t “let” them publish. They are free to do so on their own. And we back them up afterwards. No pre-publication safety net. Full post-publication safety net.

Critics are free to post comments (and bloggers are free to moderate their comments – those are their personal spaces after all), free to write their own posts on their own blogs, and if a rebuttal article is offered we will carefully vet it before publishing (we are not a priori going to refuse any offer for a rebuttal – we actually like vigorous debate, but all actors in it have to stick to the highest scientific and journalistic standards if they expect their work to appear on our site).

And of course, there is an old truism: a commenter complaining about a typo is, in reality, unhappy about the content and the complaint is there as a way to derail the real conversation. This is a typical opening gambit in the comments by various denialists (we tend to get swarms of Global Warming denialists who are well organized and some of them paid to post comments, but other kinds occasionally show up as well).

Finally, one of the frequent complaints is “why did you write about A when I really want you to write about B”. Apart from breaking the #1 Rule Of Blogging (see above), this also comes from another misunderstanding – that blog posts are NOT meant to be a final word on anything.

For examples of all such types of comments (and you can use Google Blogsearch to find blog posts written in the same vein), just wade through the comment section of this blog post by Christie Wilcox, already one of the biggest hits (at least as measured by traffic, incoming links and comments) on the new network. And read the comments while keeping this post in mind. See?

Which brings us to an essential aspect of blogging…and I would argue of all of media as it slowly grapples with the Web and the realities of the 21st century.

Blog is conversation

Many people linked to and discussed this excellent article by Paul Ford last week. It is about what he calls The Epiphanator. It is about the way the traditional media ends its articles (or radio/TV segments) with a big, black period. Full stop. Resolution.

Contrasted to that are online social networks, where everything is in constant flow, there are no sharp endings, no resolutions.

Blogs are both.

A blog post is supposed to cover a topic reasonably well. Some blog posts – the best (and usually the longest) ones, may even put a big, black period at the end. Such posts may not get much in the way of comments (there is not much to add – it is all in the post already), but are likely to have a lot of traffic, especially accumulated over time, as such posts are viewed as useful resources. They are “Explainers” of sorts.

But good bloggers know that, if they want to get comments and a vigorous discussion, they need to have some I’s undotted and some T’s uncrossed. They purposefully leave openings, leave stuff unfinished, some lines uncolored, there for the commenters to fill in with their own crayons.

Moreover, one does not need to be an experienced blogger who does this purposefully for this effect to happen all the time anyway. It is in the nature of blogging to take only small chunks at the time. One writes on the fly. Jotting down one’s thought at the moment. A typical blog post does not even try to cover every angle of a bigger issue. Other angles of the same issue are covered elsewhere – in other posts by the same blogger, or in posts by others.

Very few bloggers focus narrowly on a single topic and beat it to death day in and day out. Those are usually activist bloggers of some sort, paying attention to – and responding to – every little bit of the mention of their topic in the media or other blogs, fighting a good fight for their cause.

This narrow focus works for such rare bloggers, but the idea that this is the best way to blog well (and I see that advice given all the time to novice bloggers – to focus, focus, focus) is misplaced.

Most people are not so narrowly focused in their own day-to-day lives. Most people have multiple interests, and even multiple areas of expertise. It is natural, if they are active online, that they cover a plethora of topics in their postings on their blogs or on social networks. Which is perfectly fine – their readers get an even fuller picture of the person, the personality, which helps them decide if they like and trust that person.

It is also natural to comment on stuff one has no expertise on. Out of curiosity. Using a blog as a tool for exploration. Using a blog as a writing laboratory.

A journalist may have to cover many topics – whatever the editor assigns. A journalist on a science beat may have to cover topics ranging from astronomy to zoology and everything in-between.

A blogger has the luxury of picking and choosing topics of one’s own interest of the day. And science bloggers are usually reluctant to go far and wide from their own area of expertise. Biology bloggers are unlikely to write about physics and vice versa. But that does not mean they will stick to a very narrow topic, just the narrow research line they are involved with (or used to be involved with) in the laboratory.

It is natural to be interested in other topics, and to explore them by writing about them: using the blogs as a way to study, to learn, to get feedback from experts in the comments, and to get entertained in the process. Blogging, after all, is supposed to be fun (or otherwise we’d all quit after a week of doing it). One may go through ‘phases’, focusing on a single topic for a while, covering everything one can about it, then, when the topic is exhausted, moving on to something else.

Thus, many a blog post starts with a link or two that connect it to something previously written by the same blogger (see the first three links in this post, for example) or by other bloggers, or occasionally by the mainstream media. These links provide continuity – the blog post is not supposed to be a finished product that can stand on its own. It is dependent on what was said before, and it connects to all sorts of supporting information, opposing opinion, tangential information, and more. It is a part of a conversation. It is one link in a chain. It is one segment of a long series.

I link to you, responding to or following up on or adding to what you wrote. Then you (or someone third) does the same by linking back to me. Conversation keeps going.

Now think about Christie Wilcox’s post in this context. Check out the rest of her blog (both the posts she wrote so far on this network, and the archives of her old blog). How many, out of hundreds of her posts, are about agriculture? One. This one. What are the other posts about? All sorts of other biology, environment, conservation, ecology, genetics, being a scientist and more. Whatever struck her fancy on any given day, within a range of topics on which she feels at least some confidence that she can cover it well.

So, her focus on the myths about organic farming are a one-off intellectual foray into a new topic. Will she return to it one day? I don’t know. Perhaps. Perhaps not. We don’t ever tell bloggers what to write about.

Does she have a right to write about it? Of course, everyone can. If nobody else is writing about your favorite topic to your liking, you have a right to start your own blog.

Does she have to also write about myths about industrial agriculture, for “balance”? No. That is up to her. But why? There is TONS of that stuff out there already. Lots has been written about industrial agriculture, nobody really likes the way it is done in the USA, and there is no need for yet another blog post about it. Her post was a part of a much broader conversation – why would anyone expect her to cover the whole issue in a complete manner? That would take a few books, not a one short blog post.

Christie, in her analysis of myths of organic agriculture, never defended the industrial kind. But for the activists, every critical look at organic is automatically a defense of industrial. Very black and white. So they demand she covers “the other side” (“I want you to write about A and not about B”), they insist she must be paid by Monsanto (heh, it would be nice if they paid for the study of genetics of lionfish), they call her names, and yes, they demand that SciAm removes her post. Sorry, but we do not tell our bloggers what to blog about and how.

When seen as a part of a broader conversation about food, and when seen in the context of what she normally blogs about and her blogging style, there is absolutely nothing she needs to change, or do different, or do in addition (there are no factual errors in her post, the quibbles by activists are mostly about her framing not being 100% pro-organic or anti-GMO). Her audience were regular folks who do not know anything about agriculture and may actually believe, as many do, the myths she was pointing out; her audience were not the activists. She had her say in the conversation. She was impartial, detailed and diligent in her research and writing. You want her to shut up? How undemocratic! And how blind about what blogging is all about.

But this also illustrates something else. Her post can be seen as an Explainer. With a big, fat period at the end. But, because it was an explainer on a very limited topic, it is also a part of River Of News – the constant stream of updates. It can stand alone for a narrow topic. But it is also a part of a bigger conversation on a broader topic. It serves both functions, depending on scale.

And it certainly did not end the conversation with a big, fat period. Several blog posts have appeared in response to hers, some praising her, some attacking her, some dissecting it to death, and some being just plain insulting (I linked to a few of them above). And most do not understand how media and blogs work in the 21st century.

Furthermore, the conversation is not over even on our own site. We will publish a response to her post on our site, probably next week. She may, if she wants to, respond to the response. And I also asked several other people to contribute their angles for the Guest Blog. So the conversation will continue. This is the 21st century and this is how it’s done. And hopefully people will, sooner or later, regain their mental abilities to distinguish, at a glance, between ‘finished’, stand-alone stories and stories that are parts of a larger conversation. And then respond to it accordingly and appropriatelly.

Image source

ScienceOnline2011 – interview with Kari Wouk

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

Today I talk to Kari Wouk, Senior Manager of Presentations and Partnerships at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh.

Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?

I live in Durham, NC and work at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences in downtown Raleigh, NC. Philosophically, I believe that educating the public on science, and specifically the natural sciences, is the best way to make our world a better place. Educated people make the right decisions, whether to not kill a snake in their yard, or to go to school to become the next groundbreaking scientific researcher.

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

After college, I traveled and worked day-to-day jobs, finally settling in the non-profit world. Working in the Museum has been my first “career” job. I have worked on many interesting projects. I was an AmeriCorps VISTA with Habitat for Humanity International and coordinated a initiative called Youth United, where youth fundraise and build a Habitat home. I worked for a computational science education non-profit and was the volunteer coordinator for a free clinic.

Most recently, I’ve worked with educational events at the Museum. I coordinate about 12 educational events per year – the largest, BugFest, gets 35,000 visitors. Right now, concurrent with BugFest planning, I am working with a team to plan the 24-Hour Opening for the Museum’s new wing, the Nature Research Center (NRC).

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

The Museum’s regularly-scheduled events are still happening, in addition to the 24-Hour Opening, where we expect 80,000 visitors over the 24 hours. Most of my time and passion are devoted to these two projects! Additionally, I am working with many outside partners to leverage their expertise to reach a broader audience. Many researchers find that working with the Museum, and the Museum’s excellence in education, helps them achieve their goals of broader impact. These projects are fun and sort of like a puzzle – I get to figure out where their project will fit best with the Museum’s many different programs and then I bring everyone together to brainstorm and make an action plan.

One goal is to continue the Museum’s excellent educational events and to add more with the opening of the NRC. The NRC’s focus is research and is tackling topics (microbiology, genetics, astronomy, technology) that the current Museum does not, which is very exciting and full of possibilities!

I am also striving to refine the process of partnering with outside organizations so that Museum staff is not taxed and the end product is of superior quality. Also, I would like to have science communication training so that researchers can, effectively, communicate directly with the public.

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

I would love for scientists to be able to communicate directly with the public without boring them or being too technical. When done effectively, the scientist’s passion is communicated and the audience gets excited and inspired. As important as science communicators are, there is nothing like talking one-on-one with the person doing the research.

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

Uh oh! Blogging does not figure into my work, unless I’m doing research for interesting topics to add to an event. I use Twitter and Facebook (well, our webmaster does) to advertise our events. I definitely feel that Facebook is a positive but not really a necessity. However, for the Museum as a whole, I DO feel that Facebook is a necessity. I’m still unsure about Twitter. Sorry!

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

I truly wish I had the time to read ALL the science blogs! You sent out that list recently and I read a couple and want to read them all, but then that’s all I would do! I am not very familiar with any of them.

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

I really enjoyed meeting all the participants last year. I am so new to this field of “science online” and am just feeling my way around. Next year, I would like to see more offerings targeted to educators and researchers. Hopefully, the Museum can help with this for 2012.

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

I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but I discovered the world of science blogging at the Conference. This is a fun and useful reference for all aspects of my job. It’s such an interesting world of communication that I had never exploited before.

Thank you so much for doing this, and I hope to see you soon down at the Museum (as well as at ScienceOnline2012 in January.

ScienceOnline2011 – interview with Kaitlin Thaney

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

Today my guest is Kaitlin Thaney (Twitter).

Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?

Thanks, Bora. I’m Kaitlin Thaney (also known as “Kay”) – and I come from a company called Digital Science, where I serve as the group’s spokesperson for all public-facing activities as well as manage all external partnerships. My background is deeply steeped in open science stemming from my days at Creative Commons, where I managed the science division for over four years. I was brought over to London from my Boston outpost almost a year ago to join the Digital Science team, and help launch the new technology company, which spun out of Nature – the scientific journal.

I’m a technologist at my core, getting into science and infrastructure from a rather unscientific base (I started off as a journalist for The Boston Globe covering crime and the occasional scandal). I had always been interested in making information easier to access, originally from a public sector information perspective, and much in thanks to work with a First Amendment non-profit in Washington DC following a class with a gentleman named Dan Kennedy. Around that time, I met Hal Abelson, a computer science professor at MIT, and began working with him on a research alliance called iCampus – a project between Microsoft and MIT that funded faculty and student projects in education technology. After about a year of that, I found myself sharing an office with John Wilbanks, who had just come down from the World Wide Web Consortium to explore how you could extend the sharing and reuse principles that Creative Commons made so popular in film and in music to scientific research so we could accelerate discovery. And given a very personal pledge I’d made when I was 19 (you can read more about that here) to a friend with a rare disease, I decided to change course and jump on board. The rest, as they say, is history….

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

Where to start. There was breaking a big name scandal as a cub reporter at the Globe that was well … a bit controversial. At Reporter’s Committee (the First Amendment non-profit), there was my first two weeks on the job which happened to coincide with Hurricane Katrina and the Valerie Plame affair (we were the conduit for all statements made by Judy Miller, the jailed New York Times reporter). As an advocacy organisation championing better access to information, we became the hub for all access and information issues – even preserving raw footage from Katrina and locating loved ones – which was entirely unexpected, but exhilarating.

My time at Creative Commons was full of interesting projects, from following our open data work from inception to the launch of CC0 – the public domain waiver; our work with NIke, Best Buy and Yahoo to help them make their patent and innovation portfolios available for reuse for sustainability; to working with Stephen Friend to help create a commons infrastructure for Sage Bionetworks and making some incredibly high-quality data available for reuse.

There’s also my involvement with Science Foo Camp (“Sci Foo” for short), an unconference I help organise with my colleague Timo Hannay, and some absolutely outstanding folks from Google and O’Reilly. The event is now in its sixth year, bringing together 200-300 all-stars linked together by an interest in science – from Nobel laureates and entrepreneurs to postdocs and science fiction writers. It never ceases to leave me excited about science and technology.

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

Most of my time these days is spent on the road for Digital Science, speaking on the current state and future of digital research, from the implications socially, to the technical considerations one must keep in mind in order to ensure they’re building a system of maximum use to their audience, in line with that community’s behaviours and expectations.

Outside of spending time on the speaker circuit – both informally in London and on the road – I organise a number of events, including Sci Foo. While my main passion is to make research more efficient, I also love to connect people, and do so through an upcoming sister event to Science Online NC – Science Online London – as well as a side project I run with my tech partner-in-crime Matt Wood called ‘sameAs’. It’s an informal monthly geek meetup in London set in a pub, where we aim to bring together folks from all walks of life and interests around one set topic. You can find out more at . There’s a tremendous value found, in my opinion, in conversations at the fringe with those outside of your immediate circle of “usual suspects”. sameAs strives to help facilitate those interests, as well as get people to think slightly differently about topics such as sound, visualisation, impact and reputation and the like.

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

Personally, my interest lies a bit further upstream than the communication of science – in how the web can (and should) affect  the actual research process. We still are a ways away (though the technology exists) from having the efficiency that modern e-commerce systems such as Amazon or eBay allow for getting materials, doing better search. We’re getting there, and some disciplines are much further along than others, but we’re still far from having that well oiled machine that really, truly reduces some of the bottlenecks to research and allows for those at the bench to do better science. That’s where we’re focusing our attention at Digital Science – on using technology to help make knowledge discovery, information management and research administration (the “incentives” issue) easier. That to me is the most fascination aspect of how the web can really transform science, and we’re starting to see this already.

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?

Peter Suber’s Open Access News (if that counts as a science blog) was my first introduction into this space. On the more sciencey side, I love Derek Lowe’s “In the Pipeline” and Vaughan Bell’s “Mind Hacks” (having had the opportunity to get to know both Derek and Vaughan at Sci Foo). There’s a treasure trove of content here, and I know I’ll forget someone key here if I try to list them all, so … I won’t try. 🙂 Perhaps I should just take a snapshot of my RSS Reader (though that’d likely just show you how backlogged I am with my reading … ).

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

The breadth of Science Online was staggering – and I tip my hat to Bora and Anton for not only bringing in such impeccable speakers, but really broadening the scope of the event beyond science blogging (where it got it’s start). I always enjoy the opportunity to put names with faces, which I was able to do at this year’s event, as well as finally join the bill (after having to unfortunately cancel a few year’s back). Absolutely tremendous job, guys, and thank you for letting me be a part of it.

Thank you so much. See you soon at Science Online London, and hopefully again in January at ScienceOnline2012.

Telling science stories…wait, what’s a “story”?

Yikes! I have a blog again! The infamous Pepsigate happened about a year ago. Getting off of a network was a relief of sorts – no pressure to post several times a day just to get traffic. I relaxed. I posted mostly announcements, linkfests, stuff that could not go elsewhere. Much of the content I used to put on the blog before – links, videos, photos, brief quips & quotes, etc. – I now place on other platforms, like Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, Flickr, YouTube, Tumblr, Posterous and the new-fangled Google Plus.

But the blog is still the key place for a particular kind of content: long, detailed, thought-out pieces. Placed on my own blog and nowhere else. This is my “home”.

Over the past year, I wrote a handful of such pieces (I linked to most of them at the bottom of my intro post last week), some on my blog, some on one or another of the Scientific American blogs. But now that A Blog Around A Clock has a new place and a fresh start, I intend to use it for exactly that purpose: long essays. Not too often – perhaps one a week. But I will strive to do it regularly. I probably won’t even have time to do more – apart from running the whole network, I will also write The Network Central and The SA Incubator as well as edit the Guest Blog and Expeditions.

I intend to keep everyone happy at least half of the time by, more or less regularly (no promises and guarantees), alternating between blogging about science and blogging about the media.

As these past several weeks have been busy with launching this great new blogging network (and please, go visit all the wonderful bloggers I invited to write with us), I did not have much time to dig into science news and to read the scientific papers. So I will start out with some musings about the new media ecosystem. Here we go!


A few weeks ago, at the World Science Festival in New York City, there was an entire day devoted to science story-telling. At the very end of the last session of the day, I said:

“The word “story” changes meaning depending on who is talking about it.” – Bora Zivkovic.

I did not have much time to expand on this then, so I will try to put together some more thoughts now, right here, for you to think about and provide me some feedback.

What I did manage to say was captured quite well at the bottom of the post by Lena Groeger:

On a panel all about stories and story telling, it seems appropriate to end with a closer look at what we mean by “story.” Zivkovic emphasizes that the word story can be understood in two very different ways. In the vernacular, “story” is a narrative that builds up slowly and has resolution at the end. The default is fiction, and you have to say “true story” to make sure people understand that it’s based in reality. But for journalists, a story is a filed, fact-checked, 400-word inverted pyramid with the punch line in the title followed by the most important stuff.

The traditional journalist’s story is now in demise. Zivkovic sees it going in two different directions: the river of news and the explainer. On one hand you have the Twitter model, where short bursts of information tell you immediately about what just happened. On the other hand, for those people who want to know more about what those nuggets of news really mean, there are links to explainers. These are articles that provide the narrative and the context for people just tuning in to a story. And explainers really work – Zivkovic said that the explanatory posts published about Fukushima on the Scientific American blogs broke all the traffic records. People were clearly looking for scientific information and explanation of how earthquakes happen, how nuclear plants break down, etc.

A few days before the Festival, I tested the idea on Twitter to see if I get any feedback, especially if I get any aggressive push-back. Most responses were in the “well, duh, yeah” category, so I guess the proposition is not so controversial after all. But let’s get on to a more detailed dissection.

What is a “story”?

According to Wikipedia, “Story is a common term for a recounting of a sequence of events, narrative, or for a statement regarding the facts pertinent to a situation in question. It is defined as a narrative or tale of real or fictitious events.” Then, a narrative… “is a story that is created in a constructive format (as a work of speech, writing, song, film, television, video games, photography or theatre) that describes a sequence of fictional or non-fictional events.” And storytelling is “…the conveying of events in words, images and sounds, often by improvisation or embellishment. Stories or narratives have been shared in every culture as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation and in order to instill moral values. Crucial elements of stories and storytelling include plot, characters and narrative point of view.”

Plot. Characters. Narrative. More-or-less chronological sequence of events. Likely to be fiction (or assumed to contain “improvisation or embellishment”) unless stated otherwise.

The punchline, if any, comes late in the story, perhaps at the very end.

Another way to describe a story: description of a steady state of the world, followed by a description of an event that puts the world into chaotic state, followed by a description of the world in a new steady state.

Or: at the beginning we get a description of pertinent aspects of the day-to-day, uneventful world in which we get to know the characters of the story, including the ‘hero’. Then, something happens that is unusual and forces the characters to act in ways they are not prepared for. Some show their true character. Others are changed by the event. Once the dust settles, we get a description of the new day-to-day existence, in which the setting and the characters are different – changed by the events.

Narrative vs. Inverted Pyramid

The ‘inverted pyramid’ style of writing is taught to journalism students – see the images, and the articles the images came from.

In short, the title is what gives the most important information. The first couple of sentences (the “lede”) provide the next most important information, and so on, with the least important stuff at the end. In many ways, it is the opposite of a narrative – the punch-line goes first, the build-up after.

The beauty of the Inverted Pyramid for the writers and editors is that any article can be chopped up and made shorter (in the interest of space, the paper real-estate) by deleting sentences at the end, without losing too much information. Of course, there is no word limit online. Real estate is endless.

The beauty of the Inverted Pyramid for the readers is that they can decide at which moment to stop reading – when they feel they got enough information – without feeling guilty and without feeling they will miss anything of importance.

You can’t do that with a narrative, where clues can be hidden all along the way, and the grand solution comes close to the end. A narrative requires a different kind of approach to reading: see how long the article is, set aside sufficient time, get coffee, sit back and enjoy reading it from the beginning to the end.

This also means that one has to be much more choosy about narratives as they take more time to read. Either the topic must be very interesting or the author needs to be trusted to consistently provide good reads, for a reader to decide to take a plunge.

Reading shorter inverted-pyramid pieces is much more promiscuous as it is less risky – one can always quit and move on. Which is why readers rarely pay attention to bylines on short, inverted-pyramid pieces – author does not matter. Thus, disappointing the author by quitting reading mid-article is not a part of the calculation, or as guilt-inducing as quitting a longer narrative before the end.

Inverted Pyramid form is more efficient. By skimming the titles and checking in a bunch of short articles, one can get quickly informed about what is new in the world.

But the longer narrative has its advantages despite being slower and taking more time.

First, it is more natural – people have been telling stories for millennia before someone in the 20th century invented the Inverted Pyramid.

Due to being more natural, narrative is more pleasant.

Unlike with Inverted Pyramid articles, in which the reader’s focus rapidly falls off after reading the headline, the narrative sustains focus (it may even rise as the reader progresses through the piece). The reader needs to concentrate better in order not to miss important clues and information. Thus, more information is retained. Thus, narrative form is more educational – readers can actually learn and retain new knowledge, not just get temporarily informed.

Typology of science stories

In a recent post, John Horgan classified science stories into two categories: critical and celebratory. In the circles I frequent, many adopted David Dobbs’ classification into “cool” versus “fishy” stories (roughly equivalent to celebratory versus critical). I tend to classify them into three categories: cool, relevant, and fishy.

Cool stories capture imagination, are unusual, show weird animal behavior, or new fossil discoveries, or exoplanets, or final solutions of old and famous mathematical problems, or discuss Big Bang, etc. They are not of any immediate practicality to the readers, will not change their day-to-day behavior, and in no way focus on the propriety of behavior of researchers. But these stories are a great hook for the readers who will not necessarily seek science stories of their own – the “push” method of science communication – the kinds of stories that are easier to persuade editors to put on front pages (or TV news) and are more likely to be shared among lay audience.

Relevant stories are those that inform and educate the readers (yes, educate) in ways that can help them make decisions about their own behavior: health, nutrition, exercise, educational methods, environmental impacts of everyday living, travel, how to make money, who to vote for. These are the kinds of stories that are most likely to get ‘over-hyped’ by the press, especially if written by generalists (specialist science/health/environmental journalists usually do just fine with these stories, but may not be able to publish them on front pages of the most massive of the mass media).

Fishy stories look into the conduct of researchers themselves. They are not so much about science as about scientists (or the systems in which scientists work, e.g., academia, industrial R&D, defense research, or governmental research). Some time ago, I tried to make a case that these kinds of stories are not really ‘science journalism’ proper, but rather belong in the business or politics or ethics sections – the fact that the protagonist is a scientist may not really be the key to the story, as it can be very similar to banking, or politics, or any other profession. Stories that explore how a few rogue scientists can be bought by megacorporations to defend smoking, or climate change denial, are political stories, rather than purely science stories. They just have a scienc-y component…but so do many other stories as well (or should, at least).

How would a narrative work in these three types? Describing a world before we knew X, then describing the discovery of X, then describing the world in which we know X and how that is different. The three parts: first provides historical context of what we knew until now, second part is the news break about a new discovery, and the third part places the news into societal or philosophical context. The ‘hero’ can be an animal or a planet, or an ingenious researcher, or a rogue researcher, depending on the type of story.

Science in the story: hero or villain?

As Emily Finke aptly reminds us, not all main characters in narratives are heroes – sometimes they are anti-heroes or villains.

In cool stories, science is a hero, and often the researchers as well. In relevant stories, heroism is muted, though may be implied. In fishy stories, the scientist (and sometimes science) comes out as a villain. As important as it is to tell fishy stories, they probably do have a subtle cumulative effect on eroding public trust in the institution of science (hence I’d rather see them on the “politics” or “business” rather than “science” pages).

But the greatest effect on the public, regarding the perception of scientists, comes from popular culture – movies and TV especially. And here it is heartening to observe how much Hollywood has changed over the last few decades. The stereotypical movie scientist was Dr.Frankenstein decades ago. Today, a movie scientist is much more likely to be portrayed as a hero who saves the planet and thus, against the stereotype, acts in a way that reveals great social awareness, if perhaps still not much in terms of social graces and skills (movie-makers have to rely on typology to speed up the audience’s recognition of characters in limited time they have). If you skip the movies and the best-selling books by Michael Chrichton these movies were made from, pretty much all the recent movie fare has scientist-heroes, rather than the opposite.

In her seminal book Narratives of Human Evolution (see also pdf of her article on the same topic), Misia Landau analyzed early 20th century hypotheses of human evolution as competing narratives. In each, a change in the steady state of the world (change in environment), forces the early Homo to become a hero (by evolving bipedality, language, fire use, or language, depending on the story), resulting in a new steady state (the wonderful Us).

As Eric’s wonderful interview with Frans de Waal the other day demonstrates in almost every paragraph, students of human evolution are still keeping the tradition of story-telling alive and well, at least in popular literature, and thus capturing the imagination of the broadest possible audience.

Is a scientific paper a story?

There is often a lot of grumbling about the fact that the rigid format of the scientific paper is not realistically depicting the process by which the scientists come up with ideas, test them, and draw conclusions from the data. It is implied that much more serendipity and surprise occurs in the real world of research than it shows up in the primary literature. This is supposed to be “sterilized”, unrealistic and misleading and there is definitely something to these claims.

But the utility of such a formulaic narrative – and it is a narrative – form is that a paper can be read by many people. The audience for scientific papers, which these days appears to be mainly one’s peers, was originally meant to be much broader – everyone who can read – and is once again returning to this ideal due to freeing up of the work from behind the expensive paywalls in the emerging world of Open Access publishing.

It is everyone BUT the experts in the field who actually read the papers as a narrative. Only the experts had to come up with unusual and convoluted methods for reading (but not writing) the literature.

I know for myself. If I read a paper in my field, I start with the names and affiliations of authors – that already tells me a lot about what to expect. Then I read the References, which tell me much more about what will be in the paper – sometimes everything. Then I read the abstract to get the gist of what the paper is about. Then I focus on figures, which tend to serve as a bridge between the Materials & Methods section and the Results section. Only if the paper is really important (or if I intend to blog about it) I also read the Introduction and the Discussion at the end.

The Introduction is a description of the old steady-state world (which, in my field, I am already familiar with), while Discussion is a description of the new steady-state world that incorporates changes due to the findings in the paper (which I may still tentatively not accept). So it is the event itself – the Results – that I will focus on in order to understand what was done and what it means while minimizing getting biased by the authors’ framing in the Introduction.

But more I move away from my core area of expertise, more and more my reading of the paper diverges from this method, and more and more I tend to read it from start to finish. And then I really appreciate its narrative construction: setting the stage, introducing the characters, describing the event and its outcomes, describing the new world afterward. This is, I guess, how most people read most papers except when reading in one’s own narrowest area of expertise.

If the scientific paper changes from the current static form (a final product with a publication date) to a more dynamic, living form, I assume that the narrative form will be gone as well, but then reviews (or popular articles) will be necessary in order to provide narrative versions for “the rest of us” not actively participating in that particular line of work.

How do readers know what to expect: inverted pyramid or narrative?

For a number of decades – essentially the entire 20th century – the two types of writing were segregated into different containers. Daily newspapers dealt with news, which were mostly brief and written in the Inverted Pyramid format. Weekly, monthly and quarterly publications – magazine – could not keep up with the news cycle and thus devoted their efforts to longer, more narrative pieces.

You pick up a New York Times, and expect to see mostly shorter inverted-pyramid pieces….except the Sunday Magazine. For longer narratives, you go to The New Yorker, Atlantic, Harper’s or, if you are into science, to National Geographic, Scientific American or American Scientist.

But with the advent of the Web, people do not go to the article from the front-page of a media organization they are familiar with. They come to individual articles by following links, often to sites that are too new to be familiar to them. How do they know if it’s a newsy piece or a narrative?

They don’t! And some of the comments I see around the SA site are a testament to this. The readers arrive to an article (who knows from where!?) with one assumption and are disappointed when it turns out to be something else. Then they either complain that there is not enough information, or publicly admit they have zero attention span (or interest in the topic) and post that most arrogant and obnoxious of all comments: “tl;dr” (“too long; didn’t read” – thanks to John Rennie and Alexis Madrigal for reminding me of this last night on Twitter).

Having several generations raised with the segregated containers for different formats of stories resulted in a degradation of the native human ability to recognize them at first sight. Always spoon-fed that ‘meta’ information (the container), they need to start relearning the skill again. Just like they have to start relearning how to filter information and how to figure out who to trust. It may take a generation to recover these skills.

In the meantime, there are some obvious signs. For example, an inverted-pyramid newsy item is likely to be short, while a narrative is likely to be long (the length is not always obvious online and webmasters and designers have to make sure the length is immediately obvious).

Second, the title is often a dead give-away. “X causes Y, scientists say” is obviously a newsy item. A title that is not in present tense, or has no verb at all, is more likely to be a narrative.

River Of News, vs News In Context

The news ecosystem has two important and inter-dependent parts. The first is the concept of the River Of News:

Park yourself on the riverbank and watch the news flow by. If you miss something, not to worry, if it’s important some new story will refer to it.

The other part is News In Context. If you are new to a topic, a short news article will confuse you – you do not have enough background. Perhaps you are young and just getting into the topic, or it just became relevant to you. Where do you pick up the background? What provides the context for the future brief news items so they start making sense to you?

As you may have already guessed, the items in the River are likely to be inverted pyramids. The items providing Context are likely to be narratives. Explainers are narratives.

So, what kind of story can one tell on Twitter?

If you are not a regular reader of Dave Winer, and thus hopefully familiar with his concept of River Of News, then this phrase probably elicits an immediate reminder of an obvious river of news: Twitter.

And here I am thinking of Twitter-the-concept, not Twitter-the-company. Something like tweeting can be done elsewhere, e.g., on Facebook, FriendFeed, Google Plus, etc. But as it is now is the archetype of this, with its simplicity and the sharp 140-character limit.

There has been quite a lot of discussion recently about Twitter, what it is, and if storytelling is possible there.

Of course you are not limited by 140 characters – you can post as many tweets as you want. Often people tag tweets in a series with numbers, e.g., 1/4, 2/4, 3/4 and 4/4 so people who miss the first three know to go back and look at them before responding, in bafflement, to the context-less fourth message.

There are Twitter accounts that demonstrate the storytelling ability quite nicely – they take an old piece of literature, usually some 19th century novel or diary, and tweet it in small installments. You follow the account, as if you are reading the book.

Another way to tell a story on Twitter is mindcasting – sticking to a topic of the day (or few days or more) and building on it tweet by tweet, adding links and insights until a more complete story emerges.

There are now also services that help one compile tweets – one’s own or from the community – into a narrative. Storify is the best known example of such services.

Disappearance of the Middle – tweets and #longform FTW!

Go pick up a newspaper. How do you read it? Every word of it from start to end? I doubt it.

In those days past when I was still buying newspapers, this is what I would do. First, remove all the sections I do not care about – Auto, Sports, Real Estate, Food, Classifieds, etc – and throw them in the recycling bin without looking or opening.

Then I’d open one of the remaining sections to see what’s new.

This is filtering – ignoring a huge chunk of the newspaper, just like I ignore huge chunks of the blogosphere and do not follow huge chunks of the Twitterverse. I focus mainly on the topics I am interested in.

OK, so I have opened one of the sections that is interesting to me. Do I read everything? No, of course not. I skim the titles. Just like on Tweetdeck the titles skim by me.

Some titles are not interesting to me. Some titles are interesting, but they contain all the information I want so I do not worry about reading the article under the title.

But every now and then, something piques my interest and I start reading the text under the title. Just like deciding to click on a link in a tweet every now and then.

More often than not, I end up un-satisfied. The article is too short and is missing exactly the kind of information I was looking for. Online, there is a solution, click on additional links to find more.

Occasionally, the headline will take me to an article on something that is interesting to me, but is not my ‘regular beat’, thus I do not have sufficient context for it. I am happy when the article states that the newspaper has additional in-depth coverage in the relevant section (which I may have to go to the recycling bin to retrieve). Just like sometimes good links take me to the areas of the blogosphere that I rarely ever visit otherwise.

The point of this exercise is to realize that for the most part inverted pyramid can be reduced to just the headline. The ultimate inverted pyramid article is a single tweet.

And for those who want to know more than just that one sentence, a short inverted-pyramid article is not sufficient, so one has to look for a longer narrative explainer.

There is not much utility for the short article in the age of the Web, where limits of the paper medium do not apply, thus no article needs to always try to be both a part of River Of News and a part of News In Context – it does neither perfectly. And in the age of the Web, the two can be separated, yet linked by hypertext.

My bold prediction is that the length of a typical article will go in two directions: super-short, just the gist of the news, like a tweet; or super-long, an in-depth, detailed explainer or narrative. Long articles are doing very well these days, are popular and are quite capable of fetching money from their readers who are paying for such quality content quite willingly.

This is also why books will keep thriving. Books are the ultimate explainers. The length will not be dictated by the production, but whatever it takes to tell the entire story, from 30-page Kindle Singles, to multi-tome volumes. What books are bound to have a lot in the future are plenty of hyperlinks all around the text, as well as the ability to link from anywhere online to a specific paragraph of a book.

There is also a pernicious idea floating around (I should find a link to an example, but am too lazy – you’ve all heard this trope) that blog posts are of poor quality because they are short. That idea comes from people who have never seen a blog post. Posts on quality blogs, written by experts on the topic, tend to be much longer than the average newspaper article because they contain much more information. They thus satisfy the need for context. And thus are deemed more trustworthy by the readers.

There will not be many short articles left.

Is there any purpose to the semi-short piece any more?

I am not advocating for killing the short article, or for killing the inverted pyramid as a form.

Likewise, I am not advocating for saving the short article just for the sake of saving a form that a few generations of journalists were trained to use.

I am quite happy to let the market be the selection force that drives the form either to extinction or to evolution. I bet that the latter will actually happen.

In the old ecosystem (paper), short pieces were adaptive. The mid-value was selected for, and extremes of length were selected against. New selective regimen (Web) results in disruptive selection – the mid-size is selected against while both the short and the long extremes are selected for. As the gene flow can happen directly between the extremes (via hyperlinks), the middle can theoretically completely disappear. Though it is likely that some low levels will be retained in the population. What for?

If the length of the article is proportional to the wealth of information available, then some low-information events will require short articles.

See, for example, this article: Police nab runaway elephants at bus stop (thanks to Arikia on Twitter yesterday for this example).

The headline tells me what happened. This may be enough. If I want to learn more (e.g., where this happened, where did the elephants come from, etc.), I click on the link and read the article. It is short, but provides the Where, When, How and Why. It has enough. I assume that local media in that town has more details, but those are only interesting to the locals. I got all the information I needed from that short article.

A Link is Worth a Thousand Words

Another way a short article can be useful is if it is chock-full of relevant links. By “relevant” I do not mean links to dictionary definitions of the words (though these are useful), or links to Wikipedia pages (though these are useful), or to the internal topical pages of the newspaper the article is in (though these are also useful). I am talking about links to explainers, longer feature articles, original documents, scientific papers, raw data in a form that I can re-analyze, graphics, multimedia, links to articles that disagree, etc.

By having lots of links, the short article becomes a resource, a gateway to as much or as little further information as one wants to get. Of course, the same applies with even great force to long articles full of links (like this one you are reading right now).

Clicking on a link and coming to a short article without links (especially if containing quotes without links) is very dissatisfying, lowers trust and raises red flags.You still have to test it (by reading it) – an article describing a very novel idea may not have anything old to link to.

Clicking on a link and coming to a short article with gazillion links instantly raises the trust levels of the article (as well as the person who brought the link to my attention in the first place, so I am more likely to click future links from the same source) and becomes potentially a useful resource to bookmark, save and share. You still have to test it, though – are all those links relevant? Purveyors of pseudo-science, anti-science, non-science and nonsense (like creationists, global warming denialists, etc.)  love to link to articles that state exactly the opposite of what they, in the text, claim they state.

Finally, there will be evolution in another way – inventing new forms, perhaps hybrids. A little longer, but not too long. Pyramid-ish (see image below), but not a complete inverted pyramid – the gist of the story is close to the beginning but not in the headline or the first sentence, and there is plenty of context (and links) for it.

Visual storytelling and letting the readers into the story

There was recently a big debate on blogs about the loss of the article as a unit of journalism with the assumption that the short inverted-pyramid article is all there is.

The idea that the article is dead was understood by many that all there is left is Twitter which, while great for some uses, cannot be the only tool, or the only format for reporting. What many did not get, and what I think Jeff Jarvis alluded to, is that the “article” that is dying is the kind of short, inverted-pyramid article many in the professional media think of as “The Story”.

What Jeff argued, I think, and what I similarly argue here, is that this kind of article has much lesser utility today, off paper and online, but that other forms of articles – the longer, narrative explainers – are here to stay, and even strengthen in quality and numbers. The River of News is here, but so is the Context. What will to some extent disappear, unless it evolves, is the stereotypical 400-word piece that was fine on paper, but is useless on the Web (unless peppered with useful links to longer pieces).

Furthermore, others are arguing that in many instances the idea that the text is the only or the best way to convey information is also outdated. In some cases, the best way to provide information is to provide data (though I argue that data journalism still requires someone to do the storytelling “for the rest of us”, just as in scientific and technical writing I described above).

Also, some information is better conveyed visually, through art, graps, infographics, video, interactive media and games. See how Perrin Ireland turned events into cartoons for us a few times here, here and here. That is a way that many readers would prefer to get their information. That is also the way that is more interactive, and includes the readers in the process. Which is the best way to get the information to be remembered, understood, believed and used.

Watch this:

Isn’t this a wonderful way to tell a story – using a familiar narrative involving familiar characters to teach something else, e.g., science and engineering? Notice it’s not a 400-word inverted-pyramid article. Oh, and I left that punchline for the end.

Introducing: the new Scientific American blog network!

Yes!!! It finally happened! The shiny new Scientific American blog network is now live! We are excited to announce that 39 new blogs joined the network

Check out the press release and the blogs homepage. There are also some changes on the Scientific American homepage – more of those still to come.

I know you are all very eager to see who is on the network. So I will get to that really fast – the entire list is immediately below – and will leave the technical, conceptual and editorial details to the end of the post. But, there are a few people I need to thank first (just like on the Oscar night).

First, big thanks to Mariette DiChristina, SA’s Editor-in-Chief, and not just for having the courage to hire someone wild and woolly like me, but for her vision of Scientific American as a modern, fast, nimble and experimental media organization, not afraid to try new things knowing that some will succeed and others not so much. Without courage to try new things, an organization cannot be entrepreneurial and cutting edge. But with Mariette’s guidance, Scientific American has become exactly that. See also Mariette’s introduction to the network.

The entire editorial team embraced both me and this project from the very first day. But I want to especially point out Phil Yam (Managing Editor, Online) and Robin Lloyd (News Editor, Online) who helped me navigate the labyrinths of workflow in such a large and complicated organization (like nested Russian dolls, Scientific American is a part of Nature Publishing Group which is a part of Macmillan), as well as taught me something new and interesting about the media business and the editing job every day, often in the middle of the night! They are always there to answer my questions, to help out, and support me in my work.

Finally, what you see today could not have happened without the efforts of the amazing technical, design, product and marketing team who usually work behind the scenes without visible bylines on the articles, but deserve all the kudos for doing a great job: Angela Cesaro (Editorial Product Manager), Brett Smith (Project Manager), Nick Sollecito (Senior Developer), Raja Abdulhaq (Development Consultant), Ryan Reid (Art Director, Online), Michael Voss (VP of Marketing), Rachel Scheer (Corporate Public Relations), Jamie Sampson (Senior IT Project Manager), Li Kim Lee (Web Analyst) and Carey Tse (Online Marketing Manager).

And now, the blogs…

Many of you are familiar with the eight blogs we’ve already had on the site for a while (Observations, Expeditions, Guest Blog, Solar At Home, Anecdotes From The Archive, Extinction Countdown, Bering In Mind, and Cross-Check). That number has now grown to 47. Here they are:

Editorial blogs
We now have six editorial (or “editorially-controlled”) blogs – written or edited by Scientific American editors and staff in our official capacity.

@Scientific American is a brand new blog, where several senior editors and managers will provide you with up-to-date updates on everything that is new at Scientific American: from product launches (including apps, books and more) to actions and events, from website enhancements to new issues of the magazines (both Scientific American and Scientific American MIND), from new hires to behind-the-scenes activities, including stories we are working on (and perhaps you can help us with your feedback).

– You might already be familiar with the Observations blog, as it has been around for years. With several posts daily, this busy place features opinion and analysis by Scientific American editors, writers and correspondents.

The Network Central is the blog you are on right now. This is where you will get updates about the SA blog network, including weekly summaries, Q&As with bloggers, updates on all the new plugins, widgets and functionalities, additions of new bloggers, and more. Also, in the spirit of cooperation and sharing, I will also do regular round-ups of the most interesting stories from all around the science blogosphere, including both independent bloggers and those on other networks. If there is breaking news, or interesting events, I will take a look at the coverage by science bloggers wherever they are.

– At the Expeditions blog, we invite researchers, students or embedded journalists to send in regular dispatches from their field work. Currently, we have three ongoing series: Squid Studies on ‘New Horizon’, MSU China Paleontology Expedition and The South Pacific Islands Survey, and we just recently finished the Scientific Research Diving at USC Dornsife series. Go on a virtual trip to explore the world together with our explorers! Or, if you are about to go out into the field to do research, let me know if you are interested in liveblogging your adventure.

The Scientific American Incubator is a new experiment. The Incubator will be a place where we will explore and highlight the work of new and young science writers and journalists, especially those who are currently students in specialized science, health and environmental writing programs in schools of journalism. There, we will discuss the current state and the future of science writing, and promote the best work that the young writers are doing.

– The Guest Blog has recently become one of our most popular blogs, with daily contributions (some invited, some submitted to us) by a wide variety of authors, in a wide variety of forms and styles, but particularly noted for the prevalence of good long-form writing. It was said that: “Based on #OpenLab nominations, @SciAm Guest Blog is becoming science blogging’s #TED: a place people step up and do their best work. ” And we overheard later: “The @sciam @sciamblogs Guest Blog is an incredible resource: a forest of stories planted by wonderful scientist-writers”. So, dig through the archives (just keep clicking on the “See More” button at the bottom of the page), and then come back to check it out every day.

Blogs by Scientific American editors, writers and staff

There are now six personal blogs written by SA employees. Two are already familiar to most of the site visitors, and the other four are new. There are likely to be more of them launched over the following weeks and months, so stay tuned for the announcements.

A Blog Around The Clock is my own personal blog. There, I will continue to cover both the areas of science I am interested in – circadian rhythms, sleep, animal physiology and behavior, and evolution – and more ‘meta’ topics, like science communication and education, the world of media, and the World Wide Web.

Anecdotes from the Archive. You may have heard that Scientific American is almost 166 year old. That is a lot of archives to go through. Mary Karmelek is digitizing all those archives, and while she does that she often encounters interesting old articles and images that make great topics for blog posts: to see how the world has changed since then, and what we’ve learned in the intervening decades.

Budding Scientist. Anna Kuchment, the Advances editor, will be the main host of this blog. Here, with the help of Scientific American editors, scientists, and other contributors Anna will share ideas for involving kids in science early and often. She will also bring you up to date on the latest news about science education, encourage you to share your own ideas and projects, and answer your questions. This blog will also serve as a hub for Scientific American’s many other education-related ventures, including the Citizen Science initiative, Bring Science Home, 1,000 scientists in 1,000 days, Google Science Fair, and more.

Degrees of Freedom is the brand new blog by Davide Castelvecchi, our math and physics editor, and a wizard at making complex mathematical and physical concepts understandable, exciting and fun. And every now and then, you can expect a brain teaser or a math puzzle – something for you to try to solve.

Solar at HomeScientific American editor George Musser, after using this blog to document his effort to solarize his home will, now that the project is done, broaden his topics to whatever piques his interest including, I am guessing, everything from cosmology and space to energy and environment.

Streams of Consciousness is the brand new blog by Ingrid Wickelgren, an award-winning journalist and author, and an editor at Scientific American MIND. On this blog, Ingrid will explore the brain, the mind, and especially the minds and the brains of children.

Independent blogs and bloggers

Let me introduce the four group blogs first:

Symbiartic is the blog dedicated to the exploration of the intersection between science and art, between nature and the visual representation of it. It is curated by artist Glendon Mellow and science illustrator Kalliopi Monoyios. This is a blog where the two of them act as hosts and curators. They will look around our network and around the WWW as a whole, to find and present work by other artists in a variety of domains of visual art: art, illustration, data visualization, sculpture, architecture, design, cartoons, comic strips, photography, etc. They will conduct interviews with artists and showcase their work, and invite artists to post guest-posts. They will showcase their own work, and also discuss how the widespread electronic communication is changing the notions of copyright in the visual realm. They will write How-To technique posts and then conduct reader critiques and reader contests. They will also help me choose the “image of the week” for the blog network homepage. If your names seem familiar, it is perhaps because you already saw them on our site – Scientific accuracy in art by Glendon, and Art in the service of science: You get what you pay for by Kalliopi.

PsiVid is a blog very similar in concept to Symbiartic – except here, the images are not still but are moving. Hosted and curated by Joanne Manaster and Carin Bondar, this blog will focus on video, movies, television, animations and games – how they present and treat science, and how they can be used in science education and popularization. You may remember that Carin has already published a couple of pieces with us (Apple, meet Orange and Reflections on biology and motherhood: Where does Homo sapiens fit in?). At PsiVid, Joanne (cell biologist) and Carin (evolutionary biologist) will host discussions, interview film-makers, showcase interesting videos, teach video techniques and host reader contests. They will also help me pick the “video of the week” for the homepage.

– At Plugged In, two young scientists – Melissa Lott and David Wogan – and two veteran writers – Scott Huler and Robynne Boyd – will explore how our civilization uses energy, how our infrastructure works, how this impacts the environment, and what can each one of us as an individual do to make a positive impact on the health of the planet. You have seen some of them on our site before, e.g., Melissa (Texas “Tea” becomes the Texas “E”?), David (Power from pondscum: Algal biofuels, Deja vu: What does the Gulf oil spill tell us about the Japanese nuclear and From fuel to film: The story of energy and movies), Melissa and David together (Waste to Energy: A mountain of trash, or a pile of energy?), Robynne (The low-carbon diet: One family’s effort to shrink carbon consumption and Epiphany from up high: Can a suburban family live sustainably?) and Scott (How Does Sewage Treatment Work?). This group blog will have a breadth and diversity of topics, a broad range of ‘reading levels’, a lot of science, and a little bit of everything else. Should be both useful and fun!

Creatology – Every July I will invite a few recent graduates from a science writing program at a journalism school to run a blog here for one year – they will be good colleagues to one another, members of the same cohort in school and living in the same town so they can easily work together and help one another. They will have a sandbox here to do whatever they want, experiment with a variety of media forms: text, images, audio, video, data visualizations, animations, diavlogs, ‘explainers’ and more. The first year, this blog is Creatology, blog run by three recent graduates from the Science Journalism program at City University London. They are Christine Ottery, Gozde Zorlu and Joe Milton. You may have seen Gozde’s name at before, as well as a number of Christine’s reports. I am looking forward to seeing what they do over the course of the year.

Here comes the long list of individual bloggers and their new blogs:

Anthropology In PracticeKrystal D’Costa is an anthropologist in New York, and a huge Mets fan. She is a writer and digital strategist and her interests include (online and offline) networks and identities, technology, immigrants, and history. And New York. And coffee. And baseball. This blog, continuing where she left off at the old blog of the same name (as well as at The Urban Ethnographer where she will make you fall in love with New York City), will look at the ways the urban environment shapes urban culture and affects the way we relate to each other – both offline (see Hold that door, please! Observations on elevator etiquette) and online (see Weinergate: Private Records in a Public Age). Advice: there is something essential to have when reading Krystal’s posts – a cup of good coffee, so you can sit back, relax and enjoy.

The Artful AmoebaJennifer Frazer knows her fungi! With a degree in plant pathology and mycology, Jennifer decided to become a science journalist and writer. She graduated from the MIT science writing program and worked for newspapers and as a freelancer. And I hear she may have a book in the future. Her blog (see the previous incarnation) looks at biodiversity, especially of critters we don’t often hear about – not whales or pandas, but things like moss-animals, Ediacarans and giant viruses. Important to note: Jennifer’s posts are always a visual treat as well, with lush illustrations (sometimes drawn by herself) and photographs of the alien-looking creatures.

Assignment ImpossibleCharles Q Choi likes to have fun letting his imagination run wild. A long-time blogger and a frequent contributor to Scientific American, Charles likes to ask questions like “what is too hard for science to do?“, or “what is easy to do and why hasn’t been done yet?”, or “what discoveries come straight out of Science Fiction?”, or “what wild place on Earth can I travel to in order to report cool science?” Watching this blog will be a fun ride for all of us.

Basic SpaceKelly Oakes is one of the youngest bloggers on the network, just about to shed the title of “undergraduate student” as she finishes her final year studying physics at Imperial College London. Kelly writes about space and astrophysics, trying to make it interesting to non-scientists and fun to read. Along with the research and studies, Kelly also edits the science section of Felix, the student newspaper at Imperial College. You can also see Kelly’s previous article at our Guest Blog – Habitable and not-so-habitable exoplanets: How the latter can tell us more about our origins than the former.

Bering In Mind is one of the eight old SA blogs you are probably familiar with. Written by psychologist and author Jesse Bering, this blog does not shy away from controversial topics, ranging from science of religiosity (Jesse’s latest book is The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life), to science of sexuality, to science (and personal and cultural angles) of homosexuality. If you are looking for long, active, vibrant discussions in the comments, you are likely to find one or two on Jesse’s blog at any time.

Cocktail Party Physics – Yes! Scientific American and Discover are now officially connected through marriage! I don’t know if her husband, physicist Sean Carroll, checks her science while she fixes his prose, I still think we got the better half – the amazing writer Jennifer Ouellette. If you think it’s hard to make physics fun, think again, but first you’ll have to read Jennifer’s blog, old news reports, or some of her books with titles like “The Physics of the Buffyverse”, “Black Bodies and Quantum Cats: Tales of Pure Genius and Mad Science” and “The Calculus Diaries: How Math Can Help You Lose Weight, Win in Vegas, and Survive a Zombie Apocalypse”. That is fun! As she was, until recently, the Director of The Science & Entertainment Exchange, it is not surprising that there is a lot about movies and Hollywood in her posts, along with the science and its history. I am delighted to welcome Jennifer to the network.

Compound EyeAlex Wild is an entomologist studying ants. He is also a professional photographer with his subjects, not surprisingly, being mostly small, six (and sometimes eight) legged, winged and with hard exoskeletons. It is this latter side of his expertise, the nature photography, that Alex will mainly bring to this new blog. Amazing photographs, technical advice for amateur photographers, and what it all means for promotion of nature and science! All this with a touch of insect taxonomy and evolution on the side.

Context And VariationKathryn Clancy is a biological anthropologist who focuses mainly on female reproduction – from physiology, to medicine, to society, to policy. Her previous blog got on everyone’s radar when she wrote (almost live-blogged) her own personal experience with in-vitro fertilization. That takes some courage! To get an idea what to expect, see also Kate’s previous appearance on out site: I don’t have a 28-day menstrual cycle, and neither should you. Of course, the blogging cycle is much more regular than that ;-)

Cross-Check by science writing veteran John Horgan is a fixture by now on our blogs. You may have already learned that this is the place to go to enjoy John tackling controversial topics, and to jump into lively comment discussions on topics ranging from the origins of war, to evolutionary psychology, to ‘who is wrong on the Internet this week’. His long career in journalism and a huge rolodex of sources also allow John to be fast and accurate when there are breaking news for which the scientific angle needs to be explained before the rest of the media botch it all up.

Crude Matter by Michelle Clement (formerly at the C6-H12-O6 blog) is about all the gunk and goo that makes the bodies of humans and other animals work, all the solids, liquids and gasses that exist in our bodies and are sometimes ejected out of them. In one word: physiology! How the body works can be approached in different ways, from medical perspectives to energetics, from ecology to evolution. Michelle does a little bit of all of it. And she is not afraid to sometimes blog about her own body – what it is, what it does, what it wants, and what it is hurting from. Another recent refugee from the lab bench to the newsroom, Michelle is a fascinating person and an exciting writer. But you’ll see that for yourself as the blog proceeds in the future. For starters, check out her SciAm Guest Blog post What’s the deal with male circumcision and female cervical cancer?.

Culturing ScienceHannah Waters has done research in the field, studying coastal marine ecology, and in the lab, studying epigenetics of yeast ageing, before deciding to move in a very different direction and try for a career in science writing. Apart from the archives of the previous edition of Culturing Science, see also her other blog Sleeping with the Fishes and her previous Guest Blog post Now in 3-D: The shape of krill and fish schools. Every area of biology, from molecules to ecosystems, is fair game for Hannah’s blog, as well as some wise discussions of science education and communication. Welcome to the network, Hannah!

Disease ProneJames Byrne is a PhD student in Microbiology and Immunology all the way in Adelaide, Australia (so he may be sleeping at the time readers from other continents are posting comments on his blog). His interests, well represented in his blogging, include the cause of diseases (human and non-human patients alike) and the history of medicine. James has published two articles with us so far – Bacteria, the anti-cancer soldier and Divine intervention via a microbe, which can give you some idea of the range of his topics and the style of his writing.

Doing Good ScienceJanet Stemwedel is the Cool Aunt of the scienceblogging community. With two PhDs (in chemistry and philosophy), Janet works as a professor of philosophy of science and is a veteran blogger, covering philosophical, sociological and ethical aspects of science with a characteristic cool. Also, as a parent, she is involved in, and often blogs about, science education in everyday life, including her wonderful Friday Sprog Blogging series.

EvoEcoLabKevin Zelnio is a marine ecologist, invertebrate zoologist, freelance writer, musician and a veteran of several blogs over the years. He is one of the editors (and the webmaster) at Deep Sea News. His new blog here, EvoEcoLab, will explore the intersection of ecology and evolution, as well as the way these two disciplines affect us, humans. To get a glimpse of Kevin’s writing, check out his previous SA posts – To catch a fallen sea angel: A mighty mollusk detects ocean acidification and A World Ocean.

Extinction Countdown is one of the eight blogs we already had before the launch of this network, so you may already be familiar with it. John Platt is a journalist specializing in environmental issues and, on this blog, he covers conservation issues, looking at various species (mostly but not exclusively animals) at the brink, their conservation status, the efforts to save and protect them, and the scientific, cultural and political dimensions of the struggle to preserve the Earth’s biodiversity.

Guilty Planet – After taking a year off from blogging, Jennifer Jacquet is back! You may remember her old blogs – the original Guilty Planet or, before it, Shifting Baselines. Her blog bio states that she is “a postdoctoral researcher at the University of British Columbia researching cooperation and the tragedy of the commons” yet what this means is that Jennifer studies ecology, mainly marine ecology, often in a very complex mathematical ways, as well as conservation and the cultural, societal and policy aspects of saving the biosphere, especially the oceans. See her previous Scientific American contribution – Ecologists: Wading from nature to networks.

History of Geology – When the hustle and bustle of busy life wears you down, when you come back home exhausted after a long day at work, when it’s time to put on your slippers and fix yourself a Martini on the rocks – that is a perfect moment to visit David Bressan who will transport you to his small town in Italian Alps and take you to a journey through the slow history of earth science, and even slower movement of glaciers – David’s scientific expertise. You will notice your heart beating slower, and your high blood pressure going down. Be nice about an occasional error – I bet his English is better than your Italian. To get a taste of his style, check out The discovery of the ruins of ice: The birth of glacier research and Climate research in the geologic past, David’s prior contributions to Scientific American.

Lab Rat – A biochemist turned microbiologist, Shuna E. Gould writes about bacteria, bacteria and bacteria at the Lab Rat. And it never gets old – as there are so many bacteria and they do so many wondrous things! Alongside with her blog here, Shuna also hosts the ConferenceCast blog on our sister network, Nature Scitable Blogs. Her previous Guest Blog post is Synthetic biology: Building machines from DNA.

Life, UnboundedCaleb Scharf is currently the director of Columbia University’s multidisciplinary Astrobiology Center. He has worked in the fields of observational cosmology, X-ray astronomy, and more recently exoplanetary science. He is also the author of the undergraduate textbook “Extrasolar Planets and Astrobiology”. His blog explores the research on the origins of life and the possibilities of life emerging on planets other than ours. How does Caleb think about this? See in How to find a habitable exoplanet: Don’t look for one.

The OcelloidPsiWavefunction is the pseudonym for a young researcher in a relatively small but exciting field of Protistology – studying a wide variety of organisms with an amazing diversity of biochemistry, physiology and behavior, that all have a nucleus in their cells, but are usually too small to see without a microscope. As this group of organisms is much less studied than others, e.g., animals, plants, fungi or bacteria, new studies quite often completely reshuffle the taxonomy of the group, or even change the notions we have on the origins and early evolution of Eukaryotes (organisms with cells that have a nucleus). Thus, evolution and systematics are big topics on the blog. As many of those organisms are unfamiliar to most of us, and as images and photographs of them are not easily available, Psi often draws them for the blog posts, and those drawings are really cool.

OscillatorChristina Agapakis is a biologist with a freshly minted PhD from Harvard. She is also a designer, a movie-maker and a writer with an ecological and evolutionary approach to synthetic biology and biological engineering. With her blog Oscillator, with the Icosahedron Labs and the video-making Hydrocalypse Industries she works towards envisioning the future of biological technologies and synthetic biology design. And makes really cool science movies! Check Christina’s Guest Blog post – Mixed cultures: art, science, and cheese.

The Primate DiariesEric Michael Johnson got his Master’s degree in Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke, focusing on great ape behavioral ecology. He is currently a doctoral student in the history of science at University of British Columbia looking at the interplay between evolutionary biology and politics in England, Europe, and Russia in the nineteenth century. His blog, Primate Diaries, has been traveling for a year – Eric exclusively did guest posts on other blogs for a year, before deciding to settle down here at Scientific American. Master of historical long-form writing, Eric has published on our Guest Blog before – A primatologist discovers the social factors responsible for maternal infanticide.

The Psychotronic GirlMelody Dye has a degree in philosophy and intellectual history from Stanford University and is a current NSF IGERT fellow in cognitive science at Indiana University at Bloomington. She is interested in developmenal and cognitive psychology, especially the process of learning language in children. Melody is also a professional photographer. She is also a co-blogger on the Childs Play blog and has published with us in the Mind Matters column, including Why Johnny Can’t Name His Colors (also published in the print version of Scientific American MIND) and The Advantages of Being Helpless.

The Scicurious BrainSciCurious is a neuroscience postdoc, researching actions of neurotransmitters. But on the blog, Sci is fun, and Sci writes in third person singular. With images – some funny images, some weird images, and some gross images. There are posts explaining the basics of how the brain works. There are posts covering the brand new research. There are posts covering old, classical papers. And there are posts covering bizzare research, especially about, erm, reproduction. Sci has published twice with us so far – The antidepressant reboxetine: A ‘headdesk’ moment in science and Serotonin and sexual preference: Is it really that simple?, the latter one going on to win the prestigious 3 Quarks Daily prize.

Science Sushi – Christie Wilcox is a marine biologist working on her PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology at the University of Hawaii. I once said about her blogging that “When Christie Wilcox dissects a scientific paper or an issue, that is the sharpest, most definitive and usually the final word on the subject. ” I still stand by that statement. Christie is thorough. Yet great fun to read. See for yourself – How do you ID a dead Osama? and Bambi or Bessie: Are wild animals happier?

Science With MoxiePrincess Ojiaku is studying neuroscience at North Carolina Central University, and plays bass in an an awesome band. So it is not surprising that her blog often connects these two aspects of her life, from discussing neuroscience (and other science, like physics) of music perception, to interviewing scientists who are also musicians. Obviously, this blog will rock!

Tetrapod Zoology – there is no science blogging network without someone writing about dinosaurs, right? Well, Darren Naish does it here, and he knows what he’s talking about as he’s named and described a few. But his blog is about much more than just dinosaurs. Darren covers, in great detail, all kinds of living and extinct tetrapods (vertebrates with four legs, or whose ancestors had four legs), their taxonomy, their anatomical, physiological and behavioral adaptations, and why some of them are so hard to find out in the wild. He has published Do Giraffes Float? in the Scientific American print magazine, as well as a three-part post on the new systematics of Iguanodons – The Iguanodon explosion: How scientists are rescuing the name of a “classic” ornithopod dinosaur, part 1, The explosion of Iguanodon, part 2: Iguanodontians of the Hastings Group and The explosion of Iguanodon, part 3: Hypselospinus, Wadhurstia, Dakotadon, Proplanicoxa…. When will it all end?. Needless to say, there are always interesting discussions in the comments, often featuring quite a range of experts in various areas of zoology.

The Thoughtful AnimalJason G. Goldman is a graduate student in developmental psychology at the University of Southern California, where he studies the evolutionary and developmental origins of the mind in humans and non-human animals. On his blog, Jason usually discusses the latest research in animal and human behavior, neuroscience and cognition. I also closely worked with Jason last year, in his role as the Guest Editor of Open Laboratory 2010. Jason has also been quite a regular contributor to our Guest Blog, so you should check out Man’s new best friend? A forgotten Russian experiment in fox domestication, Turkey talk: The social cognition of your Thanksgiving dinner, Impact of the Japan earthquake and tsunami on animals and environment and Digitizing Jane Goodall’s legacy at Duke.

ThoughtomicsLucas Brouwers received his MS in the program for Molecular Mechanisms of Disease at Radboud University Nijmegen. He writes about science for a Dutch newspaper, he blogs and he’s recently reported for us from the Lindau Nobel conference. Lucas covers mainly evolution, usually from a molecular or bioinformatics angle. His previous Guest Blog article was We all need (a little bit of) sex.

The Urban ScientistDanielle N. Lee did her PhD research in animal behavior and she sometimes blogs about it, as well as about evolution, ecology (often urban ecology) and mammals. But her main strengths are in blogging about science education and outreach, especially to women and minorities, and she does it often herself – both at the old version of this blog and in her other project – SouthernPlaylisticEvolutionMusic where she uses hip-hop to explain basic evolutionary concepts. Check out her Guest Blog post – Under-represented and underserved: Why minority role models matter in STEM.

The White Noise – Last on this list due to the vagaries of the alphabetical order, but most certainly not the least, let me introduce you to Cassie Rodenberg. With a degree in chemistry, and love of herpetology, Cassie turned to science journalism and never looked back. After stints in local newspapers and another popular science magazine, Cassie is now interactive producer for Discovery’s Emerging Networks, including Discovery Fit & Health and Planet Green. The topic of her new blog is addiction. Every angle of it: chemicals, brain, behavior, culture, society, policy and more. And yes, personal experiences with addiction involving people around her. That is courageous. Knowing how well she writes, and suspecting how personal some of this will be, I expect her blog to make for some amazing, riveting and emotional reading.

Some more notes about the network

First, let me tell you a little bit how I chose the bloggers, and what is the concept and vision for the network.

Over the past nine months, since I got hired to develop this network, I checked out thousands of science blogs, dug deep into the archives of several hundred of them, then closely followed, day-by-day, about 200 of those, removing some and adding some over time, finally managing to whittle it down to about 42 who I ended up inviting.

Though not absolutely unique in this, Scientific American is very rare in completely incorporating the blogs and bloggers into its website and daily workflow. A blog is just a piece of software. We are trying to eliminate the artificial line between “blogging” and “journalism” and focus on good, accurate writing, no matter what form it comes in or what software is used to produce it. Our bloggers are a part of our team, as ‘continuous correspondents’ or ‘full-time freelancers’. Thus, I made careful choices keeping this in mind – I invited bloggers whose expertise, quality of writing, and professionalism fit well with the mission and general tenor of our organization.


The vision for the blog network I have is a collection of people who bring to Scientific American a diversity of expertise, backgrounds, writing formats, styles and voices, who will bring diverse audiences to Scientific American. They differ in typical lengths of posts, in posting frequency, in the “reading level” of their work, in the use of non-textual media, and in their approach to science communication. Each one of them will appeal to a different segment of our readership: from kids to their teachers, parents and grandparents, from the hip-hop culture to the academic culture, from kindergarteners to post-docs.

Another thing I was particularly interested in was to find bloggers who in some way connect the “Two Cultures” as described by C.P.Snow. Some connect science to history, philosophy, sociology or ethics. Many are very interested in science education, communication and outreach. Some make connections between science and popular culture, music, art, illustration, photography, cartoons/comic strips, poetry, literature, books, movies, TV, video, etc. Several produce such cross-discipline and cross-cultural material themselves – at least two are musicians, two are professional photographers, several produce videos, two are professional artists, a couple are authors of multiple books, some produce their own blog illustrations. But there are also commonalities – they all have strong knowledge of their topic, they strictly adhere to the standards of scientific evidence, they are all very strong writers, and they are all enthusiastic to share their work with a broader audience.

When I put together this group, with such diverse interests and styles, it was not surprising to discover that, without really having to try hard to make it so, they also display diversity in many other areas: geography, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, personal/professional/scientific background and more. This is something that is important for science, and is important in the science blogging world.

So, as I expect that several of you are already counting, let me make this easy for you. We have 47 blogs with 55 bloggers. Of those, our editors and staff make up 13 people (8 women, 5 men), while independent bloggers make up the difference with 42 of them (25 women, 17 men). That is a total of 22 men and 33 women writing on our network. The age ranges from 22 to 58, with the mean around 32 and median around 31 (at least when including those who are willing to admit their age).

While geographic concentration in New York City is mainly due to the fact that most editors and staff have to come to our NYC office every morning, the rest of the bloggers are from all over the country and the world (see the map of some of their birthplaces) and also currently live all over the place (see the map) and, as academic and other jobs require, move around quite often. Right now, other urban centers with multiple bloggers are Vancouver city and area (4), Triangle NC and surrounding area (4), Urbana-Champaign, IL (3), Los Angeles, CA (3), London, UK (3), Columbus, OH (2) and Austin TX (2). There are bloggers in Australia, Italy, Netherlands, Canada (5) and the UK (6). And the birthplaces also include Trinidad, Hong Kong, Belgrade (Serbia) and Moscow, Russia (two bloggers).

Size of the network

Will the network grow any more? Perhaps, but not fast, and not by much. This is pretty much the ideal size for a network, and getting much bigger becomes unpleasant for bloggers, managers and readers alike – there is a potential loss of the feeling of community, as well as a fire-hose of posts in the feed. This size is, as Goldilocks would say, just right – neither too small nor too big. We’ll try to keep it that way. As is to be expected, every now and then a blogger will decide to leave and pursue some other career avenue, which will open up a slot for someone new. One of the blog spots is designed to exist only one year at the time. And at least two blogs – the Guest Blog and Expeditions, are here to provide the platform for many others who are not regularly writing for our network.


As regular users of our site know, commenting on our articles requires registration with Scientific American. But, for the posts on our new blogging network, there will soon be two additional log-in options: you will be able to log in with either your Twitter or your Facebook ID and password. Providing additional options is necessary to foster conversations and build our community.

We are about to update our official rules for commenting on the editorial blogs. Independent bloggers will have their own rules for what is appropriate behavior in their comment threads. Most, but not all bloggers will moderate comments ‘post-publishing’, i.e., deleting already posted comments that are deemed to be spam or in other ways inappropriate. A couple of bloggers will moderate pre-publishing, i.e., they will first have to approve those comments that will show up on their sites.

I know this post was long, but I hope you at least managed to go and visit all the blogs, and say Hi to the new bloggers in the comments. I think this is going to be great fun for all of us. Subscribe to feeds and keep coming back to see what these wonderful writers have prepared for you each day.

Thank you!

New at Scientific American : Introducing the blog network!

We have an exciting announcement to make this morning. Our new blog network has launched!

To our existing lineup of eight blogs you are all familiar with, we have added another 39. There are now six editorial blogs, six personal blogs written by our editors and staff, and 42 independent bloggers who will write on our platform starting today.

Bookmark the new Blogs Home Page and read the official press release.

Editor in Chief Mariette DiChristina, has written a welcome post, explaining what the network means to Scientific American.

And I have written an introductory post in which I introduce all the blogs and bloggers on our brand- new network.

This is a stellar lineup of bloggers. Give them a hearty welcome in the comments of their introductory posts, and keep coming back to read their amazing writing.

The Big Announcement, this time for real: The Scientific American Blog Network has launched!

It took some time, but it was worth the wait. The network that everyone’s been waiting for is now live.

My long post on The Network Central blog, in which I introduce all blogs/bloggers is here.

The official press release is here.

Mariette DiChristina’s (Editor-in-Chief) welcome post is on the @ScientificAmerican blog here.

A brief announcement on the Observations blog is here.

The blogs homepage is here.

My own blog, A Blog Around The Clock, has also moved to a new place. The new URL is:

And the RSS feed is:

See you all over there….

Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock – Next Generation.

The day has finally arrived – the new Scientific American blog network is live! And, after almost a year of relative rest, my blog is about to get active again, with substantive posts coming up on a regular basis.

For my old readers who followed me here – you may not be as interested in my introduction below, as it is a partial rewrite and re-edit from several of my old posts, so just pick up the new feed and go check out all the other bloggers on the new network.

But before you leave, you may also be curious to know who made the delightful new banner? It is the artistic creation of Claire Fahrbach, a young artist, illustrator and designer from North Carolina who recently moved to San Francisco in search of a job and a career. See the banner big (and click to see even bigger):

Now for the new readers…a little bit about myself and about this blog. I don’t often write about myself, but every blog needs to have something biographical so readers can figure out where the author is coming from, what to expect, how to connect.

I was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (now Serbia). I always loved animals and planned to do something with them, perhaps become a biologist or a veterinarian (or join a circus, or work at a zoo). I grew up in a family that valued language, art, theater, literature and scholarship, so I grew up to be quite a bookworm.

In school, being a brainy math geek and science nerd did not make me ostracized – it made me popular. It was a different time in a different place. It was a different culture. Ever since, I have been trying to re-create that kind of culture around me – make it possible again for a science geek to be seen as cool (for example, getting a picture of myself taken, right, with an inflatable toy sauropod on my shoulder – click to see big).

I was in vet school at the University of Belgrade 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. Several flights later, 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.

I did research on circadian (daily) and photoperiodic (seasonal) rhythms in a bird, Japanese quail. I wanted to understand how a brain measures and perceives such long periods of time, and especially how sex hormones affect this timing, which is relevant for understanding why human adolescents cannot fall asleep at night and then wake up in the morning, as well the subtle differences between the sexes (you can click on the image, left, to see large so you can see the quail – orange breasted one is a male, mottled gray-white is a female).

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 about politics. When the 2004 election was over, I switched to blogging about science and science education. Then I fused those three interests into a single blog. The rest is history.

Now you probably understand the name of the blog and the banner better. The quail on the banner is my old laboratory model animal (Coturnix japonica – I am also known online as ‘Coturnix’). The clock, on the banner and in the title, symbolizes the Biological Clock, the subject of my research. The Web is, of course, the World Wide Web that connects us all. And the blog name as a whole, apart from alluding to my scientific interest, also dates me back to the 1960s (when The Beatles rocked around the clock, with their version of the Bill Haley song), and refers to the question I often get: “Do you ever sleep? You seem to be online around the clock!”.

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. While I still sometimes blog about science, I more often write about 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 printed on paper 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. I am active on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Posterous and numerous other online spaces. My blogging has brought a number of jobs, gigs and other opportunities.

Together with my friend Anton Zuiker, I organize an annual conference on the intersection between science and the Web – ScienceOnline. The fifth one was a few months ago, and the sixth one will be in January. Every year I also conduct blog interviews with some of the participants of the conference.

Anton and I also teamed up with some friends and built two aggregators you may be interested in – (organized by networks) and (organized by topics). Both are, we think, useful starting points for exploring and keeping up with the science blogosphere and news.

I also edit an annual anthology of the best writing on science blogs, The Open Laboratory. The next, sixth edition of the book will be published by FSJ/Scientific American.

More recently, I got interested in promoting young and new science writers, and thus in the way science programs work in schools of journalism. I am currently on the advisory board of the Medical and Science Journalism program at UNC, and, starting in September, will be a Visiting Scholar in the Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program at NYU.

To get a sense of kinds of topics I like to cover, here are some of my most recent posts:

Circadian clock without DNA–History and the power of metaphor

The line between science and journalism is getting blurry….again

Me and the copperheads–or why we still don’t know if snakes secrete melatonin at night

Web breaks echo-chambers, or, ‘Echo-chamber’ is just a derogatory term for ‘community’ – my remarks at #AAASmtg

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

Giant Dino exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History, or why I should not be a photojournalist

A “sixth sense” for earthquake prediction? Give me a break!

Book review: Pink Boots and the Machete by Mireya Mayor

And if you want more, I have compiled some selections of my best old posts about the media and posts about biology.

New posts on the @sciam blogs

New posts today. Two on the Guest Blog. One last night:

Paris: City of Light and Cosmic Rays by Greg Gbur.

and one this morning:

Scientists Discover that Antimicrobial Wipes and Soaps May be Making You (and Society) Sick by Rob Dunn.

And on Expeditions blog:

Dinosaur Egg Clutches, Not as Simple as Chicken Eggs by Hannah Susorney and Christi Lorang

As always, read, enjoy, comment, and share….

Open Laboratory 2011 – submissions so far

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

Too Hard or Too Hot? Two new posts on @sciamblogs

Today on the SciAm Guest Blog, two posts:

Too Hot to Handle: The Dangers of Running in the Heat by By Caitlyn Zimmerman

Too Hard for Science? Off-the-Shelf Organs By Charles Q. Choi

Best of June 2011 at A Blog Around The Clock

I posted 35 times in June.

There were some announcements last month.

Early in the month, I went to World Science Festival in New York and did a panel. There was coverage of it.

I teamed up with Perrin Ireland and reported from The Bezos Scholars Program at the World Science Festival.

I keep interviewing attendees of ScienceOnline2011 – see the latest Q&As with Bonnie Swoger and John Hawks.

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

Living Interplanetary Spaceflight Experiment–or Why Were All the Strange Creatures on the Shuttle Endeavour? By David Warmflash

Cell Phones, Cancer and the Dangers of Risk Perception By David Ropeik

Does Quantum Mechanics Flout the Laws of Thermodynamics? By Vlatko Vedral

Thorium, Polonium, Radium, Oh My! Marie Curie and Maggie Gyllenhaal Kick Off the 2011 World Science Festival By Neda Afsarmanesh

Too Hard for Science? Joan Slonczewski–Reshaping Ourselves for Our Changing World By Charles Q. Choi

All about Stories: How to Tell Them, How They’re Changing, and What They Have to Do with Science By Lena Groeger and Perrin Ireland

Too Hard for Science? Seeing If 10,000 Hours Make You an Expert By Charles Q. Choi

Simply Brilliant Science: Creating Healthier Eggs for a Healthier You By Kiyomi Deards

What Does the New Double-Slit Experiment Actually Show? By Matthew Francis

The Renaissance Man: How to Become a Scientist Over and Over Again By Ed Yong

A World Ocean By Kevin Zelnio

To Turn Up the Music, Cochlear Implants Need a Software Update By Allison Bland

It’s Your Virtual Assistant, Doc. Who Is Watson? By Karthika Muthukumaraswamy

Lindau Nobel meeting – courting Minerva with Ragnar Granit By Lucas Brouwers

Too Hard for Science? Regaining the Element of Surprise By Charles Q. Choi

Ant Thrills: Seeing Leaf-Cutter Ants through an Artist’s Eyes By Jessica Wapner

Weinergate: Private Records in a Public Age By Krystal D’Costa

When Cells Discovered Architecture By Jennifer Frazer

What Bats, Bombs and Sharks Taught Us about Hearing [Video] By Bradley Voytek

Stranded Whales on the Key Largo Shore By Michelle Bialeck

Linking Erosional and Depositional Landscapes By Brian Romans

The Power of Theory in Science By Ethan Siegel

From the Shadows to the Spotlight to the Dustbin–the Rise and Fall of GFAJ-1 By Rosie Redfield

Arsenic-Eating Bacteria Have Changed Science Education By Marie-Claire Shanahan

Too Hard for Science? Neutrinos from the Big Bang By Charles Q. Choi

Good Dads and Not-So-Good Dads in the Animal Kingdom By David Manly and Lauren Reid

Stem Rust Ug99–the Agricultural Bully By Tiffany Stecker

Book Review: The Future of Water By Matthew Garcia

The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Natural Selection and Evolution, with a Key to Many Complicating Factors By Jeremy Yoder

#WSF11: The Invisible Language of Smell By Bora Zivkovic and Perrin Ireland

Close Encounters of Science and Medicine By Iwona Fijalkowska

Too Hard for Science? Experimenting on Children Like Lab Rats By Charles Q. Choi

Lindau Nobel Meeting–The Cross-Pollination of Ideas By Christine Ottery

Stick to the Science By Michael E. Mann

Lindau Nobel Meeting–Bearing the fruits of global health research By Christine Ottery

Education Reform in the Wrong Direction: High-Stake Consequences for New York State Teachers and Their Students By Jeanne Garbarino

Lindau Nobel Meeting–Monday’s Researcher: Madhurima Benekareddy by Christine Ottery

Lindau Nobel Meeting–Stressed Mind, Stressed DNA by Christine Ottery

Lindau Nobel Meeting–Beef Bug to Blame for Bowel Cancer? by Christine Ottery

Lindau Nobel Meeting–Ada Yonath: Climbing the Everest with polar bears By Lucas Brouwers

Lindau Nobel Meeting–If HIV Is Attacked, It Adapts By Lucas Brouwers

Lindau Nobel Meeting–Sentences That Win Nobel Prizes By Lucas Brouwers

A Journey in Sharing Science: From the Lab to Social Media and Beyond By Jason A. Tetro

Lindau Nobel Meeting–Joke van Bemmel, Chromatin and Epigenetics By Christine Ottery

Beauty Pageants and the Misunderstanding of Evolution Meet….Again By Susanna Speier

Lindau Nobel Meeting–Evolutionary Chemistry with Jean-Marie Lehn By Lucas Brouwers

Lindau Nobel Meeting–Peter Agre and Torsten Wiesel: Nobel laureate scientific diplomacy builds bridges By Christine Ottery

Lindau Nobel Meeting–Buckminsterfullerene and the Third Man By Lucas Brouwers

Overprescribing the Healthy Elderly: Why Funding Research and Drug Safety is Paramount By Laura Newman

Lindau Nobel Meeting–Cowboy hats and countesses By Lucas Brouwers

Lindau Nobel Meeting–The future of biomedicine By Christine Ottery

Lindau Nobel Meeting–Glowing brainbows By Lucas Brouwers

This month we said good-bye to the USC scientific diving class – Problems Without Passports: Scientific Research Diving at USC Dornsife – written by a whole collection of instructors and students:

Reflections at the Edge of the Pacific Ocean By David Ginsburg

Making a Difference: Environmental Students in Palau By Patrick Talbott and Gabrielle Roffe

Preserving Biodiversity By Wendy Whitcombe

Palau Protects and Conserves By Kirstie Jones

Peleliu: 67 Years after the Battle–a New and Different Conflict By Jim Haw

Last Child in the Reef By Emilie Moore

Just When You Think It Can’t Get Any Better By Genivieve McCormick

Looking Ahead By David Ginsburg

Experiential Learning and Communicating By Jim Haw

Thank You, Scientific Research Diving at USC Dornsife by me.

The South Pacific Islands Survey continues with new posts, written by Lindsey Hoshaw:

One Illness Threatens a Cook Islander’s Way of Life

And we started two new expeditions on the Expeditions blog – first one is from Montana – New Expedition–MSU Student Research with Dinosaur Eggs in China, posted by me.

New season starts with division of egg duties, petrified trees, soybean Popsicles by Betsy Kruk

Beautiful window serves as escape hatch for baby dinosaur by Betsy Kruk

Fossil hunting in China very different than in Montana by Ashley Poust

Incredible Find in Temple Museum, Harrowing Rescue on Crumbly Mudstone By Betsy Kruk

Rock Mapping a Challenge for Biology Student By Amanda Wregglesworth

Go to Landfill, Find a Dinosaur Footprint! By Christi Lorang

We Visit Fishy Relatives, Geology Wonderland By Ashley Poust and Hannah Susorney

The other new Expeditions trip is all about squid, all posts written by William Gilly:

Squid Studies: Back to the Sea of Cortez

Squid Studies: Scientists Seeking and Savoring Squid

Squid Studies: Changing Seas and Shrinking Squid

Squid Studies: Correction, Connections and Calamar

Squid Studies: “It Is Not Down in Any Map; True Places Never Are”–Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Previously in the “Best of…” series: