Category Archives: SBC’08 Interviews

ScienceOnline interviews

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


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


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


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


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

Doing science publicly: Interview with Jean-Claude Bradley

Jean-Claude Bradley and I first met at the First Science Blogging Conference where he led a session on Open Science. We then met at SciFoo and later joined forces on a panel at the ASIS&T meeting and finally met again at the second Science Blogging Conference back in January where Jean-Claude co-moderated a session on Making Data Public. Jean-Claude is famous for being the pioneer of the Open Notebook Science movement. He started posting his daily lab activity and results on his blog Useful Chemistry. Soon, he attracted a lot of feedback and subsequently some excellent collaborators. As the work became more complex, Jean-Claude added more blogs, e.g., UsefulChem Molecules and UsefulChem Experiments, but in the end realized that wiki was a better format for this and started the UsefulChem Wiki where you can see, among else, how one of his students is writing a Masters thesis in real time.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your scientific background? What is your Real Life job?
I am an associate professor of chemistry at Drexel university. I’ve been there since 1996. My Ph.D. is in organic chemistry and I have done postdoctoral work on DNA chips and gene therapy. At Drexel I worked on nanotechnology and scientific knowledge management until 2005 when I started the UsefulChem project, centered on synthesizing new anti-malarial compounds using Open Notebook Science.
What do you want to do/be when (and if ever) you grow up?
I’ve worn many hats in my career and part of the fun is not really being able to predict what makes sense doing several years down the road. I try to concentrate on working on projects that I think will have an important impact and where I am in a unique position to contribute.
When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while at the Conference?
I discovered science blogs just through using various social networking sites and finding like-minded people. Some of the blogs I follow most closely: Cameron Neylon’s Science in the Open, Deepak Singh’s BBGM, Antony William’s ChemSpider, Bill Hooker’s Open Reading Frame, Shirley Wu’s One Big Lab and Peter Murray-Rust’s blog. I don’t like answering these types of questions because I don’t want to leave people out:) There are many others in my blog reader but these are probably my main focus right now because they deal with Open Science issues.
bradleypic.JPGYou are one of the pioneers of Open Notebook Science. Could you, please, explain to my readers what this is?
Open Notebook Science is simply the practice of making one’s laboratory notebook completely public in as close to real time as possible. In organic chemistry this is pretty straightforward – researchers must keep a notebook where they record what they do and observe in an experiment, generally with the intent of making a specific compound. In other fields, records may be kept in different formats but the idea is that the research group doing ONS should strive to do research transparently with as little “insider information” as is reasonable. In organic chemistry this means providing access to all raw data files (spectra for example) so that another researcher can independently verify all observations and conclusions made.
You started your Open Notebook on a blog, but then later moved it to a wiki. Why? What are the advantages and disadvantages of the two platforms?
Yes, initially I started with a blog but realized fairly quickly that it was not sufficient to function as a lab notebook because there is no record of changes made. A wiki is really close to a perfect tool for the actual notebook since all page versions are time-stamped. We use Wikispaces as our hosting service, which has the advantage of providing third-party timestamps on everything recorded or changed.
Doing science is like focusing a lens. At first you have few data points and make some tentative observations. As more data get added and more thinking and talking get done, things become clearer and the notebook is updated accordingly. Sometimes that means errors get fixed and that entire process is tracked by the wiki. I still use the blog as a means of reporting on big picture issues and milestones. I can then link from the blog to the wiki to back up any claims I make.
Very few scientists are doing Open Notebook Science right now – do you see the practice exploding in the near future, with almost everyone doing it? Will this be a generational thing? Or dependent on the scientific discipline?
I don’t see the practice of full ONS becoming used by the majority of researchers very soon, although I do think many more scientist will become more open in some way. For example they may blog more about their current work or make more raw data available after their papers come out. I don’t think the practice should be mandated. Those who choose to do will most likely find it rewarding, if only in meeting new colleagues and collaborators. There may be something to the generational effect – the YouTube generation probably does expect information to be free to consume and share. There is certainly a discipline dependence – where intellectual property is a concern there will be an additional barrier.
When we talk about Science 2.0 and science blogging, we usually discuss science communication, publishing, networking, political action and teaching. But you have performed experiments in Second Life, i.e., Internet is also a tool for actually doing science. Do you see this happening more – people using the Web as a tool in scientific research in the open view of everyone who cares to come by and watch you?
Yes I do see researchers using the web to share their primary research – Gus Rosania and Cameron Neylon are probably the best recent examples. As far as Second Life, it is another tool – with Andrew Lang we are now able to interact with spectra (NMR, IR, etc) simply by “talking” to the display. We can display proteins and molecules in 3D with realistic shapes. Right now, for my work, I view Second Life to be like a website or blog – I can provide basic information about my research and link to the lab notebook on the wiki if people want more information. I have areas on Drexel Island and the American Chemical Society Island to share my lab’s work. My organic chemistry students also do projects for class in Second Life. I think the most useful outcome of using Second Life is meeting new smart people with similar interests. I have met a few wonderful collaborators that way.
Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
The most memorable event at the conference was probably meeting Moshe Pritsker from the Journal of Visualized Experiments. He offered to send someone over to my lab to record a protocol – I still have to arrange that….
It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again in January.
Check out all the interviews in this series.

Removing the Bricks from the Classroom Walls: Interview with David Warlick

David Warlick is a local blogger and educator. We first met at the Podcastercon a couple of years ago, then at several blogger meetups, and finally last January at the second Science Blogging Conference where David moderated a session on Science Education.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your background? What is your Real Life job?
I’ve been an educator for more than 30 years, starting as a middle school social studies, science, and math teacher. Every once in a while, I have to remind myself that when I entered the classroom, desktop computers didn’t exist. It constantly astounds me what has been happing around us.
I remained in the classroom for almost 10 years, after which I moved to a central office position supporting instructional technology for a rural school district in NC. I’d been seduced by computers (Radio Shack Model III), and taught myself how to program them, since there wasn’t much instructional software available. After that, I moved to the North Carolina State Department of Public Instruction where I wrote and supported curriculum for the state, ran a state-wide bulletin board service (FrEdMail) and finally built the nation’s first state department of education web site.
I left the state in 1995, and started consulting, doing business as The Landmark Project. the Internet was still a wilderness, and I wanted to build landmarks for teachers and learners. I maintain a number of web sites which, combined, receive more than a half-million page views a day. I’ve also had the opportunity to visit educators across the U.S. and Canada, and even in Europe, Asia, and South America.
It seems that I should be near the end of my career. But it certainly doesn’t feel like it.
What do you want to do/be when (and if ever) you grow up?
I always wanted to be Johnny Quest’s father, Dr. Benton Quest (1960s cartoon series). Wikipedia describes him as: “…’one of the three top scientists in the world,’ and apparently something of a Renaissance man; his scientific and technical know-how spans many fields.” I wanted to travel the world, have great toys to play with, and solve problems for people. I got part of it, in that I get to travel the world and play with great toys, and there’s some adventure, thought it has more to do with navigating exotic airports than defeating evil despots.
But now that all the travel is starting to wear me down, I’m thinking I’d like to settle back to one or two interests, and study/work the hell out of them. Digital photography has always appealed to me. I also enjoy composing music with a computer. I’d also like to find some topic and set up a web site/blog/social network around that topic. No idea, though, what it might be.
You are quite an evangelist for the use of online tools in the classroom. You used to teach with a blackboard and chalk – how and when did you get to embrace the modern tools in education?
My main subject was History. It’s what I had studied in college. But I always taught about History from the perspective of technology, focusing in on the invention of the bow & arrow, agriculture, paper, the steam engine and explore how these technologies affected and changed our cultures. The first time I saw a Radio Shack Model I computer operate, I knew, at that moment, that this was one of those technologies that was going to change everything. Here was a machine that you operated by communicating with it. I was thunder-struck. I was seduced.
However, it was sometime later that I started to learn, and am continued to learn that it isn’t the fact that we have a machine that we can communicate that makes computers so important. It’s that they give us new ways of communicating with each other. This, I’ve learned as an educator — not as a technologist.
SBC%20Saturday%20004.jpgOne of the important concepts you write about is the Flat Classroom. Can you, please, explain it to my readers?
It’s simple. According to a recent PEW Internet & American Life study, 64% of American teenagers have produced original digital content and published it to a global audience. How many of their teachers are published authors, artists, musicians, composers, or film makers? From the perspective of our children’s information experience, they are more literate than many of their teachers. Our classrooms are flat.
The central question that we should be asking today is, “How do we drive learning if we can no longer rely on gravity?” Where do we get the energy. It’s a sobering and threatening idea for most educators. However, I think that once we can get to the other side of this problem, we, teachers and learners, will be much happier. Here are just a few ideas:
* We need to redefine literacy to reflect today’s information landscape and not just teach it as skills, but to instill it as habit.
* We, as teachers, need to model learning, not just inflict it. We need to practice new literacy in front of our students.
* What students learn has become less important. The answers are all changing. It as important today to be able to invent answers to brand new questions. What’s become more important is how students are learning.
* We need to understand our students information experience and learn to harness the energy that comes from it, to replace the vanishing energy of gravity.
“Please turn off your cell-phones, i-Pods and other electronic devices, kids” – why is this sentence, spoken at the beginning of a class period, wrong? What should a teacher say instead?
This is wrong on so many levels. But principally, we have to recognize, accept, and respect our students out-side-the classroom information experiences. For the first time in history, we are preparing our children for a future we can not clearly describe. So much is changing and so fast. I think that there are clues in our students information experience that we can use to better prepare them for that future.
I recently read about six schools in New York City (where they’ve banned cell phones) that are giving cell phones to all of their students (2,500 of them), preloaded with 130 minutes of talk time. More minutes are added based on test scores, good behavior, and other activities. The teachers are starting to use text messaging to share homework assignments, remind them of upcoming tests, and other activities. What I’d love to see is text-messaging become a platform for doing homework assignment in collaboration.
I know that this may seem weird to some, but no less (NO LESS) weird than many of the applications we use every day would have seemed 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago.
What is your basic advice to teachers who are not themselves Internet-savvy, yet want to take a plunge and get their students to produce online content, be it blogs, podcasts or videos? How do you explain the pros and cons and the usual traps some teachers fall into?
Be a good teacher, and pay attention to your students information experiences. Your students can teach you a lot about these new tools, and what better way to model yourself as a lifelong learner.
Become 21st century literate. Once you’ve accomplished that, then you can teach yourself what ever you need to know. Most of the teachers who are doing extraordinary things in their classrooms didn’t learn it in a workshop. They learned it by engaging on online conversations with other innovative educators.
When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while at the Conference?
I have to plead the 5th on this one. I do not read any science blogs regularly, though SEED may well take the place of WIRED as my favorite magazine. I’m fascinated by science, all areas of science. Science constantly reminds me of the frontiers we have yet to chart.
Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
It thrills me to see that part of learning science is learning how to talk about science. And this is what the Science Bloggers conference is about. It’s about the softer side of our explorations, bringing them home, and making them a part of the everyday conversations of the rest of us. I think that, deep down, we all crave frontiers.
It was so nice to see you again at the Conference and thank you for the interview.
Check out all the interviews in this series.

Communicating Genomics: Interview with Kendall Morgan

Kendall Morgan is the new Communications Director for the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy. We first met at the second Science Blogging Conference back in January, but, being neighbors, hope to continue communication and collaboration in the future.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your scientific background?
Hmmm. Where to start? I’m originally from Wheeling, W. Va. I went to a small Quaker college in Indiana and from there directly to graduate school at the University of Oregon where I studied evolutionary biology and quantitative genetics. Coming from a liberal arts college, grad school and the research institution environment in general came as something of a shock. I finished my Ph.D. in five years nonetheless and then started looking for a less research-oriented path. Initially, I thought I’d return to my liberal arts college past and teach, but I ended up applying to the Science Communication program at the University of California, Santa Cruz. I got in and have been a science writer ever since. After interning at a few places — a national lab in Idaho and Science News magazine — I made the move to Duke. I’m also a big fan of random acts of travel, but that’s another story.
What is your Real World job? How does blogging figure in it?
I’ve been working as a science writer and communicator for the last five years in various capacities at Duke, first in the Duke Medical Center News Office and then at the Pratt School of Engineering. As of two months ago, I became the communications director for the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy. So far, blogging doesn’t figure into it other than keeping tabs on a handful of relevant science blogs out there. But, particularly given that the IGSP is all about genome sciences and their ethical, legal and societal implications, I see plenty of opportunity for incorporating a blog into my day job. There’s no doubt blogs can be a great way to communicate science and to start conversations around science, and I’d say that’s a big part of what the IGSP is about. Stay tuned…
kendall%20morgan%20interview%20pic.jpgWhat do you want to do/be when (and if ever) you grow up?
I’m really enjoying my new position at the IGSP and, to be honest, am not thinking too much at the moment about what might be next on the career front. I recently took a course in mindfulness-based stress reduction through Duke Integrative Medicine. I think my biggest goal now is to find some balance in life and enjoy the moment.
You were at the Blogging101 session on Friday morning. Was it useful to you? If you started a blog then, are you going to continue with it? May we see it?
The blogging 101 session was definitely useful. It was a good place for a non-blogger like me to talk about blogs with bloggers and to be reminded how incredibly easy it actually is to start one. The hard part would be to continue with one, and no, I didn’t.
When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while at the Conference?
I actually didn’t discover science blogs all that long ago. I first got into blogs during the last presidential election, but those were political blogs. I now keep up with a few of the blogs on scienceblogs…yours, The Intersection, Cognitive Daily. I usually take a look at ScienceBlogs Select as well. There are a few other blogs on genes and genomes that I look at now and again e.g. Genetic Future, Gene Expression and, of course, genomeboy written by the IGSP’s very own Misha Angrist, and some others. It still feels a bit like another world that I’m not quite a part of, but I enjoy checking them out when I have the time.
Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
At this point, it’s been a while since the conference so it’s hard for me to say precisely. I’m sure there are many little things that have influenced the way that I am thinking about the possibilities offered by blogs for communicating science and that have generally influenced the degree to which I pay attention to what’s happening in the blogosphere. Overall, I’d say it was an eye opener to the world of science blogging and definitely worth a Saturday for bloggers and non-bloggers alike. I feel lucky that it all happens right here in the Triangle.
It was so nice to meet you at the Conference and thank you for the interview.
Thank YOU!
Check out all the interviews in this series.

Shortly After Hell Freezes Over: Interview with Elisabeth Montegna

Elisabeth Montegna is quite a prolific blogger, with SECular Thoughts being just one of her virtual spaces. We finally got to meet at the second Science Blogging Conference in January and took a tour of the Museum of Natural Science in Raleigh together.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your scientific background? What is your Real World job?
I’m a senior graduate student at the University of Chicago. Since I get a stipend, I consider that my real world job. I graduated college from Boston University with a BA in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. After that, I worked four years as a research technician in two different labs at U of Chicago. Then, I started the graduate program in Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology. I hope to finish my thesis work in the next few months.
In my lab, we are interested in how cells form and maintain intracellular structures. In order to function properly, eukaryotic cells have specialized structures called organelles which carry out particular functions. How a cell is able to construct a structure for a particular purpose and how those structures are “inherited” when a cell divides is not very well understood. My research focuses on two factors (proteins called Sec12 and Sec16) that are important for organizing structures called transitional Endoplasmic Reticulum (tER) sites which are part of the early secretory pathway. I want to understand the roles Sec12 and Sec16 play in organizing tER sites.
What do you want to do/be when (and if ever) you grow up?
A mom.
Professionally, this is a much more difficult question to answer. Unfortunately, grad school has turned me off of bench science, so I’m not planning on pursuing a research career. For most of my life, I have been interested in science education and that is what I plan to pursue in some way when I graduate. How exactly I will do that, I haven’t decided. Right now, I’m most interested in becoming a professor at a community college or designing exhibits at a science museum (I realize these are two very different things–this may give you some idea of the breadth of my interest in science education). I’ve also considered teaching high school science, teaching elementary school science, teaching science to elementary school teachers, science writing, and science curriculum development. Mostly, though, I’m interested in public science education for adults which is why I’m interested in teaching at a community college or a science museum.
I am one half of what people like to call a ‘two-body problem.’ My husband is an astrophysicist. Currently, our solution to the two-body problem is to live many miles apart from each other but neither one of us likes that so much. His interests are very specific and strangely enough, there aren’t that many jobs out there for astrophysicists so our plan is to settle wherever he can find a position. Given my broad interests, I should be able to find something to do that I enjoy.
Or, I might open a yarn shop.
When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while at the Conference?
I discovered science blogs after reading Chris Mooney’s The Republican War on Science last summer (spring?). I first found ScienceBlogs and from there followed the links and blogrolls to other science blogs. As for favorites, there are so many good ones out there, it’s hard to choose. Of course, I love A Blog Around the Clock. 🙂 At ScienceBlogs, I regularly read Thus Spake Zuska, Sciencewomen, Laelaps, Drugmonkey, Terra Sigillata and Adventures in Ethics and Science. I also read the combined feed when I can so I read bits and pieces of other blogs. Outside of ScienceBlogs, I read Young Female Scientist, post doc ergo propter doc, and Cocktail Party Physics. Since the conference, I’ve started reading Pondering Pikaia and Open Reading Frame.
Oh dear, I’m sure I’ve forgotten somebody. I’m sorry if I did.
Do you have a blog and if so, will you tell us about it, your experience in science blogging?
I don’t have A Blog. I have several blogs. Because I’m weird like that. I started out with a knitting blog. That’s when I discovered how rewarding blogging can be and how quickly you can become involved in an online community of bloggers. Then, I decided to start a blog for my family to read about how my labwork is going because I got tired of them asking when I was going to graduate. Then, I started a blog under a pseudonym to blog about life in lab because I needed to vent. I enjoy that blog a lot, but I decided that I wanted to be able to talk more about my actual research which is tricky when you are blogging anonymously. So, I decided to start a new blog I call SECular Thoughts (referring to the fact that I work with Sec proteins). I’m still trying to find my voice with that blog. When I started the blog, I had a pretty solid idea for the focus of the blog and what I wanted to write in it. Except that the focus started to feel a little restrictive and that kept me from posting very much. One thing I’ve learned is that it’s hard to force the blog to be a particular thing if that’s not what feels natural to you. So, I need to spend some time writing on a blog for awhile before I know what exactly it’s going to shape up to be. I haven’t gotten to that point yet with SECular Thoughts. But, it will happen.
For me, science blogging is a natural extension of my love of science education. Whether it’s an entry explaining scientific concepts or an entry talking about the trials of being a graduate student, blogging has the potential bring aspects of science and scientific life to people who have no other way of experiencing it. Additionally, blogging has given me a community in which I feel comfortable. If you blog about science in any way, you have some interest in science communication. Most of the people I interact with face to face in my daily life have very little interest in science communication.
In medical blogging, most physicians who blog about their patients’ cases do so anonymously. In science blogging, it is mostly women who do not reveal their real names. Why is this so? When do you think this will change?
Ah, the whole anonymity issue. I think this is a complex issue and there’s no one answer. Here are my two cents. Few people would disagree that women are at a disadvantage in the sciences. We are underrepresented, we get paid less, we are openly (and not-so-openly) discriminated against. Just the fact that we have two X chromosomes counts against us. Yet it is not okay for people to say, “Because you are a woman,” when they don’t offer you a job or deny you tenure. So, people (consciously or subconsciously) look for other reasons to not hire or give tenure to women. The woman in question didn’t publish enough or have enough grants or didn’t show “proper dedication to the scientific lifestyle” (translation: she had a baby). It would be all too easy for someone to say, “Well, she spent a lot of time blogging so clearly she wasn’t very dedicated to her work,” or maybe, “She said unflattering things about the department on her blog so she obviously is not loyal to the university,” or possibly, “She spent a lot of time online whining about her graduate career, is that really someone we want to have in our lab?” Remaining anonymous eliminates that threat (in theory).
Women give many answers for why they wish to remain anonymous, but generally those answers all go back to being afraid of ruining their careers through blogging. We know how precarious our situations are. We don’t want to jeopardize our already meager chances at making it in the world of science. When you think about it, the question isn’t really why do so many women choose to remain anonymous. The question is, why, knowing the risks, do women choose to blog anyway?
I think women are particularly drawn to blogging about their lives and personal issues relating to science because we don’t have a community in our “real world” to discuss these things in. There are issues that are of particular interest to women, yet there are very few women in science. A woman may find herself the only female junior faculty in her department, or the only female grad student in her lab. Who can she commiserate with? Who can she talk to about the problems that face her that are unique to women? Through science blogging, women been able to find a community that they can belong to, people who understand when they want to bitch about whatever stupid misogynistic thing some old guy said to her that day, people who can say “Yes, I have taken my infant to a conference because I was breast-feeding and this is how I handled it.” We can read these blogs and get advice and talk about our problems and discover that, although the vast majority of people we interact with in our labs on a day-to-day basis are male, there are still many female scientists out there. We are not alone.
When do I think this will change? Sometime after women are given truly equal status with men and have equal representation in all fields of science. In other words, shortly after hell freezes over.
Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
There were two things about the conference that left a lasting impression on me. The first was the sense of belonging I felt even though I had never met any of the people there before in real life. There I was, in the middle of a very large group of people who all cared deeply about science communication–just like me! It was amazing. I had found my tribe and it was good.
The second thing I was struck by was the chasm between science journalists and scientists and how most of that exists because neither side has any understanding of the day to day life of the other. There is a lot of resentment built up in the scientific community about how science is represented in the mainstream media but very few scientists have a clue about how the media functions and what the limitations are for individual reporters. On the other hand, many journalists do not understand what it is academic scientists do, how they function, and why a scientist may or may not have time to talk to a reporter at that very moment the reporter calls them. Scientists say that reporters constantly make egregious errors in scientific reporting and journalists counter with the fact that they have difficulty getting actual scientists to talk to them. This state of affairs cannot continue if we are truly dedicated to increasing public understanding about science. I’m not sure how this problem can be resolved, but I think more opportunities for journalists and scientists to interact can increase understanding on both sides and help move us toward solutions.
It was so nice to see you at the Conference and thank you for the interview.
It was great meeting you at the Conference, Bora!
Check out all the interviews in this series.

Turning the Tables on Me: Interview on the Confessions of a Science Librarian

It was bound to happen sooner or later. People seem to really like my series of interviews with the participants of the Science Blogging Conference. So, as he promised, John Dupuis turned the tables and interviewed me, even using some of the same questions that I tend to ask. Read the interview here.

Think of a Dust-Free Keypad: Interview with Rose Reis

Rose Reis interviewed me in person on the Sunday morning right after the second Science Blogging Conference in January. Then, I got scooped for the interview. But I will not be deterred – so here is, finally, the exclusive interview with Rose for A Blog Around The Clock:
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your scientific background? What is your Real World job?
Hi, Bora! I am your biggest fan! Apart from that, I am a program specialist at the INFO Project, at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. My Real World job actually includes blogging–how lucky am I? I work on various other projects, including helping to build and manage an online social networking site for international family planning program managers and researchers, the Elements of Successful Family Planning Programs .
Prior to coming to live in Baltimore last summer, I worked in magazine journalism in New York. But I got my blogging start a few years back under the moniker “Golap Golightly” when volunteering in Rajasthan, India for the Veerni Project — and that’s when I became interested in public health. The project brings reproductive health services to women and girls living in remote desert regions, as well as information about HIV/AIDS prevention and family planning. Blogging was a great way to get friends and family engaged in the work the NGO does, and it whetted my appetite to know more about public health. So I came to work here at Hopkins, and attend class in the department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health .
Rose%20Reis%20interview%20pic.JPGWhat do you want to do/be when (and if ever) you grow up?
Peter Pan. Actually I’m pretty pumped that I get paid to blog about health topics that I care about. I used to write about pricey leather duffles, and that was ok, but now I get to interview folks like gorgeous Purnima Mane, UNFPA’s deputy executive director, Margaret Neuse, the massively influential former director of USAID’s Population and Reproductive Health, and Robert Blum, who is the charismatic head of the Hopkins department that focuses on family planning. These videotaped interviews will go on the Elements of Successful Family Planning Programs Web site. Then I’ll get to blog about how great it was to meet them, and how cool Purnima’s bangle collection is.
What is the INFO Project?
So… The INFO Project, based at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for Communication Programs, envisions a world of interconnected communities where shared reproductive health information improves and saves lives. Our mission is to support health care decision-making in developing countries by providing global leadership in reproductive health knowledge management. Through collaborative approaches and the innovative use of sustainable technology, we:
* Inform those who influence and improve health care and public health,
* Enhance the capacity of communities and organizations to obtain, adapt, and generate knowledge and best practices, and
* Connect communities, organizations, and individuals locally and globally to facilitate knowledge sharing and dialogue.
To accomplish these goals, INFO publishes reports (Population Reports, Global Health Technical Briefs) tailored to audiences who work on reproductive health programs in developing countries – program managers, researchers, policymakers and health care providers. We also support databases that house the latest evidence-based information on these topics, which we make available at no cost and in various ways (Listservs, CD-ROMS, handbooks) to our audiences in resource-poor settings.
We are supported by USAID.
What are the challenges in providing information to and from people in the developing world?
Whew… Well, during a recent online forum on the Implementing Best Practices Knowledge Gateway, we had a great participant from Ghana, Samuel Deh, apologize profusely to participants for being silent during three days–they had had a power failure.
Recently, I interviewed Jonathan Ndzi, a UNFPA emergency reproductive health coordinator living in Senegal, about his work overseeing service delivery in conflict settings. He said he’s completely off line when he’s in the field, maybe in refugee camps, which is how much of his time is spent in the 12-15 countries he oversees.
Internet can be a gamble, but even phones don’t work reliably–mobiles are usually better. We are looking more at mobile phone outreach and I learned recently that in 2006, Africa added more than 50 million mobile phone subscribers for a total of nearly 200 million users.
There are other challenges–we are looking to do text messaging outreach to health workers in Ethiopia, where my colleague Katie Richey is being transferred (she flies out today) to manage the project I mentioned above, Elements of Successful Family Planning Programs. But Amharic, the primary language, has 300 characters, as compared with 26 Roman characters. So Nokia recently introduced an Amharic keypad that is seamless to protect it from rural environmental dust.
For lower-level health providers, barriers to exchanging information may include language barriers or illiteracy.
What is the difference between writing a personal science/health blog and running a multi-author blog that serves as a communication outlet for an organization?
I could post every hour on the hour, but no one wants to read that. The challenge is getting others to be as excited as I am about the so-called social Web. Many people are–they read blogs, they’re on Facebook–but they still think it requires a strategic outline and several drafts to write a blog post.
So personal blogs and institutional blogs (wow, that sounds boring) are pretty different. You could say multi-author blogs make for an inconsistent tone, and a variety of posting subjects, but I think those are advantages. It also becomes a conversation between colleagues who might not be working on the same project–an open conversation, to which there are sometimes unexpected contributions. We now have more than ten people contributing to the blog. They range from our deputy director Peggy D’Adamo to our materials cataloging expert Judy Mahachek. It’s great because everyone has different expertise, and varied field experiences to share–my officemate Seth who worked with refugees in Thailand shared the Burmese phrase for family planning.
Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
My head was threatening to spin off with ideas by the end of the weekend. To prevent that from happening, I blogged about it here.
Our chat at Raleigh’s New World Coffee House about “institution” blogging was pretty awesome. I have the paper I scribbled notes on here. The lessons I picked up are helping me build blogging capacity here at INFO.
It was so nice to see you at the Conference and thank you for the interview.
Thank YOU!
Check out all the interviews in this series.

Start Them Early: Interview with Karen Ventii

Karen Ventii is one of my SciBlings – her blog is Science To Life. At the second Science Blogging Conference in January she co-moderated a panel on Gender and Race in Science: online and offline, relevant to the discussion of racial diversity that is ongoing here on Scienceblogs right now.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you?
My name is Karen Ventii & I come from Ghana.
What is your scientific background?
I have a B.S and an M.S in Biology and I’m currently getting my Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Emory University. My graduate research is in the area of cancer biology. I am characterizing a tumor suppressor called BRCA1-associated Protein 1 (BAP1).
What is your Real World job?
Although grad school is my full time job right now, I consider myself a science writer. I am the communications coordinator for Georgia Bio’s Emerging Leader’s Network (ELN) and recently helped found the Science Writers Association of Emory (SWAE). I have also started doing more freelance science writing and I am looking forward to becoming a full time medical journalist when I graduate (which will be soon, I hope) 🙂
When and how did you discover science blogs?
I stumbled upon it while browsing the internet about 2 years ago.
What are some of your favorites?
Aetiology & Cognitive Daily.
You are one of the minority(?) of the female science bloggers who blogs under the full name. How does that restrict what you write about or not? Was that ever a source of any problems for you either online or offline?
It hasn’t really restricted what I write about and hasn’t been a problem yet. I hope it remains this way.
At the panel on Gender and Race in science online and offline, there was, unfortunately, very little talk about race.
Discussing race can be a touchy subject so it’s not surprising that there was little talk on the subject at the conference.
What can be done to get more African American kids excited about science as a career?
That is a very broad question and I honestly don’t have the answer. I can only respond based on my personal experiences. I think that developing an excitement about science starts at a young age. I was encouraged to study science by my parents and later developed a love for it. When I was old enough to make my own life choices I CHOSE to pursue a science career.
Is blogging with your picture up one of the ways to encourage people of all races to enjoy science?
I doubt that simply “seeing” the picture of a minority blogger will encourage other minorities to “enjoy science”. However, it may help and if it encourages them to, say, take a stab at science blogging then that’s even better.
Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
I gained a lot of valuable information from Dave Munger’s session on “How to build interactivity into your blog”
It was so nice to meet you and thank you for the interview.
Check out all the interviews in this series.

Guarding the Coral Reefs like a Moray Eel: Interview with Rick MacPherson

I had great fun meeting Rick MacPherson last summer in San Francisco, so I was very happy that he could come to the second Science Blogging Conference in January where he co-moderated a panel on Real-time blogging in the marine sciences. Do not miss out on reading his blog Malaria, Bedbugs, Sea Lice, and Sunsets.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your scientific background? What is your Real World job?
Aloha, Bora, and thanks for the opportunity to chat. I’m on the Big Island of Hawaii as I write this. I’m checking-in on one of our coral reef conservation projects here. When I’m not blogging, my day job is directing all of the site-based conservation programs with the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL). I’m a marine ecologist by training and did my undergrad years at Roger Williams College (now a university) in Bristol, Rhode Island. I loved it. Class sizes were small, professors were committed to teaching, questions were encouraged, and there was plenty of hands-on, field-based learning. I think it was that early exposure to field work that got me hooked as a field biologist. Though I suspect if you asked my family, they would say that my roots in field work started a lot earlier. As a child, I was notorious for heading out into the woods and streams near our home in Northeast Pennsylvania early in the morning and not returning until late in the day. I’d have pockets filled with rocks and fossils, jars of beetles, caterpillars, or frogs, and lots of scrapes and muddy clothes. Not a lot has changed.
I bounced around quite a bit after grad school trying a lot of different field-based marine science gigs, from co-managing a field station for a season in Jamaica to leading ecotourism trips as a naturalist. I even had a 3-year stint as a columnist for a New England newsweekly on queer culture. About 10 years ago, I packed-up and moved from the east coast to San Francisco, California and it’s been the best decision of my life. California was the stomping ground of my marine bio idol Ed Ricketts, and moving here was a life-long dream come true. I eventually found myself as a lecturer and Ocean Science Specialist for UC Berkeley and curriculum developer for the Lawrence Hall of Science. But I missed the field and the hands-on experiences that got me excited about science in the first place. Lucky for me, I was contacted about an opening with the Coral Reef Alliance to lead their conservation programs. It was serendipity and I’ve never been happier.
Tell us more about the Coral Reef Alliance, what does it do, and what do you do there.
CORAL is a member-supported, non-profit organization, dedicated to protecting the health of coral reefs by integrating ecosystem management, sustainable tourism, and community partnerships. The best defense we have against coral reef destruction are marine protected areas (MPAs). But when you look at the 1100 or so coral reef MPAs out there, most are failing to meet their conservation objectives. We wanted to know why, so we did a very comprehensive gap analysis, asking MPA managers a series of questions. Their answers clustered around several common themes: Lack of capacity to reach out to local communities and tourism sectors, lack of sustainable financing, lack of trust from stakeholders, inadequate training to do their work. We then looked at what a small, nimble NGO like CORAL could provide to fill those gaps and our conservation methodology began to form. We began working with communities to identify and solve local conservation challenges. We change attitudes and behavior through education and training. Our programs provide technical and financial resources to strengthen marine protected areas. And unlike many conservation NGOs that avoid working with the private sector, we see marine tourism providers (diving, snorkeling, or boating businesses) as a force to leverage increased reef stewardship. So we create meaningful incentives for sustainable tourism. We’ve found that achieving these goals translates into measurable gains in reef resilience and MPA effectiveness.
As Director of Conservation Programs, I’m responsible for pulling together the best teams I can find for our projects along the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, and our Pacific projects in Hawaii, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and Indonesia. While I wish more of my time could be spent in the field, most of my energies go into grant writing to continue to grow our programs and increase the scale of our impact. I’m also a big believer in monitoring and evaluation of program effectiveness which is something that is always a challenge to demonstrate. There are a lot of workshops, trainings, meetings, publications, and all sorts of busy-looking activities that a conservation NGO does. But at the end of the day, how is the natural resource (lake, stream, coral reef, fishery, etc.) better off because of this activity? That’s one of the most challenging yet exciting aspects of my work… quantifying conservation impact.
What is the idea behind dumping iron into the ocean and why it turned out to be a bad idea in the end?
The whole iron dumping scheme is yet another example of what happens when bad or inadequate science meets “get rich quick” mentality. Essentially, the idea behind one such iron dumping company, Planktos, is that the ocean can be a much greater carbon sink for excess atmospheric CO2 if we could somehow increase primary productivity in the ocean (that is, get more phytoplankton to metabolize CO2 through photosynthesis). But to boost phytoplankton blooms, you need to add something to the ocean that is limiting the growth of plankton in the first place, in this case iron. So dump some iron into the ocean, plankton blooms, CO2 is depleted in that area of the ocean, and more atmospheric CO2 can “sink.” But wait, there’s more. It also had the added notion of offering consumers an easy out of their carbon guilt by offering shares in the iron dumping as “carbon credits.” I’m just dubious in general of attempts to make people feel better about their global impacts without actually asking anyone to change the behaviors that are unsustainable in the first place. Anyway, I was more of an armchair skeptic and detractor during the whole iron dumping fiasco a few months back. Craig over at Deep Sea News and Miriam at The Oyster Garter systematically dismantled the whole Planktos agenda. They ultimately folded, which I suppose means somewhere out there is a big pile of rusting iron in someone’s back yard.
What do you want to do/be when you grow up?
My answer today hasn’t changed from the answer I gave when I was 10… I want to be a marine biologist. And here I am. I’m just one of those very fortunate (or obsessive) individuals who succeeded in following his dream. But I can honestly say that I became a scientist despite my education. In retrospect, science was taught very badly, if at all, in my elementary years. Despite the abysmal science instruction, I was still so completely in love with science, nature, and science writing that it didn’t matter. I knew every shark species, watched every Jacques Cousteau special, read The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson… you name it. I had at least half a dozen “experiments” going on around the house at any given time. In high school as a young and somewhat shell-shocked queer in the late 70’s, I was too busy trying to survive and stay relatively invisible and just get through the ordeal to focus much on my academics. Still, I loved science and remained committed to following-through with a career in marine biology despite anything my guidance counselors suggested.
Once I made it to college, I knew I could finally get to take the classes I’d been waiting for all my life: marine zoology, invertebrate zoology, botany, developmental bio. It was great. And while the early 80’s was still somewhat of the Dark Ages for being a young, shy queer man, I got a chance to at least meet other equally tentative gay and lesbian students and find some safety in numbers.
I’ve been really encouraged by all the gay and lesbian student science groups that have formed on campuses nationwide. It’s tough enough dealing with the course load in a science program. Having a support and sounding board to deal with the social complexities of queer life is a great thing. If I ever get tired of my blog, I may need to start one called “Queered Science” to explore those intersections of science and GLBT perspectives.
What’s with the fascination with Moray Eels?
Yeah, the morays. My weekly feature, That’s a Moray Monday, got started as sort of a whim. I was trying to think of a regular, recurring feature that could give a different take on my work with coral reefs and maybe allow people to see reefs through a different lens. I wanted to focus on something big and charismatic that might appeal to those readers who aren’t particularly moved by coral polyps, sea fans, or mantis shrimps. I suppose there are more cuddly reef megafauna I could have chosen (dolphins, manta, turtles), but there’s something just right about the moray that I can sort of empathize with. They aren’t an “out-there, in-your-face” reef species. It takes some time to find them. They have a certain calm dignity. And they’re obliged to mind their own business if you simply return the favor. But piss them off and they come at you all fists and elbows… except without the fists and elbows but numerous sharp, bacteria-laden teeth.
When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while at the Conference?
I can’t recall when I first discovered science blogs. My own exploration into blogging began about a year and a half ago. I launched my blog, Malaria, Bedbugs, Sea Lice, and Sunsets, as an online journal of my travels. It seemed a lot more convenient than the many paper journals that I carried around, and at least I wouldn’t lose yet another journal because of a swamped boat or due to a spilled Mai Tai.
I’m a big fan of many of the Sciblings, but I must admit that of late I’ve been really impressed by some of the science and nature blogs coming out of SouthEast Asia. I’m hampered by what I can read in english of course, but there are some great photo and journalistic nature blogs from Singapore that provides a different take on the blog experience. I’m very curious about more science blogs that may be coming out of China, but due to either translation issues or internet censorship we aren’t seeing yet.
Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
I want to thank you and Anton for arranging the snow and freezing rain. It’s been 10 years since I had seen snow, so it was a welcome addition and added to the un-conference feel.
I got to meet some of my ocean blogging colleagues which was just fantastic. Peter from Deep Sea News, Jennifer from Shifting Baselines, Kevin from The Other 95%, Jason from Cephalopodcast, and Karen from The Beagle Project Blog. In addition, I thought the sessions on increasing interactivity on your blog and open access efforts in Serbia were thought provoking and boundary pushing. I was unfortunately dealing with some work-related problem solving during the conference so got pulled away from the evening events, much to my frustration since one of the big motivations to come to North Carolina was to have a few beers with my peers.
I’ve gone on the record as being critical of the Changing Minds Through Science Communication: A Panel on Framing Science session. It seemed to be the least un-conference moment of the whole un-conference event and more of a platform for Science Debate 2008. Which is all fine, I suppose, but I traveled a long way to get short-shrifted with what I perceived as a rather average panel discussion/keynote. Chris Mooney was very nice eye candy, though, so it wasn’t a total loss.
It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview.
Always a pleasure, Bora, and thanks for the opportunity.
Check out all the interviews in this series.

Watch Your Shoes! Interview with Suzanne Franks

Suzanne Franks, better known online as Zuska is a SciBling you do not want to make mad with mysogynist sentiments! At the second Science Blogging Conference in January she co-moderated a panel on Gender and Race in Science: online and offline.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your scientific background? What is your Real World job?
Well, right now I have no Real World Job because chronic migraines make it impossible for me to hold down a job. My education includes a PhD in biomedical engineering and a graduate certificate in women’s studies. In previous lives, I did basic cancer research in Germany and the U.S., I was a manager of medical writing in the pharmaceutical industry, and I was the founding director of the Women in Science and Engineering Program at Kansas State University. That last one is probably my proudest accomplishment.
I guess my Real-World job description now would be: blogging, gardening, reading, and playing with the cats. And having migraines.
What do you want to do/be when (and if ever) you grow up?
I’ve answered this question once before. What I said then still holds true: “Healthy. I can do pretty much whatever else I want, if I could just stop having migraines. Also, a mean banjo-picker.”
I guess I’d add that I really would like to be able to return to medical writing someday. Medical writing is rewarding work, professionally and financially. I highly recommend it as an alternative career for disillusioned postdocs.
When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while at the Conference?
I got into blogging due to the incessant prodding of a good friend who is not a scientist. After I started, I thought “surely I can’t be the only one writing about gender and science!” So I started searching for blogs on women and science, blogs by women scientists, feminist blogs that discussed science… Some of the first ones I found were See Jane Compute (since today, found here) – which I fell in love with immediately, Adventures in Ethics and Science, Dr.Shellie, Naked Under My Lab Coat (which I adore, but she hasn’t blogged in a couple of months…I hope she’s doing okay with the thesis), Young Female Scientist, and Rants of a Feminist Engineer.
Before I moved to Scienceblogs I pretty much exclusively read women-and-science blogs. After the move I started reading other types of science blogs, just by virtue of reading what the other Sciencebloggers were writing. The conference allowed me to make contact with some bloggers I’ve already been reading, and that was a very useful and powerful experience.
Immediately after the Conference, there were several posts up by female science bloggers about the issue of anonymity, e.g., this, this and this. You are one of the (minority?) of the female science bloggers who blogs under the full name. How does that restrict what you write about or not? Was that ever a source of any problems for you either online or offline?
Well, if I had a job, I’m not sure I would blog in the same way. I’d feel constrained by not wanting to jeopardize my job. For example, I can imagine that if I were in the pharmaceutical industry at present, I might want to blog more about things going on in that sphere…but I’d feel concerned about how that would come across at work.
Not being employed, I feel free to say whatever I want, and I have to tell you it is very liberating. I can finally express all the anger and frustration that so many women experience, but don’t feel free to talk about. I can be much more blunt about gender equity issues than I could when I worked at K-State, where my job required a more, shall we say, politesse approach to bring people on board with the vision of a more equitable world of science and engineering.
I do worry, on occasion, if I am able to go back to work, whether my outspoken blogging might hurt me. But I don’t worry enough about it to shut up. 🙂
The main annoyance I’ve experienced online comes from the umpteen million comments I get about how if I would just speak in a nice polite voice I’d be taken more seriously, usually from guys who actually mean “Your anger upsets me. Please be nice the way I think women are supposed to be.” Those people need to have their shoes puked on.
What does the expression “to puke on his shoes” mean? What is its origin?
The post that explains the genesis of “puke on his shoes” can be found here. Basically, when someone or some organization behaves in a manner that is so egregiously offensive that mere words cannot express all the outrage it engenders, then one wants to puke on someone’s shoes. And I’m generally willing to name the someone upon whose shoes puke should be deposited.
How do you see science blogs as tools in changing the culture of academia in regards to gender? Do you think that male science bloggers, by reading female science bloggers, are starting to “get it” and are becoming allies?
I don’t think science blogs have had much of an impact on the culture of academia with regards to gender equity, at least not yet. Most of the people positioned to enact institutional transformation are probably not reading blogs, let alone women-and-science blogs. I do think science blogs have helped create community for women scientists and engineers, in the sense that Janet Stemwedel of Adventures in Ethics and Science speaks of community.
Female science bloggers have created a community online where they can get and give advice on the myriad things they must cope with. So many women scientists and engineers are isolated, often the only one or one of few women in a department. They don’t have a peer group in the Real World to talk to about issues like childbearing, career/life balance, dealing with the daily grind of institutionalized sexism, and practicing effective moron management. They find their sisters online, and they realize “I’m not crazy, this really is screwed up and wrong.” They get their experience validated, and they learn how other women have coped with similar situations. This is really important for helping women persist in academia.
With regard to male readers of women-and-science blogs, there seem to be roughly three categories.
(1) Allies, who offer support and insight and want to know more about what they can do to be better allies. These guys more or less “get it” and want to improve their understanding of gender issues. They are not threatened by angry women.
(2) “Nice Guys” who do not think of themselves as sexist or biased but who have a hard time getting it about the extent of institutionalized sexism. They will often say “but I’ve never seen discrimination!” or “but I’m a Nice Guy! I don’t take advantage of women! Male privilege doesn’t apply to me!” or “are you sure that was an instance of sexism? Maybe it really can be explained by X [where X is Anything-But-Sexism]”. They will often open with something like “I accept that women are discriminated against, but…” and then go on to argue how whatever bit of discrimination or bias you’ve been talking about isn’t really the issue you think it is. They do not understand gender schemas and implicit bias and how those function to create disadvantage for women.
Nice Guys take a lot of work. A small percentage of them do really want to try and learn more about institutionalized sexism. The vast majority, however, while wanting to think of themselves as Allies, experience intense personal threat when gender equity is seriously discussed, which makes them defensive. They have trouble getting past taking it personally, and look at the big picture of institutionalized sexism, discrimination, and bias. How can I be biased? I’m a Nice Guy!
(3) Morons and trolls. Their main contribution is to clearly illustrate, far better than I ever could on my own, just exactly how bad things still are for women.
Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
Dave Munger’s presentation was very useful for me, full of practical tips that I hope to implement in some manner on my blog. Dave really emphasized blogging consistently, and having a regular weekly feature – two things that I have struggled with, in part because of my health issues. But I think some better organization of time on my part is called for here. 🙂
It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview.
Bora, it was a real pleasure! Thanks for everything you did to make the UnConference happen, and thanks for this interview!
Check out all the interviews in this series.

Making the Data Public: Interview With Xan Gregg

Xan Gregg has also attended both the first Science Blogging Conference and the second one in January, where he co-moderated a session on Public Scientific Data. He blogs on FORTH GO.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your scientific background? What is your Real Life job?
I’m a software engineer working at SAS Institute on a desktop “statistical discovery” application called JMP. (Yes, we have a blog, and I sometimes post to it.) My primary interest is data visualization, and in 2006 I won a data visualization competition judged by author Stephen Few. My background is in math and computer science, and I use both fields as a team member at Project Euler, which is a site full of challenging math problems that usually require writing programs to solve.
When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while at the Conference?
It wasn’t until I attended the first Science Blogging Conference that I knew about so much science blogging going on. Now I have trouble keeping up. I can hardly read as fast as you can blog! I like those blogs that provide good summaries of recent research, such as Cognitive Daily, Statistical Modeling, and one I discovered at the conference, ThankYouBrain by attendee Bill Klemm.
How did you get interested in public data?
Having a focus on data visualization, I’m always analyzing graphs and trying to think of ways to make them better. To really make a point, I need to actually produce a better visualization from the same data, and I have been disappointed to find that the data is not often readily available. I can sometimes to resort to programs like GraphClick that can scrape data from standard graphs, but even that doesn’t work for summary graphs where the real data is invisible.
xanhead.jpgWhy should scientists make their raw data public? What are the pros and cons?
The more I researched the subject, I found a disconnect between what scientists say and what they do. Almost every authority extolls the principles of public data, but few scientists practice it openly. I’ve found it to be primarily a question of when. Full open science labs like Jean-Claude Bradley’s UsefulChem publish data as it’s generated, but that model isn’t for everyone. I’d be happy to see data published with papers, whith the policy of the American Economic Review, but the usual answer to the question of when is “when somebody asks for it nicely enough.”
The pros and cons depend on your goals. If you’re trying to further public knowledge, then sharing data supports that goal. If you’re in a competitive situation, then sharing data could weaken your position. I guess that’s a philosophical issue on the nature of scientific research and the public good. In practical terms, publishing data encourages better review and new derivative research, and the only con is with confidential data that can’t be effectively anonymized.
Are there disciplinary differences?
The main disciplinary difference I’ve seen regards the quantity of data. Fields like astronomy and genetics have tons of data, which encourages central data respositories for archiving data.
How would you go about persuading a scientist to make his/her data public?
The idea is there already, so I’d focus on showing how easy it is to share data in a minimal way. Of course, most scientists take their cues from journals and funders, and we need more of them to require data. Some governments, including the US government, are moving in that direction for publicly funded research. It’d be nice to see PLoS adopt something like the data policy of American Economic Review. I’d be happy to work with someone on setting up a data repository site.
How should the raw data be presented online?
Anyway you can. Just a CSV (comma-separated values) file sitting on a web server is fine. Better is an independent site, such as Swivel or Google Docs. The important thing is to remember to include a description of the data fields and sources. Then use the URL of your data as a citation point.
Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
The whole conference makes me temporarily depressed. I find out that for every good idea I’ve had, not only has someone else already had it, but three sites are already implementing it!
It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview.
Thank you, Bora. Keep on tickin’.
Check out all the interviews in this series.

Cutting-edge Communication at Duke: Interview with Karl Leif Bates

Karl Bates is the Manager of Research Communications at Duke University where he is involved in a number of very cool new online projects. He is also a “repeat offender” – his experience at the first Science Blogging Conference did not stop him from attending the second one last month.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your scientific background? What is your Real Life job?
My name is Karl Leif Bates (Leif has a long A like “safe”). I’m the science editor in Duke’s news office, where I edit press releases from research communicators across campus, including the medical center, engineering, environment and so on. And I do some reporting and writing and web video myself. I’m looking for the overarching trends and themes that could help distinguish Duke from other schools. I also edit our new on-line research magazine – Duke Research.
I came at this whole thing after 15 years in the rapidly-drying pond of newspaper journalism, where I specialized in science, environment and medicine stuff. Aside from standard college prep and liberal arts fare, I don’t have any formal education in science; just a willingness to admit I don’t understand and to ask questions that might be considered too basic. (I’d rather look stupid in front of one professor than thousands of readers.) I did take a fellowship out of journalism ten years ago to study up on genetics, genomics and such — just to fill in the gaps in my self-education.
What did you do before coming to Duke University?
I was director of life sciences communications at the University of Michigan — again, sort of a keystone predator position where I monitored research findings from many departments. Our coolest thing there was a Flash tutorial on stem cells.
I mentioned a couple of times before – and correct me if I am wrong – that Duke recently made a 180-degrees turn in regards to the Web and blogs. From being one of the most resistant to becoming one of the most cutting-edge schools in terms of the use of the Internet in disseminating information about the research and teaching going on at Duke. How did that change come about?
Errrr, I think there would be a lot of people here who would take umbrage at being characterized as resistant to Internet communications. Compared with a lot of our benchmark schools, we’re pretty far ahead on the technology curve. Our news site was built on a content management system several years ago, making RSS feeds plentiful and diverse. Our multimedia maven, James Todd, regularly gives talks on how to get your university into YouTube, and we were one of the first schools to mount a site on iTunesU.
When I got here in January 2007, I inherited the plans to launch an ambitious online-only research magazine. We jazzed the concept up a bit with some Web 2.0 features and a companion push product, but it was all here when I arrived.
As a university, we’re not where I’d like to be in sharing coursework online or having an enterprise solution to blogging, but those things will come. Our new VP for public affairs and communications, Mike Schoenfeld, totally gets the Internet thing.
The Duke print research magazine stopped its publication a couple of years ago. You just started a Web-based research magazine – Research Duke. Tell us more about it?
We’re having a blast learning how to tell stories with more than text. I shy away from the term ‘magazine,’ because we can do a lot of things a dead-trees magazine can’t, but it is a monthly periodical. We’re putting a human face on research by letting you see and hear the scientists in their own words, in their own environment, talking about what they do and why they love it. You can post questions or engage your fellow readers in discussion. You can embed our videos in your blog. You can play with Duke data and compare it with other data sets through a really cool web 2.0 thing called
I really think the American public needs more exposure like this to understand why science matters, why we need to spend tax dollars on it, and why it’s a great thing for a young person to aspire to. We’re trying to do our small part in all of that.
superfan.jpgYou recently hired a veteran science journalist Tom Burroughs to run the Duke research blog. What is the goal of this blog?
(laughing) I love that moniker I’ve stuck on Tom — Veteran Science Journalist. It means he’s old, okay? Tom’s semi-retired from a distinguished career as a science reporter and editor. Before I got here, he was filling in as Duke’s science editor.
We wanted some authentic voices to be a centerpiece of the Duke Research site. But having failed so far in my attempts to get Duke faculty to spend the time blogging about their work or the wider world, I enticed Tom to try this blogging thing with a very modest retainer, set him up with a Blogger page and let him loose. He engages in the sorts of topics we science writers end up talking about around the office. (“Hey, did you see that thing about the appendix? How cool is that?”) He goes to lectures on campus, digs deeper into a news release, or pulls some Duke commentary into a wider issue, and then he shares his ideas. I’m loving it so far and he seems to be having fun too.
The goal? It’s another flavor of content about the Duke research enterprise; it’s like delicious frosting on our cake. The blog brings out stuff that we haven’t traditionally covered, and I hope it encourages engagement.
What do you want to do/be when you grow up?
Who said I wanted to grow up?! For now, I’m doing what I love to do, which is following science the way a sports writer follows sports. I can’t play the game, and never could, but I enjoy it immensely — especially since I don’t have to spend an entire year on one question! I can flit around and sample everything. I enjoy sharing what scientists do and what they’ve learned with a broader public. Rarely a day goes by that I don’t learn something myself. In the back of my head, I have a fantasy about spending the last few years of my career teaching junior high science.
Duke University is actively encouraging students to blog about their research and educational experience.
Thanks for the plug, but we’re hardly unique in this regard. Lots of schools are doing the same things.
Last summer, you managed a very interesting experiment with a number of Duke undergraduates blogging their summer research experiences. How did that go? What did you learn from this? Have any of the students continued blogging on their own and may be ready for prime time in the science blogging community?
Aren’t those the coolest? Mary Nijhout, who runs our undergraduate research program said she learned things from the blogs that she had never heard in some 20 years of running these programs. Again, it’s all about authenticity. I thought it would be cool to tap into this “transformative experience,” as the academic types like to call it. What happens the first time you have to snip a mouse tail? How hard is it to set up an assay? Does spending an entire week on one experiment suck or do you want to make it your life’s work? The responses are all over the map, as you’d expect, but they’re all sincere and real. A couple of students blogged one or two more times over the break, and I encouraged them all to get going again this fall, but I don’t think any of them have really gone to town on it. A lot of them are still in the lab, though!
We’ve had a few field blogs from students too – a bunch from the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences just got back from Midway Island and posted some great stuff. And student Sarah Wallace did a fantastic blog of her summer work in Chernobyl
Duke did a similar thing with local high school students blogging their experience at Duke. How did that work out? Will you do it again?
I wasn’t involved in this project, but it turned out pretty well, I thought. (It could have used more pictures.). Again, blogs are a great new tool a lot of schools are using to give readers a sense of what it’s really like at a place.
Coming up, the big blogging enchilada combo plate here will be the Duke Engage program, which sends students all over the country and world. They’ll all be set up to blog, which could be very cool. I imagine connectivity will prevent some of the more exotic sites from participating, however.
When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while at the Conference?
Gosh, I’m not sure I remember my first. I had read some blogs and found them a bit bewildering (still do, in fact). The first NC Science Blogging conference was about two weeks after I arrived in N.C. and I thought I’d stepped into the coolest place to communicate science in the world. My counterpart at UNC, Clinton Colmenares, has recently signed up a bunch of us to blog on Science Crossroads as an experiment to share our best stuff.
I enjoy Dave Munger’s Cognitive Daily and Sheril Kirschenbaum’s Intersection; browse a few dozen more. I’ll admit my Google Reader tends to pile pretty high — I’m not on blogs every day.
Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
Oooh, wow. Any transformative experiences? Um, no, no lightening bolts. But lots of nice conversations and stimulating sessions. It’s always nice to associate the organisms with their avatars, I think.
Duke offered three awesome tours that were well attended, but sparsely blogged … you know who you are!
It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview.
Well, you didn’t actually *see* me, we just traded emails. …Bora, are you having trouble separating the real and virtual worlds?
Check out all the interviews in this series.

Ebola, for your kids! Interview with Tara Smith

Dr.Tara C. Smith is one of the original Gang Of Four(teen) here at She blogs on her Aetiology as well as contributes to Panda’s Thumb and Correlations group blogs. At the 2nd Science Blogging Conference last month Tara moderated the session on Blogging public health and medicine.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your scientific background? What is your Real Life job?
Well, let’s see. Working backwards, I’m an assistant professor; my field is infectious disease epidemiology. Specifically, I research bacteria which cross species barriers and are transmitted between humans and other animals. I currently work in Iowa, following post-doctoral training in molecular epidemiology at the University of Michigan and a Ph.D. in microbiology at the Medical College of Ohio (which now has been swallowed by the University of Toledo). I’ve lived in the midwest almost all my life, aside from my undergrad at Yale.
Outside of work, I have a daughter and a son (ages 8 and 5, respectively) who keep me very busy. I’m also navigating the waters as a divorced single mom, so it’s been a crazy few years between events in my career and personal life.
What do you want to do/be when you grow up?
Besides out of student loan debt and well-funded? I’m doing exactly what I want right now; I just hope I continue to improve at everything. I love my job, I have great kids, I have a wonderful boyfriend. Life is good.
When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favorites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while following the Conference?
I think Panda’s Thumb was the first science blog I stumbled across, linked from a message board I used to frequent. I became a regular reader there and then started to write for them in early 2005, but didn’t really branch out very much as far as reading other blogs until my friend Evil Monkey encouraged me to start a blog of my own late that year. I don’t have as much time anymore to read as I used to, but I regularly check the last 24 hours page here at Sb, and regularly check out Cosmic Variance, Bad Astronomy, ERV, Christine Gorman’s Global Health report, Cocktail Party Physics. And this has guilted me again because I so badly need to update my blogroll…
At the conference, I spent most of my time meeting people whose blogs I already was familiar with but had never met in “meat space,” but I did run across a few new ones as well, such as Tom Levenson’s Inverse Square blog.
You often write well-researched and well-documented blog-posts about HIV/AIDS, about evolution and about sexually transmitted diseases. Unfortunately, those topics are, for some, not settled yet and you get droves of HIV-denialist, creationist and sexist trolls filling your comment threads. Which ones are the worst is hard to say. Yet you persist. Why? How do you see your blog as a weapon against such quackery, pseudoscience and credulity? Can people’s minds be changed on these emotional topics?
I don’t know about a weapon, but I certainly think accurate, readable information is one way to counter to misinformation. I don’t expect to change the minds of any hard-core creationists or HIV deniers. There’s the old adage that you can’t reason someone out of something they didn’t reason themselves into, and much of their denial (from the folks I know, anyway) isn’t due to lack of information; it’s due to emotion or fear. Creationists fear “secular scientists” are going to turn their kids into god-hating materialists; many HIV deniers are themselves HIV+ and unable or unwilling to face the seriousness of what that means, or they have friends, family, or partners who are HIV+. No amount of science is going to change minds if someone’s worldview revolves around denial of evidence–but there are plenty of fence-sitters out there, or people who have only recently stumbled upon HIV denial or evolution denial (just to name 2) who are looking for information and haven’t made their minds up yet. Those are mostly the people I write for.
You have written several highly informative series of posts on topics rarely seen on blogs, for instance, a series on Zoonoses and more recently a series on The Plague. I tried, but could not find any better sources of information online on these topics. Are you aware if your posts are used in educational settings at high-school, college or even medical school level?
Thanks for the compliment. A few people have emailed me to say they’ve used these or other posts for recommended reading in undergraduate or grad school courses. In my referral logs, I occasionally stumble upon links to my blog from other course websites as well. I think it’s great that people are using them as a reference. Obviously microbiology/infectious disease is my passion, so the more people familiar with it, the better from my (clearly biased!) point of view.
Your blog is a huge repository of useful information. Have you ever considered putting some of that out in the form of a book?
I have. Actually, I find there’s a good amount of crossover between what I blog about, the topics I teach, and what I write about for non-blog sources. I’ve already written 3 books for high school-age kids on Ebola, group A strep, and group B strep. The first two are due to be updated in 2009 and 2010, so I’ve blogged about some papers that I’ll also add to the second editions of those books. I also am considering another book aimed more at the general public, but I’ve not put together a proposal (yet) for that one. If only I could squeeze a few more hours out of the day…
Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
I’ve started to think more seriously about science communication in general over the past few years, so hanging out with so many other people who have a passion for this was a great motivator to simply get more done, especially at the local level. I already run our state’s Citizens for Science group but would like to do more with it; perhaps move more toward the SCONC group model. As far as sessions, I really enjoyed Hemai Parthasarathy’s session on open science; I thought I knew a decent amount about open-access publishing, but I learned a lot more. I also was equal parts enjoying myself and seething with frustration at the session on gender and race in science. It’s so hard to know if you’re doing the right thing as a junior scientist, and especially a junior scientist who’s female or a racial minority. It was interesting listening to ScienceWoman and others talk about the difficulties they had with blogging anonymously; they feel confined in what they write about because they don’t want to blow their cover, while as a junior female scientist blogging under my own name, I feel constrained because I feel I’m under a bit of a microscope. Is that just the way things have to be? Anyway, suffice it to say that I left with much to think about.
It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview.
Check out all the interviews in this series.

One of a Mind: Interview with Shelley Batts

Shelley Batts and I are of the same “generation”, meaning that we became SciBlings on the same day. You need to hurry up and check out her blog Retrospectacle before she moves to a new blog in a few days. At the Science Blogging Conference last month Shelley moderated the Student blogging panel–from K to Ph D.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your background? What is your Real Life job?
I’m an end-stage Neuroscience graduate student at the University of Michigan, my thesis is related to developing therapies for deafness through cellular repair and regeneration. I also write at the neuroscience blog Retrospectacle, which will soon be merged with OmniBrain into a super-blog called ‘Of Two Minds, ‘ to launch March 1st. I went to undergrad at New College of Florida in Sarasota where I climbed trees and did biochemistry. I play tennis, do pilates, talk to parrots, and write angsty poetry in my spare time.
What do you want to do/be when you grow up?
Get an RO1 grant and a Wii, in no particular order. And I want to rebuild a 1965 Mustang someday. But foremost on the list is to get a postdoc position, as I graduate in December.
When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favorites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while following the Conference?
ScienceBlogs plucked me out of obscurity when I was blogging away on neuroscience and hearing to an audience of about 30 people/day. I had decided to start a science blog as a way to condense and communicate interesting discoveries in science to a lay audience, and to point out fallacies in mainstream science reporting. And, to have a fun and educational hobby. I like being a jack of all trades, and merging my love of science and writing into a blog made sense.
Most science blogs out there have crossed my path at some point or another, but a few that were new to me were:
The Inverse Square Blog
NPR ScienceFriday Blog
Lab Life
My favorite blogs/bloggers are:
3 Quarks Daily
The Flying Trilobyte
Jon’s Travel Adventures
Digital Cuttlefish
Shelley%20interview%20pic.JPGRecently, you had a first-hand experience with the issue of Fair Use and copyright. Could you, please, explain to my readers what happened, how it all ended, how it changed your blogging and what can we all learn from the episode?
In the spring of 2007, the media was a-buzz with hype about a study which purportedly found that ‘alcohol made fruit healthier’, just published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. I didn’t buy media spin, and decided to read the actual journal article for myself to blog what I thought. The paper was actually aimed at using various volatile chemicals to improve shelf life of berries by increasing antioxidants in the fruit. Ethanol was one such substance tested, but in fact the chemical methyl jasmonate performed the best (at extending berry shelf life) but this said nothing as to their healthful properties for human consumption. To make my point in the post, I included a snippet of a figure which I cut and pasted from the paper PDF. The morning I posted it, a representative of the journal emailed me, demanding I remove the figure and threatening legal action from their parent company John Wiley and Sons if I did not. I was completely surprised, it seemed like great (free)publicity for me to be discussing their paper, and an obvious case of fair-use in scholarly discussion of the figure. To make a long story short, I responded by recreating the figures in Excel, but letting the blogosphere know about the threats I was receiving as they initially refused to grant me permission. The blogosphere responded in full force, from BoingBoing to Slashdot to The Scientist, The Guardian and Newsweek and within a couple of days the journal issued an apology stating that it was a misunderstanding. Fortunately it came to an amiable resolution and hopefully both traditional and ‘new’ media learned something valuable from the discussion that ensued.
You have recently decided to pool your resources with Steve Higgins and fuse your two blogs (your Retrospectacle and Steve’s OmniBrain) into a brand-new blog. What considerations went into that decision? What are the pros and cons of running one’s own blog versus belonging to a group blog?
As it is my last year in grad school, I realized I need some blogging help to reduce the demands blogging made on my time. Steve at Omnibrain seemed like a natural choice, as we had become friends since he joined ScienceBlogs and he likes to blog about the humorous side of science. That will probably provide a good foil to my blogging style. Readers can expect still a lot of serious sciencey-type discussion with a bit of Steve’s same old raucous personality. 🙂 The pros of running a joint blog are the cooperation and discussion it can engender (plus splitting the time demands), and as for the cons, well, ask me in six months.
How’s Pepper doing these days? When is he going to write his next guest-post?
Pepper is rocking the casbah as usual, although lately he’s recently taken to remembering and repeating whole phone conversations early on Saturday mornings. I’m sure Pepper will find time out of his busy day (of destroying over-priced bird toys) to make another guest post, hopefully in the form of a review of Irene’s upcoming memoir on Alex.
Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
The ideas I really took away from the conference were ones about how traditional and non-traditional media can learn to live and work together. A real strength of the meeting was having “real” reporters there, as well as self-styled e-reporters such as myself, thrown into the same topics of discussion. It was fascinating to see both sides readily admit the failings as well as strengths of their own craft– if those conversations could be extended into the future, perhaps blogs won’t be treated as the ugly half-brother of science reporting.
It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview.
Check out all the interviews in this series.

The Cool Aunt of the scienceblogging community: Interview with Janet Stemwedel

Janet Stemwedel a.k.a. Dr.Free-Ride is the blogmistress of Adventures in Ethics and Science and the Science Blogging Conference last month was her second appearance here – last year she was the Keynote Blogger-Speaker and this year she led a session on Science Blogging Ethics.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your scientific background? What is your Real Life job?
Hi Bora, thanks for having me!
I’m a middle-aged, almost mid-career academic who came from the East Coast to the San Francisco Bay Area for grad school and ended up staying. I’ve been teaching for more than half my life, parenting for going on nine years, and constantly renegotiating my relationship with the tribe of science without being able to quit it entirely.
I used to think I was going to be a chemist when I grew up — and went so far as to finish a Ph.D. in chemistry (focused on the dynamics of far-from-equilibrium chemical systems that display interesting behaviors like oscillations). But on the verge of packing up and starting a postdoc, it became clear to me that the questions that really captivated me weren’t so much questions in chemistry as questions about chemistry, and about science more generally.
Luckily, since I had double majored in chemistry and philosophy as an undergraduate, I knew that the kind of question keeping me up at night actually had a field of its own: the philosophy of science. The hard part was realizing that if I wanted to be a philosopher of science, I had to go back and do another Ph.D. There is nothing quite as surreal as defending your dissertation and then, two weeks later, sitting for the GREs.
Currently, my real life job title is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at San Jose State University. See Mom, I didn’t end up living on your couch!
What do you want to do/be when you grow up?
I’d like to be tenured. (Ask about that again at the end of May and I should know whether that aspiration was successful.)
Beyond that, I’d like to be a sort of “cool aunt” to the scientific community, especially to the people training to be scientists and trying to imagine themselves as grown-up scientists.
What do I mean by that? I’d like to give the advice and encouragement that people need to navigate the community, but that they feel awkward talking directly to their scientific “parents” about. (Don’t forget, sometimes it’s your relationship with the cool aunt that makes it possible for you to communicate better with your parents.) And I’d like to get that community of scientists talking to each other more than they seem to now about all sorts of things — like ethics, and different ways the scientific enterprise could be set up that might make life better for everyone.
Once I have that under control, I’d like to learn how to play drums.
When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favorites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while following the Conference?
I first came to science blogs by way of philosophy blogs — I found Panda’s Thumb through the dear departed Philosophy of Biology blog, and Pharyngula through Brian Leiter’s blog. I think Bitch Ph.D. was probably where I started coming across the more personal blogs by scientists about the patterns of academic life.
There are so many great science blogs that I’d be hard pressed to come up with a list of favorites shorter than my blogroll. Some that I started reading in earnest after SBC ’08 are I Love Science, Really, The Inverse Square Blog, and Pondering Pikaia.
JanetPic.jpgHow are science bloggers different from all the other bloggers in regards to ethical behavior online (and offline).
My sense is that the science-y neighborhoods of the blogosphere show a tendency to want to back up claims with evidence, and to want to “show the work” on the inferences drawn from the evidence. This isn’t to say that only the folks blogging about science do this, mind you, but it feels like this is part of our identity as scientists or friends of science. Reality is where we live, and we think it’s a pretty nice place most of the time.
I’m not sure I could say anything sensible about offline behavior without a much larger network of informants than I have in place at present.
A couple of years ago, there were attempts to write a Bloggers Code of Ethics, which were overwhelmingly rejected by bloggers of all kinds. More recently, some suggested writing a Science-Bloggers Code of Ethics. Why is this a bad idea?
I’m deeply suspicious of the power of codes per se to influence behavior. Most professions have professional organizations whose websites proclaim a list of principles to which members of those professions are officially committed. I’m willing to bet most people who belong to those organizations couldn’t tell you what’s in their code.
More than that, I don’t know that a particular set of rules can make people ethical. It may coax some letter-of-the-law compliance, and it will encourage folks to find loopholes, but robust ethical behavior comes from people who are in touch with their own values and in an ongoing conversation with the other people in their community about the shared interests, goals, and values that define them as a community. A code may sometimes capture the shared commitments that come out of such an ongoing dialogue, but I doubt that a code can force individual buy-in to the values or to the community.
What is the goal of the Science Blogging Ethics wiki?
The hope is to have a place for a continuing dialogue about our values as community of people blogging about science (in lots of different ways).
I think we can gain a lot by being in an ongoing discussion about what practices are better ones for our various aims, which seem to range from explaining scientific theory or research results to non-experts, to talking about methodology, or career development, or teaching, or what science has to do with everyday life, or what the everyday life of a scientist looks like. We can learn from each other’s experiences, including the mistakes. And one good outcome of such a discussion might be for people blogging about science to start seeing themselves as a community.
I noticed something interesting. Whenever there is a blog-war between sciblings, once it gets really red-hot and nasty, we all start checking out your blog, waiting for you to post about it. Then, when you do, and you tell one scibling to sit in the corner for 30 minutes and the other scibling to write “I will be nice to my sciblings” a hundred times on a piece of paper, everything calms down. Where does that authority of yours come from? The Friday Sprog Blogging? We are all very hot-headed and independent folks, yet we always agree that Janet has the last word. How come?
I don’t know that I have any special “authority” — certainly, the sprogs would dispute the assertion that I do — and I’m pretty sure I never literally sent anyone to the corner or to the chalkboard.
But, I do have this thing I do where I try to understand the source of disagreements, and to figure out where the different sides in the argument are coming from. At least in spats within the community of science bloggers, it’s hardly ever the case that one side is wrong about everything — the bloggers involved are too smart, and too committed to some kind of intellectual honesty. So I generally go in trying to work out what each side is trying to get across, and why the other side isn’t getting it.
This probably comes from my philosophical training to come up with the least crazy thing your opponent could be claiming before you offer a good argument against it. Maybe there’s also a little bit of parental patience in there, too. But I’d guess that what really motivates me to try to be the voice of reason heading off blogwars in the science district of blogtopia is that I feel like I *know* a lot of the people involved well before the shouting starts. I start from the assumption that these people I know and like and respect can find some common ground, and that they’re more interested in working out how things actually are than in just winning the argument.
Obviously, this doesn’t mean there aren’t disagreements that persist. But I think we can find ways to engage each other and explore these disagreements that aren’t just shouting matches.
Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
The student blogging panel — especially, the discussion on that panel of advisors who take a dim view of blogging graduate students — made me think hard about what part we professorial types should play in changing the academic culture. If any time away from work is seen as an indication of insufficient commitment, that’s either going to convince budding scientists (or academics of other stripes) that they’re not allowed to have other facets of their lives, or that they have to hide them. We can do better. I hope that openly having a life beyond my research and teaching, and arguing in my tenure dossier that my blogging is a kind of engagement with the larger world that enhances my professional activities rather than undercutting them, will start to shift the expectations in a more humane direction.
It was so nice to see you and thank you for the interview.
It’s always fun to see you, Bora! I hope that one of the next times we see each other we can celebrate your defending your dissertation.
Check out all the interviews in this series.

Kids with ‘Dr’ in front of their names: Interview with Ryan Somma

Ryan Somma is a software developer from coastal North Carolina who blogs on Ideonexus. It’s all a blur now, but I think the Science Blogging Conference last month was his second.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your scientific background? What is your Real Life job?
Scientific Background? (Looking around nervously.) Why do you wanna know? Ummm… My father was head of the Microbiology Department at ODU, and my mother teaches Nursing there. I rebelled against them by majoring in English and smoking lots of pot… The security guards at my high school nicknamed me “Professor.” Does that count?
I fell in love with science when I experienced an iconoclasm after reading Carl Sagan’s Demon-Haunted World, which I picked up to learn why religious beliefs were silly and unsupportable, instead I learned that my belief in alien abductions was silly and unsupportable. I wanted to learn what else I was wrong about, and Science, while not “truth” with a capital-T, is the closest approximation to it. Really, my science background is immersing myself in online resources, like ScienceBlogs.
During the day I write Aviation Logistics Management Software for the Coast Guard… poorly..
You are a volunteer at The Port Discover Science Center. Can you tell us more about The Port Discover Science Center and what you do there?
Yes! The Port Discover Science Center is one-room in downtown Elizabeth City that brings daily science activities to the children of this small town, where I’ve ended up. They run on a yearly budget of less than $60k, which is amazing considering all the activities they host there.
My role has been largely one of benefactor. I’ve donated and maintained computers for the center, set up a flight simulator, provided DVDs, software, a projector, sound-system, build exhibits, etc, etc. I’ve done what I can to ensure they have a wide variety of daily exhibits. There should be little Science Centers like this all over the place. They should be like churches, building community bonds everywhere.
What do you want to do/be when you grow up?
Vice President of Cool. Duh.
Ryan%20Somma%20interview%20pic.jpgWhat is the role of Azrael in the Tragedy of the Commons?
Hmmmm… sustaining herself off her master’s scraps… subservient to a greedy and decrepit old man… flee-ridden… I think Azrael represents George Bush. He’s pretty-much the Oil Industry’s and Dick Cheney’s pet, and Gargamel does a good job of representing those interests.
Only, a pet nematode would more accurately reflect George Bush’s intelligence and invertebrate nature, don’t you think?
(Sidenote: I recieved a lot of hate mail for that article, which I’m cultivating a thick skin towards. I aspire to one day handling criticism with PZ Meyer’s sharp wit.)
When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favorites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while following the Conference?
That’s the best part of the conference! Discovering all these new leads for information. I’ve been very impressed with the intellectual content and classical references in Thomas Levenson’s Inverse Square Blog as well as Eric Roston’s Carbon Nation, and the Bibliophilism of John Dupuis’ Confessions of a Science Librarian. It’s so cool to find so many like-minded intellectuals.
Meeting you kids in person gave me deeper insight and appreciation of blogs I was familiar with, but not always reading intensely. The sessions with Dr Rundkvist’s Aardvarchaeology gave me a new outlook on his blog’s voice, while the session with Dr. Stemwedel of Adventures in Ethics and Science gave me a better appreciation for one of her blog’s main subjects.
I think Science Blogs has been awesome. You guys have made scientists accessible, while maintaining your oftentimes-erudite-incomprehensibility. On my blog I started collecting Science Proponents in my FaceBook friends, like you, Bora, which is like collecting sports cards, only scientists.
Your blog posts are quite provocative, yet in person you seem quite shy. Now that you have met a bunch of bloggers in person, do they behave differently than what you could guess from their online personas? Is this ability for people to experiment and be who they want to be online a positive transformative experience that, for instance, teenagers should experience as a part of growing up?
Figuring out who you are online is a fantastic experience. I was figuring it out in Elementary School on the BBSes (before the Webbernets) using my Commodore 64. Online, you can be whatever you want to be in a world of pure ideas. My only concern for teens is that they should do it anonymously. There’s more freedom that way, and you don’t have to worry about something stupid you posted in the heat of the moment haunting you years later when you’ve grown out of it.
The biggest thing that really got me meeting all these Science Blogging heroes was that so many of them are kids with “Dr” in front of their names. I thought people with doctorates were supposed to be old and feeble and smoke pipes and wear cardigans!!! How dare you all be human?!?! : )
It was so nice to see you and thank you for the interview.
Check out all the interviews in this series.

The Warlord in the Library: Interview with John Dupuis

John Dupuis has been writing Confessions of a Science Librarian since the time blogging software was really physically soft, being made of clay and shaped like a tablet. We finally got to meet face-to-face at the Science Blogging Conference last month – a meeting long overdue until then.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. This is going to be an interesting reversal – it is usually you who gets to ask the questions in blog interviews. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your background?
Yes, it is a bit of a reversal. But I’m not crazy enough to try and interview 40 people in 40 days, more like one every other month or so. And don’t worry, Bora, I will get around to returning the favour and interviewing you!
As for me, I’m currently the Head of the Steacie Science & Engineering Library at York University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. I’ve been at York since August 2000. However, like with so many librarians, this is my second career. My first career was as a software developer for a large multinational insurance broker, something I did for over 12 years. That was in Montreal, where I was born. I also have a undergraduate degree in Computer Science from Concordia University. Ultimately, I noticed that the thing I liked best about the software developer job was helping people with their information needs, to find the stuff they need to make decisions in their jobs. So, when various takeover and downsizing exercises began to wear me down a bit, I had a chance to really think about what I wanted to do: get a new job in the same industry or change careers entirely.
After some deep thought, I decided that it was time for a career change. Having some family and close friends already in library biz, it seemed like a natural progression for me. So, it was back to school for a Library and Information Science degree at McGill; while there I worked at the McGill Physical Sciences & Engineering Library for a practicum placement and got bitten by the science librarian bug. It was a great place to work with a passionate, commited staff
dedicated to helping faculty and students. Luckily, when I graduated a job came open at York in the science library and the rest, as they say, is history. Okay, the process of relocating from Montreal to Toronto was a bit more complicated than that but there are some things I’ll only tell over beer in a hotel bar.
I’ve been writing my blog, Confessions of a Science Librarian, since October 2002. It really started as a bit of a lark. One day I was sitting in my office wondering what these new-fangled blogs were all about. Something strange possessed me and I went to the Blogger site and started my own blog. I wish I could take credit for the title, but I have to admit it was suggested to me by my friend and York colleague Patti Ryan. I don’t think I ever expected it to have the long life that it’s had — 5.5 years is quite ancient by blog standards. It’s made me a lot of friends and opened a few doors that might otherwise stayed closed. I feel priveledged to be part of two wonderful blogging communities, science blogs and library blogs.
What is your Real Life job? What does it mean to be a Science Librarian?
My real life job is helping people. The people I help are mostly undergraduate students and I help them mostly with how to find scholarly, peer reviewed resources in science and engineering. (Okay, I also help them to find the bathroom and clear paper jams in the photocopier.) I sit at our Help Desk answering questions, I buy books and decide what journals and databases to subscribe to, I advocate for Open Access resources, I give Literature Search Skills sessions in science and engineering classrooms, I sit on committees and go to meetings. I try not to shush rowdy students too often, but my library is pretty small and we get complaints if it gets too noisy. Yes, the modern student still appreciates a bit of peace and quiet.
The great thing is that we librarians at York have faculty status so I also have a form of tenure and get to take sabbaticals every seventh year. I just came back from my first last August.
And I think a lot about what it will mean to be a science librarian in the future. But more on that in a couple of questions.
What do you want to do/be when you grow up?
Well, when I was a little kid, I wanted to be Jean Beliveau. And then a little later I wanted to join The Legion of Super-Heroes or perhaps become The Warlord. Somehow those desires morphed into programming and libraries. What would the future hold, in the perfect world? I’ve always dreamed of having one of those big, cluttered, cozy, serendipitous used bookstores, just hanging out with others that love books, science, science fiction, mysteries, comics, and all the rest. However, I’m not too sure what kind of future those venerable institutions have these days, so I’ll probably have to come up with something else for my retirement.
Internet has turned the job of a librarian upside down. What does that mean specifically for science librarians?
The future of my particular profession is an issue that has really obsessed me over the last couple of years. I’ve written about it extensively on my blog and I’ve even given a presentation on it at a recent conference. Whipping through those conference slides is probably the best way to get an overview of what my current thinking is.
In fact, the more I think about it, the less I seem to have a grasp about what the future brings. There are big challenges ahead for academic libraries. How do you get your physical layout just right, the balance between computer workstations, relaxing comfy chairs with coffee, group study rooms, informal collaborative spaces and, perhaps the thing that gets lost in the shuffle, quiet space for study and contemplation.
The other question that really obsesses me is what’s worth paying for? We libraries have pretty significant budgets, mostly dedicated to journal and database subscriptions. Ultimately, what do we want to be spending this money on? For sure, more people to embed in labs and research groups, like Peter Murray-Rust suggests. People to build a compelling web presence, to make the stuff we buy more visible on the free web (we call this “discovery at the network level”), people to work with faculty on teaching students about scholarly communication. But what about stuff? Surely, we won’t be buying a lot of paper books in the future but products like Morgan & Claypool’s Synthesis, Knovel ebooks and O’Reilly’s Safari are fantastic products, well worth paying for. It’s no coincidence that I’ve interviewed people from all three of those companies: Mike Morgan, Sasha Gurke) and CJ Rayhill. I want to understand what makes them tick and how they’re going to adapt and change in the future.
But how to let people know we have all those great products and how much time and effort they can save students and researchers? It seems to me that outreach, liaison and marketing are huge parts of what a librarian has to do these days.
Other things probably worth paying for are online journal backfiles like Nature back to the first issue. Now that’s expensive, but probably worth every penny. There are also a lot of datasets and other databases that are proprietary and well worth paying for. Are abstracting and indexing databases like Web of Science or INSPEC still worth paying for? Just barely, but that might change in the future. How about SciFinder Scholar? Sure, they add a lot of value to the data they use with cool structure search and the like.
And look at what’s happening in the High Energy Physics field with the SCOAP3 project! Imagine a world where libraries could band together to pay publishers to make their journals all Open Access. It’s almost a utopian dream.
So, as the information landscape continues to get more and more complicated, the life of a science librarian hurtles on into the future surrounded by uncertainty but still finding ways to contribute to the scientific enterprise and make a difference in the lives of students and researchers.
In discussions of Open Access on science blogs, at meetings, between scientists and publishers, most people talk about Gold, while librarians appear to prefer Green approach to Open Access. Can you explain to my readers what is the difference between the two and if you could speculate why people with different backgrounds may prefer one or the other?
First, Definitions. And I have to admit that being colour-challenged (see below), I tend to have a hard time remembering stuff associated with colours anyway. Green Open Access is promoting OA via encouraging authors to self-archive a version of their acticles in some sort of Open Access venue, whether it be their own web page, an Institutional Repository or some sort of disciplinary repository (such as the physics arxiv). Here Open Access to scholarship isn’t dependant on the whims of the publishers, but on the intentions of the authors. And this is pretty important because not all fields have access to a wide range of OA journals or even disciplinary repositories. Of course, authors do need to respect the copyright rules of the publishers; Sherpa RoMEO is a good source for the various rules used by different journals and publishers.
Gold Open Access is publishing in Open Access journals. This is obviously the best way to go, as all the articles published in OA journals are free to the world. But, like I said, some disciplines are poorly served here. Most of the humanities and social sciences and pretty well all the engineering fields, for example. Although, even some of these areas are seeing improvement.
As for librarians vs the rest, I have to admit I’ve never really thought about it this way. I guess librarians see Green as something we can have a more direct role in implementing and promoting, although many libraries now host Open Access journals on their own servers (York’s hosted journals are here, although they’re not all OA). I think librarians are also maybe somewhat resigned to the fact that it’ll still be quite some time before we see a majority of all scholarly articles published in OA journals and in the meantime Green OA is a good way to get stuff out there. Computer Science, for example, is a field where maybe 80-90% of recent articles are posted on the authors’ web pages. On the other hand, in fields that don’t already have a strong tradition in Green OA, it’s almost impossible to get people to post their articles in, say, Institutional Repositories.
Realistically, I think it’ll be at least 5 to maybe 10 years before we see a widely dispersed OA tipping point, and a variety of publishing business models will still exist beyond that point. I hope I’m wrong, but I think my New York Giants were a better bet to win the Super Bowl.
As for researchers, well, read Peter Suber’s Trends Favoring Open Access, I think he makes a good point on item #29:

Researchers themselves control the rate of progress toward OA, but after all these years most of them are still oblivious to its existence and benefits. As I’ve noted above, there is a trend toward greater familiarity and understanding. But there is also a longstanding counter-trend of impatience with anything that distracts attention from research. This preoccupation is generally admirable and makes researchers good at what they do. But even from the narrow perspective of what advances research, it is having perverse consequences and limiting the audience, impact, and utility of the research on which scholars are so single-mindedly focused.

I think the situation is more complex than an either/or with librarians and researchers working in different directions and more of a situation where if we all work together we can make more progress.
If Jorge Luis Borges lived today and was Internet-savvy, how do you think he would envision and describe the Library of Babel? Something like Gordon R. Dickson’s The Final Encyclopedia or more like Vernor Vinge’s Libraeorome Project in The Rainbows End? What is your own vision?
Good question. Kind of a cross between YouTube and Wikipedia? With half the shelves filled with porn, a quarter with news on Britney Spears, 12.5% with creationism and woo, 6.25% with racist sites, 3.125% with pirated music, 1.5625% with videos of teenagers lip-syncing pop songs and the rest with something useful.
My own vision? You know that old Star Trek episode where Spock goes back in time and hooks up with a cave woman (All Our Yesterdays)? They pass through a kind of library-like portal into the past. That’s where I’d like to work!
If you could tell scitech faculty and students one thing about your job, what would it be.
Basically, I’m here to help you.
For faculty, I would say, “let my colleagues and me help you teach your students about the literature of science, where it is, how it’s created and how to find it.” There’s a bit of a vacuum these days. So often it seems to me that faculty members just assume that new grad students (for example) know how to find the good stuff, but they don’t. Interestingly, it’s often the newest faculty members that are the most open to collaborating with librarians to teach students about these things. We’ve made a lot of inroads at York the last few years, collaborating with science and engineering faculty to help students learn about finding scholarly resources. Believe it or not, I even have a blog where I host pages for the courses I help with! ( Take a look and you can see some of the kinds of things I talk about. It’s been quite successful with students and faculty seem to like it too. Some days I’ve had as many as 5 or 6 messages or chat sessions with students using the Meebo plugin.
For students, I’d say, “Don’t be shy!” I’d like to tell them that your librarian is your best friend.
For grad students, you may not believe it, you may be getting by just fine, but especially at the beginning of your career we can really help. There may be things your supervisor assumes you know about, assumes you understand, assumes you know how to find. There’s nothing wrong with not knowing. Every year I get the new Computer Science grad students at York for an hour as part of their orientation and that’s what we talk about. What’s a journal, what’s a conference, what’s the best and easiest way to find the peer reviewed stuff your profs expect you to find. And, while we’re at it, what’s peer review, the invisible college, all that stuff. They appreciate it and the faculty appreciate it too.
And the same kind of message for undergrads: Don’t be shy. Come to the reference desk, chat with me on Meebo or send me an email or a message on FaceBook. When your prof asks you to find 3 peer reviewed articles on recycling asphalt, I can connect you with some full text online pretty fast.
When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while at the Conference?
Well, I actually discovered library blogs first. I was reading some before I started my blog, like EngLib, STLQ, LISNews and (Library Stuff and a few others. I think the first science blog I started reading was See Jane Compute, and probably Chris Leonard’s dear departed Computing Chris blog when he was at Elsevier (My recent interview with Chris, now at PhysMath Central). I don’t think I got into science blogs in a big way until the first iteration of ScienceBlogs came online a couple of years ago. It seems to me that a big part of my job is to understand how science and scientists tick and science blogs are a really important part of that for me.
As for favourites, I don’t think I need to plug any of the ScienceBlogs stable here! In any case, the ones I follow the closest are in computer science and software development:
See Jane Compute by Jane (Whom I also interviewed)
Adventures in Applied Math by Rebecca
Knowing and Doing by Eugene Wallingford
Computational Complexity by Lance Fortnow and Bill Gasarch
Coding Horror by Jeff Atwood
Joel on Software by Joel Spolsky
The Yourdon Report by Ed Yourdon
At the conference itself, a couple of the really interesting new ones I discovered are The Inverse Square Blog by Tom Levenson and Science and Religion News by Salman Hameed. Tom’s getting mentioned in a lot of these interviews — I think he owes us all a beer at the next conference for all the free publicity.
Of course, my newest favourite is the blog my 15-year-old son has started for a school project: Space Exploration and Us! If he keeps it up, maybe I’ll bring him to the conference next year.
Is there anything that happened at the Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote, a new friendship – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
A couple of things really stood out for me. The first was the incredible sense of community among the bloggers. Everybody was so open and friendly and willing to talk about just about anything, at the restaurant, the conference and at the hotel bar. For example, did you know that Bill Hooker and I share red-green colour blindness? And talking about community, believe it or not I was chatting with a fellow science blogger right up until the very minute I boarded my plane for Toronto! That would be Deepak Singh, who was stuck at the airport at the same time waiting for his flight. The other thing that stood out was a sense of possibilities, that with enough ingenuity and elbow grease, we could use blogs for just about anything. The great discussions in David Warlick’s session were genuinely inspirational. Hearing about what Salman Hameed is doing with blogs in his Science & Religion course was great, and then getting to sit down and talk to him about it in depth was even better.
It was so nice to finally meet you and thank you for the interview.
Thanks for the opportunity to unleash my geeky librarian soul on the world. Oh yeah, there are two of my blog interviews that I didn’t plug yet: Timo Hannay of Nature and Richard Akerman of CISTI. Both great interviews!
Check out all the interviews in this series.

The Future is Here and it is Bright: Interview with Anne-Marie Hodge

I discovered Pondering Pikaia less than a year ago and it has immediately become one of my favourite daily reads. Thus, I was very happy that Anne-Marie Hodge could come to the Science Blogging Conference last month so she could meet with all the other science bloggers in person.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your background? What is your Real Life job?
Thanks, Bora, I feel really honored to be an interviewee! Let’s see, who am I…I grew up in a military family, so I moved around quite a bit and don’t really have a home town. My parents are originally from Tennessee, though, and we generally think of ourselves as being from the south. My Real Life job is currently “student,” although I prefer to think of myself as a zoologist-in-training. I’m an undergrad, in my junior year, majoring in Zoology/Conservation and Biodiversity and minoring in Anthropology. I work as a research assistant on various projects in the biology department, and I earn grocery money tutoring, mostly genetics but other random biology classes also.
For a long time I actually planned on pursuing a law career, but after I took AP Biology in high school I realized that I definitely belong in science. I haven’t looked back since. I started college as a pre-vet major (actually Zoology/Pre-Vet, my school has five or six tracks in Zoology), but I had some opportunities to do field research and realized that the questions I am most interested in answering are more related to ecology, conservation, etc than to medicine, and I switched my Zoology concentration from Pre-Vet to Conservation and Biodiversity, and added an Anthropology minor. One thing about conservation that often gets overlooked is how people-oriented any policy has got to be. I think studying anthro has definitely helped me in how I think about different problems facing biodiversity. You can know your organism/ecosystem inside out and have an amazing management plan, but if you aren’t effective at understanding and working with the local people you’re never going to maximize your potential for success.
So that is my background, what else…I have a dog, Charlie. He outsmarts me on a daily basis, but that’s one of the fun things about owning German shepherds, they keep you on your toes! He was actually a rescue case, he was severely abused by his previous owner. It has taken a lot of work and time but he’s made a total 180 since I first got him. We like to hike, and I rock climb when I have time, although time is pretty hard to come by these days: I am carrying 18 hours of classes in addition to work and being an officer in a couple of organizations, I’m still trying to figure out how to squeeze more than 24 hours into a day. My favorite activity outside of class is working on projects (volunteer clean-ups, educational outreach, monthly speakers, etc) with my school’s chapter of Society for Conservation Biology. I started the chapter here last year and we’ve been growing steadily. It’s been a lot of work getting it off the ground, but I am really happy with how it is turning out!
What do you want to do/be when you grow up?
After grad school I plan on trying to find a position as a faculty member at a university, so I can continue to do field research while also doing my part to help train the next generation of biologists. I can see myself working for a conservation organization for a few years right after grad school if the opportunity arises, but my ultimate plan is to settle in to a life in academia. I’m interested in doing research on the behavioral ecology and population dynamics of carnivores, especially canids, and how those patterns can be used to more effectively manage populations to prevent declines/extinctions.
I have always loved writing, and I feel pretty strongly about the importance of promoting science awareness, so I also plan to continue the habit of writing about science as a side project, either in blog form or otherwise in the future.
When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while at the Conference?
My story is similar to Brian’s answer in his interview: I was a Pharyngula reader originally, and he was my gateway drug to the blogosphere. I followed him when he joined SB and discovered a whole world of fascinating science bloggers. The community has definitely grown since I first started reading!
It’s very hard to pick favorites, some of the ones most related to my own interests (zoology and evolution) are Laelaps, Tetrapod Zoology, Evolving Thoughts, Catalogue of Organisms, and Gene Expression, but I really enjoy reading posts from other fields as well. Since I’m hoping to have a job as a professor someday, I always enjoy reading Adventures in Ethics and Science, On Being a Scientist and a Woman, and Female Science Professor. Right now my perspective is from the student side of university life, but I am always very interested in reading tales from the other side of the lecture podium.
SBC%20Saturday%20017.jpgYour blog is quite new, yet your series on Science of Harry Potter was very popular and a post of yours won its entry into the Open Laboratory 2007. Did this fast success take you by surprise? Can you explain it?
I first started my blog a little over two years ago, just as a place to mention science news stories I found interesting, and in the beginning stages entries were pretty sporadic. This past summer I really increased my posting activity, which is when I began to start making connections and getting more notice. The Harry Potter Science series was definitely an attention-grabber, and I think that’s when I started to really accumulate some links and become more known (thanks in great part to Bora’s enthusiasm about the series!).
I was surprised at how fast my readership grew once it finally did start to increase. I think that all bloggers should read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point. He discusses how big shifts in success or recognition can result from meeting just a few of the right people, “hubs” that can bring notice to you on a much wider scale. My blog was already beginning to increase its readership when I read that book, but if I’d read it sooner I think I would have been smarter about finding more outlets for promoting my blog in its early days (carnivals, more linkbacks, more comments on other blogs, etc).
You often write about the topics related to the classes you take at any given moment. Are you using your blog as a “learning tool” in a sense? Grappling with new knowledge, simplifying its complexity, and clarifying it to yourself by putting it in writing?
I do sometimes get material for posts from classes, usually when I find a case study or example especially interesting and want to research it further. This semester I’m taking fewer zoology classes than I did last fall, so there has been less of that (plus I’ve had less time for posting in general this spring!). But yes, writing a blog post based on course material does definitely help me to master the material better, because I do have to reorganize and resynthetise the information in order to create my own narrative. Also, I always look up extra information and often the post snowballs quite a bit because the farther I get into the details, the more fascinated I become.
I make an effort not to turn Pondering Pikaia into a “this is what I learned in school today” series, but making occasional posts that were inspired by class lectures definitely has benefits. On more than one occasion I have taken exams that featured essay questions on an exact topic that I posted about! The dicyemida story, from Invertebrate Biodiversity, and the two gynogenesis and a hybridogenesis posts, from Vertebrate Biodiversity, are all examples of this. That ended up working out great for me: I nailed the essay questions because I had already looked up a lot of supporting information and composed a written explanation of the topics.
At your session (Student Blogging) you mentioned that you have been contacted by potential graduate advisors? Why do you think they are interested in taking you in as a graduate student? Do you think this reversal of roles (they are knocking on your door instead of you knocking on theirs) is something we will see more often in general, or is this the particular case of the openness of the ecological community, or is it something about the way you write on your blog?
A couple of professors have dropped me notes in comments or e-mails. None have made official offers, usually it is just a brief message saying that I appear to have ideas and interests that could fit into their research programs, and to drop them an e-mail when I am shopping around for schools. This has definitely been exciting and a little intimidating! I always assume that *everyone* reads anything that I post, so I am not nervous about what anyone might find in the content of my blog, but I do sometimes fear that people with misconceptions about blogs in general might be turned off if they find out an applicant is a blogger. Having some positive feedback from Real Live Professors has eased my mind about this a little.
I do think that the internet is changing the way applications and recruitment are handled. I’m definitely a member of the “Facebook generation,” and among my peers it’s pretty much taken for granted that everyone has some presence on the internet, whether it’s Facebook, Myspace, a blog, a LiveJournal, or any other of the millions of personal accounts/pages people can accumulate. This makes it much easier to check people out when they apply, which is something to be aware of (keep your drunken party pictures to yourself!). That may hurt some people if they’re irresponsible about how they portray themselves, but having the chance to represent yourself and your career goals to the public also increases the chance that someone will come across your information and become interested in you. So I think that everyone involved can benefit from the new dynamics, professors have a chance to get MUCH more information on applicants than they could in the past, and students/job-seekers have a much higher visibility and many more ways to communicate their qualifications, provided they’re smart about keeping their content professional.
Is there anything that happened at the Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote, a new friendship – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
One thing that has been an issue for me in the past is a slight inferiority complex. I am extremely aware that I am younger and have less formal education than most of the other science bloggers and blog readers. I always worry about not being taken seriously, that people will assume my opinions are naive (and thus not take the time to really read them) or dismiss me as just a silly college kid. Meeting everyone at the conference, though, definitely helped to assuage those fears. Everyone was extremely friendly, and I was definitely made to feel like “one of the crowd,” I had a great time and came back feeling more like a peer in the blogging community.
As far as topics that were covered at the conference, I thought the sessions about open access issues were very important, especially the one about how to make science literature more available in developing nations. I am so glad that PLoS has taken off recently. This semester I’ve tried to do my part in the open access movement by blogging more papers from open-access sources and also making a point of using PLoS for class assignments, and a couple of my professors have been very excited to learn about the site. They’ve made announcements about PLoS in class, hopefully it will help the upcoming generation of scientists to see open access as more of the norm. Like I mentioned above, it’s pretty much taken for granted that we all have information free to the public via online memberships and accounts, I hope that in the future open access science will become the default instead of an exception.
Let’s see, other pivotal conference experiences…I managed to get my picture taken with Professor Steve Steve. At that moment, my entire trip became a success. 😉
One last slightly random note, I know the bad weather made travel a little stressful that weekend, but I have been living in the southeast for a long time now and it was the first time I had seen a single flake of snow in over four years, it was a big deal! Here in Alabama, I kid you not, I have literally seen people taking pictures of frosty windshields because freezes are such novelty.
It was so nice to finally meet you and thank you for the interview.
Thank you, I really appreciate the opportunity!
Check out all the interviews in this series.

Isopods At The Gate: Interview with Kevin Zelnio

Kevin Zelnio celebrates invertebrates on his blog The Other 95% and, at the second Science Blogging Conference four weeks ago, it was announced that he has joined the Deep Sea News blog and thus officially became a SciBling (with all the associated hazing rituals involving beer).
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your scientific background? What is your Real Life job?
I’m a PhD student at Penn State hopefully in my final year. My scientific training is in invertebrate zoology and marine ecology. I study the ecology of deep-sea hydrothermal vent communities at the Eastern Lau Spreading Center which is conveniently situated between Fiji and Tonga! I am also into taxonomy and describe some of the many new species we find there.
What do you want to do/be when you grow up?
A jack of all trades. I want to be a writer, a museum curator for inverts, a taxonomist, gentleman naturalist, a folk musician and work in the open access publishing movement.
You went down in the submersible Alvin. Can you tell us how did that happen and what did you do there?
I was an overenthusiastic undergraduate at University of California – Davis where i majored in Evolution and Ecology and (almost) Geology. I was taking a 1-unit seminar course in hydrothermal vents for fun. My professors were invited to go on a cruise to the East Pacific Rise, which is off the coast of Central America and Mexico, to run the night operations using a towed camera. This was a biological cruise headed by Janet Voight, a curator at the Field Museum. They asked if I wanted to come along for a little month long boat ride in the middle of my fall quarter. Of which I replied HELL YEAH!! As the undergrad, I was affectionately referred to as the “ship’s bitch” and worked a lot with the video and helping other researchers with their work. I found my talent of sorting through muck to find critters. A talent that basically became my PhD now. There were only a limited number of Alvin dives on the expedition and only 2 scientists can dive a day, pending no severe weather (of which we undoubtedly had a few days of). I wasn’t really expecting I’d ever get to go down, but always hoping. I even shaved off my beard for the time since I could grow facial hair in preparation (so the emergency oxygen masks makes an airtight seal around the face – a requirement to dive). Eventually I was approached and asked if I wanted to dive the next day. Of which I replied HELL YEAH!! After locking me in the sub with a pilot to make sure I didn’t have any claustrophobic tendencies, and double checking to make sure the oxygen mask fit my face, I was briefed and ready to go!
It was an 8 hour ride in total and U N B E L I E V A B L E in every way. It took 45 minutes to descend 2.5 kilometers. The color of the ocean turns a darker and darker shade of blue until you reach the maximum depth limit of light and nothing but blackness all around you. I saw fish and luminous jellies and plankton on the way down. After a while the sub pilot put the lights on and within minutes I could see the ocean bottom approaching. It was barren and lifeless and as we touched down a puff of sediment was kicked up by Alvin’s thruster and I felt as if I had just landed on the moon. Eventually I saw fish here, a sea whip there. Then BAM! An enormous black smoker appeared before me brimming with 2 meter tubeworms with red plumes wavering in the current. We were just centimeters from the 300C hydrothermal fluid and toxic metals and gases. One error and you can “burn” a hole right throw the plexiglass portal. Thankfully the Alvin sub pilots are exceptionally skilled. Our objectives were to retrieve some experiments left on the seafloor for a graduate student and retrieve water samples of the hydrothermal fluid for a chemist that was also in the sub with me. I also video-taped as much as I could trying to find unusual behaviors, predation, just taking it all in and taking notes for the other senior scientist. At the end of the dive we dropped weights and the ascent took an hour and half. I still have a vivid image of that day. It was a turning point in my life.
[Image from here]
When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while at the Conference?
I guess I never really knew what blogs were until maybe a little over a year ago. I had been reading Deep Sea News irregularly for awhile because when I googled something I was interested in about the deep sea it always came up! Eventually I started commenting on the site and about that time I realized that this was a blog.
I have so many favorites, I keep track of them in Google Reader. I read my co-moderators (from the Real Time Blogging in the Marine Sciences session) blogs religiously: Cephalopodcast; Malaria, Bedbugs, Sea Lice and Sunsets; The Beagle Project and Deep Sea News. I love Snail’s Tales, I guess his was one of the first blogs I found when I started my own blog. Since the conference I’ve gotten much more into reading some of my fellow sciblings blogs. Quite a few blogs have made it into my Reader of people I met and had good interactions with at the Conference. The Inverse Square blog, Pondering Pikaia and Museum of Life + Science blog are 3 that jump out at me right now.
Most people classify blogs into personal, political, tech, medical, etc. Your classification divides blogs into two categories: above and below 200m. Care to explain?
Deep Sea News is all about reporting on the largest environment on earth. By somewhat arbitrary definition, “deep” is characterized by roughly everything under 200-400 meters. Photosynthesis is really hampered beyond 200 and light is virtually gone by 400. There is easily enough going on down there to cover a post a day minimum. Its a very exciting and dynamic place to be!
If it was technically feasible, would you blog WHILE diving?
Probably not. Maybe Twitter updates though. You can’t waste too much time since you got only one shot at getting your research or observations done and the sub is pretty expensive to operate. The last objective of our dive plan is always “Don’t F@#$ up!” If I had my own sub then naturally! Craig, Peter and I at Deep Sea News are in the process of obtaining a blog submersible.
What are your personal experiences about the pros and cons of blogging as a science graduate student?
Its a tough balance. I really like writing and communicating my passion and enthusiasm about the ocean and invertebrates. This is my outlet for me to do what I want to do for no other reason than I want to. I do not have the support of advisor, he views blogs as a waste of time and career stopper. I respectfully disagree of course and view writing a blog post as no more a waste of time as watching an hour or two of TV or reading a book. Blogging has also given me greater confidence and understanding in science. I am famously known in my lab as the most up to date person on research in the marine environment. That’s because I am reading and then blogging about all this great research being produced by other scientists. Writing about something helps me to retain that information and treat it more critically.
Is there anything that happened at the Conference – a session, something someone said or did, a new friendship – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
The whole conference was a real eye-opener for me. I’ve been to several science conferences in my field of research but that was by far the best conference I’ve attended. I came away from it all with a revitalized interest and several ideas of which to improve myself. I will definitely take it more seriously, meaning that I will edit my posts, write more clearly and succinctly, and make better use of online tools and technologies. I must say though the student blogging panel was a great discussion and I am impressed of the caliber of knowledge of breadth that these undergrads and grad students have and how well they communicate. It gives me hope for the future.
It was so nice to see you in person and thank you for the interview.
The pleasure was truly mine and I look forward to making SciBlogCon a regular thing.
Check out all the interviews in this series.

PLoS, it rhymes with floss: Interview with Liz Allen

Today I have to be very, very careful, because Liz Allen is the person who hired me for PLoS and is my immediate supervisor. This means, in PLoS terms, that we work great as a team, talk on the phone a couple of times per week and exchange approximately five gigazillion e-mails every day, enjoying every second of it as we are both true believers in our mission – getting everyone to LOVE Open Access and Public Library of Science. Liz is the Director of Marketing and Business Development at PLoS and the person in charge of communications, online and offline. Some of you had the good fortune to meet her in person at the second Science Blogging Conference four weeks ago. So, I hope you all behave nicely in the comments, OK?
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your background? What is your Real Life job?
Thanks Bora. It feels a little strange to be writing this to you from home, since we live in each others virtual pockets at PLoS, myself in our San Francisco office and you in Chapel Hill. This distance has proved to be no obstacle to our partnership in which we attempt to bring the joys of open science to the research community – ready or not out there here we come.
What do you want to do/be when you grow up?
I think we can both safely say I am already truly grown up. My job, as head of Marketing and Business Development for PLoS, is to be the number one PLoS cheerleader (although sadly I look nothing like). Previously, I was fortunate enough to spend 11 years at Nature, and I can honestly say that both then as now, I’ve never had a dull day. I tell my friends my working life at PLoS is “all doable as long as you assume that every day is launch day”. This isn’t a surprising statement when you realize that PLoS has started 8 websites in 5 years and built a formidable brand to rival that of others with a 140 year track record. It’s a lot to pack into a short period of time and it frequently feels like it.
How did you end up working for PLoS?
I moved to San Francisco from Chicago and Mary Waltham, who was previously Managing Director and Publisher of the Lancet and worked with me at Nature, told me about the position – she’d heard about it through her connection with Barbara Cohen, an inspirational founding employee of PLoS, who was also previously at Nature.
Barbara called me up and a few interviews later, I agreed to join as a consultant and rapidly converted to a full time employee when I realized the enormity of the communications task that lay ahead of me.
The challenge of starting at PLoS nearly three years ago was best summed up by the blank stare on the faces of most scientists back then when I told them I worked for PLoS (rhymes with floss I would say – still no flicker of recognition). All in all, a very different experience from saying that you worked for Nature – this statement would be greeted by reverential silence and the red carpet would magically be rolled out to smooth your path to whatever it was that you wanted. I realized that my job was to get the word out about PLoS and build a brand around the fact that great peer-reviewed science could be published online and made freely accessible to all. I am happy to say that now, when I say that I work for PLoS, I usually receive a nod of recognition and the carpet, while not red, is definitely warming in hue.
My readers know my side of the story on how I got the job with PLoS (see here). They may not know the PLoS’s side or that you were personally quite instrumental in this happening. What were you thinking!?
I was thinking this: “Here I am stuck at the airport in Denver and the only thing to eat is a brand of Tex Mex fast food with a reputation for Botulism. What shall I do instead? I know, I’ll call that interesting sounding Zivkovic guy that all those bloggers (sciblings as I now know them) are raving about in the blogosphere and give him an interview off the cuff. He’ll probably be up for it, after all, he’s one of the first people in history to apply in public to the equivalent of a situation vacant posting in a blog, he’s probably as strange as me”. I called you up and we got on famously, the rest is history, as they say.
When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while at the Conference?
Well I have to confess to having a weakness for a blog called patently silly but that’s not really scientific. Naturally I follow all the sites religiously – I am quite intrigued by the ocean sciences (but am too chicken to dive) so anything with that theme attracts my personal attention and I am also quite a fan of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. At the conference, I enjoyed meeting Karen from the Beagle Project and now I follow her blog, she’s even been nice enough to comment on a PLoS ONE paper, which I was delighted to see.
You have also given quite a lot of thought to online social networks and how they can be used in organizing scientists, spreading scientific information, etc.., both using the general sites like Facebook and sites specifically designed for science networking. What are your thoughts on this?
Good question. So, PLoS ONE is a network of scientists that comes together around the articles. The PLoS Facebook group on the other hand comes together to bond around issues affecting PLoS itself, web technology and the philosophy of open access. From what I can see, folks in both environments still have a fledgling relationship with the articles or with the organization, and less frequently with each other in an open enviroment. This is understandable given the competitive culture of science and the grip of academic tenure. Researchers who build successful relationships often do so within international collaborative project groups and for that they might use their lab pages, project wikis, or email but they aren’t yet using these forums. I could see this changing over time if tools were introduced to facilitate that. At the end of the day though, I still see researchers bonding as a group around the science itself, and with each other because of their shared passion for the work and the associated career opportunities.
Is there anything that happened at the Conference – a session, something someone said or did, a new friendship – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
Yes, a few things. At the conference it was good to feel a very warm and positive vibe towards PLoS (that’s not to say it was uncritical at all times!) and frequently I got the feeling that really the organization does truly belong to the community which is of course true. We were founded by scientists for scientists and we hope to continue that way. It was also good to discover that although PLoS is relatively small in size (but mighty in terms of influence we like to think!), with the collective support of folks I met at the conference, it could be possible to make progress on issues such as getting PLoS content into the hands of more people in the developing world.
It was so nice seeing you again and thank you for the interview.
You are welcome, can I go to bed now?
Check out all the interviews in this series.

Soapbox for Puzzle-Solving: Interview with Tom Levenson

Tom Levenson is the author of three cool books so far: Measure for Measure: A Musical History of Science, Einstein in Berlin and Ice Time: Climate, Science, and Life on Earth and has recently taken the science blogging world by storm with his new blog, the Inverse Square. We finally got to meet at the second Science Blogging Conference four weeks ago.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your scientific background? What is your Real Life job?
I’m Tom Levenson – and my career feels to me much more as a series of happy accidents than anything that could have been planned out. I left college a long time ago with a degree in East Asian Studies and sort of an intention to be a foreign correspondent. My first year out of college, bumming around in Manila, I got a stringer’s job writing features for Reuters. My only problem was that I had never studied the Philippines, didn’t speak the local languages and knew nothing of the ins and outs of daily life there. But I was lucky enough to find science writing – or rather to have it find me. An international coral reef biology conference led me to writing about environmental issues there – and I found that (a) stories that start from a foundation of verifiable observations about the world are very satisfying; and (b) that a story about science can lead to all kinds of other insights – what people do when confronted by certain kinds of facts tells you a lot about those people, their place and time, and so on.
That probably tells you that my formal science background is near zero, though I did do a fair amount of history of science as an undergraduate. Science-and-history is still probably my first love – my three most recent books (one still gestating) are all history-centered, and even my first, warning of climate change, had a strong historical strand running through it. I got to books after about four or five years writing on for weekly or monthly magazines – mostly Time and Discover – and then developed a parallel career as a science documentary guy, working for the PBS series NOVA for several years, and then setting out on my own as an indy doc producer. It’s a completely different mode of communication, but I have found that making films has had an enormous and very positive impact on my prose.
Those two tracks have led me to what is now my day job: professing science writing and film making at MIT. The best part of that is that I get to spend every day surrounded by people who really believe in the power of rational thought and sustained effort to make a difference in the world. The worst part – by far –is grading papers.
What do you want to do/be when you grow up?
A better writer. I want to achieve the kind of gorgeous precision I find in a few places: some of Cormac McCarthy’s pure description. Eudora Welty’s ear and eye. Lots more, really – what I love is that moment when words become transparent to experience. …I’d like to be a real photographer, and not just a snapshot guy…and in the realm of true daydreams: I’d like to be really physically fit, for one last time before senescence.
When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while at the Conference?
I did my best to ignore blogs for quite a while. Given my all-star status as a procrastinator, the last thing I needed was another clearly legitimate way not to sit down to my writing desk. But I started with the political blogosphere around the 2004 election, and found science blogging soon after, looking for writing that would not remind me of the pain of that November.
Favorites include a lot of the usual suspects…I use the Science Blogs front page to guide me to specific posts across a wide range of blogs – that’s how I picked up the delightful poetry thread Shelley Batts started at Retrospectacle and John Wilkins extended at Evolving Thoughts. (And I found out about Shelley’s writing while at the Conference, so I guess the answer to that part of the question is yes). I check in with Pharyngula fairly often, especially when there is a good comment rant going. I like to keep some nose in physics news, so Cosmic Variance and Cocktail Party Physics come up on the screen fairly often. But I graze a lot – and I use blogs to lead me to other blogs as much as possible. That’s how I found Cosma Shalizi’s really sharp Three Toed Sloth, for example.
Levenson%20interview%20pic.jpgYou started blogging relatively recently, but apparently imediately “hit the groove”, so to speak. Do you think it takes a certain personality to become a good blogger?
Yes – but it’s not really one kind of personality, I think. I look at someone like PZ Myers, who, as I write this, has six posts up in the last twenty four hours. I get tired just looking at that kind of productivity, and I have no idea how he does it.
I write relatively slowly. I do put up some short, quick stuff that hits my this-is-odd sensor, but most of what I come up with are informal essays, medium long in blogospheric terms. (I go for 500-1000 words – a far cry from my MIT colleague Henry Jenkins, who thinks little of going on for several thousand words, but not like Atrios/Duncan Black either).
The trick and the pleasure for me in blogging as opposed to my really long form writing comes in finding one fact that leads to an idea that in turn permits a twist in either story, argument or both. Blogging this way plays to a couple of my personality traits – the soapbox impulse, and puzzle-solving aspects of writing. Jennifer Ouellette said at the conference that she uses her blog as a writing lab. I think that’s right, at least for me too. I get to play here.
You are writing your fourth book right now. What is it about?
I’m writing a book about one key episode (at least I think it is) in Isaac Newton’s life. Between 1696 and 1699 Newton worked as a kind of upper-mid level civil servant, running the Royal Mint. His duties ranged from doing time-and-motion studies of the process of making coins to chasing and prosecuting counterfeiters. My book follows one such case. As that story unfolds, the book uses Newton’s life as a cop as a way to get into much more about his work, his methods, and what it was like to live through a time marked by revolutions in science, economics.
What are your plans for the future (at least what you are willing to disclose) in your life, work and blogging?
Life – much the same as now: work too hard, play with my delightful son, try to see more of the world and so on.
Work – I’m starting up a new film project that is going to try and meld broadcast and web to do my part to push the documentary form kicking and screaming into the century of the fruitbat. (That’s me and everyone else in the business trying to figure out that problem. I’ve got a couple of books in mind to follow on Newton – one that picks up directly where my current project leaves off, with a look at fraud, murder and the birth of modern economics, and two more that diverge a little more from my Newtonian stem.
Blogging — Inverse Square occupies as much blogging energy as I can muster right now. I want to focus on refining its voice and sharpening up my sense of what to cover there for the next few months. All the same, I do have a structured blog project I want to start up soon – but until I’m ready to roll with that, the less said…
Is there anything that happened at the Conference – a session, something someone said or did, a new friendship – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
Easily the most important quality of the Conference for me was its un-Conference-ness. Coming in as a reasonably grizzled old-media type, I was struck by the sense of a common purpose across the science blog community that made itself felt in the rolling discussion/argument format of sessions. That quality carried over into the conversations in the halls and the bar.
I’m not sure if anything actually changed my views about science communication – my biggest worry after a quarter of a century committing same is that we may mostly be preaching to the choir. Blogs probably help expand the reach of good science to a public that may not know they are interested in it – but other blogs can do so for crap science as well. But I think I came away from the conference believing that the capacity for a community to hone its arguments through blog post to blog post conversation is very valuable, because in the end a way of exploring the world that works will trump ones that don’t.
And the other thing is that the conference was simply fun. I count a number of new friends out of the experience — Jennifer Oullette, for one, a bunch of the Science Blogs crew of course, among them James Hrynyshyn, Abel PharmBoy, Shelley Batts, Tara Smith and Dave Munger – not to mention one Bora Zivkovic. It was good to renew my acquaintance with Chris Mooney; and meeting Eric Roston allowed me to resume an old love of the carbon cycle – but while the list goes on, the point is that the Conference brings together a couple of hundred people all of whom are engaged in some form of common enterprise. That’s exhilarating.
It was so nice seeing you at the Conference and thank you for the interview.
Check out all the interviews in this series.

Librarians have been doing it for a hundred years! Interview with Christina Pikas

I’ve bumped into Christina’s blog every now and then before, but only started reading it more regularly when she signed up for the first Science Blogging Conference. We also met at the ASIS&T meeting in Milwaukee, and then again at the second Science Blogging Conference four weeks ago.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your background?
Hi Everyone! Thanks for inviting me to interview, Bora!
My background is a bit unusual. From high school (a small rural school in Maryland), I went to the University of Maryland where I majored in physics and participated in the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) through a cross-town agreement with George Washington University. When I got my BS, I was commissioned in the Navy and then after training served more than 4 years both on a destroyer (small combatant ship) and at the Navy Historical Center in DC. After a year at a Dot Com, I went on to get my Masters of Library Science. While studying for that part time, I started working at a large, very busy, ethnically diverse suburban library in reference (these are the people who man the info desk to whom you should direct questions). When I got my MLS, I then took a job as a solo librarian at an EPA chemistry lab library and then from there moved to my current job as a librarian at The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. In 2005 I started back to school part time, working toward my PhD in Information Studies. I’ll finish my coursework this Spring (wooo-hooo!)
What is your Real Life job? What does it mean to be a Science Librarian?
I have absolutely the *best* job in the world with the best people! Imagine a treasure hunt every day or maybe a word puzzle. Working in a research lab that’s 76% technical staff of whom 20% have PhDs, I’m around amazing people all day long. I’m also like a goalie – 10 people have to have tried to get the information first before they call me! So, the questions I get are either really tough or the scientist or engineer needs an exhaustive literature review. I do the fun part, interviewing the scientist to see what he or she needs, then doing the searching, summarizing and presenting the results — and they do the hard work of making the world a better place… while I get to move on to the next project. There’s a lot of variety. I also do some training and marketing things but I try to make them very targeted to tasks the people I serve need to complete.
What do you want to do/be when you grow up?
I always want to be a librarian, but I want to do research, too. I think it’s very important to help scientists and engineers find, keep, re-find, and use the information they need to be creative, to solve problems and make good decisions. If we do not have good evidence then we can’t design good systems and help make the world a better place.
Internet has turned the job of a librarian upside down. What does that mean specifically for science librarians? Is there a clash of cultures between librarians and information scientists, when the two are supposed to work together in rethinking The Library?
What? The librarian *is* an information scientist! We were there first. It’s very exciting for us right now because there is so much information available, we have really had to change our search methods and tools to emphasize precision over recall (too techie, but I’m sure everyone gets precision). Others in my field are asking tough questions on organizing information, preserving this huge amount of information, and issues of information policy which are totally new. I work closely with computer scientists, records managers, archivists, information architects, taxonomists, and other folks in “information professions”. Most of them do not have the future of the library as a concern. We are re-thinking the library and we’ll take any help we can get from people of any research area to help us figure this out.
I, for one, get really frustrated when someone in an adjacent technical field “invents” something we’ve been doing for a hundred or more years. We also need to do a much better job in telling and showing people what we do so they aren’t left to reinvent our work on their own!
Christina.jpgIn discussions of Open Access on science blogs, at meetings, between scientists and publishers, most people talk about Gold, while librarians appear to prefer Green approach to Open Access. Can you explain to my readers what is the difference between the two and if you could speculate why people with different backgrounds may prefer one or the other?
Wow, what a huge question. I think green is self-archiving of published, peer-reviewed articles and gold is open access available from the publisher. First, it’s not an either-or type thing. I do think that anyone who can, should archive a pre-, e-, or post-print on their web site and in institutional and disciplinary repositories. The thing with archiving on your web page is that it isn’t really that findable and there’s no plan for long term preservation and migration to new formats. IRs are much better at preservation, but the findability just isn’t there, which is very sad. (OAI-PMH, Google, and sciencecommons all help but you still need controlled vocabulary, etc.)
I also like that money from grants, etc., be set aside for open access through journals. I trust journals to provide good access, good findability, and good preservation. We know the content will be indexed in powerful databases. I think journals do a good job of managing the publishing process and peer review. Innovative publishers like IOP are almost disaggregating the journal and then you have re-aggregations in the form of virtual journals from AIP/APS… so maybe it’s not the actual “journal” model that makes sense, but these societies and professional publishers do add a lot of value that’s really needed.
I’m really interested in what’s happening right now in high energy physics. Essentially, the idea is to redirect library money that now goes for specific journals to pay for all articles in HEP to be open access. From what I’ve heard from my colleagues, they are very concerned that if all of the articles will be free, then their budget will not go to this pool, but to say, more chemistry journals. The other thing is that wealthy institutions will be subsidizing mid-range institutions and public schools. Maybe they should do this, but it shouldn’t be by accident. If library money is diverted to pay for open access, then we could be in trouble, because we would run up much higher bills than we currently pay for journals, and this still wouldn’t pay for research databases and the like which are also immensely expensive.
I’ll leave more detailed analysis to people who know more about this.
When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favorites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while following the Conference?
I’ve been blogging since about 2003 and I think I knew about a couple of physics blogs way back then. After my boss insisted I look into blogs more (thanks, Susan), I actually got really interested in retrieving information from blogs so I wrote a couple of articles for librarians on how to search blogs. Since I’m a science junkie, it was natural for me to search for science information on blogs. I am almost done a research project that looked at how and why physicists and chemists use blogs so I will *not* name favorites! I love you all 🙂
You are one of the “repeat offenders”, i.e., coming to the 1st Science Bloggers Conference did not discourage you from also coming to the 2nd one. Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
I really, really enjoyed the session: Real-time blogging in the marine sciences. It clicked with a recent IEEE Spectrum podcast on how new communication technologies allow astronomers to redirect a terrestrial telescope within 2 minutes of a satellite imaging something of interest. Seems like a funny connection but the marine researchers spoke about contacting scientists ashore to get feedback while they were acquiring data and how blogging might support this. There were other elements related to the outreach responsibilities of some missions, too, that were neat. Boy, things have changed a bit since my at sea time!
It was great that many of us were in the same hotel. We chatted during meals, driving to events, and in the bar. The unconference started mid-day Friday and ended Sunday morning! I learned a lot during these sessions, too.
It was so nice seeing you again and thank you for the interview.
Check out all the interviews in this series.

Survivorman! Interview with Aaron Rowe

Aaron Rowe writes for WIRED Science blog and we have first met at the Science Blogging Conference three weeks ago.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Who are you?
I am an Eagle Scout, doctoral student in biochemistry, colossal foodie, storyteller, and amateur comedian. My recreational tastes are far from the mainstream. I don’t enjoy watching sports, drinking alcohol, eating meat, amusement parks, or loud music.
Most of my hobbies could be described as constructive — cooking, writing, making videos. What I want to do more than anything is assist, educate, entertain,
and protect people.
The topic of my research is electrochemical aptamer biosensors — DNA that can identify tiny molecules quickly. Previously, I have worked on the organometallic synthesis of testosterone analogs that inhibit the enzyme aromatase.
My favorite hobby is science blogging. I have always loved sharing the things that excite me with other people. Also, I have a very strong desire to improve science education.
What’s your story?
I grew up watching Mr. Wizard on Nickelodeon and fell in love with chemistry from a very early age. It also helped that my parents subscribe to Science News and often leave it lying around in the bathroom. Sometime before the first grade, I begged my grandmother to buy me a chemistry set. Perhaps due to some arrogance on my part and the influence of my peers, I gravitated away from biology and toward engineering in High School. That was a mistake. It took years of
reading popular science magazines like Wired, Scientific American, Chemical and Engineering News, and Discover to realize that my true love is the molecular life sciences.
And, what do you really do?
On a typical work day, I wake up, go to lab and do hours of benchwork while reading news and scientific literature between experiments, try a new restaurant at lunchtime or on the way home from work, then read some more literature and chat with friends while blogging.
On a longer timescale: Give tons of unsolicited advice. Read lots of scientific literature within and outside of my field. Worry about my friends and family. Have tons of ideas. Follow technology news religiously. Make tons of dry, twisted, or silly jokes. Visit ethnic grocery stores. Watch independent films. Go camping in the desert. Listen to unsigned bands on KCRW — a public radio station. Deviate from established scientific procedures with the hope of finding a better way to do things.
Oh, and how did the conference blow your mind and change your life?
It was one of the few times when I have met so many people that feel like my brothers and sisters. Simply reflecting on some of those amazing connections has nearly brought me to tears.
For example, Bill Hooker and I began a very energetic conversation about the topic of my research. His questions were extremely insightful and it made me think that blogger scientists are, figuratively speaking, the spiritual descendants of those great researchers throughout history that zealously communicated with one another through letters. Blogging is sort of the next step in the evolution of scientific communication, and those scholars who have a knack for collaboration are drawn to it.
What do you want to do/be when you grow up?
In short, an accomplished writer and a scientist that very directly helps people.
Vernor Vinge, Ben Stein, Ben Franklin, Craig Hawker, James Economy, Kevin Plaxco, and Isac Asimov are some of my role models. Vinge won a Hugo award while holding down a faculty position in computer science. Stein has a graduate degree in economy and quite a Hollywood career. Ben Franklin was a true Renaissance man. Craig Hawker and James Economy returned triumphantly to academia from industry. Plaxco wrote a book on Astrobiology and published game changing papers in two very different fields of molecular life science. Asimov was both a science communicator and a fantastic storyteller.
Some of my close friends have also been tremendously important role models, but they don’t seem to have noticed yet. 🙂
Perhaps I will eventually be a professor that writes popular science books and contributes creative content to television, video games, and new media. My best guess is that my road to a tenure track position will be very far from traditional. Before pursuing an academic job, I will be a professional writer, science reporter, and work in the molecular diagnostics industry.
Although I am single right now, my best bet is that eventually some girl will be silly enough to marry me. Betting odds are that she will be a scientist. It really sucks that female scientists often get stuck following their male counterparts around. Since my career plans are pretty flexible, that norm will end with me.
When and how did you discover science blogs?
The first science blog that I read was Bodyhack on the Wired website. Since high school, I have loved the magazine. When I started visiting the site regularly, I already had a keen interest in tissue engineering and hoped that it might offer some information about that subject.
Reddit brought me to the Seed scienceblogs. While perusing the front door, the Retrospectacle blog jumped out at me because it is about neuroscience. One of the stories looked familiar because it had been on BoingBoing just days beforehand. After reading four posts and the sidebar, I was completely hooked.
What are some of your favourites?
The Chem Blog
Carbon Based Curiosities
Nobel Intent
Nanoscience and Nanosociety
Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while at the Conference?
Pondering Pikaia is off to a good start
The INFO Project blog is fantastic
Research Blogging
Is there anything that happened at the Conference – a session, something someone said or did, a new friendship – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
Deepak Singh is cool beyond words. Some people know a little about everything. He knows a lot about everything and is a very unpretentious guy.
Moshe Pritsker, the co-founder of JoVE, is incredibly selfless and creative. Just before going to the airport, I offered him a ride to brunch. He did a quick calculation and decided to take the hotel shuttle instead. If he had accepted my offer, which would have undoubtedly been more comfortable for him, there is no question that I would have missed my flight. Also, he seems very humble and receptive to suggestions — no matter who they come from.
And now a special movie for my readers:

We made it for a Discovery Channel spoof contest and were picked as semifinalists. Unfortunately, they did not show it on television. My costars are Steve London, who was my 9th grade English teacher, and the potheads are played by his two sons Zack and Josh.
It was so nice seeing you at the Conference and thank you for the interview.
Check out all the interviews in this series.

Riding the Dinosaurs toward Science Literacy: Interview with Gabrielle Lyon

Gabrielle Lyon is the Executive Director and Cofounder of Project Exploration. But the story is much longer. She went to grad school (U. of Chicago) with my brother and he thought that Gabe and I would be interesting to each other due to our shared interest in dinosaurs. So we got in touch and kept it over e-mail over many years. She sent me a vial of Sahara sand and a small plant fossil from the trip, Project Exploration materials and t-shirts, etc. and I promoted PE here at my blog. We finally met in person at Scifoo last summer and conversations we had there, led, through some circuitous routes, to the Nigersaurus paper getting published in PLoS ONE. At the Science Blogging Conference three weeks ago, Gabrielle started her first blog, after years of resistance, where, for now, she is exploring the tools by making fun of me.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. What do you want to do/be when you grow up?
Famous. (It seems this will take a long time).
Have you personally made a fossil discovery? Look there: something sticking out of the sand – a bone!
I have personally made a fossil discovery. Thousands and thousands of fossils – most were unremarkable. I am well known for having a keen eye for good looking rocks. One dinosaur I found has been named and, perhaps, even more exciting, has been translated for the public as a Carnegie model:
You can buy it here but I won’t benefit in any way from the proceeds.
Can you tell us something about Project Exploration? How did it get started, what are the successes to date, and what are the plans for the future?
Project Exploration is working to literally change the face of science – one student at a time. Project Exploration is a Chicago-based, nonprofit science education organization dedicated to bringing the excitement of discovery to the public–especially minority youth and girls. We get kids interested, keep them interested, and give them the tools they need to support their interests. We work in three areas–youth development, services for teachers, and public programs like traveling exhibits and a free educational web site.
I know that lots of science bloggers are involved with Science Debate 2008 – from a national-issue perspective, Project Exploration is directly addressing four critical issues in science education:
* Inequality of opportunity
* Lack of diversity
* Outdated teaching methods
* Workforce development
[For those that want to read the funnier parts of this interview, skip on down to me talking about Sean Carroll’s proselytizing. For those who are interested in learning more about how I’m trying to change the world, read on…]
The short version of the history is that Paul Sereno (my husband and a paleontologist at the University of Chicago) and I spent about 10 years doing fieldwork together in the Sahara, South America, Asia…and after each return, after each science announcement we were increasingly struck with the question: whose job is it to make sure that regular kids – kids like the ones in the schools I was teaching in the south side of Chicago – had access to science? We found a few patterns over and over again: Chicago is lucky to have great cultural institutions and science museums, but for the most part they are designed on a 19th century model. Objects/collections are at the heart of their design. Furthermore they are mostly focused on the macro-level – getting lots of people through the door. We were interested in the opposite: finding ways to connect people directly with scientists and the questions they ask. Furthermore, when we looked around to see what opportunities existed for KIDS to get involved with science we found one of two scenarios: science opportunities for students target students who are in the top 10% or students whose families could afford high-caliber opportunities. Again, we felt there was a real role for an organization to play to do something different, to do something no-one else was doing – and to create a model that would change the way people thought about science.
Paul and I founded a non-profit education organization, Project Exploration, in 1999. Since then my own understanding of the field of science and the historic, systemic disenfranchisement of minorities and women is much more informed and sophisticated. I am increasingly excited about the importance of our work to the national conversation about science and the possibilities for changing the status quo in how science happens and who it is for….
As far as Project Exploration goes, youth are still at the heart of work. We are having some remarkable and humbling results.
Our science immersion programs serve more than 250 Chicago Public School students, ranging in age from 12-17, with intensive after-school, service learning, and summer science programs. We inspire students about the natural world and their own potential, and we coach their development as successful learners, enabling them to achieve academically and personally.
* 70% of participants are female
* 85% percent of our students are from low-income families
* 65% are African American, 25% Latino, 10% Caucasian.
Track Record to Date for Youth in our Programs
Students engaged in our science field programs are significantly more likely to graduate high school, attend college and to major in science than their peers.
* 93% graduate high school (compared with 47% of all Chicago Public School students)
* 70% enroll in a four-year college
* 50% of all students who graduate high school as Project Exploration field alumni are majoring in science
Project Exploration girls are nearly five times more likely to pursue science in college than the national average.
STILL HUNGRY FOR MORE about PROJECT EXPLORATION? – Here are some other big ideas in a bite-sized and tasty readable Q&A form about Project Exploration (Bora asked – I’m only answering)
How are we different? LOTS of reasons!
* We don’t just focus on getting kids interested in science, we also keep them interested–and equip them to pursue science.
* We focus on personal relationships. Most science organizations (like museums) target thousands of people–they work at the MACRO level; we start at the individual level.
* People get to actually meet and work with scientists – not just hear about things second- or third-hand.
* We change the way people think about science and how it’s done.
* Most of the people who work in science don’t look like most of America’s population. We’re working to literally change the face of science.
The Status Quo vs. Project Exploration
Status quo: Most high-caliber science programs are only available to students who are academically successful or whose families can afford them.
What we do: Our youth programs are free to participants and target students who may not be academically successful, but who are curious and open-minded.
· Most of our 250+ students are minority Chicago Public School students
· 70% are girls
· More than half of our students are first generation college bound
Status quo: Most programs are a “one-shot deal”; students come in for a short period of time and don’t have a long-term involvement with the organization.
What we do: We work with students over many years; we also offer ongoing opportunities to be involved with science through service learning, internships and fieldwork programs.
· More than 90% of our students are still involved with our programs two years after their first experience with us.
Status quo: Most science programs focus on a specific skill or subject (how to build a computer, river ecology, etc.) and fail to address the nature of science and how it works.
What we do: We focus on how science works and highlight intersections with other fields, especially writing, arts, and communication.
At this point it’s rude to talk more about Project Exploration – visit us online: Feel free to make a donation of any size. We will put it to good work .We run a tight ship and donations go where they’re supposed to.
Gabe%2C%20me%20and%20Steve%20Steve.jpgWhen and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while following the Conference?
I discovered blogging from my friend Sean Carroll. (Not Sean Carroll the lepidopertist, Sean Carroll the theoretical physicist). Sean’s blog is called Cosmic Variance. When I suggested he change the name to “Comic” Variance he was non-plussed.
To be completely honest, when Sean said I should blog I thought he was nuts. I thought it was nuts for me to blog and I thought it was nuts for him to blog. For him, I saw it as a self-indulgent exercise in publishing what in the 19th century would have been called a diary; (perusals and private reflections normally published after death, if at all, for insights and contributions towards a person’s life’s work, the writings of which are primarily of interest to personality cult followers who simply can’t get enough of the real thing… like watching all the special features on the DVD version of your favorite TV show because the show has been cancelled and you just can’t get enough – or any more – any other way.)
For me, I saw blogging as an unimaginable expenditure of time in a life already so fractured I had a hard time capturing moments in my young child’s life in a preprinted baby book.
I would like to state for the record that I have come to realize these initial reactions were naive, uniformed, and possibly arrogant.
I have seen the light. (Yes, the computer screen light).
I have seen the error of my ways and humbly thank Sean – and now, too, Jennifer – for their unflappable encouragement. They are standard bearers for the movement and tireless in their efforts to reform a blogless sinner like me.
You started a blog at the Conference. May I link to it here or do you prefer to keep it anonymous for now? What do you plan to do with it?
SciPhi08 is now in the public domain. It is an exercise to help me learn how to do things – a chance for me to put myself through some “paces” and learn what’s what. It is also an awesome opportunity to talk about you, Bora.
Is there anything that happened at the Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
I primarily went to the conference out of a sense of responsibility. I felt that I, as the leader of a science education organization, ought to understand what was happening with blogging and what opportunities (or distractions) blogging might hold. I also felt some responsibility to learn about new tools and leverage this learning on behalf of students and teachers in our programs. I also felt that blogging was attracting a cohort of people who really care about communicating science well to the public and I wanted to meet some of these people. These were both good reasons to go. But they didn’t prepare me for what I would leave with…
In addition to meeting some fascinating people and making some great allies for my work, I left the conference carrying two big ideas with me that crystallized during my time in NC…
Firstly, I left with an extremely deep sense of the power Web 2.0 holds for building community – and the enormous potential it holds for Project Exploration as an untapped tool in our work to make science accessible. This feeling had been percolating around in a diluted way for the last six months thanks to a few trips to Google in CA and in Chicago, to talking with people who blog who are also activists… but to spend two days seeing web 2.0 take form like a golem in action (with activities like live-streaming video sessions, new wikis being created as sessions were taking place, Wayne reading a live question from the UK during the rowdy panel discussion at the end of the day on Saturday) brought it all home. The embodiment of the “open access” movement in the atmosphere of the conference served as a catalyst for making these ideas real…
Secondly, during the dinner conversation at the restaurant at the edge of the universe, one topic led to another and the guy I was sitting next to (Tom) made a comment about how change happens… that it happens with a small group of people setting things in motion…Tom wasn’t the first person to say something like this, and you can find posters attributing such sentiments to Eleanor Roosevelt or Margaret Meade on any given Sunday, but to hear Tom say this at a time when so many other ideas were ripening for me was juicy stuff. I’ve been thinking a lot about Kuhn’s nature of scientific revolutions and paradigm shifts and Project Exploration’s work. I returned to Chicago inspired by the small group we’ve gathered and the ripple effect we can have – and the work ahead to become ever-more conscious about the critique we need to articulate about science and access…
These are exciting times of extraordinary change – in the world and possibly in ourselves.
Sooo – about a real blog.
I think blogs are for people who have something to say. I think I’m almost ready to have one…
Yes, you are. It was so nice seeing you again and thank you for the interview.
Check out all the interviews in this series.

Getting Publishing up to Speed: Interview with Bill Hooker

Bill Hooker blogs on Open Reading Frame, is a vocal proponent of Open Access publishing, has attended both Science Blogging Conferences to date, and I am happy to call him a friend.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your background? What is your Real Life job?
I’m a molecular biologist.  I did my graduate degree through the University of Queensland, cloning and characterizing proteins from Schistosoma japonicum with potential as vaccine targets.  My first postdoc was with David Harrich, working on the fine detail of HIV-1 replication.  I moved to the US for personal reasons (married a native), and changed fields because most of the HIV work here in Portland, OR is focused on the local primate center, and requires more immunological expertise than I have.  Right now I work with Peter Hurlin, and my focus is on the basic biology of Mnt, a probable tumor suppressor.  I think it’s going to turn out to be quite an important protein in cancer and development, but to date it remains surprisingly under-studied.

But “who am I?” is a much larger question, and by its very nature makes me probably the last person to whom you should look for a direct answer.  I should think anyone who really wanted to know could get as good an answer by reading my blog as by any other method.
What do you want to do/be when you grow up?
an%20SBC%20Friday%20dinner%20046.jpgA grownup — that is, a grownup scientist, in the Janet Stemwedel sense.  When Janet talks about “being a grownup in your own profession” she means seeing yourself as a full partner in that profession, with all of the obligations and opportunities that entails.  It’s a subtle transformation that I didn’t have a good name for until Janet’s phrase.  I want to step up, take my own risks and make my own mistakes, and not continue to feel as though I should be checking in with one authority figure or another.

Further, I want to do my research as openly as possible.  Open Source Software is a mainstream concept, and Open Access (publishing) is getting to be one.  What’s not so widely known is the idea of Open Science, which is the application of the same principles — knowledge as a public good, cooperation over competition — to the entire enterprise of research.  The defining edge case for me is Jean-Claude Bradley‘s Open Notebook Science, a wonderful term that is almost self-explanatory.  Jean-Claude is the first to acknowledge that not all research is suitable for an Open Notebook, but I’d like to get as close to that ideal as I can.

Can you tell us more about your scientific research?

As you know perfectly well, I (like any scientist) can talk about that until your eyes glaze over.  But I’ll spare your readers, and try to be brief. 

The small bHLHZIP protein Max is the center of a very important transcriptional control network, the best known player in which is the proto-oncogene MYC.  Depending on how you estimate it, dysregulation of Myc protein is involved in 30-70% of human cancer.  Since mice lacking MYC die very early in gestation, and conditional knockouts of MYC cause a variety of defects, this network is also important in development.  Consistent with that observation, other members of the network play important roles in differentiation.  My main focus is on one such protein, Mnt, which also functions partly as a Myc antagonist.  MNT knockout in cells can rescue the growth arrest caused by MYC deletion, and although MNT knockout mice die late in gestation, conditional MNT knockouts cause tumors similar to those caused by overexpression of MYC.  For such important proteins, we still know surprisingly little about them.  For instance, what I’m doing now is trying to work out the details of post-translational regulation of Mnt (it’s phosphorylated, but where? and by what kinase?) and how that relates to the cell cycle (what does phosphorylation actually do to the molecule’s properties and functions?).  The bigger picture is that Peter, my boss, has some really interesting ideas about connections between mechanisms that underlie both cancer and developmental defects, and so everything the lab does is in a sense digging down towards those mechanisms to see whether Peter is right about the commonalities there.

When and how did you discover science blogs?  What are some of your favourites?  Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while following the Conference?

I think the first science-themed blog I remember reading was Genehack, by computational biologist John Anderson.  (I don’t think the word “blog” had been coined yet, it was just a “website” back then.)  I remember when Nodalpoint started up.  I have also been reading psychiatrist Eliot Gelwan’s Follow Me Here for a long time, but he covers a lot of stuff besides science.  

As to favorites, I simply couldn’t pick.  Even my blogroll doesn’t cover all the science blogs I think are worth reading, because I just can’t keep up.

You are a strong proponent of Open Access publishing.  What was the personal evolution of your views on this topic? Where did it begin?

I was online when things like GenBank and Project Bartleby started up, but I never made the broader connection.  Looking back, the earliest direct influence I can remember was Stefano Ghirlanda’s Free Science Campaign, which started in the late 90’s and has since gone offline.  It is an enduring regret that, although I agreed very strongly with his goals, I didn’t sign his supporters page.  What seems deeply weird to me now is the reason I didn’t do so: I was reluctant to put my name to anything on the internet.  It was a new world to me then, and I wasn’t at home in it.  These days, of course, I am a signatory on every OA petition and declaration that comes my way!

I also remember following Harold Varmus’ doomed E-biomed proposal, which did manage to give us PubMed Central.  All of those ideas sort of fermented away in the back of my mind until I came across BMC, PLoS and Peter Suber’s blog — I honestly can’t say which I found first — and then the light went on and I realized what OA really meant.  I’ve been doing my little bit to help the cause ever since.

How is a scientific paper going to look in 20 years from now?  How is that going to affect the way scientific research (and teaching) is done?

Over the next 20 years, the two most important things that will happen to the scientific paper are: universal adoption of Open Access, and the richly deserved death of the Portable Document Format.

Although it will do a number of wonderful things, Open Access won’t dramatically change the way a paper looks, at least not in the next 20 years.  Both because researchers are a conservative bunch, and because the format has served well for a very long time, I would guess that papers will look something like they do now — Intro/Methods/Results/Discussion — for some decades yet.  The most important things that will change in a 20 year timeframe are the level of detail available with a single click, and the number of entities which can understand the paper. 

Right now, even if yo
u can access a paper what you get is pre-digested in the form of a PDF file — useless for anything except being read by humans (which, of course, is very useful indeed — but nowhere near as useful as a paper could, and should, be).  If there is any supplementary data, which there usually isn’t, it’s another bloody PDF!  In 20 years, something like XML will provide a way to make papers a machine-readable platform for accessing data, not just a pixelated proxy for a hunk of dead tree.  Instead of photocopying that graph three times at 200% so as to be able to draw lines on it and estimate the underlying values, you’ll be able to grab the raw data into your own favorite graphing application, so that you can re-work it and look at it from your own angle.  You’ll be able to zoom in on that spectrum and see the fine details.  You’ll be able to get an unretouched version of that photograph and do the Photoshop work yourself, so as to emphasize whatever you’re interested in.  All of this will be possible, not by writing to the authors and waiting three months for an answer, but with a single click right from the paper itself. 

The other thing that this sort of markup will do is to greatly enhance the number and scope of research tasks that can be automated.  We already rely heavily on search and filtering interfaces (Pubmed, Google, GenBank, and so on) to keep us afloat in a sea of information, and that situation is only going to intensify.  When machines can read papers, they will be able to do something no human can do: read every paper, and find connections among them all.  For a taste of what this might be like, check out iHOP, a text-mining navigation interface to the research literature.  Now imagine what iHOP could do if it could not just read text, but could place that text in context, and then again what it could do if it could access data as well as text.  (Note also that none of this makes sense without OA: good as it is, iHOP is currently crippled because it can only pull sentences from abstracts.  Imagine what it could do with the full text of all those papers!  To fully realize the power of machine readability requires that the entire knowledge base be Open Access.)

What that will mean for research is speed.  You can already see it happening in physics, where OA has been the de facto norm for more than a decade thanks to arXivBrody et al. showed that, in the high-energy physics section, the time between deposit in arXiv and citation in another paper has been dropping steadily since the arrival of arXiv in 1991, and was cut roughly in half between 1999 and 2003.  That’s the research cycle — the uptake of published ideas in further work — accelerating in real time.  Multiply that by the power of text- and data-mining, driven by the combination of OA and machine readability, and you get a tremendous acceleration in the rate of scientific progress. 

I’m not a teacher, so I’m hesitant to make predictions about that field — but what is clear is that teachers and students will have much greater access to detailed information.  On that basis, I guess I’ll venture one (hopeful) prediction: science teaching will focus more on primary sources, on the actual data rather than predigested information in textbooks.  Rather than trying to absorb a body of knowledge being handed down from on high, learning science will become much more like doing science, with students being asked to think, explore and experiment rather than simply memorize.

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

Someone — I think it was Moshe Pritsker from JOVE — suggested a possible solution to the scooping problem, which we talked about in one of your posts.  Writing about the conference afterwards, Janet Stemwedel observed that a good conference feels like home, which is exactly how I felt at both SBCs and something I’m going to keep in mind whenever I am involved in organizing any kind of meeting.  The session on open access in developing countries was amazing, and I’ll be thinking about the things I learned there for a long time.  It certainly changed my thinking about science communication, since I tend to focus so much on “first-world” problems in that field — whereas there are all these thousands of scientists for whom detailed definitions of Open Access are all very well but close to meaningless until, say, their dialup connection works more than three days a month.  In conversation over dinner, Aaron Rowe taught me what aptamers are — I’d never heard of them! — and I was just blown away by the potential of these reagents.

In more general terms, I have returned home from each SBC charged up, full of ideas and positive energy, and I definitely take that into my work and my blogging.  My wife says she wishes I could hang out with the people from SBC on a regular basis, as it does me such obvious good.  If I should ever get a foot on the faculty ladder, one of my overarching goals will be to make working in my lab feel like being at SBC every day.

It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview.

Likewise, and you’re welcome; and thank you for doing this series of interviews, which I am thoroughly enjoying.

Check out all the interviews in this series.

The Sirenian Call? Interview with Jennifer Jacquet

Jennifer Jacquet is the Blog-mistress of Shifting Baselines, where you will get disemvowelled if you eat Chilean Sea Bass in the comments. Especially if you smack your lips while eating. At the Science Blogging Conference three weeks ago, Jennifer spoke on the panel on Changing Minds through Science Communication: a panel on Framing Science
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock.
It’s a carbon-neutral pleasure to be here.
Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you?
I am a child of the Regan era born in a state without oceans who was transplanted to Vancouver, B.C.
What is your scientific background?
It all started with the magazine Ranger Rick and a lust for manatees. But my love for Sirenians had a harsh collision with my pragmatic upbringing and I ultimately chose to study half-science, half-economics. I have a B.A. in Environmental Economics from Western Washington University and an M.S. in Environmental Economics from Cornell University. I am currently enlisted in a Ph.D. at the University of British Columbia working with the fabulous Dr. Daniel Pauly.
What is your Real Life job?
Anything behind a computer.
What do you want to do/be when you grow up?
Better yet, what do I not want to be? My supervisor likes to call me the next Ann Coulter while my neighbors back home in Ohio call me a communist. I don’t know who to believe, but I’m making efforts to not become either…
[Jennifer Jacquet (at the NY scienceblogs get-together) isn’t certain about Ann Coulter or the Cubans but she is MAD about role model Alfreda E. Neuman.]
Your blog is called “Shifting Baselines”. Can you elaborate on the name? What does it mean?
In 1995 Daniel Pauly coined the term shifting baselines, which refers to our collective amnesia about reference points from the past. Because people believe the nature they experience when they are young is ‘pristine’, this reference point erodes with each generation and we experience a shifting baseline. We become happy that the beach is only closed two days a week due to pollution rather than demanding it be open all week. While Shifting Baselines emphasizes the importance of historical reflection, it’s usefulness is most pronounced in how we then allow our knowledge of the past to shape the future.
What are your plans for the future (at least what you are willing to disclose) with your work and with your blogging?
Speaking of shaping the future…I will continue to write the blog and my dissertation. I believe it’s very important the blogosphere support (rather than replace) non-corporate controlled media (e.g., The New York Times, BBC) and so I will continue directing Shifting Baselines readers to stories from such outlets as well as write things of my own. The blog will continue to benefit from the insights of Randy Olson, founder the of the Shifting Baselines Ocean Media Projects, and Ocean Champions, political lobbyists for ocean health.
When and how did you discover science blogs?
It sort of discovered me. Just weeks before I was asked if I wanted to run the Shifting Baselines blog I honestly had no idea what a blog was or how they operated. Then, voila. Randy Olson cyberpicked me from my blissful ignorance and into the burgeoning blogosphere.
What are some of your favourites?
I really like all the ocean blogs, including Scienceblogs’ Deep Sea News. I also think great work comes from Cognitive Daily, Pure Pedantry, A Blog Around the Clock (of course) and I can’t resist The Intersection.
Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while at the Conference?
I’m pumped for Dave Munger’s latest project
Is there anything that happened at the Conference – a session, something someone said or did, a new friendship – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
I really enjoyed meeting so many people that were in blogging for their love of science–not the money, or the hits, or the flagrant discussions–but their love of communicating the latest advances affecting our lives and shaping our world.
It was so nice seeing you in again and thank you for the interview.
The feeling is mutual…
Check out all the interviews in this series.

The mite hunting a dinosaur that could not catch a dog: Interview with Brian Switek

Laelaps was a dog in Greek mythology that always caught its prey and was turned into stone (by Zeus himself!) while hunting the Teumessian fox that could never be caught. Lealaps is also a defunct name for a carnivorous dinosaur. Laelaps is also a mite that parasitizes rats. And Laelaps is the name of a fascinating blog, written by Brian Switek. You can think deep thoughts about the meaning of his blog’s name later. At the Science Blogging Conference three weeks ago, Brian participated on the Student blogging panel–from K to PhD.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your scientific background?
It’s a pleasure to be here, Bora. My name is Brian Switek and presently I’m an undergraduate student at Rutgers University. I can’t claim the moniker of “scientist” (being that I haven’t even started graduate studies yet), but in following my interests in natural history I’ve learned quite a bit more than I have in the lecture halls. Most of what I read and write about falls under the general heading of zoology or natural history, but my main interest is in vertebrate paleontology.
What do you want to do/be when you grow up?
I hope to always be a “student of nature,” and even though I’m not sure what I’ll end up studying as I continue my education, I hope to become something of a naturalist. Even though scientific studies presently require some degree of specialization, I most admire the work of researchers who have tried to make sense of seemingly disparate pieces of information in encompassing theories, and I hope to continue that tradition.
Your blog has really skyrocketed from the very recent beginnings all the way to stardom in a very short time – you have been invited to join, you co-moderated a session at the Conference, you have an essay in the Open Laboratory 2008. What’s your secret formula for success? What do you think makes your blog so interesting? Any tips for people who are just starting their science blogs?
Brian%20Switek%20interview%20pic.jpgI’m still a bit shocked that I’m come as far as I have within the past year, and I don’t think it’s quite caught up with me yet. My perspective on blogging has generally been that I will grasp the topic I want to understand more firmly if I’m able to effectively convey what I’m learning to other people; my blog is as much a road map of my intellectual forays as it is an attempt to communicate science. Although I would be hard-pressed to call Laelaps one of the “great” science blogs out there, I think a personal touch is what makes so many good blogs unique. Anyone can summarize papers or something they’ve read, but blogs are at their best when a writer gets to share their excitement (or even frustration) over what they have learned. Scientists are very passionate people, and I think blogs reflect that aspect of a group of people often seen as boring and dispassionate. If I had any advice for people who are just starting to write, it would be to remember that what you write is intensely personal, and that’s a good thing.
What lies in the future of Brian and Laelaps (as far as you are willing to tell)?
Blogging has become something of a compulsion for me (others might call it an addiction), and I intend to keep writing as long as I am physically able to do so. When and if I get to carry out gradute-level studies I may not be able to be so prolific, but for now I have more time to write than I’m likely to have ever again and I intend to make the most of it. I have a few things in the works that I think I’ll have to keep secret for now, but I can say that Laelaps was originally born as a sort of companion project to a book that I’m still working on. About two years ago I decided that I wanted to start writing a book about evolution, but I knew that if I wanted to write such a book there was a lot I was going to have to learn. Laelaps, then, is almost a behind-the-scenes look at what I’ve been thinking about during the process, although it’s become an even more rewarding writing experiment in and of itself. I hope to have the first draft of the book finished by the time I turn 25 later this month, but whether it will ever see the light of day or not is anyone’s guess.
When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while at the Conference?
The first science blog I had ever encountered was Pharyngula, primarily because I was looking for more information about the Discovery Institute. When I was first trying to verse myself on who creationists were and why they had such a problem with evolution in 2006 I picked up a copy of Jonathan Wells’ Icons of Evolution (one of the worst books I’ve ever had the displeasure to read). The book said that Wells belonged to the “Discovery Institute,” a seemingly innocuous sounding group, but I had a feeling there was something more to the story. I did a google search and Pharyngula (as well as The Panda’s Thumb and others) came up and I was hooked on science blogs. Presently some of my favorites include Tetrapod Zoology, Archy, Greg Laden’s blog, Pondering Pikaia, Catalogue of Organisms, and (of course) A Blog Around the Clock, but there are so many bloggers that I admire there would be scarcely space to list them all here. I didn’t meet very many bloggers whose blogs I hadn’t heard of prior to the Conference, but meeting so many other writers in person definitely gave me a greater appreciation for their writing (i.e. Thus Spake Zuska, Adventures in Ethics and Science, The Other 95%, etc.).
Is there anything that happened at the Conference – a session, something someone said or did, a new friendship – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
Janet’s session on science blogging ethics was, for me, the most thought-provoking event at the conference. I left with more questions than answers, but that is definitely a good thing. Even though I generally had considered myself to adhere to the ethics followed by the science blogging community, the session definitely made me step back and ask what those ethics were, why they were in place, and what should I be considering before I hit the “publish” button.
The most influential part of the Conference, though, was the “after-hours” communication where I got to sit down and chat with so many other wonderful writers. Over the course of the year I had spent so much time reading the words of people from all over the world with extremely diverse perspectives, but getting to meet the writers in person certainly changed my perspective on who individual science bloggers are and why they spend so much time at their keyboards.
Likewise, the Conference was permeated with the tension between traditional media outlets and science blogs, the gathering serving as a wonderful forum to discuss the “growing pains” of science blogging. Jennifer Ouelette did a wonderful job addressing this topic at the close of the Conference, and I think that the coming year will reveal a growing integration between science bloggers and mainstream media (or at least, I hope it will). If anything, though, the Conference made me proud to be a science blogger, and I was overjoyed to be among so many people who experienced the same passion for writing about science.
It was so nice meeting you in person and thank you for the interview.
Check out all the interviews in this series.

Our Seed Overlord: Interview with Virginia Hughes

When you hear SciBlings mention “our Seed Overlords”, they are talking about Ginny, our new Commander-in-Chief and Royal Cat-herder. At the Science Blogging Conference three weeks ago, she herded (almost) 20 of us in Real Life to take the famous group photo.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your background? What is your Real Life job?
Ginny%20interview%20pic.jpgI’m Ginny, a 20-something NYC science writer, low-traffic blogger, and the new Community Manager at ScienceBlogs. I did neuroscience research in college, decided–after a six-month stint studying art history in Paris–that the lab life wasn’t for me, and got my Master’s in science writing. I wish astrobiology and science missions in general were higher priorities at NASA. I’m recently obsessed with home decorating. (Last night I installed bookshelves on my wall–by myself!) I grew up with two shetland sheepdogs, and miss having a dog around.
When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while at
the Conference?

I was a web news intern at Seed Magazine, and fell in love with a few of the bloggers at (it probably wouldn’t be appropriate to name names here…). Luckily, anybody who strokes the sciblings’ egos enough is allowed into the clan. Since the conference, I’ve been reading The Other 95%, Inverse Square, and Confessions of a Science Librarian.
There is a rumor that you have read every post and every comment ever posted on Is that true? Humanely posible? I don’t even read my own posts half of the time (and it shows, I’m sure). Hmmmmm, where was I going with this question….dunno, but you can answer something impressionistic!
Bora, you know that you’re the only one who actually reads all of the blogs. (Actually, a little bird told me at the conference that you monitor more than 1,500 (!!) blogs. Are you human?) I do read almost all of the posts, so that I know what’s new and super in the world. I must confess, though, I usually skip over your ClockQuotes and Picks From Science Daily.
When a journalist starts writing a blog, the tone is often different than when a scientist writes one. What are the pros and cons of journalistic background when one enters the blogosphere?
I think journalists tend to do more fact-checking. That’s a plus. And they’re usually more on-topic because they’re used to the proverbial editor’s chop. But I don’t think most journalists understand that a blog post is not just a sloppier news article. It’s rare to find a blogger-journalist who keeps up with the blogosphere “conversations”–the comments, the back-and-forth linking, etc.–that make the genre truly new. John Tierney at the NYT does it well, as does ScienceBlogs’ own Carl Zimmer.
Is there anything that happened at the Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
A couple of researchers from The Beagle Project were there, and hearing about that huge, smart, creative science project made me go, “Whoa.” Yet another example of the expanding field of “alternative science careers.” I was blown away, too, by the poise and courage of the young panelists of the Student Science Blogging session. Blogging is the future, man!
It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview.
Check out all the interviews in this series.

FairerScience in an Unfair World: Interview with Patricia Campbell

Patricia B. Campbell, PhD is a tireless fighter for science education and for gender equality in science. She runs the FairerScience website and the FairerScience blog. At the Science Blogging Conference three weeks ago, Pat was on the panel on Gender and Race in Science: online and offline.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your background? What is your Real Life job?
Hmmm who am I? Good question–well professionally I was a college professor of Research Measurement and Statistics at Georgia State University and I quit the day I got tenure (apparently that doesn’t happen very often). I’ve always had a goal of changing the world and for me the best way to do that seemed to be through setting up a small company doing educational research and evaluation with a focus on issues of gender and race/ethnicity. So that’s what I did and the company, Campbell-Kibler Associates, Inc is 30 years old this year. It’s named after daughter Kathryn Campbell-Kibler, who at the age of four months, sued the state of Georgia to have her birth certificate issued in a hyphenated last name (she won).
Pat%20Campbell%20interview%20pic.jpgTo have real life job of changing the world and breaking down stereotypes is incredibly fun. I’ve gotten to co-author the AAUW Report: How Schools Shortchange Girls (got some hate press on that one), be an expert witness in the Citadel sex discrimination case and work with educational researchers in Uganda and South Africa. And husband Tom Kibler and I have been the oldest, fastest straightest couple on AIDS bike rides between Boston and New York and San Francisco and Los Angeles (we broke down a lot of stereotypes on those).
What do you want(ed) to do/be when you grow up?
A feminist mathematician. Then one semester I took a topology course and a stat course at the same time and decided that being a feminist educational researcher was a much better choice.
You run the FairerScience project. Can you tell my readers what is it about, what are your goals and what are your methods?
I call it my “thank you Larry Summers” project. I wrote this when we set up the website two years ago and it still is a good description:

In earlier ages, it was believed that women could not pursue
mathematics because their heads were too small, their nervous systems
too delicate or their reasoning capacities insufficient. Such an eminent
educational theorist as Rousseau believed that women were not qualified
for research in abstract areas such as mathematics and science because
their brains were unfit. Recent comments from sources ranging from the
President of Harvard University to reporters in the Financial Times
indicate that these inaccurate, antiquated notions are still with us.
Researchers and advocates for women in science, technology, engineering
and mathematics (STEM) have not been effectively communicating their
findings in ways that allow the public including policy makers,
educators and parents to understand and evaluate these findings and,
where appropriate, make decisions based on them. FairerScience is committed to
changing that.

So we have some multimedia analysis of why it is so hard to get the media and others to get beyond the “math gene” + “biology is destiny” stuff and some ideas of ways researchers and others can help, including how to better communicate with the media. We also have some powerpoints that people are welcome to use in their own presentations.
Since the stats on gender and race/ethnicity in science change so quickly instead of constantly updating the most current statistics, we developed a tool so people could get the data themselves. That wasn’t the most popular part of the website, so I’ll be adding something on the current statistics pretty soon. Also coming soon are short user-friendly summaries of the research on topics like single sex education and science; what actually makes a difference in encouraging girls in science.
We’ve started working on ways to use women in science blogs to encourage girls in science. Some blogs like On Being a Scientist and a Woman are great ways to show girls the kinds of personal and professional lives women in science and engineering. Other blogs like Antarctic Journal show everyone how really cool science can be.
There’s lots on the FairerScience website and we try to have at least some fun with it. I would love it if folks would let me know other resources they might like.
How do you see your blog and other science blogs (both by male and female authors) as a part of the armamentarium in changing the culture of academia?
Good question and I’m not sure what the answer is. Certainly the blogesphere is reducing isolation – especially when it comes to women in science. Folks are learning the problems aren’t just about them–they are structural, pervasive and hurt men as well. The exchange of sympathy and congratulations, advice and support helps a lot. Will it grow to a critical mass with the potential to change the academic culture? Well I’ve seen a lot of change in academia in the past 30 years, but those changes don’t seem to have had much impact on the culture. Still I have hope and there is something to be said for critical mass…
When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while at
the Conference?

You know I don’t remember, but I think I stumbled on to Cocktail Party Physics and was hooked. Thanks to the conference I’m now reading Karen Ventii’s Science to Life and, oh yes, there is this blog that I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t know about prior to the conference. It’s called A Blog Around the Clock . I like it a lot.
Some of my other favorites are:
Language Log
Rants of a Feminist Engineer
Adventures in Ethics and Science
Thus Spake Zuska
A K8, A Cat, A Mission
Scientiae Carnival which is a really good source of blogs on women and science
Oh, and Go Fug Yourself; that counts as a science blog doesn’t it?
Is there anything that happened at the Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
There are several things. This was my first experience with an unconference and I loved it. I’ve started making notes about what can encourage and discourage unconferencing (i.e. room set up, expectations, time keeping). I’m moderating a session at AAAS this year, Blogs, Boards, and Bonding, and am planning to make it as much of an unsession as possible.
Probably the most powerful thing that came out of the conference for me, as you and Anton know, was the reinforcement that just inviting people who haven’t been/been allowed at the table to participate isn’t enough. There needs to be active outreach, an effort to build trust, to let people know that they are welcome and they will be respected. When that is done, people respond. It happened at the Conference and made for a great conference. I’m hoping that others will pick up on that message as well. I’m doing my part to spread the idea.
It was so nice meeting you at the Conference and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again next year.
Check out all the interviews in this series.

Openness is Essential Freedom: Interview with Vedran Vucic

Vedran Vucic (voo-tcheech) is a Linux afficionado in Serbia. He and his organization have gone all around Serbia, wired up the schools, taught the teachers and students how to use Linux, taught the teachers and students how to use various online educational resources ranging from blogs to ATutor, etc. Vedran also gives technical support to about 30 Serbian bloggers whose work he also aggregates. He is now putting a lot of energy into persuading scientists, especially the young, not-yet-entrenched ones, to go online and to promote Open Access. It is an uphill battle, but he is persistent! At the Science Blogging Conference three weeks ago, Vedran led a session on Overcoming obstacles to Open Science in the developing world.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your background? What is your Real Life job?
I am working in the Linux Center. Linux Center is non-profit organization dedicated to promotion of free software in Serbia. It is very logical for us that we support free access to information and knowledge. We see open access repositories, free software, science and education blogs and open hardware, web accessibility as milestones for the development of Serbia. I am involved in a variety of ways in implementation of free software in the last 13 years in media, NGOs, culture, arts, schools, support to people with disabilities.
What do you want to do/be when you grow up?
Although I am 43, it seems to me that I will never grow up. I think that I will always have general trust in people, community, support, solidarity without frontiers. Some people think that it is childish. So, if that it is really childish I hope that I will be always a happy child.
How did you get interested in promoting everything Open: Open Source, Open Classroom, Open Science?
I really think free software, open access, open classroom, open science, web accessibility, open hardware are very important milestones for our planet. There is still too much poverty, unjust activities, violence in the world. I think that citizens themselves can contribute a lot to promote knowledge, the development, education, freedom. Phenomena as free software, open science etc. are not just scientific and technological terms. They are very powerful social, political tools too. Contemporary politicians should understand that and give up the traditional political tools such as economic conditioning, military influence, sluggish support, creation of dependent communities. Instead, they should promote horizontal diplomacy which is based on freedom of sharing, support, fostering solidarity and treating others as assets rather than as customers and/or clients.
When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while at the Conference? Are there any science blogs in Serbia that you recommend?
I really like the idea of blogs. Actually, internet belongs to people and people should use it to communicate and share experience, knowledge, opinion. Besides many interesting personal blogs that connected many people, I think that it is enormously important that scientific community is going to be open too. Science and technology may become, if not communicative and open, an ideology of unscrupulous elites that may have detrimental effects on security, economic development, gap between countries. Thus, openness of science is not only a manner of good will, it is essential freedom exercised to foster mutual development.
I see there are more and more bloggers in Serbia, but they tend not to use the platforms common in the West (Blogspot, Typepad, WordPress) and I do not see them (even when they write in English) well integrated into European and global blogosphere. Any thoughts on why that may be the case?
Vedran%20interview%20pic.jpgI think that there are more and more wordpress, nucleus and other platforms that people tend to use. While writing this reply to you I am helping a group of NGOs to set up their portal and blog about inclusive education. We use Nucleus 🙂
There is an aggregator on that aggregates posts from approx. 30 blogs based on wordpress and many science blogs worldwide. In two weeks there will be another aggregator of blogs that will be focused on information related with disabilities, web accessibility, human rights of people with disabilities etc.
However, I would like to see much more such projects. On the other side, Internet is not so developed in Serbia and people are not yet used to Internet and computer keyboards as usual way of communication. In some cases professors on faculties and even some departments of hospitals do not have computers at all.
Albeit, this is not excuse, it is a fact. But, we have to do more in order to overcome that fact and promote more openness. Seminars, conferences, mirror servers, mutual visits and other events may be very helpful in promoting cooperation in the field of science blogging.
You have gone around Serbia and wired schools to the Internet, installed Linux and taught teachers and students how to use it. Can you tell us a little more about that entire project?
We have visited so far tens of schools and presented to them what free software may do and how it can be used in schools. Specialized distributions such as Explora, Edubuntu, VigyaanCD, Quantian, CAE Linux, GNU/Musix, DyneBolic etc. may be very important educational tool in schools. It is not enough to teach, localize and install free software. In addition, it is very important to write proper documentation. We are finishing, these days, a manual for teachers of computer science for music schools so they can use free software and learn about sound, music, databases, web applications, openoffice, image editing, burning CDs, streaming audio. Detailed documentation will help teachers and the students too to use it properly and get really full control over their computers and operating systems.
We paid special attention to help teachers to learn more about web accessibility and using accessible learning tools so the kids with disabilities may have access to learning materials. In Serbia, many disabled kids do not complete secondary schools and just a few complete faculties [university]. Thus, we recommend ATutor as a tool to store, publish, manage educational activities since ATutor is created with accessibility guidelines in mind.
At the Conference, you led a session on The Obstacles to Open Science in the Developing World. Can you summarize here briefly, what are those obstacles? Are they primarily structural (e.g., lack of electricity, computer or Internet access) or is the social fear of openness (perhaps protection of power structure, nepotism, etc.) a bigger obstacle for the spread of Open Access Publishing, science blogs, etc.?
Obstacles are sometimes very big, but also, in many cases, big obstacles may be overcome by many small efforts. Many activities related with improvement of the educational system, health care, culture, transfer of knowledge and technologies may be done by using science and education blogs. For example, Serbia and Albania have the highest rates of infectious diseases in their populations. Many women in Serbia die because of cervical cancer which is not so hard to prevent. Thus, access to information related to health, education, teenage pregnancy, AIDS, human rights, work with people with disabilities, environment may be helpful in solving hard issues that keep people in misery, bad health, uneducated and potentially prone to destructive political movements.
I think that media can do a lot in promoting openness and that access points to scientific and educational materials may be set up. Thus, small kiosks, computer classrooms and tele-centres with access to information and knowledge may be very helpful in overcoming existing fear from openness.
Is there anything that happened at the Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
Oh, I liked the people there. It was very encouraging to me to see such a great number of scientists that are so concerned with social responsibility. The whole conference for me was that “particular session”. As I emphasized in the session that I moderated:”Blogs are not just places with scientific information. They do have mobilizing effect and they are very important social phenomena”.
It was great and inspiring to be part of the conference and be sure that science blogging movement is growing.
It was so nice to finally meet you, thank you for bringing the package from my Mom all across the ocean, and thank you for the interview.
Check out all the interviews in this series.

From the trenches of Open Access: Interview with Hemai Parthasarathy

Hemai Parthasarathy spent about five years as an editor at Nature before joining PLoS where she was the Managing Editor of PLoS Biology from its very beginning, through about five years of it until just a few months ago. When I got the job with PLoS and spent my first month in San Francisco, Hemai was my tutor in a sense, teaching me the lore of the inner sanctum of the publishing world – how it works, who is who, why Open Access, and other useful stuff. So she was a natural choice for me to invite to lead a session on Open Science: how the Web is changing the way science is done, written and published (see the videos here) at the Science Blogging Conference two weeks ago.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your background? What is your Real Life job?
Well, of most relevance to your readers, I am a biophysicist and neuroscientist by training, an editor by profession, and a consultant (at the moment) by circumstance. Of me, personally, I could say that I am an Alaskan by birth, an Indian by ancestry, and a California girl by choice (and possibly temperament).
What do you want to do/be when you grow up?
Do I have to? I’d like to have a dog when I’m grown up. But, if I ever have a sofa, I’ll know that I am too grown-up.
I have a children’s book about a mule at home. Sound familiar? Anything to say about it? No? OK.
You are a cruel man, Bora, to bring up my childhood traumas on a public blog. Yes, I used to spell my name “Hemi” (which is how it is pronounced) and yes, I do have one namesake in the children’s literature, Hemi: A mule.
When, how and why did you become a believer in Open Access publishing?
I find that phrase kind of odd – like being a “believer” in evolution. I’m not sure open access is something to believe in. Its just logical, inevitable… it basically falls out of thinking about scientific communication + the internet. So, I’d say I “believed” from my first exposure, which was the open signature campaign that launched the Public Library of Science (PLoS). The question of how to make it work given the legacy of the subscription-based system, was less clear when I joined PLoS, but the last five years have seen a lot of change towards that goal.
How is a scientific paper going to look like in 50 years?
No Idea. Didn’t you write about that? I don’t even know what science is going to look like in 50 years. Science has always been written about in multiple forms, from the conference abstract to the clinical trial to the dissertation. Already the classical form of the research paper does not fit many disciplines (“high throughput” systems biology springs to mind). I hope it will have multiple forms as it does now, but that it will be much more integrated with the data it represents and the steps that come before/after it.
When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while at the Conference?
I don’t think I’d ever read a blog, let alone a science blog, until Chris [Surridge, editor of PLoS ONE, ed.] started posting regularly on the PLoS blog. For all my support of the internet revolution in communication, I still like my information in large well-digested chunks that I can interact with tactilely as well as visually (aka paper). So, I probably discovered science blogs through you! The only science blog I now read regularly is The Tree of Life, mainly because I am so impressed by Jonathan Eisen’s brain. Since the conference, I’ve also been reading Science and Religion, which is a theme I have taken a recent interest in; and, Aardvarcheology hooked me with Martin’s visit to the Amazing Randi, of whom I remember stories from my days at Nature and the infamous water memory paper.
How do science blogs fit in the entire ecosystem of scientific publishing, communication and education?
I’m not sure I’m the best person to answer that. Blogs are clearly an integral part of all publishing, not just scientific publishing, It seems to me that the quality of science blogs is quite high compared to the average blog, but that may just be my sampling bias. I hope they encourage people who are on the outside of the elite research process to promote scientific discourse within society.
What are your plans for the future (at least what you are willing to disclose) in your life and work?
I’m not sure. I had thought about doing something completely different (e.g. culinary school), but in the end, I value too much the experience I have gained in scientific evaluation and communication; and still feel that I have something to contribute in this arena. I am currently working as a consultant in the drug discovery world, which may turn into something very relevant to open science and open access. Stay tuned!
Would you consider trying your hand at blogging?
… its tempting, as I love to write. But, I’d need to be convinced that I could contribute to the signal, rather than the noise; and so far, I am not convinced.
Is there anything that happened at the Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
Well, this will sound entirely self-serving, but I was moved when Bill Hooker asked the audience in the open access session how many of the publishing scientists would aspire to publish in PLoS Biology. I didn’t expect such a large response (of course, they might have been humoring me!), and in general, I didn’t expect quite as much enthusiasm for PLoS. I guess I’m used to trying to convince the skeptics, so it really brought home to me the successes we have had. A lesson, then, is what I take away: That it’s easy to forget how many allies you have, when you’re deep in the trenches. Of course, that is one way that the blogosphere empowers people – you don’t actually have to meet face-to-face to be with like-minded people. Is the corollary, then, that I should have been reading more blogs when I was at PLoS?
It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview.
Thanks, Bora, for inviting me to participate in your conference. It was a wonderful experience.
Check out all the interviews in this series.

Visualize This! Interview with Moshe Pritsker

Moshe Pritsker and I first met at Scifoo, then shared a panel at the Harvard Millennium Confreence and finally met again at the Science Blogging Conference two weeks ago. Moshe is the Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Visualized Experiments, the innovative online journals that publishes videos demonstrating laboratory techniques.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your background? What is your Real Life job?
I am a co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE). It is my full-time job, as JoVE is a start-up company that requires full attention from me and a few other people.
Moshe%20Interview%20picture.jpgI was born in the North West of Russia, in the city named Petrozavodsk. In 1990, at age 16, together with my parents and sister, I immigrated to Israel, in the big wave of Russian-Jewish immigration. I went to study chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and then continued for a master degree at the Weizmann Institute of Science where I got into biochemistry and bioinformatics.
After the army service (mandatory for every Israeli citizen), I decided to see the world and got into the Ph.D. program at Princeton. There I was working on a variety of projects in computational and experimental biology. My favorite and the most difficult project was the development of a method for large-scale genetic screens in embryonic stem cells. A post-doc in Boston was a logical next step. But after one year of post-doc, I decided to implement the idea of a video-publication for biology, which I was carrying in my head for a few years.
You founded the Journal of Visualized Experiments. Can you tell us a little bit more about it. Where did the idea come from, where is it now and what are the plans for the future?
First time, I came with the idea of a video-publication for biological research in the middle of my Ph.D. studies at Princeton. As any other experimental biologist, I was suffering from the low reproducibility of experiments described in the scientific literature. This phenomenon is due to many reasons including poor descriptions of complex experimental procedures by authors, wrong interpretations of technical details by readers, variations in terminology, lack of standardization, and other factors. To deal with this problem, scientists often look for colleagues who are experienced with particular experimental approaches and can show them how to do the experiment. However, often such help is not available, and the scientists find themselves in the never ending process of reinventing the wheel, when they spend years of their life trying to repeat experiments previously done and published by others. On the personal level, this is very frustrating. On the global level, this is a systemic “black hole” that consumes more than 50% of time and money that are given to biological and biomedical research (to remind, only the NIH year budget is $29 billion dollars).
As a possible solution, I began to think about a large online repository of videos on experimental procedures. Video can mimic the traditional “show me” process adopted in the biological labs, and therefore would increase reproducibility, efficiency and standardization in biological sciences. Then I was lucky to meet Nikita Bernstein, a computer programmer who became my partner. Nikita took care of the IT part in JoVE, and introduced me into the social networks and other advanced aspects of the today Web. Another partner, Klaus Korak, is a Vienna-trained medical doctor, with experience in neurosurgery and neuroscience research. He has ensured funding from a group of private investors, and currently takes care of the business development in JoVE. After the first few months, we met Aaron Kolski-Andreaco, who was a graduate student at UC Irvine and also thought about scientific video as a method of training. He joined us to lead the production of experimental videos. This is how JoVE was initially built.
We develop JoVE as a free access research publication (journal), with a review process, selection and the Editorial Board including 20 professors from Harvard, Princeton, NIH and other good places. So, JoVE can be viewed as a journal of a new type, a video-journal. After the first year of its existence, JoVE has published about 200 video-articles produced in the research labs at the leading scientific institutions. They cover a variety of advanced experimental procedures in neuroscience, stem cell biology, cancer, bioengineering and other “hot” areas of today biological research.
Very early we understood that it is very difficult for scientists to make high-quality videos on their own experiments. An average experiment requires 2-3 hours of filming and extensive editing. Scientists typically do not have professional cameras and editing software, and, more importantly, do not have time to learn the necessary skills. Therefore, to enable production of video-protocols at research labs, we have established a distributed network of professional film-makers, which covers about 30 large cities, centers of biological research, in USA, Canada, Europe and Japan.
How do you envision a scientific paper of the future? Will it have an embedded video as a rule? A completely different format than today?
Currently, a scientific paper, especially in biology, has two main functions. First it is a report. Second, it is a “currency” of science serving as a measure of individual scientist’s achievements. These are important functions, but it also has to become a productivity tool, something that helps scientists to do their job faster and more efficiently. Due to the problems described above, a lot remains to be done in this area. I envision that tools enabling a more efficient knowledge transfer (e.g. video) will become an important factor. The rest is difficult to predict. It will depend on the next technology developments on the Web and their relevance to the current problems of biological research.
What are some of your favorite science blogs?
The Tree of Life by Jonathan Eisen
Microarray Blog by Albin Paul
Blog around the Clock by Bora Zivkovic
PIMM by Attila Csordas
Is there anything that happened at the Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you
think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?

I met a few people with whom I had interesting discussions about science communication: Jean-Claude Bradley, Liz Allen, James Hrynyshyn, Aaron Rowe, Deepak Singh and others. For example, I really like the Jean-Claude’s project on lab wiki, and it was very useful to meet him in person. Aaron Rowe gave me an interesting idea on distribution of the JoVE video-articles in the developing countries. I hope something practical will come out from these discussions. In general, the conference was a very useful and interesting event.
It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview.
Check out all the interviews in this series.

A Different Kind of Handshake: Interview with Vanessa Woods

Vanessa Woods is a researcher with the Hominoid Psychology Research Group which recently moved to Duke University – just in time for her to be able to attend the Science Blogging Conference two weeks ago. Vanessa is the author of four books (three of those are for kids, the latest one, It’s every monkey for themselves just got translated into Hebrew, and is aimed at adult audience). She is a feature writer for the Discovery Channel and she documents her research on her blog Bonobo Handshake (and what it means? Check the blog!)
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your background? What is your Real Life job?
I’m mostly a writer, I’ve written several books for kids and recently a salacious non fiction about a bunch of monkey researchers in the Costa Rican jungle (banned in America for legal reasons, but you can get it online For a few months a year I also travel to Congo to study our cousins, bonobos and chimpanzees. We work in sanctuaries for orphans, instead of in biomedical laboratories and basically play games with them all day to find out how
they think.
What do you want to do/be when you grow up?
JK Rowling
Can you tell us a little bit more about your research and about bonobos?
We’re trying to find out what it is that makes us human. At the moment, we have a very chimpanzee-centric model of society (male dominated, aggressive, murder, war, females get beaten, infants get killed) but we have another cousin, equally closely related to us (98.7% DNA), who is female dominated and lives in a much more peaceful society. We want to find out how much of us is bonobo, how much of us is chimpanzee and how much of us is uniquely human.
When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while following the Conference?
Well of course I love the Intersection. Sheril is so cool…
Most bloggers post every day on a variety of topics and go on like that for years. Your approach is different. Your blog, Bonobo Handshake, was focused on your research trip to Congo. Once the trip was over and you wrote your conclusions, you did not continue updating every day. Yet, your blog really hit a note with a lot of people and your traffic soared. How do you explain it? What are the pros and cons of this blogging strategy?
I think people got really involved in the bonobo drama. Bonobos came in, nearly died, and recovered, and people became emotionally attached. Plus the bonobos are so crazy, i think people started showing up regularly just to see what would happen next.
What is next? Extension of Bonobo Handshake, a new blog, a new trip that begs to be blogged about?
We’ll be going back to Congo in June this year, so Bonobo Handshake will be up again.
Is there anything that happened at the Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you
think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?

I really enjoyed the ‘blogging for the 3rd world’ session. It raised some interesting questions about our role in bringing information into these countries. Most of my blogging function is to take the stories I see in Congo and bring them out. But I am interested in exploring how what I do can benefit them.
It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview.
Likewise Bora – see you again soon!
Check out all the interviews in this series.

Say ‘Hi’ if you see him running – Interview with Dave Munger

Dave Munger is part of the numerous North Carolinian contingent here at He writes the Cognitive Daily blog and runs the blog aggregator. At the Science Blogging Conference two weeks ago, Dave led a session on Building interactivity into your blog.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your background? What is your Real Life job?
Hi, I’m Dave Munger. My background is in writing, editing, and publishing. I’ve written several textbooks, most notably, Researching Online, and I have had a blog of some sort since about 2002. I also have a degree in Science Education and taught high school chemistry and biology for a short time. My real life job is creating a new non-profit organization called All your readers should go visit and sign up. And if any of your readers happen to represent grant-making organizations, they should send me an email.
What do you want to do/be when you grow up?
I’m pretty much doing it. It would be nice to make a little more money at it, though!
When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while following the Conference?
The first science blog I discovered was Chad Orzel’s Uncertain Principles. I’m still a huge fan. I can’t tell you how I discovered it — probably via the litblogging community, since Chad’s just as likely to write about fiction as science. I was a litblogger before I was a science blogger (and still am, sort of, on It’s hard to identify particular favorite science blogs — I do most of my reading via aggregators (I’ll refrain from plugging my own) like I know there are lots of great blogs out there, I’m just not very good about reading all of them. I can say that I am especially impressed with the many blogs devoted to combating pseudoscience, from Orac’s Respectful Insolence, to Panda’s Thumb, to Pharyngula. Their patience in explaining science, over and over, to people who never quite seem to get it, is inspiring.
Your wife, Greta, and you write Cognitive Daily together. How does that work?
It works great! She’s the expert, so she finds new journal articles about cognitive psychology, and I write about whatever she finds. We meet once a week for coffee to discuss plans for the blog. It might seem a bit strange to have to set up a regular meeting with your spouse, but it’s an absolutely essential part of the blogging process. Otherwise the blog would get lost in the day-to-day craziness of raising two teenagers.
Your blog is famous for its series of Friday “experiments” where you ask your readers to participate. Can you explain how this works? Do you have a good example where it provided some really interesting and useful data?
We use this to answer fun questions that we haven’t seen addressed in the literature (it doesn’t mean they haven’t been addressed — we just haven’t seen them). The first one, for example, addressed the question of who says “hi” to you when you’re out exercising ( I’m a runner, and I had noticed that other runners seemed to say hi to me much more often than walkers. We were able to confirm this hunch, as well as come up with a potential explanation. Is it useful? Maybe not, but it’s interesting and fun. As the feature has gotten more popular, readers have come to start criticizing our research methods. This is a little unfair, since we never claim our results are scientifically valid, but I think even this criticism serves an important purpose: readers learn what it takes to run a scientific study of behavior.
You are the power behind (formerly known as BPR3). Can you explain what it is about and how it differs from Postgenomic, for instance?
Dave and Greta with Professor Steve Steve is a site that collects blog posts about peer-reviewed research in one place. Most science bloggers will write about more than just research — they might discuss politics, or their hobbies, or rant about the latest Britney Spears fiasco. We wanted to create a place where people could find all the serious, thoughtful posts from scientists and others interested in scholarly research.
When they’ve written a post that meets our guidelines, they fill out a form on our site (usually just one line), and paste the code we provide back into their blog. This creates a properly formatted formal research citation for them and alerts our indexing system to add their post into our database.
This is different from other aggregators like PostGenomic because our site only includes thoughtful posts about peer-reviewed research. Most other aggregators collect any link to a journal article — but most of these posts turn out to be just lists of references, or cut-and-paste versions of the abstract. That can be extremely useful too — and we plan on working with PostGenomic in the future — but it serves a different purpose from our site.
Is there anything that happened at the Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you
think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?

I think I was most impressed in my conversations with Jennifer Jacquet, who’s behind the Shifting Baselines blog and who’s passionate about conservation in the world’s oceans. I will certainly think a lot harder about the impact I make when I eat a fish. And I might start eating more sardines, which I love, and which Jennifer says is one of only ten species that aren’t currently threatened by overfishing. I’m not sure I’ll bring that to my blog, because it has such a narrow focus. Though maybe we could do a Casual Friday about seafood eating behavior….
It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview. Say Hi to Greta – we missed her this year!
You’re welcome. And thank you for the wonderful job you’ve done with the conference, this blog, PLoS ONE, and the science blogging anthology!
Check out all the interviews in this series.

From Viruses to Viral Video: Interview with Anna Kushnir

Anna Kushnir was one of the first bloggers on the Nature Blog Network, she writes a personal food blog and recently started running the JoVE blog. We first met at the Science Foo Camp last August, then at the Foodblogging event in Durham, then at the Millenium conference at Harvard, then at the Science Blogging Conference two weeks ago, where Anna was on the Student blogging panel–from K to PhD.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your background? What is your Real Life job?
At least for the next three months, I am a Real Life graduate student in the Virology program at Harvard. My dissertation work focuses on the effect of cellular stress on HSV-1 transcription, with the hope of contributing something, no matter how small, to the puzzle that is HSV-1 latency and reactivation. I will be defending May 6. I expect to exhale sometime around that date.
My background does not differ much from my present. I started working in a Virology lab at 17 (at the NIH) and it stuck. I have worked in Virology ever since.
What do you want to do/be when you grow up?
Anything but a Virologist. Twelve years is quite enough, thankyouverymuch. Ideally, when I grow up (which I hope won’t be any time soon) I will work somewhere at the intersection of science and the web. While I am way past ready to give up bench work, I do not want to walk away from science as a whole. It’s just too cool. I would like to work with new kids on the science communication block, such as JoVE (pardon the plug), Nature Precedings, and the like.
When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while following the Conference?
I read pretty much every blog on Nature Network, with a couple of my favorites listed below. I started reading Shelley Batts’ blog religiously after the conference. I am a huge fan of her writing.
A Blog Around the Clock, obviously
Bug Girl’s Blog
Mind the Gap
The Scientist
The Daily Transcript
You have a science blog on Nature Network, a food blog, and are now running the JoVE blog – how are those three different in the way you approach writing your posts?
My food blog lacks a filter. It’s made up of thoughts and inner monologues that leaked out onto my keyboard. After I started the science blog on Nature Network, I realized that I needed a focus (and fewer expletives). That focus, very quickly and naturally became the culture of science. I find life in science to be so different from the rest of the working world that it deserves comment (if not tranquilizers). The JoVE blog aims to be more of a resource for scientists, an additional tool to help them with their research and with coping with the multiple stresses and demands of science life. The three blogs are related only by my voice and my skewed view of the world.
You have attended Scifoo, organized the Millennium conference, now attended the Science Blogging Conference. And you blog for JoVE. Can you trace for us your history of interest in the way Internet and the Web are changing the way science is published, communicated, taught and done? Where is it all going next?
Coming from a conservative, hard-core academic background, I was woefully under-informed about the open access movement and all the intricacies of the current model of scientific publishing. SciFoo really opened my eyes in that respect (and a few others, to tell the truth). I learned a whole lot more about it by helping (helping! – there were five of us) to organize the publishing conference. I think that open access is only the first – but important – step. The internet, fueled by open access journals, has the potential to make science accessible to everyone in the world (as opposed to a small and self-contained group of academic scientists) and to bring scientists together in a more collaborative environment.
There is great potential for greater communication between scientists, through discussion of manuscripts on pre-print archives such as Nature Precedings, papers on PLoS ONE and of course, science blogs. I hope that those are only the first wave of innovations in science publishing. As academic scientists become more and more comfortable seeing the web for the bottomless resource that it is, they will find that the online scientific community and online resources can do wonders for the rate of progress of the research in real life. And as any grad student will tell you, speeding science along is a very good thing.
At the Conference, keynote speaker Jennifer Ouellette said that she considers her blog her “writing lab.” In your session, you said that writing your blog helped you figure out who you are and what you want. So, is blogging for you more than a writing lab and more of a “life lab”?
It is definitely more of a life lab for me. Blogging helped me find my voice and once found, to accept the fact that I am not meant to be a bench scientist. I like talking about science and the sense of community that blogging has to offer. I have never felt so much a part of something until I started blogging. This may come as a shock to some people (does sarcasm travel well over the internet?), but Harvard is not exactly renowned for its collaborative environment. I found it instead in blogging.
Is there anything that happened at the Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you
think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?

I feel like a bit of a broken record, but I want to emphasize again how happy I was to walk away from the conference with the feeling that I belonged. That feeling is new for me. I have never been the belonging type. I was the sulky alternateen girl in high school who shopped in thrift shops and worshipped Kurt Cobain. I am not used to being a part of something. Now I am, and I love it. I want to promote that community as much as I can through writing on my blog(s) and reading – and importantly! – commenting on other blogs.
It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview.
Thank you so much for a wonderful conference, Bora! It was a treat.
Check out all the interviews in this series.

Buffy and C.S.I in the Writing Lab: Interview with Jennifer Ouelette

Jennifer Ouelette runs the delightful blog Cocktail Party Physics . She has published two popular science books: The Physics of the Buffyverse and Black Bodies and Quantum Cats and was the Very Special Blogging Star Speaker at the Science Blogging Conference two weeks ago.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your background? What is your Real Life job?
I’m Jennifer Ouellette, a self-employed science writer specializing in physics and associated topics, although my interests veer into other scientific disciplines from time to time. My blog is called Cocktail Party Physics, and it’s populated by my avatar/alter ego Jen-Luc Piquant, who is far more stylish and snarky than I could ever be. My Real Life Job is somewhat ironic, because I majored in English and suffer from math-phobia (although I’m working on countering the latter); most science writers have at least one degree in a scientific field. I was also raised by hardcore fundamentalist Christians, and was pretty much steeped in that world through college. Somehow I found my way into science and rational thinking. And tied it all together with my love for writing.
What do you want to do/be when you grow up?
In my fantasy life? A forensic pathologist! Blame my fondness for C.S.I. and Bones, and all those forensics documentaries on The Learning Channel before it was over-run with reality shows.
When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while following the Conference?
I discovered them by accident. I started Cocktail Party Physics somewhat reluctantly at the advice of my publisher just before my first book came out, and found I loved it. One of the reasons I loved it was because there were all these other science blogs out there, having substantive, fun, lively conversations about science. I read a lot of blogs, and skim the SEED ScienceBlogs combined feed to keep at least marginally abreast of what’s going on in other fields (perhaps pointing out Neurophilosophy for its good writing and an interest in history of science). My new favorite blog is Tom Levenson’s Inverse Square blog. I met him at the conference, and we have a shared love of quirky science history. Plus, he’s a fine writer!
Your blog is very popular. What’s your secret? And what good did blogging do for you?
I forget sometimes that the blog is popular, so it’s nice to hear. 🙂 Probably the smartest thing I did starting out was to keep the focus sufficiently narrow so my topics weren’t all over the place, but sufficiently broad so I didn’t run out of stuff to write about in the first 6 months. Especially since my definition of “physics” kind of bleeds into things like chemistry, neuroscience, epidemiology, science communication, and the like.
In terms of raw traffic, I probably get fewer hits than the biggest science blogs out there: I write longer posts, and post less frequently, and that translates into lower traffic. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I think there’s room in the blogosphere for all kinds of different bloggy formats, and different approaches draw different readers at different times. I find that folks tend to check in on Cocktail Party Physics less frequently, but when they do, they come prepared to sit back and enjoy a good read. And hopefully leave some substantive comments. So find your niche, a format that works for you, and isn’t too onerous, so you don’t burn out, and stick with it for as long as you love it. It takes time to build up a solid readership.
As for what I personally get out of blogging — well, certainly I’ve made lots of new friends because of it, and yes, I did meet my shiny new husband, Caltech cosmologist Sean Carroll (of Cosmic Variance), because we read each other’s blogs. I was actually a confirmed singlet, quite happy in that state, and not “in the market” for a spouse at all. Ditto for Sean. But it was such an obviously perfect match, we succumbed to the inevitable. 🙂 And now I’m living in sunny Los Angeles instead of the frigid Northeast.
Most importantly, the blog gave me back my writer’s “voice.” When I was first starting out as a science writer, I didn’t have as much confidence as those with actual degrees, so I tended to write more stiffly and seriously. Can you say “over-compensation”? But I’d always write lengthy, lively personal letters and (later) emails to friends, who would sometimes comment, “Why don’t you write like that about science?” Maybe science writing wasn’t ready for that back then, but it is now. I think I was always a blogger at heart: I just had to wait for the format to be invented. I suspect lots of people feel the same way.
At the Conference, you said that your blog is your “writing lab”. What does that mean?
Well, it certainly has improved my writing by loosening up my style a little — for better, or worse, I leave to the discretion of the reader. 🙂 It certainly makes for a more appealing, populist approach to science writing. The blog is also where I explore concepts, topics and ideas that catch my fancy. I do a bit of background research, write up a blog post, and sometimes discover there’s enough substance there to spin into a larger article for a magazine, or work into a book. I’d have to do that initial research phase anyway to write a compelling “pitch” for an editor, and writing a blog post on a topic helps me get my thoughts straight, particularly if it’s a new area for me.
The blog also gives me a chance to latch onto one aspect of a science story in the news, and explore the underlying science a bit more in-depth: e.g., a new nanotech device that exploits capillary forces inspired a post about capillary action and ice flowers — I stumbled on ice flowers while looking into capillary forces, was fascinated, and though it wasn’t “newsworthy” according to our current 24/7 media cycle, I felt it was still worth exploring, just for personal curiosity. The blog gives me the leisure to do things like that. In the long run, I’d argue that it makes me a better science writer.
There are blogs and then, well, there are blogs…. How would you design a system in which deserving bloggers get paid for their work?
This notion seems to be more controversial than I’d expected. There will always be a place for the unpaid idealistic blogger — I count myself among them — but increasingly, blogging is moving into professional circles, with a corresponding need for establishing credibility and authority. This is especially true of science blogs, and/or blogs written by science writers. To do that will require a much greater effort at quality control. Those willing to put in the extra effort to meet that higher standard should be reasonably compensated for their efforts. Not all science bloggers have the kind of day jobs that give them the freedom to do this for free indefinitely.
It takes a lot of work just to dash off a reasonably factual post at Cocktail Party Physics — I spend a minimum of four hours on each post, sometimes longer. It would take twice as much time, at least, to bring the quality up to what I’d consider a professional standard. People sometimes compare my posts to actual published magazine or newspaper articles. They’re not. They’re subjective, a bit snarky, a bit unfocused, with lots of extraneous personal details woven into them. Plus, there are still typos, there’s no firsthand interviews with scientists, the links are mostly to Wikipedia and a handful of online resources that I find credible, but they’re not exhaustive and, well, I could be wrong! I’d rather make my errors in a blog post and be corrected immediately, than make them later on in a published article. But if I were blogging professionally, these are all things I’d have to correct.
I doubt at this point that I’d take the cocktail party professional; I enjoy the breezy informality and the right to ramble on and bore my readers if I so choose. Right now, the intangible payoffs outweigh the lack of economic payback. I’m just saying, for those who want to become professional bloggers, they should be able to do so, and should be fairly compensated. I don’t have an easy answer, or a template for doing so. But I think one will evolve. And soon. It shouldn’t just be folded into an existing job description as an afterthought: “And by the way, on top of all your other duties, we expect you to produce a professional-grade blog.” That’s just not realistic.
Is there anything that happened at the Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you
think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?

The informal discussion format was a terrific idea. I gained some new perspectives in the session on blogging and journalism, and wish I’d been able to hear more of the discussion on blogging in education, because I think that’s going to be a powerful tool in the near future. I found the whole conference so energizing, and I’m honored to be part of such a smart, vibrant community.
It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview.
You too!
Check out all the interviews in this series.

How was it for you? Interview with Graham Steel

Graham Steel attended the Science Blogging Conference last week – but only virtually! He has been a strong proponent of Open Access, frequent commenter on PLoS ONE articles, a patient advocate and, more recently, a blogger on his own.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your background? What is your Real Life job?
Dear Squadron Leader Zivkovic. Thanks for inviting me to contribute.
I remain a McNative and McResident of Glasgow, Scotland. For the last 20 years, my real life job has been dealing with motor insurance claims. Crash, bang, wallop, ouch, compo…
I suppose I’ve always been interested in science and technology though and as of 1999, for personal reasons, medical matters too. In some of my spare time, I decided to become involved in the charitable sector in 2001. Here is some background. Also see my profile at Nature Network for my current specific interests. Glycobiology is what I am particularly interested in.
Connecting people is my strongest attribution. I started doing this when I was four. Whilst I had completely forgotten, my Mum reminded me last week that when I grew up, a neighbour a few doors up (“Aunty Mamie”) most generously included a four year old kid in her Will.
What do you want to do/be when you grow up?
To be honest, I would dearly love to be a full time professional lion tamer or maybe I simply have watched too much Monty Python… But seriously, I’ve started to get involved in formally collaborating with scientists/researchers and have a handful of manuscripts under construction. One of these includes a collaboration with someone from Sb…
If some or all of these get accepted for publication, judging from any feedback received, I’ll take it from there. Since I’m interested in wide readership, all of these manuscripts are destined for OA Journals.
You were not physically at the Conference, yet you followed it virtually – by watching the streaming video of sessions in real time, participating in the chatrooms, reading and commenting on the participants’ blog and on the Conference wiki. Next year we will try to stream all the sessions in real time – will that dissuade you from travelling or is there something about physical presence that you have missed by being thousands of miles away?
Well, I really enjoyed the Conference despite not attending in person. As you know, I blogged about my experience here . Whilst I got quite a buzz from “attending” my first Conference online, I personally would have preferred to have been there in person as I intend to be next year. That said, from my experience, from a technical perspective, what the organizers achieved was second to none and anyone interested in attending next year who is unable to be there in person, I can highly recommend virtual participation.
When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while followin the Conference?
I have an interesting response – Shakespeare!!! It was this blog posting by Tara C Smith that was my introduction to science blogs. I think I spotted this about 18 months ago. I was alerted to the Macbeth/Prion story about 4 years ago by the then head of the UK’s National CJD Surveillance Unit so I found it interesting that the story had come up again.
Yes, I have a several favourite science blogs and have included most of them in my blogroll . Following the Conference, I have indeed discovered some more cool science blogs. Overall, there’s so much to choose from at Sb’s and elsewhere and since I’ve now got such a diverse array of interests, it’s kinda hard to keep up with it all really…. “Refine” springs to mind.
The blogosphere is awash with science blogs. A quick check confirms that over 40 posts have been posted in the last hour alone… I just spoke to my rocket science contact (Prof F. Magnet) who said that statistically, that’s almost one per minute. Mazing !!
How did you end up being a blogger and where does the pseudonym ‘McDawg’ come from? You have your own personal blog and have recently joined the crew on the JoVE blog. What do you want to accomplish with your blogging?
A film-maker friend of mine from Kent, UK spent a year in Minnesota with wife and son in 2006. He set up a website and blog about their travels and recommended that I started my own blog.
Largely thanks to Coturnix, I picked up some of the basic required skills and I now blog about something at least every couple of days. Indeed I do also now contribute to the JoVE blog and it’s cool to be part of the JoVE crew.
When I started blogging, I was keen to retain my Scottish identity, hence why I chose McDawg and McBlawg as my blogger name and the name of my personal blog respectively.
I much enjoy the two-way interaction with a blog as opposed to a ‘traditional’ website. I wanna have fun with my blogging but also want to cover some important issues too. This has been reflected in my blogging thus far.
I want to achieve as much as possible and who knows what might, will or won’t come out of all of this.
You are a strong proponent of Open Access (OA) publishing. Why? What is your personal history regarding scientific publishing?
This one reminds me of a classic British “The Young Ones” episode from the 1984 called ‘Time‘:
RICK: Eh? [laughs, gets the joke] Well, what can I say? Have you got a spare couple of days?
NEIL: Yeah.”
Yes I am Bora. My in depth thoughts/experience in this regard are contained in a Paper currently under construction – I completed my contribution a couple of months ago. In the meantime, it is worth flagging up this McDawg blog post which is very relevant and remains the most linked thus far. PLoS Pathogens was the first OA Journal that I came across mid 2006.
Not only could I access the Paper I was looking for, but the real eye opener was that I was able to access the entire Journal!
I recently did an extensive interview about my interests in open collaborations, OA etc. and the edited MP3 is scheduled to be broadcast/uploaded fairly soon here.
One of my main eternal frustrations remains not being able to share my extensive library of papers due to Draconian copyright restrictions. Creative Commons is a dream come true….. Indeed, I’m wearing one of my PLoS t-shirts right now =) Prof Lawrence Lessig, you remain a STAR !!
You do a lot of experimenting with music and video online. Can you tell us more about it?
Again, this (the music stuff) was covered in the afore-mentioned interview. I suppose the geek side of me is interested in experimenting in seeing what sizes/quality of files can be uploaded and streamed etc. Thanks to the Conference, I made contact with Deepak Singh since we share a lot of common interests.
Is there anything that happened at the Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you
think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?

Nothing in particular really jumps out as it was all so interesting. What I did learn though is, much more than before, how significant blogging is these days and how the role of a blog/blogger is going to continue to become a really important one. This is especially so in many important areas such as science. I’m all in favour of Science Debate 2008
It was so nice to see your online participation in the Conference – I hope you come in person next year, and thank you for
the interview.

I had been looking forward to the event for many months so I wanted to be as involved as possible via the 2.0 world wide interweb. Thanks Bora and we will hopefully meet in person next year.
Check out all the interviews in this series.

Per Holothuroidea Ad Astra: Interview with Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum took the science blogging world by storm last year when she guest-blogged on The Intersection while Chris Mooney was traveling. When he came back, he had to face the outcries of his commenters, begging him to keep Sheril permanently as a co-blogger, which he gladly accepted. If you attended the Science Blogging Conference last week, you saw Sheril speak at the panel on Framing Science.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your background? What is your Real Life job?
Hi Bora, Thanks for inviting me to A Blog Around The Clock!
I work at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University. Before I landed there, I was a Sea Grant Fellow for Sen Bill Nelson (D-FL) where I advised on ocean, energy, and environmental policy. In grad school I studied marine biology and policy at the University of Maine where I studied the reproductive biology, population dynamics, and associated socioeconomics of the sea cucumber. I also spent a few years as a radio personality. These days I host The Intersection with Chris Mooney and contribute to Correlations for Wired Science. The coolest thing I’m involved in now is ScienceDebate2008 and I’m proud A Blog Around The Clock is part of the growing blogger coalition supporting the initiative. Chris and I are on the steering committee along with all sorts of interesting folks. It’s pretty amazing.
What do you want to do/be when you grow up?
I haven’t decided yet. And I’m not sure I’ll ever be done growing up for that matter.
You started blogging relatively recently, yet immediately became a scienceblogging star. How did that happen?
Well I’m not sure I’d call myself a ‘scienceblogging star’, but I’ll take the compliment. I began blogging after November 7, 2006 because I promised my students I’d begin writing if the Dems took the House and Senate. When Chris and I were introduced, we immediately recognized we were kindred spirits and while I’m not a practicing Bokononist, I’m certain we share a karass. Chris has been a tremendous mentor and friend throughout this adventure in blogging and taught me a great deal over the past year. I think readers may enjoy our blog in part because it’s obvious we have a lot of fun collaborating and exchanging ideas.
Sheril%20interview%20pic.jpgYou have been one of the movers and shakers behind the Science Debate 2008. Can you tell my readers more about it?
Of course! ScienceDebate2008 is a collective nonpartisan Call from everyone to make science and technology a priority in the national dialog. From human health to climate change to the genome, science impacts our lives in a myriad of ways. A debate wouldn’t be a pop quiz, but rather an opportunity to find out where the candidates stand on arguably the most significant issues we will face as a nation and global community. Our co-chairs are Vern Ehlers and Rush Holt–scientist congressmen across party lines. Cool, eh? The initiative was started by my friend Matthew Chapman – Darwin’s great great grandson and screenwriter on films like Runaway Jury. We’re a volunteer motley crew of writers, scientists, and leaders in business, religion, congress, and beyond. Everyone is encouraged to get involved. I’m very proud to be part of this effort and it’s also been incredibly fun! Readers can expect more exciting news on ScienceDebate2008 over the coming weeks 😉
Can you explain what Saving Species initiative is all about?
Sure. My friend and colleague Stuart Pimm began a wonderful nonprofit called which reforests habitat in developing countries in places we call hotspots–where there is the greatest biodiversity, generally in the tropics. In short, he’s selling carbon, but what makes this different from the ‘feel good’ carbon offset programs is it’s completely transparent and real – translation: it does something tangible. It’s one of very few such efforts I believe in wholeheartedly and the land also supports a tremendous number of endangered species so the benefit is twofold. All the details are on the website and there’s a 60 second PSA that gives you the general idea. Here in the blogosphere, we’re about to begin a large scale effort to raise funds for Saving Species. It’s a wonderful opportunity for all the folks who often write in saying they want to ‘do’ something, but don’t know how. Here’s a way to take action in a very visible and real way!
What are your plans for the future (at least what you are willing to disclose) in your life and work?
Writing. Music. Art. Working toward better conservation in practice. Changing perceptions and expectations. Encouraging young people to pursue science and think independently. I’m enjoying where I am now and not quite making a plan. I really like not knowing what’s next… it keeps life interesting!
When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while at the Conference?
I discovered science blogs through Chris. It opened my eyes to a new world of new media! Blogging has been an amazing experience because I’m challenged everyday to learn and grow and think and turn ideas upside down and reexamine what I thought I knew. From there and back again, a blogger’s tale. My favorite blogs include A Blog Around The Clock, Gene Expression, Evolgen, Shifting Baselines, Zooillogix, and so many more! I love the science blogs that offer interesting information and manage to make me laugh in the process. At the conference I discovered Jonathan Gitlin’s Nobel Intent.
Is there anything that happened at the Conference – a session, something someone said or did, a new friendship – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
I made several inspiring new friends involved in all sorts of interesting projects and have some ideas for exciting collaborations…
It was so nice seeing you at the Conference and thank you for the interview.
Bora, you’re incredible! Blogging aside, I’m so happy we’re pals! Thanks for inviting me to visit A Blog Around The Clock!
Check out all the interviews in this series.

What He Says! Interview with Deepak Singh

deepak.jpgDeepak Singh blogs on business|bytes|genes|molecules and, as the cartoon below testifies, has built for himself quite a reputation as an authority on the questions of Open Access and the future of science communication on the Web. We first met at Scifoo last summer and it was great pleasure to host Deepak here on my home grounds at the Science Blogging Conference last week.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your background? What is your Real Life job?
That’s a great question. I am a bit of a nomad having lived in three countries and eleven cities (currently living in the Seattle area). My scientific background is in quantum chemistry and molecular simulation, but I consider myself a bit of a hybrid between a structural biologist, computational chemist and bioinformatician. Over the past seven years, I’ve worked in the bioinformatics/scientific software industry as a developer, product manager and now as the strategic planning manager at Rosetta Biosoftware.
What do you want to do/be when you grow up?
I used to remember what the answer to that was, but now I am just trying to figure out when I’ll grow up.
When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while at the Conference?
I’ve been a web junkie since 1994, so science blogs came along the way. Been reading some regularly for over three years. My favorites include Public Rambling (Pedro Beltrao), What You’re Doing is Rather Desperate (Neil Saunders), Discovering Biology in a Digital World (Sandra Porter), Freelancing Science (Pawel Szczesny), and In the Pipeline (Derek Lowe). But there are so many more. If you ask me tomorrow, you might get a different answer. I discovered Ryan Sasaki’s ACDlabs blog at the conference, which was really cool. It’s good to see a software company actively encourage blogging and Ryan has a fine blog.
Pierre%27s%20cartoon%20on%20Deepak.jpegHow is scientific publishing going to look like in 20 years from now? How will this affect the way science is done in the first place? And, how do science blogs fit in that ecosystem?
Anyone who has read my blog can probably guess my answer to this one. I strongly believe that scientific communication in 20 years will look significantly different from what we see today. My hope is that we have multiple avenues for publishing scientific information, including peer-reviewed publications, blogs, wikis, etc and the media will vary as well. In some cases people will use more traditional forms, in others video may be used. I hope this means people do science for the sake of good science, and not to get a publication done, or in the hope of finishing a PhD fast, or getting tenure. I am also convinced that the vast majority of (if not all) scientific publishing will be open by that time.
Science blogs will be one part of a highly interlinked ecosystem. Actually, I’ve stopped thinking of blogs as an entity by themselves. They are just another avenue for writing and publishing, one particularly suited to individuals or small groups
You developed Bioscreencast – can you tell us more about it?
Well, it’s not quite correct to say that I developed it. That credit goes to my friend Suresh who has written most of the code. The idea of Bioscreencast happened when an old friend of mine Hari ( and I started talking about his new passion for screencasting and the traffic some of his screencasts had seen on YouTube. Bioscreencast was the result of those discussions. There are five of us involved, with backgrounds in structural biology, molecular biology and engineering, so it’s an interesting mix. In our minds, Bioscreencast is an avenue for informal scientific communication. Lets say you have your favorite application and want to share your workflow with the rest of the world. You can turn on your favorite screencasting tool and record your actions with a short narrative. It’s simple, yet very powerful. Our hope is that over time, young graduate students and even undergrads will use the service to learn workflows and share them with each other.
What are your plans for the future (at least what you are willing to disclose) in your life and work?
I am passionate about open science and the role of the internet and computing in the future of science and hope to be actively involved in those areas, both professionally and personally. One of my 2008 goals is to start programming again and doing some science as a hobby, but also to develop proofs of concept that highlight open science and the web as a platform for science. Of course, work and travel keep me busy, so hopefully there will be some opportunity to sleep along the way. We also have some big plans for Bioscreencast, which should come to fruition this year. And some day, I want to make a trip to Africa and spend time at Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti. It’s a childhood dream.
Is there anything that happened at the Conference – a session, something someone said or did, a new friendship – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
Nothing specific comes to mind, but I’ve been thinking a lot about science communication in the days since the conference, especially how we, as scientists, can communicate with the non-scientific community, and how we can leverage different media forms, especially video.
It was so nice seeing you at the Conference and thank you for the interview.
Always good to see you and thanks for organizing the conference. I hope to be back next year.
Cartoon by Pierre Lindenbaum
Check out all the interviews in this series.

Bloggers….In…..Spaaaaace! Interview with Talia Page

Talking Science is a new non-profit that’s dedicated to bringing the latest discoveries, innovations, controversies and cures out of the lab and to the public. It was founded by Ira Flatow, host of NPR’s Science Friday. As a part of this effort, Talia Page is one of the bloggers for Science Friday and Talking Science Abroad. Talia came to the Science Blogging Conference as a part of the Science Friday delegation.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your scientific background? What is your Real Life job?
Scientific background? Uh, oh. I really don’t have a scientific background, Bora. My formal studies are in French literature and I only recently discovered a passion for science. My interests have always tended to lean heavily towards the arts and it was only last year, thanks to a meeting with Ann Marie Cunningham (the Executive Director of Talking Science), that I realized how much more interesting the arts can be with a dash of science. Now I am working as a Project Manager for Talking Science, so I have the good fortune of talking to scientists and science film makers every day. I had no idea that a real job could be so fascinating …I think I’m pretty lucky.
What do you want to do/be when you grow up?
I would like to be an astronaut and a writer when I grow up. I’m happy to report a good amount of progress: I have one of those “space pens” that can be used to write up-side down and a reservation on the Virgin Galactic, so I feel fairly well prepared.
Something I, unfortunately, learned only after the Conference was over (or I would have asked you in person) – you will be flying to space! How did that happen?
I was boring a friend of mine about a book I am writing about globalization and third world countries. When I asked him if he would read such a book, he was obviously tired of hearing about land mines in Cambodia and said, “You should launch yourself into space–it would be a fascinating chapter for your book. Let me know when you’ve written about that, Space Cadet, then I’ll read your book.” His words rang true, and also cured my writers block. I was having some difficulty deciding how the book would end, and an excursion to look at Earth from above will be a perfect ending.
Did you always dream of going into space?
Tell us more about the trip: when, how long, who else is going? What do you know about the spaceship you will be traveling on?
The first launch will be in late 2009 if everything goes as planned, and the trip will be short and sweet. From start to finish, it’s scheduled to last 2.5 hours, 5 minutes of which will be spent at zero gravity.
The spaceship itself (White Knight Two) features lots of enormous windows, for viewing pleasure of course. There’s room for six passengers, plus two pilots. However, the ship is not made solely with space cadets in mind–the idea is to launch other payloads into space as well. In terms of structure, the White Knight Two will be comprised completely of composite materials and fueled by a hybrid rocket. I’ll write a blog entry soon about Branson’s plans to make the ship as environmentally friendly as possible, so stay tuned…
There are around 200 interesting characters signed up. Here are some highlights: Stephen Hawking, Victoria Principal, Philippe Starck, Professor James Lovelock, and Alan Watts (who bought his ticket by cashing in on two million air miles).
You have just started a blog (Space Cadet ) to cover your preparation for the flight and to tell us your experiences afterwards. Do you think you will be able to push another boundary and be the first person to liveblog the flight from space?
Sure! Why not?
Are you scared?
No, but I probably should be though. Richard Branson said it would be as safe as going on an airplane built in the 1920’s!
When and how did you discover science blogs?
I actually found science blogs through Museum of Life + Sciences on Facebook. Troy Livingston always posts great stuff.
What are some of your favourites?
There are about a dozen that I enjoy browsing on a regular basis. Your blog, The Intersection and OmniBrain are the first ones I check, though.
Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while at the Conference?
There are so many intriguing blogs and bloggers that I came across at the conference, and I hope to follow up with as many as possible. I am particularly interested in Karen’s blog about the Beagle project.
What was your overall impression of the Conference?
The conference was brimming with ideas, encouragement, and good company. I am already looking forward to the next one.
Thanks, Bora!
It was so nice meeting you in person and thank you for the interview. I hope you will keep coming back to the Conference and, after the space trip, I hope you will come and tell us everything about your adventure in person.
Related: Watch this video interview (Talia is the one on the right): Scientist and astronauts with blog rolls
Check out all the interviews in this series.

An Island In the Mountains: Interview with James Hrynyshyn

hrynyshyn.jpgJames Hrynyshyn is one of my SciBlings and part of the large North Carolina contingent. He lives in a small town of Saluda in the Western part of the state and blogs mainly about climate science and related policy on Island of Doubt. He is also one of those “repeat offenders” – he came not to one but to BOTH Science Blogging Conferences!
Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your background? What is your Real Life job?
I am a freelance science journalist whose current real job is father to a 14-month-old. My 20-year-career has consisted of full-time employment for newspapers and non-profits interspersed with the freelance lifestyle. I’ve managed to convince editors of dozens of Canadian and American newspapers, as well as New Scientist, Canadian Geographic, and Science & Spirit magazines, among others, to run my work. I have degrees in journalism and marine biology, but here I am in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, so go figure.
What do you want to do/be when you grow up?
A freelance science journalist. But one who actually makes enough money to pay the mortgage.
You started out as a marine scientist. How did you end up being a journalist and a writer (and a blogger)?
Actually, it was the reverse. After 11 years as a journalist focusing on science, I realized I didn’t know what the heck I was writing about. Not that I made too many egregious errors — I just decided that it would be a good idea if I didn’t need remedial instruction each time I tackled a new topic. So I went to university for another undergraduate degree, and marine biology seemed like the most efficient way to get a good grip on the broadest range of scientific subjects relevant to a world of declining biodiversity and climate change.
You have been traveling around showing Al Gore’s set of slides to people. Can you tell us more about this program and how you got involved with it?
Somewhere among the deluge of environmental listservs to which I subscribe I learned that Gore was putting together a team of presenters. I applied and was accepted late in 2006. As the training session was a mere five hours drive away in Nashville, TN, where my wife’s cousin had a spare couch, it was an inexpensive way to network and begin contributing more than just words to a subject I had first covered in the late 1980s. If, after 20 years, it hadn’t gone away, I figured climate change was worth more attention.
Why did you decide to omit some of the slides?
The full slide show takes almost 2 hours to present. As only someone with Gore’s charismatic talents can hold an audience for that long, most of us presenters have to trim a bit. I simply eliminated any slide or series of slides about which there is significant uncertainty among climatologists. For example, Mt. Kilimanjaro makes for a great intro to glacial retreat, but there is considerable debate out there about whether it’s an example of global warming induced retreat, or some other regional cycle. Similarly, the possibility of a halt to the thermohaline conveyor makes for great drama, but it’s hard to find a climatologist as worried about that as most of the rest of the subjects in the presentation.
What did you learn by listening to people in your audience?
So far, I have learned that the younger the audience, the better the questions. Older folks only come to see the show for two reasons: to feel part of a larger movement, or to beat a dead horse of pseudoskepticism.
When and how did you discover science blogs?
The first time I discovered a science-oriented blog was in early 2005. It was Chris Mooney’s Intersection. I had just moved to the US from Canada and was awaiting approval of my work visa application. So, to keep my writing skills sharp without running afoul of the INS, I decided to start my own blog, choosing to emulate Chris’ apparently successful model. After all, the guy wrote a book and made it to the Daily Show before he was 30. Thus was born The Island of Doubt. When SEED gobbled up the Intersection, I replied to SEED’s request for others who might like to join, and was accepted for the June 2006 expansion.
What are some of your favorites?
In addition to Chris’ (and now Sheril Kirshenbaum’s) Intersection, I enjoy Tara Smith’s Aetiology, PZ Myer’s Pharyngula, the RealClimate gang, the NY Times’ Andy Revkin’s
Dot Earth and Tim Lambert’s Deltoid.
Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while at the Conference?
Tom Levenson’s new Inverse Square.
Where did the name of your blog – Island Of Doubt – come from?
In the beginning I was fascinated by the battle between irrationalism and science. As doubt, in appropriate quantities, is endemic to science, it seemed like a good title. The phrase is taken from “Cross-eyed and Painless,” a track on the Talking Head’s 1980 album “Remain in Light.” (“The island of doubt/it’s a like a taste of medicine”).
Is there anything that happened at the Conference – a session, something someone said or did, a new friendship – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
I was taken with the appearance of a wider array of professionals. Tom Levenson of NOVA and MIT, for example. And Stuart Pimm of Duke University. Their experience and wisdom has, I hope, induced a more thoughtful, bigger-picture approach to my own blog postings and writing in general.
It was so nice seeing you again at the Conference and thank you for the interview.
Check out all the interviews in this series.

Let The Beagle sail: Interview with Karen James

SBC%20Saturday%20018.jpgKaren James, better known online as ‘nunatak’, is part of the team that is trying to build a replica of H.M.S. Beagle in time for next year’s bicenntenial celebration of Charles Darwin’s life and work. Karen is the director of science at The Beagle Project and one of the two Beagle Bloggers. She came to the Science Blogging Conference last weekend and co-moderated the delightful session on Real-time blogging in the marine sciences. I thought it would be cool to do a little friendly, chatty interview with Karen, so I sent her a few questions and here is what she said:
Hi, Karen. Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your scientific background? What is your Real Life job?
Thanks, Bora, I’m a big fan of A Blog Around the Clock so I’m really “chuffed” (as they say here in the UK) to be interviewed.
I hail from Colorado Springs, Colorado, known to some as the “evangelical vatican” for its unusually high density of evangelical churches. I moved away (in more ways than one) when I went to study biology at Colorado State University, and even further away to do my PhD in genetics in the Genome Sciences Department at the University of Washington in Seattle. My dissertation was about how genes influence the development and evolution of fruit fly eggs.
I came to London in 2002 and spent six fretful months job-hunting before I got an interview at the Botany Department of the Natural History Museum, where I’ve been working on a variety of projects around the genetic and morphological diversity of plants for five years now.
My main research focus of late is DNA barcoding, which is, simply put, an effort to build a standardised database of DNA sequences for all species against which unknown specimens can eventually be identified. Plants turn out to be particularly tricky, so we botanical barcoders are still in the R&D phase. Right now I’m working on a botanical survey (including DNA barcoding) of a meadow at Down House where Darwin carried out one of the first biodiversity surveys in 1855. I’m also the science coordinator for the museum’s campaign of events to mark Darwin’s 200th birthday (12 Feb 2009).
What do you want to do when you grow up?
Did: A veterinarian. I love animals. It turns out I love them too much, though, because when I worked for a summer as a vet’s assistant at age 18 I found it difficult to detach myself emotionally. I also found out that I’m not good in operating rooms. Now that I think about it, that’s something I have in common with Charles Darwin!
Do: A scientist aboard the new Beagle!
Where does the pseudonym ‘nunatak’ come from?
A nunatak is a stubborn bit of rocky land poking up through the surface of a glacier or ice sheet. They’re like islands in a sea of ice: they can be a haven for biodiversity during glaciation and unique species are sometimes found there. In addition to wanting to honour my lifelong love affair with the alpine world, I chose “nunatak” because I like the way they stand strong against the gradual downward flow of ice …or society. Only later did I find out, much to my delight, that there’s also a band called Nunatak made up of Antarctic scientists who played a live concert for 2007’s Live Earth! I am not part of the band, but would welcome the opportunity to sing back-up if they had a local concert in Cambridge.
Could you give us a little more information on The Beagle Project?
The HMS Beagle Project consists of a small but diverse team of individuals motivated by the common goal of building and sailing an externally precise, internally modern replica of the HMS Beagle, the ship that carried Darwin around the world from 1831-1836 (an experience that he later said was “by far the most important event” in his life).
She will be a real-life vehicle for engaging a new generation in the adventure of science. Scientists aboard will be paired with students and teachers on continuing professional development to carry out contemporary research in biodiversity and climate change. As fellow Beagle blogger and Beagle Project co-founder (with David-Lort Phillips) Peter McGrath is always on about, there is nothing like a square-rigger to make teenagers go all googly-eyed.
We need £3.5 million ($7 million US) to build the ship, which will take ~14 months to build, and we would like to launch the Beagle in 2009 to take part in the Darwin bicentenary celebrations, so we are fundraising our proverbials off right now.
My specific role in the project is to build a science programme (with strong links to education and outreach) for the new Beagle as she repeats the 1831-6 circumnavigation. That might seem a little premature given that we don’t have a ship yet, but it’s an absolutely essential aspect of our fundraising efforts, and I for one am willing to take the risk.
One of the most exciting recent developments in the project is the collaboration we are building with NASA. The idea is that the Beagle, through her taxonomic and genetic surveys, will ground-truth time-stamped images of the Beagle’s position taken from space, collected by our astronaut collaborators using their discretionary time aboard the International Space Station. We’ll also be able to speak directly with the astronauts, not only to discuss the project but also to compare life aboard the Beagle with life aboard the ISS. Hopefully we’ll have a press release out about it soon, once things are formalised with signatures on pieces of letterhead.
Once the new Beagle sails, will you be on board the whole time?
As much of it as I can manage without alienating my friends and family. I don’t know, maybe I’ll try to do a rotation like 2 months on, 1 month off.
And if so, will you liveblog the entire Voyage?
Yes, definitely. Even when I’m not aboard we’ll make sure someone is always blogging from the ship. I’m sure Peter McGrath will pitch in, too, whether from the ship or from mission control back home in England. We’ll also have live web-cams and a television crew aboard.
What will happen once the maiden voyage is over?
That’s one of the great things about the new Beagle. She’ll have a lot of life left in her after she returns to Woolwich in 2012 at the end of the circumnavigation. We plan for her to be in constant use by teams of researchers, students and teachers, sailing to new parts of the world to both do and promote excellent science. In waters closer to home(s), she’ll host sailing and science days for school-kids. She’s also likely to become a television and film star, as she will be an irresistible backdrop for any number of documentaries and dramas.
When and how did you discover science blogs?
Peter McGrath had already been blogging for the Beagle Project for a while (the man is prolific: he blogs not only on the Beagle Project blog but also (lunartalks, swordplay and A Natural History of Runswick Bay. When he became aware of my interest in writing, he invited me to join him on the Beagle Project blog. Before that, I only had a vague idea of what a blog was (though I occasionally read folks like PZ Myers without knowing that their sites were called blogs!) so it was definitely a steep learning curve, but I love it.
What are some of your favourites?
Sorry, you’ve caught me away from my home computer where all my RSS feeds are located, so this list is going to be short, spotty and not at all representative, but here goes:
Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while at the Conference?
Actually, I became a much more regular reader of the blogs of my fellow moderators of the Real Time Blogging session, that is, The Other 95%, Malaria, Bedbugs, Sealice and Sunsets, Deep Sea News and Cephalopodcast.
Is there anything that happened at the Conference – a session, something someone said or did, a new friendship – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
Beyond meeting the umpteen interesting people who I now consider my new blog friends, there is one thing that sticks in my mind: Jennifer Ouellette said that she considers her blog her “writing lab”. That rang so true for me. I’ve since started working that phrase into just about every conversation I have about blogging. I am also inspired to write a lot more about peer reviewed research, and to do some reviews of science topics of direct relevance to the Beagle Project. I’m halfway through a post right now in which I will announce my intention to “Blog about peer reviewed research” at least weekly.
It was so nice meeting you in person and thank you for the interview. We’ll keep monitoring the Beagle Project Blog and we’ll try yo help you raise the funds to turn this magnificient idea into reality.
Thanks, Bora, and thanks to everyone who kept reading all the way to the end!
Pics and vids from the SciBlogCon
Help Fund The Beagle Project – and have fun doing it!
Beagle Project Update
As promised, I’ll bug you about this for ten days!
Beagle Project, Day 4
Do it for Science!
Save The World From Bad Poetry…
Will ‘Beagle’ sail for the Darwin BiCentennial?
Voyage of the (Birds on the) Beagle
Darwin Day – Essay Contest and Beagle Rebuilding
Beagle – Day 10
Beagle Project update
Beagle Project has Swag!
Science Blogging Conference – who is coming? (The Beagle Project)
Check out all the interviews in this series.