Category Archives: Science Reporting

Scientific Communication all-you-can-eat Linkfest

About a week ago, Catherine Clabby (editor at American Scientist), Anton Zuiker and I did a two-day workshop on science communication with the graduate students in the Biology Department at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC. Here are some of the things we mentioned and websites we showed during those two days.

Links shown by Anton for the personal web page session:

Official homepage of Aaron Martin Cypess, M.D., PH.D.
Stanford Medicine faculty profiles
Web Pages That Suck
Anton Zuiker (old homepage)
Biology: Faculty at Wake Forest
Official homepage of Thomas L. Ortel, MD, PhD
Official homepage of Matthew Hirschey
About.me
Joe Hanson’s About.me page
Jakob Nielsen’s Utilize Available Screen Space
Official homepage of Jacquelyn Grace
Laboratory and Video Web Site Awards
Web Style Guide

Link to the step-by-step page for creating a WordPress blog:

Simple exercises for creating your first blog

Links shown during the social media session:

Anton’s Prezi presentation
Delicious link sharing
Twitter and a tweet
Facebook – you know it, of course. Here’s the fish photo
LinkedIn
Tumblr
Posterous
Bora’s take on Tumblr and Posterous

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From Cathy Clabby:

References:

Good books on writing well:

Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Write by Roy Peter Clark
On Writing Well by William K. Zinsser
Eats Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss.
The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White

Excellent articles on how to avoid gobbledygook when writing about science:

Deborah Gross and Raymond Sis. 1980. Scientific Writing: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Veterinary Radiology
George Gopen and Judith Swan. 1990 The Science of Scientific Writing. American Scientist

Web resources for good-writing advice:

Websites with smart writing advice:

Roy Peter Clark from the Poynter Institute offers these 50 “quick list” writing tools.
Purdue University’s OnLine Writing Lab
Carl Zimmer’s banned words (updated regularly on The Loom, his Blog)

You are what you read:

Newsstand magazines with excellent science writing:

The New Yorker
Discover
National Geographic
Scientific American
American Scientist
Outside

Books featuring clear, vivid science writing:

The Beak of a Finch by Jonathan Weiner
The Map that Changed the World by Simon Winchester
Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher by Lewis Thomas
Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel
The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes
The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee
The Best American Science Writing (a yearly anthology with a changing cast of guest editors)
The Best American Science and Nature Writing (another yearly anthology)

==========================

From Bora:

Workshop on conferences in the age of the Web:

How To Blog/Tweet a Conference:
How To Blog a Conference
On the challenges of conference blogging
What a difference a year makes: tweeting from Cold Spring Harbor

How to present at a conference mindful of Twitter backchatter:

How the Backchannel Has Changed the Game for Conference Panelists
On organizing and/or participating in a Conference in the age of Twitter

Icons to put on your slides and posters:

Creating a “blog-safe” icon for conference presentations: suggestions?
CameronNeylon – Slideshare: Permissions
Andy and Shirley’s new ONS Logos

A good recent blog post about the changes in the publishing industry (good links within and at the bottom):
Free Science, One Paper at a Time

Open Notebook Science:
Open Notebook Science
UsefulChem Project
Open Science: Good for Research, Good for Researchers?

A little bit of historical perspective on science, science journalism, blogging and social media (and you can endlessly follow the links within links within links within these posts):
The line between science and journalism is getting blurry….again
Why Academics Should Blog: A College of One’s Own
The Future of Science
Visualizing Enlightenment- Era Social Networks
“There are some people who don’t wait.” Robert Krulwich on the future of journalism
A Farewell to Scienceblogs: the Changing Science Blogging Ecosystem
New science blog networks mushroom to life
Science Blogging Networks: What, Why and How
Web breaks echo-chambers, or, ‘Echo-chamber’ is just a derogatory term for ‘community’ – my remarks at #AAASmtg
Is education what journalists do?
All about Stories: How to Tell Them, How They’re Changing, and What They Have to Do with Science
Telling science stories…wait, what’s a “story”?
Blogs: face the conversation
Identity – what is it really?
Books: ‘Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science’ by Michael Nielsen
#scio12: Multitudes of Sciences, Multitudes of Journalisms, and the Disappearance of the Quote.

Where to find science blogs (and perhaps submit your own blog for inclusion/aggregation):
ScienceBlogging.org
ScienceSeeker.org
ResearchBlogging.org

A blog about science blogging, especially for scientists – well worth digging through the archives:
Science of Blogging

A blog post about science that was inspired by a previous post on the same blog:
1000 posts!

A blog post about the way a previous blog post put together a researcher and a farmer into a scientific collaboration:
Every cell in a chicken has its own male or female identity
In which I set up a collaboration between a biologist, a farmer and a chimeric chicken

A blog post demonstrating how to blog about one’s own publication:
The story behind the story of my new #PLoSOne paper on “Stalking the fourth domain of life”
Comments, Notes and Ratings on: Stalking the Fourth Domain in Metagenomic Data: Searching for, Discovering, and Interpreting Novel, Deep Branches in Marker Gene Phylogenetic Trees

Another example:
Comments, Notes and Ratings on: Order in Spontaneous Behavior
Paper explained in video at SciVee.tv
Author’s blog and site. See some more buzz.

Collection of links showing how Arsenic Life paper was challenged on blogs:
#Arseniclife link collection

A blog post about a scientific paper that resulted from a hypothesis first published in a previous blog post:
Does circadian clock regulate clutch-size in birds? A question of appropriateness of the model animal.
My latest scientific paper: Extended Laying Interval of Ultimate Eggs of the Eastern Bluebird

A post with unpublished data, and how people still do not realize they can and should cite blog posts (my own posts have been cited a few times, usually by review papers):
Influence of Light Cycle on Dominance Status and Aggression in Crayfish
Circadian Rhythm of Aggression in Crayfish

Good blogs to follow the inside business of science and publishing:
Retraction Watch
Embargo Watch
DrugMonkey and DrugMonkey

Who says that only young scientists are bloggers (you probably studied from his textbook):
Sandwalk

My homepage (with links to other online spaces) and my blog:
Homepage
Blog
Twitter
Facebook

How to find me on Scientific American:
A Blog Around The Clock

Scientific American and its blogs (new blog network, with additional blogs, will launch soon) and social networks:
Scientific American homepage
Scientific American blogs
Scientific American Facebook page
Scientific American official Twitter account
Scientific American MIND on Twitter
Scientific American blogs on Twitter

Cool videos:
Fungus cannon
Octopus Ballet
The Fracking Song

Why blog?
Science Blogs Are Good For You
To blog or not to blog, not a real choice there…
Bloggers unite
Scooped by a blog
Scientists Enter the Blogosphere
“Online, Three Years Are Infinity”
Studying Scientific Discourse on the Web Using Bibliometrics: A Chemistry Blogging Case Study
The Message Reigns Over the Medium
Networking, Scholarship and Service: The Place of Science Blogging in Academia

Great series of post about scientists using blogs and social media by Christie Wilcox:

Social Media for Scientists Part 1: It’s Our Job
Social Media for Scientists Part 2: You Do Have Time.
Social Media for Scientists Part 2.5: Breaking Stereotypes
Social Media For Scientists Part 3: Win-Win

Why use Twitter?

What is Twitter and Why Scientists Need To Use It.
Twitter: What’s All the Chirping About?
Social media for science: The geologic perspective
Why Twitter can be the Next Big Thing in Scientific Collaboration
How and why scholars cite on Twitter
Researchers! Join the Twitterati! Or perish!
Twitter for Scientists
PLoS ONE on Twitter and FriendFeed

Some good Twitter lists and collections/apps:
Attendees at ScienceOnline2012
Scientific American editors, writers and contributors
SciencePond
The Tweeted Times

Some interesting Twitter hashtags:
#scio12 (chatter about ScienceOnline conference, and discussions within that community)
#scio13 (people already talking about next year’s event)
#SITT (Science In The Triangle, NC)
#madwriting (writing support community)
#wherethesciencehappens (pictures of locations where science happens)
#icanhazpdf (asking for and receiving PDFs of papers hidden behind paywalls)
#scimom – scientists and mothers and scientist-mothers.
#scienceblogging
#sciwri – science writing
#sciart – science and art
#histsci – history of science
#IamScience – a great initiative, see: original blog post, Storify, Tumblr, Kickstarter – and see the related Tumblr: This Is What A Scientist Looks Like

The Open Laboratory anthology of science blogging:
The Open Laboratory – what, how and why
The Open Laboratory at Lulu.com
The Open Laboratory 2011 updates
A couple of Big Announcements about The Open Laboratory

ScienceOnline conferences:
ScienceOnline2011
ScienceOnline2012
ScienceOnline2011 programming wiki
ScienceOnline2012 programming wiki
ScienceOnline2012 homepage
ScienceOnline2012 official blog
ScienceOnline2012 coverage blog
ScienceOnline2012 organizing wiki
ScienceOnline2012 blog and media coverage
ScienceOnline2013 organizing wiki
ScienceOnline participants’ interviews

Probably the best and most current book on science communication for scientists is ‘Explaining Research‘ by Dennis Meredith – see the book homepage and the associated blog for a wealth of additional information and updates.

Probably the best book for preparing oral (and to a smaller degree poster) presentations is Dazzle ‘Em With Style: The Art of Oral Scientific Presentation by Robert Anholt.

For posters, dig through the archives of this blog:
Better Posters

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

 

As the Blog Editor at Scientific American, I come to New York City about once a month to work in the office, attend editorial meetings, and prepare the blog network for launch some time in the near future.

This week, I was in town at just the right time to join our intrepid team of reporters on assignment: the press event leading to the opening of the new Giant Dino exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History.

Now that I work in a media organization, it is time for me to stop just criticizing from the outside and actually learn how the media works – from the inside. So, on Wednesday, Katherine Harmon, Eric Olson (picture right) and I met at the office early in the morning, packed all the necessary equipment and made a trek uptown to the Museum for the event. We decided to go by metro as likely faster than the cab at that time of day (though I wonder if there is any time of day on any day of the week when metro is NOT faster than the cab in this town).

My job was really just to tag along, help carry the camera and stuff, watch what they do, and try to take some photos with my tiny little Pentax – a great camera for tourist-y travel, but not good enough for taking pictures in a dark hall – my caffeinated hands cannot hold still long enough for the long exposure such pictures require. But I was going to give it my best shot anyway.

So, while Katie was interviewing people and Eric was shooting video, I was wondering around taking pictures. A few of them are below – you can find the rest of them nicely organized (with running commentary) on Facebook, and also on Flickr where you can download them in a variety of sizes (just link here and credit me if you decide to re-use them on your site, please).

Eric’s video and Katie’s text can be found on the Observations blog – New exhibit reconstructs the very biggest dinosaurs–inside and out – check it out.

I was hoping there would be out-takes and bloopers left over for me to use, but nothing funny happened – everything went smoothly, and the footage was all fine, including the interview with Brian Switek (left), blogger at Laelaps and Dinosaur Tracking, and author of Written in Stone: Evolution, the Fossil Record, and Our Place in Nature. Brian has just signed up with Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux to write his second book, A Date With a Dinosaur. I interviewed Brian twice on my blog – in January of this year, as well as back in 2008 before he became famous.

I wish I knew that Lance Mannion, an old blog friend, was going to be there as we have never met in person before – next time, I promise.

The event started with a press conference in the Hall of Dinosaurs at the Museum – see how nice and docile the dinosaurs are to the members of the press, just standing there politely instead of stomping them all into the floor:

Even T.rex turned away and did not eat anyone:

Here are Eric and Katie again, at the end of the press conference, ready to go and see the new exhibit:

Entering the very, very dark hall where the exhibit is located (on the fourth floor of the Museum), worrying that exposure times would be far too long for taking pictures without a tripod:

We were first greeted at the door by the head of Argentinosaurus, the largest sauropod:

Once inside of the exhibit hall, the panorama is dominated by a life-size replica of Mamenchisaurus, a sauropod with an incredibly long neck:

If you go to any natural history museum, be it the Hall of Dinosaurs at AMNH, or at the Smithsonian in D.C., Field Museum in Chicago, Carnegie in Pittsburgh, or any other, there are usually many mounted dinosaur skeletons. There will be a plate with a little bit of text explaining something about the animal, but most people do not read those signs. The focus is on diversity, large size, and taxonomic relationships of dinosaurs.

But this exhibit is completely different. While several sauropod species are mentioned here and there, the focus is on their biology, not identification. Even the Mamenchisaurus is there not so much as itself but more as a representative of the entire group, used to tell us what we know (and how we know it) about the sauropod ecology, physiology, development and behavior.

See that neck again – underneath the peeled-away skin, you can see neck vertebrae, muscles, an arthery, a vein, the esophagus and the trachea:

The central part of the exhibit is the body of the Mamenchisaurus – it was made somewhat transparent and it showed a projection – with voice-over – of a variety of internal processes occuring there: digestion, respiration and reproduction:

It takes a long time to build such a model. It was unfortunately already too late to make any changes in the Mamenchisaurus when a new study came out a couple of weeks ago showing that there is an entire new muscle along the back side of the hind leg – or, as Brian Switek said in the interview, the beast had much more “junk in the trunk” than it was shown here:

Most of the other parts of the exhibit were very interactive. For example, by pushing on the bellows, one could send air down the long plastic trachea into the large model of the dinosaur lungs (this is probably also the most controversial statement of the exhibit – the evidence that their respiration was exactly like that of modern birds – a flow-through, counter-current system – is not as strong as for all the other biology explained in the exhibit):

Here is our team in action: Katie interviewing Martin Sander, Mark Norell and Brian Switek (scientists, when excitedly talking about science, cannot stand still – thus fuzzy pictures, sorry):

Of course, every good museum exhibit has a part where kids can do something hands-on, here digging the fossils in the sand:

This was clever and sneaky! They included weight-lifting exercises into the exhibit! Good for everyone’s health… on the left is the giraffe neck vertebra and on the right is the equivalent from a sauropod. The dino one is somewhat lighter than the mammalian one due to numerous holes and caverns in it:

Sliders! I love sliders! Measure your femur, slide a slider to that number, and the other number tells you how much you’d weigh if you were a sauropod:

Or you measure some real dinosaur femurs before you go to the slider…

…and then see how much the real dino used to weigh (this is in pounds, but you can choose kilograms as well):

Finally, here is a cute little sauropod hatching out of an egg:

The way exhibit is done and set up is really refreshing, but it also reflects the way the dinosaur paleontology has evolved recently. The rush to discover, describe and mount as many species, or as strange species, or as large species as possible, is a thing of the past. Today, new techniques are available that changed the approach – the focus now is much more on the biology of dinosaurs: how they evolved, how they lived and behaved, and how their bodies functioned. Studying not just bones, but also soft tissues, skin imprints, embryos in eggs (sometimes still inside their mothers), tracks they left in the soft ground, the microscopic bone morphology, chemical traces, the positioning of fossils at the time of death, the environments in which they died… it is a much more mature science today, and this exhibit reflects this very well. If you can make it to NYC between tomorrow’s opening and January, go to the Museum and see it.

On Peer Review Radio

If you missed it earlier this week (i.e., if you do not follow me on Twitter or Facebook), you can catch up now. Adrian Ebsary interviewed Marie-Claire Shanahan, Greg Gbur, Chris Gunter and me for the Peer Review Radio Episode 20: Go Sing it On the Mountain – Communicating Science Online, about science blogging, science writing, teaching, open science and more. Worth a listen (at least for the other three guests – great stuff!).

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

As you probably know, I was in D.C. last week, attending the annual AAAS meeting. This was my second one (funny, back when I was a member of AAAS I was still in grad school and I could never afford to go – now that I am out of science, invitations are finally happening). It is an enormous meeting (about 8200 people this year, I hear) and I missed even seeing some of the friends as the space was so enormous and the program so rich.

Unlike last year, when I was in a session that made quite a splash, this year I was a part of a much more academic panel on Social Networks and Sustainability.

Organized by Thomas Dietz of Michigan State University, the panelists were Mrill Ingram (University of Wisconsin), Ken Frank (Michigan State University) and Adam D. Henry (West Virginia University). These are people from areas like sociology, people who make graphs like this one and understand how to properly interpret it:

My role on the panel was as a ‘discussant’, i.e., someone who does not give a separate talk but comments, at the end, on what the other panelists have said.

I am glad I got the materials from the panelists in advance as this was quite dense stuff.

Every scientific discipline invents new words – the terminology (or jargon) with precise meaning that is necessary for practitioners to talk to each other. For the most part, natural sciences tend to stick to agreed definitions, and counter-examples are relatively rare thus usually quite well known (e.g., the different use of the term “gene” by population geneticists vs. molecular geneticists).

Social sciences, on the other hand, tend to appropriate words from the existing English vocabulary and give those words new, precise definitions. Thus, possibility of misunderstanding by non-experts is greater. Also, some of the terms are defined differently by different sub-disciplines, research communities or even individuals, which makes it even harder to be sure one got the meaning correctly.

This all made reading the materials, as well as listening to the panel, quite challenging for me, the outsider in this field. I am also not a researcher of social networks – I am a user and observer, perhaps an amateur student of them. My thoughts could not be supported by numbers and graphs, but had to, by necessity, be more impressionistic – what I learned from my experiences using, living in, and running online social communities.

As all the speakers went substantially over their allotted times all I had left was seven minutes. Fortunately for me, I had all seven (not 3.5) as the other discussant’s flight into D.C. was canceled. Also fortunately for me, this was the very last time-slot of the meeting, so nobody was in a rush to go to another session and thus everyone let me talk a few minutes longer and then remained in the room asking even more questions.

As I tend to do, and in this case particularly, I decided not to prepare too much (OK, at all) in advance. Instead, I listened to the panelists carefully and made the decision what to say only once I climbed onto the podium in the end and knew how much time I had at my disposal. I decided what to say in the first couple of sentences – the rest came out on its own, pure improvisational theater.

As I was reading the materials and listening to the talks, I realized that a couple of examples were clearly discussing real-world, meat-space, offline social networks, but that all the other examples were ambiguous: I could not figure out if those were online, offline, or combined/hybrid social networks.

So, I decided to use my seven minutes to compare and contrast online and offline social networks, how they differ (more important than how they are similar, which is the default thinking), and how they interact and potentially strengthen each other due to such differences.

This is, roughly, what I said – or at least what I meant to say but had to speed up, i.e., this is an (very) expanded version:

Social norms build and enforce echo-chambers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mass media builds and enforces echo-chambers

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

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

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

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

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

The Web breaks echo-chambers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Release of Tripoli 6 was an instance in which massive outpouring of support online forced the mainstream media to cover the story which then forced the hand of politicians to do something.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In scenario 1, there are 10 buddies dreaming of revolution. In scenario 2, there are thousands of people in ten cities organizing revolution. In both, there are only 10 people on Twitter. Yet, the outcome is likely to be very different.

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

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

I shamelessly stole this sub-heading from someone on Twitter (let me know who said it first if you know). Edit: Thank you – it was Chris Rowan,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related:

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

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

Sigma Xi pizza lunch lecture – Science in the current media environment

Next Tuesday at Sigma Xi:

Hi all. Normally we aim to hold pizza lunch on the 3rd Tuesday of each month. In November, that date conflicts with the ship date of the January-February 2011 issue of American Scientist. So we’ll convene a week later. Still, I think you’ll find the session—something different this time—worth the wait.

Join us on Tuesday, Nov. 23 to hear one of our own, veteran science blogger Bora Zivkovic, talk about the shifting ecosystems within his craft. Zivkovic has had a front seat to much of that change, as author of the influential A Blog Around The Clock, as co-founder (with Anton Zuiker) of the international conference ScienceOnline in RTP, as the former online community manager at Public Library of Science and, now, as the new blog and community editor for Scientific American magazine. For a long time, people spoke of the day when print and online media would converge. In a growing share of the publishing world, that convergence has occurred. And Bora, when it comes to science journalism, has been a catalyst in that change.

Thanks to a grant from the N.C. Biotechnology Center, American Scientist Pizza Lunch is free and open to science journalists and science communicators of all stripes. Feel free to forward this message to anyone who might want to attend. RSVPs are required (for the slice count) to cclabby@amsci.org

Directions to Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society in RTP, are here: http://www.sigmaxi.org/about/center/directions.shtml

ScienceWriters2010 – NASW/CASW meeting this week

ScienceWriters2010 is starting on Friday afternoon at Yale University in New Haven, CT. This is a joint meeting of the National Association of Science Writers (NASW) and the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing (CASW).

I am not exactly sure, but I think most sessions will be recorded in some fashion and made available online later.

It is much better, if you want to follow live, to bookmarks the official ScienceWriters2010 blog where recipients of the travel grants – mostly science journalism students or young freelancers – will cover all the sessions in as close to real-time as is possible.

The fellows will also tweet from the meeting, and you can follow them by subscribing to this Twitter list. Or you can follow everyone from the conference by saving a Twitter search for the #sciwri10 hashtag.

I will be on a panel Rebooting science journalism: Adapting to the new media landscape, put together by David Dobbs. My co-panelists are Emily Bell and Betsy Mason. That should be fun!

Definitely check out the rest of the schedule – it is awesome. Everyone’s biggest problem is that all those great sessions are happening simultaneously, so we’ll all also have to wait for recordings of our colleagues’ sessions afterward.

And if you are there and you see me, please come and say Hi!

Science Journalism at Skeptically Speaking

This Friday at 6pm MST (8pm EST) I will be a guest on the Skeptically Speaking radio show. The topic is Science Journalism. Send your questions in advance and tune in on Friday.