Category Archives: SO’09 Interviews

ScienceOnline interviews

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

2011:

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

2010:

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

2009:

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

2008:

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

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ScienceOnline09 – an interview with Cameron Neylon

The series of interviews with some of the participants of the 2008 Science Blogging Conference was quite popular, so I decided to do the same thing again this year, posting interviews with some of the people who attended ScienceOnline’09 back in January.
Today, I asked Cameron Neylon from the Science in the open blog to answer a few questions.
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?
CameronNeylon pic.jpgMy background is in protein chemistry and biochemistry. Broadly speaking what I do is take proteins and use chemical and genetic approaches to change their sequence or modify their characteristics and then use a range of techniques to see what has happened.
What do you want to do/be when (and if ever) you grow up?
The kid in the toyshop? Rich and famous? Actually no real idea and I’m not sure that it matters that much. The conclusion I’ve come to is that what I want to do is make some sort of difference by applying what I can do well and what I know in whatever the best place is. My background and knowledge is in the biological sciences so that seems a good start but the question is how to make the biggest difference. Over the years this has meant that I have moved from pure science to methods development to working in positions that support other people doing science to thinking about how to make the whole process of science and research work more effectively. To make a big difference doing the straight science you have to do the right thing at the right time – to affect a lot of people it has to be really earth shattering. But as what you do relates to more researchers or more people smaller differences can have bigger effects. If I could do something that improved the efficiency of all research by 0.001% that would be a huge contribution.
So when I grow up I want to be someone who made a difference.
What is your Real Life job?
I’m a senior scientist responsible for biological sciences at the ISIS Neutron Scattering Facility, which is run by the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council. We provide and large scale facilities for the UK research community. Neutron scattering has traditionally been used mainly in the chemical and physical sciences (particularly in areas of polymer and magnetic structure and magnetic and structural dynamics) but has a lot of potential in solving particular types of structural problems in the biological sciences. My job is an interesting combination of directly supporting users who visit to exploit our facilities, methods development to expand the range of problems we have the expertise to tackle, and public relations and promotion of neutrons to the bioscience community.
What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?
The ability to have an ongoing and distributed conversation with smart people regardless of where they are. I believe strongly that we can use the web to find efficiency gains of much more than 0.001% in how we do research by finding the right people to solve the right problems, by distributing the load across geographically separated groups and working more collaboratively. On top of this I find the potential to explain more effectively what science is and what it can and can’t do to the wider community by directly involving them in the research process really exciting. While 2009 will rank as one of the most depressing years on record for public engagement with and understanding of science the potential to do a lot better – and to expand the kind of science we can do at the same time – is there for the taking.
When I look back at the last couple of years the amount of change in both the consumer web and the tools that are being specifically developed for researchers is massive. We’ve been through a big development of social networking sites for scientists which I personally believe haven’t been very successful, mainly losing out the mainstream equivalents, but we’re now seeing a second round of efforts that are learning from some of those mistakes and will be very interesting to watch. I still think there isn’t enough focus on actually solving problems that the majority of researchers know that they actually have – there is still too much building of things that would be cool if people used them, but not giving those people a reason to use them. But I think 2010 will be a very interesting year with lots of new technologies maturing and coming online.
How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook?
Blogging and Friendfeed in particular are a crucial aspect of the work I do looking at online tools for researchers. That is where the community is and where the most up to the minute conversations are happening with the newest ideas. Twitter is important because so many people are on it, a critical demonstration that its often the community, and not the tool which is important. Tools like Slideshare and Wikis, GoogleDocs and other collaborative services are also important to this work because they really underpin the distributed collaborative approach we are trying to develop and exploit. I think Google Wave will gradually become an important part of this ecosystem over the next 12-18 months as the clients and servers bed down and the hype and backlash cycle dies down enough for people to figure out what tasks it is good for.
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 wrote up how I came to get involved with the online blogging community a while back – http://blog.openwetware.org/scienceintheopen/2008/08/22/how-i-got-into-open-science—a-tale-of-opportunism-and-serendipity/. In terms of the blogs on my blog roll there are many that will be familiar (Deepak Singh’s BBGM, Jean-Claude Bradley’s Usefulchem, John Wilbanks’ Common Knowledge, Neil Saunders’ What you’re doing is rather desperate). I keep an eye on Richard Grant (The Scientist), Jenny Rohn, and Martin Fenner at Nature Network. Some other blogs that may not be as familiar to the regular sciblogger community but are well worth the effort are Greg Wilson’s The Third Bit, Mike Ellis’ Electronic Museum, PT Sefton’s blog and Nico Adams’ Staudinger’s Semantic Molecules.
Blogs that I tracked down and got into my feed reader after last year included Christina’s LIS Rant (now at SciBlogs) and Katherine Haxton’s Endless Possibilities, as well as a wider selection of the more general science blogs, that are you know…actually about science rather than somewhat meta stuff that I do.
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?
What really struck me was both the diversity and the quality of presentations, discussions, and writing. Mostly it pushed me to up my game, which may be one of the reasons I’m posting less…
It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again next January.
Absolutely, I will be there…ah that would be like, this January…in about two weeks…woops!
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See the 2008 interview series and 2009 series for more.

ScienceOnline’09 – interview with Christian Casper

The series of interviews with some of the participants of the 2008 Science Blogging Conference was quite popular, so I decided to do the same thing again this year, posting interviews with some of the people who attended ScienceOnline’09 back in January.
Today, I asked Christian Casper to answer a few questions.
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?
Christian Casper pic.jpgMy name is Christian Casper, and I recently finished a Ph.D. at North Carolina State University, in their program in Communication, Rhetoric, and Digital Media, in which I focused on online scientific communication. Before that I did an M.A. in English at Eastern Michigan University, with a thesis on the 1996 Nobel lectures in chemistry (the buckyball folks: Smalley, Kroto, and Curl).
I’m also a “recovering chemist” — I did my undergrad at Iowa State University in chemistry, with a minor in biology, and I went to grad school in chemistry at the University of Michigan. I took my M.S. there when I decided that scientists and scientific communication were more interesting than atoms and molecules are!
I worked for a while as a technical writer at a small scientific-instrument company in Ann Arbor called Kaiser Optical Systems Inc. (KOSI for short) that developed components and eventually entire instruments for Raman spectroscopy. Although my primary duties at KOSI were to develop marketing and operations documentation, I also managed our applications laboratory, and I helped clients develop Raman-based applications for their research or their production facility or whatever they happened to be interested in. I enjoyed being able to still get my hands dirty, but I was really finding myself drawn to the study of language and rhetoric, so that’s when I decided to go back to grad school.
What do you want to do/be when (and if ever) you grow up?
I’m not quite sure! I was on the academic job market this past year, and I got a good tenure-track job offer from the English department at a large research university in the Southeast, but my wife was also on the market and we couldn’t find positions together. She had been focused on post-secondary teaching for much longer than I had, so I yielded to her, and we happily moved back to Michigan, where she is now an assistant professor of biology at Eastern Michigan. I’m currently doing the final revisions on my dissertation (I successfully defended in July) and am looking for a position. If anyone out there needs someone with my skill set and is fine with my being in southeast Michigan, feel free to get in touch! I’m interested in consulting, communication, or development work for R&D organizations or higher education.
What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?
In my doctoral work I was interested in how new forms of online communication might enact new genres and how they might alter the existing genre of the research article. I used my work primarily to answer some basic questions in what’s called rhetorical genre theory, particularly regarding the ways that different genres can work together, but I think that people in the sciences might get something out of it too, although that wasn’t my primary audience.
At the conference you led a session about Rhetoric in science, and this is also the topic of your research. How do you see the Web changing the language of scientific communication in both formal and informal venues?
It’s hard to predict too far in the future, but it does seem like we’re moving away from some of the more rigid, formal “rules” of scientific communication. This was happening before the Web really took off, of course. You see a lot more first-person and the active (as opposed to the passive) voice in the scientific literature even in, say, the 1980s than in the 1950s, and those old preferences for passive voice really seem to be disappearing now, except in some more
conservative quarters. Looking at the level of the entire publication unit, it seems like we’re moving toward publishing shorter reports in higher quantities, but obviously there are a lot of factors involved with that beyond just the publication medium — LPUs and things like that. I don’t think the research paper per se is going to go away anytime soon — there just isn’t any selection pressure in that direction — but there are going to be more ways to communicate informally across geographical separations. How exactly that plays out remains to be seen, especially in terms of professional rewards. That’s more of a sociological issue than a rhetorical one, however, so that’s getting out of my expertise!
How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook?
I haven’t done much with those, but I do think that if I were to push my dissertation work further I’d want to take those things into account. I think blogs are especially interesting, particularly as a bridge between the professional and public spheres. I’m also interested in seeing how ResearchBlogging.org evolves, because that’s another thing that alters the milieu, if you will, of the research article.
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 discovered science blogs while trolling for research artifacts for a term paper in one of my doctoral seminars. This would have been in the spring of 2007. I did write a sort of speculative/theoretical paper that provided some of the basis for my later work.
As for favorites, I’m going to say that I enjoy most of the most popular ones, and I’ll name a couple that I think deserve maybe even a bit more attention than they seem to get. I like Tetrapod Zoology, by Darren Naish, very much. In fact, I think that’s the one that really first caught my eye, because it’s really sophisticated on the one hand, but at the same time it’s really accessible. I also really like Built on Facts, with Matt Springer. We need more blogs in the physical sciences, and I like that he doesn’t shy away from equations but that he also does a really nice job of explaining their significance and what they mean. I also like that ScienceBlogs is bringing in some librarians and folks like that as well. We have a really outstanding library staff at NC State, so I’m glad to see that profession get some recognition on ScienceBlogs.
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’s been so much, but I think the session from ScienceOnline09 that has stuck with me is the one on image and sound in scientific publishing. I have some nascent research questions coalescing in that area! I also really enjoyed the one on science blogging and the history of science, but that’s because I personally am very interested in those “x of science” fields — history, philosophy, rhetoric, sociology, and so on.
It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again soon.
I’m looking forward to making it back down to North Carolina for future conferences! I wish I could do it this year, but with my job situation up in the air I can’t really make the commitment. Hopefully Anne and I can make it back sooner rather than later! Thanks for all you do to make these excellent conferences happen.
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See the 2008 interview series and 2009 series for more.

ScienceOnline’09 – interview with Daniel Brown

The series of interviews with some of the participants of the 2008 Science Blogging Conference was quite popular, so I decided to do the same thing again this year, posting interviews with some of the people who attended ScienceOnline’09 back in January.
Today, I asked Daniel Brown from the Biochemical Soul blog to answer a few questions.
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?
Me_lab_small.jpgMy name is Daniel Brown, and I am a biologoholic.
I grew up as a rat-tail-sporting, barefoot redneck running around the pine forests of Northeastern Texas (specifically in a tiny town called Hooks). My daily pre-teen life apart from school pretty much consisted of me looking for critters alone in the woods – often trekking great distances (for a little kid anyway) through forests and over farmlands, skirting diamondback rattlers, copperheads, and other rednecks. Times were different then, eh? One of my most vivid memories from my childhood was when I came upon a flooded area of “my woods” a week or two after a big storm. The entire forest floor was covered in a couple of inches of water, which was itself filled with gloopy, slimy bunches of frog eggs. Each gelatinous mass was about the size of a softball, and I distinctly remember just sitting their feeling the goo between my fingers as tiny tadpole tails swirled within each isolated egg. I was completely mesmerized. I’m almost certain that I was born a biologist – but that moment in the forest of frog embryos in particular pretty much sealed the deal for me.
I grew out of my redneckdom not long after, though I certainly retained my country boy attitude. Since those days in the Texas woods my biological interests have varied widely. I spent time in my undergrad training (at an amazing liberal arts college called “Hendrix College” in Arkansas) working in the field of ecology, radio-tracking timber rattlesnakes in the Ozark Mountains. In a slightly more sophisticated echo of my days playing with frog eggs, I moved to the University of North Carolina where I worked for many years trying to figure out how genes tell a growing frog embryo how to make a heart (my Ph.D. work). After getting my doctorate, I stayed in the field of developmental biology and spent a few years studying brain development in mice.
I have now gone one step deeper into the realm of biology, moving into the field so cool it gets its own nickname: “evodevo.” For the non-scientists out there, that’s “evolutionary developmental biology.” More on this below…
I am also a graphic artist (mostly digital these days) making both 2D still-lifes and 3D animations, and I’m an avid fossil collector.
Full disclosure: I was recently asked this exact same question by another blogger (The Reef Tank – not posted yet), so some of my above answer is a bit of self-plagiarism. Sue me.
What do you want to do/be when (and if ever) you grow up?
I do not ever want to grow up. That is, I hope to remain the 8-year-old boy trapped in a man’s body that I am until the day I die. That being said, in a fantastical world in which I have become that which I’d most like to be, I would become a full-time biologist/geologist/professor/fossilhunter/novelist/artist/animator/photographer/blogger/sculptor/whittler/musician/gamer. The cruel voice of Real Life has informed me, however, that I am not nearly talented enough to pull off this dream profession. Thus, my more realistic aspiration is to continue what I’ve been doing, which is to be a scientist/professor during the day and after I’m done with the day-time money-making, pick a hobby in the evening, go at it full steam for 1 to 6 months until one of the others beckon more loudly, and then switch.
What is your Real Life job?
asterina.jpgTwo months ago, I began a new position as a post-doctoral researcher in the lab of Dr. Veronica Hinman in the Department of Biological Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University in the Arctic tundra Pittsburgh. In my current work, I study not only how genes control an organism’s development, but also how the genetic programs that control development (Gene Regulatory Networks) evolve at the molecular level (e.g. mutational changes in cis-regulatory elements). And not only do I get to work on such a fascinating subject, but I get to do so using those wacky, brainless creatures called “echinoderms” (e.g. starfish, sea urchins, and sea cucumbers).
What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?
I am by far most interested in using the web, regardless of the specific medium, to disseminate and educate the general public on the awesomeness of nature and what we can learn about it through science. It sounds cheesy – but it’s something we all know is sorely lacking in America today. It’s sad when “the awesomeness of nature” seems like a laughable phrase. I find myself constantly dismayed by the lack of general fascination with the natural world among children and high school students. From my experience so far, my blogging has attracted a good number of students – but most of them arrive at my site because of some specific research they were doing. I definitely consider it a success if students end up coming to me to learn about specific topics. However, I (like most people/businesses on the web) would most like to discover ways to reach out and pull in people that would otherwise not seek out scientific knowledge. Which ties in with the next question…
How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook?
I find that blogging (and following blogs) figures prominently in my own thinking about my work. But beyond that I have yet to find (or rather, create) specific ties to my actual research. This is mostly because I only recently began my new research and have yet to blog about it (in fact I’ve been on quite a blogging hiatus since the summer because of the sheer magnitude of new information and techniques to learn).
However, I consider teaching and outreach to be an integral part of who I am and of my actual work. So in that sense, blogging has been the centerpiece of my attempts to reach out to the public and throw a little science at them.
I used Twitter a lot for a good while – both for discovery of interesting things and promotion of my own – but eventually I found the deluge of interesting information too overwhelming and time-consuming. More importantly for me, I found that my own tweets tended to be drowned out as well, with very few people discovering my posts.
I’ve now found that I’ve had by far the most success in reaching the general public through Facebook. My posts would generally be read by a core group of my own friends (most of which are not scientists), some of which would then repost, etc.
Unfortunately, Real Life has pretty much removed my ability to utilize fully any of the social networks for good science fascination dissemination.
When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites?
I went through most of graduate school performing actual science while completely oblivious to the existence of science blogs or the science blogging community. I’m not quite sure how that happened.
Then one day I somehow stumbled across (who do you think?) PZ at Pharyngula. Suddenly I was like, “Oh! This exists! I should do this!” Trust me – the exclamation marks were all there. I started blogging near-instantly. I had been putting together dumb little sites with my own rants and thoughts since about 1998, none of which was ever really seen by anyone. The discovery of science blogging really allowed me to find a central way to focus my thoughts and my intentions. By far my favorite blogs are the one you’re reading, Southern Fried Science, Deep-Sea News, The Oyster’s Garter, Cephalopodcast, Malaria, Bedbugs, Sea Lice, and Sunsets, The Echinoblog, Observations of a Nerd, and Oh, For the Love of Science!.
This of course perfectly leads into the next question, because…
Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while at the Conference?
…I’ve left a bit of the story out. You see, after I discovered science blogs and started blogging, it was only a few months later that I discovered this thing called ScienceOnline09 – and it was being held only 1 mile from my workplace (the NIEHS). It was there that I met the squid-hatted Andrew, crab-hatted Kevin, and merry-making Miriam (and of course Bora!) of four of the aforementioned blogs. Merely meeting all the science bloggers present made me realize “Wow – there’s even more to this thing than I thought. My blog is crap. I gotta fix that. I need to become more of a part of this community.” Reading their blogs over the coming months also aroused my interest in marine biology and at least set me on the path to my current research in echinoderm evodevo. Thus, the contingent nature of life, much like that of evolutionary history, means that my attendance at ScienceOnline09 had a direct causative influence on me sitting in this lab right now surrounded by tubes of starfish DNA.
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 haven’t read everyone else’s interviews, but I can only assume that many have said the same thing – Miss Baker’s biology class and how she used blogging and the internet inside and outside the classroom completely opened my eyes to the possibilities of the Web as a teaching tool. I have no doubt that I will be using some sort of blogging/network medium as a supplement to my future courses.
It was so nice to meet you and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again soon.
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See the 2008 interview series and 2009 series for more.

ScienceOnline’09 – interview with Blake Stacey

The series of interviews with some of the participants of the 2008 Science Blogging Conference was quite popular, so I decided to do the same thing again this year, posting interviews with some of the people who attended ScienceOnline’09 back in January.
Today, I asked my Scibling, Blake Stacey from the Science After Sunclipse blog to answer a few questions.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? For example, what is your Real Life job?
Nominally, I do “complex systems modeling and analysis”, but the projects I work on are hush-hush. It’s all very need-to-know. I could figure out what I’m doing, but then I’d have to kill myself.
What do you want to do/be when (and if ever) you grow up?
A hammy Shakespearean over-actor. Once more unto the breach, dear friends, and who would have thought the old man to’ve had so much blood in him?
I see from your blog that you wrote a science-fiction novel. What’s that about?
BlakeStacey pic.jpgUntil Earthset is a tale of forbidden love, murder most foul and artificial intelligence, all set in an alternate 1968. Why I wrote it — well, the compulsion to invent imaginary people and make them suffer is probably just one of those delightful spandrels we’ve inherited, a side effect of our brains thinking in narrative terms. After the fact, I was able to invent several justifications for my hobby. For example, we keep having arguments on the Blogohedron about the relationship between science and art, about how scientific accuracy works in fiction and all that, and it’s nice to have a little practical experience in the matter. To a stuffy audience, I could sell my novel as a 130,000-word thesis on The Two Cultures Question (TM), but really, it’s a murder mystery with robots.
Do you think science fiction has an obligation to be scientifically accurate?
Well, let’s break that down a bit. “Science” is (a) a community of people using (b) a set of methods and tools to build (c) a body of knowledge which sometimes (d) gets applied to make technology. If the characters in your story investigate something wholly fictitious, like an alien monolith, using the practices which real scientists would actually employ, are you being “accurate”? Even stories not expressly written to be didactic build up our mental image of the world. Now, you could try to use fiction in an “educational” way to convey the facts of science, to transmit the data about our discoveries, but you can also use it to illuminate the methods of the trade and the social mores of the profession. Think of a novel like Contact — or, to pick an extreme example, the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion. The scientific knowledge base of the story is fanciful, but the travails of the characters do call to mind issues about science as a profession, such as the ways people (and women in particular) have had to balance career and family. Art is generally better at raising questions than providing answers. If you’re looking for hard data in fiction, if you want to find the blueprint for a perfect society in a made-up story, well, peace be with you in your quest. But that’s only half the picture. In the age of Open Access and Google Scholar, we can dig up any particular datum we need, if we know how to look; the challenge is having a clue on how to start, and knowing how to handle what we bring back. The former requires an understanding of the broad strokes of scientific knowledge, and the latter depends on good critical thinking skills. A science education has to teach both, to have any worth at all, and science fiction can help us explore science-as-method even though we’ve yet to dig up that monolith in Tycho crater.
At ScienceOline’09, Henry Gee argued that creating science fiction requires the same kind of imagination as doing science, because both start with inventing hypotheses about the world and then exploring what they would entail.
Yes, I’d say there’s a great deal of truth in that. In science, hypotheses survive when they mesh well with the data, whereas in SF, the conjectures which endure are the ones which make for good stories. (Our understanding of the strong nuclear force has advanced quite a bit since 1972, but Asimov’s The Gods Themselves hardly suffers for having arrived before quantum chromodynamics!) There’s this notion afoot that if a scientist doesn’t like a movie which has some science-talk in it, this has to be because the science was bad! This is rather like saying the only reason a plumber can dislike a movie is because it doesn’t show anybody using the bathroom. Now, I don’t want to make a blanket statement here, but I do know a few science people, and from what I’ve seen, they’re plenty willing to suspend disbelief for the sake of a story — except when the story itself isn’t good enough to suspend disbelief for!
With one book down, where will you go next?
I’m taking a stab at mathematics education, partly spurred by my own unhappy memories of high-school mathematics classes, which in retrospect turned out to be four years of almost wholly wasted time. Coming from someone who went on to get a physics degree, that’s pretty harsh! I happily deal with abstruse mathematics every working day, but you couldn’t pay me to sit through Pre-Calculus again, so something must be off here.
And you’ll be speaking on mathematics education at ScienceOnline’10?
With Maria Droujkova, yes. For all I know, we’ll be demonstrating our spiffy computer graphics to an empty room, because we’ll be scheduled at the same time as some “civility in communication” session, to which everybody will go so they can argue at each other about how best to be a nice person.
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?
Finally meeting Brian Switek of Laelaps and Dr. SkySkull of Skulls in the Stars was fun, because we share enthusiasms even though we work in different fields — Brian and I have gotten righteously steamed over “textbook cardboard”, for example, which he finds in palaeontology and I in physics. But you asked if anything changed my views, which isn’t the same as reaffirming them. That’s more difficult to say. I can tell you, though, that meeting Stacy Baker’s high-school students was a blast: I skipped out on the sessions of the last day to chat with them instead. They provided the questions, I tried to bring the answers. If anything at the conference changed the way I think about the biz, it was that conversation. When you meet the people who are poised to benefit the most from good science communication, the quarrels you used to have on the Blogohedron look downright silly.
It was so nice to finally meet you and thank you for the interview. I am looking forward to seeing you again next January.
Likewise. Thank you very much for the opportunity to ramble.
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See the 2008 interview series and 2009 series for more.

ScienceOnline’09 – interview with Tatjana Jovanovic-Grove

The series of interviews with some of the participants of the 2008 Science Blogging Conference was quite popular, so I decided to do the same thing again this year, posting interviews with some of the people who attended ScienceOnline’09 back in January.
Today, I asked Tatjana Jovanovic-Grove to answer a few questions.
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?
Thank you, Bora
Tanja za vretenom.jpgI am a lucky individual who was given a chance to exist, create and interact with other living beings on this amazing planet. It is hard to put this into right words. Those who know me, know that I was shocked to find out the extent of the Bible Belt grip here in NC, and again, I can not help but have immense respect toward Nature and be as humble as our human existence allows. Dusko Radovic said once (I know there are plenty of ex-Yugoslav readers here, thus both original quote and translation): »Mi smo mrve na Zemlji, Zemlja je mrva u kosmosu. To se moze razumeti sve dok nas ne zaboli zub. Mrvine mrve mrva…« »We are crumbs on Earth, Earth is a crumb in the Universe. All that is easy to comprehend until we have a toothache. Crumb in the crumbs crumb«
So, yes, I was lucky to be born in a wonderful country that used to be, in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Belgrade. Lucky to be surrounded with amazing people who did good, one way or another. Ones who were kind and respectful to show me how to act, and the opposite ones, to show me how not to act and how to avoid the traps. For both of them one big thank you.
Part of why I consider myself lucky is to be able to study biology, and some 24 years ago University of Belgrade had really extensive curricula. Today, according to Bologna accords, BSc in Biology at University of Belgrade is equal to an MSc elsewhere, but when I graduated Serbia was still not part of the Bologna process. I worked for eight years at the Ecology Department at Institute for Biological Research on predator-prey relationships, small mammal identification and mostly owl research. Thus my full name doesn’t ring much bells, as Tanja Sova does: ‘sova’ means an owl, and that was the word people associated with me so often, it became my pseudonym.
When I moved to USA, Arizona at first and two years ago to North Carolina, I developed a line of artwork inspired by nature. Discovering Etsy helped a lot in many ways, but that is a story for some other interview.
What do you want to do/be when (and if ever) you grow up?
Growing up??? You are kidding! Why would I?
Oh, well… Since I went into adulthood, I was provided with tools to play seriously. You know, when we were young, it was digging around and taking care of pets that was considered play. With a degree, you just turned that play into some serious job. Now I play, I mean create artwork, and I love it. Yes, giving and sharing knowledge / skills is my ultimate wish what I want to do when I grow more gray, I mean when I grow up 😉
What is your Real Life job?
In economy like this, and we’ve been trained that very well back in Yugoslavia / Serbia, one has to be like a cat: to get on its feet. I am open for possibilities, but for now I am self employed making mostly custom orders on Etsy.
What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?
Biologist in me is active, although in the background for a while. Bringing the missing pieces into the puzzle of personal and professional knowledge, as well providing inspiration for art. As a parent, I enjoy sharing links with my children and discussing them. Sometimes I am too busy to be able to read all I would want to, so the most active blog reader in the family, Djordje comes with his opinion and it develops most of the time into a discussion either when we craft something together or when we are on the road.
When and how did you discover science blogs? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while at the Conference?
It’s all your fault J OK, jokes apart, when we knew we were moving to NC, I googled information that I considered important to learn where am I moving to (SC and VA were options as well), and just came upon your blog. WOW! The new world opened. The amount of time I spend there really depends on available time I have, which is unpredictable. However, sometimes there are some hot topics that steal me from artwork and grab my full attention following the links. I was really, really glad to be able to meet in person many people whose blogs I have read. Irreplaceable experience which I am looking forward repeating. It was discovering many very cool people first of all, and learning about new blogs as well.
When did you become an artist? How do you combine your interests in science and art?
I would rather say that just like this figure was more of a freeing the captured sculpture from within, the same is with artist in us: circumstances make the artist surface from within, with each artwork it is more prominent. Whenever I can, I do my best to combine science and art. I’ve learned long time ago that having strong imagination helps understanding natural sciences, and understanding science brings vast amount of art themes to create. I really enjoy Etsy for although you can find ANYTHING there, it has somehow enough numbers of free thinking and highly educated people, many biologist themselves amongst sellers, who apply science knowledge / theme / process / subject into their art. Again, being popular amongst scientists and students, Etsy is helping in widening the public for really specific subjects that otherwise would not have as much appreciation in general public. Examples for such an artwork is this pendant that you can see here. The NYTimes article brought some amazing people, such as Leslie Vosshall, with whom I worked on pendants I am sure not many people from general public would appreciate or understand: Drossophila melanogaster and Aedes aegypti. Learning more about her and her work was even greater joy.
You led two sessions at the conference – one about producing Art for a blog, and the other about Open Access in developing countries. How did they go and what did you learn from them?
Meeting Glendon Mellow was a joy even before we met in person. There are so many interests we have in common and I love his visions of science. Luckily the format of unconference was really good, as you have on-the-spot exchanging and sharing information. I am hoping we tackled some strings and definitely know that there were dozens of tips shown that are more, in my opinion, technical information rather than art itself. However, all those tips are enhancing blogging. Lot of laughter, some quite unintentional but very welcome, as a result of miscommunication between Betul and Djordje 🙂
Danica and I are coming from two different angles and I believe we have opened some questions and definitely paved the way to the upcoming 2010 session with Jelka Crnobrnja-Isailovic. I think session with Danica was also good example of how it is important to have people with different backgrounds in the library systems. Even in biology itself, I recall often a block to understanding between ecologists and molecular biologists, for instance. Demands of publishing at the same rate with laboratory experiments versus field work that needs to have few seasons before showing proper results worth publishing simply does not add up. That is one of the topics for upcoming session as well.
Jelka and I are not only colleagues, but first of all friends, and I am sure this will reflect in a fluid and relaxed session at the unconference in January.
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, your art, blog-reading and perhaps blog-writing?
I wish a day had more than 24 hours (48 would do just fine) for all I would want to do. It was so refreshing being again amongst scientists and some new kids on the block (Balasevicevi ‘neki novi klinci’). I have learned a lot as a parent (at that time homeschooling Djordje), as a biologist to pass tricks and tips to my fellow biologists in Serbia, both who are in education and research, and to understand first-hand the American way of approaching problems I could only read about. Talking in person helps a lot, really. It is hard to stress who would stand out, for there are many, really, and placing the names I would not feel good for the others (say I will mention trilobite, tulumbe, vole dance, discussion about religion just to mention a few topics without mentioning the names), but I really have to say I was blown away with Ms Stacey’s students! As my owns kids are similar age, I was honored to meet them, and quite a few young ladies and gentlemen impressed me the most with their knowledge, dignity, eloquence and mannerisms. My kudos to them. About my blog: have opened one, but still short in time to write. Hopefully in the future.
It was so nice to meet you again and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again next January.
I am looking forward being part of the conference again. Thank you and Anton for incredible amount of time and energy to organize these truly important events!
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See the 2008 interview series and 2009 series for more.

ScienceOnline’09 – interview with Arikia Millikan

The series of interviews with some of the participants of the 2008 Science Blogging Conference was quite popular, so I decided to do the same thing again this year, posting interviews with some of the people who attended ScienceOnline’09 back in January.
Today, I asked Arikia Millikan, the former Overlord here at Scienceblogs.com, to answer a few questions.
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?
twitter_arikia1.jpgFirst and foremost, I consider myself a scientist, though perhaps not in the traditional sense. I studied the “hard sciences” throughout my education and scientific principles govern my outlook on the world. But my lab bench is my laptop and I mostly conduct observational studies on the way people use the Web to communicate.
I do experiments, too. I spent about eight months “Cat Herding” at ScienceBlogs, and that was a pretty major experiment. The variables were ideas as well as “physical” changes to the appearance and functionality of the network. Tweak this, upgrade that, measure the changes with analytics and user responses, update methods accordingly. Way better than the lab-coat variety, IMO, because while conducting my experiments, I got to play with awesome scientists online.
I’m also a communicator. I began my undergraduate studies in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan. The first week of classes, we were instructed to forget everything we ever learned about writing, because we were only going to perform “technical writing” from there on out. I didn’t like that. I remember thinking, “Science is hard enough for most people to understand, why would anyone purposely create a whole new language to further obfuscate the concepts, making it more abstract to the people who will eventually use products created by science?” So I got what I could from the program, which mostly was an ass-kicking in calc-based physics (but also a solid foundation in the fundamentals of computer programming), and my junior year I changed my major to psychology and joined the student newspaper. There I started the science beat and reported on scientific accomplishments and their societal implications.
What do you want to do/be when (and if ever) you grow up?
I want to be someone who, in the future when people look back at the evolution of the Internet, they’ll say, “Arikia Millikan played an important part in how awesome this is today.” I’d also like – and this is my total pipe dream goal — to write a tech column for Wired. It’s the one publication I subscribe to in print and I read it cover-to-cover every month.
Most importantly, I want to be someone who never stops learning about and benefiting from technology. I am not going to be the old curmudgeon musing about what new technologies the young whippersnappers are in a frenzy about at any given moment. I think that, in the process of learning, some people acquire mental blocks where they think they can’t learn new things, and this can be a very damaging state of mind. I’m 22 right now and I think I’m pretty quick to use and adapt to new gadgets, computer programs, and Web features as they emerge. But I want to be just as adept when I’m 72, Moore’s Law be damned.
What is your Real Life job?
I’m funemployed! I have an assortment of freelance jobs and gigs that keep me mentally occupied and sustain my existence in New York City. The project I’m the most excited about right now is that I’m working with Nate Silver, founder of FiveThirtyEight, as his research assistant. He’s in the process of writing a book about statistical predictions and there’s a large focus on science. So basically, I get to travel around the country accompanying him on interviews with the most awesome scientists I can find. Besides that, I build websites, I have a handful of top-secret projects I work on sporadically with some really talented people in Brooklyn, and I write things occasionally. Working with Nate, I’ve realized that I’d like to write a lot more. I’ve always been someone who has a lot to say, but sometimes it’s hard to say it when you’re constantly in the presence of scientific greatness. It’s like, who am I to write on a topic when there are tons of people already doing it way better than I ever could? I guess it’s kind of a lame excuse. I’ll try to try more and see what happens.
internets.jpgOh, and I pick up shifts here and there at The Internet Garage, a grungy public computer lab in Williamsburg, the hipster sector of Brooklyn. I provide Internet and technical support for customers and help them use the equipment here, all of which is either crappy or broken. It’s a pretty hilarious place. Most people think it’s a drug front. I assure you that it’s not, though the owners don’t seem to be remotely concerned with turning a profit. I kind of want to write a screenplay about the IG someday.
What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?
Well, it’s the field of communication via the use of the Web as a science that interests me the most. The fact that the topic of conversation in the networks I study is science is just a bonus, really. On a recent trip to MIT with Nate, we met Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web. He talked to us about the emergent field of Web Science and drew us a circular flow chart that I’m going to frame and mount on my wall. Web Science is different than Computer Science in that it takes human behavior online into account and examines the way our behavior shapes the development of the Web itself. That’s the stuff that really gets me going. I want to know everything there is to know about this field.
How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook?
Blogging and social networking tools are the subject of my work. They enable the individual to simultaneously be consumers of content and providers, and that’s a really powerful concept. I don’t blog too much myself, though I do use all of the above social networking tools on a daily basis. My primary use of them is personal, but it blurs with the professional. I don’t think the two necessarily have to be separate, and I think with the way voluntary information sharing is heading, it will soon be impossible to keep them separate. I think a lot of people are adamant about using sites like Twitter to enhance their professional careers and propagate their viewpoints, and that’s awesome. But I’m 22 and living in the craziest city in the world. Sometimes a girl just needs to Tweet about a guy she just saw with full-face tattoos or a gambling adventure in a speakeasy bar. The question Twitter begs to know is “What are you doing?” after all.
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?
cat herder.jpgTo be honest, I discovered them when the magazine intern position I applied for with Seed Media Group was filled, but they had an opening with this thing called “ScienceBlogs”. The first time I looked at the ScienceBlogs homepage, I had no idea what it was all about, and this turned out to be a large source of motivation in my work there. I figured that if I couldn’t tell what the deal with the site was or intuitively access the best and most relevant content, most other people couldn’t either. So I accepted the internship and set out to try to make ScienceBlogs better. In that process, I discovered that there was a more effective way for me to further scientific communication than by directly doing the communicating. And now I hope to make that my career.
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?
Attending ScienceOnline 2009 showed me that, though the Internet is a big, mysterious place where there are tons of opportunities for deception, people are generally who you would expect them to be. To “know” someone online, and then meet them in real life, you get insight into layers of one’s personality that, in the past, you may not have had access to. It makes just as much sense sometimes that a person has the exact opposite temperament online that they do IRL, than if their online and offline personalities are one and the same. Attending ScienceOnline last year reinforced the human component of what I do. Because, though it is about traffic and numbers and economics, the best part is knowing that you’re helping someone achieve his or her goals of science communication.
Thank you so much. See you again in January at ScienceOnline2010!
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See the 2008 interview series and 2009 series for more.