Category Archives: SO’10

ScienceOnline2010 – Writing for more than glory: Proposals and Pitches that Pay (video) – Part 6

Writing for more than glory: Proposals and Pitches that PayRebecca Skloot with guests
Saturday, January 16 – 4:40 – 5:45pm
Description: What is a sellable idea? How do you develop one? Is your idea enough for a book, is there more you can do to develop it, or should it just be a magazine article or series of blog posts? This will be a hands-on nuts and bolts workshop: Come with ideas to pitch. Better yet, bring a short (1 page or less) written proposal to read and workshop. This workshop will provide handouts on proposal writing as well as sample proposals you can use to help develop your own in the future. Useful for anyone hoping to someday write for print or online publications.

ScienceOnline2010 – interview with Beth Beck

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years’ interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.
Today, I asked Beth Beck from NASA to answer a few questions.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?
I’m a political scientist with almost 25 years in the federal government. I work at NASA Headquarters in Washington D.C. I have an undergraduate degree in Government from the University of Texas with concentration on language, specifically Spanish. My grad degree comes from the LBJ School of Public Affairs in Austin. I am a non-techie working in NASA techie-land.
Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?
I’m a communicator. An extrovert among introverts. I don’t see the world as others do, but how boring would life be if we all agreed?
I started my federal career as a Fellow in the Terrorism Analysis office at the CIA. Terrorism was new to the U.S. at the time. 9/11 changed all that. I wrote my grad thesis on International Cooperation to Combat Terrorism, then I accepted a job at NASA. Go figure.
I started out at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. When I was assigned to the task force commissioned by President George H.W. Bush to look at options for returning to the Moon and Mars, I ended up at NASA Headquarters in Washington DC. My job: to craft a 30-year organizational structure to allow NASA creative flexibilities to manage an evolving Moon/Mars program. I still have the file from the early 90’s.
Beth Beck pic.jpg
We changed directions, so I accepted a permanent job at Headquarters in the Space Station office. During my time at Headquarters, I’ve moved a good deal – usually due to internal reorganizations. I worked with our international partners for five years. Another five in Public Affairs with a long stint as Editor of NASA.gov. I served as a LEGIS Fellow in the Senate for a year. Now I’m the Outreach Program Manager for the Office of Space Operations – five years so far. Yes, I’m a rolling stone.
I think my most memorable experience at NASA was the day we nearly sparked World War III. Short story: we partnered with the Norwegians on NASA’s Sounding Rocket campaign. We launched our instruments on their Black Brandt XII rockets off the coast of Norway. The Russians thought they were incoming missiles. Lots of drama. And yes, fingers were poised on red retaliation buttons for one hair-raising second before calm prevailed. The Norwegians sent me a T-shirt with a picture of the rocket and the caption: “I almost caused WWIII!”
Everything I work on is interesting .(Ok, almost everything.) Not the paper and process – but the programs themselves. A few stand out:
1. The end of the Space Shuttle program in September.
2. Completion of Space Station assembly this year.
3. NASA and social media – specifically Launch/Mission Tweet-ups.
4. LAUNCH Water sustainability forum. http://launch.org
What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?
The coolest project EVER!!!!! LAUNCH.org is our wildly-successful sustainability incubator. I’m sure I have words to express how THRILLED we are at our first event a few weeks ago. We’ve been sweating blood to make it happen for the last year.
Our goal: Accelerate Innovation for a Sustainable Future.
We’d been looking for ways to tell our Space Station green story, and this concept fit the bill. We pulled together a team of creative folks, all bringing together different strengths, to birth the LAUNCH:Water incubator.
We wanted a TED-style event but with teeth, where we can chomp into issues and mash-up new approaches and solutions.
We created LAUNCH.org as a global initiative to identify and support the innovative work that is poised to contribute to a sustainable future. We want this process to accelerate solutions to meet urgent challenges facing our society. That’s the goal: to make a difference, leave this world better tomorrow than it is today.
We chose water as a logical starting point because it’s an issue we deal with on Space Station every day in orbit. Not only is water a critical commodity for our orbiting pioneers, but for so many living on our home planet.
You can view the Innovator videos online, thanks to our partner Nike: http://launch.org/forums/
What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?
Social media interests me. I love finding new ways to communicate. Keeping up with the changing landscape of technology and applications is a FULL-time job. I barely skim the surface, but what a fun time skimming cream off the top!
How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?
I LOVE social media, though I spend most my time on Twitter, Facebook and blogging. I like the fact that I can follow blogs now by signing up through Twitter or Facebook. I use Google Reader, but I have to take time to go read everything in my reader. I like the blogs to drop in my email so I don’t have to do anything but read them. I’m lazy! I want info to come to me, rather than have to search it out. I haven’t really caught on to Google Wave or Buzz. Twitter already meets that need. Wave takes time to be creative, and I haven’t invested the time to use it creatively.
NET POSITIVE!!! For NASA, we have a new community built around social media interaction. I have new friends I’ve met through Twitter/Facebook who’ve attended our Tweet-ups. Now we’re friends in real life, in addition to digital life.
Social media is expanding my universe!
When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any cool science blogs by the participants at the Conference?
Science blogs discovered me. Karen James (@kejames) and I met on Twitter through her space passion. She’d just recently connected with Space Station astronaut Mike Barratt, who participated in her Beagle Project with a downlink live from Station.
Karen invited me to join the panel on Science Online 2010 – which was an amazingly cool experience. I’m thrilled to be part of your community now. And, by the way, Karen is Mike’s guest to his upcoming launch: STS-133, our final mission of the Space Shuttle program – if our current schedule holds.
What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 for you? Any suggestions for next year? Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
I absolutely LOVED the session with the students. Changed the way I see technology applications – through their eyes. I’d love to have them rate OUR websites, social media activities next year. They can be our future leader consultants. We could submit projects to them, let them choose their favs, and tell us why. (I’d rather not do the best/worst list on stage. I’d hate to find NASA ones on the bottom.)
Might be fun to have them schedule one-on-one time with us to give us feedback. Good experience for them to provide consultation. Good experience for us to hear the naked truth – no matter how painful.
Love, love, love them!
It was so nice to meet you in person and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again next January.

ScienceOnline2010 – Writing for more than glory: Proposals and Pitches that Pay (video) – Part 5

Writing for more than glory: Proposals and Pitches that PayRebecca Skloot with guests
Saturday, January 16 – 4:40 – 5:45pm
Description: What is a sellable idea? How do you develop one? Is your idea enough for a book, is there more you can do to develop it, or should it just be a magazine article or series of blog posts? This will be a hands-on nuts and bolts workshop: Come with ideas to pitch. Better yet, bring a short (1 page or less) written proposal to read and workshop. This workshop will provide handouts on proposal writing as well as sample proposals you can use to help develop your own in the future. Useful for anyone hoping to someday write for print or online publications.

ScienceOnline2010 – interview with Sabine Vollmer

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years’ interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.
Today, I asked Sabine Vollmer to answer a few questions.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?
Sabine Vollmer pic.JPGI’m a journalist by trade and a thrill seeker by nature. There’s nothing more thrilling to me than Eureka! moments, my own and those of others. That’s why I chose to study journalism instead of biochemistry, why I left Germany to come to the U.S., why I enjoy reporting more than writing. Writing keeps me sane, but finding out stuff I didn’t know keeps me going. In the more than 20 years I worked for newspapers, I covered just about everything: Crime (too emotionally draining), politics (too much hot air), business (too much granularity, not enough color) and science. I got stuck on science about 10 years ago after moving
to North Carolina’s Research Triangle and the Eureka! moments keep on coming.
Becoming a science writer was a logical step for me, because I’ve always been interested in science, particularly in biology and chemistry. I took a heavy load of biochemistry classes in high school (German high school is different from American high school), but selected mass communication as my major at the university in Munich. I have never regretted my decision, because it has allowed me to experience scientific breakthroughs without having to toil in the lab doing experiments over and over again.
Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?
Most of my expertise is in the life sciences. My sweet spot is where business and research intersect, mainly because those stories dominate in the RTP area. I moved here to cover biotech, pharma and health care for the Triangle Business Journal and then switched to the News & Observer to essentially write about the same things.
About a year ago, my job at the N&O got cut in a massive, nationwide McClatchy layoff, which so far has been largely a blessing. Now, I get to focus more on the science than the business angles, I get to mingle with scientists and I have more outlets. In the past year, I met three Nobel Prize laureates, including Ada Yonath, a 2009 winner in chemistry. Compare that to a big, fat 0 in the previous eight years while I was a staff writer with a regular paycheck and benefits.
My stories are now published on Science in the Triangle, an online publication that tracks research activities in the RTP area, and in the Science & Technology pages in the N&O and the Charlotte Observer.
Science in the Triangle is a current interesting project. Past interesting projects include a story about AZT, the first HIV/AIDS drug that was developed in RTP, and a couple of investigative stories about laser assisted in-situ keratomileusis, or LASIK. The AZT story was a doorway into HIV/AIDS research, a very active area in RTP, and Harvard Medical School picked it up and posted it on its Web site. The LASIK stories have since garnered the interest of a national magazine.
I’m still waiting for the curse part to hit.
What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?
The RTP area generates a wealth of research in a number of different disciplines. Until four or five years ago, local media did an adequate job chronicling the activities. But when the bottom fell out in the newspaper industry, the local science coverage started to decline in quality and quantity. I just couldn’t bear the thought that all this local knowledge would become largely inaccessible to the general public and that the research silos that exist would become more impenetrable. I couldn’t and I can’t imagine how that would improve an area I came to appreciate for its intellectual vitality and cultural diversity.
I spend a lot of time applying my skills and expertise trying to fill the holes in the local science coverage, generate enough income to help feed and house the family and learn from the mistakes my former employers made and are still making.
My goal is to make a national name for myself writing about research and development in the RTP area.
What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?
I’d like to see a business model for online science writing emerge that values quality content and provides broad access to new ideas.
How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?
Blogs come in different flavors. I’m trying to find time to start a personal blog and keep it going. For now, most of my blogging is for Science in the Triangle, where I provide information and analysis rather than opinion. I absolutely love Twitter, because it’s fast and insightful if you follow the right people. Basically, I use Twitter like a science wire service, to get ideas and to distribute blog posts. My twitter handle is @SciTri. I’m also on Facebook and LinkedIn. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, but I wouldn’t want to be without any of my social networks.
When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any cool science blogs by the participants at the Conference?
I’m still discovering them and have yet to form much of an opinion. I do find them very interesting as blueprints of publishing alternatives to the traditional, or “dead-tree” as you call it, media.
What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 for you? Any suggestions for next year? Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
The Eureka! moments, of course. It was my first ScienceOnline conference and I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was great. It brought me up-to-date with a world I realized I knew nothing about as a staff writer for the dead-tree media. The networking was particularly fruitful for me. What I hope next year’s conference will address more and more specifically is a possible business model for online science writing. We need to figure out how to shift from paper to online and still be able to pay the bills.
It is great working with you. I am glad you made it to ScienceOnline2010 and thank you for the interview.

ScienceOnline2010 – Writing for more than glory: Proposals and Pitches that Pay (video) – Part 4

Writing for more than glory: Proposals and Pitches that PayRebecca Skloot with guests
Saturday, January 16 – 4:40 – 5:45pm
Description: What is a sellable idea? How do you develop one? Is your idea enough for a book, is there more you can do to develop it, or should it just be a magazine article or series of blog posts? This will be a hands-on nuts and bolts workshop: Come with ideas to pitch. Better yet, bring a short (1 page or less) written proposal to read and workshop. This workshop will provide handouts on proposal writing as well as sample proposals you can use to help develop your own in the future. Useful for anyone hoping to someday write for print or online publications.

ScienceOnline2010 – interview with Maria-Jose Vinas

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years’ interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.
Today, I asked Maria-Jose Vinas to answer a few questions:
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?
Glad to be here! I come from Barcelona, Spain, and my relationship with science has been complicated in the past, although we’re in good terms now. See, in the Spanish educational system there isn’t anything similar to American colleges – after high school, you go straight into a professional school. At 18, I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to be in life. My mom did: she wanted her daughter to be a medical doctor. But in a rebellious outburst I decided to go to veterinary school instead (it was a pretty tame rebellion, I admit). In summary, I found out quite soon that veterinary medicine wasn’t the right thing for me, but I still went ahead and graduated, and even worked as a vet for two years (in a pig farm in France, and in the lab at the Universitat AutĂšnoma de Barcelona). By the time I decided to go back to school to study journalism, I had promised myself I would never, ever have anything else to do with science.
MJ Vinas pic1.jpg
What made you change your mind?
I was already working as a reporter (in a pretty dull job) when I got a call from one of my teachers from journalism school. He was the editor-in-chief of a Sunday magazine, and he wanted to run a story on the boom of biomedical research in Barcelona during the previous 5-10 years. He remembered I was a vet, so he asked if I could write that article. I had so much fun reporting for that story! I got to talk to some of the top-notch scientists in Spain; they were bright, they were passionate about what they did, they didn’t mind sitting down with me for hours to talk about their science. I then realized that although I was not meant to be a scientist (or not a vet, at least), I would never get tired of writing about science. It’s the perfect subject for people with short attention spans, like me; science is always evolving, there’s always something new to learn and write about. So I applied for a fellowship for graduate studies in the United States, got it, and moved to California to get a science-writing graduate degree at UC Santa Cruz.
Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?
I had a two-year fellowship, so I spread one year of classes over two years and doubled the internships. I did six half-time internships (at the SETI podcast, “Are we alone?” — I loved the experience so much!–, two at local newspapers, two at press offices, and one in a film-production company) and a final, full-time summer internship at The Chronicle of Higher Education. I needed a lot of practice, since I wasn’t only changing reporting fields, I was also switching to a foreign language. In October 2008, I got my first job as a science writer/press officer for the American Geophysical Union, the largest association of Earth and space scientists. It’s been a blast: working for AGU, I get to write about a very wide array of sciences, and organize press conferences at big meetings. Plus, our scientists are some of the coolest around (may I say geoscientists rock?)
MJ Vinas pic2.jpg
What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?
Right now, I have three fledgling projects. One is managing and expanding AGU’s social media presence. Another is creating a collection of blogs for AGU. And finally, I started teaching science communication workshops at scientific meetings some months ago and loved the experience, so now I would like to expand my reach with online training materials, and a blog dedicated to science communication.
How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?
I’m glad you ask! I created a Facebook page for AGU about a year ago that now has over 2,800 fans. I also manage the AGU Twitter account, though I must admit that I didn’t create one for myself until I attended ScienceOnline2010. What do I get from social media? You see, I’m in a curious situation as a press officer at AGU; my scientists are based in hundreds of research institutions in many countries. The only chance I get to see them is at meetings, and everybody’s super busy at conferences. So the AGU social networks allow me to interact a bit more with the scientists, even if it’s only with a very small fraction of them (AGU has around 58,000 members). Social networks also allow me to find researchers who’re interested in science outreach, and to learn about and then share interesting news on Earth and space science. In addition to that, I network and chat with other science writers through my personal Twitter account.
And about the blogs: we currently have three blogs up and running, one on the science presented at AGU meetings, another one on geohazards, and finally, my pet project: The Plainspoken Scientist, a blog on science communication for scientists. This topic fascinates me, and I’ll use the blog to make a case for science outreach, to showcase researchers who are already doing a great job in communicating their science to the public, and to provide tips and a discussion forum on how make science more appealing to everybody. In the near (I hope) future, we will be taking guest contributions from veteran geobloggers, and also using the blogs as a training ground for researchers who would like to communicate their science to the public, but don’t have much experience yet.
MJ Vinas pic3.jpg
When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any cool science blogs by the participants at the Conference?
I discovered science blogs about four years ago, and now I have dozens of blog feeds in my Google Reader, including quite a few geoblogs. Two of my favorites are Dot Earth and CJR’s The Observatory. I’m also addicted to reading posts about science communication and climate change communication, no matter the blog they come from.
More than helping me discover cool new blogs, ScienceOnline2010 helped me discover cool new tweeters that I now follow, such as you (@BoraZ), @j_timmer, @cliftonwiens, @oystersgarter, and many more. When you guys tweet about good blog posts, I go read them. It’s a fantastic referral service.
What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 for you? Any suggestions for next year? Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
The best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 was how energizing it was to be surrounded by such smart, motivated science communicators. I went back to work all fired up and determined to expand the scope of the AGU blogs project (until then we had only blogged during one scientific meeting) and specifically, to launch my new blog on science communication. I’m already counting the days until ScienceOnline2011!
It was so nice to meet you in person and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again next January.

ScienceOnline2010 – Writing for more than glory: Proposals and Pitches that Pay (video) – Part 3

Writing for more than glory: Proposals and Pitches that PayRebecca Skloot with guests
Saturday, January 16 – 4:40 – 5:45pm
Description: What is a sellable idea? How do you develop one? Is your idea enough for a book, is there more you can do to develop it, or should it just be a magazine article or series of blog posts? This will be a hands-on nuts and bolts workshop: Come with ideas to pitch. Better yet, bring a short (1 page or less) written proposal to read and workshop. This workshop will provide handouts on proposal writing as well as sample proposals you can use to help develop your own in the future. Useful for anyone hoping to someday write for print or online publications.

ScienceOnline2010 – Writing for more than glory: Proposals and Pitches that Pay (video) – Part 2

Writing for more than glory: Proposals and Pitches that PayRebecca Skloot with guests
Saturday, January 16 – 4:40 – 5:45pm
Description: What is a sellable idea? How do you develop one? Is your idea enough for a book, is there more you can do to develop it, or should it just be a magazine article or series of blog posts? This will be a hands-on nuts and bolts workshop: Come with ideas to pitch. Better yet, bring a short (1 page or less) written proposal to read and workshop. This workshop will provide handouts on proposal writing as well as sample proposals you can use to help develop your own in the future. Useful for anyone hoping to someday write for print or online publications.

ScienceOnline2010 – Writing for more than glory: Proposals and Pitches that Pay (video) – Part 1

Writing for more than glory: Proposals and Pitches that PayRebecca Skloot with guests
Saturday, January 16 – 4:40 – 5:45pm
Description: What is a sellable idea? How do you develop one? Is your idea enough for a book, is there more you can do to develop it, or should it just be a magazine article or series of blog posts? This will be a hands-on nuts and bolts workshop: Come with ideas to pitch. Better yet, bring a short (1 page or less) written proposal to read and workshop. This workshop will provide handouts on proposal writing as well as sample proposals you can use to help develop your own in the future. Useful for anyone hoping to someday write for print or online publications.

ScienceOnline2010 – interview with Christie Wilcox

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years’ interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.
Today, I asked Christie Wilcox, my newest SciBling here (three blogs to the left, then around the corner) at Observations of a Nerd to answer a few questions.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?
Where I’m coming from geographically… That’s a long story. I always love getting asked where I’m from, because it’s such a fun answer to give. Since I always get asked this after the spiel I’m about to give, no, my family wasn’t in the military – they just liked to move a lot. I was born in Boston, but my parents moved to Hawaii when I was too young to remember. Then they divorced a handful of years later, and my mom took me and my brother with her when she moved to Vermont. I spent much of my childhood bouncing back and forth, my winters in New England, and my summers in Hawaii, until my dad moved to California and bounced around there. And then moved to England. And then back to California. I went to a boarding school in Massachusetts for high school, then Florida for my undergrad, and now I’ve managed to wiggle my way back to Hawaii for my PhD. I spent about 5 years in each place so far, with a combined total of 14 different places to live (counting boarding school as only one, although the room and building changed every year, and not counting the 26 or so places my dad has moved to that I would visit). I even sound all over the place – I say “karaoke” with a Japanese accent, “Hawai’i” like a local, and “y’alls” with a Southern twang. To me, “home” is wherever I am at, and wherever the people I love are.
As for philosophically, l am first and foremost a biologist. I like to say that I’ve been a biologist my whole life, although it wasn’t official until I received my undergraduate degree in Marine Science from Eckerd College in 2007. When I was a kid, I loved whatever animals I could find. I can distinctly remember early-morning gecko hunts with my dad, where I would go out in the yard and turn over every object I was capable of to find geckos. I have a report from my school when I was five where the evaluator specifically mentions my affinity for opening geckos’ mouths to look at their tongues. Seriously. I can show it to you. I had hedgehogs for pets as a kid, because, you know, a dog and a cat weren’t odd enough to keep me entertained. Of course, I kinda forgot this along the way, and in high school I didn’t know what the heck I was supposed to do, so I did a little of everything. I directed a play, did an independent study in Hawaiian history, and took AP Physics. I really blame my physics teacher, Brian Giannino-Racine, for most of what I’ve become. He did the most blasphemous thing: he made science – and not just any science, but physics – seem like something fun and interesting to study. I liked his classes so much, I figured I could become a physicist, and, technically, that is what I started with when I got to Eckerd – a double major in Physics and Marine Science. It only took one advanced physics class to change my mind, but the passion for science in general that he brought out in me remained.
Although “biologist” sounds good, the truth is that biology is a huge field filled with a million different lines of work. As my time as an undergrad came to a close, I still hadn’t really found my niche. I felt like I had to pick something – behavioral biologist, molecular biologist, etc, and I had no idea what I wanted to pick. Instead of applying to grad schools right away, and committing myself for five or more years to a project I was unsure of, I took a couple years to think about my options while working as a biochemist in a research lab in Florida. Finally, I came to the conclusion that a five year old me would have found obvious, which is that I should do whatever I like to do most, and so I ended up where I am now, in Hawaii pursuing my PhD (which though on paper is in “Cell and Molecular Biology,” is really in “Playing with Ocean Creatures”). As a career, I am forced to do the kinds of things that most people spend lots of money to be able to do. I have to live in paradise, and must dive all the time as a part of my job. I am forced to travel all over the Pacific to help others in sample collection, to places like the Marquesas, Kiribati and American Samoa. I even might have to go to conferences in places like Thailand and South Africa to present my work to others. Isn’t being a biologist absolutely dreadful?
Christie Wilcox pic.jpg
After biologist in my self-descriptive terms comes writer. I love to write. I’ve always liked writing – I was that weird kid that everyone hated because I actually enjoyed essays in school. I wrote all the time, whether for school or just for myself. I used to think I would publish a book about my life someday. Actually, I still think that, but now for different reasons. Anyhow, I blog because I love to write, and by the time I graduated from Eckerd I had stopped doing a lot of that. I only wrote what I had to, and I had forgotten my love for it. When my friend Allie told me she had to write a blog for a class she was taking, I thought, damn, that’s a good idea. And thus Observations of a Nerd was born. I wanted a place where I could write about what I loved, and maybe some other people would like to hear about it, too. Logically, most of what I write about it biological in nature, but I get sidetracked every once in awhile. My writing career is in its infancy compared to my “real” one, but I love them both. Now, if only I could find the time to do them both as well as live a normal life…
Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?
I think everything I do is interesting, but others might disagree. Along the way I have done a number of internships and volunteering that have given me a unique set of experiences. In retrospect, I remember them by the animals they brought me in contact with. For example, I learned that spotted eagle rays feel like puppies when they gently nibble shrimp off your hands, thanks to volunteer work I did at the Florida Aquarium. Cownose rays, on the other hand, feel like sand-papery vacuum cleaners. I worked an entire summer in Mote Marine Laboratory’s sea turtle program, where I walked up and down the beaches of Sarasota, flagging, protecting, and even moving turtle nests. During that time, I got to hold and care for at least fifty baby sea turtles, who are, officially, the cutest things that nature has ever produced (sorry, baby fennec foxes). Let’s see, what else have I done… Oo! I once helped electrically ejaculate an anesthetized river otter. That’s always the best story. People make the funniest faces when I talk about that.
What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?
Currently, I’m working on my PhD. I want to study lionfish. They’re a nasty invasive species in the Caribbean, yet here in Hawaii, one of the many places in the Indo-Pacific where they are native to, they’re almost impossible to find. No one really knows anything about the entire group of these animals. My goals are to understand a bit about the evolution of the group as a whole and, more specifically, their populations here to determine if their distribution patterns can give us any insights in the Atlantic. Furthermore, I want to study their venom, learn what it contains and how it works, and maybe give people some incentive to fish them in their invasive habitats. Mostly, though, I think I just want to spend a lot of time underwater looking for the buggers.
Ultimately, my goals are to get that PhD, and with it go on to some post-docs, and eventually, settle in somewhere as a researcher or a researcher/professor. The details are still fuzzy, but somewhere along the lines I’ll end up with a family and publishing a book or two. Hey – I’m only 24! I’ve got a lot of time left to figure out the particulars 🙂
How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?
Blogging is something I do for fun. I find little tid bits of science interesting, and being the ever-talkative extrovert that I am, I want to tell other people about them. If you have met me in person, my blog makes perfect sense. Reading a blog post if mine is what it is like to spend 15 minutes having a conversation with me about something I’m passionate about (including it being mostly me talking. I talk a lot. And fast.), although the blog post is probably a little more grammatically correct. I love to share what I care about with others. That’s why I worked on the education and public outreach side of many of my science endeavors. Blogging is my way of doing that when I don’t have the time to volunteer for five hours a day in an aquarium or a zoo. I think everyone would find science cool if only more people would explain it better, which is something, I think, that I can do.
As far as other outlets go, I have to confess: I’ve become somewhat of an addict to social networking. They’re great ways to pass information around. I do it all now – Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook, etc. I get a lot of news and ideas for my blogging from the world of social networking I have created around myself. As for whether that’s a good thing… you’ll have to get a trained psychologist to answer that one.
When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any cool science blogs by the participants at the Conference?
I first discovered science blogs back in 2008 when I started blogging. Last time I counted, I follow 80+ science blogs on my Google Reader… so I like a lot of them! Some of my personal favorite writers include Brian Switek, Scicurious, those crazy Deep Sea folks Kevin, Craig and Miriam, the other ocean trio Andrew, Amy and David, and of course, Allie, since she’s the one to blame for getting me into this whole thing. But I have to give special note to Ed Yong and his blog Not Exactly Rocket Science. His was one of the first blogs I began reading, and I see NERS as a kind of model to strive for (with my own flare, of course). I was honored to even be considered for two of the Research Blogging Awards that he ended up winning – the idea that he and I might have anything in common is, to me, a huge, probably underserved, compliment.
Oh. And there’s also that silly Bora guy, of course. Though, I think anyone reading this already knows who he is!
I found a number of new blogs to read through the conference – like the kids from the Extreme Biology Blog. They simply blew my mind this year. I wish I’d have been that smart and driven at that age… I can’t even imagine where I’d be now!
What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 for you? Any suggestions for next year? Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
The best part, for me, was meeting all the people I only knew by name or pseudonym. There’s something about putting a face or a voice to the words you read that makes them seem even better. Meeting all of the people I admire and read was a treat, and getting to know new people I’d never even heard of was icing on the cake.
I think what I took with me from the conference wasn’t as much a specific quote or idea as it was… dedication. I blog for fun, as anyone who blogs should, but I also blog to say something that I think is important, and the conference really instilled in me a sense of urgency to write these things that I think matter in a way that matters. It’s as if the conference pushed me from being just a blogger to being a writer and a journalist, too. I feel like it’s more than just for me now. It’s for everyone who reads Observations of a Nerd, or follows me on twitter. It’s for a larger community of science writers and educators. And because of that, I am continually trying to improve what I do, whether that means live tweeting a tsunami, explaining something complicated in a better way, or finding a creature that is atypically cute to draw attention to an animal that others might not think to care about. Science Online 2010 revitalized my passion for all of it! I can only hope I can make it out again next year, and every year after that.
As far as suggestions go, make it longer! I want more time with more people! I didn’t even meet half the people that went, and I really would have liked to get to know everyone better and learn more about their projects, ideas and what they do.
It was so nice to finally meet you in person and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again next January.
Aloha,
Christie

ScienceOnline2010 – interview with Jonathan Eisen

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years’ interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.
Today, I asked Jonathan Eisen of Tree Of Life blog (and Academic Editor in Chief of PLoS Biology) to answer a few questions.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?
Jonathan Eisen pic.jpgI am an evolutionary biologist interested in how organisms invent new functions. In particular I am interested in what causes differences in this “evolvability” between organisms. Or, in other words, the evolution of evolvability. I study this mostly in microbes, because, well, microbes rock.
I was born in Boston, MA and grew up in Bethesda, MD.
Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?
In terms of background – I have always been interest in microbes and their evolution. Though I do not remember, I even wrote an essay on this in 9th grade.
In college (Harvard) I was originally an East Asian Studies major but switched to Biology after coming to my senses. I worked in multiple labs as an undergrad, first studying hummingbird circadian rhythms, then plant physiological ecology, and then found my true calling by working in a lab studying deep sea organisms and the microbial symbionts that live inside of them. I liked it so much I worked in the lab after graduating.
I then went to grad school at Stanford, originally to work on butterfly evolution, but then came to my senses and switched to working on how microbes protect their genomes from mutations (and in particular, why the mutation rates and patterns varied within and between species).
After getting that PhD thing I moved to The Institute for Genomic Research, where I was for eight years, and there I worked on sequencing microbial genomes and also on developing computational methods to study the evolution of microbes via analysis of their genome sequences.
Finally, I moved to where I am now – UC Davis. I moved here b/c of many things: (1) they have one of the best evolution and ecology departments in the country (2) my wife is from Berkeley and Davis, (3) we wanted to be closer to family in N. California (4) I like small towns that are obsessed with cycling (like Davis).
What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?
(1) I want to create a full and complete field guide to microbes.
(2) I want all the worlds scientific publications to be free (really free, not just at no cost – free as in freedom, that is)
(3) I live for my kids, Analia (5) and Andres (3).
What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?
I think the most interesting and important thing is accelerating the pace of scientific discovery and education through the use of a combination of tools (web included) as well as opening up the restrictions that have been historically placed on knowledge (e.g., fees for access).
How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?
All these have been very important in communicating with the broader world. I view all of these things as tools to experiment with. None are good or bad in and of themselves but all can be used to communicate science.
When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any cool science blogs by the participants at the Conference?
Not sure when I discovered them. I think when I went to SciFoo camp years ago I really became aware of the potential value of blogging. My favorites come and go. I try to sample from lots of different ones and not read the same ones over and over. Just like with scientific journals and scientific papers, some are good, some are bad but most are a mix, with bad and good and everything in between. So I like to look around at different ones, more by topic than by author.
What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 for you? Any suggestions for next year? Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
Well, I already blogged about this here (tongue in cheek post about what was bad at the meeting – this is really about what was good in case you can’t tell )
And I also wrote about what I learned at the meeting here.
The meeting was great, hands down.
It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again next January.

ScienceOnline2010 – interview with Misha Angrist

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years’ interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.
Today, I asked Misha Angrist from Duke (and the blog GenomeBoy), the fourth person in the Personal Genome Project whose entire genome was sequenced (thus one of the first 20 humans with a sequenced genome), to answer a few questions.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?
Misha Angrist pic.jpgI was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA. I bleed black and gold (though I wish the Steelers’ current quarterback weren’t such an asshat).
At some point after undergrad in the 1980s I decided I should be a genetic counselor. By the time I had the master’s degree and was getting ready to take my boards I realized I was not the guy who should be telling distraught people that their babies had serious problems.
The fortuitous thing was that my master’s thesis research took me to Duke and I had a wonderful few months working in a lab doing human genetics. In fact, I had so much fun I decided to get a PhD, which I finished in 1996. I hung around for a postdoc and overstayed my welcome. I realized that to succeed as a human geneticist (or genomicist) I would have to become a computational biologist, a statistical geneticist or a biochemist. I was not up to any of those tasks. (Are you sensing a pattern here?)
I wandered in the desert for a while. I dabbled in market research and biotech finance, where I succeeded in losing a small fortune in a short period of time. While I was bouncing from one epic fail to another, I managed to get an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars, which was wonderful on many levels.
This led me back to Duke where I took a job as a science editor. Eventually, when it became clear I was doing the work of a faculty member, I became an Assistant Professor. I can say without a single iota of snarkiness or insincerity that I feel extremely blessed to be where I am today.
What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?
My book, Here is a Human Being: At the Dawn of Personal Genomics, will be published in November by Smithsonian Books/HarperCollins. I am in the middle of editing it and trying to figure out how I can help make it successful.
Meanwhile, I am teaching science writing, genome policy stuff, and developing and writing grants and papers related to personal genomics, i.e., living the life of an academic.
What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?
I don’t know that I can offer a single answer. Certainly, at or near the top of the list is the kind of health-related stuff Thomas Goetz discusses in his terrific book, The Decision Tree. But what we’re living through is much bigger than science. I think the fact that citizens are now able to cut out the middleman, for better or worse (I tend to think it’s more often for the better), is really what fascinates me the most. This applies to all kinds of things. So, for example, I can buy a car on eBay and have it delivered to my house. I can text money to Haiti instantaneously. I can listen to On The Media while I walk my dog, I can send my parents pictures of their grandkids during their piano recital. I can order a genome scan online and see what it might mean for free at SNPedia. If I get really bummed out, I can watch Keyboard Cat for a few minutes. And thanks to people like you, I can read PLoS One and other journals for free and see what folks are saying about the latest and greatest (or not) in science.
How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?
I wish I knew. I think I can safely say that I will never be among the hallowed SEED science bloggers. The only way that would happen would be if they started handing out awards for infrequent and irrelevant posts. Sometimes I feel guilty about my desultory approach.
That said, Lizzie Skurnick, a fantastic writer who introduced me to blogging lo these many years ago, gave me simple advice that has served me well: blog about what interests you, about whatever your passions. For me, an ADHD kinda guy, this might mean discussing whether pharmacogenetic testing for anticoagulant response is ready for primetime, or posting a YouTube of Prince playing the bejeezus out of While My Guitar Gently Weeps.
As for frequency, it’s kind of a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do thing. I am a beneficiary of people like you, who compulsively update their blogs. My life would be poorer if not for regular updates from Genetic Future, Genomics Law Report, and a dozen others. But GenomeBoy.com will never compete with those folks. For me, blogging often feels like a luxury I can’t afford or homework I can’t finish.
I’ve only been tweeting for a month and I have to say, it makes me crazy sometimes and I’m already crazy. I expect to be on Facebook soon, though I’m kind of dreading it. FriendFeed? I don’t even know what that is.
When and how did you first discover science blogs?
I can’t remember how I discovered them – it might have been via Jason Bobe and The Personal Genome (which he rarely updates anymore, sadly). It didn’t happen overnight, but at some point it became clear to me that whatever one was interested in, there were blogs out there catering to those interests. I’ve spent much of my adult life doing and thinking about genetics and genomics and their implications, so I gravitate toward blogs that engage with those subjects: Genetic Future, Genomics Law Report, Gene Sherpas, Eye on DNA, The Genetic Genealogist, The Spittoon, DNA Direct Talk etc. But of course there are other great ones: Culture Dish, Terra Sigillata, John Hawks. I’m forgetting a bunch.
Two blogs I discovered specifically via ScienceOnline were Adventures in Ethics and Science and Neuron Culture. Janet Stemwedel and David Dobbs are two of the more thoughtful and compelling writers in the blogosphere.
What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 for you? Any suggestions for next year? Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
I thought 2010 was the best year yet! I think part of it is the natural evolution of the medium. Only a few years ago, to say you were a blogger, let alone that you were going to hang out with 150 other bloggers for the weekend, was to invite a blank stare, suspicion or ridicule. And I admit that I was skeptical about that first conference. I didn’t realize that so many people cared so much.
This year was extraordinary. The sessions on blog-to-book, fact-checking and rebooting science journalism were outstanding. Partly because they were applicable to my professional life, partly because they transcended blogging and got to the heart of perennial issues in science communication, and partly because the people involved – David Dobbs, Rebecca Skloot, Ed Yong, Carl Zimmer, John Timmer, Tom Levenson, Brian Switek, Sheril Kirshenbaum – were so bright, charming and wise. I wish every meeting I went to was so fulfilling and I only spent two abbreviated days there.
I also had the pleasure of meeting Henry Gee, Senior Editor at Nature, whose book, Jacob’s Ladder, is that rare combination of history, science and culture, and was ahead of its time.
My only suggestion: is there any way the conference could be pushed back to February? I always want my Duke students to attend, but this year ScienceOnline took place before the end of drop and add, so logistically it was a bit more difficult.
It was great to see you again and thank you for the interview. I hope you will be able to attend again next January.

ScienceOnline2010 – interview with Ed Yong

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years’ interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.
Today, I asked Ed Yong from Not Exactly Rocket Science to answer a few questions.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?
Ed Yong pic.jpgI’m Ed, I talk to people about science and I do it in three main ways. I write a science blog called Not Exactly Rocket Science, I do a fair bit of freelance journalism for British press, and I work in a science communications role for a big UK cancer charity. Round about the time that swine flu was saturating the headlines, I started calling myself a triple-reassortant science writer, which is a seriously geeky affectation but worth it for the occasional person who gets it and sniggers.
In terms of my background, I did a degree in Natural Sciences at Cambridge, covering all sorts of fields from animal behaviour to experimental psychology. I assumed that research was going to be my calling and I spent a year or so as a PhD student before realising that I was apocalyptically bad at it. Mythically bad. People composed ballads about how much I sucked. If I didn’t destroy the world during my time in the lab, it’s only because that would probably have counted as a publishable result.
Thankfully, the insight that I sucked at doing science coincided nicely with the revelation that I wasn’t too bad at talking about it. Essentially, I can’t narrow my attentional spotlight on a single subject; I need broad vistas. I can’t derive motivation from rare but transcendental moments of success amid a long drought of failure; I need a more regular fix. And my hands are clumsy and inept when handling a Gilson; they’re much better at dancing on a keyboard. And thus concludes my origin story. Maybe I should have just lied and said something about being bitten by a radioactive David Attenborough.
Moving on to here and now, I’m constantly excited by the new discoveries that I read about and I’m keen to infect other people with the same enthusiasm. I just think that people will be better off if they have a deeper understanding of the world around them and if they’re motivated to sceptically seek out that knowledge in the first place. Telling awe-inspiring stories about science is one way of achieving both those ends. My own love for science was fuelled by masterful communicators and I want to carry on that tradition.
Oh, and I live in London, a great, beautiful, cosmopolitan, culturally vibrant city that has the god-awful problem of being full of Londoners.
Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?
At the moment, I’m essentially juggling two careers, one during the day and one at night. Like Batman but with more repetitive strain injury. During the day, I work at Cancer Research UK and carry the marvellously high-falutin’ job title of Head of Health Evidence and Information. My job is to ensure that our information on cancer prevention and early detection is evidence-based and to use that evidence to guide the rest of the charity. It’s a great mix of leading a small team, media interviews, reviewing literature, acting as a sort of consultant to other teams, and a fair bit of writing.
At night, I put on my journalist and blogger hats (they’re figurative hats, although if they were real, the journalist one would be one of those old fedoras with a Press pass sticking out of it, and the blogger one would be something silly but combative, like a conquistador helmet). I started blogging because I wanted to flex my writing muscles on different topics and in a style that’s more naturally mine. I also had visions of being a ‘proper’ science writer but wasn’t getting any traction sending pitches into mainstream media. So, I started doing it myself. I started on WordPress and was recruited to ScienceBlogs just over two years ago. The blog has gone from strength to strength and the last couple of months have been record-breakers in terms of traffic. This week has been the most rewarding yet. I won the top prize at the Research Blogging Awards as well as prizes for best post and best lay-level blog. And I’ve just begun Phase Three of the NERS life cycle by jumping into a new host body at Discover Blogs, where I’m tremendously excited to be joining a small but elite group of bloggers.
I also do a fair bit of freelancing – some news pieces in the past but mostly features at the moment. I’ve written for New Scientist, the Times, the Guardian, Nature and a number of other publications. And I’ve won a couple of writing awards too, including the Daily Telegraph Science Writer Award that really kick-started all of this off, and the Association of British Science Writers’ Best Newcomer award last year. Actually, the certificate for that says Ed Young, but I distinctly remember collecting it and shaking someone’s hand.
What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?
The big goals are these: constantly learn new things and better myself. Be good at what I choose to do but never become arrogant. Be an excellent husband, a good writer and not an idiot, in that order.
To elaborate, the lofty goal is to get as many people interested in science as possible. Make the complicated seem simple, the obscure seem fun and the unknown seem tangible. My writing career is still in its infancy and I have no illusions about how far I have to learn. NERS is still the single piece of work that I am proudest of and I want to build it into a widely respected source of science news. It’s starting to get some mainstream recognition. That’s obviously personally fulfilling but I think that as part of a general trend, it would be prudent for both blogs and mainstream media to starting collaborating more. I want to continue to work for a good cause during my day job, keep on doing longer features for mainstream media and speak at more events. And at some point in the next 5 years, I would love to start writing popular science books. The problem is that I can’t think of a plan that involves me achieving all of these things without violating at least a few laws of physics. For the moment, I appear to have achieved time saturation.
I’m also keen to carry on absorbing ideas. The worlds of journalism, the Internet and, indeed, science itself are changing at a dizzying pace and it can feel like a massive treadmill, where we’re all running faster to stay in the same place like Caroll’s Red Queen. In the last year alone, my thoughts on journalism have changed significantly just through thinking about the field, reading commentaries from others and chatting to my peers. And all the while, I see people who have dug their heels in, stagnated in their opinions, and are slowly drifting back down the treadmill towards some extinction horizon. I would very much like to not be those people. The minute I think I’ve got this all figured out is the minute I really haven’t. So… more reading, mulling and discussing.
Other than that, I don’t really believe in detailed life plans. The most exciting things I’ve done over the past few years have come about through unpredictable openings and I think that successful people are the ones with the nous to capitalise on the right opportunities as they come along. With the gift of hindsight, even chaotic bumbling can look like some sort of structured plan.
What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?
As far as science communication goes, there are two things that I love above all else. The first is finding a way of successfully explaining something complicated. Getting the right angle, metaphor or play on words is just magical. It’s like scoring a winning goal or finally getting an experiment to work or reaching the peak of a mountain, except I get to do it… every… single… day. The second is related – finding a narrative that links an entire field, or several different fields. This is why I write features. It’s an entirely different skill to writing posts based on single papers. It often involves drawing out massive spider diagrams and finding an easy route between all the nodes. And again, that moment when everything clicks into place, when you know how every paragraph will flow into every other, and when you can see the story beats… it’s just transcendental.
As far as the internet goes, I’ve written about this extensively on my own blog. I’m fascinated by the way that the internet is changing the face of science journalism, how it’s altering the very definition of a science journalist, how it can be used to reach mass audiences while simultaneously failing to do so, and the massive, incalculable implications of opening the tools of production to everyone. Simply put, I would not have this career without the Internet. I absolutely love the fact that a complete nobody like me can waltz in and start writing, and a couple of years later, I’ve spoken at an international conference, I’ve been published in most of the British press that I love and I’ve interviewed David Attenborough, my childhood hero, in his living room. I could kiss the Internet, but I know where it’s been.
How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?
I’ve already spoken about the blogging. My Twitter experience is about a year old and it has been an unexpected joy. There are obvious benefits – it’s great for publicity, getting more traffic, building a brand, chatting to like-minded people and so on. It also allows me to do things that I try to limit on my blog, like promoting other people’s stuff, linking heavily, being a bit sillier, chatting to friends, pointing out stupid stuff in the popular press, linking to geekery, and so on. I want to keep the signal-to-noise ratio high on the blog but it’s a different sort of signal on Twitter. For better or worse, my Twitter stream is probably closer to my actual personality than my blog is.
Twitter is also an absolutely amazing source of information. Tweetdeck is essentially my own personal newspaper that’s edited by the people I follow – a cadre of excellent journalists, scientists and friends who I trust to feed me interesting content. The thing that critics of the internet don’t get is that you can filter your way out of the noise with relative ease. It’s much like flesh-and-blood life – you get the most out of your conversations if you choose interesting people to hang around.
As a science writer, it’s invaluable too. I’ve used Twitter to source contacts for articles, clarify complex terms, get papers I don’t have access to and even commission a guest post on my blog. One of my followers even helped me to kill a pesky virus on my computer! I even think that Twitter makes quite good practice for a writer. People slate the 140-character format but I think it’s actually fairly demanding as a discipline. You have to work harder to be understood in a limited space, especially if you’re debating with someone. On the downside, there are the obvious negatives – it’s a massive time-suck and I personally find it very addictive. But there’s no question in my mind that it’s a net-positive thing.
When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any cool science blogs by the participants at the Conference?
I probably started writing a science blog before I started reading them. I devote most of my free time to writing and I get far too little time to read what everyone else is doing than I would like. I use Twitter to find stuff that interests me and there are only a few blogs that I follow religiously. To be honest, I’m far more interested in individuals as writers rather than in blogs as entities. Given that there’s so much cross-pollination between blogs, mainstream media and other formats, it makes little sense to me to focus on blogs just because I write one. I love good science writing, regardless of the format. And one of the interesting things about social media is that a person’s entire (I shudder to say it) brand affects how I view them – it’s about writing skill, but also whether they’re fun to chat to, whether they voice interesting opinions and whether they point towards interesting stuff.
In terms of people I rate, a list of science writojournobloggocommunicators would have to include Carl Zimmer, Vaughan Bell, Brian Switek, SciCurious, Jonah Lehrer, Brandon Keim, Alexis Madrigal, Matthew Herper, Mark Henderson, Ivan Oransky, Rebecca Skloot, David Dobbs, John Timmer, Adam Rutherford, Sheril Kirshenbaum, Brendan Maher, Christie Wilcox, Daniel Cressey, Jennifer Ouellette, Frank Swain, Simon Frantz, Martin Robbins, PalMD, Daniel Macarthur, etc. I’m also loving the opportunity to chat to loads of great up-and-coming science journalists on Twitter, like Ferris Jabr, Christine Ottery, Colin Schultz, Mike Orcutt, you obviously,… Look, I’m just scratching the surface here and I’m sure I’ve missed out people who I’ll feel awful about later. Have a look at my blogroll or the people I follow on Twitter. I do those for a reason.
What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 for you? Any suggestions for next year? Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
The social side of the conference was unquestionably the best aspect for me. There is something fascinating and unique about meeting old friends for the first time. I’ve known people like SciCurious, Brian Switek and others for years. They’ve done favours for me and I for them and after all this history builds up, you finally get to see someone’s face and give them a hug – it’s bizarre, but a little part of me wonders how people ever met other people in a different way. It’s a dream scenario for an introvert. There is also something quite remarkable about seeing all these people, who know each other through online social networks, cementing their relationships in flesh and blood. It simultaneously shows that social media can be a glorious conduit for meeting people, but it can’t substitute for a good, old-fashioned handshake.
As to the conference itself, without being too self-promotional, I was very pleased with the session that I ran with Carl, David and John. I absolutely loved the entertainment session with Tamara Krinsky and Jennifer Ouellette and the pitching session with Rebecca Skloot, Clifton Wiens, David Dobbs and Ivan Oransky, a session I wish I’d come to several years ago. In general, I was inspired by how humble and down-to-earth everyone I met was. To some extent, this was probably confirmation bias but none of the journalists or scientists I spoke to had any airs, regardless of their experience or existing kudos. From experience, this is an outlier as far as such meetings go, but one I’m grateful for.
The thing that inspired me most in terms of my career was seeing how many people are immersed in a multitude of different roles and activities. They blog, write for mainstream media, make podcasts, shoot videos, teach… the list goes on. It’s an intriguing model and one that I will be paying close attention to. And the conference was largely about the opportunity for inspiring myself too. Agreeing to chair a panel gave me a chance to think hard about science journalism, its future and my place in it. It led to a couple of op/eds on my blog and a chance to test and develop my views on the field. More practically, it made me start thinking more carefully about interviewing other sources for the posts I write, and it led to the new Not Exactly Pocket Science feature on the blog. It has galvanised me into trying to make NERS the best possible home of science journalism that it can be.
As to next year, I think everyone should agree beforehand that if anyone gets ill, they immediately give their snotty tissues to Jonathan Eisen for phylogenetic comparison. That way, we can easily establish who Patient Zero was and we can dispel the scandalous rumours that it was me. Also given the number of sessions she ran this year, you might consider renaming the conference to SklootOnline 2011.
It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again next January.
This interview was cross-posted on Ed Yong’s blog so check out what kinds of comments he gets there.

ScienceOnline2010 – interview with Dennis Meredith

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years’ interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.
Today, I asked Dennis Meredith to answer a few questions.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?
I’m originally from Texas, but my jobs have taken me all around the country. I’ve always been fascinated by science and received my B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Texas. However, I discovered my true calling when I went into the science writing program at the University of Wisconsin, where I received an M.S. in Biochemistry-Science Writing.
Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?
Dennis Meredith pic.jpgFrom the UW science writing program, I got my first job in the UW Medical Center News Office as assistant director. After that, I took science writing jobs at the University of Rhode Island, MIT, Caltech, Cornell, and ended up at Duke as the Director of the Office of Research Communication. I was known as the DORC of Duke. Always pay attention to the acronym before you take the job! My most interesting project was the research news site EurekAlert!, which I conceived and helped AAAS develop. It now links more than 4,500 journalists to news from 800 subscribing research institutions.
What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?
I “retired” from Duke three years ago. I put the word in quotes because I’m still doing full-time science writing and consulting. My biggest project now by far is promoting my book “Explaining Research“, published by Oxford University Press. And of course, there’s my blog, Research Explainer. My central goal is really to change the culture of science and engineering to value lay-level communications more. By giving scientists and engineers the communication tools and techniques they need–from news releases to video to blogging–I hope to increase their engagement with the public and their influence in such critical areas as global warming and science education.
What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?
What fascinates me is the Web’s immense power to make each person a media outlet. What’s more, the stunning increase in power and lowered cost of media technologies such as video cameras means that everybody can be a print/radio/TV outlet. The challenge for me is helping some of the people who have the most important things to say–scientists and engineers–take advantage of these technologies.
How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?
I’ll admit some timidity when I started blogging. Even though I’ve been writing science for more than four decades, the idea of hitting a button and having my words instantly published was daunting. I’d always been “protected” by being in a magazine or part of a university news operation. Since then, blogging has not only become easier, but I’ve realized that it is a central tool in updating and expanding on the book. Since all the book’s references are online, I can easily insert a blog post into the references that contains new information or points I didn’t think of when I was writing the book.
When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any cool science blogs by the participants at the Conference?
I first discovered science blogs when I started blogging. I was delighted with the vast range of voices out there. I can’t really say what some of my favorite blogs are. It’s like asking which do you like better, tacos, ice cream, chardonnay, or oysters? I get something out of all the blogs I read, and each time I discover a new one, I find a refreshing new voice and new ideas. For me, however, the prototypical blog has been Bora’s–not to suck up to my host for this Q&A. I was struck from the beginning by Bora’s ability to so effectively blend science and communication issues in a blog, and this eclecticism has broadened my view of what a blog can and should be–a broad-ranging exploration of interesting issues, whatever they are.
What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 for you? Any suggestions for next year? Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
By far the best aspect of each ScienceOnline conference has been walking into this electric atmosphere of creativity and getting a delightful, inspiring charge of energy and ideas. For ScienceOnline2010, the most productive sessions for me were those on blogging techniques, scientific visualization and video. For next year, I’d recommend a significant workshop on Web video techniques, in which participants are invited to bring their cameras, especially the pocket-sized ones, and create and edit videos. I’m now just beginning to learn how to make quality videos, and any coaching would help. What has surprised me as I’ve trained myself is how simple techniques of lighting, composition and audio can greatly improve videos.
It was so nice to see you again (as well as later at AAAS on our panel) and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again next January.

ScienceOnline2010 – interview with Diana Gitig

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years’ interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.
Today, I asked Diana Gitig to answer a few questions.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?
Diane Gitig pic.jpgI live in White Plains, a suburb of New York. I have a Ph.D. in cell biology but was not particularly well suited to lab work. My thesis advisor suggested that writing might better play to my strengths. I had my first baby the week after I defended my thesis, and I have been writing on a freelance basis since then. I was pretty much doing the stay-at-home mom thing, writing when the babies were sleeping for my own mental stimulation and to try to keep my foot in the door. I am very grateful to the feminist movement (and my husband’s salary) because I always knew that my staying at home was a choice, not a given; any day I woke up and decided I wanted to get a job, I could try to do so. I very much enjoyed being home with my little ones, but I view it as just one chapter in my life, and it is ending now that my youngest went off to school in September. This precipitated a minor identity crisis: I really thought about how I perceive myself, and not just what do I want to do but who do I want to be? After much introspection I decided to try to be a full time freelance science writer.
Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?
Somewhat ironically, I have fallen into this niche of writing about laboratory techniques – the very methods at which I did not excel in graduate school. My favorite assignments were reviewing science and science fiction books as a freelance editor at amazon, since I actually like reading more than I like writing, and a couple of articles I wrote for Science. I know it is not at all like having a Science paper, but it is somewhat thrilling to be published there just the same. Covering symposia at the New York Academy of Sciences was also fun, as I got to get out and meet interesting people but still do the bulk of the work on my own time.
What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?
Honestly, efficient scheduling is a big challenge for me these days – I am very happy to have a number of assignments, but time management is a skill I have not used in a while and have to relearn. My goals are to keep busy and learn cool stuff. So far, so good.
Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?
Online activity is essential in what I do. I literally could not have this career and this life without it. I work with editors and interview scientists and entrepreneurs all over the world, and I cannot imagine doing so without the ability to send work back and forth instantly. Having access to papers at home is invaluable. The ability to work alone and at home can obviously have a downside too, but Twitter takes care of that by helping me feel connected.
Have you discovered any cool science blogs by the participants at the Conference?
I was really impressed by Ed Yong, so I read his stuff now. I enjoyed talking to Jonathan Eisen, so I look at his now too. And yours of course. I also made some contacts that have enabled me to contribute to some blog-like sites, which has been great.
What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 for you?
For sure the Mexican chocolate Locopops.
But in terms of content, I really, really loved Michael Specter’s address on Friday night. It totally resonated with me. He spoke about a lot of things I had been thinking about, but he verbalized them much more clearly than I had.
It was so nice to meet you in person and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again next January.
You too! And in NY for the 140 conference!

On organizing and/or participating in a Conference in the age of Twitter

This is the first time ever that I cared about SXSW conference or was jealous for not being there. Watching the blogs and Twitter stream, it appears to have been better and more exciting than ever. I guess I’ll have to figure out a way to finally get myself there next year….
But this post is not really about SXSW. It is about presenting at such conferences. More specifically, how the back-channel (on Twitter and elsewhere) affects the way one needs to approach an invitation to speak at meetings where much of the audience is highly wired online: to say Yes or No to the invitation in the first place, and if Yes how to prepare and how to conduct oneself during the presentation.
A great example of this was the Future of Context panel at SXSW, with Jay Rosen, Matt Thompson and Tristan Harris, moderated by Staci Kramer.
After the meeting ended, Jay Rosen described in great detail all the things they did to prepare for the session and how that all worked – go and read: How the Backchannel Has Changed the Game for Conference Panelists. I will be sending the link to that post to all the speakers/panelists/presenters/moderators at ScienceOnline2011 once the program is set. That is definitely a post to bookmark and save if you are organizing a conference, or if you are ever invited to speak at one.
This includes people who tend to speak at conferences that are not filled to the brim with the Twitterati. Even at such conferences, a small but loud proportion of your audience WILL tweet. Be prepared! Even if you are speaking at the AAAS meeting.
There are other important things to think about – both for organizers and presenters.
First, public speaking is for some people the most terrifying thing they can ever be asked to do. But even those who are not completely terrified, may need some training in order to do well. Have new people be mentored by experienced speakers (I mentioned how we do that at ScienceOnline at the end of this post) by sharing the panel. As an organizer, work hard to help the new speakers to alleviate their fears, to make crystal-clear what is expected of them, to provide them support before, during and after their sessions.
Many organizers are hoping to increase diversity (of personal experiences and approaches, not just in terms of gender, race, age, ethnicity and such, though the diversity in the latter usually brings along the diversity in the former as well). They need to remember that announcing this intent is not enough. People who were not welcome at the table before have no reason to believe that they will be welcome now – so why bother. You have to do more – actively reach out and engage them. And, as your conference (like ScienceOnline) goes through years, if you are successful at bringing in the diverse groups to the table – they will notice. They will invite others to come next year. The meeting gains reputation, over the years, for being open and inclusive (nobody is a superstar and everybody is a superstar). Instead of being tokens, they become an integral part of the conference and help shape it. This takes work.
Second, the Back-channel should never become the Front-channel!!!! Never display tweets on the screen behind the speaker. Never. On the other hand, please make it easy for the speakers to monitor the Twitterverse on their own computer screens if they want to.
Third, if you are organizing a conference, think hard about the format. At a typical scientific conference, the speaker is a scientist who is presenting new data. The talk is likely to have a level of complexity (as well as an arrow of the narrative) that is not served well by constant interruption. In such cases, a traditional format, with a Q&A period (long enough!) at the end is just fine. TED and TEDx conferences are similar. Quick presentations, like Ignite or storytelling events are similar – the presentations are too short and too well-rehearsed to be able to withstand interruptions. But you have to have a Q&A at the end – it is irresponsible not to have it.
For example, many sessions at the AAAS meeting are three hours long! Including my session. And in each one of those that I attended, the moderator announced at the beginning that the Q&A will be at the end. Hmmm, how many people will still be in the room after 2 hours and 40 minutes? They will be either long gone, or brain-dead and eager to leave. So we tried to do the best we could with the format we had – we had 2-3 people ask questions after each one of our presentations (there were six of us at the panel) as well as at the very end. And you know what – at the end of the third hour, the room was still full and we were still getting more questions. Engaging the audience early on got them excited. They wanted to stay in the room and engage some more, 2-3 of them every 20 minutes or so, and several more at the end.
On the other end of the spectrum to the one-to-many lecture is a fully-fledged Unconference format. It is based on the insight that “The sum of the expertise of the people in the audience is greater than the sum of expertise of the people on stage.“. This, of course, depends on the topic, the speaker, and the audience.
As I explained at length in this post after ScienceOnline’09, and at even more length in this radio interview after ScienceOnline2010, our inaugural meeting in 2007 was a pure Unconference, but that we since decided to move to a hybrid format for a number of reasons I explained in both of these places.
Think, for example, of Workshops. We had a Blogging101 workshop at a different day, time and place in 07 and 08. We expanded the number of workshops in 2009 and had them as a part of the main program (just tagged as workshops), and then in 2010 we again moved them all to a different day, time and space to make it clear that these sessions are different – not Unconference-y in format, and for a good reason (we’ll do the same next year).
A Blogging101 workshop, for example, will have an experience blogger at the front. The audience will be full of people who have never blogged and want to learn how. The moderator is an expert, and acts as a teacher or trainer or ‘fount of wisdom’ to the audience who came to get exactly that – instruction. The audience expects to learn how to start a blog, how to post the first introductory post, how to make a link and insert a picture, how to build a blogroll and change the visual design of the blog from an existing set of choices. They also expect some sage advice on what is regarded as proper blogging behavior so they do not get instantly slammed when they enter the blogosphere for “doing it wrong”. The kinds of questions such an audience asks are going to be calls for help and clarification, perhaps for more information. They are unlikely to insert their own opinions and information, or to challenge the session leader. It is more of a classroom lecture (or lab) than a freewheeling discussion. Yet is has its own usefulness and should not be looked down upon because it is not in an Unconference format.
Actually, a Blogging102 workshop, where the audience already has some experience in blogging and is looking for tips and tricks for making their blogs better, looking better, and promoted better, there will be additional insights from the audience – which we saw at Scio10: that workshop was quite participatory and interactive.
Then, there are demos. A demo is just 12 minutes long with additional 3 minutes reserved for Q&A. The presenter is showing off his/her website or software or what-not to people who have not seen it before and would like to see how it works. Again, interruption of such a short and carefully prepared presentation would not be a good thing. If you have more to discuss – grab the presenter in the hallway afterwards. We are thinking of moving the Demos (both 12-minute presentations and potentially stations or booths) to a different day/time/space next year as well. Nothing wrong with that format, but it is not in an Unconference spirit.
Yet, the bulk of our conference is an Unconference. And we have seen that well-prepared presenters can turn even large 4-5 person panels into lively discussions off the bat. I have described one such 2009 panel in this post and there were several this year (most notably the Rebooting Science Journalism session). What we tell both moderators and participants is that the name of the session is not a title of a lecture but the topic of the conversation for that hour.
People who already have experience with the unconference format lead the way (we try to have such people lead the first morning sessions to set the tone for the rest of the event) and n00bs follow. Once everyone is in the swing of things and participating freely, it is easy to have a session be very informal. For example, last year Pete Binfield and Henry Gee started off their session with the question “Our topic is “A” – what do you want to talk about?”. And that worked brilliantly as people who decided to attend that particular session already had questions and comments prepared in their minds and were ready to start discussing the topic right from the start. Other sessions require more of an intro, and that is OK as well.
So, the bottom line is that there is a spectrum of potential formats and each format has its pros and cons. The duration (from 5 minutes to 3 hours and everything in-between) will dictate how participatory the session can be. The relative difference between the expertise of the people on stage and the people in the audience is also a factor – more even they are, more participatory the session should be. As an organizer, always strive to have the sessions as participatory as the format/topic/people allows it, not less. Having less will diminish the experience – it will be seen as preaching down and trust will be lost.
And keep the Back-channel in mind – people in the room are not the only people participating. Make sure that the people following on Twitter, or Ustream or SecondLife can participate to some extent as well – perhaps let the people/audience in the room (all of them or a few chosen individuals) be moderators of Twitter chatter, and ask the cameraman to introduce questions from the Ustream audience into the room. We did both at ScienceOnline2010 and the feedback from virtual audience was positive. We’ll try to do even better next year.

ScienceOnline2010 – interview with Ivan Oransky

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years’ interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.
Today, I asked Ivan Oransky from Reuters Health and Embargo Watch to answer a few questions.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?
I grew up in the New York suburbs. I earned a bachelor’s in biology, then trained as an MD, and got through a year of psychiatry residency before leaving medicine to be a full-time journalist. Along the way, I spent four summers and some other time working in basic science labs, studying the complement system and pediatric infectious diseases. Today, I’m the executive editor of Reuters Health, based in New York, where I live in the less and less appropriately named neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen. My wife and I split time between there and western Massachusetts.
Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?
Ivan Oransky pic.jpgI left medicine in 1999, but I had been committing journalism since I set foot in the Harvard Crimson as a freshman in 1990. (Or perhaps more accurately, since I joined my high school paper in 1986.) I eventually edited the Crimson’s science and health coverage, and became executive editor. In medical school, I edited the medical student section of JAMA, and wrote for other outlets including the Baltimore Sun, The New Republic, and U.S. News and World Report. During my first year of residency, American Medical News was kind enough to give me a column, which a Yale dean made a point of saying embarrassed him in a letter to all of my clinical supervisors. Around that time, I also started a weekly column for The Forward, a weekly Jewish newspaper, called The Doctor. If there’s a health problem Jews don’t worry about, it’s news to me, so I had plenty of material. Between then and now I’ve written for a number of other publications, from The Boston Globe to Salon to Slate to the Wall Street Journal Online. I’ve also co-authored books including The Common Symptom Answer Guide.
My first full-time journalism job, starting in May 2000, was as editor in chief of Praxis Post, a webzine of medicine and culture. We had a great time and earned important recognition, including being named a finalist for the 2001 Online News Association Award for General Excellence, but soon sadly went the way of the dot-com boom. In 2002, I became web editorial director of The Scientist, and I was promoted to deputy editor of the magazine in 2004, overseeing web as well as print. We won a slew of awards while I was there, including the Magazine of the Year Award from the American Society of Business Publication Editors. I left The Scientist in March 2008 to become managing editor of online at Scientific American, where we grew traffic by 50%. I left SciAm in June 2009 to take my current position as executive editor of Reuters Health.
Throughout my decade of editorial management, I’ve had the good fortune to have smarter and more talented people than me willing to be part of my staff. Learning from them, and working with them to implement our joint visions, has more than made up for the fact that I really don’t have the time to do much of my own writing anymore. I’ve also benefited from generous and brilliant mentors such as former JAMA editor-in-chief George Lundberg.
What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?
My day job takes up most of my time, as well as my mental energy. It’s a challenging time to be in journalism, as A Blog Around The Clock readers know, so just keeping up — and improving — the high standards of Reuters Health, while experimenting with new journalistic forms, is a full-time job. But my work at Reuters goes hand-in-hand with my three other passions: the Association of Health Care Journalists, where I’m treasurer; New York University’s Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program, where I’ve taught medical journalism for eight years and have served as faculty advisor to Scienceline for four; and my new blog, Embargo Watch.
My goal in all of that work is to help people commit better journalism. Some of those people are full-time journalists. Some may be training to become full-time journalists, and some may not be employed as journalists at all. But if they’re writing for me, a student of mine, an AHCJ member, or reading and commenting on my blog, to me they’re part of ensuring the future of journalistic ideals — independence, accountability, and accuracy, to name a few.
Then, of course, there are the New York Yankees, whose season is about to get started as I write this. Which means I’ll be on the subway up to my season tickets in the bleachers as often as possible…
How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?
Although I contributed to the news blogs at The Scientist and Scientific American, I’ve just started my first personal blog, Embargo Watch, whose tagline is “keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage.” I’m an active Twitter and Facebook user. I’m not on Friendfeed at the moment. I am squarely in the necessity camp when it comes to this stuff. I learn something whenever our audience comments on, retweets, criticizes, or ignores what we’ve put out there. And the story tips — for Reuters Health as well as for Embargo Watch — are invaluable.
What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 for you? Any suggestions for next year? Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
ScienceOnline sessions are always great, of course, but for me the highlights of ScienceOnline2010 were, as always, the gathering of the best minds in science blogging, all of whom are available for passionate chats in the hallways and the bar. I’m not sure I can point to anything in particular, but rather to the whole experience, as spurring me to start Embargo Watch. Getting invited to guest blog by the wonderful Ed Yong, whom I met for the first time at ScienceOnline2010, was important inspiration, as was knowing I can count on the other people I met for support and guidance. This year, the cabal — and I use that term with love — of book authors I hung out with has also encouraged me to think about a book I want to write.
I look forward to ScienceOnline2011, 2012, and on and on. Having been to all four of them now, I can say confidently that they keep getting better. My one suggestion for 2011 and beyond is to pay attention to the potential pitfalls of ScienceOnline’s success. It’s already become a place a lot of people want to be, and its audience one that a lot of interests want to engage. That’s a good thing. But it also means that the participants need to think carefully about conflicts of interest, funding sources, and that sort of thing. An example: Carl Zimmer and I turned to one another during the last after-dinner Ignite Talk this year and wondered, at the same moment, whom the speaker’s clients were. I think the speaker was happy to tell us, but that was the sort of thing that should have been baked into a disclosure in his talk. Setting ground rules like that ahead of time will only help ScienceOnline grow and mature even more than it already has. But this isn’t a criticism — I’m just speaking from experience as someone who has been on the board of directors of a group that’s only turning 12 this year.
It was so nice to see you again – the fourth time! – and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again next January.

ScienceOnline2010: Talks Between Generations (video) – Part 6

Sunday, January 17 at 9-10:05am
E. Science online talks between generationsBeatrice Lugger and Christian Rapp:
Description: In huge meetings around the world several organizations try to initiate a dialogue between top scientists and young researchers -the Lindau Meetings of Nobel Laureates are one of them providing numerous opportunities for an exchange of ideas and thoughts between young researchers and Nobel Laureates. The idea is to support this dialogue with a special platform in the web, where current science topics can be discussed and the talks and thoughts can be followed by a broader public. We’d like to discuss how one can initiate a continued communication process even between two meetings. Which internet/social web tools might be useful to bridge the communication habits of a younger generation with that of an older generation?
The question is if one can organize such a dialogue with a special platform in the web, where current science topics can be discussed and the talks and thoughts can be followed by a broader public.
To get some impressions of the Lindau Nobel Laureates meeting itself please visit the website, click through the archives, read in the annual reports and take a look at the actual list of Nobel Laureates who are expected to join the next meeting (the participation list of young researchers will be online by the end of April 2010).
The aim is to promote the scientific communication between generations. Five short films presented by Nature Video, show some kinds of such a dialogue. Join Laureates and young researchers as they discuss the future of medicine, consider the ethics of nanotechnologies, plan new collaborations, and seek ways to avoid dangerous climate change.
Surely there also exists a blog during the meeting and we are acitve on Facebook and Twitter. Till now the traffic on these plattforms abruptly drops down after the meetings and grows up some weeks before the next one. We’d like to find new ways to encourage a continuous dialogue.

ScienceOnline2010: Talks Between Generations (video) – Part 5

Sunday, January 17 at 9-10:05am
E. Science online talks between generationsBeatrice Lugger and Christian Rapp:
Description: In huge meetings around the world several organizations try to initiate a dialogue between top scientists and young researchers -the Lindau Meetings of Nobel Laureates are one of them providing numerous opportunities for an exchange of ideas and thoughts between young researchers and Nobel Laureates. The idea is to support this dialogue with a special platform in the web, where current science topics can be discussed and the talks and thoughts can be followed by a broader public. We’d like to discuss how one can initiate a continued communication process even between two meetings. Which internet/social web tools might be useful to bridge the communication habits of a younger generation with that of an older generation?
The question is if one can organize such a dialogue with a special platform in the web, where current science topics can be discussed and the talks and thoughts can be followed by a broader public.
To get some impressions of the Lindau Nobel Laureates meeting itself please visit the website, click through the archives, read in the annual reports and take a look at the actual list of Nobel Laureates who are expected to join the next meeting (the participation list of young researchers will be online by the end of April 2010).
The aim is to promote the scientific communication between generations. Five short films presented by Nature Video, show some kinds of such a dialogue. Join Laureates and young researchers as they discuss the future of medicine, consider the ethics of nanotechnologies, plan new collaborations, and seek ways to avoid dangerous climate change.
Surely there also exists a blog during the meeting and we are acitve on Facebook and Twitter. Till now the traffic on these plattforms abruptly drops down after the meetings and grows up some weeks before the next one. We’d like to find new ways to encourage a continuous dialogue.

ScienceOnline2010: Talks Between Generations (video) – Part 4

Sunday, January 17 at 9-10:05am
E. Science online talks between generationsBeatrice Lugger and Christian Rapp:
Description: In huge meetings around the world several organizations try to initiate a dialogue between top scientists and young researchers -the Lindau Meetings of Nobel Laureates are one of them providing numerous opportunities for an exchange of ideas and thoughts between young researchers and Nobel Laureates. The idea is to support this dialogue with a special platform in the web, where current science topics can be discussed and the talks and thoughts can be followed by a broader public. We’d like to discuss how one can initiate a continued communication process even between two meetings. Which internet/social web tools might be useful to bridge the communication habits of a younger generation with that of an older generation?
The question is if one can organize such a dialogue with a special platform in the web, where current science topics can be discussed and the talks and thoughts can be followed by a broader public.
To get some impressions of the Lindau Nobel Laureates meeting itself please visit the website, click through the archives, read in the annual reports and take a look at the actual list of Nobel Laureates who are expected to join the next meeting (the participation list of young researchers will be online by the end of April 2010).
The aim is to promote the scientific communication between generations. Five short films presented by Nature Video, show some kinds of such a dialogue. Join Laureates and young researchers as they discuss the future of medicine, consider the ethics of nanotechnologies, plan new collaborations, and seek ways to avoid dangerous climate change.
Surely there also exists a blog during the meeting and we are acitve on Facebook and Twitter. Till now the traffic on these plattforms abruptly drops down after the meetings and grows up some weeks before the next one. We’d like to find new ways to encourage a continuous dialogue.

ScienceOnline2010 – interview with Mary Jane Gore

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years’ interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.
Today, I asked Mary Gore from The Duke Medicine Office of News and Communications to answer a few questions.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?
I’m a science writer at Duke University Medical Center, which is a great vantage point over many fields of learning. I was a science major, biology at University of Virginia, who always wanted a career as a writer. So going to journalism grad school at the University of Missouri provided the professional direction I needed. Between colleges, I worked three years at National Geographic writing for their image collection and working for their children’s magazine, then called World. Since the journalism degree, I’ve had editorial jobs, and I also freelanced 11 years, before moving into academia.
Oooh! I loved ‘NG World’ when I was a kid – a family friend in the USA bought me a subscription and I read every issue many times through.
Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?

I’m so fortunate to have landed at a Top 10 medical school where the scientists within the various schools are so collaborative and supportive of each other’s work, by and large. That makes for interesting work of all sorts. What become the biggest stories, for me as a science writer, aren’t always the most predictable topics: diet and sex, for instance. In the two years I have been at Duke, the biggest story (and one I still get emails about) was Bryan Cullen’s RNA findings involving the virus that causes cold sores. The popularity of that story – a very basic science finding – was because of the sheer numbers: nearly 90 percent of people get the darn things, and any hope for a cure – even in the future – is news.
Mary Gore pic.jpg
I have worked as a medical writer most of my professional career, but as an 11-year freelancer I took on a lot of assignments. I even had scripts produced for a TV show (Divorce Court). Writing about divorce was a fictional activity back then – and now you can’t make this stuff up. It’s what we have to compete with.
What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?
My time is mainly spent in publicizing basic or translational biomedical science. My passion is to do my part to make the world understand that science is more important than celebrity. I am not so starry-eyed as to think that science will catch celebrity in the headline-making arena – but I do hope to see more medical and biomedical science in more places where people get their news. I sincerely believe that informing the public as much as I – and as we – can about early and late-stage research is going to help save the planet. I have two kids, so it’s important to me to discuss the issues. Not that he went out of his way to be my Facebook friend, but there I can see he has a bit of the awareness I was hoping for.
What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?
I am always trying to learn better ways to reach the broadest audience with one story. It’s interesting to try different tactics with different stories. One week it may be science websites and blogs that pick up the story – in fact, that happens most weeks. In other conditions, it may be the mainstream media, but there nearly always has to be either a translational component or a dangerous disease/condition for which there may be a promising, though early, finding. Even great science stories disappear when there are predominant stories, like the Haiti Earthquake, health care reform near-passage, the presidential election. The growing number of outlets online is pleasing. But my question is: who can synthesize all of these stories and make sense of it? Which sites are really the best go-to sites? For example, where are we, really, in the fight against cancer? There are thousands of bits of information. It feels hard to keep up, to know the best places to go for each subject.
How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?
So far, I am not a blogger at all. I do read them – yours comes to my inbox, but it is one of the few I subscribe to, because of time constraints I feel. Now that so many MSM science writers are gone from their posts, I think blogs will be further enriched. Maybe I’ll subscribe to more. I think we all have inbox fatigue. I have helped Duke scientists write about their findings for Huffington Post, and that is something I am proud of, given the potential readership by influential readers of those blogs who may be looking for sound information. I think blogging science news is a net positive. People need to learn about scientific findings – reported with accuracy – in any way they can.
When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any cool science blogs by the participants at the Conference?
I wasn’t much of a blog reader until I came to Duke two years ago, and, in a nicely old-fashioned way, was introduced to you at Anton Zuiker’s home. That is really old-school – getting a personal introduction to the blogger – and in fact, that is what happens at Science Online ’10 – isn’t it? We all can meet in person and share. I like Ed Yong’s approach, and Ars Technica, and I like Neurophilosophy. I have been reading Carl Zimmer, and not just for the animal sex posts — I read him before that. I like Rebecca Skloot, too, and XX Factor on Slate. Oh, and Sandra Tsing Loh, the Loh Down on Science (a radio show, not a blog).
What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 for you? Any suggestions for next year? Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
It’s a very democratic meeting; the accessibility to all others, including the gracious speakers, is good.
The Journalism session was the standout for me – it hurt to realize that the information we give as PIOs is considered so specious to some other writers. Thank you for your recent defense of PIOs as a source of science writing. We each have a communication job to do. Mine is to publicize the works, large and small of the scientists at Duke in biomedical fields. But as a trained journalist and one who freelanced as a writer for 11 years before going into full-time work in academia, I do strive to provide accurate science stories, double-check statistics and other data, and include thoughtful quotes from the scientists. Maybe part of my personal mission is to get young people interested in science, too, with bright, encouraging, affirming quotes from those who are practicing.
It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview. I hope you come again next January.

ScienceOnline2010: Talks Between Generations (video) – Part 3

Sunday, January 17 at 9-10:05am
E. Science online talks between generationsBeatrice Lugger and Christian Rapp:
Description: In huge meetings around the world several organizations try to initiate a dialogue between top scientists and young researchers -the Lindau Meetings of Nobel Laureates are one of them providing numerous opportunities for an exchange of ideas and thoughts between young researchers and Nobel Laureates. The idea is to support this dialogue with a special platform in the web, where current science topics can be discussed and the talks and thoughts can be followed by a broader public. We’d like to discuss how one can initiate a continued communication process even between two meetings. Which internet/social web tools might be useful to bridge the communication habits of a younger generation with that of an older generation?
The question is if one can organize such a dialogue with a special platform in the web, where current science topics can be discussed and the talks and thoughts can be followed by a broader public.
To get some impressions of the Lindau Nobel Laureates meeting itself please visit the website, click through the archives, read in the annual reports and take a look at the actual list of Nobel Laureates who are expected to join the next meeting (the participation list of young researchers will be online by the end of April 2010).
The aim is to promote the scientific communication between generations. Five short films presented by Nature Video, show some kinds of such a dialogue. Join Laureates and young researchers as they discuss the future of medicine, consider the ethics of nanotechnologies, plan new collaborations, and seek ways to avoid dangerous climate change.
Surely there also exists a blog during the meeting and we are acitve on Facebook and Twitter. Till now the traffic on these plattforms abruptly drops down after the meetings and grows up some weeks before the next one. We’d like to find new ways to encourage a continuous dialogue.

ScienceOnline2010 – interview with John McKay

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years’ interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.
Today, I asked John McKay from Archy and Mammoth Tales blogs to answer a few questions.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)?
I’ve spent most of my life in and around the Pacific Northwest. I spent the years when I formed my adult identity in Alaska and, even though I now live in Seattle, I think of myself as Alaskan. Just for the record, everyone I know, with one exception, voted against Sarah Palin.
I was a little kid during the golden years of the space program: the race to the moon. I watched every launch, even the satellites, and could name all of the astronauts up through the end of the Apollo program. At the same time, my dad worked for, what was then called, the Atomic Energy Commission building research reactors. I always assumed I’d become a scientist. But the way I saw great research projects treated–the budget cuts to scientific space research and some of my dad’s projects being canceled and forgotten–soured me on the whole business. I think if I’d had some exposure to academic science I might have felt different. When I went to college I went as a history major.
But I never gave up on science. I continued to follow science in the news. I have read Scientific American for the last thirty years or so. I spent most of the decade between college and graduate school working in bookstores and used my discount to buy almost as many popular science titles as history titles. When it came time to pick a specialty in grad school, history of science was one of the finalists (I eventually picked modern Balkans and colonial Africa). Blogging gives me the opportunity to go back to some of the fields I passed up and write about them.
archy pic.gifI guess this brings me to my blogging identity. I have a tiny blog called archy that I’ve been writing for almost seven years. The blog is about whatever catches my fancy: science news, history, conspiracy theories, and too much politics. I just created a second, depoliticized blog, called Mammoth Tales, that will focus more on science and history. Right now, I’m cross posting the same articles on both blogs, but, in time, I expect Mammoth Tales to develop an identity of its own.
What is your (scientific) background?
The biography above pretty much says it all. I’ve spent the last half century as an enthusiastic and curious spectator of science, but I have zero in the way of formal credentials. For the last few years, I’ve been turning my historical training to the study of the history of science. It’s amazing how useful some serious work in critical reading has been for me in fields that have traditionally been unrelated to history.
Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?
Since I’ve never had a job in science, there shouldn’t be that much to tell. However, I do have experience in technology. After I left grad school, I was in a rather difficult career spot. My job history was a fragmented mess; for most of my working life I had held service jobs with no discernible pattern. My longest period of work had been in bookstores. At forty I wanted to start living something like a grown-up, but a bookstore salary wouldn’t even allow me to pay my student loans. The world was not exactly overflowing with job offers for Master’s degrees in Balkan History. Clever Wife helped me review my skills. We discovered I am good at explaining things and Seattle needed technical writers. I’ve spent the last dozen years writing help files and end user documentation for software and internet businesses. It’s not exactly hard science, but it keeps me in contact with science minded people.
What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?
mammoth small pic.jpgAnyone who knows me or has read my blog during the last two or three years knows I’m working on a book about the early discoveries of woolly mammoths and how Enlightenment scientists deciphered what they were. Mammoths and mastodons were the first two extinct species to be identified as such and reconstructed. Until then, unfamiliar fossils were assumed to be remains of species that were still alive somewhere else. Many believed that it was impossible for a species to be completely extinct. Theologically, it implied imperfection in the perfect God’s creation. But large land mammals, such as mammoths and mastodons, were simply too big to be hiding somewhere; they had to be extinct. This identification of the mammoth as an extinct species was a profound milestone in the history of science. In banishing a solely religious argument, it was an important step in establishing secular explanations as an integral part of the scientific method. Establishing the reality of extinction put in place one of the pillars of evolutionary theory. Finally, as a demonstration of the methodologies for reconstructing an unknown species from fossils, the mammoth set the science of paleontology on a firm footing. Of course the main reason for tackling this story is that it’s a ripping good yarn. At various points, it touches on exploration, trade, the ebb and flow of empire, great thinkers, powerful monarchs, giants, dragons, unicorns, and the invention of chocolate milk. Besides, it’s time for a mammoth book that looks at something other than the tired questions of why they went extinct and when we’ll clone some new ones (the answers are bad luck and not yet).
What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?
John McKay pic.JPGIn my presentation at ScienceOnline2010, I talked about the professionalization of science and science publishing. In the eighteenth century, most of the–admittedly small–educated population of Europe and America could participate in the scientific endeavour. The scientific societies gave over a large part of their journal pages to correspondence from interested readers. Experiments and observations by gentleman farmers, frontier soldiers, and sea captains were important sources of new knowledge. That changed in the next century. In the nineteenth century, science became a professional business practiced by appropriately credentialed men in academia, government, and industry. Enthusiastic amateurs disappeared from the journals. A separate popular science press grew up to explain what the professionals were up to. Science was divided into practicers and spectators.
I see an new type of science communication emerging on the internet. We’re never going to get back to the point where everyone can do original science, but amateurs be still be invaluable as observers. The internet makes it possible to organize those amateur observers into regional, and even global, networks. I’m thinking of astronomy and geology, where you can never have too many observers. I’m sure other fields will think of ways to use this enormous pool of free labor. Where this becomes relevant to people like me is that the internet makes it possible for the science literate to once again to participate in the discussion, rather than just to be passive spectators of science. Being allowed into the discussion is a very exciting development for people like me, who work outside science and/or have non-science backgrounds, but who are still interested in science.
A second development that has been very exciting for me, as a writer and as an historian, has been access to information over the internet. It’s almost a cliche for internet watchers to bemoan the amount of misinformation and bad information on the internet. What sometimes gets lost in these discussions is the fact that this is only a problem because the bad information is indiscriminately mixed in with good information. The problem is in knowing how to sort the two. It’s really not that different than life outside the internet.
My mammoth book would not be possible without the internet. Most of the original sources that I have used in my research would not have been available to me just ten years ago. Many early journals existed for only a few years, in very small numbers. To read them, I would have had to travel to major libraries in Europe and the Eastern states, which would have been prohibitively expensive. Once at those libraries, I would have needed to get access to their rare book collections, which would have been very difficult since I lack an institutional affiliation. Because of Project Gutenberg, Google Books, and the efforts of libraries like the Bibliotheque nationale de France, Library of Congress, and Universität Göttingen, I can now read these works online. In may cases I can view scans of the actual pages and see how this information was first presented.
How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook?
I’m going to stick with the theme of being part of the discussion. I started blogging seven years ago primarily to rant and scream about politics. Since then, I have discovered many other uses for blogging. I can rant and scream about popular culture. I can rant and scream about religion. I can rant and scream about bad history. I can write thoughtful and informative essays–which everyone should read and link to–about mammoths. And I can try out ideas for the book. It’s not my plan to serialize the book in my blogs. However, condensing parts of my research into short articles lets me see whether different narrative structures and organizations work. It’s basically market testing.
Social networks are a little trickier. Over the last few months, I’ve set up accounts on Facebook and Twitter. I have reconnected with a few old friends over Facebook. I let them pull me into one of the games, which, for a while, was an enormous time suck. I haven’t quite figured out what to do with Twitter. I can see how social networks can be useful for building a personal community, a brand, I’m just slow at learning how to do it.
Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?
It’s a mixed blessing. The internet provides endless distractions and excuses for not working. At the same time it provides access to information, community, and a means to participate in meaningful discussions. With a modicum of self-discipline (and a modicum is all I have), I think it is a net positive.
When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any cool at the Conference?
It’s been a snowballing thing for me. Because I have always been interested in science, I naturally hunted for a few science blogs when I started reading blogs. When Seed magazine set up Science Blogs, most of the blogs I was already reading were in the first group. As new blogs were incorporated, I started reading them. As I followed links out from the SciBlings and the commenters, I discovered more blogs. ScienceOnline2010 exposed me to still more. Getting back to the subject of internet distractions, I could easily spend a day or two each week just checking in on all of the blogs I’ve discovered.
Before I went to the conference, I scoped out the sites of all the attendees. When I got home, I checked them again to attach faces to the blogs. I finished looking at Joanne Loves Science and got up to get some coffee. Clever Wife was at her computer researching something for her home-crafted soap business. When I came in to ask if she needed a refill, I found her reading Joanne Loves Science. One of her friends had recommended Joanne’s Science of Beauty essays.
What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 for you?
I hate to repeat what everyone else has said, but it was meeting people. You are a great example. You and I have not only been reading each others’ blogs for years, but we’ve corresponded through e-mail, and regard each other as friends. Yet we had never met. Online identities usually only represent a part of a person’s personality. Some people have a very carefully crafted and controlled online personality. It was great fun to see how the real people compared to their online personae and to how I imagined them. Most people were shorter than I expected. You were an exception. Joanne Manaster is also tall. I am not.
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?
After the socializing, my main goal in coming to the conference was to get tips on turning my mammoth manuscript into a real book. I think my time at the conference was very productive. The sessions relating to writing all gave me useful ideas that I’m putting to work. I made several useful contacts. I was disappointed that no major publishing house editors stood up at dinner shouting “I have a bucket full of money for a good mammoth book.” But you can’t have everything.
Any suggestions for next year?
Remind the hotel to stock more beer before the weekend. All the local microbrews were tapped out before last call on Friday. That’s just wrong.
It was so nice to finally, finally meet you in person and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again next January.

ScienceOnline2010: Talks Between Generations (video) – Part 2

Sunday, January 17 at 9-10:05am
E. Science online talks between generationsBeatrice Lugger and Christian Rapp:
Description: In huge meetings around the world several organizations try to initiate a dialogue between top scientists and young researchers -the Lindau Meetings of Nobel Laureates are one of them providing numerous opportunities for an exchange of ideas and thoughts between young researchers and Nobel Laureates. The idea is to support this dialogue with a special platform in the web, where current science topics can be discussed and the talks and thoughts can be followed by a broader public. We’d like to discuss how one can initiate a continued communication process even between two meetings. Which internet/social web tools might be useful to bridge the communication habits of a younger generation with that of an older generation?
The question is if one can organize such a dialogue with a special platform in the web, where current science topics can be discussed and the talks and thoughts can be followed by a broader public.
To get some impressions of the Lindau Nobel Laureates meeting itself please visit the website, click through the archives, read in the annual reports and take a look at the actual list of Nobel Laureates who are expected to join the next meeting (the participation list of young researchers will be online by the end of April 2010).
The aim is to promote the scientific communication between generations. Five short films presented by Nature Video, show some kinds of such a dialogue. Join Laureates and young researchers as they discuss the future of medicine, consider the ethics of nanotechnologies, plan new collaborations, and seek ways to avoid dangerous climate change.
Surely there also exists a blog during the meeting and we are acitve on Facebook and Twitter. Till now the traffic on these plattforms abruptly drops down after the meetings and grows up some weeks before the next one. We’d like to find new ways to encourage a continuous dialogue.

ScienceOnline2010 – interview with Patty Gainer

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years’ interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.
Today, I asked Patty Gainer from Radford College, VA, to answer a few questions.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)?
Hi, I’m Patricia, but I go by Patty. I’m located in Radford, Virginia. It’s a very, very small city. I’m twenty years old; however, I will soon be twenty-one. Eek.
Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?
Right now I am still working through school. I’m currently finishing my last semester at our local community college. In the fall I will be attending Radford University. Here is where I will work on both my majors. I will be double majoring, first in Environmental Journalism and secondly in Fashion Merchandising. I’m look forward to the fall very much.
In Environmental Journalism I hope to work with nature and wildlife. I want to sit in the fields and study animal behavior and habits. Also I would very much like to research more on climate change and how that can be reversed. I do not want to see animals disappear because of a lack of caring.
In Fashion I want to be a personal shopper. I know fashion probably seems like a complete opposite from my other career choice. However, I very much like the way the clothes are the higher the fashion goes. They are exquisite. I like how you can see each stitch and the professional look they have.
Patty Gainer pic1.jpg
What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?
Let’s see: when I’m not at school or doing school work I am dancing. I dance three days a week for two and a half hours. I only study ballet, though, as of right now. I’ve been dancing for sixteen years. I very much like ballet. I’ve been to four professional performances. Although it might not seem hard to some, it is extremely hard. My body has been definitely feeling the pain over the sixteen years. Even though I get sore a lot, I still plan to continue for another three years.
Another thing that takes up a lot of my time when I’m not worrying about school is studying the news. I like to know what is going on and to be up to date on world events. Sometimes I do not completely understand the events, though I still like to know something about them. I usually am pretty involved in politics, too. I find it useful to know what’s going on in the world.
What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?
I personally like to watch about science events and actions. I find Nova programs to be pretty good, and they keep my attention. Other ways I like to learn about science would be from watching documentaries. They have to be good documentaries, though, such as the ones hosted by David Attenborough.
How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?
I do not blog. However, I sometimes wonder if I should. I want to go into journalism and blogging is a good way to start. It’s just something about free writing I think that I’m not the best at. I like to be given a sort of guide line, such as, this has to be due at this time and we need you to follow this outline. One would think a writer would like a blog because of the freedom it gives. For me, though, it’s a bit too much of freedom.
I don’t use twitter either, and right now I’m feeling a bit out dated and I’m only twenty.
I do use Facebook! I normally use Facebook to keep in touch with friends and chat with them. I have, however, become fans of some pages such as the WWF and get updates from them. I can click on a link and get direct information about the subject. I also am a fan of the American Ballet so I also get updates about their performances. Oh, another update I get is from NPR. I also really like listening to NPR.
When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any cool science blogs by the participants at the Conference?
Ha ha, this question makes me laugh. I actually had no idea about this conference. I was first dragged along by my mother. She was the one that found it. I just came along. I think I was about sixteen the first time I went to the Science Conference. At sixteen I had no idea what I wanted to do for a career, so I didn’t look at the conference so much as a way to get information. I did know that I liked science, but most of the stuff that was covered I didn’t understand fully.
Patty Gainer pic2.jpg
You are one of the rare people who attended all four of our conferences. You were just a kid when you came to the first one! How do you perceive its evolution, the way the meeting is changing year after year, and how are you changing in your relation to the topics of the science and the Web over the years?
YES I WAS! As stated above, I didn’t know yet that I wanted to go into something that dealt with science. Then I only knew I wanted to work with Fashion. Despite that, I have always liked science and have always loved animals. I think being exposed to such a great conference with people who really knew what they were talking about helped me understand science more. It wasn’t the same stuff I was taught in school by the text books. It was completely new and sometimes more advanced, which I liked. I got bored with the stuff from the text books over and over again. I think after attending my second Science conference I really began to think more about maybe pursuing a career with science. Here is where Environmental Journalism came in.
What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 for you? Any suggestions for next year? Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
This year when I went to the ScienceOnline 2010 Conference, I was very much looking forward to hearing from the Journalists. I remember in one session I noticed that most of the journalists there were freelance writers. I hope to learn more about a career in Journalism and next year maybe have some things I can say I’ve submitted. I hope to come again next year and learn even more about the science world that is forever growing.
Thank You!
It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again next January.

ScienceOnline2010: Talks Between Generations (video) – Part 1

Sunday, January 17 at 9-10:05am
E. Science online talks between generationsBeatrice Lugger and Christian Rapp:
Description: In huge meetings around the world several organizations try to initiate a dialogue between top scientists and young researchers -the Lindau Meetings of Nobel Laureates are one of them providing numerous opportunities for an exchange of ideas and thoughts between young researchers and Nobel Laureates. The idea is to support this dialogue with a special platform in the web, where current science topics can be discussed and the talks and thoughts can be followed by a broader public. We’d like to discuss how one can initiate a continued communication process even between two meetings. Which internet/social web tools might be useful to bridge the communication habits of a younger generation with that of an older generation?
The question is if one can organize such a dialogue with a special platform in the web, where current science topics can be discussed and the talks and thoughts can be followed by a broader public.
To get some impressions of the Lindau Nobel Laureates meeting itself please visit the website, click through the archives, read in the annual reports and take a look at the actual list of Nobel Laureates who are expected to join the next meeting (the participation list of young researchers will be online by the end of April 2010).
The aim is to promote the scientific communication between generations. Five short films presented by Nature Video, show some kinds of such a dialogue. Join Laureates and young researchers as they discuss the future of medicine, consider the ethics of nanotechnologies, plan new collaborations, and seek ways to avoid dangerous climate change.
Surely there also exists a blog during the meeting and we are acitve on Facebook and Twitter. Till now the traffic on these plattforms abruptly drops down after the meetings and grows up some weeks before the next one. We’d like to find new ways to encourage a continuous dialogue.

Texting for Anglers at ScienceOnline2010 (video) – Part 2

North Carolina Sea Grant fisheries specialist Scott Baker talks about “RECTEXT” — a system that lets tournament anglers report catch data via cell phone text messaging.
Fisheries managers often meet hurdles in collecting recreational fishing data, but RECTEXT has the potential to provide valuable information for gamefish population research. Learn more at http://www.rectext.org.
Baker demonstrated RECTEXT at the ScienceOnline2010 conference on Jan. 15, 2010. Filmed at Sigma Xi in Research Triangle Park, NC. Flipcam donated by a ScienceOnline sponsor.

Texting for Anglers at ScienceOnline2010 (video) – Part 1

North Carolina Sea Grant fisheries specialist Scott Baker talks about “RECTEXT” — a system that lets tournament anglers report catch data via cell phone text messaging.
Fisheries managers often meet hurdles in collecting recreational fishing data, but RECTEXT has the potential to provide valuable information for gamefish population research. Learn more at http://www.rectext.org.
Baker demonstrated RECTEXT at the ScienceOnline2010 conference on Jan. 15, 2010. Filmed at Sigma Xi in Research Triangle Park, NC. Flipcam donated by a ScienceOnline sponsor.

ScienceOnline2010 – Trust and Critical Thinking (video), Part 6

Saturday, January 16 at 4:40 – 5:45pm
C. Trust and Critical ThinkingStephanie Zvan, PZ Myers, Desiree Schell, Greg Laden, Kirsten Sanford
Description: Lay audiences often lack the resources (access to studies, background knowledge of fields and methods) to evaluate the trustworthiness of scientific information as another scientist or a journalist might. Are there ways to usefully promote critical thinking about sources and presentation as we provide information? Can we teach them to navigate competing claims? And can we do it without promoting a distrust of science itself?

ScienceOnline2010 – interview with Russ Williams

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years’ interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.
Today, I asked Russ Williams from North Carolina Zoological Society and the Russlings 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? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?
I’m an English major from Northeastern Pennsylvania who works at the North Carolina Zoo (24 years executive director, N.C. Zoological Society). I try to stay somewhat current, despite my age (north of 60). For example, I am listening these days to music by Death Cab for Cutie, Arcade Fire, Flaming Lips, Radiohead and Pole Cat Creek, along with the oldies (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Hank [and Lucinda] Williams, Coltrane and Bach).
Started personally blogging about zoo animals and issues about five years ago. (Took an intro course in blogging at UNC-Greensboro by G’boro blogfather Ed Cone (Word Up). Found I was learning much from Google searches, and then by following the blogs and tweets of certain science journalists and bloggers, conservation researchers, etc. (The blogs and tweets of Wild Muse/@tdelene and you, BoraZ, are favorite sources.) Flickr and YouTube have provided much for my blogs and tweets too.
Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?
Had no idea I’d work for a Zoo. (Even named a son Noah; would never do that to someone by plan!) Growing up, I knew I would have a career in advertising, like my father. Did do some retail advertising (broadcast and newspaper) after graduation – early 1970’s. Didn’t like it. Backpacked in Europe for two months. Returned to work with weekly newspapers. This led to public relations/communications for non-profits. This led to fund raising. This led to North Carolina (United Way in Winston-Salem, 1980-85). This led to the NC Zoo Society – 1985-now.
Result: accidental zoology tinkerer.
What does it mean to be the Director of the NC Zoological Society? What does the job entail?
Always remember that I have about 100,000 bosses, in about 27,000 NC Zoo Society member households. Our staff tries to provide excellent customer service to our members and to be their “champions” when it comes to getting a good return on their investments in the Zoo in general or a very specific program, like Field Trip Earth (recognized as a Landmark website by the American Association of School Librarians – one of 21, including Google Earth, Library of Congress, NASA and Smithsonian Education).
What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?
Proud of my small role in how the NC Zoo and Zoo Society have grown and the creation of both Field Trip Earth (our educational website featuring journals and other media offered by conservation researchers around the world) and Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park (the largest such gathering, offering and breeding of rare and endangered ducks, geese and swans in the world).
Really enjoy helping folks accomplish what they want to accomplish for the future of the NC Zoo through “The Lions Pride“, a grouping of people who have made planned arrangements for their Zoo, mainly through wills.
Capital campaigns, like Project: Pachyderms (African elephants and southern white rhinos) and Project: Polar Bears also meet my need to attain goals requiring some considerable preparation and effort. (I’ve also plodded through a few full, running marathons and to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, at 55).
NC Zoo has something else unique about it – the Zoo School! Can you tell us more about it?
A “magnet” Asheboro City high school, the Zoo School is right on site here. It uses the Zoo as a teaching tool not just to study biology and geography, but for all learning, making use of the Zoo for English composition and communications, mathematics, business and many other studies.
What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 for you?
Appreciate your prodding, Bora, to demonstrate Field Trip Earth at ScienceOnline2010. The Charlotte Observer science editor attended our demonstration and the result was an 85-column-inch article in both the Observer and Raleigh News & Observer by T. DeLene Beeland, whose Wild Muse blog and tweets were already favorites of mine, introduced by your RTs, Bora. I want to take in more of the sessions the next time. Only got to one session (other than our own series of demos) and it was exceptional.
It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview. I’ll see you at the Zoo soon….and at ScienceOnline2011, of course!
Russ Williams pic.jpg

ScienceOnline2010 – Trust and Critical Thinking (video), Part 5

Saturday, January 16 at 4:40 – 5:45pm
C. Trust and Critical ThinkingStephanie Zvan, PZ Myers, Desiree Schell, Greg Laden, Kirsten Sanford
Description: Lay audiences often lack the resources (access to studies, background knowledge of fields and methods) to evaluate the trustworthiness of scientific information as another scientist or a journalist might. Are there ways to usefully promote critical thinking about sources and presentation as we provide information? Can we teach them to navigate competing claims? And can we do it without promoting a distrust of science itself?

ScienceOnline2010 – interview with DeLene Beeland

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years’ interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.
Today, I asked T. DeLene Beeland to answer a few questions.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?
Geography: I live in North Carolina, but my heart is still in Florida, where I spent my whole life prior to 2009. Perspective: I love nature and learning about the natural world. I am a freelance writer with graduate training in ecology, natural resources management and journalism.
Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?
It’s been more of a higgledy-piggledy switch-back path than a trajectory. Let’s see…I’m 33 and have been freelancing for a little more than one year. This is actually my second career – my first was as a commercial interior designer (not a decorator, an interior architectural space planner – very different). While working in design, I was bored down to my bones. I’d also had a health crisis that forced the soul-searching question: if I can do anything in the world, what would it be? My inner voice kept answering, “Be a writer, study ecology.” So I did.
Delene pic1.JPG
While in grad school (Univ. of Florida) I worked for two years as a staff science writer at the Florida Museum of Natural History. The science divisions in this museum are vast, there are 20-plus scientific departments. I wrote about goings-on in ichthyology, herpetology, four different archaeology departments, a Lepidoptera center and of course, vertebrate and invertebrate paleontology – oh, and ornithology, palynology and paleobotany too! It was a cool gig, except for the money. Shortly after graduating I took a similar position with the Emerging Pathogens Institute at UF, except they were a start-up so I built their science communications from scratch.
Today, I’m building a freelance writing business and working on a natural history book. I feel like I’m at a point where I’ve struggled to the bottom-rung of the freelancing career and I’ve got a toehold but still have a marathon climbing trek ahead of me.
What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days?
Trying to afford health insurance. (Kidding! Sort of.) Seriously, trying to carve time to research and write my book; stay afloat with freelance work and expanding my professional network. Yep, that pretty much consumes most of my time. And watching the birds at my seed feeder – that soaks up a lot of time too. I like watching them over time and learning their seasonal behaviors.
What aspect of science communication interests you the most?
Delene pic2.JPGFinding an interesting story, pitching, finding the lede to a story… Figuring out how to break complex things down into interesting reads; making science relatable to everyday people who may not be into it – these are communication elements I’m interested in. I see my science writing as in its infancy. I’m still really focused on explanatory approaches (here is what they found, this is what the results mean, etc.) Which is fine for being a science evangelist and getting people interested, but in the future I hope to be doing more critical pieces and analysis; especially concerning conservation biology and species conservation and extinction, topics that I always feel drawn to. I am interested in learning to do profile pieces better too – getting at the personalities who do science. I’ve also been sinking time into reading about narrative writing craft and how to bring story-telling elements into science writing: using dialogue (well), orchestrating plot and conflict, stuff like that.
How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?
It is a small part of my professional life. I write blogs for one client (Science in the Triangle), and I write a personal blog, Wild Muse. But blogging is not my primary writing outlet and is a small fraction of my income; and because of that, the majority of my time and effort goes into other types of print communication work. I started blogging as an experiment, mostly because all the freelance business articles I was reading said “You Must Blog. Period.”
I use my personal blog to explore things I’m interested in: wolf studies, birds, ecology the environment… It’s really more of an online journaling exercise. I’m a highly kinetic reader. I have to underline and scrawl copious notes in the margins in order to process ideas… and blogging, for me, is kind of the online analog to that learning process. The happy accidental side effect of it is that I’ve met many people through the process of blogging – like you – and now have a wider and richer online social network because of it.
Facebook I reserve for my personal life. Twitter, I treat a little more professionally. I’ve made a point to use it more tied to my online presence as a science and nature writer.
When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites?
Ah, British spelling?
Shortly after moving to N.C., and hooking up with the SCONC group. As for favorite blogs… I graze a lot. Since I’m new to the blogosphere – Wild Muse is only seven or eight months old – I flit around a lot and skim many people’s blogs just to see what is out there. Some faves in my Google Reader are: CreatureCast, Round Robin, Wolves of the High Arctic and Ralph Maughan’s Wildlife News… but if you notice, these are not blogs you go to for interesting writing or science news, my preferences are more clustered around content I find intriguing. Deep Sea News is great too because it has a unique tone. Scads of people have great blogs, but I can’t say I’m a very loyal daily reader of any single person’s blog. I get impatient, bored and turned off by blogs that are self-promotional or bloggers who take themselves too seriously, and usually won’t go back if I get that vibe from someone’s site. But if they have good content and package it well, I’ll flit back to it.
Is there anything that happened at ScienceOnline2010 – 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?
Hands-down, the fact-checking session won my interest. There are cases where you can’t just take your source’s word for it. Just because someone says something, does not make it true. Writers are not transcriptionists. You have to check with a second or third source to verify what the first said if something does not feel right or sounds off or contradicts what you know. This happened to me recently on an assignment… a project manager told me they had discovered one species trend, then a person collecting data on the project told me the exact opposite. So I had to run it by others to find out the reality. Sometimes people think they are telling you the “truth” but really they are only telling you their perspective of what they experienced – and it’s your job as the writer to sift through and drill down to the un-colored reality. So yeah, I’d say that was the best lesson and what I took home with me. You really get into the danger zone when you think you know something, but don’t check it to verify that what you think you know is in fact true.
It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview. I’ll see you around.

ScienceOnline2010 – Trust and Critical Thinking (video), Part 4

Saturday, January 16 at 4:40 – 5:45pm
C. Trust and Critical ThinkingStephanie Zvan, PZ Myers, Desiree Schell, Greg Laden, Kirsten Sanford
Description: Lay audiences often lack the resources (access to studies, background knowledge of fields and methods) to evaluate the trustworthiness of scientific information as another scientist or a journalist might. Are there ways to usefully promote critical thinking about sources and presentation as we provide information? Can we teach them to navigate competing claims? And can we do it without promoting a distrust of science itself?

ScienceOnline2010 – interview with Christine Ottery

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years’ interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.
Today, I asked Christine Ottery from the MA program in science journalism at City University London to answer a few questions:
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?
Christine Ottery pic.jpgDoes double As at GCSE count as a science background? Leaving aside exams I took when I was 15 years old, I’m a humanities graduate, with a BA in Philosophy and English. As such, my philosophy is that it’s useful to build our pyramids of knowledge from the bottom up using facts as the foundation. Or, like a game of Jenga gone wrong, we could fall down.
My particular intrigue with science is its potential to explain why humans behave the way they do. The fields of neuroscience, genetics and psychology are all fascinating. I’m concerned with the way these interact with big questions such as climate change, health and feminism to the banal and beautiful in our daily lives.
This is starting to sound like a manifesto! Ahem, moving on.
(By the way, I’m from London, England.)
Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?
In my previous incarnation I was a journalist and editor writing about adventure travel and sports. I felt pretty good about encouraging people to take up a more active lifestyle. A sedentary lifestyle isn’t all to good for health. Read Travis Saunder’s take on the effects of being a couch potato.
So, although I planned and commissioned health writing, I did very little myself. The first proper piece of science writing I did was a piece for Fall-Line Skiing magazine on the science of powder snow.
Last summer, around the same time as I was applying to go back to school to do an MA in science journalism at City University London, I began to write long blogs on science communication and tweet like a creature possessed . Then all kinds of funny things happened. I was asked to write for Comment is Free in the Guardian online, and invited to come and speak at Science Online 2010 (Wooo-hooo!). I became a researcher for my journalistic hero, George Monbiot, started writing for TheEcologist.co.uk and even penned a piece about bonobos for Newscientist.com.
What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?
The two main things that I’m fired up by at the moment are: the mega-inspirational green heroes research I’m doing for Monbiot and a website I’m launching to address science in women’s magazines – can’t wait to get my teeth into that one. For the site I will be looking at how science features in women’s mags and comparing it to what readers want. After all, women are the ones who make the majority of consumer decisions – possibly on the basis of dodgy science. As an antidote, I’ll also be research blogging.
What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?
Science videos on the web going viral is the way forward for science communication, and no, I’m not just talking about the ubiquitous duck’s penis. Brain surgery, historical experiments and so on are a good way of reeling people into science. Complex scientific concepts can be more easily understood when they are demonstrated.
How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?
Twitter and Facebook are important, but mostly as a way to skim off the cream of what other people are reading and writing about. Twitter, in particular, can be a veritable fount of story ideas, especially for blogposts. When people start chatting about something on Twitter, depending on how I rate their opinions, I sit up and take notice. In fact, can we come up with a formula for that? Who’ll take a bribe of half a flapjack and lukewarm mug of tea?
When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any cool science blogs by the participants at the Conference?
Before coming to Science Online, I have to confess to only having properly read a small handful of science blogs: Bora’s of course, Ed Yong’s Not Exactly Rocket Science and some of Scicurious’s posts on Neurotopia. Since then, I’ve acquainted myself with: Janet Stemwedel’s Adventures in Ethics and Science, Brian Switek’s Laelaps, and Eric Michael Johnson’s The Primate Diaries, and checked out a whole lot more.
What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 for you? Any suggestions for next year? Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
I wrote about my impressions from Science Online 2010 on my blog. Since then, the stuff I’m rolling around my mind basically consists of the meme: I’m writing about what I’m passionate about. Now how do I make enough money from it? So the most important session for me, as stand-alone thought-provoking stuff and also because of the conversations that arose with DeLene Beeland, was: Rebecca Skloot, Tom Levenson and Brian Switek on how to go from blog to book.
It was so nice to meet you and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again next January.

ScienceOnline2010 – Trust and Critical Thinking (video), Part 3

Saturday, January 16 at 4:40 – 5:45pm
C. Trust and Critical ThinkingStephanie Zvan, PZ Myers, Desiree Schell, Greg Laden, Kirsten Sanford
Description: Lay audiences often lack the resources (access to studies, background knowledge of fields and methods) to evaluate the trustworthiness of scientific information as another scientist or a journalist might. Are there ways to usefully promote critical thinking about sources and presentation as we provide information? Can we teach them to navigate competing claims? And can we do it without promoting a distrust of science itself?

ScienceOnline2010 – interview with Robin Ann Smith

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years’ interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.
Today, I asked Robin Ann Smith from NESCent to answer a few questions.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?
Robin Smith pic2.jpgI’ve spent much of my life taking a grand tour of southern cities — born in New Orleans, raised in Atlanta, and schooled in Nashville. My Midwestern mother says that makes me and my sister g.r.i.t.s: Girls Raised in the South. My paternal grandmother grew up in Cajun village in south Louisiana and inspired me to study French, so I lived in France for two years during and after college. I moved to North Carolina in 1999.
Scientific background? I have a PhD in biology from Duke, where I studied plant ecology and evolution. Ask me about the mating habits of morning glories and I’ll give you an earful. Before that I did Master’s work at the University of Montpellier in France, mostly on how different mixes of plants rebound from disturbances like fire and grazing. While there I also learned to love things like tripe, cheek kisses, and strong coffee.
Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?
I’m a science writer at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent), a nonprofit biology research center based in Durham, NC. NESCent is building their newsroom. That’s where I come in — my job is to help communicate some of research that comes out of the Center.
Before that I taught undergraduate writing for four years at Duke. There are several university writing programs around the country that recruit recently-minted PhDs from across the sciences and humanities to design and teach writing classes in their field. For people who want to learn more about teaching and writing it’s a wonderful opportunity. More science PhDs should apply.
What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?
As a staff writer for a research center I handle a wide range of writing assignments. In a given week I may write a news release, a story for our newsletter or website, a project proposal, or text for a talk or brochure. I also interview researchers, read journal articles, and attend talks and conferences to find out about research in the pipeline.
My goals? I’d like to learn how to tell stories using images and audio. I recently signed up for classes in graphic design and digital photography. I also want to keep flexing my freelance muscles via non-work related stories. In my spare time you can find me hiking, dancing, or experimenting with frozen desserts and home plumbing projects.
How do social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook figure in your work? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?
I was skeptical about Twitter until I started using it. It’s a news aggregator, for one. I use it to find the latest stories about a range of topics. Twitter has also been great for tapping into a universe of writers and editors and getting to know their interests. As for the cons? Between Twitter, Facebook, email, and a million other online outlets, some days my laptop feels like my external brain. I need to unplug and get outside. Time management is tricky.
When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any cool science blogs by the participants at the Conference?
I first discovered science blogs by following traditional writers and journalists who expanded into blogging. Olivia Judson’s blog The Wild Side (now a subset of Opinionator) and Carl Zimmer’s blog The Loom are great examples. I recently discovered and have gotten a huge kick out of CreatureCast, a blog and podcast series jam-packed with playful videos, animation, music and original artwork about animals. Not all of my favorites are bloggers per se, but I’m also a huge fan of Susan Milius at Science News magazine for her coverage of the plant world.
Robin Smith pic1.jpg
What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 for you? Any suggestions for next year? Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
What stood out for me was the diversity of people there – researchers and writers mingling with artists, editors, librarians and educators. That’s definitely one of the things that distinguishes Science Online from other science or writing conferences I’ve been to. My one suggestion for next year: we need a bigger room for the pitch slam! I love that session.
Thanks, Bora.
It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview. I’ll see you around.

ScienceOnline2010 – Trust and Critical Thinking (video), Part 2

Saturday, January 16 at 4:40 – 5:45pm
C. Trust and Critical ThinkingStephanie Zvan, PZ Myers, Desiree Schell, Greg Laden, Kirsten Sanford
Description: Lay audiences often lack the resources (access to studies, background knowledge of fields and methods) to evaluate the trustworthiness of scientific information as another scientist or a journalist might. Are there ways to usefully promote critical thinking about sources and presentation as we provide information? Can we teach them to navigate competing claims? And can we do it without promoting a distrust of science itself?

ScienceOnline2010 – Trust and Critical Thinking, Part 1

Saturday, January 16 at 4:40 – 5:45pm
C. Trust and Critical ThinkingStephanie Zvan, PZ Myers, Desiree Schell, Greg Laden, Kirsten Sanford
Description: Lay audiences often lack the resources (access to studies, background knowledge of fields and methods) to evaluate the trustworthiness of scientific information as another scientist or a journalist might. Are there ways to usefully promote critical thinking about sources and presentation as we provide information? Can we teach them to navigate competing claims? And can we do it without promoting a distrust of science itself?

ScienceOnline2010 session videos – Science and Entertainment Part 6

Science and Entertainment: Beyond Blogging
Saturday, January 16 at 2 – 3:05pm
D. Science and Entertainment: Beyond Blogging – Tamara Krinsky and Jennifer Ouellette
Description: Over the past several years, the Internet has tangibly changed the way that movies and TV shows are produced and marketed. Blogs will call out ridiculous scientific errors found in stories and the critique can go viral very quickly; therefore, science advising is on the rise in an attempt to add some semblance of plausibility to your favorite flicks. As tools on the web continue to evolve, filmmakers and television creators are finding new ways to connect with and market to their viewers. For some shows, this has meant tapping into the science featured in their content, ranging from an exploration of the roots of the science that has been fictionalized to the expansion of a scientific topic explored in a documentary. In this session, we’ll look at how online video and social networking tools are playing a part in connecting science, Hollywood and its fans.

ScienceOnline2010 – interview with Andrew Farke

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years’ interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.
Today, I asked Andy Farke from the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology in Claremont, CA to answer a few questions.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?
I grew up in rural South Dakota, with a high school graduating class of only 16 students. From a very young age, I had always been fascinated by paleontology (the study of past life, including dinosaurs). Because I didn’t know any better, I started writing to paleontologists whose names I found in some of my books, asking for assistance with little research projects that I had devised. One thing led to another, and the next thing I knew I was competing (and placing) in the Intel Science and Engineering Fair. (I feel just a twinge of personal pride over this, because I did rather well despite lacking access to the large research university labs and formal school programs that so many of my competitors had!) One of these projects led directly to my Ph.D. work at Stony Brook University, which I finished in 2008. Today, I’m a curator at Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology in Claremont, California. Not only do I work as a researcher, but I’m also fortunate in that our museum is partnered with a high school (The Webb Schools), and many of the students from there are quite active in our museum’s research, outreach, and other activities. Because of my own experiences, I’m firmly convinced that science can be done by anyone, and that science should be accessible to everyone.
Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?
A good portion of my career (indeed, beginning in high school) has been devoted to understanding the horned dinosaurs (Triceratops and their relatives). I’m particularly interested in how their massive skulls, measuring up to 3 meters in total length, functioned. Horned dinosaurs are odd, in that they have giant sinuses beneath the horns. Some researchers had speculated these sinuses functioned as shock absorbers during horn-to-horn combat, based on the observation that bighorn sheep and other modern horned animals also have big sinuses in their skulls. It turns out that we really don’t understand the sinuses even in modern animals – so many of my research efforts have focused on unraveling this problem. Other research projects have included describing and interpreting the evolutionary relationships of some new species of horned dinosaurs, paleopathology (the study of injury and disease in the fossil record), and the paleontology of Madagascar.
Andy Farke pic.jpg
What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?
Right now, I’m working on advancing open science in my own field of paleontology. Open access publishing is certainly a part of this – I’m a volunteer section editor for paleontology at PLoS ONE. Paleontology is a science that relies heavily on lengthy descriptions and quality illustrations – but recent trends in science publishing mean that more and more of the “good stuff” is either consigned to effectively invisible supplemental information or just not published at all. It’s my hope that not only will electronic publications like PLoS ONE and Palaeontologia Electronica increase the exposure of our research, but that they will improve the quality of our research by allowing paleontologists to publish complete, well-illustrated descriptions of specimens from the start. Second, I’m a firm proponent of increasing data sharing and transparency. The vast majority of quantitative studies in paleontology quite frankly aren’t reproducible – the numbers behind the statistics are locked up on someone’s hard drive. With the ease of including supplemental information or depositing data in online archives, there is simply no excuse for this situation. So, I (along with several colleagues) am working on changing this attitude in our field.
What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?
I think it’s really cool that it’s so easy to connect scientists with other scientists, and scientists with interested members of the general public. That’s part of the reason why Matt Wedel, Mike Taylor, and I founded the Open Dinosaur Project. In short, this project allows anyone with an internet connection (regardless of education, profession, or geographic location) to participate in dinosaur science. Our volunteers are helping us to amass a giant database of dinosaur limb bone measurements from the literature and museum specimens, which we’re analyzing to understand the evolution of dinosaur locomotion. Every aspect of the project is open – from data collection to publication. Our volunteers provide measurements, suggest analytical approaches, and much more. Most of the participants will be co-authors on the resulting paper!
How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?
I blog at The Open Source Paleontologist as well as The Open Dinosaur Project. Through these blogs, I trade research techniques and philosophies with colleagues and try to advance the case for open science within our discipline. Blogging has been a great way to meet other researchers, developing friendships and collaborations that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Facebook in particular is most widely used in paleo, and it’s proven to be useful for keeping up with everyone else’s research activities. There’s no doubt that all of this online activity is a huge positive.
When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any cool science blogs by the participants at the Conference?
I can honestly say that my earliest exposure to science blogs was through A Blog Around the Clock, and my reading list has ballooned since then. Among others, I always look forward to updates on Dave Hone’s Archosaur Musings, Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week, and Save Your Breath For Running Ponies (the funniest science blog, period). From ScienceOnline2010, I was happy to discover the blogs of Cameron Neylon, Jean-Claude Bradley, and Dorothea Salo, among others.
What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 for you? Any suggestions for next year? Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
My favorite part of ScienceOnline was getting to meet so many folks I had only heard of or communicated with through the Internet – people like Pete Binfield and Janet Stemwedel. Even better were those unexpected meetings with so many other open science advocates. I left the conference energized and excited about carrying on the push for open science!
It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again next January.

ScienceOnline2010 session videos – Science and Entertainment Part 5

Science and Entertainment: Beyond Blogging
Saturday, January 16 at 2 – 3:05pm
D. Science and Entertainment: Beyond Blogging – Tamara Krinsky and Jennifer Ouellette
Description: Over the past several years, the Internet has tangibly changed the way that movies and TV shows are produced and marketed. Blogs will call out ridiculous scientific errors found in stories and the critique can go viral very quickly; therefore, science advising is on the rise in an attempt to add some semblance of plausibility to your favorite flicks. As tools on the web continue to evolve, filmmakers and television creators are finding new ways to connect with and market to their viewers. For some shows, this has meant tapping into the science featured in their content, ranging from an exploration of the roots of the science that has been fictionalized to the expansion of a scientific topic explored in a documentary. In this session, we’ll look at how online video and social networking tools are playing a part in connecting science, Hollywood and its fans.

ScienceOnline2010 – interview with Mark MacAllister

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years’ interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.
Today, I asked Mark MacAllister, Coordinator of On-Line Learning Projects at the North Carolina Zoological Society to answer a few questions.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?
Mark Macallister pic.JPGI was born and educated in the Midwest–grew up in northwest Illinois, spent a lot of time on my grandparents’ dairy farm in southwest Wisconsin, and went to undergrad school at Oberlin College. I then came south for the first of three tours of duty in North Carolina, including grad school at UNC-Chapel Hill. Also mixed in there is time spent living and working in Salt Lake City, St. Louis, Buffalo, Toronto, London and Chicago. I’m still a Midwesterner at heart, and really miss long sightlines and cold winters. But I love North Carolina, especially my current and quirky hometown of Pittsboro–it’s kind of like “The Andy Griffith Show” where every third person is a massage therapist. I work for the North Carolina Zoological Society, which is based in Asheboro, but telecommute from my shed-in-the-woods office in Pittsboro.
Philosophically, I tend to find myself most interested in the place where technology, education (especially K-12 but also for adults) and environmental advocacy come together. I feel that each one of those can be improved by the application of the other two–if that makes any sense. I’m an early adopter in all three, and have been lucky enough to be able to be involved in somewhat radically new things in each area. I’ve been self-teaching on computers since 1982, beginning with a Kaypro running CP/M. My Master’s degree is in Environmental Policy and Law, meaning that I took half my coursework in UNC’s Political Science department and the other half through the Law School. And, as far as teaching goes–one of the nicest compliments anyone ever paid me was to call me a “natural teacher,” meaning that I don’t have a teaching license but I somehow manage to pull it off.
Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?
After grad school, my wife and I moved to Salt Lake City. I spent five years out there working on wilderness advocacy. I did a lot of research in the field–getting paid to hike and camp in the deserts of southern Utah was a great gig–and also in the public document rooms of various state and federal agencies. The advocacy groups I worked with were involved in mining, grazing, water rights, logging and other threats to wilderness preservation. What I began to notice toward the end of my tenure there was that many issues that appeared to be landscape-related were actually endangered species-related, and as a result I began to become more interested in species preservation.
We came back to North Carolina and in 1996 I went to work for the Chatham County Schools administrative office. The state was just beginning to wire classrooms, the Internet was just beginning to find its footing in terms of K-12 education, and Chatham understood early on that a significant teacher training effort would need to follow close on the heels of the effort to get everything wired. My job was in many ways focused on creating an atmosphere of support for integrating the Internet into classrooms; in other words, I was asked to help teachers understand why adopting technology was in everyone’s best interest, and then to work with them to actually help them gain those skills. Not long after we got started, Chatham was recognized as one of the ten top technology school districts in the country.
While this was all going on, I found myself thinking more and more about the content of the K-12 curriculum. It seemed obvious that a wonderful way to interest kids and meet curriculum goals was to focus the whole deal on the study of animals and wildlife, and to do so with technology-rich methods. I approached the Education Curator at the North Carolina Zoo, and not long after that we were partnering to build two websites focused on field-based wildlife research. These sites eventually evolved into FieldTripEarth, which is one of the many things I’m working on these days. I’ve been at the Zoo for ten years now, and have seen through a variety of other projects, ranging from teacher education (in both the US and Africa) to social media planning to field-based informal education.
What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?
I’m often thinking about “raw learning materials” (this is David Warlick’s term, see Landmark Project) and how to best put them into the hands of students and teachers. I’m not particularly interested in curriculum–that is, in designing and assembling big packages of resources that teachers can then plug into their classrooms. Rather, I’m curious about how best to make original source material available to classrooms and, better yet, how to put those classrooms in contact with the people that actually generate those source materials (By source materials, I mean first-person narratives, photos, video, datasets, maps and so on that, taken together, tell a story about what a scientist or other field researcher is working on). FieldTripEarth wheels and deals in exactly this currency, and we’ve been successful in providing classrooms a way to access these materials from researchers working all over the world. What they do with them is, for the most part, up to the students and teachers–we do offer some generalized strategies for using the materials found on the website, but for the most part we urge everyone to apply them to meet their specific needs.
What I wish I could spend more time on–or at least be more successful at doing–is bringing various classrooms into substantive contact with each other. I don’t mean waving at each other through Skype…rather, what I’m on the lookout for are ways to help students in various locations work together to solve learning problems, to interview field scientists, to author a video about a particular topic, and so on. I think there’s a lot of potential in this, but I’m not convinced that teachers and administrators will buy into it.
More generally, I’m interested in teaching process and thinking skills to whoever will sit still long enough to learn them. What we commonly call the scientific method can of course be used to learn in any academic or technical area. Unfortunately, most schools aren’t teaching thinking as an organized process; that’s why I try to focus on the work being done by field researchers, because I consider them role models of sorts when it comes thinking that is both multi-disciplinary and systematic.
I have some other goals, of course. I’d like to figure out a way to make hiking and biking more a part of the K-12 classroom. I’d like to read and write more, and to think out loud with colleagues more frequently.
How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?
I’ve never really taken to blogging as part of my work, though I do read several blogs focused on politics and policy, both of which are hobby horses of mine. Twitter and Facebook are a relatively small part of my professional life, mostly because right now my employer focuses more on their utility in serving members than in educating them. I think these tools form a net positive, but will be much more relevant once we figure out how to use them as educational, rather than informational, resources.
What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 for you? Any suggestions for next year? Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
The best thing about the conference was witnessing the various interests people brought with them–as well as the varying levels of expertise. It helped me remember that this is still such an evolving area. The sessions were all strong, but for the most part my strongest impressions were formed outside of the meeting rooms.
As far as suggestions for next year–it would be cool to invite some consumers of science communication and let us see how they put it to work in their lives. There was a bit of that at 2010, but there’s a lot of untapped experience out there.
And while we’re at it, I’d love to have a session focused on the question “How do we make our students’ experiences with technology at school at least as rich and relevant as the experiences they are having outside of school?”
It was so nice to meet you and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again next January.

ScienceOnline2010 session videos – Science and Entertainment Part 4

Science and Entertainment: Beyond Blogging
Saturday, January 16 at 2 – 3:05pm
D. Science and Entertainment: Beyond Blogging – Tamara Krinsky and Jennifer Ouellette
Description: Over the past several years, the Internet has tangibly changed the way that movies and TV shows are produced and marketed. Blogs will call out ridiculous scientific errors found in stories and the critique can go viral very quickly; therefore, science advising is on the rise in an attempt to add some semblance of plausibility to your favorite flicks. As tools on the web continue to evolve, filmmakers and television creators are finding new ways to connect with and market to their viewers. For some shows, this has meant tapping into the science featured in their content, ranging from an exploration of the roots of the science that has been fictionalized to the expansion of a scientific topic explored in a documentary. In this session, we’ll look at how online video and social networking tools are playing a part in connecting science, Hollywood and its fans.

ScienceOnline2010 – interview with Andrew Thaler

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years’ interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.
Today, I asked Andrew Thaler from Southern Fried Science to answer a few questions.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?
thaler-headshot.jpgI’m originally from Baltimore, but moved to North Carolina 8 years ago for undergrad and never looked back. I currently live in Beaufort, NC. I’m working towards my Ph.D in Deep Sea Population Genetics at the Duke University Marine Lab. I was the kid who wanted to be a marine biologist since I was six.
Philosophically I guess you could call me a Happy Fatalist. We’ve profoundly changed the world and anthropogenic influences on the environment are going to be the driving force for almost all societal change in the foreseeable future, but I’m less panicked about the way things are changing and more excited to be part of the largest experiment in human history. Most of the changes we’re going to see in the next few decades are unavoidable, we’ve passed the tipping point. People are often afraid to admit that, but eventually we need to not just reduce our impact on the environment, but also preparing for the major changes that are going to happen. We love to promote the myth of a balanced environment that’s somehow being upset, but the environment is always changing. The sooner we accept that environmentalism is about human values and not so archetypal perfect environment, the better off we’re going to be in the long run.
So I come from the position that we need to shift our focus from how to prevent changes to how we’re going to deal with the inevitable.
My scientific background is largely in marine biology and population genetics, with a brief segue into mycology for a couple of years.
Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?
I started off working as an Aquarist Assistant at the National Aquarium in Baltimore rearing seahorses. That was my first real chance to design my own experiments. I was part of the Syngnathid Breeding Program, and some of my seahorses are still swimming around aquariums throughout the world. From there I upgraded to a lab tech in a Mycology lab before entering grad school. I started my grad career studying the biodiversity of deep sea fungi that occur at methane seeps. No one had ever really looked at deep sea fungi, so I thought I was all cool breaking new ground. As it turns out, there just isn’t that much fungi down there, or if there is, it’s very elusive. I’m currently putting together a crowdsourced guide to conservation genetics geared towards managers and the general public.
What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?
Right now I’m just trying to make it through my Preliminary exams intact. Blogging is acting as my stress relief outlet (which is why most of my posts recently have been jokes about Global Draining). Other than that, I’m brewing experimental beers. My last batch I replaced all of the grains with green tea leaves to create a sort of Green Tea Pale Ale. It should be ready in a couple weeks, so I’ll let you know how it turns out.
What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?
I’ve been really excited about Twitter lately. Suddenly I have a huge collection of experts available whenever I need them. Just send out a quick question and I usually get 5 or 6 answers by the end of the day.
How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?
My undergrad institution was one of the first to get Facebook, so I’ve been on it for pretty much my entire academic career, so I have no idea if it’s been a net positive or negative. Twitter for sure is neutral, I get tons of help from my twitter network, but it can also be a huge time sink. All in all I feel like online activity follows the old (ways to be more efficient)/(ways to procrastinate) = no net change.
When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any cool science blogs by the participants at the Conference?
I got into science blogging through Kevin Zelnio, who I share an office with. My favorites are for sure the marine blogs – Deep Sea News, Oyster’s Garter (which I guess is Deep Sea News now too), Malaria, Bedbugs, Sea Lice, and Sunsets, blogfish. I met nearly all the cool science blogs I follow from Science Online 09 and this years conference.
What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 for you? Any suggestions for next year? Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
This was the first time I went in with a smart phone, and the amount of content that was streaming out of the twitterverse was astounding. It was almost like I could listen in on four conferences at once. It might be nice to have a closing keynote to bring everyone back together at the end of the meeting as well as the beginning.
It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again next January.
Thank you and I can’t wait for the next conference.

ScienceOnline2010 session videos – Science and Entertainment Part 3

Science and Entertainment: Beyond Blogging
Saturday, January 16 at 2 – 3:05pm
D. Science and Entertainment: Beyond Blogging – Tamara Krinsky and Jennifer Ouellette
Description: Over the past several years, the Internet has tangibly changed the way that movies and TV shows are produced and marketed. Blogs will call out ridiculous scientific errors found in stories and the critique can go viral very quickly; therefore, science advising is on the rise in an attempt to add some semblance of plausibility to your favorite flicks. As tools on the web continue to evolve, filmmakers and television creators are finding new ways to connect with and market to their viewers. For some shows, this has meant tapping into the science featured in their content, ranging from an exploration of the roots of the science that has been fictionalized to the expansion of a scientific topic explored in a documentary. In this session, we’ll look at how online video and social networking tools are playing a part in connecting science, Hollywood and its fans.

ScienceOnline2010 – interview with Andrea Novicki

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years’ interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.
Today, I asked Andrea Novicki from the Duke CIT 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? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?
Andrea Nowicki pic.JPGHi, thank you so much for asking. I’m currently employed at Duke University in the Center for Instructional Technology as an academic technology consultant for the sciences – I work with faculty who teach science or math, to help them figure out how to effectively and efficiently help students learn, using technology. My work is a satisfying combination of science, education and technology. Scientifically, I began as a marine biologist as an undergraduate and in early grad school; still, marine biology feels like my natural home. I became inspired by a summer course to study neural systems and behavior, because investigating changes in behavior at the level of changes in molecules in single, identified neurons was both exciting and satisfying. After a couple of postdocs and a tenure track faculty position, I stepped away from research and teaching and I went sailing, driven by a restless sense of adventure. I’m now back in academia, working with smart, interesting people.
Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?
I have been involved with some great projects; if there is a theme, it is change, both in my research projects and in my career. I’ve investigated the neural pathways that mediate color change in squid and octopus and I participated in research cruises identifying midwater ocean animals. On land I worked with insects, monitoring and altering activity in single neurons that correlate with behavior change, and predicting and then, satisfyingly, finding a neuron with particular characteristics.
I (and many other people) began to question the traditional lecture way that science was taught and early on, I began using computers and technology to help students learn biology.
What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?
My goals? Do I have to be realistic? I’d like to contribute to making science accessible; I’d like for everyone to recognize the beautiful complexity and interconnectedness of the natural world at all scales, and find joy of figuring out for themselves how things work.
What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?
I’m excited about the increased openness and social nature of science. In my grad school days, the model was that successful scientists kept to themselves until they published, and then only in reputable, peer-reviewed journals; anything else was considered frivolous and distracting. Now, because of the web, science is now more public and more accessible (accessible both technologically and in presentation style). I’m a huge fan of Jean-Claude Bradley’s open notebook science approach, ever since I heard him speak at the first science blogging conference. This project (and many others) make the process of science more open. Passionate blogs by students and post docs as well as people who run their own labs show what science is really like – it’s done by caring people with feelings and emotions, not just some distant, always-right white-coated professor. This openness about the process, as well as the explanations of results made accessible (like at researchblogging.org) have the potential to illustrate the appeal of science to everyone.
I’d like to see people use some of the new visualization tools to explore publically available data sets to make new discoveries, just because they are curious, regardless of their final degrees or institutional affiliation.
How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?
I lurk on numerous blogs, and I love scienceblogs, it’s a great way to keep up on how science is changing, and visit my favorite topics. I’m very fortunate, in that monitoring how people use technology to communicate science (for science education) is part of my job. I follow people on Twitter and find it a useful way to find new ideas and resources, and contribute occasionally. Although I do have an account on Facebook, I rarely look at it.
I do contribute to a blog, but it’s more about technology in education than about science, and is part of my job. As a confirmed introvert, I find blogging difficult. I am, by nature, a lurker. I’m in awe of people who can toss off a post without thinking it over and over and over.
In other words, all of this online activity is necessary for my work; I do not contribute enough, but I benefit tremendously.
What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 for you? Any suggestions for next year? Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
Every session I attended was thought-provoking! Stacy Baker’s students stole the show again; my notes have many observations about their attitudes towards technology. I also welcomed the sessions by librarians – their ability to find information, and think about how it is organized will continue to be invaluable.
I observed that the conference had many people attending who were not exactly science bloggers (people like me, for example), which showed how many options there are for people to participate in science online in some way, even if they are not, strictly speaking, science bloggers.
There’s still something wonderful about meeting someone for the first time after you’ve already read their writing – it’s like you can peek into their brain. When you meet a blogger (or any writer), your first impression has already been formed and modified and added to, and their physical appearance is irrelevant. It’s an almost utopian ideal – people are judged by the quality of their thoughts, not what they look like.
At one session, during a discussion of Google Earth and GIS, Cameron Neylon thought aloud about using visualizations as a way of distributing data, which is something I had been thinking about, as a way of making science, and raw data, more accessible. He, of course, said it more elegantly and I will be thinking about this for some time. How can good visualizations be used as a way of distributing data, in a way that does not immediately shape a conclusion but allows for exploration?
It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview. I’m sure I’ll see you before then, and I expect you’ll join our event again next January.

How to organize an Interactive Conference

On Friday, I was on Skeptically Speaking radio show together with Reed Esau (who organized the Skepticamp) talking about ScienceOnline2010, what it takes to organize it, the Unconference format and why it is good, etc.
You can now listen to the recording of the show here.

ScienceOnline2010 session videos – Science and Entertainment Part 2

Science and Entertainment: Beyond Blogging
Saturday, January 16 at 2 – 3:05pm
D. Science and Entertainment: Beyond Blogging – Tamara Krinsky and Jennifer Ouellette
Description: Over the past several years, the Internet has tangibly changed the way that movies and TV shows are produced and marketed. Blogs will call out ridiculous scientific errors found in stories and the critique can go viral very quickly; therefore, science advising is on the rise in an attempt to add some semblance of plausibility to your favorite flicks. As tools on the web continue to evolve, filmmakers and television creators are finding new ways to connect with and market to their viewers. For some shows, this has meant tapping into the science featured in their content, ranging from an exploration of the roots of the science that has been fictionalized to the expansion of a scientific topic explored in a documentary. In this session, we’ll look at how online video and social networking tools are playing a part in connecting science, Hollywood and its fans.

ScienceOnline2010 session videos – Science and Entertainment Part 1

Science and Entertainment: Beyond Blogging
Saturday, January 16 at 2 – 3:05pm
D. Science and Entertainment: Beyond Blogging – Tamara Krinsky and Jennifer Ouellette
Description: Over the past several years, the Internet has tangibly changed the way that movies and TV shows are produced and marketed. Blogs will call out ridiculous scientific errors found in stories and the critique can go viral very quickly; therefore, science advising is on the rise in an attempt to add some semblance of plausibility to your favorite flicks. As tools on the web continue to evolve, filmmakers and television creators are finding new ways to connect with and market to their viewers. For some shows, this has meant tapping into the science featured in their content, ranging from an exploration of the roots of the science that has been fictionalized to the expansion of a scientific topic explored in a documentary. In this session, we’ll look at how online video and social networking tools are playing a part in connecting science, Hollywood and its fans.

ScienceOnline2010 – Journalists: What Scientists to Trust? (video) Part 5

How does a journalist figure out ‘which scientists to trust’?
Saturday, January 16 at 3:15 – 4:20pm
D. How does a journalist figure out “which scientists to trust”? – Christine Ottery and Connie St Louis
Description: We will talk about how science journalists can know which scientists to trust based on a blogpost by Christine Ottery that made a splash in the world of science communication. As a relative newcomer to science journalism and blogging (Christine) and an award-winning broadcaster, journalist, writer and scientist (Connie), we will be bringing two very different viewpoints to the discussion. We will be touching on peer review, journals, reputation and maverick scientists. We will also examine how journalists and scientists can foster good working relationships with each other, find out what is best practice when it comes to sources for science journalists, and turn the premise of the talk on its head and ask “Which journalists can you trust?” of the scientists.