Can We Ask Presidential Candidates about Science?

 

Back in December 2011, The Guardian USA and New York University’s Studio20 (see their Tumblr – note: I am associated with the program) announced a new joint project – US presidential election 2012: the citizens agenda. Here is some background information from that time:

The Guardian USA:

The citizens agenda: making election coverage more useful: We invite you to help refresh the media’s tired templates of campaign coverage to address issues people really care about

Studio 20:

Studio 20 Will Collaborate With The Guardian on How to Improve Election Coverage: On Dec. 8, Studio 20 and The Guardian US jointly announced that they will collaborate in the development of a “citizens agenda” approach to election coverage during the 2012 campaign for president.

Nieman Journalism Lab:

Civic journalism 2.0: The Guardian and NYU launch a “citizens agenda” for 2012: Jay Rosen and Amanda Michel reunite for a project that aims to inject citizen voices into campaign coverage.

PressThink:

The Citizens Agenda in Campaign Coverage: The idea is to learn from voters what those voters want the campaign to be about, and what they need to hear from the candidates to make a smart decision. So you go out and ask them: “what do you want the candidates to be discussing as they compete for votes in this year’s election?”

Nadja Popovich:

Re-thinking Elections 2012: As part of the Studio 20 graduate program at NYU, we’re partnering with the Guardian on a big question: how do we make election coverage more useful to the average user? So, today we launch the “Citizens Agenda”, an attempt to do just that.

What does that all mean?

The idea is for a media organization with a strong reputation, large audience, and necessary resources to team up with a group of smart, dedicated, innovative, tech-savvy and Web-savvy students of journalism to explore and analyze the questions posed by the media to the presidential candidates (most notably during the presidential debates), to see what questions are asked frequently, what questions rarely, and what questions not at all – and then to provide the citizens with the opportunity to have their own voices heard, adding questions they want to ask, inquiring about topics they care about the most:

Have the 839 GOP debate questions reflected the ‘citizens agenda’?: By studying the 20 Republican presidential debates of this election season, we can better see if the questions being asked correspond with the issues voters actually care about.

Some questions that may be of great interest or importance to the voters may be tip-toed around or completely ignored by the media, while other questions that are asked often may not be as informative to the public. For example:

Don’t ask, don’t tell: Mormonism mentions scant at GOP debates: Despite being the religion of two candidates, only three questions over 20 debates have dared to utter the M-word.

There have been 20 presidential debates so far this season, generating a total of 839 questions. The students have analyzed the questions, classified them and are starting to publish the details of the analysis – this is the first one, with more to come over the next several days:

The GOP debates: what questions do journalists like to ask? We looked at all the questions that have been posed to the Republican candidates in the 20 debates since May 5, 2011.

Interestingly, most of the questions were quite serious and substantial, but a small percentage could be characterized as “fluff” questions, designed primarily to entertain the audience, and secondarily hoping that a candidate may trip up or say something unusual or revealing:

The nine quirkiest questions from the Republican debates: There have been some strange moments over the last 20 debates involving the GOP candidates. Here are our favourites.

Interestingly, in some of the debates, the candidates were asked questions posed by the public, either by the members of the audience in the room, or from Twitter. Those questions were much different – they covered different topics, were often quite tough, and usually had a personal story as a starting point. By posing problems, the audience questions forced the candidates to abandon the talking points and put themselves in a “problem-solving mode”, which may be potentially much more useful to the television viewers at home:

At the GOP debates, ‘regular people’ didn’t shy away from tough questions: When the mic was handed over to audience members, they framed their questions around personal stories – and big issues

What was asked so far?

According to the first analysis (and more is upcoming), there are certain topics or types of questions that were asked at the debates very frequently. For example: on the economy and jobs (227 questions), the candidates’ lives and records (223 questions), fixing government and reducing the debt (188 questions), foreign policy and national security (160 questions), strategy and maneuvering among the candidates – the “horse-race journalism” focused on polls, electability and mutual criticisms of candidates, attempting to provoke a fight between them on the stage (113 questions), and the “How conservative are you?” type of question (104 questions).

Interestingly, concerning foreign policy questions, out of 200+ countries of the world, only a handful were mentioned in the questions, most frequently Iran and China, while many other countries, regions and entire continents were completely ignored (including very rare mentions of Iraq).

On the other end of the spectrum, restoring American greatness (“Are we still as powerful as we once were?” – 9 questions), human interest fluff (12 questions), education (12 questions) and religion (24 questions, but see above for lack of questions on Mormonism), were not often asked. There was nothing about, for example, women’s issues (apart from abortion), or about small-business owners.

In the middle are: immigration (61 questions to multiple candidates, 16 to Gingrich, nine to Romney, six to Santorum, six to Paul), healthcare (53 questions), social issues: abortion and gay rights (46 questions), and social spending: Medicaid, Medicare, social security and unemployment (42 questions).

Science and technology questions, including space and climate, were in the middle of the pack, with a total of 44 questions asked to date. Here are some examples:

On climate change:

John Harris (Politico): Governor Perry — Governor Perry, Governor Huntsman were not specific about names, but the two of you do have a difference of opinion about climate change. Just recently in New Hampshire, you said that weekly and even daily scientists are coming forward to question the idea that human activity is behind climate change. Which scientists have you found most credible on this subject?

And a follow up: John Harris (Politico): Just to follow up quickly. Tell us how you’ve done that. [applause] Are there specific — specific scientists or specific theories that you’ve found especially compelling, as you? (both from September 7, 2011 | Republican Candidates Debate in Simi Valley, California)

On stem cell research:

Shannon BREAM: Alright, Governor Pawlenty, just days ago a Federal court struck down the ban on using Federal funds for embryonic stem cell research. You identify yourself as strongly pro life, but you don’t oppose government funding for research on existing stem cell lines already derived from embryos, but is that still spending tax payer money on elements that were generated by, at some point destroying an embryo. (MAY 5, 2011 | FOX SOUTH CAROLINA DEBATE)

On energy and environment:

Brian Williams (NBC News): Governor, time. Congresswoman Bachmann, a question about energy, back to that subject for a moment. Were you quoted correctly — and do you stand by it — as wanting to drill in the Everglades in Florida? (September 7, 2011 | Republican Candidates Debate in Simi Valley, California)

On green energy:

Bret Baier (Fox News): Governor Perry, you — you have railed against the special treatment of Ford and Solyndra as have the other candidates here tonight. And particularly the tax code incentives for green technologies and allowances that have been made for this industry. But it’s nexus, governor you have afforded the same attention to the oil industry. Back in 2003, you signed a bill that reduced the tax paid by some natural gas companies that have helped them reap since, better than $7 billion in tax savings. So I — I guess what I’m saying is, are you guilty of the same behavior as governor, favoring an industry, that you claim this president has, favoring the green industry? (December 15, 2011 | Republican Candidates Debate in Sioux City, Iowa)

On the EPA:

John DISTASO: Speaker Gingrich, what exactly is an Environmental Solutions Agency? I don’t — I think a lot of people might not know or understand that — why you want to disband the EPA and set up — set up something that kind of looks like the EPA? (Republican Candidates debate in Concord, Hampshire January 8, 2012)

On nuclear energy and the Yucca Mountain:

Q from audience: QUESTION: My question for you is, do you support opening the national nuclear repository at Yucca Mountain? ANDERSON COOPER: Speaker Gingrich, we’ll start with you. [crosstalk] ANDERSON COOPER: Sorry, go ahead. ANDERSON COOPER: Is Yucca Mountain that place? ANDERSON COOPER: You were for opening it in Congress, right? (Republican Candidates debate, Las Vegas, Nevada October 18, 2011)

On the space program:

WOLF BLITZER, CNN: We have a question. I want to speaker to weigh in as well. [applause]This question is related from — we got it from Twitter. Speaker Gingrich, how do you plan to create a base on the moon while keeping taxes down in eight years? [laughter] (January 26th, 2012 | Republican Candidates Debate in Jacksonville, Florida)

How to build a citizen’s agenda?

Next presidential debate will be on Wednesday, February 22nd, moderated by John King of CNN. Another four debates have been scheduled in case no clear candidate emerges in the meantime. After that, there will be general election debates between the candidates of the two major parties. As the year progresses, the program will evolve, adapting to the circumstances on the ground.

In this first phase, between today and the next debate, the citizens (both of the USA and other countries) will be encouraged to post their questions – what they would like to see the candidates asked – in the comment sections of this post. Alternatively, people can tweet their suggested questions at @JohnKingCNN using the hashtag #unasked. The students will also do a quick classification of all the questions to send to John King’s producer just before the debate.

Will there be many questions? Will they be much different from what the media asks anyway (after all, the mass media shapes the public opinion)? Will a few of those questions emerge as strong contenders by being asked repeatedly by many people? Will John King actually ask one or more of these questions? Will moderators of future debates ask the citizens’ questions? Will other media outlets pick up these questions and ask the candidates whenever they have the opportunity to do so? That is still to be seen.

Asking about science?

Many important policy questions are in some way related to science or rely on scientific information. The same can be said of medicine, environment and technology.

While many science publications collect candidates’ quotes on scientific matters every four years (including us, just a couple of weeks ago), attempts to get presidential candidates to answer science questions have been made in the past without much success. Most notably, ScienceDebate.org managed to get some answers from both Obama and McCain four years ago, and intends to try to do the same this year. Occasionally a very lucky blogger may get an exclusive interview with one of the candidates specifically about science (I was that lucky four years ago, interviewing then presidential candidate John Edwards).

But questions posed by a large number of citizens are harder to ignore than questions posed by an organization, be it a specialized science media organization, or an organization of scientists (which can be dismissed as an “interest group” by the politicians). Also, questions about science, when placed in the mix with other questions of interest to the public, may have a better chance to get answered than if science is kept in isolation and treated as a special topic.

I am confident that the readers of Scientific American would love to ask science-related questions of the candidates, and can come up with good, well-informed questions that can lead to important and informative answers. This is your chance to influence the Citizen’s Agenda, by posting science-based questions on the Guardian site or on Twitter. Let’s see if we can influence the Citizen’s Agenda, and if that, in turn, may affect what questions get asked of the candidates in the mass media.

——–

Image: Nadja Popovich

ScienceOnline2012 – interview with William Gunn

Every year I ask some of the attendees of the ScienceOnline conferences to tell me (and my readers) more about themselves, their careers, current projects and their views on the use of the Web in science, science education or science communication. So now we continue with the participants of ScienceOnline2012. See all the interviews in this series here.

Today my guest is William Gunn.

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 background? Any scientific education?

I’m William Gunn, better known as @mrgunn around these parts. I should probably change that to @drgunn at some point as I did complete my PhD in Biomedical Science some time ago. Right now, I live in Menlo Park, right in the middle of Silicon Valley, and it’s great being surrounded by nerds and geeks of all types. It’s quite a change from the small town in Mississippi where I grew up!

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

Your readers may be interested in hearing why and how I decided to leave academia. When I was in grad school, I didn’t get career advice so much as I got advice on how to be a successful researcher – diversify your projects, how to write papers and grants, etc. It took me a little while to realize that my best prospects lay elsewhere, and my early exposure to the web and science blogging was the main thing that helped me broaden my horizons. I was drawn to the sense of innovation and excitement of the startup world, so after completing my PhD, I worked for a small diagnostics startup in San Diego. They’re using some neat technology and have the potential to do for all clinical assays what 23andMe has done for genomics. I established the biology program these and then as the technology matured, the skills they needed changed, and the work became less interesting to me, so I moved from the biotech to a tech company, although one still very much involved in research. I’m now working at Mendeley in a role that has a great deal to do with science communication.

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

One of my main interests these days is altmetrics. I’m really fascinated with how the web is enabling new ways of publishing, and altmetrics is the study of how these new forms are impacting science. These are things like datasets, code, blog posts, and other scholarly outputs in addition to traditional papers and the metrics that describe their use, attention, and reuse. I’m working on finding some case studies that illustrate the different kinds of influences scientists receive and the broadening influence they have in society and on the web.

Another big passion of mine is research reproducibility. I’m working on an initiative with Science Exchange, a scientific services marketplace, to study the reproducibility of published biomedical research. We’ve joined with PLOS on this initiative to understand reproducibility and to promote good practices. I’m also an organizer of a few local events such as Science Online Bay Area, which is our little monthly discussion salon satellite of the yearly Science Online meeting, and Open Data Bay Area, where the open data community gets together to talk about data sharing, analysis, and reuse. Of course, I’m a big advocate for public access to federally-funded research and I spend some time writing and speaking on that topic as well.

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

I’ve always been interested in the way the web makes it easy for people to get together around a topic with relatively little of the posturing and hierarchical organization that characterizes our offline interactions. Being able to geek out about an interest, no matter how obscure, with a group of people who are as into it as you are is really what drew me in, even in the days of USENET, back before we had the web as we know it today. So just being able to write about personal genomics or text-mining Pubmed or whatever and have it read by thousands of people all over the world is really what I think is so amazing about the web as a communication medium.

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

Blogging figures heavily in my work and always has. When I was in grad school, I maintained a research blog and now I write the blog for Mendeley. I use Twitter and Google+ extensively as well, but don’t have much use for Facebook. Someone recently said, “Twitter is about who/what you want to know now, Facebook is about who you knew in high school and college.” When I talk to grad students and postdocs about making the transition from academia, I always tell them they should have a blog. In fact, it was my blog that got me my current job, and I couldn’t do my job without the help and inspiration of my online colleagues.

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?

The first blog about science, besides my own, that I discovered was Gene Expression, by Razib, who later joined the Discover Blog network. I have been following scienceblogs.com and the various other networks that have arisen since their conception, but there’s always new people starting up, like Karthik Ram and Carl Boettiger, two ecologists with a open science flair.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2012 for you? Any suggestions for the 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 guess you can say what I took with me was the inspiration to start Science Online Bay Area 😉

Thank you! And see you in January!

Best of November at A Blog Around The Clock

I posted 8 times in November. That is, on A Blog Around The Clock only (not counting the posts on The Network Central, The SA Incubator, Video of the Week, Image of the Week, or editing Guest Blog and Expeditions).

New stuff:

Nate Silver and the Ascendance of Expertise

The other kinds of expertise

#sci4hels – the ‘killer’ science journalists of the future want your feedback

No rats in Ryder Alley

ScienceOnline2012 interviews:

ScienceOnline2012 – interview with Mindy Weisberger

Updates, News and Announcements:

Tune in to State Of Things today at 12noon EST.

ScienceOnline Thanksgiving message 2012

Previously in the “Best of…” series:

2012

October
September
August
July
June
May
April
March
February
January

2011

December
November
October
September
August
July
June
May
April
March
February
January

2010

December
November
October
September
August
July
June
May
April
March
February
January

2009

December
November
October
September
August
July
June
May
April
March
February
January

ScienceOnline2012 – interview with Mindy Weisberger

Every year I ask some of the attendees of the ScienceOnline conferences to tell me (and my readers) more about themselves, their careers, current projects and their views on the use of the Web in science, science education or science communication. So now we continue with the participants of ScienceOnline2012. See all the interviews in this series here.

Today my guest is Mindy Weisberger (Twitter).

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

Hello, and thanks for having me here! To be perfectly honest, I still feel like a bit of an oddball in the science community, even though I’ve been producing science videos for over a decade. Before that, I had no science foundation whatsoever; unless you count a long-standing obsession with science fiction. Science filmmaking was something I fell into unexpectedly, but I enjoyed it so much that I decided to stay awhile.

I went to film school in New York City and started out shooting super-8 films and directing and editing punk rock music videos for local bands (which I sometimes still do). For years, my production experience was all over the map. I shot musicians and performance artists, directed documentaries and experimental short films, edited everything from celebrity wedding videos to pro wrestling promos, and had a brief stint writing and producing fashion news. Eventually I found my way to the American Museum of Natural History as a media writer and producer; first in the Exhibitions department and then for Science Bulletins, a video production division covering the latest developments in astrophysics, Earth science, biodiversity, and human biology and evolution. AMNH is where I discovered that science could be just as dynamic, ‘in-your-face’, exciting, and messy as a punk rock show—the transition was more natural than I expected.

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

Whatever the media project, I’m always trying to tell a story—as much with images as with words. Working on so many different types of films and videos turned out to be a great foundation for meeting the varied goals of museum exhibit media, because it left me comfortable working with different story formats and visual techniques. Most of the exhibit videos I produced had a linear story to tell or science to explain: the final days of doomed South Pole explorers, traditional silk-making still in practice today, diversity in bats, research into the biomechanics of T. rex, or the future of space exploration. Meeting with and interviewing the scientists was always the highlight of every production; taking their innate enthusiasm and finding the best way to communicate it to viewers, whether the scientists appeared on-camera or not. But I’ve found that when they did appear in the videos, viewers responded very positively. Putting a human face to scientific research is an incredibly effective method for helping museum visitors to forge a connection to the science—no matter what the story is about.

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

Since late 2011 I’ve been with Science Bulletins, part of AMNH’s National Center for Science Literacy, Education, and Technology. I write and produce the News—short, monthly videos that display at museums (including AMNH), science centers, and on the Web, highlighting current scientific research. One month’s-worth of production could cover diversity in our early ancestors, the discovery of a new galaxy cluster, and the mating habits of urban coyotes. Running time for these videos is under two minutes, so language and images have to be as spare and efficient as possible—a great exercise for any writer or filmmaker. The visual needs can change from story to story, depending on what works best to get the science across. A video about brown widow spiders in southern California was edited almost entirely with photos, while one about Twitter tracking a cholera epidemic combined photos with animated maps and motion graphics, and a story about Sally Ride Science’s MoonKAM project included video. Though sometimes the biggest challenge is just making the story selects for the month when there is so much incredible research going on.

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

As a kid I used to spend hours at the library immersed in the card catalog—remember those? Sometimes I had a destination in mind and sometimes I didn’t, and would happily open drawers randomly and flip through the entries until I stumbled across something interesting. The Internet is like that. It can lead you to exactly what you’re looking for, but its greater value is that it can put you in touch with things you never suspected you were looking for. For me, the biggest payoff from using the Web for science-related research is the way that a single starting point can link me to writers, images, papers, and videos that I probably never would have known about in the first place, let alone been able to track down. Blogs, Twitter and other social networks work that way too (sometimes with the added bonus of actual conversation with the writers.) They guide you across the threshold, but—I’ll paraphrase from “The Matrix”—it’s up to the reader to find out how deep the rabbit hole goes.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2012 for you? 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?

Are people usually this happy to be at a conference? It was my first, so I didn’t have anything to compare it to. But happy people are more approachable, which certainly helped me jump in. I’m glad that my first session was Perrin Ireland’s excellent Science Scribe 2.0—I ended up sketching my notes for every event that followed. Turns out that doodling with intent meant that I remembered more of what I heard, and helped me connect ideas from session to session. I could go on and on about how awesome everyone was in general (because they really, really were), but I hope to tell them face-to-face this year, now that I’m somewhat over the ‘new kid’ butterflies.

And was it inspiring? More than I ever expected, as projects and collaborations started cropping up in the months after. The dust from ScienceOnline12 had barely settled when Kevin Zelnio penned his I Am Science post, triggering a flood of personal recollections from other scientists on Twitter. I edited a sampling of tweets into a short video (which he ended up using as part of the project’s Kickstarter.) When The Story Collider launched an evening of I Am Science stories, I worked with Ben Lillie and Erin Barker to produce a video for the show. Some of us at Science Bulletins will be leading a session for the first Science Online Teen conference on science storytelling using video and animation. I’m also thrilled to be co-moderating sessions for ScienceOnline2013 with Rose Eveleth (Animating Science), and Psi Wavefunction (Summing it Up: The Data on the Cutting Room Floor.) Being a part of any community means more than having resources you can draw upon—it means you become one of those resources yourself. And this particular oddball hopes to continue doing both—at ScienceOnline2013 and beyond.

Thank you! See you in January!

#sci4hels – the ‘killer’ science journalists of the future want your feedback

If you are a really regular, diligent reader of this blog, you may remember back in September when I announced a panel I have organized for the next year’s WCSJ2013. The eighth World Conference of Science Journalists, organized by World Federation of Science Journalists will be held in Helsinki, Finland on June 24-28th, 2013, and in that post I explained in great detail what the panel will be all about, what was my initial motivation for proposing that panel, and the systematic method I used to pick, out of dozens and dozens of excellent potential candidates, the four people who will travel to Finland and dazzle everyone there.

The session is:

The ‘killer’ science journalists of the future

The science media ecosystem has never been as big, as good or as vibrant as it is today. Many young writers are joining the ranks of veterans each year – and they are good! Many of them have science backgrounds. They all write really well. And they are digital natives, effortlessly navigating today’s online world and using all the tools available to them. But some of them are going beyond being well adapted to the new media ecosystem – they are actively creating it. They experiment with new forms and formats to tell stories online, and if the appropriate tool is missing – they build it themselves. Not only can they write well, they can also code, design for the web, produce all types of multimedia, and do all of this with seemingly more fun than effort, seeing each other as collaborators rather than competitors. I’d like to see the best of them tell us what they do, how they do it, and what they envision for the media ecosystem they are currently building.

The panel will explore skills and attitudes needed to succeed in the emerging science media ecosystem and in building that ecosystem to be even better, more efficient, and having a broader reach. It will explore how to make the world better both for science journalism and for science journalists. We will explore what skills and attitudes are important for new, up-and-coming science writers to become successful and to help bring in a better science media world into being.

Different people have different goals. Some will be hired as staff writers or editors in specialized science media organizations, others in general-purpose media organizations, be it online, print, radio, television, or other types of media. Some will pool resources with friends and start new media organizations. Some want to become successful Public Information Officers for universities, institutes, companies, organizations of governmental entities. Others want to become successful as freelance writers. And yet others may want to become respected, popular science bloggers while keeping their other daytime jobs.

We will explore issues related to necessary technical skills, attitudes toward tasteful self-promotion, required levels and types of expertise, and more, both as advice to individuals, and as advice to science writing programs and journalism schools on how to upgrade their teaching philosophies to adapt to the 21st century.

The panelists are not waiting till June, though. They have already started, and will use the next seven or so months to discuss all of these issues in various ways. It’s not just what they will say during the 60 minutes of the panel, but also how they will do it – show, not tell. This will not be a traditional series of droning talks with dreaded PowerPoints. As veterans of ScienceOnline conferences, they know how to make a panel dynamic, interactive and exciting. The panel itself is not all, it will be just the final highlight of months of discussion, and hopefully the discussions will continue after the panel as well, provoked by the panel.

First, make sure you visit, bookmark and regularly check the updates on the panel’s Homepage! The website will be active, continuously adding resources, tools, important links (including to the blog posts by all of us and reactions by others), and hoping to foster discussions of the topic. They may have other ideas as well, perhaps a Question Of The Week, some Google Hangouts, we’ll see.

If you are going to be in Helsinki at the WCSJ2013, we hope the website/blog will motivate you to attend our panel. It should also help you come prepared, so you can join in the discussion.

If you cannot be there, the discussions will occur – and are already occurring – online: before, during and after the panel, so please join in.

For now, follow our discussions on the website and our blogs, as well as on Twitter by searching for the hashtag #sci4hels. Also follow us on Twitter at @sci4hels and subscribe to our Twitter List. Also check out our Facebook page and our Google Plus page.

We’d like to hear from you. Science journalism students and professors. Editors at specialized science media outlets and at general media outlets. Founders of new media start-ups. Freelancers. PIOs and directors of internal communications. Bloggers. Researchers. People who entered the science journalism profession “horizontally”, bypassing schools of journalism and going straight from science, perhaps via blogging, into the business. And most importantly the audience, the users of science content – what do you like, what do you want, what do you expect?

We have already published several blog posts on the topic, gearing up toward the event. And we will collect those, as well as other relevant articles, on the Essential Readings page. These can be a good starting point for the discussion. See, for now:

Erin Podolak:

The Question of Code

Kathleen Raven:

Generalists and specialists can coexist

Erin Podolak and Bora Zivkovic:

The SA Incubator: Helping Hatch Science Writers Since July 2011
The SA Incubator, or, why promote young science writers?

Bora Zivkovic:

#sci4hels – ‘Killer’ science journalists of the future ready to take over the world!
Beats vs obsessions, columns vs. blogs, and other angels dancing on pins
Nate Silver and the Ascendance of Expertise
The other kinds of expertise

Finally, in case you missed it back in September, let me introduce the panel again:

Organizer:

Bora Zivkovic

Bora Zivkovic was born in former Yugoslavia where he studied veterinary medicine and trained horses. He moved to the USA in 1991 and did his graduate research on circadian rhythms in birds at North Carolina State University. He is currently Blogs Editor at the Scientific American, where he manages a network of almost 60 top-notch science bloggers. He is also a Co-Founder and Director of ScienceOnline.com and the series editor of the annual anthology ‘Best Science Writing Online’ (formerly known as “Open Laboratory”). In his spare time, Bora teaches Introductory Biology to non-traditional students at N.C.Wesleyan College. Homepage, blog, Twitter, ScienceOnline, Open Laboratory.

Moderator:

Rose Eveleth:

Rose Eveleth is a producer, designer, writer and animator based in Brooklyn. She switched from studying krill as a scientist to studying scientists who study krill as a journalist. Now she tries to explain sciencey stuff for places like The New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed, BBC Future, Smart Planet and OnEarth. She’s a regular blogger for Smithsonian Magazine’s newest online endeavor – Smart News, and a part time editor of all things animated at TED Education. In her spare time she makes weird collages, bikes, and day dreams about hanging out with a pack of foxes. Homepage, blog, Twitter, Facebook page, The SA Incubator interview, Scientific American articles, Scienceline posts

Panelists:

Lena Groeger:

Lena Groeger is a journalist-designer-developer who builds data driven interactive web applications and graphics at ProPublica, an investigative news organization in New York City. She has a masters degree from NYU in science journalism, and is particularly interested in psychology and neuroscience. Homepage, blog, Twitter, ProPublica articles, new job announcement, Scientific American articles and blog posts, Scienceline posts.

 

Kathleen Raven:

Kathleen Raven is a freelance science and health writer based in Athens, Ga. She recently wrapped up a science writing internship at Nature Medicine in New York City. In May 2013, she will graduate from the University of Georgia’s Health & Medical Journalism M.A. program. Last year, she earned her M.S. degree there in conservation ecology. Homepage, blog, Twitter, Reuters Health articles, Spoonfull of Medicine articles, Scientific American articles, Scientific American blog posts, The SA Incubator interview, ScienceOnline2011 interview.

Erin Podolak:

Erin is a member of the narrative reporting team at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, MA in the United States. At Dana-Farber she concentrates on writing about basic science, clinical research and new technologies for several different types of cancer. Erin recently completed her Master’s degree in Journalism with a specialty concentration in science communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She also studied science writing at Lehigh University where she earned her Bachelor’s degree in 2009. Erin has held a variety of internships in journalism and communications, including a year of writing science news for the website of the journal BioTechniques. In addition Erin writes and manages her own blog Science Decoded – one woman’s adventures navigating science and the media. Homepage, blog, Twitter, Incubator interview.

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The other kinds of expertise

If you read my old and new posts about the media, science journalism, etc., you know I come down strongly on the side of specialists and against generalists. But it is a caricature, a simplification I have to use to make my posts clearer, and to cut my posts down to a semi-manageable length 😉

Yes, people are hungry for information. They are asking to be educated, not served content. And education requires expertise.

If people were not hungry to be educated, and if there was no inherent trust in experts, there would be no interest in either editing or using Wikipedia, there would be no interest in TED talks, and there would be no interest in either producing or using MOOCs and other forms of online education. I am far from being the only one who sees an article in a newspaper and, before sharing the link anywhere, first double-checks it with an expert blogger. Which is why expert bloggers are so popular.

We used to read a newspaper, nodding along, assuming they got it all right, until we get to an article that covers a topic on which we actually know something, an article within the domain of our own expertise. Then we scream bloody murder: “Why can’t they ever cover X correctly, idiots!”. The assumption everyone had was that media covered everything well except the domain of our expertise.

The emergence of the Web, especially the expert blogs (and expert commenters), opened our eyes. We saw that every expert is complaining about (and skillfully dissecting) the coverage of their own area of expertise, leading to the conclusion that the traditional media covers everything poorly. We started losing trust in the media and consuming it less. The way media reacted to economic consequences of lost trust was to fire experts and hire generalists who were asked to cover seven different topics per day, not covering anything well. Audience asked for expertise and for education that could only be provided by specialists, yet the media responded by offering more and shorter articles all written by diluted generalists.

But these are extremes I needed to use in my past writing in order to make a point clearly and strongly. So, here is the missing piece, about varieties of expertise that exist between the two extremes of super-expertise of hyper-specialists and the super-diluted non-expertise of hyper-generalists.

Temporary Expertise

If you work for one of those media mills, expected to churn out several articles per day, good luck with that. The work will, inevitably, be shallow, superficial, formulaic and sprinkled with inaccuracies.

But if you have the luxury of having time to write something longer, perhaps a feature, or a series of articles or blog posts on the same topic, then you have time to become a temporary expert. You have time to read books and articles on the topic, to study, to interview many experts, to take a class, to go to a meeting or conference or a series of public lectures, to think about it, process it, digest it, internalize all of that knowledge. You have time to learn enough to be able to write a piece that is accurate.

Expanding into new Expertise

Every one of us is an expert on something, at least one thing, probably several things.

This also means that each one of us is completely non-expert on many other things.

One can argue that each one of us is the expert on our own personal experiences. And if one writes about that, this can certainly be wonderful, riveting reading. But it’s fiction, and entertainment, even if it hints at some bigger generalities about human condition. It is not expertise, and it does not educate or inform.

And then there are topics we all think we are experts on and like to pontificate about. For example: politics. But even there, there are people who know the arcane rules of the Senate, or details of how Electoral College works, or actually sit down and read through thousands of pages of the bill going through the House. Such people have a much more deserved reputation of being experts than the rest of us cheering for our side.

My personal rule: never write about topics I am not at least somewhat expert on. And if I write about politics, to make it clear it is personal opinion, colored by my own background – from comparing USA to ex-Yugoslavia, to having studied some psychology of voter behavior.

There is no money you can pay me to write about exoplanets (or baseball!!!). I find the topic fascinating, but I have zero background. It would take me months of intense, focused, time-consuming study to even reach the level of “temporary expert” (and several years to become a real expert). Thus, I’d run my draft of the article by real experts…who should have written the piece themselves anyway, right?

My narrowest expertise is in “role of gonadal steroid hormones in the development of individual, strain, age and sex differences in circadian and photoperiodic time-measurement in Japanese quail”. While doing my own research on this, I also read a lot and thought a lot about related topics. I know quite a lot about sex hormones, brain and behavior, about circadian rhythms, and about bird physiology and behavior. Even more broadly, I studied quite a lot about animal physiology, animal behavior, and evolution. I took several graduate courses in history and philosophy of science. I have written blog posts about biological clocks in non-bird organisms, from bacteria, protists, fungi and plants, to arthropods, mammals and even humans (although I systematically avoided the literature on humans throughout grad school). I have written blog posts about other aspects of bird behavior. I have written about evolution and ecology and hormones.

So, a few weeks ago, when a bunch of people started asking if NYC subway rats would drown or survive Sandy, I decided I had enough background to be able to extend my area of expertise to rats. This is not my area of expertise, but I knew enough to know where to look, how to evaluate information, and how to quickly get up to speed. So I wrote a blog post about it (and a follow-up) and ended up linked and quoted all over the media. I was a ‘temporary expert’ on rat behavior during floods, but this expertise was not isolated from my other expertise – it is tangential to it, quite closely related.

When I write about human clocks, that is expanding my expertise. When I write about sleep, that is expanding my expertise. Those are not the cores of my expertise, but they are related enough, close enough that I can figure it out pretty fast.

The worst situation is when one is not even aware that a topic requires expertise and pontificates anyway. Remember a few years ago when old-skool, curmudgeon journalists wrote op-eds making fun of blogs (and later Twitter), each one of them instantly revealing they have never actually seen a blog?

Or today’s example – this one – which appears totally ignorant of a decade of writing, studies, companies, software and other stuff related to Open Access publishing (and scientific publishing in general, and alternative methods of peer-review). How does one even start critiquing such a piece? Where does one start, when so much has happened in the decades since the last time those arguments may have appeared valid? With the definition of “publishing”? Or “what is publishing for?”. Or “at what point in the timeline of scientific process does publication fall (hint: not at the end)?” Or “when did pre-publication, publisher-driven peer-review become accepted (hint: around 1960 or so, before which science worked perfectly fine for a few centuries)?”

So, better to stick to one’s own expertise, and then slowly expand to neighboring topics. Don’t jump head first into a topic you know nothing about. People will know. And they will point and laugh.

Technical Expertise

There are many more ways to tell a story than just a block of text. There is art and illustration. There are comic strips and cartoons. There is data journalism and infographics. There are talk podcasts and non-talk sound files. There are photography and slide-shows. There are animations and videos. And there is interactive stuff – “move the sliders!” – where users can change inputs to see how it changes the output.

Just like long articles (and blog posts) have a much longer staying power than short ones, good multimedia packages also are treated differently by users, regarded as valuable resources, something to save, bookmark and share with friends.

People who make that stuff are not topical experts. They have other kinds of expertise. They have technical skills needed to make that. They may have heightened sense of visual aesthetics. A really good ear for rhythm and timing. They may be really good at math. And as this kind of work usually takes more time, they may become ‘temporary experts’ on the topic as well.

Just like we, as users, run to topical experts, our “Go To” people to learn about the topics that are in the news, so producers of media run to their own “Go To” people when they want to produce videos, or infographics, or multimedia packages.

Many people produce videos, but not all have the same appeal. There are many good cartoonists out there, but there is a reason why we all flock to XKCD, PhD Comics and The Oatmeal – they are really, really good. For data journalism, infographics and interactive stuff, some big old organizations are really good at that, e.g., The Guardian and The New York Times, but we also check out ProPublica which really specializes in that format and sets the standard for everyone else.

For a multimedia package to work both short-term and long-term, it has to be appealing, inviting, intuituve to explore, entertaining, informational, educational, beautifully and clearly written (the text parts of it), and 100% factually accurate. Thus such a package is usually done by a team, at least two people: a topical expert, and a multimedia expert. Both are experts, both are specialists, both are journalists, and both can become hot commodities in the media market.

Amazing Writing

Let’s go back to the wild days of those silly “bloggers vs. journalists” op-eds a few years ago. It is interesting how they all had the same pattern, using some of the same arguments.

“But who will report the news as it happens, from the scene?” BOOM. Here are twenty examples of bloggers who did exactly that.

“But who will do in-depth, investigative reporting?” BOOM. Here are twenty examples of bloggers who do that every week.

“But who will cover local town councils and school boards?” BOOM. Here are twenty examples of bloggers who are doing an amazing job with that.

“But who will speak truth to the power?” BOOM. Here are twenty examples of bloggers who did just that.

“But who will effect positive change, affect legislation, diplomatic efforts?” BOOM. Here are twenty examples when bloggers did exactly that.

“But the word Blog is funny!”

Eh? That’s an argument? Well, “nut graf” is funny, too. And so is “lede”. And “word limit” is a funny concept.

“B-b-b-but at least we can write! So there!”

To which the only appropriate response is a throaty laughter.

I don’t think you mean what we mean when you say “writing”….

Writing is not just the ability to compose grammatically correct sentences. Writing is not the ability to put together sentences really fast in order to turn in the copy on deadline. Writing is not the ability to follow the formula of the 500-word inverted pyramid news piece that is just like all such pieces everywhere, including all the tired old metaphors, topped by over-hyped headlines. Though all of those skills can be useful sometimes. And writing is not keeping readers’ attention because they cannot avert their eyes from the train-wreck of an op-ed you just wrote.

Writing is the ability to get the reader who finished your first sentence to decide to read your second sentence. And third. And then fourth. And all the way to the end. And then say “Wow, this was good, let me share with all my friends”. Topic, length, form, format – those do not matter. It can be a tweet, it can be a book. It can be about duck penises, it can be about cancer. A good writer writes riveting, beautiful prose. Not convoluted, Victorian-style prose, but clear, exciting prose imbued with one’s personality.

Writing is also the ability to write riveting, can’t-put-down prose without giving up one inch of factual accuracy.

People who write riveting prose but what they say is BS are not good writers, they are what I like to call ‘seductive’ writers. I already mentioned David Brooks last week as a good example of a ‘seductive’ writer.

The way he invented stuff out of thin air about neuroscience and psychology was much worse error by Jonah Lehrer, another ‘seductive’ writer, than any plagiarism, “self” or “non-self” (non-responsiveness to expert criticisms in comments was his #2 error, and complete lack of interest in being a part of the science blogging community from which he could have learned both neuroscience and ethics was his #3).

There is a reason why we all stop whatever we are doing and go read long new pieces by the likes of Deborah Blum, Steve Silberman or David Dobbs. They do beautiful writing, their writing is assuredly 100% factually accurate, it is always interesting, and we always learn something new.

What I am trying to say is that good writing is a form of expertise. Many can quickly put together a formulaic news piece. Relatively few are really good writers in the sense I am trying to convey here. Media organizations that want to be successful have to try to lure in and hire some of those good writers, no matter what their area of topical expertise, or how much they explore neighboring topics to extend their expertise, or how much they tend to hit new topics and become temporary experts on those (and how much time they need for this). Some topical experts are also good writers. Some technical experts are also good writers. Mix and match, combine the different types, give them freedom and incentives to collaborate with each other, and you can have an awesome newsroom.

Expertise: the next generation

You are probably aware that one of the things I most like to do is “scouting” for talent, discovering new, up-and-coming science writers, bloggers and journalists, giving them opportunities, mentoring them, promoting their work, helping them become visible and successful.

Several science writing programs in the USA are churning out small armies of such amazing new writers each year (unfortunately, most other US schools and all the rest of the world are yet to catch up).

Many of them have background in science, thus have real scientific expertise to draw from. Others have always been fascinated by a topic and explored it in great detail over the years. So they are topical experts, always working on expanding their expertise, but being careful not to jump into something they don’t know anything about.

Many of them are skillful with a variety of modern tools, can troubleshoot them, modify them, and generally get them to work the way they want. Many experiment with a variety of other, non-textual forms of communication. Many can code and thus make their own tools if needed. Thus many of them are also technical experts.

They tend to be sticklers for accuracy. They do triple fact-checks on every word, number, symbol and punctuation point before turning in the piece. This also makes them good temporary experts whenever the assignments calls for it.

And many of them are beautiful writers as well, keeping my attention all the way to the end.

So, the new generation seems to combine all kinds of expertise. And working with them is a pleasure. They are so…professional!

Working with one of them, e.g., for a Guest Blog post, is so easy! We do not exchange 500 emails, half of which are irrelevant, half of which are CCd to irrelevant other people, half of which contain bits and pieces of the assignment (and I am the one who needs to track the most recent versions and patch them all together?), half of which contain images in wrong formats I cannot use, etc. No, the usual exchange is about six emails:

Email #1: Hey Bora, here is my pitch.
Email #2: That sounds great. Do it. When do you think you can have it done?
Email #3: How about April 15th?
Email #4: Deal. April 15th at 12 noon EDT it is.
Email #5 (on April 15th at noon): Here it is (attached), let me know if you want any changes.
Email #6: Perfect. Published. Thank you so much. The URL is: http…. ”

What I get is perfectly formatted text (not for Word, for WordPress), perfectly sized images with links and credits, author bios, and perfect embed codes that render multimedia exactly the way they should look. Publish-ready.

I sit down ready to edit and realize, fifteen minutes later, that I have come to the end without having to make a single change, not even to fix any typos as there were none. And I really enjoyed reading it. And that is not easy – I am a jaded, old blogger with ADHD, so keeping my attention all the way to the end is hard, and making me enjoy it even harder.

Yet these new generations keep doing this to me! Over and over again (sure, some of the veterans are also extremely good, but there the experience varies). Just the latest example – this post was due at 1:00pm. I received it (including images, embed code, etc) at 1:00pm. It was published at 1:16pm. It came in perfect. All I needed to do was read, copy, paste and click “Publish”, then spend a couple of minutes promoting it on social media and my work for the day was done. Easy. How nice for me. More time for me to read something else, or write a post of my own. Or take a long weekend.

They are really good, which makes me hopeful for the future. Now go ahead and hire them (you can find many of them in the archives here)! If you don’t, they’ll start their own media empires and vanquish the competition that still hires generalists 😉

Related:

Nate Silver and the Ascendance of Expertise
Beats vs obsessions, columns vs. blogs, and other angels dancing on pins
#sci4hels – ‘Killer’ science journalists of the future ready to take over the world!
The SA Incubator, or, why promote young science writers?
Science Blogs – definition, and a history
#scio12: Multitudes of Sciences, Multitudes of Journalisms, and the Disappearance of the Quote.
Blogs: face the conversation
Is education what journalists do?
Telling science stories…wait, what’s a “story”?
The line between science and journalism is getting blurry….again

Nate Silver and the Ascendance of Expertise

Nate Silver is now a meme (also source of the image on the left).

I usually pepper my posts with links, but today I feel lazy, so I listed a bunch of links at the bottom – hours of fascinating reading you can have after you read my post!

Who is Nate Silver?

Nate Silver likes to play with numbers. He started out with sports, then burritos, then politics. He, using statistics, correctly predicted most (not all, but almost all) presidential and congressional races in 2008, 2010 and 2012. Back in 2010, he came to ScienceOnline and moderated a session (together with Arikia Millikan) on using math to study human behavior online – the Web Science.

What does Nate Silver do?

Twenty years ago, there were only a few pollsters out there and they did relatively few polls. Today, there are many polling organizations and they, especially in the home stretch of an election, poll incessantly, every day. They do national polls, state-wide polls, even local polls. Over the years, they refine their methodology. Some predict outcomes better than others, for a variety of reasons.

Nate Silver averages all the polls, weights each poll according to the statistics of past performances, and produces a daily-changing set of numbers predicting outcomes of various electoral races. For the Presidental elections, unlike pundits focusing on national polls, he rightly focuses on state polls, especially in swing states, in order to predict the winner of the Electoral College – the only thing that really counts (we can discuss if that is right or wrong, but that is how the game is played now, so that it what he measures).

What did Nate Silver not do?

As a couple of bloggers (see links at the bottom) pointed out, Nate Silver did not do Big Data. These are pretty small and limited data-sets he has at his disposal. In aggregate, they are powerfully predictive, but that is not Big Data, though the motivations and methodologies are similar.

As Silver started in sports statistics, being a part of the Moneyball movement in baseball, people assume that what he is doing now is the same thing. But it is not. It is also not the same as what he did with burritos, though that comes closer.

In baseball (and later in basketball, though horse racing and betting industry has been doing this for a century at least), there are hard data. Player hit the ball or did not. Caught the ball or did not. The ball ended in a spot X or did not. It was a home-run or it wasn’t. Empirical data. Are two players good buddies or not does not matter that much at that level – they are both professionals and will do their best regardless of interpersonal relationships, body language and other subjective parameters. Thus, stats in sports work well, as they are based on clearly measurable things. From such stats, one can rank players and teams, and predict with quite a high degree of accuraccy which teams will win and which will lose. Or which horses have which odds for winning a race.

So again, What did Nate Silver do?

People focus on numbers, imagining they are hard data. But remember that the numbers come from polls. Polls are questionnaires. What Nate Silver did was social science.

Polls ask questions. People answer them differently. They may have conscious or unconscious biases. They will have different backgrounds and different levels of being informed. Some will lie on purpose, to skew the polls, as part of their activism. Some will lie unconsciously because they are afraid to tell what they really think. People respond differently if they are polled over their land-line phones (public) and differently if called on their cell-phones (private), and differently in online polls versus being asked in person, face to face (e.g., in exit polls). Some people put a lot of thought into their answers. Others want to do it as fast as possible and go with gut feeling, or even almost-random responses.

Different pollsters will ask similar questions, but with slightly different wording. And we know that wording affects the responses. The order of questions also affects responses.

Each pollster can only reach a limited number of people, so the small sample size results in a pretty large error.

But when Nate (and others) averages the polls, he increases the sample size, thus reducing the error. When he takes into account the past accuracy of pollsters and weights them accordingly, he further reduces the error. People who lie in opposite directions cancel each other. Pollsters who are biased in opposite directions cancel each other. A well-balanced, weighted average can take care of all of that, and produce a much more accurate prediction.

But importantly, it is still not numbers from physical measurements. It is statistics (and yes, Statistics is a sub-discipline of Mathematics) applied to messy human minds and brains and emotions and moods.

It’s people!

Why Nate Silver now?

A lot of it has to do with the current political climate. I wrote my thoughts about it on my Tumblr as I did not think it was appropriate to post it here, but go take a look.

In short, it is a backlash to alternative reality, alternative facts, alternative science, alternative math. It is a backlash to the self-perpetuating cycles of mutual lying between rightwing media, rightwing politicians, rightwing donors and rightwing voters, each preventing the others from straying one millimeter away from this alternative fantasy world. It is a backlash against anti-empiricism, anti-science, anti-facts, head-in-the-sand, “we make reality now” mindset. Practical solutions require dealing with the world as it is, not the world one imagines to be or wants it to be.

And when postmodernism in public life reaches a point of saturation, and when people have had enough of it, and when there is a backlash, people will go for as extreme opposite as they can find. In this case: math. Numbers. Hard, cold numbers. Unbiased analysis. No “gut feelings”. Which is why they go for Nate. Which is why they tend to ignore that Silver’s numbers are people.

Why Nate Silver and not other numbers guys?

Because Nate is a blogger. Really. Others put data out there as well (see links at the bottom). Nice graphs and charts and tables. Great numbers, essentially the same as Nate’s. But they don’t tell a story about the data. He does. He’s been doing it for years. He has regular readership. He has a recognizable voice. He has earned trust not just by the strength of his predictions, but also by the strength of his writing, his personality that shines in his blog posts, his transparency about his thinking and about his methodology.

People focus on Nate and trust Nate because he is an expert, but more importantly because he is an expert who can tell the story. An expert who can explain stuff in ways that people understand. He narrates his work and his numbers.

Why Nate Silver’s blog?

A number of people, some unhappy that other number-crunchers did not reach Nate’s fame (or rightwing wreath), explain his prominence by the fact that his blog is hosted by New York Times (see links at the bottom). Even the NYTimes public editor suggested that his fame is due to the association with the NYTimes brand.

This is upside down. And she got instant and strong backlash. It is Nate who is the brand. NYTimes profits more from having Nate on their site (the traffic to his blog just before and during the election day dwarfed all the traffic to everything else on their site) than he does from being associated with them. He is strengthening their brand, by being an expert on site, rather than the other way round.

NYTimes reported on Nate’s traffic in a pretty vague way – number of site visits that included visits to Nate Silver’s blog. But we know that very few people go to sites via homepages. Older people and people within the news business may still have that habit. But most people do not. I bet that at least 90% (and more likely 99.99%) of the traffic to Silver’s blog on the election day did not come from the NYTimes homepage, or any other page on the site. It came from direct links, social media, “dark social”, emails, bookmarks, RSS feed readers, searches, etc.

Nate Silver and the Ascendance of Expertise

What New York Times does smartly, to enhance its brand, is to hire people with real expertise, people like Nate Silver (and Paul Krugman etc.) and give them a prominent spot on the site (and even sometimes in the paper version). Washington Post does the same with Ezra Klein. Many media outlets, including the one you are on right now, have set up blogging networks specifically in order to attract and host writers with real expertise.

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago:

Landing on the New York Times page after you followed a link tells you something about it, to a certain extent. You still have to figure out if you trust the article you are about to read. Your expectations are higher than if it was Daily Mail, but you are still on guard. How do you decide in advance? By the name in the byline. If it is Maureen Dowd, you expect entertainment, but not much depth. If it’s David Brooks, you expect seductively beautiful writing that is based on pseudo-sociology he picked out of thin air to conform to his ideology. But if it’s Paul Krugman, you know you will get a better understanding of some aspect of economics because the guy knows his stuff – he is an expert.

And you know exactly what you’ll get if you see the byline of Nate Silver.

Expertise engenders trust. When I write about biology, my readers trust me as I am an expert. When I write about media, people trust me a little bit less because my expertise in this came later, was not “official” (i.e., no graduate school degrees), and is mostly based on my own impressions and experience, though my track record so far has been pretty good. When I write about politics…why would anyone trust me? Everyone has a political opinion, right?

What is important to note is that there is hunger out there for expertise. I started as a political blogger. Back in 2003/2004 there was a bunch of us starting political blogging. We each tried to add a particular angle, or bring in our other expertise (I focused on psychology of ideology, a nascent field now called ‘political psychology’), but mainly we pontificated about politics and performed acts of media criticism and of political activism. After the 2004 election, many of us specialized. Ezra Klein focused on health care and became a “Go To” person for it, resulting in his hire by the Washington Post. Many others did something like that and got hired as campaign managers, or writers, or consultants, etc.

I focused on science and ended up at Scientific American. In January 2005 I started a science blog, separate from my political blog. And instantly, with my very first post, the new blog reached the same traffic levels as the old blog. There were comments, questions. In science, I was an expert, and people trusted me and were hungry for information.

I said and wrote this many times, but long posts that do not shy away from nitty-gritty details (including numbers, formulae, technical terms if explained first, even Latin names for animals – see super-successful Tetrapod Zoology blog right here on the network) do extremely well. They may not get an instand surge of low-quality traffic from Slashdot, Digg, Reddit, Stumbleupon or Fark, but they accrue tons of traffic over time. Such pieces are not seen as entertainment, but as resources – something to be saved, bookmarked and shared with friends. Such pieces keep getting re-discovered and re-shared for years after initial publication. They provide value that a one-hit wonder, entertaining piece does not. They provide value that standard, short, news pieces do not – they provide context and detail and quality of explanation that comes from expertise, something that a 400-word piece cannot possibly contain, as there is not enough space for it. Longform writing works.

What is expertise?

How does one become an expert?

There are two ways. There is the 20th century method (yes, 20th century is an outlier on everything), in which one does hands-on research on a very narrow project while, hopefully, reading a little bit more broadly, resulting in an official badge of expertise – an MS or PhD or MD or some such degree.

And then there is the historically traditional method that is making a big come-back now – having a deep interest in the topic and doing it yourself, reading, discussing with others, doing own research, blogging about it, writing and reporting on it for years, establishing oneself as an expert on the topic. This is how the most respected journalists became most respected – by becoming the Go To experts on a particular topic.

The generalists and pundits – or, if you want, foxes as opposed to hedgehogs – are the reason why the audience is losing trust in the traditional media. They have seen expertise, and they are not going back.

There is something importantly different about l’affaire Silver, though. Most of the cases in the past were impressionistic. We used our own ‘gut feelings’ to say that a particular blog post by an expert X was better than a traditional news article by a journalist Y. But now we can back up our gut feelings with numbers. This case is empirical. Expert blogger Nate Silver was correct, while pundits and traditional bloviators were not…and here are the numbers.

How does expertise fit inside the new media ecosystem?

It is easy here at Scientific American. We are an expert publication almost by definition. When news breaks, and there is a science component to it, others come to our site to get the reliable scoop on it. Generalist news organizations link to our articles on the scientific aspects of news stories. All our editors are experts on the topics they write about (and some even have the 20th century badges of expertise, i.e., PhDs and such). And then we have the blog network, where we have about 50 additional experts in other fields.

Being on, or regularly reading, Scienceblogs.com over several years, where science bloggers were treated as ‘media’, taught us a lot. We learned from one another, learned from our own mistakes, and learned by analyzing mistakes of traditional media. We encountered and studied the traditional journalistic ethics and best practices and incorporated the best of it into our blogging. The Pepsigate scandal was a particularly useful teaching moment for all of us. We became better writers, better journalists, and better bloggers. The distinctions between these blurred.

But we remained experts in our domains. And we resisted some of the traditional media trappings. Being Web natives, we vehemently resist the alien concept of “word count”. No blogger I know ever counts words in their posts (if they do, they are too ashamed to say it publicly). The post is done when it’s done, when all the historical, philosophical, social and methodological context is included, all details hashed out, all conclusions finalized. And we know that #longform works best. And we resist detached “objectivity”. We know we gain rapport and trust with our readers if we insert ourselves into our stories, explain what is the personal connection, where does our expertise on the topic come from, what are our potential biases on the topic, why are we particularly excited about this topic and decided to write about that and not about something else.

As I said yesterday, the traditional and new forms are fusing, learning from each other, getting better as a result, and we are all better off because of it. The line between blogs and columns, and between beats and obsessions is getting fuzzy, and that’s a good thing. Many traditional journalists are now also blogging, experimenting with forms and formats, and then transferring those into their more traditional writing.

This is why forward-looking media organizations are hiring experts. And why the pundits and bloviators, once their contracts expire or they retire, will gradually disappear from the media ecosystem (this will take many years, especially on TV which is the most resistant to change). This is why journalism schools are training experts. This is why media organizations are hiring bloggers. And then some of those bloggers get desks in the office, salaries equal to staff, benefits, etc. One day, that will be the norm. Let’s hope.

Links:

Nate Silver: the verdict.
Under Attack, Nate Silver Picks the Wrong Defense
The Times’s Washington Bureau Chief, and Legions of Others, in Defense of Nate Silver
New York Times wants to hold Nate Silver to newsroom standards
Sorry, Margaret, You Need to Get Out More
Your Employee Is an Online Celebrity. Now What Do You Do?
Nate Silver probability map vs. Actual map
Three Lessons From The Nate Silver Controversy
Here’s What the New York Times’ Nate Silver Traffic Boom Looks Like
In defense of Nate Silver: Pundits bare their misunderstanding.
‘How Can That Be?’ More on the ‘They Can’t Both Be Right’ Saga
Wrath of the Math: Obama Wins Nerdiest Election Ever
Silver Medal
In Defense of Nate Silver, Election Pollsters, and Statistical Predictions
The Nate Silver backlash
Data, uncertainty, and specialization: What journalism can learn from FiveThirtyEight’s election coverage
Nate Silver gets a big boost from the election
Why Math is Like the Honey Badger: Nate Silver Ascendant
Nate Silver of 538.com and his critics in the press corps. Get your literacy up.
Nate Silver’s Braying Idiot Detractors Show That Being Ignorant About Politics Is Like Being Ignorant About Sports
In defense of Nate Silver — and basic math
Today’s War on Nate SIlver: Quiet Flows the Don Edition
The Passion of Nate Silver (Sort Of)
Pundits versus probabilities
What’s FiveThirtyEight Good For?: The Inevitable Nate Silver Backlash
How did Nate Silver Get the Election Odds so Wrong?
Math and Discipline — Why Nate Silver’s Accuracy Isn’t About “Big Data”
Nate Silver the Real Winner of Election 2012
How did Nate Silver predict the US election?
Among the top election quants, Nate Silver reigns supreme
Drew Linzer: The stats man who predicted Obama’s win
Was Nate Silver the Most Accurate 2012 Election Pundit?
Climate science is Nate Silver and U.S. politics is Karl Rove
Debunking Two Nate Silver Myths
Whatever Nate Silver Does, Isn’t Science
How a nerd named Nate Silver changed political reporting forever.
Nate Silver: Why I Started FiveThirtyEight
Pundit Forecasts All Wrong, Silver Perfectly Right. Is Punditry Dead?
Can Nate Silver’s example save political journalism?
Gallup is very upset at Nate Silver
Nate Silver on the Election, Pundits, and His Drunk Alter Ego
Foxy Nate Silver and why old-media hedgehogs could soon be old news

Tune in to State Of Things today at 12noon EST.

WUNC is the local NPR station. The State Of Things is one of the popular North Carolina programs, usually featuring local people doing interesting stuff. This week is the Science Week there.

I will be on today. The show starts at 12 noon EST, but my segment is at the end, so around 12:40pm or so. The topic is The Best Science Writing Online 2012 (aka “The Open Laboratory”) anthology. We mention and discuss a few of the articles from the book (sorry, I love all 50, so this was hard, like choosing a favorite child – Sophie’s Choice). And use this as a starting point for discussing how the Web and blogs are changing the way science is written and communicated these days.

I hope I did well – you’ll tell me, I know! At one point, host Frank Stasio surprised me. As you know, apart from the 50 essays, the collection also includes a poem. I have read the poem perhaps once or twice months ago, silently to myself. Frank asked me to read it out loud. Cold. I hope I pronounced all the words right, let alone read it the way a poem would be read! Yikes!

Anyway, The State Of Things runs at 12noon EST and is rebroadcast at 9pm. There is livestreaming online, and they are also pretty fast at putting the recordings up as podcasts (should be up around 3pm or so). Tune in!

No rats in Ryder Alley

Last week, in the wake of superstorm Sandy, I saw a number of people asking questions on social media (and some traditional media picking up on it) about a potential for ratpocalypse, i.e,. the possibility that hordes of rats will come out of the sewers and subway tunnels and flood the streets of New York City in a Pied Piper style. So I wrote a blog post debunking this and explaining why this will not happen, which made me a temporary expert on behavior of rats in storms, so I got interviewed in various places, etc.

As I noted at the very end of the post, my main source of information, at least initially, was a book, Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants by Robert Sullivan. I read it several years ago, when it first came out, and loved it. Reading it provoked me to read more on the topic, so when these questions came up, I already knew most of the answers, and knew where to look for additional information.

The book describes a year in Sullivan’s life, spent observing rats by night, and researching them by day. He went every night downtown to Fullton Street, and just stood there in the middle of two L-shaped alleys: Edens Alley and Ryder Alley. He watched rats come out at night, eat the food discarded by the two restuarants edging the alleys one on each side, fight, hide, and whatever else rats do when they are up on the surface.

The first opportunity I had to go up to New York City after reading the book was in 2007. I just could not resist! The book has no photos of the alleys, so I just HAD to go and see them myself.

My wife and I hailed a cab. Told the driver: Edens Alley. Driver: Hmmm, this is my first day on the job, do you know how to get there?

This was before I had iPhone, GPS, Google Maps…. I pulled out an old-style map, printed on paper, and gave the driver turn-by-turn directions. Once we got there (after making several circles around the area), the driver refused to take any money. I forced him to take double the amount of the fare. He did well for the first day as a NYC taxi driver. This place was hard to find. And off the mid/up-town grid.

Of course, this was in the middle of the day. I did not expect to see any rats there at that time. If I did, that would be an indication that the underground population is astoundingly large, forcing some of the sub-dominant individuals to forage during the day. But I was looking for traces of rats, and for holes and crevices from which they emerge at night, for bags of garbage full of Chinese food, and I took the pictures. I had the pictures stashed away in my Dropbox for more than five years. This is the first time they see the light of day. See for yourselves:

Best of October at A Blog Around The Clock

I posted 9 times in October, and it seems I am really back in the groove, with a nice rhythm of weekly decent blogging. That is, on A Blog Around The Clock only (not counting the posts on The Network Central, The SA Incubator, Video of the Week, Image of the Week, or editing Guest Blog and Expeditions).

New stuff:

Charlotte’s Web: what was she smoking?

Stumped by bed nets, mosquitoes turn midnight snack into breakfast

Beats vs obsessions, columns vs. blogs, and other angels dancing on pins

Did NYC rats survive hurricane Sandy?

#2012SVP – what do Vertebrate Paleontologists talk about?

Updates, News and Announcements:

ScienceRewired #srw12, #Back2Blog, #sciwri12 and other recent and future events

#2012SVP – Society of Vertebrate Paleontology

ScienceOnline2012 interviews:

ScienceOnline2012 – interview with Maryn McKenna

 

 

Previously in the “Best of…” series:

2012

September
August
July
June
May
April
March
February
January

2011

December
November
October
September
August
July
June
May
April
March
February
January

2010

December
November
October
September
August
July
June
May
April
March
February
January

2009

December
November
October
September
August
July
June
May
April
March
February
January

Did NYC rats survive hurricane Sandy?

Floodwaters enter Hugh L. Carey Tunnel. MTA photo

Floodwaters enter Hugh L. Carey Tunnel. MTA photo

How many of the NYC rats survived hurricane Sandy? This question has been asked in the wake of Sandy’s flooding of lower and east Manhattan. See, for example, articles in Huffington Post Green, Forbes, National Geographic, Business Insider, Mother Nature Network and NYMag.

The short answer is: some rats drowned, some survived.

The complicated question, how many drowned and how many survived, is probably impossible to answer. But we can speculate using the information and knowledge we have in our possession. But things we really need to know, we don’t – information is just not available (and some of it never will be).

How many rats are in NYC?

Nobody knows. Nobody seems to even be attempting to estimate.

Beware of the myth that there is one rat per person. That is a very old myth. It started in 1909 when W.R.Boelter published a study of rats in England. He asked farmers (but never bothered to look in the cities) to estimate how many rats they have in their fields. From that informal survey, Boelter came up with an average of one rat per acre (yes, of agricultural land). At that time, there were 40 million cultivated acres in England. From that, he estimated the total population of rats on agricultural land to be about 40 million. Completely coincidentally, England in 1909 also had a population of 40 million people. So, the 1:1 ratio stuck. And it has been repeated for more than a century, by media, by scientists, by United Nations, by pest control companies, by health departments, and apparently everyone else.

In 1949, Dave Davis did a systematic study of rats, by trapping and capturing them, and estimated that rat population in New York City was only about 250,000. Not even close to 8 million.

An aside – I have an indirect personal connection to Davis. For a while he was a professor in the Department of Zoology at NCSU, that is, in my own department. At the time he was ready to retire, in the 1970s, he was actively working on daily and seasonal rhythms in various animals. He used to work with Curt Richter before, at Johns Hopkins, and Curt is one of the pioneers of chronobiology. David sent some woodchucks on a ship from Philadelphia to Australia. While on the ship, rats kept EST time, but quickly re-entrained to the Australian local time once they arrived there and were exposed to ambient light. Although the field was still very young, Davis’ work made the rest of the department aware of it (they did not think it was Biorrhythms silliness, as many assumed at the time), so they were interested in hiring a replacement who was doing something similar. So they hired this bright, young lad from Texas in his spot – two Science papers already published and he took only 3.5 years to get both MS and PhD. The new faculty’s name was Herbert Underwood. Two decades later I joined the Underwood lab. The rest is history.

Anyway, back to rat population. Estimates vary wildly, to as high as 32 million. Nobody really knows.

New York City is old. It was built and rebuilt. New buildings were built on top of the old ones. There are old, buried tunnels, rooms, chambers, now not accessible to humans but perfectly accessible to rats. Gradually, the city dug out more and more sewers, more and more various pipes, more subways and other tunnels. Thus more places for rats to nest. We gradually built comfortable homes for more and more rats.

The rat population is not evenly distributed either. They tend to be where poor people live, and where the restaurants are. That’s where there is food.

And not all rats go to the surface. Rats are pretty loyal to the place of birth, and rarely venture more than about 60 feet from it, throughout their lives. If displaced, they can find their way home from as far as 4 miles, but for a foot-long animal, that is an extremely long distance.

If they can get food down under, e.g., from subway passengers throwing out uneaten food onto the tracks (which they do), rats never need to go up to the surface. They never get captured and counted in surface surveys.

Can rats swim?

Yes, rats are strong swimmers. They can even dive for a little while – see this video: if a domesticated rat can be trained to dive (and enjoy it), I assume that a wild rat can do it when its life is threatened:

The thing is, swimming in a water maze in the lab, or on the surface of a body of water is one thing. Swimming upward, against the powerful stream of water streaming downward is a completely different thing. They may be strong swimmers, but they are not Johnny Weissmullers.

Photo: Hiroko Masuike, NYTimes

MTA workers pumping out water from subway tracks at South Ferry subway station in New York, Tuesday, October 30, 2012. Photo: Hiroko Masuike, NYTimes

There are many ways up to the surface, but they all go up. And if the water was mainly gushing into the tunnels from above, from the streets as Sandy was flooding, they would have had to swim or dive up narrow pipes, essentially vertically up against the water. No way. Those guys drowned.

To go up to the surface, rats need to know the way to the surface. Rats know their own territory very well. But rats that never go to the surface do not know how to get there. They may still want to instinctually go up, but they don’t know the way so would have to get lucky to actually find the stairs and then fight their way up against the gushing water.

Rats already on the surface would probably be fine. The water and wind from Battery would carry them north until they reach the dry ground. They can certainly stay on the surface. Salty water is denser than fresh water, so they would find it even easier to stay on the surface, though their eyes may not like all of the salt.

What was flooded, when and how?

Right now, we do not know exactly where, when and how the water entered the subway tunnels, sewers, etc. MTA site does not provide much information. New York Times does not either – they are concerned with information useful to people, e.g., when will the subway open again, not where, when and how the subway initially flooded. Most likely the water came from above, from the flooded streets after sea water rose high at the Battery and the East side. This is important. It is easier for rats to float on the surface of water rising from below, than to fight against the water falling from above.

Also, most of Manhattan (and rest of NYC) did not flood at all. Most of the rats probably survived just fine where they were.

Who lived, who died?

NYC subways system flooding. New York Times (see link in the main text). So, from above, we can speculate that many rats survived. Some were never affected by flooding. Some were on the surface already and managed to run or swim to the higher ground. Some knew their way out to the surface and made it there. Rats are smart and crafty – if they can find a way to hide or go out, they will.

But some rats certainly drowned. Those are the rats that live deep inside holes we never know about, let alone visit. Rats that never go up to the surface. Rats that had the misfortune to have to try to escape essentially vertically up against strong gushing water.

There is a rule of thumb – if you see a rat on the surface during the daylight time, this means that the underground population is enormous. And I see them every month I go up to New York. When the rats are crowded, dominant rats take the best spots. If the population forages on the surface, dominant rats forage during the night. Subdominant (or submissive) rats are temporally displaced to the daytime shift.

This is important. If Sandy started to flood the tunnels during the day (and nobody knows, or makes public, this information as the subway was already closed to people by then), it will be the non-dominant rats who are on the surface, and thus more likely to survive. If the flooding started at night, it will be dominant rats on the surface, floating away into safety. Dominant rats are more likely to be able to relocate and survive in other places where they have to compete with locals. Non-dominant rats would have a much harder time finding a new home.

So, my guess is that most of the rats survived. But quite a large number of rats drowned – depending on exact location, depth, how much they know how to get to the surface at all, their exact route to the surface, and their status in the social hierarchy.

You can learn much more about New York City rats from Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants by Robert Sullivan, one of the most wonderful popular science books I have read over the past decade.

I will also be doing a HuffPoLive segment about this at 1pm EDT, will post the link in the comments once I have it.

Update: More from The Urban Scientist, Jezebel, Tha Daily Beast, Live Science, Forbes.

Beats vs obsessions, columns vs. blogs, and other angels dancing on pins

It seems we like dichotomies when discussing changes in the media. We pick two words, and then fight over them.

I have no intention to revisit the stale old debate about journalists vs. bloggers, as it was silly to begin with, and was resolved back in 2005, oh wait, in 2008, or was it in 2009, or, oh, OK, in 2010…ah, well.

That old debate was just un-serious. People who used to write anti-blog screeds did a dereliction of journalistic duty, writing pieces about phenomena they knew nothing about, and did not bother to get informed and educated about. All the scorn that was heaped upon them at the time was fully deserved.

I am more interested in some more recent discussions, where two words are compared by people who put some thought into it and wrote interesting pieces about it, not just knee-jerk emotional reactions. Perhaps there is nothing to it, in the end, but I’d like to know at least WHY is it so important to so many people in the media to have these discussions in the first place.

Beats vs obsessions

Recent launch of Quartz, an innovative online magazine, incited a round of articles and blog posts discussing the distinction between traditional media ‘beats’ and the new concept, inaugurated by Quartz, of ‘obsessions’.

The distinction is fuzzy, to say the least, and not everyone can figure out the difference yet. The ‘obsessions’ are just another effort at replacing ‘beats’, now seen as an archaic concept originating in the necessities of internal organization of media outlets printing on paper.

I guess the main difference people are noting is that obsessions are narrower – in scope of the topic, or (geographic) space, or in time. A crime beat is a broad category. Obsessively following every detail of a particular crime for a while until it’s solved (or there is nothing more to say), is an obsession. Once the story is over, obsession is closed, and the reporter moves to a new topic.

But another way the difference is explained is that an obsession is actually broader, not narrower, by being multidisciplinary. Instead of looking at many stories from one angle, it focuses on a single story from many angles. This may be a way to solve some Wicked Problems. So, looking at the Big Picture of crime, e.g., causes of crime and what measures potentially reduce crime in various parts of the globe, cultures, past eras, etc, from every angle possible, is also an obsession.

Finally, the third difference I saw in these articles, is the question of institutional organization. A beat is organized to cover a particular institution. Crime beat is coverage of cops and courts and prisons, not sociological causes of crime, or lives of criminals. You don’t cover war, you cover the military. You don’t cover policy, you cover Congress. You don’t cover education, you cover schools and school boards. You don’t cover health and medicine, you cover hospitals.

You learn the jargon, you learn their rules and laws, you learn who’s’who in that institution, and you make nice with your sources in institutions you cover. An obsession breaks out of those boundaries and covers a phenomenon or topic or theme from a perspective of people interested in that topic, different angles your audience brings to it. You need to be much more responsive, do more listening and less preaching. Notice how SciAm categories are not disciplinary (e.g., Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, Biology…), but broader themes as people are interested in them (Evolution, Space, Energy & Environment, Mind & Brain, Technology…).

Columnists vs. bloggers

At about the same time, another distinction arose, that between columnists and bloggers (see the Storify of tweets of this discussion as well).

Here, the distinction IS essentially zero.

But let’s not confuse IS with OUGHT.

Obviously some people see a difference and are trying to put their finger on where exactly it is. Is column edited, blog not? Mostly yes, but there are edited blogs and un-edited columns.

Are blogs online, columns on paper? Everything is online these days (and everything can and sometimes is re-purposed for the print edition as well, or vice versa in old-skool organizations that are not digital-first yet but are still somehow surviving).

Columns have word-limits, blogs don’t (thus blog posts tend to be longer than columns)? Online, there is no need for word-limits no matter what the format.

Columns are paid, blogs are not? Ask all the professional bloggers about it, heh, though this may still somewhat persist quantitatively rather than qualitatively, with columnists being paid at a higher rate than bloggers for purely historically contingent reasons, not tied to quantity or quality of writing. There is also a balance of control in play, i.e., more you pay someone, more editorial control you can exert over that person’s work, but can reciprocate by giving the dignified title of “columnist”.

This blog network has three bloggers who consider themselves to be columnists. They started out as columnists in traditional media, and feel insecure without the safety net of copy-editors. Those three bloggers’ posts do get copy-edited (and if necessary edited, though not by me – I only edit Guest Blog and Expeditions with its outside authors). Other bloggers know they can use our copy-editing services, but it never occurs to them to ask – they are used to doing everything themselves without a safety net. I did the kindest, gentlest arm-twisting to persuade the three columnists to use the word “blogger” when they refer to themselves, for a number of reasons. First, everyone is equal, and I do not want to have perceptions that some people are more equal than others. If you use blogging software, you are a blogger. But more importantly, the word “blogger” gives you more freedom. Let me explain…

Column is an old term, and we all have a pretty good idea what it is, what to expect when we read one. There are traditions in length, form, format, language, tone, style, etc. Those traditions are now overly restrictive. On the other hand, word ‘blog’ is new and still being defined. It is about regular posting online, with experimentation being an important aspect of it – all kinds of lengths, forms, voices, styles etc can be used and nobody will find it unusual if the site is called a “blog”. Photoblogs, podcasts, videoblogs, are just as unsurprising as purely textual ones. Humor, funny photoshops, or profanity are just as “normal” on blogs as are long treatises, deep expertise and long lists of references. Heck, just look around our network: huge diversity of styles and forms, even though you can argue that the range of “acceptable” is narrower here than in the blogosphere as a whole.

Emotional effect of words

A few days ago, I discussed the distinction between beats and obsessions with a veteran journalist who’s been doing this for decades. We discovered that we have very different, essentially opposite, emotional reactions to those two words.

For him, the word ‘beat’ denotes something regular, steady, reliable and predictable, like a beat of a metronome, or heartbeat. Something that is comfortable and comforting. On the other hand, ‘obsession’ seemed dangerous to him, unpredictable, almost pathological. Obsessed people are not reliable, one never knows what crazy thing they will do next.

For me, the word ‘beat’ has a negative connotation. It is something aggressive, implying violence, as in ‘beating the dead horse’, or self-satisfactory, as in ‘beating off’. On the other hand, for me ‘obsession’ is a sister-word to ‘passion’. Without obsession, work is not worth doing. Without obsession, love is not worth loving. Without obsession, or passion, nobody will do anything risky and innovative, which is what we need in times of disruption of the entire system. During ten years in research, I was obsessed with it, thinking, dreaming, doing and breathing my science 24/7. I am just as obsessed with science communication, building the new media ecosystem, and discovering/promoting new writing talent now.

I was stunned by this difference in our reactions. Perhaps this is because English is second language to me, so my impressions of the words are colored by the context in which I first encountered them years ago when I was learning English? Or is it due to our temperamental (or even age) differences, me being always anti-authoritarian and kinda revolutionary, always proselytizing the new thing, the new order? Am I the one being crazy here?

So (and thanks to K.R. for giving me this idea in the first place), I checked the original etymologies of the two words. Apparently, we are both half-right. Both words are aggressive. The etymology of ‘beat’ indeed has something to do with physical violence. But etymology of ‘obsession’ is just as bad – implying near-possession by demons! But words evolve…

As someone who entered the media horizontally (from science to blogging to newsroom) as opposed to vertically (through j-school, or starting in the mailroom and working my way up), I am not emotionally wed to terms like ‘beat’, or ‘column’. For me, they have the patina of the old days of constraining tradition, not the comfort of ‘good old days’ I don’t remember (or don’t remember as “good”).

On the other hand, whenever one encounters a new word (or a word new to the person), it always looks strange. One way to deal with strangeness is to find it funny and laugh. This was the commonly voiced reaction by curmudgeon journalists to the new words like ‘blog’ and ‘twitter’. If they find the word funny, then the phenomena those words denote are not worth studying or taking seriously, but are perfectly OK to make fun of in public. They thought they were savvy, but they quickly discovered they looked stupid, in public. They fell for their own emotional reactions.

Oh, did I mention I hate the word “verticals”? How uni-dimensional (and hierarchical) for a network that is the Web!

Other subtle effects of words

There is another subtle difference in the way I subconsciously (well, consciously as of today) respond to the words “beat” and “obsession”.

Beat is repeated action. Obsession is a continuous action.

Oh, wait! Column writing is a repeated action. Blogging is a continuous action.

Or rather, beat (and column) is a repeated action, it’s work. Obsession and blogging are constant emotions that spur one into action all the time, out of love.

This is something related to a theme I often talk about (and write about, e.g,. here and here).

Blogging, unlike writing a column (or writing news pieces, or features, etc.), rarely produces stand-alone pieces that can be read in a vacuum. Blogging at its best is a series of posts, each building on what was previously written, and each connected to what other people have written (or what one has written elsewhere).

I have a beat here at my blog. Animal physiology and behavior, especially in respect to time (daily and seasonal rhythms), and especially when studied out in the field, within ecological and evolutionary contexts. Most of my blog posts on those topics are more or less stand-alone pieces. They link to scientific papers, or media coverage, but rarely link to my older posts.

I also have an obsession – studying the way the media ecosystem is changing. My blog posts on this topic are all connected. Which is why, just like the one you are reading right now, my posts on this obsession are chock-full of links, both to my older posts (so you can see where I am coming from, how my thinking evolved, etc) and to other people’s writing (to see the context within which I am thinking, who are the other people who are influencing me, etc).

A number of our other editors also do both. They produce perfectly traditional self-contained news pieces for the Observations blog (and elsewhere on the site, or in the print magazine), and fantastically gripping, innovative and experimental blog posts on their own personal blogs here (see their blogs on the pull-down menu above: Brainwaves, Streams of Consciousness, Talking Back, Octopus Chronicles, Budding Scientist, Critical Opalescence, Degrees of Freedom).

Our network bloggers are all over the spectrum here – most have some topics that are beats, some topics that are obsessions. For example, John Platt has a beat – endangered species (though he does obsess about a couple of species he writes about over and over again). Cassie Rodenberg has an obsession – addiction, from every possible angle: chemical, medical, societal, historical, ethical, legal, political, psychological, journalistic, artistic, and even personal. One can read most of Platt’s posts in isolation. One has to read many of Rodenberg’s posts before becoming acquainted with her enough to be able to, for example, post an appropriate comment.

So, most of us here on the network are sometimes columnists, sometimes bloggers, sometimes just wonderful storytellers, and sometimes something in-between. And that is probably the best. It is up to readers to recognize where they have just landed after following a link to a blog post. Is it a traditional piece that stands alone? Or is it a post that is one of many in a series, and digging through the archives and following for a few weeks or months are needed to really start understanding what is going on – at which point you will be richly rewarded because you have discovered a person with unique expertise and unique voice?

And this brings us to the next pair of words journos love to discuss: generalists vs. specialists.

Generalists vs. specialists

The Web has allowed many angles, many points of view, and yes, many truths to be available to everyone. Some of those angles and truths are more legitimate than others, but who’s the referee any more? It used to be the gatekeepers of the traditional media, but with so many voices out there now, and the trust in traditional media at a historic low, the MSM is not a referee of truth any more. It cannot do that as an institution, but it can regain some of it by hiring people who are referees of truth by virtue of having the relevant expertise.

Landing on the New York Times page after you followed a link tells you something about it, to a certain extent. You still have to figure out if you trust the article you are about to read. Your expectations are higher than if it was Daily Mail, but you are still on guard. How do you decide in advance? By the name in the byline. If it is Maureen Dowd, you expect entertainment, but not much depth. If it’s David Brooks, you expect seductively beautiful writing that is based on pseudo-sociology he picked out of thin air to conform to his ideology. But if it’s Paul Krugman, you know you will get a better understanding of some aspect of economics because the guy knows his stuff – he is an expert.

Every expert will have naysayers. There is always some fringe group that for emotional, political or financial reasons has an interest in promoting an alternative, illegitimate “truth” (see: global warming denialists, creationists, anti-vaxxers, anti-GMOs, animal rightists, etc). But for most people, expertise matters. Most people rightfully believe what Krugman says about economics. I hope people believe me when I write something about circadian rhythms. Expertise counts.

Expertise does not require a PhD in the topic. There are several bloggers on this science blogs network that came originally from English degrees, or journalism. But they developed obsessions for some areas of science, and over the years they became experts. And you know they are experts because they keep writing about it over and over again, they back up their claims with copious links to trustworthy sources, and they get general agreement from other experts in the same field in the comments or in responses on their own blogs. Over time, they earned respect and reputation for being experts on the topics they usually write about (and nothing wrong with occasionally using the blog to test new ideas in a new field, as a learning tool, perhaps as a test for moving from the old obsession to a new one).

A generalist who covers a different topic each time will never become known for expertise in any group of readers passionate about any of those topics. The articles and posts may be OK, but they will never be as inspiring or awesome as articles written by experts. A generalist may gain reputation among editors as a reliable freelancer who does good work, meets deadlines, is easy to work with and does not require too much time and effort to edit. But that reputation is inside baseball, it does not turn the writer into a personal brand, but one dependent on (usually declining, and often disappearing) institutional brands. In the world of “Friends in Low Places“, that is probably not the best strategy.

Thus, it is not surprising that j-schools are now trying to train experts, though that may be misguidedly turned into training computer programmers instead of journalists. Furthermore, some places are now taking existing experts and turning them into journalists.

When an expert keeps writing, that is more likely to be an obsession than a beat. It is more likely to look like a blog than a column. It will be continuous, rather than repeatable. It will be a constantly developing corpus of work, rather than a collection of unrelated articles. It will be an opportunity to gain regular audience and to build reputation, respect and a personal brand that is easy to move from one institution to another (or to freelancing). A person with a brand is attractive to hire by media organizations that understand that their institutional brand depends on the quality and reputation of the expert writers they hired – as bloggers, treated and paid as if they were columnists of yore.

“Bloggers vs. journalists” really makes no sense any more, does it?

ScienceRewired #srw12, #Back2Blog, #sciwri12 and other recent and future events

Back on October 10th, I skyped in a keynote address to the inaugural event of the ScienceRewired group in Adelaide, Australia. Here is a fast liveblog of my talk, and here is the video of the talk in full:

Kylie Sturgess has blogged and storified the entire event here.

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On October 13th, I participated in the first Back To Blog event at Duke. Organized by Cara Rousseau and Anton Zuiker, it was a wonderfully invigorating little unconference about the current state of blogging. And while Dave Thomas, Anton Zuiker, Paul Jones and I at one point or another stood up and talked a little, the entire event was a conversation with a very engaged audience. From veteran bloggers (I felt like a n00b in the presence of Anton, Paul, Henry Copeland and others who have been doing this several years longer than I did) to complete novices hoping to start blogging, and everything in-between, this was a very energizing and exciting event. Fenella Saunders, Dave Thomas and Anton Zuiker then blogged about it all.

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You already know I spent last week at the meeting of the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology. What is next?

Science Writers (NASW/CASW) meeting is on October 26-30, here in Raleigh, NC. One of the highlights of the year, this will be my third ScienceWriters (I went to New Haven in 2010 and Flagstaff in 2011) and this time I will get to play a host. I am one of the co-organizers of the panel – Follow 1500 People on Twitter? Learn to Manage the Information Deluge – for which we set up a wiki where you can add your own tips and resources, and please use both the official #sciwri12 hashtag and the session-specific tag #sciwri12deluge.

And then, on November 9th, we will have the seventh #TriSciTweetup at the Mystery Brewing Company in Hillsborough, NC. Join us if you can.

#2012SVP – what do Vertebrate Paleontologists talk about?

If you are not a vertebrate paleontologist, or play one on TV, what do you think vertebrate paleontologists do?

If you were a kid who knew all dinosaur names, but now only remember that period occasionally when paleontology appears in the media, what would you expect you’d hear if you suddenly appeared at the annual meeting of the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology?

You may have missed it, but I was there, so I will tell you. I am not that different from most of you. Childhood fascination with dinosaurs, graduate studies in physiology and behavior of perfectly living animals, a brief burst of intense study during one semester taking ‘Dinosaur Osteology’ course with Dale Russell, followed by getting my paleo news from media and blogs.

My colleage Kate Wong will cover several stories from the meeting (here is the first) and we’ll have some syndications from Nature (here’s the first)

My assignment? “Blog it!”, said the Editor-In-Chief.

Big Questions

If your paleo diet depends entirely on mainstream media, you may be excused if you think that all paleontologists do is dig fossils and announce discoveries of new species. Sure, a few new fossils were presented at the meeting, and they were interesting. But that was not the centerpiece of the meeting, or topic of most conversations. It is not what you find any more, but what you do with what you find once you found it. Digging it up is just the first step, the interesting science happens later.

If you have not paid attention lately, you may think that some old questions and controversies are still around and unresolved. For example, “were dinosaurs warm-blooded?”. That is a poorly worded question, and it was answered, with some reframing of the question, a decade ago. “Warm-blooded” probably does not mean what you think it means (that would be “endothermic”), but today’s researchers are working out the details of thermoregulation mechanisms, not re-fighting the old wars of decades past.

Likewise, “did birds evolve out of dinosaurs?” has been answered more than a decade or so ago. And the answer is: birds are dinosaurs, the only surviving, living dinosaur lineage. Much more interesting is the current work on details of the origin of flight and feathers.

So, what are the current big questions (and methodological approaches)?

How the animals of the past evolved, developed, looked, lived, made a living, behaved, and died? What information can we extract out of fossils beyond “it belonged to species X”?. And new, often hi-tech approaches are now all the rage.

First, there is math. Lots of math. Math used to analyze taphonomy and what one can infer from the exact position of fossils at the site where they died. Math used to calculate lift and drag and other forces required for powered flight or gliding. Math for computer analysis of evolutionary relationships.

Then, there are machines. Machines that grind teeth against each other to mimic chewing, to see how different kinds of chewing affect the tooth wear, thus enabling us to learn more about the diet of extinct animals. Machines that plop claws into mud to analyze how track fossils are shaped. Different kinds of microscopes that can be used to analyze fine structures of bones, teeth and egg-shells. X-rays, and CAT-scans, and high-speed video. And of course, computers.

Molecular techniques. Combining genetic and anatomical data to build better phylogenetic trees. Using molecular techniques to see if we can find DNA or proteins in dinosaur fossils. A poster from Mary Schweitzer’s group suggests that melanosomes – intercellular packets of pigments we are now using to figure out colors of fossil feathers – may not be melanosomes, after all, but remnants of bacterial films aggregated on the surfaces of feathers.

Eggs. Lots of work on eggs, embryos and development. Especially interesting, to me, was the work by MSU students whose China Paleontology Expedition was documented on our Expeditions blog, using microscopy to explore fine structure of egg shells, then using that structure to figure out relationships between different kinds of extinct animals, including dinosaurs, turtles, etc., and learning some new things about evolution of eggs.

Comparative studies in living animals. And not just dissection of an ostrich (although that, too). Dissections of many species (and individuals) to study the variability, relationship between anatomy and function, between anatomy and ecology, and between anatomy and behavior. There is no such thing as a “model animal” when one studies evolution – good inference from fossils requires understanding of anatomy in a wide variety of related organisms.

If you want to figure out from fossil record if extinct horse species at a particular locality were under strong or weak selection for a particular level of performance, you compare the anatomies of a bunch of tightly selected modern horses (eventers) and a bunch of protected, semi-wild horses where selection is now relaxed (mustangs).

If you want to know if ichtyosaurs bit or sucked their prey, you observe and dissect a lot of aquatic organisms that do one or the other and make a comparison. Ichtyosaurs did not suck, some turtles do:

If you want to know how extinct reptiles, mosasaurs and dinosaurs moved, you put a bunch of different species of alligators and crocodyles in a tunnel, motivate them to run as fast as they can, film them and analyze the videos:

And if you are interested in origin and evolution of flight, you take an X-ray video of a guinea fowl during flight, then scare it to force it to turn in mid-air. And you discover stuff about anatomy and function of living birds that it never occurred to zoologists, veterinarians or poultry scientists to ask, yet it may be useful knowledge to them as well:

Species.

I was pleasantly surprised by how evenly different groups of animals were represented. I expected much more primates, especially those fossils interesting for human evolution, but there were not that many talks and posters about them – I guess those folks go to their own meetings.

While there was a lot of dinosaur stuff – and yes, that is very exciting! – they did not dominate the meeting nearly as much as I expected. There was a lot of work on birds, mammals, extinct and living reptiles, including aquatic and flying reptiles, some work on amphibians, and quite a lot on fish.

Perhaps it is only my own biased perception, but it seemed to me that fish people are somewhat a world of their own – unless it’s an absolutely terrifying shark or bone-plated fish with enormous jaws, I did not detect much interest in fish work by researchers who study more terrestrial organisms. Which is a pity – I saw some interesting posters about fish. Or, if we think phylogenetically, everyone was interested in fish:

People.

One of the beauties of paleontology is that the rewards are mainly intrinsic. It is hard to find a job, and if you snag one, it’s unlikely to be at Harvard. No matter how much of a superstar you become, you cannot just hire an army of students, postdocs and technicians to do the work for you while you sit in the office writing grant proposals or travel around the world giving talks – you still have to go out in the field, suffer the heat and dust, and wield the hammer, then come back to the lab and do some manual work yourself. You can become famous, but are unlikely to get rich. No patents, no Nobel Prizes. And importantly, the findings are unlikely to directly affect lives or livelihoods of millions of people (as in medicine, for example), which allows one to follow one’s curiosities wherever they may lead.

Thus, paleontologists are a really fun bunch to be around. They are not secretive about their work, instead they want to tell you everything about it. No fear of scooping, as this is a small, tightly knit community where everyone knows what the others are doing, where they are digging, etc. I asked a bunch of people “Where will this work be published?” and in nine out of ten cases the answer was PLOS ONE (and in one case “PLOS ONE, or perhaps PeerJ”). Only once I heard “so, so sorry, but this will be behind a paywall, ugh”. Openess rules.

Controversies are big and loud, people disagree, but in the end everyone’s a friend, have beer together at the end of the day, and let the scientific process work its charm and come up with the resolution in the end. Was Torosaurus a species or just a juvenile Triceratops? They can argue in a really heated way, yet in the end they are not enemies, they do not hate each other.

I am not much of a star-seeker or fanboy. And I did not really have much to ask of the big stars of the field. I think, in any field, the most interesting work is done by junior researchers and students, and what they say (and the enthusiasm by which they say it) may be more revealing about the future of a field. Which is why I focused on the posters.

Yes, I did see a bunch of talks (and it seems all the talks of greatest interest to me were happening simultaneously on the last afternoon of the event, on Saturday). But I went to see the posters every day during lunch break when the posters are already up, but people are not there yet. I checked out every single poster, in order to get a feel for the field as a whole. Then I would focus on, and completely read, 4-5 posters each day. In the afternoon, when the poster sessions starts, I homed in on those 4-5 posters and talked to the authors, asked more questions. A number of those posters will end up here on our site, written by authors on the Guest Blog, over the next several weeks and months.

One more observation. It appeared to me that the sex-ratio of the meeting was roughly fifty-fifty. But the age distribution was different between the sexes. Males were of all ages. Most veterans are male. Females were mostly younger, usually students. As I have not been to a SPV meeting before and cannot observe trends over time – this is just a snap-shot – I cannot make a good explanation for this. It can mean two things. First, a traditionally male-dominated field is getting a healthy influx of women, and what we see if a transitional period toward equity. Second possibility, there are always young women entering the field, but they exit from the leaky pipeline around the postdoc/job transition, leaving only men to achive seniority in the field. Perhaps long-time members of the society can chime in, in the comments, about this.

Media.

Twitterfall in the hallway
Twitterfall in the hallway

I attended the ‘Paleontology and the Media’ workshop on the first day. Dana Ehret explained how to work with a PIO to craft a good press release. Matt Kaplan gave good advice on how to work with a journalist. And Brian Switek explained the ways researchers can now bypass the PIO and the journalist, and communicate directly to the audience via blogs and social media.

Apart from Matt Kaplan, Brian Switek, Kate Wong, Michael Balter and myself, I am not sure if there were any other representatives of the traditional media at the event. Thus Brian’s advice appears to be most important: not so much about bypassing traditional media, but getting your work out in the vacuum where there is no media. Which is why I wish more people attended the workshop to hear what Brian had to say.

In 2012, the notion that shameless self-promotion is a dirty word is anachronistic, dangerously so.

The number of paleontology bloggers and twitterers is pretty small – though a great bunch!

#2012SVP tweetup

#2012SVP tweetup

Being active on Twitter certainly has some advantages:

But what I was most careful about was always asking people what is and what is not OK for me to blog about. There is still so much misunderstanding about the way publishing works these days, and especially about the notorious Ingelfinger Rule (see this Embargo Watch post specifically about SPV policy, and Tony’s post about the utter illogic of not making the meeting’s abstracts public, which is also why I cannot link to individual abstracts in this and future posts). People don’t seem to understand it, and assume much harsher rule than it really is. Much of the communication stuff they are afraid of doing is actually perfectly acceptable (and not considered as “prior publication”) by the major publishers like Nature, Science and PLOS.

Society meetings used to be semi-private events. They certainly felt private. A bunch of friends and colleagues get together, exchange data, results, ideas, have a beer and assume nobody else will know anything about it. If there is media at the event, it is carefully corralled away and spoon-fed information under harsh embargo rules.

But today, meetings are truly public events. When the means of production of media change hands, and is now cheap and easy to own by anyone, there is no such thing as media any more. Everyone is potentially “the media”. Researchers are now their own media. Thus, the media cannot be controlled. Thus, the researchers (and scientific publishers) need to adapt to the new world.

Reminder: “to publish” means “make public”.

No, your paper in a journal is not the only “publication” of your work.

If you give a talk or poster, that’s a publication. If you tweet or blog about your work, it’s publication. If others livetweet your talk, it’s publication. If others discuss your work on their blogs, it’s publication. When your paper appears in a journal (typeset and formatted in traditional ways to appeal to traditionalists), that is also publication, one snapshot of it. Media and blog coverage of your paper is publication. TV and radio appearances are publication. Your own blog post detailing the background information and context of your research is also publication. People who tweet out links to your blog post are also publishing it. Every blog post and comment in the back-and-forth you may have with colleagues on blogs (or social media, from Twitter to Facebook to Google Plus) about your work is an item of publication. Your next paper is also a part of the publication cycle of your previous paper (unless you suddenly switch your research interests from Hadrosaurs to particle physics).

Just like science, publishing is not a singular event – one piece, one date, one time. It is a continuous work and continuous conversation. It is not a single paper-bound broadcast by just one lab. It is a discussion between a number of players, continuously, in various venues, and in different forms and formats. My bugging SVP (several tweets, a blog post, an email, and saying it out loud during the media workshop, especially about the availability of free wifi as an essential element of a modern conference) are not bugging, not angry criticism – they are intended to help the society move faster into modern media times. Those things help publication, in all of the forms I noted above – researchers’ presentations, livetweeting/blogging, traditional media coverage, everything. And publishers are quickly adapting to the new world as well, gradually diminishing the scope of Ingelfinger Rule, hopefully to abandon it entirely in the near future. And as a result, science will do better. Don’t we all want that?

#2012SVP – Society of Vertebrate Paleontology

I am at the 72nd annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology in Raleigh, NC, this week.

My colleague Kate Wong will be covering the most interesting presentations from the meeting on the Observations blog, while I will do more impressionistic stuff here later in the week.

The Twitter hashtag is #2012SVP if you want to follow in real time (I livetweeted a couple of sessions today and will do more later).

So far it’s great fun. Bumped into some old friends, and finally met some online friends in the real world. There is some fascinating research going on.

It is unfortunate that SVP did not push harder on the Raleigh Convention Center to allow them to bring in an external company to provide and boost wifi. No convention center has wifi with sufficient bandwidth for hundreds of people simultaneously tweeting, blogging, filing stories, uploading videos etc. And wifi has to be free at meetings – that is an essential requirement, just like having coffee at all times (you do not expect to have to pay extra for soap, hot water and towels once you paid for your hotel room, right?). The lack of free wifi (and really, is anyone in 2012 actually going to pay for it, especially when knowing it is crappy?) is probably the reason why most people just gave up, and only a few of us are bravely tweeting from our iPhones tapping into Raleigh’s free downtown wifi and 4G.

More tomorrow…

ScienceOnline2012 – interview with Maryn McKenna

Every year I ask some of the attendees of the ScienceOnline conferences to tell me (and my readers) more about themselves, their careers, current projects and their views on the use of the Web in science, science education or science communication. So now we continue with the participants of ScienceOnline2012. See all the interviews in this series here.

Today my guest is Maryn McKenna (blog, Twitter).

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

I’m a journalist working in several different channels: I blog (for Wired), write medium-length pieces (as a columnist for Scientific American), write long-form pieces (for a variety of magazines) and write books: so far, Superbug, about antibiotic resistance, and Beating Back the Devil, about the CDC’s disease detectives.

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

I fell into science-writing sideways — in my case, through studying theatre, becoming a dramaturg, realizing I was about to starve, going to journalism school and coming out as a finance reporter. My first newspaper job involved doing analyses of sleazy savings and loan deals. That made me into an investigative reporter, and my next two newspaper jobs involved investigations into public health issues: in Cincinnati, cancer clusters near a closed nuclear-weapons plant, and in Boston, the earliest cases of Gulf War Syndrome. On the basis of those I ended up working in Atlanta as the only reporter assigned to full-time coverage of the CDC, which basically meant wheedling my way into (many) outbreak investigations.

This is a good place to answer the education question. I didn’t study science as an undergraduate; I studied science writing for my masters’. But once it was clear I was going to be a public health reporter, I used journalism fellowships to do post-graduate work, including a year at University of Michigan studying the social history of epidemics and a year with the Kaiser Family Foundation studying emergency rooms.

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

I am in the proposal stage for a book that will look at the intertwined histories of antibiotic development and modern agriculture. My goal is to figure out how to free up enough time from the rest of my life to work on it!

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

I’m fascinated by how communities self-assemble on Twitter, and I’m increasingly interested in how social media can be used to support public health, for instance through crowd-sourced surveillance.

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

Blogging (first at Blogger starting in 2007, then Scienceblogs, then Wired) has been essential to my re-invention: from a newspaper reporter to a freelance journalist, and from writing only about public and global health to venturing into food policy as well. Blogging gave me a publication space, gave me an identity, gave me an audience and community. My professional life now could not exist without it. In addition, I’m on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr, Pinterest and some semi-closed networks such as GoodReads, and I feel as though all of those support and extend what I (try to) do. Twitter in particular is essential to me — not just for community but also for identifying and researching stories.

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 think I “discovered” science blogs around the time I stumbled into blogging myself, and I don’t think I could say at this point who first caught my eye. “Favorites” is a very hard question to answer, both because I read so many — my RSS reader has, literally, hundreds of subscriptions in it — and also because I fear to accidentally leave out people whose work I really do like. But if I only have time to read a few, I will always go first to my Wired colleagues and friends Deborah Blum and David Dobbs; to Ed Yong, of course; to Tara Smith for her insights and Mike the Mad Biologist for his outrage; and to Maggie Koerth-Baker not just for her choices but for her pitch-perfect voice. For deep dives in diseases I love Contagions, Body Horrors and the mysterious Puff the Mutant Dragon. And for knowing what’s up on the food-policy side of my life I rely on Mark Bittman at the New York Times, Tom Philpott at Mother Jones and Helena Bottemiller at Food Safety News.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2012 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?

For me it’s the face-to-face meetings above all. Writing is a lonely business, especially for freelancers, and most especially for people like me who live in parts of the country where there are not dense artistic cultures. (I live mostly in Atlanta: great for public health, not great for random creative interaction.) To have so many people rejoicing in each others’ obsessions is fantastic. Even more, though, I love ScienceOnline because it brings me gently face-to-face with my unknown unknowns; that is, the conference and community introduce me every year to so many people who know more about my subjects than I do. I always come away not only with fresh ideas but also with the knowledge that I have met people whom I can trust to educate me, with enthusiasm and without judgment, when I need them.

Charlotte’s Web: what was she smoking?

“Don’t touch those webs!”

Me and an enormous spider, at the Natural History Museum in Berlin, 2008.

A couple of decades ago, my wife and I worked on a horse farm where everyone was explicitly instructed not to ever clean the cobwebs inside the barn. Sure, the owners themselves would occasionally, very carefully, almost surgically, remove a few targeted old cobwebs here and there, but the majority of the webs remained up at all times. Explanation? Spiders don’t bother anyone, while flies and mosquitoes bother both horses and humans.

On the other hand, for balance, there is an old Serbian proverb that goes like this: “If there were no wind, spiderwebs would cover the sky”

I assume this is said every time someone complains about the strong eastern wind, Koshava, that sweeps through the country in autumn.

And this situation – spiderwebs covering the sky – is something that happens in Mark Twain’s story Some Learned Fables, For Good Old Boys And Girls, featuring Herr Spider as one of its key characters. I read Twain’s short stories over and over again as a kid. Still love them.

Why are we so enchanted by spiders, in real life, in mythology, and in popular culture? I certainly am, always was.

There were Little Miss Moffet, and Itsy Bitsy Spider.

As a little kid, I watched, and was greatly impressed by the old film Tarantula. Later I could not help myself – just had to watch Eight Legged Freaks and Arachnophobia. And yes, Spiderman, despite its scientific…er, bloopers.

Of course I knew about Arachne and the beautiful myth of the origins of the callipygous Shenora Spider (does such a species even exist in reality?).

And then there are spiders in literature. I was scared by the Spider-Man in John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids. I fought the giant spiders of Mirkwood when I played The Hobbit computer game on Sinclair ZX Spectrum back in 1981 or so, after I have already read the book both in Serbian language and the original English. There was Shelob in Lord of the Rings, and Aragog in Harry Potter.

And of course, the best spider in all of history – Charlotte!

Charlotte. She could write.

Today is the 60th anniversary of the first publication of Charlotte’s Web, the beautiful, haunting story of a talking pig and a writing spider.

Interestingly, growing up in Yugoslavia the first 25 years of my life, I have not heard of Charlotte’s Web until I came to the States. But then I had kids. And kids loved to watch the movie over and over again. So I read the book.

And to this day, occasionally, spontaneously, I start singing “Isn’t it great that I articulate!” An important and heart-felt sentiment for a writer for whom words are toys.

Then I received in the mail (but am yet to read it, I promise I will), Michael Sims‘ book The Story of Charlotte’s Web, a biography of E.B.White and the story of the making of the book.

But not everything is fiction and myth. I am a scientist at heart. Each one of those invented characters always made me want to learn more about the real creatures.

Orb weaver (Argiope sp.) Members of this genus are found all around the world and spin large webs that often contain striking designs. Charlotte’s Web author E.B. White, who consulted with a Museum curator while writing the classic children’s book, named the main character Charlotte A. Cavatica after a common orb weaver, Araneus cavaticus. © AMNHR. Mickens

Orb weaver (Argiope sp.) Members of this genus are found all around the world and spin large webs that often contain striking designs. Charlotte’s Web author E.B. White, who consulted with a Museum curator while writing the classic children’s book, named the main character Charlotte A. Cavatica after a common orb weaver, Araneus cavaticus. © AMNHR. Mickens

A couple of months ago, I went to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City (thanks for the tickets, you know who!) to see their new exhibitSpiders Live. Yes, “Live” is a good description – there are plenty of living specimens in there, many quite fascinating.

As usually happens in museum exhibits, there was plenty to learn about what we know. Anatomy, physiology, ecology, evolution, geography, behavior. Sure, there were a couple of non-spiders there, like scorpions, but it was clearly explained exactly why they are not spiders and how they are related.

One could see a short video showing how Gladiator spider catches its prey by throwing a carefully counstructed web trap on it, like this:

And they mentioned the Bolas spider which catches its prey by lassoing it in with its bolas-like ball of silk:

Interesting – to me at least, as a chronobiologist – is that the Bolas spider uses its circadian clock for an interesting function – it produces different blends of chemicals in its pheromone at different times of night (pdf) to coincide with different times when two different species of moths are flying around, each species attracted to a specific mix of aromatic chemicals.

But beyond learning facts, I was also looking at the ways the exhibit tries to include the scientific process – how we know what we know about spiders? I was looking for, perhaps, descriptions of ingenious experiments on the courtship signaling in wolf spiders, or the research on unique social, colonial spiders. Nope.

There was a part, at the end, which described how scientists collect spiders in the field, how they catch them, preserve them and label them.

And then I saw what I was really looking for. Yes! They did it! The exhibit had a really nice description of my favorite spider research ever! And there it was, The Charlotte’s Web connection, and my own personal connection! I talked about it at the last #TriSciTweetup at the NC Museum of Natural Science in Raleigh NC, for the inaugural Lightning Talks with Brian Malow on Thursdays at the Daily Planet Cafe:

Back in 1948., zoologist H. M. Peters was studying how spiders spin webs. He was getting tired as he had to do all of his research late at night, when spiders spin their webs. So, he asked his friend Peter Witt, a pharmacologist, if there is anything that he could give to spiders that would make them spin during the day. Peter suggested amphetamines. It did not work. Spiders kept weaving at night. But, oh my, their webs looked crazy! They were like impressionist art!

Argiope spider web This real argiope spider web has been colored and preserved. Its most striking feature, an ‘X’ running through it, is something of a mystery. Many spiders embellish their webs with these designs, called stabilimenta, but the reason is unknown. Scientists think stabilimenta may attract insects by reflecting light, warn birds away, or camouflage the spider from predators. © AMNHD. Finnin

Argiope spider web. This real argiope spider web has been colored and preserved. Its most striking feature, an ‘X’ running through it, is something of a mystery. Many spiders embellish their webs with these designs, called stabilimenta, but the reason is unknown. Scientists think stabilimenta may attract insects by reflecting light, warn birds away, or camouflage the spider from predators. © AMNHD. Finnin

Peter Witt was an amazing person, a wonderful man. I had the fortune to meet him once, in 1998, just a couple of weeks before he died. He was the Head of the institute for brain and behavior at Dorothea Dix hospital in Raleigh, now unfortunately closed.

Intrigued by the results his friend Peters got when giving spiders amphetamines, he turned his own research into that direction, using spider webs as windows into the way different chemicals affected the nervous system. Some of those were pharmaceuticals of the day. Others were drugs found relatively easily on street corners back in the 1950s and 1960s. Both were of interest to science, of course, for different reasons.

Different drugs had different effects on the shapes of the web. In high doses, almost every drug resulted in highly irregular webs. But at carefully chosen lower doses, there were some interesting differences. For example, under the influence of caffeine, the webs were vertically shorter but horizontally wider, as spiders made larger angles between the radial spokes of the web.

The most striking was the effect of LSD-25. Yes, LSD. This is the only drug which resulted in webs being more carefully weaved and more perfect than the controls.

Charlotte? Is that you?

Many years later, I was teaching a lab at NCSU in animal physiology. Part of the lab was a project, done by students under my supervision. Some students did projects on humans – each other. But the other half used animals. Invertebrates, as there was no time to get an IACUC (institutional animal care and use committee) approval for use of vertebrates (that is a long and difficult process).

A spider web on pervitine

A spider web on pervitine

One of my students decided to use Peter Witt’s experimental protocol, applying a chemical that he never used way back then – serotonin. Result? Spiders made decent webs, but they took about twice as much time to make them. They went slow about it. They made perhaps half of the twists of the spiral before deciding that was the end, leaving about twice as much space between the loops of the spiral.

Spider brains are large and complicated. They are so large they can’t even fill just the head, a part of them fills the thorax. Of course, spider brains are difficult to study. Not to mention that we do not have a spider genome sequenced yet so we do not have the tools to monitor what is happening in a spider brain. Thus, this line of research has been largely abandoned.

But it was not all in vain. Apart from being able to categorize substances along the lines of their effects on spider webs (often corresponding to their effects on human brains), this method now has a place in agriculture. Placing a few spiders in a field or orchard overnight and taking a look at the webs in the morning can tell the researcher if there are pesticides there, and perhaps which class of pesticide if not the exact kind.

Perhaps there is something in the air that can induce a spider to write “Terrific” and I’d love to know how it does that.

Stumped by bed nets, mosquitoes turn midnight snack into breakfast

Anopheles mosquito (unknown source)

Anopheles mosquito (unknown source)

One of the most effective methods for the control of spread of malaria is the use of bed nets infused with insecticides. Most species of mosquitoes (the Anopheles genus) that carry the malarial parasite (Plasmodium falciparum) are considered to be strictly nocturnal – they are active only during the night.

Thus, sleeping under the net provides protection against getting bitten by the insect vectors of the disease. The net does it in two ways – by providing a mechanical barrier between the mosquito and the human, and by killing mosquitoes that get in contact with the infused insecticide.

As we have learned many times, often the hard way, evolution tends to find a way around such tricks. A number of Anopheles species or local populations have evolved resistance to pyrethroid insecticides usually used in the nets. Yet, the mechanical protection of the net should still be effective, right?

Not so fast! A new study published in September 21 in the Journal of Infectious Diseases documents a behavioral change in a local mosquito population that effectively works around the safety protection of bed nets. What do they do that’s new? They changed the time of day when they bite!

Malaria-carrying mosquitoes are thought to all be strictly nocturnal. Recently, this dogma has started to be questioned, mainly because the rates of malaria did not significantly diminish in areas where bed nets have been implemented. Perhaps they fly and bite during the day, yet nobody bothered to test that hypothesis yet? A previous study noticed a shift in timing of activity and biting from middle of the night into early night. This study was quite systematic – repeating the experiment in two locations in Benin at three time-points: before, during and after the full implementation of bed nets in both locations.

Chronogram of the experiment. Translation for humans: 'chronogram' is an "aren't we sophisticated in our clever use of silly, opaque, uneccessary jargon" version of 'timeline'.

Chronogram of the experiment. Translation for humans: 'chronogram' is an "aren't we sophisticated in our clever use of silly, opaque, uneccessary jargon" version of 'timeline'.

What did they do? They collected mosquitoes in large numbers and recorded the time of day they caught mosquitos. In addition, they used morphology to identify the genus, and PCR to identify the species. Every single mosquito was Anopheles funestus. They tested the caught mosquitoes for pyrethrin resistance and did not detect any – every single mosquito died. Thus all the changes were strictly behavioral.

How did they collect them? They placed humans in strategic places as living targets. It looks pretty much like this video, except they actually captured the insects into vials, then transferred them into small bags:

During the period of just a few years as the bed nets got implemented in the two villages, local mosquitoes dramatically shifted the timing of activity. Instead of 2 or 3am, they now predominantly bit humans around 5am:

Shift in timing in mosquito activity in two locations over three sampling periods.

Shift in timing in mosquito activity in two locations over three sampling periods.

What does that mean?

First, we don’t know yet if this was an evolutionary (i.e., genetic) change or a purely behavioral change. It is possible that there was quite a lot of genetic variation in timing of activity in the population a few years ago and that the bed nets provided a selective regimen that skewed the population to consist mainly of late night and dawn-active individuals. It is also possible that there is sufficient behavioral plasticity in the mosquito allowing it to learn the new best time of day to go out foraging. I’d love to see the mosquitoes placed in isolation chambers to monitor purely genetic patterns of circadian rhythms of activity.

But let’s think more in ecological terms. There are several players here: the Plasmodium parasite, the Anopheles vector, the human host, and predators that eat mosquitoes, notably bats. I have written at length about this a few years ago. Here’s a simple schematic of how the system works when undisturbed:

A crude schematic of possible timing of activity in this ecological system

A crude schematic of possible timing of activity in this ecological system

If the mosquito shifts to almost dawn, what happens?

First, the humans are up and about, outside of nets, readily available to bite. If the humans are healthy but mosquitos are carriers, this is a good way to transmit malaria to them.

But the humans who are sick, the sources of malaria, are still not available. At the times when they undergo “quaternary fevers”, which are the times when malarial parasites are present in their blood (I explained this in great detail before), they are safely hidden by the nets in the middle of the night and they are not bitten by late-biting mosquitos.

Second, a mosquito that bites a human around dawn is much more likely to get detected by that human and be swiftly turned into a small, bloody mush.

Third, while a mosquito that flies around dawn may be able to avoid some of the bats (though not all of them – many bats hunt until the break of dawn), they are now increasingly vulnerable to other predators – frogs, lizards and birds – that tend to hunt at dawn.

As it often happens, there are pros and cons when it comes to evolving new adaptations. The bed nets are now selecting for new adaptations in mosquitoes. It is hard to predict what will be the pros and cons of those adaptations for human health, or the pros and cons of those adaptations for mosquitoes and their survival, or pros and cons of these adaptations to insects’ predators. Future research on this will be both very interesting to watch and very useful for control of malaria.

Reference:

Nicolas Moiroux, Marinely B. Gomez, Cédric Pennetier, Emmanuel Elanga, Armel Djènontin, Fabrice Chandre, Innocent Djègbé, Hélène Guis and Vincent Corbel, Changes in Anopheles funestus Biting Behavior Following Universal Coverage of Long-Lasting Insecticidal Nets in Benin, J Infect Dis.(2012) doi: 10.1093/infdis/jis565

Best of September at A Blog Around The Clock

I posted 6 times in September. That is, on A Blog Around The Clock only (not counting the posts on The Network Central, The SA Incubator, Video of the Week, Image of the Week, or editing Guest Blog and Expeditions).

New stuff:

Tigers take to the night – for peaceful coexistence with humans

#sci4hels – ‘Killer’ science journalists of the future ready to take over the world!

Updates, News and Announcements:

Important updates on ScienceOnline and OpenLab

Upcoming events

ScienceOnline interviews:

ScienceOnline2012 – interview with David Ng

Previously in the “Best of…” series:

2012

August
July
June
May
April
March
February
January

2011

December
November
October
September
August
July
June
May
April
March
February
January

2010

December
November
October
September
August
July
June
May
April
March
February
January

2009

December
November
October
September
August
July
June
May
April
March
February
January

Upcoming events

This week, I am on vacation.

#NYCSciTweetUp #13 will be on October 9th at Peculier Pub in NYC.

On October 10th, I will Skype in a Keynote at the inaugural ScienceRewired meeting in Adelaide, Australia.

On October 15-20, I’ll be at the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology Annual Meeting in Raleigh NC. Kate Wong and I will report to you from there.

Science Writers (NASW/CASW) meeting is on October 26-30, also in Raleigh, NC. I’ll be there, as a co-organizer of one of the panels. This is a great opportunity to network with the best of the best science communicators, get the most current “state of the field” updates from top scientists, and to learn and network. Join us if you can.

#sci4hels – ‘Killer’ science journalists of the future ready to take over the world!

Finland, Finland, Finland!

Every now and then, a meeting happens somewhere in the world, and I am not there but watching the tweets with the official hashtag makes me thoroughly jealous I am not. It just seems like there is interesting stuff going on, important information exchanged, and everyone is having great fun. I know, I know, that is how many of you feel during ScienceOnline flagship meetings (currently at #scio13 hashtag). But for me, one of those jealousy-inducing events is the World Conference of Science Journalists, a large, international gathering of science journalists, reporters, writers, editors and the like, organized by World Federation of Science Journalists every two years.

I first saw the tweets from WCSJ three years ago, when it was held in London, UK. Last year, it was supposed to happen in Cairo, Egypt, but the events in the country made it potentially unsafe to hold the conference there, so the venue was quickly moved to Doha, Qatar. Although I was supposed to be on two panels there, the last-minute change in venue made both the logistics and the finances impossible for me to attend. So I watched from the sidelines again, in sadness and frustration.

Next year, the 8th World Conference of Science Journalists will be held in Helsinki, Finland, hosted and co-organized by the Finnish Association of Science Editors and Journalists, FASEJ. The official hashtag is #WCSJ2013.

And I’ll be there!!!! And I am so excited!

I will be on a panel organized and moderated by Deborah Blum. I hear this will be one of the Plenary Panels, which, from what I understand, means it will be held in the biggest room and nothing else will be occurring simultaneously. So potentially all the attendees will be there at the time. I better prepare well!

But I am even more excited about another panel, for which I am the organizer, though not a moderator or panelist. I am absolutely thrilled that my proposed panel has been accepted for the program. Let me tell you more about it, why I proposed it, and what to expect if you come to see it in person next summer. A little background first…

Why I do what I do.

As you may already know, discovering, helping and promoting new talented writers is something I see as central to my own work. A number of them found a permanent spot on the blog network here at Scientific American. Some of them have already been so successful, they are not even considered “new” any more, just a year after the launch.

Others have published on our Guest Blog, which has tremendous reach and reputation, and authoring articles there has led to jobs, TV appearances and book contracts for some of the authors who appeared there. Some of them subsequently got permanent slots on our blog network, or internships at Scientific American, or had their articles published in our web or print versions of the magazine.

Some of them had their pieces published in one of the past sixth editions of Open Laboratory anthology that I edit. And I invite a number of them each year to attend ScienceOnline, our flagship conference, where they moderate sessions, teach workshops, or report from the event itself.

Finally, I started an entire blog, The SA Incubator, specifically to promote new writers and to help them develop a new media ecosystem and then thrive in it.

Another way I try to help is by getting involved in science programs in schools of journalism. I am currently a visiting faculty at the NYU SHERP program, and am on the advisory board of the UNC program for Health and Science Journalism.

Why do I do this? Because media ecosystem, and science reporting as a part of it, is undergoing tremendous disruption right now. I am trying to help creative new people build a new ecosystem for the future – a kind of media that is sustainable, profitable and, most importantly – good!

I am trying to help Friends In Low Places find each other, gather their creative energies together, and take over the media world.

The ‘killer’ science journalists of the future

Science media ecosystem has never been as big, as good or as vibrant as it is today. Many young writers are joining the ranks of veterans each year – and they are good! Some of them have science backgrounds, which can be helpful. They all write really well. And they are digital natives, effortlessly navigating today’s online world and easily using all the available tools.

But some of them are going beyond being well adapted to the new media ecosystem – they are actively creating it. They experiment with new forms and formats and, if the appropriate Web tool is missing – they build the tools themselves. Some of them not only write well, but can write computer code, do web-design, produce all types of multimedia, and all of that with seemingly more fun than effort, seeing each other as collaborators rather than competitors.

I have proposed this kind of session, a panel of new, rising stars (this one is really, officially titled “The ‘killer’ science journalists of the future”), several times in the past, for various other meetings and it was always rejected. Perhaps the organizers automatically choose current stars over future stars, or established names over newcomers. But I am very happy that the Finnish organizers think out of the box and deem it important to include new voices in their event. Not just that it will be very useful for the young journalists, for networking, but also useful for all of us of an older generation to carefully listen and learn.

Just like I spent nine months diligently studying the science blogosphere before I picked the final line-up for this blog network, I applied equally studious effort to picking the members for my panel. I guess I am just that systematic (or obsessive-compulsive, you choose).

I started with several dozen names, including all the SA Incubator interviewees to date, from all around the world. I read every word of every article they ever published. I read the entire archives of their blogs. I studied how each uses social media, like Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, Tumblr, etc. I looked at their art, photography, videos, podcasts, infographics and other multimedia projects. I actually talked to a number of them. And I gradually narrowed down the numbers, over a period of about two months, to four – one moderator and three panelists.

I wanted the best possible panel, including not just Web-savvy people, but also people who creatively and experimentally build the new media ecosystem, people with different backgrounds, career trajectories, talents, interests, skill sets, and personal goals, as well as four people who don’t only do it all, but also eloquently think, talk and write about it. They are all upcoming superstars. This panel will rock!

As you know, the media ecosystem in general, and science media ecosystem in particular, suffered a severe disruption in the USA over the past few years. The media ecosystems in the rest of the world are hanging by a thread and will soon be just as disrupted as the American one. Everyone is scrambling to find new ways of delivering news, and keeping their jobs while doing it. Media organizations are experimenting with new ways of doing things. And some journalism schools are starting to adapt to the new needs of the media.

Over the past few years of intently watching the science media world, I have noticed something interesting. Some, still very few unfortunately, science journalism programs in the U.S. have completely changed the way they think about training young journalists. As a result, over the last couple of years, they are producing exactly those kinds of people I like to call “killer journalists of the future” – creative, ambitious, experimental, curious, self-starting, hard-working, entrepreneurial wizards. I could have picked a dozen or two of their most recent graduates and they would all be good.

From my experience as an editor over the past two years, these new journalists are more professional to work with than many of the veterans I had to work with recently, and better than almost any of the recent students coming from other schools in the USA and the rest of the world. I get the drafts of their articles and reading them is not work, but sheer pleasure. I try to edit, and discover there is no need to apply my virtual red pen to a single word or punctuation mark. Heck, it is all perfectly formatted, so all I need to do is copy and paste exactly the way I got it. And their articles then go viral! They can certainly write straight-forward, traditional news pieces on assignment, but they really fly when given space and freedom to do something creative, try a new, different approach to telling a story.

It is unfortunate that a number of other US schools and all of the schools in the rest of the world are still teaching within an out-dated, 20th century model, doing a disservice to their students. This is why I think it is so important for the global audience at WCSJ2013 to see what these particular people have to say – they are the new breed, and we should all carefully listen to their experiences. It is especially important for the rest of the world to see what the American experience is about to bring to them, how to learn from it and adapt to it before they are, too, hit as hard by the new realities.

Interestingly, just as I received the wonderful news that this panel was accepted, the Nieman Journalism Lab started a series of articles exploring exactly this topic: the skills needed by the new media world, and how those skills are acquired either in j-schools or on the job, or by self-starting by blogging, for example.

Upon receipt of the official acceptance message from the WCSJ organizers, I finally contacted the four people I chose for the panel. They are all very excited about this. And, being of a new generation, they are not waiting six months to start preparing PowerPoint presentations! That is not how they operate (and no, their panel is not going to have PowerPoints or anything boring like that – they are “killers”, after all, they will make it exciting and fun).

Instead, they instantly sprung into action. They immediately started to discuss the topic on Twitter, first by using all four handles which turned out to take too much character space, so they quickly came up with the official hashtag for their panel – #sci4hels.Make sure you set up a Tweetdeck column for it as Helsinki time approaches!

They will write a series of blog posts exploring the topic, in advance of the event. The first one is already up – The Question of Code (which was then linked by the Nieman Journalism Lab in their Friday weekly review) – and several more are coming (I may write one myself, though this one is already long and detailed, and the original post still stands). And they have organized to meet in person in January, during ScienceOnline2013, to hash out the details of their panel (yes, brilliantly, all four of them are fast enough typists to have managed to register!).

Here they are:

Moderator:

Rose Eveleth: homepage, blog, Twitter, Facebook page, Incubator interview, Scientific American articles, Scienceline posts

Panelists:

Lena Groeger: homepage, blog, Twitter, ProPublica articles, new job announcement, Scientific American articles, Scienceline posts

Kathleen Raven: homepage, blog, Twitter, Spoonfull of Medicine articles, Incubator interview

Erin Podolak: homepage, blog, Twitter, Incubator interview

I am incredibly excited to work with such an amazing group. I am excited to see how quickly they sprung into action, to make this panel useful and memorable. And I am excited to see that the WCSJ organizers agree with me that their voices are an extremely valuable addition to the program.

Important updates on ScienceOnline and OpenLab

Hello, lots of news today.

ScienceOnline

ScienceOnline now has a new homepage and URL at http://scienceonline.com – check it out.

Registration for ScienceOnline2013 opens on Monday morning at 9am EDT (followed by two more windows of opportunity later in the week). Get more information here.

The Program is now public – see it here.

OpenLab

The Best Science Writing Online 2012, the sixth annual anthology in the series, will be released this Tuesday, September 18th.

On that day, we will have an Online Chat – please join us on Tuesday at 12 noon EDT.

On the same day, for those of you who can make it to New York City on Tuesday evening, we will have an informal launch with a sale, reading (a few authors will be present) and signing, as a part of the #NYCSciTweetup. Join us if you can and bring your friends.

ScienceOnline2012 – interview with David Ng

Every year I ask some of the attendees of the ScienceOnline conferences to tell me (and my readers) more about themselves, their careers, current projects and their views on the use of the Web in science, science education or science communication. So now we continue with the participants of ScienceOnline2012. See all the interviews in this series here.

Today my guest is David Ng (blog, The Science Creative Quarterly, Twitter).

Hi Dave, and welcome to A Blog Around The Clock!

Hi Bora, thanks for having me. You know, I just read your about section and I totally forgot that you are a chronobiologist. I also just realized that I’ve never actually been interviewed by a chronobiologist before. Which is very cool – being interviewed and also the word “chronobiologist” generally. I wish I could call myself a chronobiologist…

Well thank you… chronobiology is a very interesting field… Anyway, would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself?

You mean apart from the fact that I wish I was a chronobiologist?

Yes, apart from that. For instance, my readers would like to know where…

…Because having the word “chronobiologist” on my business card would be awesome. In fact, if it were me, I would have it in a huge font size, just over the bit where it says I’m from Vancouver, Canada, University of British Columbia. Is the word “chronobiologist” on your business card?

Well, no…

Oh man! You should totally put it on your business card!

Well… I’ll take that into consideration. But anyway… my readers… my readers would like to know where you are coming from, that is to say your background and how you feel about science generally?

Well, sometimes, how I feel about science is kind of complicated. Although I suppose that is the point. Science – what it is, why it’s important, and how we can share it – is, as you know, a pretty nuanced thing. That’s what makes it great and wonderful, yet challenging and occasionally scary. The problem is that not everyone appreciates this diversity in perspective. In other words, not everyone considers the idea that science is a kind of culture all to itself – they tend to think of science as a collection of facts, homework even, or maybe even something that only works within defined stereotypes. Makes them tune out and… Sorry, what was the question?

I was asking about how you feel about science… which I think you kind of answered…

Oh yeah, right… Did I answer it? Ummm, maybe this picture can clarify things a bit…

I suppose that also works. So then, what about your background? Any scientific education?

Look Bora, we’ve already established the fact that I’m not a chronobiologist – there’s no need to rub it in…

No, no… I didn’t mean to rub anything in. I just mean, er, tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?

Oh right… Well, my training was in molecular genetics, and cancer research specifically, but the last decade or so, I’ve been mostly considered an academic in science literacy – working on projects related to science education and science literacy.

You mean projects that use genetics as a subject matter?

Well, yes, there’s a bit of that – but it’s more about my faculty position being administratively (shall we say) “interesting,” meaning that I’m in the fortunate position to be involved in all sorts of different kinds of science communication projects, and all sorts of different types of science education projects, and OMG! WE SHOULD TOTALLY START A PROJECT ON CHRONOBIOLOGY!

Ummm… Sure… But first tell me what do you mean by administratively “interesting?”

Well, in a nutshell, I’m a Faculty member without a faculty. How this came to be, appears to be a bit of a mystery at my institution, but I suspect it had something to do with my old boss being smart enough to realize that a faculty position that deals with science literacy needs to have as much room as possible to explore. Put another way, what this means is that I have the usual academic perks, but without most of the usual academic ties that can often lead to bureaucratic limits. In other words, there’s a lot of freedom to explore different projects. Add to that, the fact that I have a lab that is quite well equipped from an infrastructure point of view, amazing colleagues (Joanne Fox – also not a chronobiologist – in particular), and a pretty decent track record in acquiring funding, culminating in ideal circumstances to try lots of different things.

Such as?

Well, conventional things might be hosting genetics fieldtrips for high school students, or providing professional workshops for working scientists, or simply being involved in our university’s undergraduate/graduate community through an advocacy role or by being directly involved in various courses. But I have to admit – it’s the unconventional stuff that is really fun and interesting.

Like what?

Well, lots of different things actually. Examples might include the launching of an elementary school fieldtrip program that was designed by the collaborative efforts of Science Graduate Students and Creative Writing Masters of Fine Arts students. That was pretty interesting, and wonderful too, at least from the feedback from teachers and students involved. Another strange one, which has been getting attention on and off, is this crowdsourcing initiative we have called Phylo or Phylomon. It’s basically a game project that revolved around biodiversity education and Pokemon culture. AND DID YOU NOT HEAR MY SUGGESTION FOR A CHRONOBIOLOGY RELATED PROJECT?

Ahem… Are any of these things taking up the most of your time and passion these days?

Actually, the Phylomon project has taken off in all sorts of interesting directions. Lots of activity there, and there’s movement now for all manner of different decks to be produced in collaboration with specific organizations or groups (like museum decks or we could even have a ScienceOnline deck for example). Because of its fluid crowdsourcing nature, the direction it goes is super open in principle. I’m currently recruiting folks to work on a new game mechanic that could highlight some evolutionary biology concepts for instance.

Anything else?

Yes, I’ve been really thinking a lot these days about grand things like “What exactly is science?” and “What does it mean to be scientifically literate?” In doing so, I’m thinking that it would be fun to focus on a project that tries to address these fundamental questions at a level where younger children can contribute. Maybe produce some well crafted resources for teachers, that could first exist as a “scientific method field trip” or “scientific method camp.” I like the idea of starting off with field trips and camps, because here we could actually see things in action with the kids and assess how effective they are. Basically, something that gets kids to value “questioning everything” but to also do this by using that thing we call the scientific method, the good and the bad. Just banging around some ideas here, but wouldn’t that be lovely?

Yes!

Although, I imagine really really tricky to do well.

Yes…

…But worth a go, I think. This is why I’m hoping to talk to a lot of very clever people over the next couple of months. Actually, I’m going to want to talk to you Bora, maybe even include you in a roster of sorts. Every roster needs a chronobiologist. You probably know this already, but it looks very impressive.

Well, I’m not sure about that, and plus, I’d have to check my schedule…

Yes, of course, of course – but that is why ScienceOnline and social networks and all of this web stuff – well, it’s just so wonderful! Because, now, more than ever, it’s easier to connect with other folks, and there must be other chronobiologists out there!

Oh yes, I’m definitely not the only one… There are many of us out there. Related to that, what type of social networks do you use?

…I mean, how amazing would it be, to have TWO chronobiologists on the project’s committee. Doesn’t that all but practically guarantee any funding requests? I think I saw that written somewhere once.

Well, I don’t know about that. Anyway, what networks do you use? And do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?

I guess I’m most fond of twitter. I find twitter to be both useful and fun. #Ihuggedachronobiologist

So a net positive?

Yes, although maybe not a necessity, but certainly very very helpful.

And do you blog?

Not as much as I’d like. Years ago, I started a web publication called The Science Creative Quarterly, but that was more about showcasing creative science writing. Then, for a while, I wrote a blog with Ben Cohen called the World’s Fair. We initially came together because we were both interested in science humor (Editor’s Note: Here are links to some humor from Ben and Dave), or at least exploring different ways of science writing. In other words, we didn’t take things seriously all of the time, which made for an interesting experience. We had good time with all sorts of silly things, like hosting puzzles (as a vehicle to look at hypothesis formation, and paradigm shifts) or creating basketball tournaments between different science concepts (as a general run down of some fundamentals of science).

Oh yes, I remember that. The basketball tournament was pretty epic. But what you’re telling me is that you don’t blog anymore?

Well… these days, I sort of blog. I have a site called Popperfont, but that is mainly a repository of funny, pretty, or surreal science things I find daily on the net. You know, the kind of stuff that might be good to include in a slide as a transitional break – in case your science talk gets a little too unwieldy, and here’s an amusing image which gives the audience a teeny tiny lift before you segues to this and that. I also, on occasion, contribute to Boing Boing, which is always fun – usually a humor angle is involved with these posts which sometimes works well and sometimes not so much.

So you sort of blog?

Maybe curate is a better word? In many ways, I’m more of a consumer of the web science writing, usually by checking links via twitter, and perusing the usual excellent suspects of science blogging (although I should note that I consider the writings of Maggie Koerth-Baker, Marie-Claire Shanahan and Alice Bell required reading, especially with the scientific method stuff in mind). Anyway, I don’t write as much as I would like: part of it is a time thing, but another part is that I secretly don’t have the confidence to self identify as a writer – still a muscle that needs some major practicing I think.

Yes, practice does makes perfect as they say. Although, if I may say, that’s probably a good reason to do more.

Yes, too true… And, ironically, I am working on a book right now, so there is that. Maybe you can read it when I’m finished and give me a quote or something.

Well, I can see what I can do.

Yeah, something like, “I enjoyed the book so much, that time just flew by – TIME JUST FLEW BY – get it?” And make sure you sign off with “Bora Zivkovic, Chronobiologist.” My agent would totally dig that.

Er, sure… Now onto the conference. What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2012 for you?

(O.K. being serious here) I think for me – and especially because my lab tackles so many divergent ways of science communication – ScienceOnline was just about the perfect place to survey and discover all of the many different ways you can talk about and interact with science culture. It was, frankly, awesome. Add to that, the idea that when all is said and done, everybody at the conference is working towards more or less the same thing – expanding the notions of science literacy, and sharing that knowledge with the world – plus the conference had a truly friendly vibe and a refreshing lack of egos. It is basically one of the best conferences I’ve been to, and the whole package definitely made for a very productive experience overall.

Any suggestions for next year?

YES! I think it would be great to somehow formalize and capture all of the great content that was being discussed. But more in a formal “this works as an excellent resource to be shared” way. And I say this as a potential moderator begrudgingly giving myself more work. Still, I don’t think it’s a stretch to ask moderators to contribute a proper write up after the session when all is said and done. It doesn’t seem like a bad trade for getting a guaranteed spot in the conference, and wouldn’t that collection of resources be something else?

O.K. Well, Dave, I think we’re about done here. Thanks for taking the time to do this, and hopefully, we’ll see you at the next conference. Any last words?

You know, it just occurred to me that I don’t actually know what the heck a chronobiologist is – does it have something to do with time travel?

I’ll explain it to you at the hotel bar in January, but you’ll have to get to that date the usual way, day by day…

Tigers take to the night – for peaceful coexistence with humans

In an ideal ecosystem, each species has its own niche – a different “job description”: what it does, what it eats, where it sleeps, and more.

But world is often not an ideal place. In many instances, two species may live in the same spot, yet overlap in some of their roles or needs. They may both compete for the same tree-holes or caves for dwelling, or they may eat the same food. It is not necessary for the two species to be aggressive toward each other, but it is likely that one of the species will be more efficient in gaining the resource than the other.

What is the “loser” to do?

Schematic of possible human+tiger distribution in the Chitan National Park in Nepal

One solution is to move elsewhere. This is called spatial displacement or spatial niche partitioning in ecological jargon. For example, the less competitive species can move some miles down the road, where the more efficient competitor does not live. The place may not be as good – less food and shelter, for example, but it is good enough for individuals to survive and breed, and for the population to persist for a long period of time.

Perhaps the only place to go is up – up the slope of the mountain to higher elevation. There may be stronger winds, colder winters, less vegetation to hide in from predators, and less food, but again, it may be good enough for the population to survive. If this persists for a substantial amount of time, natural selection has the opportunity to introduce new adaptations for the new environment, even to the point of evolving a new species, sufficiently different from other populations of the same species that remains in other places.

In some cases, there is nowhere to go. The two species may inhabit an island. This is often the way an invasive species drives a local island species to extinction. Or you may remember the high school experiment in which you placed colonies of two bacterial species in a petri dish, watching as one colony uses the food better, grows faster, and finally completely kills off the other species.

If there is nowhere to go in space, there is a possibility to go somewhere in time. This is called temporal displacement or temporal niche partitioning. The two species remain in the same place, but divvy up the day (or year). The more efficient (or aggressive) species keeps doing what it’s always been doing. But the less efficient species embarks on a new time regime.

There have been a number of observed instances of this. The best documented one is the case of two closely related species of spiny mice inhabiting the “Evolution Canyon” in Israel. The common spiny mouse (A. cahirinus) is, like most rodents, night-active (nocturnal). The other species, the golden spiny mouse (A. russatus) is actively foraging during the day (diurnal), which is unusual for a rodent. When brought into the laboratory and isolated, monitoring of the circadian rhythms of activity showed that both species are inherently nocturnal. The golden spiny mouse forages during the day as a purely behavioral adaptation – its genetics drives it to eat at night, but its environment (including the presence of smells of the other species) dictates eating during the day.

Furthermore, as this situation has persisted for long periods of time, the golden spiny mice have evolved changes in their eyes, adapting them better for a diurnal mode of life. The genes and developmental pathways underlying the development of the eyes apparently contained more useful variation that natural selection could act upon than the underlying biological clock which is still “stuck” in its ancestral condition. This is not optimal – it would be presumably be better if all of the animal’s biochemical, metabolic, physiological and behavioral functions switched to the daytime regimen, but it is also obviously “good enough” for the species to survive and thrive.

Tiger caught on a camera trap in Nepal. Photo: Government of Nepal.

Tiger caught on a camera trap in Nepal. Photo: Government of Nepal.

Today, a new paper in Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences (not online yet – PNAS is legendary for being late at actually publishing their papers at the time embargo lifts, but check the link later) introduces another interesting example of temporal niche partitioning – and this time it is relevant both for conservation purposes and for human safety.

Researchers from Nepal, in collaboration with Neil Carter and colleagues at the Michigan State University, East Lansing, observed that Chitan National Park in Nepal, one of the 28 world’s tiger reserves large enough to support 25 or more breeding females, has a healthy population of tigers. Yet, the Park is also full of humans, and the interactions between humans and tigers are relatively rare.

Their hypothesis was that tigers and humans may use the space of the large park differently, each species limiting its activities to particular areas of the park. Humans in the park include  locals who forage, hunt and collect wood in the park, a growing number of tourists, and the military units which traverse the park in jeeps to ensure safety and prevent poaching. The two species compete for some of the same resources – mainly space, but to some extent also food. The two species are also afraid of each other and would tend to avoid meeting each other if possible.

To test this, the researchers installed motion-sensitive cameras inside the park as well as just outside of it. What they discovered was that the two species completely overlapped in space, using the same roads and trails. But, humans remained strictly diurnal animals, confounding their activities to the daylight hours and generally avoiding the darkness. On the other hand, tigers, which are normally day-active animals, switched to the night. They triggered the same cameras in the same places, but mainly at times when humans were not around – during the night.

While being interesting in its own right, as well as a potential model for future research, this study also has practical consequences. It shows that temporal niche partitioning is a strategy that can be employed by tigers, at least as a “good enough” strategy that can allow the tiger population to survive and thrive over long periods of time. This means that humans and tigers can coexist and use exactly the same spaces. The finding makes it easier to politically “sell”, set up, fund and run protection areas for tigers as there may be no need to displace the resident humans as long as there is sufficient guard against poaching.

 

Reference:

Neil H. Carter, Binoj K. Shrestha, Jhamak B. Karki, Narendra Man Babu Pradhan and Jianguo Liu. Coexistence between wildlife and humans at fine spatial scales, PNAS, September 4, 2012

Best of August at A Blog Around The Clock

I posted 13 times in August. That is, on A Blog Around The Clock only (not counting the posts on The Network Central, The SA Incubator, Video of the Week, Image of the Week, or editing Guest Blog and Expeditions).

Updates, News and Announcements:

Blogging and social media on Rhode Island
Upcoming events
It is here!
Eight is eternity

ScienceOnline interviews:

ScienceOnline2012 – interview with Adrian Down
ScienceOnline2012 – interview with Samuel Arbesman
ScienceOnline2012 – interview with Helen Chappell
ScienceOnline2012 – interview with Matthew Francis

Best-of-the-Web linkfests:

The Scienceblogging Weekly (August 4th, 2012)
The Scienceblogging Weekly (August 11th, 2012)
The Scienceblogging Weekly (August 18th, 2012)
The Scienceblogging Weekly (August 26th, 2012)

Previously in the “Best of…” series:

2012

July
June
May
April
March
February
January

2011

December
November
October
September
August
July
June
May
April
March
February
January

2010

December
November
October
September
August
July
June
May
April
March
February
January

2009

December
November
October
September
August
July
June
May
April
March
February
January

ScienceOnline2012 – interview with Matthew Francis

Every year I ask some of the attendees of the ScienceOnline conferences to tell me (and my readers) more about themselves, their careers, current projects and their views on the use of the Web in science, science education or science communication. So now we continue with the participants of ScienceOnline2012. See all the interviews in this series here.

Today my guest is Matthew Francis (blog, Twitter).

Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself?

”]”]I’m a physicist, freelance science writer, former college professor, ex-planetarium director, and wearer of jaunty hats. (And yes, that’s part of my standard biography.) I hold a Ph.D. in physics and astronomy from Rutgers University, and my undergraduate degree is from Central College, a small liberal arts college in Iowa. While I majored in physics, my minors were in math and English.

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

As you can tell from the “former” and “ex-” in the paragraph above, my career has followed an unpredictable trajectory. I fully expected to retire from teaching at a college, but when my university faced serious financial troubles, they decided to eliminate the physics department. However, I’ve always loved writing, so I decided to see if losing my job could be turned into an opportunity. In my last year of teaching, I began a blog, “Galileo’s Pendulum“, and in the last six months started writing a book. I am also contributing physics editor for “Double X Science“, a blog aimed at providing good science content for and about women.

“Galileo’s Pendulum” covers a variety of topics in physics, astronomy, and related fields, mostly for non-scientists. I try to mix some lessons about how science works in practice into my writing as much as possible, since it’s an area of common misconceptions. In particular, as a theoretical physicist, I try to emphasize the importance of evidence in all aspects of science, since it’s too commonly assumed that coming up with “theories” is a matter of sitting alone in a room and thinking hard. Real science is far messier and more glorious than that – and there’s romance even in the messiness.

A similar theme plays in my book-in-progress, which is tentatively titled Back Roads, Dark Skies: a Cosmological Journey. For this book, I am traveling to various observatories and labs across the United States where the real work of cosmology is done, meeting scientists and viewing the equipment they use. Cosmology is big science: many projects involve hundreds of researchers, and the ways they go about learning about the Universe are as important as their discoveries. After all, the most important question one can ask in science is, “How do we know?”

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

I still think of myself as an educator even now, though I’m no longer in the college classroom. I want to share the wonder of physics to those who think of it as something beyond them, or even something to fear. In this era when the very goals of education are being challenged (at least for the children of poor and working-class families), it seems more important than ever to stress the importance of science, not just in daily lives, but in our intellectual structure. Science can be a source of joy and wonder for everyone, whether they are scientists or not.

The Web and social networking allow me to connect with those who are truly interested in finding what I write. My audience isn’t huge, but it’s pretty diverse: I have people from Iran and clergy from Wisconsin, a few kids, and even a handful of professional physicists among my readers. I don’t think that would even be possible without the Web. Twitter is really my community, since I haven’t identified any other professional science writers in Richmond (yet at least). My best professional contacts in the last two years have come through Twitter, including the entire ScienceOnline community.

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 started reading Sean Carroll’s “Preposterous Universe” website many years ago, but the first science blog I followed in earnest was Phil Plait’s “Bad Astronomy”, thanks to his earlier website debunking the Moon landing conspiracy nonsense. (For those joining late: a small but vocal group of people deny we ever landed astronauts on the Moon, and have a long list of “evidence” to support this view. Even if you don’t believe the testimonies of the people involved in the projects, the evidence in favor of the Moon landings is really strong, and Plait has done a really good job collecting it and debunking the conspiracy theorists.) Through his site, I discovered Carl Zimmer’s “The Loom”, Ed Yong’s “Not Exactly Rocket Science”, Jennifer Ouellette’s “Cocktail Party Physics”, and Sean Carroll’s later blog, “Cosmic Variance”.

I hesitate to even begin listing the blogs and writers I learned about through ScienceOnline, since there are so many! Suffice to say nearly every science writer I follow on a regular basis is part of that community, and many of the others I learned about through my friends in the ScienceOnline extended family.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2012 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 loved the chance to meet my online friends in real life, and interact with them in a structured but still informal setting. A lot of the best professional connections were actually out of the sessions: talking with people about what they do, and how. The session that inspired me the most was the “Geometry and Music” session led by Deborah Blum and David Dobbs: using geometry (which I use extensively in research) and music (which I am obsessed with) to recognize shapes within narratives in your own stories.

My first ScienceOnline was 2012, and I had the privilege of leading a session, despite my newbie status. I hope to be leading at least one session in 2013 as well (hint, hint).

Thank you so much – hope to see you soon!

 

The Scienceblogging Weekly (August 26th, 2012)

The week was too busy to finish this on Friday. Then on Saturday the news broke that Neil Armstrong died – something I wanted to highlight as a special topic – so I decided to wait another day and give people a chance to wrote posts and articles about Neil. So, with a delay, the weekly linkfest is here!

 

Blog of the Week:

We are all in the gutter is a an astronomy and astrophysics group blog. The title of the blog comes from the quote “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” from Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde. Emma, Niall, Rita and Stuart are astronomers, astrophysicists, star-gazers and space geeks at various career stages, having fun with their blog, exploring the universe from every angle they can possibly think of.

 

Top 10:

Unless They’re Zombies, Fossils Don’t Live by Brian Switek:

I hate the phrase “living fossil.” The term should be eradicated from the vocabulary of science writers, and anyone who employs it should be promptly encased in Carbonite. “Missing link” is the only slogan that pisses me off more. My acute allergic reaction to the idiom may be a little overwrought, I admit. But, to me, “living fossil” is nonsense that obscures more than it elucidates. Take the coelacanth, for example….

Hyenas Eschew Lent, Chew Donkeys Instead by Anne-Marie Hodge:

Anyone who has ever attended a holiday parade or gone on a summer vacation knows that cultures tend to create their own seasonal patterns. In much of Western culture, December is a time of much celebrating and feasting, while similarly wintry January is relatively dreary and dull (after New Year’s celebrations subside). This raises a question: how do the behaviors and culture of a society affect the animals that depend upon that society’s garbage for their food? The progressive encroachment of human settlements into the habitats of wild animals has opened opportunities for animals to avail themselves of human refuse. A raccoon in North America is likely to find a juicy watermelon rind in July and leftover turkey remains in November. Perhaps equally enticing for a roving dumpster-diver, but by no means nutritionally equivalent….

Why Is the Night Sky Turning Red? by Amy Shira Teitel:

The idea of a red sky at night used to invoke beautiful images of vibrant sunsets, the product of warm sunlight bathing the sky near the horizon. The adage of “red sky at night, sailor’s delight” refers to a calm night ahead; a red sunset suggests a high-pressure system in the west is bringing calm weather. But red skies at night have taken on a new meaning in recent decades. As outdoor lighting become increasingly prominent, our night skies are gradually turning from black to red….

When will we find life in space? by Phil Plait:

One of the reasons I love astronomy is that it doesn’t flinch from the big questions. And one of the biggest is: are we alone? Another reason I love astronomy: it has a good shot at answering this question…

Paleo-politics: The really long view by Will Femia:

…..The other explanation is that the Cretaceous ended when, 65 million years ago, an asteroid (or asteroids) slammed into the earth, right across the future-Gulf of Mexico at the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. Not only did the impact and resulting fallout from that asteroid kill the dinosaurs, it also wiped out huge quantities of marine life, including many of the “tiny marine plankton with carbonate skeletons” (I’m guessing some version of Coccolithophore? Anyone?) that would become the rich soil that slaves would farm on land their ancestors would inhabit in voting districts that would favor Democratic candidates around the turn of the second millennium of the Common Era……

What the Dark Knight knows about holding our urban lives together by Scott Huler:

There’s a lot not to love about The Dark Knight Rises, the crazyish new chapter in the latest Batman cycle: a series of actions and explosions so unconnected that they make a Rorschach test look like a syllogism by comparison; Marion Cotillard’s death scene, which lacked only her eyes rolling up and her tongue lolling sideways from her mouth to equal those put on by toddlers on playgrounds; and Christian Bale’s Batman growl — close your eyes and you think Cookie Monster is saving Gotham City….One thing the movie got right, though, is its focus on the infrastructure systems that serve as the beating and vulnerable heart of our urban existence. Every major plot point directly relates to the built environment and the networks that make every element of our lives possible….

Science For Princesses by Janet Stemwedel:

I have always known that I loved science, that delicious alliance of imagination and methodical testing that could help you figure out something about how a piece of the world worked. However, being born at the tail-end of the 1960s, I grew up in a culture that wanted me to know that girls were not supposed to like science. In fact, between toy commercials and TV shows, teachers and peers, I got the message pretty quickly that science is not something for girls. Rather, girls should turn their attention to more important matters . . . like being properly feminine. There was a way that girls were supposed to be—neat and tidy and pretty and pink and quiet and well-behaved. I was not any of those things. I didn’t want to be any of those things. I didn’t know how to be any of those things. And, as far as I could tell, trying to be those things was not going to help me get my hands on the science-y stuff that I wanted. So what was the point?….

How to Annoy E.O. Wilson by Michelle Nijhuis:

…….During a panel at the Aspen Environment Forum in Colorado, as she describes here, Emma piqued Wilson with her talk of making more nature — of expanding our definition of the natural world to include places humans have invaded, altered, and restored. Spending billions trying to return coastal areas like the Everglades to pre-Columbian “purity,” she added, is a lost cause. Better to invest in upslope reserves, and perhaps even learn to admire the tenacity of invasive species…..

Father’s age dictates rate of new mutations by Virginia Hughes:

With every passing year, men are increasingly likely to transmit new mutations to their children, according to the largest study yet of the so-called paternal age effect, published yesterday in Nature. The findings could help explain why older men are more likely to have a child with autism or schizophrenia than are younger men, the researchers say….

I Am Science…and a Nerd by Craig McClain:

I am a nerd. I was a nerd. I will be a nerd. Perhaps in kindergarten I wasn’t, where nerdom had difficulty establishing itself among the simple lessons of the alphabet, counting, and colors. In kindergarten, we are more or less the same in deficiencies and achievements. But after that, I am pretty confident my geek flag flew. I cannot remember ever being a bad student. Repeated straight A’s and the honor role defined me….

 

Special topic 1: Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong’s message to the future by Amy Shira Teitel

Neil Armstrong: Ace Engineer and Hotshot Test Pilot by Amy Shira Teitel

Neil Armstrong’s legacy went to waste but a new space race is on the cards by Alok Jha

Neil Armstrong: 1930 – 2012 by Phil Plait

Pow! ZOOM! To the Moon! by Phil Plait

Debunking myths about Neil Armstrong by James Oberg

Rocks remember, and so do we by Ethan Siegel

What Neil Armstrong Knew Is What We Never Will by Charles P. Pierce

Keep in mind as you put together your Neil Armstrong packages tonight… by Charles Apple

The Man and the Moon by Anthony Lane

As We Say Goodbye to Neil Armstrong, Should We Also Let Go of Our Space Fantasies? by John Horgan

For Neil Armstrong, the First Moon Walker, It Was All about Landing the Eagle by Andrew Chaikin

Neil Armstrong by Babbage

Neil Armstrong Talks About The First Moon Walk by Robert Krulwich

Neil Armstrong by Neil Gaiman

Neil Armstrong’s Last Interview by Jeff Marlow

RIP Neil Armstrong, star of the first big story of my news career by Steve Buttry

The Cold War Push Behind Neil Armstrong’s ‘One Small Step’ by Andrew C. Revkin

Rest in Peace, Neil Armstrong by Matthew Francis

 

Special topic 2: rape and pregnancy

Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) serves on House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology by David Kroll

Here is Some Legitimate Science on Pregnancy and Rape and What Do You Do When There is No Best Dataset? A follow-up on pregnancy and rape statistics by Kate Clancy

The sperm don’t care how they got there, Rep. Akin by Emily Willingham

Sure, women cannot get pregnant from rape. Also, all mean people are ugly and puppies are immortal. by Melanie Tannenbaum

Legitimate rape, seminal priming, and preeclampsia by Jon Wilkins

Unfamiliar sperm, Tibetans, and cheese: Why evolutionary biology doesn’t excuse Todd Akin by Jeremy Yoder

What people who talk about “legitimate rape” really mean by Naomi McAuliffe

Todd Akin and the Anti-Science House Science Committee by Brandon Keim

‘Legitimate rape’ – a medieval medical concept by Vanessa Heggie

Backstory: the reporter who interviewed Akin by Mike Hoyt

A letter to Paul Ryan about forcible rape by Dr. Jen Gunter

Pregnancy Flowchart by Adam Weinstein

Hard words: Do we know what we’re talking about when we talk about rape? by Kathryn Blaze Carlson

The Crackpot Caucus by Timothy Egan

Why Sex Education Helps End Rape by Erica Grigg

Akin breakin’ science by Phil Plait

It’s trigger warning week by Laurie Penny

Rape exceptions aren’t legitimate by Irin Carmon

Where Akin got the idea that rape victims rarely get pregnant by Tim Townsend and Blythe Bernhard

An Open Letter to Rep. Akin From a Woman Who Got Pregnant From Rape by Shauna Prewitt

Todd Akin’s Abortion Position Reflects GOP Platform by Laura Bassett

Conservative Media Dismiss Akin “Rape” Comments As “Dumb,” But Rhetoric Is Reflected In GOP Policies by MIKE BURNS & SOLANGE UWIMANA

The Problem With Men Explaining Things by Rebecca Solnit

Todd Akin and the Right’s False Fact Machine by Josh Barro

Words and deeds by David Wescott

Rep. Todd Akin’s statements have a familiar ring to them… by Sassquach

Legitimate takedown: Todd Akin meets the women of the Internet by Virginia Heffernan

A Canard That Will Not Die: ‘Legitimate Rape’ Doesn’t Cause Pregnancy by Garance Franke-Ruta

The Official Guide to Legitimate Rape by Katie J.M. Baker

Todd Akin’s “Legitimate Rape” Comment Was Not a Misstatement. It Was a Worldview. by Laura Helmuth

Rep. Todd Akin’s Rape Remark At Odds With Science Of Pregnancy by Jeanna Bryner

What Does Todd Akin Think “Legitimate Rape” Is? by Amy Davidson

 

Special topic 3: superbug at NIH

The “NIH Superbug”: This Is Happening Every Day by Maryn McKenna

Genome detectives unravel spread of stealthy bacteria in a hospital by Ed Yong

Not a failure, a lesson. The NIH Clinical Center KPC Outbreak by Eli Perencevich

The NIH Superbug Story—a Missing Piece by Judy Stone

Hunting a Superbug by Deborah Blum

‘Superbug’ stalked NIH hospital last year, killing six by Brian Vastag

NIH should have notified it of superbug outbreak, Montgomery County official says by Brian Vastag

Like a Game of Clue, Genomics Tracks Outbreak, Revealing Evolution in Action by Ricki Lewis

Genome Detectives Solve a Hospital’s Deadly Outbreak by Gina Kolata

Govt. Gene Sleuths Stop Superbug That Killed 6 by The Associated Press

 

Best Images:

Drake equation: How many alien civilizations exist? by IIBStudio

Sunday Morning Anole Cartoon: When Lizard Biologists Compete by Rich Glor

If you were to summarise the world into 100 people, how would the population turn out? by Charlie Hilton

Conventional Wisdom by Randy Yeip

Are those pictures of Mars from the Curiosity rover? by Is Twitter Wrong?

Miss Insomnia Tulip’s Anatomical Macaroons by AnatomyUK

Votive Ear by Jai Virdi

Glow-in-the-dark cockroaches look like Jawas by Jess Zimmerman

London Zoo animal audit – in pictures by The Guardian

Animals in the News by Alan Taylor

 

Best Videos:

How Did Apollo-era Astronauts Sleep in Space? and Learning to Land on the Moon by Amy Shira Teitel

Amazing Color Differences In Lizard Populations Separated By Little Distance by Jonathan Losos

Can dinosaurs still be badass with feathers? by Charlie Jane Anders

Camera shutter speed synchronized with helicopter blade frequency by whataboutlarry1

Why Insect Wings Don’t Fracture by Sid Perkins

The High-Resolution Life of a Neuron by Brandon Keim

Curiosity Drops in on Mars in High-Res by JPLnews

Doodling in Math Class: Connecting Dots by Vi Hart

Jessica Wise: How fiction can change reality by TEDEducation

Learning By Play by Nadja Popovich

 

Science:

Three Ways of Looking at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by Miriam Goldstein

Thomas Kuhn: the man who changed the way the world looked at science by John Naughton

Kuhn the Irrationalist by Peter Coles

A brief history on how I became an Animal Behaviourist… by Kate Mornement

How Domed Dinosaurs Grew Up by Brian Switek

Microbes manipulate your mind by Mo Costandi

Kissing bug – the real vampire of Latin America by Samantha Price

Is solidarity a thing of the past? by Kurt Cobb

No, immunology should get the same scrutiny as psychiatry. And vice versa. by Tim Skellet

So, you’ve dropped a vial or lost a sample box in your liquid nitrogen container…now what? by Brian Krueger

Breeder by Melissa Wilson-Sayres

‘Beam Us Up, Mr. Scott!’: Why Misquotations Catch On by Maria Konnikova

Superbug Summer Books: EXPERIMENT ELEVEN by Maryn McKenna

Chemical Free Dirt (for the Fairytale Garden) and Smoked Out and No, no. Not Nicholas Kristof on Chemicals Again by Deborah Blum

Why are languages so different—and disorderly? by Philip Ball

Aphids, carotenoids and photosynthesis by Ian Le Guillou

Do Be a Dick (sometimes): Emotions and Skeptics by Ashley F. Miller

Tesla’s Revenge: Filmmakers Kickstart Electrifying Docudrama About Cult Genius by Hugh Hart

The neurology of Psalm 137 by Vaughan Bell

Book review: Connectome by Sebastian Seung by Moheb Costandi

TGIPF: Penis in My Head by Christie Aschwanden

First US stem cell trial for autistic children launches today by Kathleen Raven

Stem cell clinical trial for autism: proceed with caution by Emily Willingham

Is a trial of stem cell therapy in autism scientifically and ethically justified? by Orac

Would Rachel Carson Embrace ‘Frankenfoods’? – This Scientist Believes ‘Yes’ by Pamela Ronald

Debunking the Hunter-Gatherer Workout by Herman Pontzer

Morality and Basketball by Sean Carroll

Republican spending plan casts shadow on science by Amy Maxmen

Making Liquor Recommendations by Dr24hours

Richard Dawkins in Playboy by Faye Flam

Amateur Scientists Discover Asian Needle Ant Has Expanded its Range by Thousands of Miles, Unnoticed by Rob Dunn

Dogs Chasing Their Tails Are Akin to Humans With OCD and Celebrating 1,447 Years of the Loch Ness Monster and Go to Sleep, All-Nighter Cram Fests Don’t Work and Want to Avoid a Mid-Life Crisis? Get Friends and Crafty Bonobo Shows Humans Aren’t the Only Stone Tool-Makers by Rachel Nuwer

Asperger’s Doesn’t Make You an Asshole by Heina

Bodies in art, art in bodies by John Hawks

NASA’s Amazing Gliding Gemini Capsules by Amy Shira Teitel

Can Identical Twins Get Away With Murder? by Brian Palmer

What can survive on Mars? by Steven A. Edwards

How to Learn a Language Nobody Speaks and Lance Armstrong Surrenders Against Doping Charges and Will be Banned for Life by Rose Eveleth

Rockstars, Ethograms and Behavior (Problems) by Julie Hecht

Planetary alignment pyramid scheme by Phil Plait

We Can Save the World by Eating Bugs and Drinking Urine by Erin Biba

Clothes Make the Man—Literally and The Neuroscience of Optimism by Jordan Gaines

Wasps Follow Order of Succession When Queen Dies and The Shambulance: Zero-Calorie Noodles? by Elizabeth Preston

Friday Weird Science: This quail has a cloth fetish by Scicurious

Vowel Movement: How Americans near the Great Lakes are radically changing the sound of English. by Rob Mifsud

How to Teach a Horse the Rules of the Road by Miriam Kramer

Remnants of a stellar suicide pact and The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Scientific Talk by Matthew Francis

Helium-Breathing Gibbons Sing Like Human Sopranos by Tanya Lewis

Siberian Princess reveals her 2,500 year old tattoos by The Siberian Times reporter

The birthplace of English? by Tim De Chant

Anti-Terrorism Campaigns and the Criminalization of Public Non-Conformity by Gwen Sharp

Hormones Explain Why Girls Like Dolls & Boys Like Trucks by Natalie Wolchover

The Nature of Consciousness: How the Internet Could Learn to Feel by Steve Paulson

New Morbid Terminology: Coffin Birth by Katy Meyers

Are You a Hero or a Bystander? by Sue Shellenbarger

Invasive species provide important lessons for surviving climate change and New species of barbet discovered in Peru by GrrlScientist

Just how big were dinosaurs? by Dave Hone

How Plantain Trees Could Become an Energy Source by Rhitu Chatterjee

Night Thoughts of a Classical Physicist by Ann Finkbeiner

WWWTP? Time’s Aspirin Structure Causes Headache by See Arr Oh

Candidates clam up on climate by Curtis Brainard

Overlooked and Underfoot: Sidewalk Cleaning in New York City by Ashley Taylor

Spawning coral monitored for effects of climate change by Melissa Gaskill

10 Myths About Space Travel That Make Science Fiction Better by Charlie Jane Anders

Goo-eating snakes and the eggs that evade them by Andrew Durso

Bonobo Stone Tales: The Making Of A Story by Charles Choi

Replacement Parts and Newly discovered rat that can’t gnaw or chew by Ed Yong

Artist Patricia Olynyk inspired by light pollution by Casey Rentz

Scoop: A preview of Romney’s energy plan by Philip Bump

Neuroscience: Solving The Hard-On Problem by Neuroskeptic

Every Step You Take by Wendy Lovelady

Fighting the stereotype that math is only for boys by Patricia Valoy

The Wall Street Journal Does It Again: Another Whopper Of A Lie On Climate Science by Dana Nucitelli

It’s all about objective multiples… by Mia Cobb

Medieval Women as Physicians by Tracy Barrett

Was Vincent van Gogh Color Blind? It Sure Looks Like It by Colin Schultz

Ego v. Efficiency at the U.S. National Science Board by Jeffrey Mervis

The Science of Bad Neuroscience by Neurobonkers

Social Position Drives Gene Regulation of the Immune System by Daniel Lende

Q&A: Alexandra Cousteau by Emily Fisher

The evolutionary history of dragons, illustrated by a scientist by Annalee Newitz

Egg-ceptionally Bad by Cassandra Willyard

The Free Will Confusion (1): On “My Brain Made Me Do It!” by Stephan Schleim

Should we teach algebra? by Paul Raeburn

The Rats of War: Konrad Lorenz and the Anthropic Shift by Liam Heneghan

Why College Binge Drinkers Are Happier, Have High Status by Maia Szalavitz

How many species are there? by Zen Faulkes

 

Media, Publishing, Technology and Society:

How to Succeed in Journalism when You Can’t Afford an Internship by Alexandra Kimball

Who are the offline-academics? by Katie Wheat

Sick of Impact Factors: Coda by Stephen Curry

Taking the Impact Factor seriously is similar to taking creationism, homeopathy or divining seriously by Bjoern Brembs

There are cons to open acces? Really? by Bjoern Brembs

“You’re not entitled to your own facts” vs. That’s your opinion. Kiss my ad. by Jay Rosen

Twitter rewrites the script for political conventions by Martha T. Moore

Barbara Mack: best media lawyer I ever worked with by Steve Buttry

Ask A Writer: “How Do I Write What The Audience Wants To Read?” by Chuck Wendig

The End of My Writing Career / Author Sharon Potts by Clay Stafford

Research As You Go by Steven Johnson

The ridiculous SVP embargo is back again by Ross Mounce

Intellectual power and responsibility in an age of superstars by Daniel W. Drezner

Coming in the side door: The value of homepages is shifting from traffic-driver to brand by Adrienne LaFrance

Google Hiring Data Reveals Two Things Women Can Do To Get Hired And Promoted More by Nicholas Carlson

A Day In My Life As A Freelance Science Writer by Charles Choi

Turn Off the Phone (and the Tension) by Jenna Wortham

Adulthood, Delayed: What Has the Recession Done to Millennials? by Derek Thompson

Why Are Young People Ditching Cars for Smartphones? by Jordan Weissmann

The Cheapest Generation by Derek Thompson and Jordan Weissmann

How Wikipedia Manages Sources for Breaking News by Heather Ford

Ex-NPR Hill reporter: Lied to daily by Patrick Gavin

Report: Social network demographics in 2012 by Pingdom

6 questions journalists should be able to answer before pitching a story by Tom Huang

Plagiarism, defamation and the power of hyperlinks and The billion-dollar question: What is journalism for? and Why it’s better for fact-checking to be done in public by Mathew Ingram

Rutgers Professor’s Research Shows Social Network Sites Foster Close and Diverse Connections by Lisa Intrabartola

Don’t blame Twitter when journos tweet stupid things; blame stupidity by Steve Buttry

How long-form journalism is getting ‘a new lease of life’ in the digital world by Rachel McAthy

Why fact-checking matters by Emily Willingham

Rotary Dial by Ftrain

The closing of American academia by Sarah Kendzior

Be More Productive. Take Time Off. by Jason Fried

Journalist Of The Day: SciAm’s Bora Zivkovic talks about the evolution of social by Chao Li

 

Blogs of the Week so far:

May 11, 2012: Academic Panhandling
May 18, 2012: Anole Annals
May 25th, 2012: Better Posters
June 1st, 2012: Vintage Space
June 8th, 2012: Tanya Khovanova’s Math Blog
June 15th, 2012: Russlings
June 22nd, 2012: Parasite of the Day
June 29th, 2012: March of the Fossil Penguins
July 6th, 2012: Musings of a Dinosaur
July 13th, 2012: Contagions
July 21th, 2012: Life is short, but snakes are long
July 27th, 2012: Science Decoded
August 11th, 2012: Powered By Osteons
August 18th, 2012: Do you believe in dog?

Eight is eternity

After some years on Usenet newsgroups, commenting on other people’s blogs, writing diaries on campaign blogs and places like DailyKos, I finally started my own first blog on this date in 2004. Compared to a bunch of my friends, eight years of blogging makes me a relative new-comer. But I understand how eight years might seem like eternity to those who just started.

Eight years is sufficient time for a blog (and blogger) to undergo quite a lot of changes. I started out writing about politics. Moved to science later. Now I split my time about halfway between science communication (and other thoughts on the media) and science itself. My blog split into three blogs in early 2005, then re-fused back into a single blog – and got a new name, “A Blog Around The Clock” – in June of 2006, when I joined Scienceblogs.com. After #PepsiGate in summer 2010, I moved the blog to WordPress, and, once we launched here at Scientific American, the blog moved here as well. And while this is still my personal blog for my own musings, I tend to spend much more time managing the network, editing posts for Guest Blog, Expeditions and The SA Incubator, and using other outlets, online and offline, to promote science, science communication, and more.

Blogging did a lot for me – I now have a big online and offline community, lots of friends, invitations to travel, and I got two jobs (including this one) directly due to my blogging. I still do not understand exactly why – I never suffered from Impostor Syndrome during my ten years in research, but have it badly as a writer, blogger and editor. Still bewildered that people take time to read my 40,000-word screeds! But thank you all for doing it, for whatever reason you do. And thank you for supporting me all these years – it’s now time for payback (or is that ‘pay-forward’), welcoming new people to the community, promoting new bloggers and writers, helping other people succeed. I have no intention of ever stopping, so please come by every now and then and say Hello.

It is here!

What’s in the box?

Let’s open it, shall we?

It is here! The Open Lab 2012!

Official publication date is September 18th. There will be a lot of interesting promotional events, online and offline, before, on and after that day.You can pre-order right now!

Related links:

The Best Science Writing Online 2012
The Best Science Writing Online 2012 (Amazon.com)
The Best Science Writing Online 2012 (Amazon.uk)
What is: Open Laboratory
Open Laboratory 2011 – the complete list of all submitted entries
Open Lab 2011: Blogging Comes of Age
Open Laboratory 2012 – the Cover
Open Laboratory – old Prefaces and Introductions
Open Lab 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010.
Open Laboratory…getting closer!
Open Laboratory Facebook page

The Scienceblogging Weekly (August 18th, 2012)

Blog of the Week:

Do you believe in dog? is a brand new blog. It is written by two dog researchers, one in New York City, the other in Yarra Valley just outside of Melbourne, Australia. Julie Hecht you may already know from her wonderful blog Dog Spies, her writing in The Bark, or her research which we covered here at SciAm. She studies (and teaches about) dog cognition. Mia Cobb, the Australian, did her research in animal behavior on birds and ants, but now works on issues of dog shelters, welfare and performance science of working dogs. What is the coolest thing about the blog is that the two of them write for each other, addressing each other in each post, thus teaching and learning from each other in a dialogue to which we are all invited to participate in and contribute.

 

Top 10:

Tales from the OR by Summer Ash:

WARNING: This post contains my blood and guts, literally. If you’re squeamish, I recommend skipping this one. What follows is my journey through the operating room at Columbia-Presbyterian on July 18, 2012. Apologies, but I couldn’t help starting off with yet another pop culture reference (this time from Wes Anderson’s Rushmore)….

An example of why it is important to distinguish evolution as fact, theory, and path. by T. Ryan Gregory:

I, and others, have pointed out that there are three aspects of evolution: evolution as fact, evolution as theory, and evolution as path. Evolution as fact refers to the historical reality that species are related through common ancestry. This is supported by a massive amount of evidence from a wide array of independent sources. Evolution as theory refers to the proposed explanations for how “descent with modification” occurs — mutation, natural selection, genetic drift, etc. Evolution as path refers to the actual patterns that have occurred during the history of life, such as when certain events (e.g., branching points, extinctions, etc.) took place, how lineages are related, when and how many times certain traits evolved, and such. The important point is that these three components are largely independent…

The Childhood Aquatic by John Romano:

There is a structurally integral part of my psyche that is the keystone to my existence. I am not sure how it was placed in such a vital position, but it seems this part of me is embedded in my DNA. Something that I can never remember being without. The absolute and total fascination with the natural world….

Abraham Lincoln and The Embalmer by Romeo Vitelli:

The assassination of Abraham Lincoln on April 15, 1865 shocked a nation still recovering from four years of bloody civil war. Along with the hunt for his killers and the uncovering of the assassination plot against the President and several other members of his administration, there was also the logistic nightmare of his funeral and the need to transport the President’s body by train from Washington D.C. to his final resting place in Springfield, Illinois. Since the funeral train would retrace the route that Lincoln had traveled to Washington following his election, the body would be viewed by millions of mourners along the way during the numerous planned stops. All of which raised the question of how to keep the body preserved long enough to reach its destination. Considering the fact that funeral embalming was a relatively new development at that time, some very special arrangements needed to be made…

Inspiration from bassist Victor Wooten shows me a new way to deal with my “child-as-scientist” frustrations by Marie-Claire Shanahan:

I have a confession to make: I cringe a little every time I see a school science or science outreach program justified by saying something like, “Young children are natural scientists, truly curious about the world” (That particular quote is from the Delaware Museum of Natural History). I feel like a curmudgeon about it because it often comes with really good intentions to get students actively involved in doing science (something I definitely support)….

How a Tick Bite Made Me Allergic to Meat by Helen Chappell:

The last time I ate a hamburger, I spent the night in the emergency room. There wasn’t anything wrong with the hamburger itself—aside from being a bit overdone—but it sent me into anaphylactic shock. It wasn’t always this way…

Are wolves really all that? by DeLene Beeland:

Have conservation scientists become carried away, touting the ecological benefits of wolves where there are perhaps — dare I say it? — not as many as we believe there to be? Perhaps some people in the media, and even some in science, have gotten carried away with the ecological changes that wolves are actually capable of mediating, says globally-renowned wolf biologist L. David Mech in his most recent paper “Is science in danger of sanctifying the wolf?” …

Losing One’s Head: A Frustrating Search for the ‘Truth’ about Decapitation by Lindsey Fitzharris:

If you ever find yourself in a pub with me, chances are that at some point, the conversation will turn to death. Not just death, but the terrifying and horrible ways people have succumbed to it in the past. I have often heard a story retold about a man who attended the execution of his friend during the French Revolution. Seconds after the guillotine fell, the man retrieved the severed head and asked it a series of questions in order to determine whether or not it was possible to retain consciousness after decapitation. Through a system of blinking, the victim allegedly communicated his message back to his friend. The ending to this story changes according to the whims of the narrator… or perhaps the number of drinks he or she has consumed by that time. I wondered: was this the 18th-century equivalent to an urban legend? Or could there, in fact, be a degree of truth in this ghastly tale?….

A Dirty, Deadly Bite by Brian Switek:

Dragons aren’t real. At least, the fire-breathing wyverns and coiling wyrms of medieval lore aren’t. Those reptilian menaces were products of superstition and pre-scientific ideas about prehistoric creatures. They were ugly amalgamations inspired by our fears and actual fossil remains of long-extinct mammals and dinosaurs. But in the early 20th century, reporters excitedly relayed the discovery of what quickly became known as the Komodo dragon – ten foot long lizards that had coexisted with humans on South Pacific islands for thousands of years, but had only just been recognized by western science….

The Itsy Bitsy Drummer by Helen Shen:

Rrrr… RRR… Thack! Thack! Thrusting his front legs skyward, the male jumping spider shakes his rear end to send thumps, scrapes, and buzzes through the ground. He’s playing for a female’s attention, dazzling her eight eyes with semaphore while drumming out seductive seismic signals. A few missteps could turn the spider’s performance into a dinner show—with the star as the main dish. The ferocious female demands precise choreography, set to a groovy beat that UC Berkeley behavioral ecologist Damian Elias is working to decipher….


Best Images:

On Cephalopods and Science Fiction by Jen Richards

Beautiful periodic table from LIFE magazine’s 1949 special on the atom by Frank Swain

Curiosity’s photos (cartoon) by Viktor Poór

A bacterium on a diatom on an amphipod on a frog on a bump on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea!<!–

The Spider Wars by bonybones

UNDERCOVER by Jun Takahashi

The Olympics Are Over and Here Are the Best Infographics by Rose Eveleth

They fell out of the sky! by Bill Harding

Elgar’s Explosion by Eva Amsen

Teaching history by Zach Weinersmith

Old Friends by Beatrice the Biologist

Tasting the rainbow: The ants whose multi-coloured abdomens show exactly what they’ve been eating by Mohamed Babu

Anole Raids A Hummingbird Feeder by Karen Morris

Unicorn Blood Parasite by The-Episiarch

Cures of all Kinds by Jai Virdi

 

Best Videos:

The GMO Song: “OMG GMOs!” by Andrew Bean, David Holmes, Sharon Shattuck, and Krishnan Vasudevan

Do watch this – probably the best ever debris flow video, from Austria last week by Dave Petley

Tricky Mister! Indirect Sperm Transfer in Primitive Hexapods by The Bug Chicks

Helmet Cam Strapped to Hunting Falcon Captures “Birds-Eye-View” Footage by Michael Zhang

Seat vibration test: oscillate the human by Marc Abrahams

Lice on a Bird: Convergent Evolution in action! by Bug Girl

 

Science:

Where Fire Meets the Sea by Tanya Lewis

Curiosity Landing: What’s With All the Peanuts? and Apollo’s Youthful Glow and The Soviets’ First Space ‘Rendezvous’ by Amy Shira Teitel

The benefits of seeing a “challenge” where others see a “threat.” and Why do swimmers hate Lane 8? and The psychology of doping accusations: Which athletes raise the most suspicion? by Melanie Tannenbaum

Could you be an Olympic athlete? by Catherine de Lange

Mysterious Tides: Toxic blooms of marine algae are getting worse, and some think we’re to blame. by Marissa Fessenden

Astrobiology: Worth It? by GunnarDW

Olympics Physics: The Long Jump and Linear Regression by Rhett Allain

Diseases That Just Won’t Quit by Tim Wall

Think Like a Doctor: A Peculiar Heartbeat Solved! by Lisa Sanders

The Bullying Culture of Medical School by Pauline Chen

Two Tales of Symbiosis by Elio Schaechter

Where the Minutes Are Longer: The Weird Science of Telling Time on Mars by Rebecca J. Rosen

Stop Calling Sherlock a Sociopath! Thanks, a Psychologist. by Maria Konnikova

Why cocaine users should learn Bayes’ Theorem by Precocity

Science on crack, 2: Walter White & cooking crystal meth by Puff the Mutant Dragon

We live in a geocentric world! by Thony C.

Murder by Physics by Matthew Francis

In Vietnamese community, treating taboos on cancer by Erin Loury

Years After Slash and Burn, Brazil Haunted by ‘Black Carbon’ and Science Takes Fat Out Of Chocolate, Replaces It With Fruit and Defending a Sanctuary With Paint and Song by Rachel Nuwer

Why We Need Ecological Medicine by Rob Dunn

Is PTSD A Product of War, or Of Our Times? by David Dobbs

A very modern trauma by Vaughan Bell

Curious about Curiosity: the Science Lab on Mars (Part I) and Search for Water (Part II) and Life on Mars (Part III) by Claire.W

Popping up trouble with butter and Alzheimer’s by biochembelle

A New Species Discovered … On Flickr by Adam Cole

Cells = drugs = government regulation? by Ada Ao

On the loss of a mentor: Al Malkinson, lung cancer researcher, scholar, gentleman by David Kroll

The Hidden Power of Whale Poop by Brandon Keim

What do you do when you’re sick? by Jai Virdi

Choice of Wood in Cremation Pyres by Katy Meyers

Food and trust of science and Does a Ph.D. train you to head a lab? by Zen Faulkes

Africa Grows Too Hot to Grow Chocolate by Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato

Community health workers help HIV patient change attitude, life by Helen Shen

Hyenas Show It’s Better to Be Creative than Try, Try Again and Close Look at Bison DNA Reveals Our Dirty Fingerprints by Elizabeth Preston

CDC: Pretty Much Everyone Is Fat by Maryn McKenna

Why did people start mummifying their dead in the driest place on Earth? by Ed Yong

Found in translation: where do cures come from? by Jenny Rohn

Mouse Eyes Come With Built-In Bird Detectors by Sophie Bushwick

Atop Everest, two Sherpas and a watchmaker forged a friendship that changed their lives by Samantha Larson

Here’s an Omical Tale: Scientists Discover Spreading Suffix by Robert Lee Hotz

Flavors of Uncertainty: The Difference between Denial and Debate by Wendee Holtcamp

Tracks of an Oak Killer by Erin Loury

What is fair in the Olympics? Is sex a special case? and What is DNA? by Genegeek

That Eternal Question by Nicholas Suntzeff

Choosing the Paths Less Traveled? There’s an App for That by Henry Grabar

“Canopy” Meg Lowman (forest ecologist) – podcast by Samantha Larson

Scientific reproducibility, for fun and profit by John Timmer

Good Scientist! You Get a Badge. by Carl Zimmer

Reproducing Scientific Results – On Purpose by Derek Lowe

Common Lab Dye Found to Interrupt Formation of Huntington’s Disease Proteins by Kathleen Raven

No, that’s not a picture of a double sunset on Mars and An unreal Mars skyline by Phil Plait

How to Patch the PhD Problem by Alison McCook

Lead’s Everlasting Legacy by Meghan D. Rosen

Tweeting my genome #twenome and “Run away!”: a one-size-fits-all solution by Alex Brown

The Rise of the Three-Parent Family by Annalee Newitz

The Political Benefits of Taking a Pro-Climate Stand in 2012 by Connie Roser-Renouf, Anthony Leiserowitz, Edward Maibach

The Circadian Advantage: How Sleep Patterns Benefit Certain NFL Teams by David K. Randall

Book Review: Newjack Guarding Sing Sing by Erin Podolak

Dear HigherEd Communicators: John Tesh is Kicking Our Asses by Elizabeth Monier-Williams

When Yellow Fever Came to the Americas by Michelle Ziegler

The Mind of a Flip-Flopper and Cow Week: Angry cows vs. angry mothers by Maggie Koerth-Baker

PhD2.0 and anecdotes from the trenches by Jeanne Garbarino

The Sea Longs for Red Devils by Daniela Hernandez

Cooperating For Selfish Reasons by Miss Behavior

The Mix-Up that Ended the World by Erik Vance

Intimate Life of Mosquitoes by Lowell Goldsmith

What Anti-Trafficking Advocates Can Learn from Sex Workers: The Dynamics of Choice, Circumstance, and Coercion by danah boyd

Confessions of a Fake Scientist by Phil Edwards

Baby, You Light Up My World Like Nobody Else by Rachel Wang

Nothing Says Baby-Makin’ Like Desiccated Bacon and Scientists create a “Dow Jones” for ocean health by Allie Wilkinson

The Evolution of Shark Week, Pop-Culture Leviathan by Ashley Fetters

The Smell of Fear (No Tweets Necessary) by Natalie Angier

Post-Antipsychiatry by The Neurocritic

Where Have All The Cults Gone? and Is Poker A Game of Skill or Luck? by Neuroskeptic

Brain’s Drain: Neuroscientists Discover Cranial Cleansing System by Daisy Yuhas

This Woman Wants You to Buy Her, Piece by Piece by Rose Eveleth

My Brain Made Me Do It: Psychopaths and Free Will and How PTSD and Addiction Can Be Safely Treated Together and Couples Therapy Can Help PTSD and Improve Relationships by Maia Szalavitz

On quack cancer cures, and “alternative medicine” as religion by Xeni Jardin

Scientists can block heroin addiction now? and Offbeat tales: The summer heat takes its toll and Morning wrap-up by Paul Raeburn

How to Put a Curator in a Box: Part 1 and Ask an Exhibitionist #1: What’s the fake water? by Helen Chappell

Sharks and lasers, not just for entertainment! by Craig McClain

Giant cluster phenomenally fertile by Nadia Drake

Emma Marris: In Defense of Everglades Pythons and A Song Tries to Go Beyond the ‘OMG’ Reaction to GMOs by Andrew Revkin

The Emerging Revolution in Game Theory by The Physics arXiv Blog

“A simple feat… only expensive”: The Oatmeal tries saving Tesla’s lab by Casey Johnston

How many colors are really in a rainbow? by Ethan Siegel

Spiders Weave Better on LSD-25 by Clyde

Are Drug Companies Faking an Innovation Crisis? Uh, No. by Derek Lowe

Gorilla Joy Without a Doubt by Marc Bekoff

Turning Trauma Into Story: the Benefits of Journaling by Jordan Gaines

A Lesson in Rocketry by Marie-Claire Shanahan

PhD what is it good for? #leavingacademia by Jerry Nguyen

Contraception, healthcare and the costs women will leave behind by Katie Rogers and Ruth Spencer

The problem with poker by Pete Etchells

Rare Discovery: Hook-Legged Spider Found in Oregon Cave by Douglas Main

Why I’m Working Toward my Ph.D. at a Museum by Alejandro Grajales

How not to criticize psychiatry, part 1 by Tim Skellet

Book Review: The Wolverine Way, by Douglas Chadwick by DeLene Beeland

On Sciences and Humanities: Reflections on Coyne and Konnikova by German Dziebel

Citizen scientists may beat the pros in identifying at-risk species by Kate Shaw

The Long-Lived Legacy of the Cambrian’s “Wonderful Life” by Brian Switek

Bigger and Smaller by Lucy E. Hornstein

Scissor Sisters by Sally Adee

Brain network: social media and the cognitive scientist (pdf) by Tom Stafford and Vaughan Bell

 

Media, Publishing, Technology and Society:

Sick of Impact Factors by Stephen Curry

A smear campaign against Impact Factors…and the Sheep of Science by Drugmonkey

Deep impact: Our manuscript on the consequences of journal rank by Bjoern Brembs

Chess ratings and Impact Factor and Self archiving science is not the solution by Zen Faulkes

On publishing in PLoS One, and what’s the matter with ecology? by C. Titus Brown

Should supreme court justices use Google? by Paul Raeburn

Geneticists eye the potential of arXiv and Neanderthal sex debate highlights benefits of pre-publication by Ewen Callaway

9 ways to find helpful people and organizations to follow on Twitter by Steve Buttry

Instead of a press release: Options to add to your press release diet by Denise Graveline

Jonah Lehrer and the Problems with “Pithy” Science Writing by Karthika Muthukumaraswamy

Using Links as Citations Helps Gizmodo Defeat a Defamation Claim–Redmond v. Gawker Media by Eric Goldman

Discover magazine moving to Wisconsin and Discover magazine update by Paul Raeburn

New! New! New! (not yet) and If I were making a Twitter clone… and Making a Twitter clone, day II by Dave Winer

Magazines Don’t Have a Digital Problem, They Have a Bundling Problem by Hamish McKenzie

Should journalists specialize? by Kallen Dewey Kentner

Science Outreach in North Carolina by Russ Campbell

Stop Publishing Web Pages by Anil Dash

Author Platform Lessons from #1 New York Times Bestseller Rebecca Skloot by Dan Blank

To Think, To Write, To Publish by Maria Delaney

Do We Need Another Information Sharing Platform? by Jalees Rehman

How The American University was Killed, in Five Easy Steps by Debra Leigh Scott

13 ways of looking at Medium, the new blogging/sharing/discovery platform from @ev and Obvious by Joshua Benton

How To Lose Twitter Followers by Neuroskeptic

What to Do With Political Lies by Garance Franke-Ruta

Science Communication in the PhD process by Heather Doran

Science News staffers complain about misappropriation of their copy by UPI and UPI’s second response on misuse of copy by Paul Raeburn

UPI shirks responsibility by Curtis Brainard

News stories that aren’t news by John L. Robinson

Student Paper Editors Quit at University of Georgia by RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA

Letter from the Editor in Chief by Polina Marinova

Students walk out on University of Georgia newspaper by Andrew Beaujon

UGA Red & Black staff walks out today in protest. Is it now Red & Dead? by Maureen Downey

Witness describes confrontation between Grady NewSource Reporter and Red & Black Publisher by Grady Newsource

Study: Journalists’ lousy understanding of fair use leads to self-censorship by Andrew Beaujon

Five types of problem writer by Ann Friedman

Jonah Lehrer’s Mistake — And Ours by Peter Sims

Making Studies Out of Nothing at All by Taylor Kubota

On being a journalist, getting quotes by Razib Khan

Mendeley Acquires SciLife, a Social Network for Scientists and Researchers by Darrell Etherington

Nikola Tesla museum campaign earns $500,000 online in two days by Adam Gabbatt

Lessons on the Internet for LAMs from The Oatmeal: Or, Crowdfunding and the Long Geeky Tail by Trevor Owens

Further Decline in Credibility Ratings for Most News Organizations by Pew

The Update by Matt Thompson

Metrics, metrics everywhere: How do we measure the impact of journalism? by Jonathan Stray

Why we are poles apart on climate change and Doing science is different from communicating it — even when the science is the science of science communication by Dan Kahan

Hey, Twitter — shouldn’t it be about the users? by Mathew Ingram

The first steps towards a modern system of scientific publication by Joe Pickrell

Reflections on science blogging by Puff the Mutant Dragon

 

Blogs of the Week so far:

May 11, 2012: Academic Panhandling
May 18, 2012: Anole Annals
May 25th, 2012: Better Posters
June 1st, 2012: Vintage Space
June 8th, 2012: Tanya Khovanova’s Math Blog
June 15th, 2012: Russlings
June 22nd, 2012: Parasite of the Day
June 29th, 2012: March of the Fossil Penguins
July 6th, 2012: Musings of a Dinosaur
July 13th, 2012: Contagions
July 21th, 2012: Life is short, but snakes are long
July 27th, 2012: Science Decoded
August 11th, 2012: Powered By Osteons

ScienceOnline2012 – interview with Helen Chappell

Every year I ask some of the attendees of the ScienceOnline conferences to tell me (and my readers) more about themselves, their careers, current projects and their views on the use of the Web in science, science education or science communication. So now we continue with the participants of ScienceOnline2012. See all the interviews in this series here.

Today my guest is Helen Chappell (Twitter).

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

I’m a recovering physicist from North Carolina, and I recently returned to the Old North State after three years’ exile at a Colorado grad school studying nanocrystalline solar materials. Turns out I’m too much of a generalist at heart to be happy doing physics research, so I escaped into science journalism in 2011 via the AAAS Mass Media Fellowship Program (highly recommended for any would-be science journalists out there doing research). I also have a background in informal education — I used to give star talks and develop summer camps, among other things, at a planetarium — so I’ve ended up sort of floating around between research, education, and writing circles. That meant ScienceOnline was right up my alley. I wish I’d heard about it before last year!

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

As of this spring, I’m an exhibit developer at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences. My path has been informal education -> astronomy research -> materials science research -> chemical physics research -> science journalism -> informal education. Lots of meandering to end up almost in the same place, I suppose, but exhibit development is an amazing fit for me so far. It has a lot of the variety of journalism with less pressure, and there’s time to really pay attention to your craft. I also get to work closely with scientists, so my research background is a huge help.

I’m also trying to keep my foot wedged in the door of the writing world, by doing a tiny bit of freelance work here and there (I had a recent piece for Discover), blogging for work at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences Exhibits Blog, and blogging for play at B-Scides.

I’m really enjoying building the exhibits blog at the museum. I’m always fascinated by “the making of” pretty much anything. Taking folks behind the scenes of the exhibits is my excuse to geek out about what I do — and since I’m new to exhibit development, I’m also learning a lot along the way. If you have a question for us about how exhibits are made, email me or tweet it with the hashtag #AskAnExhibitionist, and I’ll blog the answers.

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

I’m still figuring out long-term goals, though I expect I’ll be happy doing exhibit development for a good long while. I’m investing a lot of energy into figuring out how to get better at what I do, since it’s brand new for me. II’m still enough of a scientist to geek out about literature searches, and the literature about museum visitor behavior and visitor-oriented design strategies is completely new to me, so there’s a lot to geek out about.

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

Something I’ve spent a lot of my time thinking about recently is how to use the web and mobile technology to expand the museum experience beyond exhibits and programs (or really any experience). We’ve dabbled with QR codes in a few places, but it’s definitely still an experiment, and we’ve yet to figure out what works best. Using mobile technology in the exhibits can be a sticky issue, though, because not everyone can get — or even wants — a smartphone (like me, for instance). Especially as we’re an accredited state museum, universal accessibility (or the closest we can get) is key. I’d love for us to have a modern-day, mobile-driven version of the audioguide tour with video and interactive content, but it’ll be a huge challenge keeping it accessible.

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

In the exhibits group at the museum, we use blogging as a way to give folks a behind-the-scenes tour. As a writer, I use blogging mostly as a place to get some practice in, and get my fix for writing about things I think are cool without jumping through all the editorial hoops at a polished publication. Blogging is definitely a net positive for me.

Social networks, though, I’m less active in. I’m on a bunch of them, but I mostly use them as a place for folks to find me if they need to, and as a way to keep my finger on the pulse of the online science world when I’m looking to catch up or get a distraction. They’re probably a slight net positive, or else I wouldn’t be using them, right? I hope that’s true, at least.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2012 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 ScienceOnline for me was definitely the social one — it’s not often you get to share space with 450 of the most creative, talented, and wacky folks around, all of whom share interests with you. It was the most freely-mixing conference I’ve ever been to, where established top dogs and newbies mingled easily, unlike at so many stratified science meetings. The social aspect outlasts the actual conference, too, and I’ve kept up with lots of folks I met online and even in person (especially since I’m a local).

Perhaps my strongest takeaway, though, was the #iamscience project. Having left research fairly recently, I was struggling with losing my identity as a scientist. The #iamscience project made me feel like I was in excellent company. I’m still a scientist, just not a research scientist, and that’s awesome.

Thank you! See you soon!

Upcoming events

Tomorrow is the fifth #TriSciTweetup, this time with a little more structure to it than usual. We’ll meet at NC Museum of Natural Science in Raleigh NC, for the inaugural Lightning Talks with Brian Malow on Thursdays at the Daily Planet Cafe. We’ll start at 6pm. At about 7pm several people (including myself) will get up and say something interesting and scientific for 5 minutes each, perhaps answer a question or two from Brian, or from the audience, then continue having fun until the Cafe closes later in the evening.

Open Laboratory 2012 is getting published on September 18th. There may be a live event in NYC on that day, in which case I will travel to the City and perhaps we can have a #NYCscitweetup associated with the event. More information TBA.

On October 15-20, I’ll be at the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology Annual Meeting in Raleigh NC. Kate Wong and I will report to you from there.

Science Writers (NASW/CASW) meeting is on October 26-30, also in Raleigh, NC. Registration just opened today. I’ll be there, as a co-organizer of one of the panels. This is a great opportunity to network with the best of the best science communicators, get the most current “state of the field” updates from top scientists, and to learn and network. Join us if you can.

Registration for ScienceOnline 2013 will open in about a month. More information what to expect – here.

The Scienceblogging Weekly (August 11th, 2012)

Blog of the Week:

Kristina Killgrove (Twitter) is a bioarchaeologist. Her blog Powered By Osteons covers a wide spectrum of topics on archaeology, bioanthropology, and the classical world. But what it has the most, and is most exciting, are bones. Lots of bones. Human bones. Skulls and femurs and pelvises and what we can learn about the past from studying them.

 

Top 10:

Satisfying Curiosity: preparing for the Mars landing by John Rennie:

…All the Mars rovers so far, from the trailblazing Sojourner to the overachieving twins Spirit and Opportunity, have been extraordinary exploratory robots, but Curiosity represents an ambitious new extreme. Most obviously, it’s much bigger: Curiosity weighs almost a ton and is the size of a small car, whereas Spirit and Opportunity were half as long and a fifth as massive and Sojourner was not much bigger than a large cat….

Muscles and the Lactic Acid Myth by Larry Moran:

…It’s all a myth. Lactic acid has nothing to do with acidosis (the buildup of acid in the muscles). In fact, it’s not even clear that acidosis is the problem, but let’s deal with that another time….

Is a PhD required for good science writing? by Emily Willingham:

…..In fact, as someone who has a PhD in science but has been a writer longer than I’ve been a scientist, I’d argue that it might be better not to have specific training in science if you’re reaching for an audience of nonscientists, depending on what your goal as a writer is. If your goal is to tell a great science story that keeps the nonscientist reading and thinking, “wow” or “I get it,” then scientific training might be an anti-requisite. If your target is critique and analysis of science, then scientific training could be quite useful as long as you don’t let your deep background blind you to what your readers might not understand as well as you…..

What Grown-Ups Can Learn From Kids’ Books by Maria Konnikova:

….The little prince isn’t alone in carrying insights that are lost on a child. What of Alice in her wonderland and mirrored adventures? Alice’s story may have been born from a tale told to children one lazy afternoon, but it became much more: a deep philosophical meditation….

Olympic Physics: Air Density and Bob Beamon’s Crazy-Awesome Long Jump by Rhett Allain:

Even now, there are those who claim that the long-jump record of 8.9 meters that Bob Beamon set in 1968 was so crazy awesome because he accomplished it in Mexico City, which is almost 8,000 feet above sea level. The argument is that the air is thinner, and so there is less air resistance, and Mexico City is further from the center of the earth, and so the gravitational forces are smaller. Does any of this have any impact? And if so, does it really matter?…

Is corn the new milk? Evolutionarily speaking, that is. by Jeremy Yoder:

It is a widespread misconception that, as we developed the technology to reshape our environment to our preferences, human beings neutralized the power of natural selection. Quite the opposite is true: some of the best-known examples of recent evolutionary change in humans are attributable to technology. People who colonized high-altitude environments were selected for tolerance of low-oxygen conditions in the high Himalayas and Andes; populations that have historically raised cattle for milk evolved the ability to digest milk sugars as adults….

In the Bronx, Rights Get Fuzzy by Cassie Rodenberg:

I’ve been working with photographer Chris Arnade to document stories in Hunts Point, Bronx and often-ignored areas of New York City. Over the course of the last year, we have noticed the impact the city’s Stop and Frisk policy has on the neighborhood. Recently, we made the decision to start documenting that in action should we see it. This Sunday, we did:…

What do Christian fundamentalists have against set theory? by Maggie Koerth-Baker:

I’ve mentioned here before that I went to fundamentalist Christian schools from grade 8 through grade 11. I learned high school biology from a Bob Jones University textbook, watched videos of Ken Ham talking about cryptozoology as extra credit assignments, and my mental database of American history probably includes way more information about great revival movements than yours does. In my experience, when the schools I went to followed actual facts, they did a good job in education. Small class sizes, lots of hands-on, lots of writing, and lots of time spent teaching to learn rather than teaching to a standardized test. But when they decided that the facts were ungodly, things went to crazytown pretty damn quick….

Stop Calling Sherlock a Sociopath! Thanks, a Psychologist. by Maria Konnikova:

I’d like to get something off my chest. It’s been bugging me for a very, very long time. Sherlock Holmes is not a sociopath. He is not even a “high-functioning sociopath,” as the otherwise truly excellent BBC Sherlock has styled him (I take the words straight from Benedict Cumberbatch’s mouth). There. I’ve said it…

What’s the difference between “transparency” and “invisibility”? by Greg Gbur:

In writing my previous post on The Murderer Invisible, I started thinking again about the relationship between something being “transparent” and something being truly “invisible”. Most of us can appreciate that, under the right circumstances, a transparent object like a glass window can be very hard to see, but most of us also appreciate that glass is not even close to fitting the popular perception of invisibility. In fact, though we encounter plenty of transparent things in nature, we don’t encounter invisible things….

 

Special topic: Curiosity:

Mars needs rovers! (and it just got a big one) by Matthew Francis

What Curiosity Will and Won’t Teach Us About Martian Life by Jeffrey L. Bada

A lifetime of curiosity: An interview with JPL director Charles Elachi by Nadia Drake

How Did We Get That Incredible Photo of Curiosity’s Descent on Mars? by Alexis Madrigal

Landing Curiosity on Mars was Way Harder and Way Less Expensive than the Olympics by Rose Eveleth

Watching Curiosity’s Mars Landing Live on a 53-Foot Screen in Times Square by Laura Geggel

Me and Curiosity by Taylor Kubota

“Curiosity” Driven Science by Larry Moran

Long day at the office as scientists get in sync with Mars by Bridie Smith

Curiosity’s first color photo of Mars is only its second-most exciting photograph yet by Robert T. Gonzalez

Meanwhile in Mars…. by Shibin Dinesh

Curiosity Rover: Driving Lessons on Mars by Tamara Krinsky

Engineering Life to Survive on Mars and Aid Human Colonization by Tanya Lewis

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2012/08/08/158433038/amazingly-earth-like-curiosity-beams-first-full-frame-photo-of-mars by Eyder Peralta

See what it’s like to be a flight controller for Curiosity by Ruth Suehle

SCUBA Diving through the Endless Martian Desert by Thomas Hayden

Poet Laureates of Mars: Meet the NASA Team Behind Curiosity’s Twitter by Benjamin Soloway

 

Best Images:

Mars orbiter catches Curiosity by the tail by Eric Hand

Mars orbiter catches pic of Curiosity on its way down! and Curiosity landing site: the whole mess by Phil Plait

Curiosity Rover’s Home on Mars: A Powers-of-Ten Visual Explainer by Alexis Madrigal

Classic Scientific Illustrations by Ian Wang

Stickleback by Simone

 

Best Videos:

The only existing video footage of Mark Twain, as filmed by Thomas Edison by Robert T. Gonzalez

3D-printed exoskeleton gives a little girl use of her arms by Sean Ludwig

Curiosity’s Descent by JPLnews

Fred Guterl by The Daily Show

Forget Wireless Keyboards and Touch Your Plant Instead by Katie Pratt

The Scienceline music video awards by Kelly Slivka

How Math Comes to Mind: Intuition, Visualization, and Teaching by Stanislas Dehaene and Steven Strogatz

High Speed Video of Flipping Cats by destinws2

Mark Achtman on Plague Genetics by Michelle Ziegler

 

Science:

Superbug Summer Books: THE POWER OF HABIT by Maryn McKenna

Olympic Greatness: Biology or Motivation? by Melanie Tannenbaum

Backpacking Lizards For Science: Radio-Tracking Puerto Rican Anoles by Jonathan Losos

Will Climate Doubt Dry Up with the Drought? by Bob Deans

Undead: The Rabies Virus Remains a Medical Mystery by Monica Murphy and Bill Wasik

In Antarctica, Dreaming of Mars by Alexander Kumar

How to Unstick a Gecko and Mom’s Genes Make Males Die Sooner by Elizabeth Preston

Laboratory dye repurposed against protein clumps found in Huntington’s disease by Kathleen Raven

Stress Is a Real Killer—for Dragonflies by Douglas Main

Only Young Scientists Overthrow Old Concepts? and What Does “pH” Mean? by Larry Moran

Award-winning teacher Michael Lampert: WHY I LOVE SCIENCE by Casey Rentz

Sandpipers forgo sleep for days because there’s too much sex to be had and Prisoners pitch in to save endangered butterfly and A circuit for aggression in the brains of angry birds by Ed Yong

The Largest Waves in the Sea Aren’t at the Beach by Kim Martini

Plants with Personality by Emily Anthes

What’s up with social psychology? by Thom Baguley

The Molecular Olympics by Stuart Cantrill

Free online tool helps identify bat calls by Mark Kinver

New Forensics Tool for Catching Elephant Poachers and Man Wears Artificial Uterus for Science & His Wife and Celebrating 80 Years of LEGO by Rachel Nuwer

Historiography of the Market for Health by Jaipreet Virdi

Sleep research reveals keys to health by Lydialyle Gibson

Olympic Diving Physics by Paige Brown

Apollo 15’s Bizarre Contraband Stamp Debacle and How NASA Engineered the Enduring Apollo Flags by Amy Shira Teitel

Explaining Risk: Know Your Aristotle by Trisha Greenhalgh

Species Traits and Community Assembly by Jacquelyn Gill

First-Ever National Survey on Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes Shows Mixed Support by Matt Shipman

A Cult of Quantity by Will

Nope, these birds are not lesbians by Annalee Newitz

The Spruce Street Swamps by David H.

Psychology and Its Discontents by Carol Tavris

The Kangaroo’s Tale: How an errant elevator door ended an odd form of popular entertainment by Jack El-Hai

Ehux: The Little Eukaryote with a Big History by Jaime E. Zlamal

A New Generation of “Digital Ornithologists” by Abby McBride

The story behind “Scaling Metagenome Assembly with Probabilistic de Bruijn Graphs” by C. Titus Brown

What Lurks In Logs by Carl Zimmer

The Sham Ph.D. by Dave G Mumby

In Defense of Algebra by Nicholas Warner

A Mysterious “Alien” Creature Identified by NC Museum Researchers by jasoncryan

Fear of a Black Hole by Matthew Francis

Skeletons in the Closet by Heather Pringle

Serbian entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina pledges to revolutionise its “unsatisfactory” science by Mićo Tatalović

TGIPF: Slug Sex Redux by Cassandra Willyard

Anorexia nervosa, neurobiology, and family-based treatment by Harriet Brown

Ten clues to the modern poisoner by Deborah Blum

Cheetah Sets New Land Speed Record, Beats Bolt by 4 Seconds by Tanya Lewis

Science settles some decades-old debates about the best way to swim by Michael Ann Dobbs

Seven climate-change diseases to ruin your day by James West

Anolis sagrei (Cuban Brown Anole) in Valdosta, Georgia! 04 August 2012 by Janson Jones

Stiletto snakes by Andrew Durso

 

Media, Publishing, Technology and Society:

Judge Posner: Embedding Infringing Videos Is Not Copyright Infringement, And Neither Is Watching Them by Mike Masnick

Everything That’s Wrong with Political Journalism in One Washington Post Item by Jay Rosen

Scientific Communication As Sequential Art by Bret Victor

How to Write a Malcolm Gladwell Book by Zach Weiner

Where peer-review went wrong and Some more of peer-review’s greatest mistakes and What is this peer-review process anyway? by Mike Taylor

Chipping away at “hard” — for the poets and What has podcasting accomplished? by Dave Winer

Oracles, Big Answers, & Pop Sci’s Neglect of Mystery by David Dobbs

Journalism at the speed of bytes – a timely report by Lawrie Zion

Advice and examples on how and what journalists should tweet by Steve Buttry

PeerJ: are we reinventing the wheel? by Eduardo Santos

Blogging about blogging, and tweeting about tweeting: what I have learnt after 100 tweets by Michael McCarthy

Whither Science Publishing? by Bob Grant

Beware, Tech Abandoners. People Without Facebook Accounts Are ‘Suspicious.’ by Kashmir Hill

Downgrading Facebook. Tech Abandoner? Or Rational Lifestyle Choice? by Haydn Shaughnessy

Security Questions: The Biggest Joke in Online Identity Verification by Rebecca J. Rosen

All in a Single String by Maria Konnikova

Who’s That Woman In The Twitter Bot Profile? by Jason Feifer

Why Cartoons, sex and music are necessary in science communication by Emily Coren

Social Media for the Physiologist – A Modern Utopia or a Brave New World? by Dr. Isis with contributions from Danielle Lee, Pascale Lane, and Kristy Meyer

An Unexpected Ass Kicking and 7 Things I Learned From My Encounter With Russell Kirsch by Joel Runyon

Enter an Elevator with Confidence by Heather R.

Evidence-based, informative and on YouTube? How to communicate science in the Internet age by Dorothy Bishop

The Future of the Internet is…a la Carte by Matt Shipman

If #Google Plus is “Deserted” I Hope It Stays That Way by Tinu Abayomi-Paul

The false-balance trap by Paul Raeburn

Cheating in Online Courses by Dan Ariely

There’s only one truly open platform — the web by Mathew Ingram

The balance trap by Natasha Loder

Knit Together by Mindy Weisberger

 

Blogs of the Week so far:

May 11, 2012: Academic Panhandling
May 18, 2012: Anole Annals
May 25th, 2012: Better Posters
June 1st, 2012: Vintage Space
June 8th, 2012: Tanya Khovanova’s Math Blog
June 15th, 2012: Russlings
June 22nd, 2012: Parasite of the Day
June 29th, 2012: March of the Fossil Penguins
July 6th, 2012: Musings of a Dinosaur
July 13th, 2012: Contagions
July 21th, 2012: Life is short, but snakes are long
July 27th, 2012: Science Decoded

ScienceOnline2012 – interview with Samuel Arbesman

Every year I ask some of the attendees of the ScienceOnline conferences to tell me (and my readers) more about themselves, their careers, current projects and their views on the use of the Web in science, science education or science communication. So now we continue with the participants of ScienceOnline2012. See all the interviews in this series here.

Today my guest is Samuel Arbesman (Twitter).

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

I’m an applied mathematician and am currently a Senior Scholar at the Kauffman Foundation, based in Kansas City.

I grew up in Buffalo and went to Brandeis University in the Boston suburbs for my undergraduate degree, where I studied biology and computer science. Continuing this path, I got a PhD at Cornell in computational biology and then went back to Boston for a postdoc at Harvard, where I studied network science and computational sociology.

Alongside all of this, I began writing for popular audiences about science. I just finished my first book, The Half-Life of Facts, which will be published at the end of September.

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

My career has been rather strange and at the interstitial parts of the sciences.

Soon after I began my PhD at Cornell, I realized that while I enjoyed the mathematical and computational models of biology, I wanted to use these models to understand social systems. I moved more into understanding network science and how people interact and collaborate, especially when it comes to scientific progress.

Happily, my committee was very supportive of this shift and allowed me to do some highly interdisciplinary research, even including some applied mathematical analysis of baseball hitting streaks.

After finishing graduate school, I continued in a postdoc where I had the opportunity to continue doing network science research, as well as applied math work into collaboration and scientific progress more generally.

In parallel, I had been slowly nurturing my writing hobby. I got a first taste of this when I wrote about my baseball research with my grad school adviser Steve Strogatz in the New York Times. After moving to Boston, I began writing for the Ideas section of the Boston Globe. Ideas is one of those amazing sections of the paper that don’t really exist anywhere else, but is enormously important. As lucky as I’ve been in my academic career to be given the freedom to play with lots of different topics, Ideas gave me the freedom to play with a lot of crazy ideas as well (everything from how to name a scientific constant to fantasy geopolitics). Lastly, they gave me the space to write a short essay about the pace at which facts change around us, and coin the term mesofact.

This essay gave way to the book that is being published at the end of September, The Half-Life of Facts, which I am really excited about and is a fun repository of all the disparate knowledge I have lodged in my brain.

Due to my interdisciplinary research and my interest in writing for popular audiences, I knew that I would not fit particularly well in traditional academia. While I conducted the traditional job search at the conclusion of my postdoc, I was extremely excited when the Kauffman Foundation – a private foundation devoted to entrepreneurship, innovation, and education – approached me about joining as a Senior Scholar. At Kauffman I was given the opportunity to pursue my interdisciplinary research unhindered by departmental boundaries, do loads of popular writing, and in general indulge my interests. I jumped at the opportunity and as I start my second year here, I am very happy with my decision.

Since joining the Kauffman Foundation, I have worked on understanding cities and how they are related to innovation and science. I am also involved with trying to understand the future of science, tied in with understanding how knowledge changes more generally.

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

The biggest project right is now my book, which is devoted to the science behind how knowledge changes. But more generally related to how knowledge works, I am focusing on the future of science, and trying to understand the types of institutions that we need in order to foster the types of activities that are truly valuable for science.

In addition, I am continuing my work on cities and innovation, from an applied mathematics perspective.

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

Blogging is a big portion of my work. My job at Kauffman involves spreading ideas, exploring various concepts and topics, and representing the Kauffman Foundation. Kauffman is very supportive of my blogging at Wired, as well as my use of Twitter and other social media. All of these connect me with a great and varied community, and allow me to maintain a network of colleagues.

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’ve been reading science blogs in an inconsistent way for a long time, and I have been blogging at least sporadically since at least 2007. However, one turning point in my understanding of the incredible community inherent in science blogs where I first read Bora’s epic post after PepsiGate.

Since then, I read many different blogs, though I still get my links to articles in an inconsistent way (mainly from Twitter). But if I had to single any blogs out, I would say that Tim de Chant’s Per Square Mile and Dave Ng’s Popperfont are great and well worth reading.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2012 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 was meeting in person everyone I had interacted with online. I think there was only one person at scio12 who I had met in person before; everyone else I knew through Twitter, email, or even just by reputation. So being able to interact face-to-face with all these amazing people was something close to magic.

Thank you! See you in January!

ScienceOnline2012 – interview with Adrian Down

Every year I ask some of the attendees of the ScienceOnline conferences to tell me (and my readers) more about themselves, their careers, current projects and their views on the use of the Web in science, science education or science communication. So now we continue with the participants of ScienceOnline2012. See all the interviews in this series here.

Today my guest is Adrian Down.

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

If you asked me five years ago where I’d be today, my predictions would come nowhere close to the truth.  I’m currently a graduate student at Duke University getting a Ph.D. in ecology.  Five years ago, I was farming in the jungles of Hawaii.  I had just spent four years in California getting bachelors degrees in physics and mathematics from UC Berkeley.  All I knew at the time was that my experiences teaching and working with plants provided more fulfillment than a career as a physicist seemed to promise.  It was my passion for plants that led me to Hawaii’s Big Island.

With no electricity to power a computer and the nearest approximation of night life 20 miles of rutted gravel road away, I had a lot of time to read and think once the sun went down in the jungle.  The longer I spent farming, the more I thought about data.  If we knew which plants were performing best in what conditions, we could optimize farm design, create thriving hybrid agricultural and natural ecosystems.  The farm was my lab, and I wanted numbers to crunch.  It was then that I realized I am a terminal scientist.  For some of us, you can take the scientist out of the lab, but you can’t take the scientific method out of the scientist.  When I decided to come back to academia, ecology was an obvious choice, given my fascination with the continuum between natural and agricultural ecosystems in Hawaii.

I went back to school to study sustainable agriculture.  These days, I study methane.  Specifically, I’m developing techniques to “fingerprint” methane sources.  If you’ve got high methane concentrations and you want to know where that methane is coming from, I can help you.  There are a lot of sources of methane to the atmosphere, including wetlands, cows and other ruminants, landfills, and leaks in natural gas infrastructure.  Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, so a comparatively small reduction in methane emissions can have a large climate change benefit.  Understanding where methane is coming from is an important step in reducing emissions.

My transition from agro-eocology to biogeochemistry wasn’t because of cows’ prodigious methane production.  I got involved with methane because my Ph.D. advisor, Rob Jackson, started researching hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, a relatively new technique for extracting natural gas from deep in the Earth.  There are a number of things that swayed me to my current course of study.  In the course of my current degree, I’m learning a variety of tools and lab techniques that are broadly applicable to a number of systems.  I think (or maybe I should say, “I hope” ) there are ways to apply some of these same techniques in a more agricultural context in the future.  I also get to do research that can have immediate and positive impact on policy and, ultimately, both climate change and human health.  The United States is experiencing a once-in-a-generation transition in our energy source from coal to natural gas, and it’s exciting to be on the cutting edge of research in that area.

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

Working in the context of a contentious issue like fracking means that communication is an essential part of what we do in my research group.  I’ve been interested in scientific communication ever since I started working with high school students in Oakland and San Francisco while at UC Berkeley.  Teaching has been a passion of mine ever since I got my feet wet in college, and I used to relish the challenge of communicating complex ideas from physics in a clear and engaging way.  Physics needs communicators because its a field many see as intimidatingly complex and frighteningly difficult.  Now, I work on a topic that is socially, rather than mathematically, complex and can be frighteningly contentiousness.  For some, this would be a nightmare, but for me, I take it as part of my training as a scientist.  I don’t know yet what I want to do with my Ph.D., but I hope that my future career is centered around scientific communication in some form or another.

We are in the unique position that we have to do most of our communicating and explaining to the general public, rather than to other scientists.  The web is absolutely essential in this regard.  Almost all of the discussion of fracking, including our science, takes place online.  As with many contentious issues, some people seek out information that supports their point of view and ignore other information.  I have seen research from our group be interpreted in diametrically opposed ways by people with different opinions.

Seeing the varying reactions to our research has left me with some lasting lessons in science communication.  The first is that simply putting science in the public domain is not enough.  Without some knowledgable interpretation, its very easy for scientific conclusions to be misunderstood or taken out of context.  The second is that we as scientists can no longer rely solely upon the news media to convey our findings or their meaning to the public.  We need to engage more directly with new media, such as blogs and social media, if we want to have any hope of staying relevant to the public.  These are the means by which people are increasingly acquiring information and forming opinions.

How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work?

On a personal level, science blogs are how I keep up with the world of science.  As a confirmed science nerd and inveterate triviaphile, I read widely outside my field.  A good science blog post, at least for my tastes, explains results and conclusions with added context and without the jargon that can make reading outside my field challenging.  I scan a number of science blog feeds and read in the neighborhood of five to ten posts daily.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2012 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 2012 was a valuable experience for me.  I got to meet with some of the people behind the blogs I enjoy and whose writing I admire, like Ed Yong.  Through the workshops, I learned some of their techniques to their success.  It was interesting to me to notice the distinctive culture of science writing, which is different than that of academic science.  As a scientist interested in communication with the public, and with science bloggers as one mediator of that conversation, its helpful for me to understand the differences between the professional cultures of these two professions.  Understanding one’s audience can lead to better communication, even when the audience isn’t the public directly.

The one thing that I would like to see more of at future conferences is interaction between scientists, science writers, and educators who could make use of science blogs as a part of science education curricula.  I think science blogs and social media can bring science to younger students in a way that is more intuitive to how they are used to interacting with news and information.  People who realize they can follow scientific discoveries without an advanced science background are potentially more apt to stay engaged with and value science as a form of inquiry.  Science literacy and the ability to interpret claims based on scientific data are hugely important to an informed public discourse.  Science blogs are one avenue for members of the public to stay informed and thereby be better equipped to evaluate how science is used by non-scientists to promote ideas or make policy decisions.  Getting scientists, science writers, and educators together can help improve the process of getting engaging science to the public, especially students, who need scientific literacy now more than ever.

Thank you! I hope to see you again in January.

Blogging and social media on Rhode Island

If you closely follow my updates here and on social media, you may have caught that I gave a lecture and two workshops last week at the Metcalf Institute for Marine & Environmental Reporting in Kingston, RI, organized in partnership with Rhode Island NSF Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (RIEPSCoR) and Rhode Island Sea Grant. The event was on July 30 at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography.

I had a great time – the audience was active, inquisitive and asked great questions. My lecture was losely based on this post, providing more of a historical context for the two workshops (one on blogging, one on social media) which were much more practical (and for which this wiki is probably the best resource to start with, rather than a series of my fractured and over-involved blog posts on the topics which are more suited for people already deeply steeped in blogging and social media).

In the afternoon, John Murphy from Brown University talked about behaving professionally online, especially as a “face” of an organization, about legal aspects of online communication within an organization, and about best practices for balancing professional and personal in social media. The day ended with a panel on blogging during graduate school, with Daniel Blustein, Katie PhD and BiochemBelle, all three veteran active users of blogs and social media.

Unfortunately, the audio of the video recording did not function well, so there will be no video posted online, but there are tweets and blog posts that can help you see what transpired on that day:

#riscweet! How to Effectively Communicate Science on the Web, a Storify of tweets by Viet Le

URI Sci Comms Day with Bora Zivkovic, sketchnotes by Katie PhD.

The art and craft of science blogging, blog post by Daniel Blustein.

Leading Science Blogger Shares Social Media Tools, summary article at URI’s Metcalf Institute for Marine & Environmental Reporting website.

Science Communication in the Digital Age: #riscweet! How to Effectively Communicate Science on the Web, another summary article at URI’s Metcalf Institute for Marine & Environmental Reporting website.

Thank you Sunshine Menezes and Sara MacSorley for inviting me and for excellent organization of the event. I had great fun.

The Scienceblogging Weekly (August 4th, 2012)

Blog of the Week:

Beatrice the Biologist says this about itself: it is “part science blog, part comic, and part incoherent rambling: science edutainment at its finest.” Written – or rather drawn – by Katie McKissick, each post is a visual delight and will make you chuckle…and learn.

 

Top 10:

Gavin’s Story: Whole Exome Sequencing Finds Mystery Mutation by Ricki Lewis:

In a hotel ballroom on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania on a midsummer Saturday in 2010, an unusual roll call was under way at the Family Conference for the Foundation for Retinal Research. Betsy Brint, co-head of organization, was calling out what sounded like code words – CEP290, GUCY20, LRAT – and for each one, a few people would stand up, excited, then form little groups. After all 18 abbreviations had been called, representing the genes known to cause Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA), a few sets of parents were left standing. Troy and Jennifer Stevens, of Chino, California, were among those whose childrens’ genes and mutations were still a mystery….

Alain de Botton Tries Hand at Sex, Fails by AV Flox:

…..The next sections jump into “evolutionary-biological interpretation,” which we took to mean science, and which gave us the distinct impression that the author’s research of sex stopped at the work of William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson instead of starting there. That’s not surprising, though. ….

Even Deadly Snakes and Monkey Shit Couldn’t Stop Me From Excavating Maya Ruins in the Jungle by Charles Choi:

Snakes. In the ancient Maya ruins where I’m working at with archaeologists, the creatures we fear most are probably the snakes. That fact might sound like the punchline to an Indiana Jones joke, until you hear about the most dreaded serpent here in the jungles of Belize. The fer-de-lance is likely the deadliest snake in Latin America, packing an amputate-if-you’re-lucky bite if it goes untreated. Its long fangs can go right through a boot, and it’s aggressive – unlike many snakes that seem more afraid of us than we are of them, the fer-de-lance won’t hesitate to strike. ….

The importance of being Aquaman, or how to save the Atlantean from his briny fate by Andrew Thaler:

….There’s no way around it. Even with the huge amounts of heat Aquaman would produce as he burned through his daily 48,000 Calories, he is going to get cold. With little body fat and no fur to speak of, his heat retention potential is pitiful. Fortunately, there are plenty of simple solutions to the thermal problem. Unfortunately, almost all of them involve visible changes to his physique….

Moths, Memory, and Motivation by James Hathaway:

….We quickly found out that something that seemed simple – catching a bunch of pretty colored insects and putting them in boxes – was actually demanding and nearly endlessly complex and mysterious. A lot of the butterflies that were the coolest, the rarest, the most beautiful, lived in strange places – treetops, the edges of swamps and streams, sunlit clearings in deep woods – and only flew in certain seasons and specific times of the day – early spring, late afternoon. We learned why – mating rituals, foodplant availability, lifecycle requirements. We didn’t just read, we observed. We learned that the books were not always right – insects are really variable and behave differently in different locales. We developed hypotheses, collected information that supported or contradicted them. We learned, at least concerning a couple dozen species of butterflies in the part of upstate New York where we lived, how nature worked. Nature taught us the science we needed to use, and science taught us what there was to know. (Not that we knew enough to call it “science, “ of course.) It was like the world had opened up. ….

Pain Control by Shara Yurkiewicz:

She had only been in the hospital twice in her life: once when she was nine and now, 60 years later. She had gotten tonsils out then. She was getting tumors out now. Her abdomen hurt when she was awake. Her abdomen would also hurt during exploratory surgery, although she wouldn’t be able to feel it under general anesthesia. Her body would feel it, though, and could respond by dangerously spiking or plunging her vitals. She needed an epidural before surgery to keep the pain under control…..

Bad Chemistry by Deborah Blum:

The start of the story is this: In December 2008, a 23-year-old research assistant named Sheri Sangji accidentally set herself on fire while working in a chemistry laboratory at the University of California, Los Angeles. She died 18 days later in a hospital burn unit….

Is Childhood Pertussis Vaccine Less Effective Than We Thought? by Maryn McKenna:

Delicately and cautiously, health authorities in the United States and other countries are beginning to open up a difficult topic: Whether the extraordinary ongoing epidemic of whooping cough, the worst in more than 50 years, may be due in part to unexpected poor performance by the vaccine meant to prevent the disease….

Meet the people who keep your lights on and Blackout: What’s wrong with the American grid by Maggie Koerth-Baker:

Power was restored today in India, where more than 600 million people had been living without electricity for two days. That’s good news, but it’s left many Americans wondering whether our own electric grid is vulnerable. Here’s the good news: The North American electric grid is not likely to crash in the kind of catastrophic way we’ve just seen in India. I’m currently interviewing scientists about the weaknesses in our system and what’s being done to fix them and will have more on that for you tomorrow or Friday….

New OCD Symptom: Tail Chasing by Elizabeth Preston:

…Dogs with compulsion may pace, chase imaginary flies, or lick their flanks until they get sores, despite their owners’ best efforts to make them stop. Certain breeds are especially vulnerable. A staple of canine compulsion is tail chasing, which frequently strikes bull terriers and German shepherds. On one forum, user MatrixsDad complains that his German shepherd “is constantly chasing and barking at her tail…She comes up and puts her backside against anyone who’s standing around so she can get a better view of her tail before she starts chasing it.”…

 

Special topic 1: Jonah Lehrer

Jonah Lehrer’s Deceptions by Michael C. Moynihan

Jonah Lehrer Resigns From The New Yorker After Making Up Dylan Quotes for His Book by JULIE BOSMAN

The deception ratchet by Bradley Voytek

Jonah Lehrer, Bob Dylan, and journalistic unquotations and More unquotations from the New Yorker by Mark Liberman

Neuroscience author resigns from The New Yorker after admitting to fabricating Dylan quotes. by Paul Raeburn

Jonah Lehrer’s Grievous Oraculism by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Jonah Lehrer throws it all away by Roxane Gay

How we decide (to falsify). by Janet D. Stemwedel

Original thoughts? by Eva Amsen

Can cheaters repent? by Christie Aschwanden

Jonah Lehrer debacle lesson: Do your homework by Randy Lewis

‘It’s hard to start at the top,’ says Sharon Waxman of Jonah Lehrer by Steve Myers

What Jonah Lehrer reveals about popular science writing by Daniel Bor

Jonah Lehrer Turned His Back On Science by Khalil A. Cassimally

15 Minutes of Meaning for Jonah Lehrer by Alexis Madrigal

Why I Still Really Like Jonah Lehrer by J.S. Adams

On Bob Dylan And Jonah Lehrer, Two Fabulists by Ann Powers

Jonah Lehrer’s missing compass by Seth Mnookin

 

Special topic 2: Algebra

Abandoning Algebra Is Not the Answer by Evelyn Lamb

Does mathematics have a place in higher education? by Cathy O’Neil

When Andrew Hacker asks “Is Algebra Necessary?”, why doesn’t he just ask “Is High School Necessary?” by Rob Knop

Yes, algebra is necessary by Daniel Willingham

Why Algebra Matters (and Why Andrew Hacker is Off-Target) by RiShawn Biddle

“Is Algebra Necessary?” Are You High? by Blake Stacey

A modest proposal by PZ Myers

Algebra Is Necessary, But What About How It’s Taught? by Melanie Tannenbaum

It’s Not the Algebra, It’s the Arithmetic by Mike the Mad Biologist

On Algebra, High Expectations, and the Common Core by Dana Goldstein

The end of algebra by Alexandra Petri

Mathematical Illiteracy in the NYT by Mark C. Chu-Carroll

In Defense of Algebra by Evelyn Lamb

Scientific American Math Doc Defends Algebra Ed by Steve Mirsky

Why We Need m(x)+b: A Response to “Is Algebra Necessary?” by Erik Kimel

 

Best Images:

Macro photographs of snails and insects in the rain by Vadim Trunov

An ant that protects herself with… um… butt foam and More hanging larvae by Alex Wild

URI Sci Comms Day with Bora Zivkovic by Katie, PhD

Teaching Molecular Biology with Watercolors by Rachel Nuwer

Could a Whale-Powered Bus Be the Future of Transportation? by Rachel Nuwer

Hypogean Wildstyle: Dominik Strzelec’s Byzantine Geology by Paul Prudence

Quite Possibly the Cutest (Accurate) Dinosaur Illustration Ever by Annalee Newitz

 

Best Videos:

Watch 131 Years of Global Warming in 26 Seconds by Climate Central

Women in science … on television?!? Evidently not by Emily Willingham

Is There Life On Mars? by KPCC

Ben Goldacre at TEDMED 2012 by TEDMED

London Plague of 1665 by Michelle Ziegler

Field Biology: setting and baiting traps by DNLee

Twitter Algorithm Predicts When You’ll Get Sick (8 Days In Advance, With 90% Accuracy) [STUDY] by Shea Bennett

Curiosity (the New Mars Rover) Explained by phdcomics

100 Gallons: Reflections From A Nation Powered By Water by Powering A Nation

Best Anole Documentary Ever by Jonathan Losos

Sight by Eran May-raz and Daniel Lazo

How Did Apollo Astronauts Learn to Land on the Moon? by Amy Shira Teitel

 

Science:

Antibodies found in Peruvians suggest natural resistance to rabies in local vampire bats and NIH emerges with new emergency medicine research hub by Kathleen Raven

What’s next for scientific teaching? by Zen Faulkes

Deep-sea squid can break off all its arms onto an enemy by Ed Yong

Catching Fraud: Simonsohn Says and Why Don’t Social Scientists Want To Be Read? and Social Science and Language, Again and DSM-5 R.I.P? by Neuroskeptic

If You Compare Yourself With Michael Phelps, Will You Become A Better Swimmer? and We Won. They Lost. by Melanie Tannenbaum

A trustworthy guide to black hole astronomy by Matthew Francis

Velcro Hairs Allow Ants to Hang Their Larvae by Alex Wild

I, For One, Welcome Our New Fishy Overlords by Ian O’Neill

Is this study the bane of crypto-zoologists? by Esther Inglis-Arkell

Vacation Adventure: The La Brea Tar Pits by Erin Podolak

Are climate sceptics more likely to be conspiracy theorists? by Adam Corner

Michael Phelps, Losing the 400IM, and His Taper by Daniel Lende

What Is the Nocebo Effect? by Joseph Stromberg

Why do women leave science? by Zinemin

Muller is still rubbish by William M. Connolley

Breakthrough: The First Complete Computer Model of a Living Organism by George Dvorsky

How The Fukushima Exclusion Zone Shows Us What Comes After The Anthropocene by Colin Schultz

Interdisciplinarity, Heritability, and Public Policy by Kris Hardies

Why Dogs Chase Laser Beams (and Why It Can Drive Them Nuts) by Natalie Wolchover

The Hunter Hunted: Searching for the Body of an Anatomist by Lindsey Fitzharris

The Devil’s Technology by Ross Chapman

Lives of the Deaf by Jaipreet Virdi

Clouding the Olympic issue, China style by Claire

I want to ration your health care by PalMD

Galápagos Redux: When Is It OK to Kill Goats? by Virginia Hughes, Michelle Nijhuis and Jason G. Goldman

Broken heartland: The looming collapse of agriculture on the Great Plains by Wil S. Hylton

Why Experts are Almost Always Wrong by Rose Eveleth

Work-Life Balance for Whom? by Athene Donald

Stiletto snakes by Andrew Durso

New Lights to Help ISS Astronauts Stay Alert by Liat Clark

The Vomit-Inducing Gemini 8 Mission and NASA’s Manned Grand Tour of the Inner Planets by Amy Shira Teitel

Artificial Beginnings: Understanding the Origin of Life by Recreating It by Eric Sawyer

To know a tiger is at least to start tolerating them, study shows and Tigers, people, and finding ways for both to thrive by Sue Nichols

Higgs Discovery: Personal Reflections by Matt Strassler

Did Gymnast Jordyn Wieber Perform Too Soon? In Olympic scoring, the last shall be first. by Karla Starr

Chop Like A Girl by Michelle Nijhuis

Curiosity readies for dramatic entrance and Mission control before the party and Curiosity to look for habitable environs by Nadia Drake

Why is Pluto not a planet? by Tristan Avella

Once upon a time: The possible story of viruses by Audrey Richard

How to pronounce “Muller’s Ratchet” by Jon Wilkins

The evolution of music by James Gaines

Sex testing and the Olympics: myths, rumours and confirmation bias by Vanessa Heggie

Light Pollution’s Potentially Harmful Effects Highlighted In New Film by Lynne Peoples

Taking the scenic route by Kelly Slivka

wesome Harry Potter Fan Decodes Wizarding Genetics: It’s All About Trinucleotide Repeats by Susana Polo

How the Elephant Makes Its Rumble by Veronique Greenwood

Swiss sheep to be outfitted to cry ‘wolf’ by text message by Agence France-Presse

TGIPF: Sex When You Can’t Hang On by Erik Vance

Human cycles: History as science by Laura Spinney

A HOT topic in transit by Taylor Kubota

Stiletto snakes by Andrew Durso

 

Media, Publishing, Technology and Society:

Imagining a ‘World Without Patents’… by Mark Summerfield

Five years as a science blogger – my experiences and how it began by Stephan Schleim

9 Reasons Why Running A Science Blog Is Good For You by Julio Peironcely

Top ten tips for blogging for scientists by Paul Knoepfler

The art and craft of science blogging by Daniel Blustein

Science Reporting Gone Wrong by Paige Brown

Reddit as a Science Outreach Tool by Brian Kahn

Setting Sail Toward a Science Communications Career by Liz Neeley

Journalists slow the environmental debate by Mari Kildahl

The journalistic method: Making the jump from science to journalism by Jessica Morrison

Does journalistic ‘balance’ hurt America? by Trudy Lieberman

The missing millions of Kibera and Kidnapped at birth and Grandma Obama’s support for domestic violence by Martin Robbins

#riscweet! How to Effectively Communicate Science on the Web by Viet Le

A New Age for Truth by Craig Silverman

Big data is our generation’s civil rights issue, and we don’t know it by Alistair Croll

 

Blogs of the Week so far:

May 11, 2012: Academic Panhandling
May 18, 2012: Anole Annals
May 25th, 2012: Better Posters
June 1st, 2012: Vintage Space
June 8th, 2012: Tanya Khovanova’s Math Blog
June 15th, 2012: Russlings
June 22nd, 2012: Parasite of the Day
June 29th, 2012: March of the Fossil Penguins
July 6th, 2012: Musings of a Dinosaur
July 13th, 2012: Contagions
July 21th, 2012: Life is short, but snakes are long
July 27th, 2012: Science Decoded

Best of July at A Blog Around The Clock

I posted 14 times in July. That is, on A Blog Around The Clock only (not counting the posts on The Network Central, The SA Incubator, Video of the Week, Image of the Week, or editing Guest Blog and Expeditions).

Brand new posts:

Science Blogs – definition, and a history
New research center in Madagascar opens today

Updates, News and Announcements:

Who is here around the clock?
Some upcoming events.

ScienceOnline interviews:

ScienceOnline2012 – interview with Trevor Owens
ScienceOnline2012 – interview with Emily Buehler
ScienceOnline2012 – interview with Kaitlin Vandemark
ScienceOnline2012 – interview with Michelle Sipics
ScienceOnline2012 – interview with Bug Girl

Best-of-the-Web linkfests:

The Scienceblogging Weekly (July 6th, 2012)
The Scienceblogging Weekly (July 13th, 2012)
The Scienceblogging Weekly (July 21th, 2012)
The Scienceblogging Weekly (July 27th, 2012)

Previously in the “Best of…” series:

2012

June
May
April
March
February
January

2011

December
November
October
September
August
July
June
May
April
March
February
January

2010

December
November
October
September
August
July
June
May
April
March
February
January

2009

December
November
October
September
August
July
June
May
April
March
February
January

The Scienceblogging Weekly (July 27th, 2012)

Blog of the Week:

Science Decoded is a wonderful mix of science, book reviews, and thoughts about the media, written by Erin Podolak, alumna of the University of Wisconsin program for Science Journalism, and now a science writer for The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

 

Top 10:

A Killer Without Regret by Deborah Blum:

In the summer of 1920, a 29-year-old son of Minnesota farmers docked his boat (acquired with stolen money) at a small island in New York City’s East River. One by one he hired out-of-work sailors to crew for him. And one by one, he shot them in the head with a Colt .45 and dumped their bodies in the water. Before he was executed in 1930, Carl Panzram put the sailor body tally at 10 although he estimated that was only about half his total murder count. “For all these things, I am not in the least sorry,” he wrote in a jail house confessional. “I was so full of hate that there was no room in me for such feelings as love, pity, kindness or honor or decency.”…

The marathon & Olympic movement on Huffington Post by Greg Downey:

Many people think they know the story of the very first ‘marathon.’ Pheidippides, reputedly the fastest man in the Greek army, allegedly ran from the battlefield at Marathon twenty-five miles to Athens in 490 BCE to announce a Greek victory over the invading Persians. Bolting into the Athenian assembly, he shouted, νικωμεν (nikomen), ‘We have won!’ and promptly keeled over dead….

Galápagos Monday: The People Problem by Virginia Hughes:

…Two-thirds of the jobs on the islands are in the service sector. The tourists come, of course, because of the amazing plants and animals. They contribute money directly to conservation efforts, and their patronage boots the economy and allows the government to set up its own conservation management systems. That’s all great, except — more people also means more: ships, construction, roads, vehicles, hotels, restaurants, water and energy use, garbage, and sewage. All of that threatens the habitats and health of the plants and animals. In other words, the whole thing is unsustainable. The growing economy in the Galápagos is simultaneously supporting more science and conservation efforts and destroying the things that need to be studied and conserved. The economy is eating itself….

Geometry Proves Sheep Are Selfish Jerks by Elizabeth Preston:

Sometimes what looks like friendly behavior is really an attempt to get one’s neighbor eaten by a wolf before oneself. Sheep, for instance, seem cozy enough in their flocks. What’s a better way to travel than surrounded by 100 percent merino? But the real reason they stick close to their neighbors is to save their own woolly rear ends…

Noisy sex means death for flies if bats are listening by Ed Yong:

Some folks just can’t help being loud in bed, but noisy liaisons can lead to a swift death… at least for a housefly. In a German cowshed, Natterer’s bats eavesdrop on mating flies, homing in on their distinctive sexual buzzes….

Wisconsin frac sand sites double by Kate Prengaman:

Tucked behind a hill in rural Trempealeau County, farmland undergoes an industrial transformation. Outside this city of 1,300, Preferred Sands turns Wisconsin’s sandy soil into a hot commodity. A wall of green trees opens to a vast expanse of sand buzzing with activity. Excavators mine and conveyors carry the sand from towering stockpiles up into the processing plant. Every week, this facility ships 7,500 tons of sand by rail to oil and gas fields in Texas, North Dakota and Pennsylvania. …

Language Serves the Group by Edmund Blair Bolles:

Steven Pinker has posted an important essay on group selection. You can gather its thesis from the title, “The False Allure of Group Selection.” Since I am on record saying that group selection (really, multilevel selection) was critical to the evolution of language, I read the essay with strong interest. Let me say right off that I was astonished to find that the essay makes no remarks about the evolution of language. Pinker is a famous proponent of language’s evolutionary origins and biological basis, but he says nothing of group selection and language. Instead he criticizes ideas that group selection explains religion, culture, and nations. I am skeptical of those claims too. Pinker is a fine writer and I got several chuckles out of his examination of various shallow appeals to group selection. Was I laughing at my own doom?…

Ending the AIDS epidemic by John Rennie:

Thirty-one years into the HIV epidemic, health authorities are finally starting to sound hopeful about the prospects for curbing it. If that sentence sounds bitter or sarcastic, it isn’t meant to be. Rather, it’s an honest assessment of how long and frequently depressing the era of HIV and AIDS has been, and of how much misery it has spawned. But it also acknowledges reasons to think that maybe, just maybe that’s beginning to change….

Ending U.S. chimpanzee laboratories will save chimpanzee research by Brian Hare:

…The non-lab research model has now become the dominant research model. In my area of research a collection of just five zoos and African sanctuaries recently published more scientific papers in higher impact journals than all five active U.S. chimpanzee laboratories. These non-lab researchers contributed data relevant to fighting HIV, Malaria, Parkinson’s, Autism, Alzheimer’s, and a myriad of other human ailments. They did this while studying chimpanzees that live life freely in extremely enriched environments. …

One way to successfully invade a habitat: eat the competition by Jeremy Yoder:

The Asian Harlequin ladybug, Harmonia axyridis, eats aphids like they’re Popplers, and it’s been repeatedly introduced into the U.S. and Europe to do exactly that. But since it was first introduced, H. axyridis has spread of its own accord, and displaced native ladybugs. This isn’t just because the Harlequin ladybug eats more aphids, or breeds faster, than the locals; it looks like part of the Harlequin’s success is due to the fact that it eats its native competition….

 

Special topic: Sally Ride

American Astronaut Sally Ride Dies at 61 by John Matson

Remembering Sally Ride by Nadia Drake

Sally Ride’s Astronaut Class Completely Changed NASA’s Demographics by Amy Shira Teitel

What Sally Ride Did For STEM Education by Austin Carr

Sally Ride’s Space Flight Was Not Exactly A Great Moment for Feminism by Laura Helmuth

The Women Who Would Have Been Sally Ride by Alexis Madrigal

Rest in peace, Sally Ride by Matthew Francis

First Female U.S. Astronaut, Sally Ride, Comes Out In Obituary by Chris Geidner

Sally Ride by The AstroDyke

Why Aren’t There Any Openly Gay Astronauts? by Natalie Wolchover

Thank you, Sally Ride by Meg Urry

 

Best Images:

Sketching at the American Museum of Natural History by Marissa Fessenden

Manatees by Jen Richards

Sunday Morning Anole Cartoon by Rich Glor

Anole Photo Of The Day by Jonathan Losos

Sharks, Art, and Conservation by Heather Goldstone

Dapper Days in China by peacay

 

Best Videos:

MIT video models airports most likely to spread diseases by Kathleen Raven

Leprosy Facts: Ancient Disease Still In Our Midst by Cara Santa Maria

The Art of Hatching by Allison DeVan

Bear Cam: Watch Brown Bears Catch Salmon in Alaska by Tanya Lewis

Why Whales are Weird by Joy Reidenberg

Ask Jay Rosen Anything: What Does Political Journalism Get Wrong? Get Right? by Andrew Sullivan

Olympicene – Periodic Table of Videos by periodicvideos

 

Science:

Science on crack: the chemistry of illegal drugs, 1 by Puff the Mutant Dragon

The International AIDS Conference Returns: So Much Still To Do by Maryn McKenna

“We took a rat apart and rebuilt it as a jellyfish.” and Aging termites put on suicide backpacks full of chemical weapons by Ed Yong

How Do You Choke Away the British Open? The Science of the Tight Collar by David Dobbs

A Brief History of the Eustachian Tube and The Catheter by Jaipreet Virdi

The Secret Life of Western Corn Rootworm Beetles by James Hamblin

Soccer’s Big Data Revolution by Khalil A. Cassimally

FDA advisory panel looks positively on new eye drug by Kathleen Raven

Autism Outreach on Wheels: Students Design Mobile Clinic for A.J. Drexel Autism Institute by Rachel Ewing

Batman Movies Don’t Kill. But They’re Friendly to the Concept. and Batman Returns: How Culture Shapes Muddle Into Madness by David Dobbs

Inside the Minds of Mass Killers by Daniel Lende

How Urban Parks Enhance Your Brain by Eric Jaffe

World’s Coolest Animal Bridges and Should Dolphins and Whales Have Human Rights? by Rachel Nuwer

How Aldous Huxley, 118 Today, Predicted the Present Far More Accurately than George Orwell and Mapping Afghanistan’s Geology from Really, Really Far Away by Rose Eveleth

There is no greenhouse effect by Robert Grumbine

And Finally the Hounding Duck Can Rest by Carl Zimmer

What’s next for scientific teaching? by Zen Faulkes

Speciation in Bears by Larry Moran

Scientists make curing HIV a priority by Erin Loury

New Study Suggests Humans, Not Climate, Killed Off Neanderthals by Colin Schultz

When Bad Theories Happen to Good Scientists by Matt Ridley

Lemurs Most Threatened Mammals on the Planet by Karl Leif Bates

A year of anarchy in science by Michael Brooks

The Secrets of Geek Mating Rituals by Annalee Newitz

On Leaving Academia by Terran Lane

How Not to Counsel Smokers by Lucy E. Hornstein

The Colorado shooting suspect: how “smart?” by David Kroll

Why don’t we consume dairy products from mammals that aren’t cows? by Benjamin Phelan

Can Sleep Deprivation Cause Psychotic Behaviour? by Romeo Vitelli

Is Mythology Like Facebook? by John Bohannon

Crossing valleys in fitness landscapes by Bjørn Østman

How NFL and NBA cheerleaders and citizen scientists came together. by Darlene Cavalier

Unraveling the left brain/right brain theory by Amanda Mascarelli

The Aurora Shootings and The Mean World Syndrome by David Ropeik

What is this “Mass Spectrometer”? by Penny Higgins

Shark Teeth Have Built-In Toothpaste by Jennifer Viegas

Meet the Skeptics: Why Some Doubt Biomedical Models – and What it Takes to Win Them Over by Kristin Sainani

The Stoneflies: Old or New? by Christopher Taylor

Wrong for the Right Reasons by Matthew Martyniuk

Search Trends Reveal Sexual Seasons and A Case Study in Voodoo Genetics by Neuroskeptic

The brewer’s yoke, the domestication of microbes by A Schooner of Science

The horrible truth about Spiderman’s Anatomy by Bug Girl

Nixon’s Contingency Plan for a Failed Apollo 11 by Amy Shira Teitel

Once an Archaeologist…? Plan B Careers in Archaeology by Becky Wragg Sykes

Diagnosing the Killer in Colorado by Deborah Blum

Olympic Physics: Tennis and Olympic Physics: Diving by Matt Shipman

It Takes an 8-Year-Old to Outsmart a Crow by Elizabeth Preston

Why You Can’t Fake A Good Horn by Carl Zimmer

“The Redder the Better” . . . Sometimes by Anne-Marie Hodge

Exploring the Mind of the Mountain Gorilla by Kimberly Gerson

Cuts loom for US science by Ivan Semeniuk & Helen Thompson

Skepticism And The Second Enlightenment by Kyle Hill

Greenland Melt Was Predicted In Advance By Paper Awaiting Publication by Dan Satterfield

Drought hurts shipping industry, raises prices by Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato

Olympic Pseudoscience by Steven Novella

Velcro Hairs Allow Ants to Hang Their Larvae by Alex Wild

Circadian Rhythms: Our Eyes, Our Rhythms by Anita Slomski

Scientists in North Carolina will take close look at ants from Chicago by Jessica M. Morrison

DIYBio: Placenta Stem Cells for Research and More by Ada Ao

Beginnings – three simple words by Pete Etchells

Why climate change doesn’t spark moral outrage, and how it could by David Roberts

TGIPF: The Bed Bug and His Violent Penis by Brooke Borel

 

Media, Publishing, Technology and Society:

The Making of PeerJ and Open Science, SciBarCamp and Les Horribles Cernettes by Graham Steel

Thomas Friedman’s Lessons for Anthropologists by Daniel Lende and Greg Downey

ABC News: armchair psychologist: The network offers irresponsible speculation about the Colorado shooter by Curtis Brainard

How We Play Today by Jamie Rosenberg and George Myers

Anatomy of a Zombie Lie… by Tom Levenson

Grief in the Age of Social Media by Callie Schweitzer

A Self-Made Man Looks At How He Made It by John Scalzi

Another science startup that’s changing how research is done. An interview with Elizabeth Iorns of Science Exchange. by William Gunn

If you email it, they will comment and No Comment? by Ethan Perlstein

Blogging expertise by Zen Faulkes

Explaining the news through song: A personal case study by David Holmes

Taming the Impact Factor by Iddo Friedberg

The dark side of data by Mike Loukides

The Death Of SEO: The Rise of Social, PR, And Real Content by Ken Krogue

Blogging, Tweeting, and Other Digital Activities: A Beginner’s Guide to the Internet for Early-career Scholars by Melinda Baldwin

Enduring lessons from being fired 20 years ago by Steve Buttry

Social Media and the Science Classroom, a Twitter Discussion by Michele Arduengo

What Users do with PLOS ONE Papers by Martin Fenner

The Great Sieve: This Is What Browsing Scientific Research Looks Like by Rebecca J. Rosen

Content Factor: A Measure of a Journal’s Contribution to Knowledge by Joseph Bernstein and Chancellor F. Gray

Meet Lena Groeger: @ProPublica’s newest news app developer by Elizabeth R. Miller

Who should see what when? Three principles for personalized news by Jonathan Stray

Predicting the growth of PLoS ONE by Najko Jahn

UK government will enforce open access to development research by Alok Jha

Who’s Talking About ScienceOnline? Interactive Map Of 1000 #Scio13 Twitterers by Mary Canady

An open Twitter-like ecosystem by Dave Winer

A new era for the Nature Network blogs by Lou Woodley

Why a high Google rank is becoming ‘worthless’ by Brad Shorr

BuzzFeed’s strategy by Chris Dixon

ScienceOnline Project Postcard by Karyn Traphagen

Bunch of Fives – Why Blogging is Great, and Tips for Starting by Suzi Gage

How BuzzFeed wants to reinvent wire stories for social media by Justin Ellis

The State of Educational Blogging in 2012 by Sue Waters

How journalists can do a better job of correcting errors on social media by Craig Silverman

Sharing stories with sources before publication is risky, but can improve accuracy and To show or not to show? by Steve Buttry

Quantifying impact: A better metric for measuring journalism by Greg Linch

Going paperless: eliminate stacks of paper by converting paper magazine subscriptions to digital subscriptions by Jamie Todd Rubin

Are You Reading These 17 Science Blogs? You Should by Julio Peironcely

No credit for Uncle Sam in creating Net? Vint Cerf disagrees by Charles Cooper

They Didn’t Build That by Paul Krugman

So, who really did invent the Internet? by Michael Hiltzik

WSJ mangles history to argue government didn’t launch the Internet by Timothy B. Lee

 

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

Blogs of the Week so far:

May 11, 2012: Academic Panhandling
May 18, 2012: Anole Annals
May 25th, 2012: Better Posters
June 1st, 2012: Vintage Space
June 8th, 2012: Tanya Khovanova’s Math Blog
June 15th, 2012: Russlings
June 22nd, 2012: Parasite of the Day
June 29th, 2012: March of the Fossil Penguins
July 6th, 2012: Musings of a Dinosaur
July 13th, 2012: Contagions
July 21th, 2012: Life is short, but snakes are long

The Scienceblogging Weekly (July 21th, 2012)

Blog of the Week:

Life is short, but snakes are long is written by Andrew Durso who is a PhD student at Utah State University, where he studies the behavior, physiology, and ecology of toad-eating snakes. So, everything on his blog is about snakes. And every post on his blog has something about snakes that you have not known before.

 

Top 10:

Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math by Bill McKibben:

If the pictures of those towering wildfires in Colorado haven’t convinced you, or the size of your AC bill this summer, here are some hard numbers about climate change: June broke or tied 3,215 high-temperature records across the United States. That followed the warmest May on record for the Northern Hemisphere – the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th-century average, the odds of which occurring by simple chance were 3.7 x 10-99, a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe…

The Mystery of the Missing Chromosome (With A Special Guest Appearance from Facebook Creationists) by Carl Zimmer:

There’s something fascinating about our chromosomes. We have 23 pairs. Chimpanzees and gorillas, our closest living relatives, have 24. If you come to these facts cold, you might think this represented an existential crisis for evolutionary biologists. If we do indeed descend from a common ancestor with great apes, then our ancestors must have lost a pair after our lineage branched off, some six million years ago. How on Earth could we just give up an entire chromosome….

Are Warnings About the Side Effects of Drugs Making Us Sick? by Steve Silberman

Your doctor doesn’t like what’s going on with your blood pressure. You’ve been taking medication for it, but he wants to put you on a new drug, and you’re fine with that. Then he leans in close and says in his most reassuring, man-to-man voice, “I should tell you that a small number of my patients have experienced some minor sexual dysfunction on this drug. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and the good news is that this side effect is totally reversible. If you have any ‘issues’ in the bedroom, don’t hesitate to call, and we’ll switch you to another type of drug called an ACE inhibitor.” OK, you say, you’ll keep that in mind…..

Battling antivaccinationists at FreedomFest by Orac:

Like so many other skeptics, I just returned from TAM, which, despite all the conflict and drama surrounding it this year, actually turned out to be a highly enjoyable experience for myself and most people I talked to. As I’ve been doing the last few years, I joined up with Steve Novella and other proponents of science-based medicine to do a workshop about how difficult it is to find decent health information on the Internet, and how the “University of Google” all too frequently puts quackery on the same level as reliable sources of medical information because all that matters for most search engines when it comes to ranking search results is the number and kinds of sites that link to a given site…..

Epic fraud: How to succeed in science (without doing any) by John Timmer:

Running scientific experiments is, frankly, a pain in the ass. Sure, it’s incredibly satisfying when days or weeks of hard work produce a clean-looking result that’s easy to interpret. But often as not, experiments simply fail for no obvious reason. Even when they work, the results often leave you scratching your head, wondering “what in the world is that supposed to tell me?” The simplest solution to these problems is obvious: don’t do experiments….

One Molecule for Love, Morality, and Prosperity? by Ed Yong:

Imagine a molecule that underlies the virtues that glue societies together. Imagine that it brought out the better angels of our nature with just a sniff and could “rebond our troubled world.” Imagine that it was the “source of love and prosperity” and explained “what makes us good and evil.” Well, carry on imagining. This is a story about oxytocin, and oxytocin is not that molecule….

How We Changed Penguins Just by Watching by Elizabeth Preston:

If a penguin falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, I don’t know what kind of forest that is—but everyone who’s interested in penguins is probably hanging out a lot closer to the South Pole. The charismatic birds let scientists and tourists alike get a close look without too much trouble. And all that familiarity has the potential to change penguins, and other closely watched animals, for good….

What Would Happen If a Lion Fought a Tiger? by Natalie Wolchover:

This ultimate cat fight has happened more times than you might expect. The Romans pitted African lions against Asian tigers in the Coliseum, to the rip-roaring pleasure of the Plebeians. A few fights were also staged in the early decades of the 20th century, and on several modern occasions, accidental cross-species encounters at zoos have quickly developed into gruesome scenes guaranteed to scar any nearby schoolchildren for life. But how do these lion versus tiger showdowns go down?…

In Search of Grote Reber by Matthew Francis:

Unlike most sites where the business of cosmology is done, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory—known colloquially as Fermilab—isn’t in a remote spot. The facility is in Batavia, Illinois, part of the sprawling metroplex of Chicago, and it’s just a short drive from two major tollways. The Standard Model describes a plethora of particles, but it has nothing on the number of fast-food joints and auto shops within ten minutes’ drive of the Fermilab gates. My friend hosting me during my stay in Illinois wasn’t even aware of the lab’s location, despite having friends living close by—the area around it is that dense…

Dancing in digital immortality: The evolution of Merce Cunningham’s “Loops” by Ashley Taylor:

The modern dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham died in 2009, and his company gave its final performance at the end of last year. Many of his dances will live on in the memories of former company members who go on to restage them. But there’s one solo, “Loops,” that Cunningham never taught to another dancer. This piece lives on through a different medium: digital motion capture…

 

Special topic: Science of Superheros

Batman and Gotham: A Deeply Dysfunctional Love Story by Adam Rogers

The horrifying physiological and psychological consequences of being Aquaman by Southern Fried Scientist

Dear Science, leave Aquaman alone! by AmasianV

Why Aquaman is the best damn superhero in comic history by Cyriaque Lamar

Physics Shows Batman’s Cape Is Suicide Machine by Liat Clark

The Fall and Rise of the Dark Knight-the Difficulties of Batman’s Life While He Exists by E. Paul Zehr

Science sways superheroes by Alan Boyle

 

Best Images:

The Goddamned Particle by Perrin Ireland

Your Skeleton – on the Internet by Daniel Lende

Animals With Misleading Names by Rosemary Mosco

The Bizarre, Breathtaking Science Photos of Fritz Goro by Tanya Lewis

American World War II Plague Posters by Michelle Ziegler

Beautiful biodiversity illustrations by Becca Stadtlander

 

Best Videos:

Friday Science Cinema by Justine E. Hausheer

When astronomers get video cameras…… by Niall

NSF Rhode Island Video Boot Camp participant Dr. Sunshine Menezes delivers her message. by NSFMessengers

Tagging Giants: Studying Whale Sharks in Cendrawasih Bay by Mark Erdmann

Variety is the Spice of Lice by TheFieldMuseum

Five Men Agree To Stand Directly Under An Exploding Nuclear Bomb by Robert Krulwich

Chuck Norris, tapeworms, and the future of science: video of my keynote talk by Carl Zimmer

 

Science:

Patients, Prisoners, and Mass Shootings — A Timeline by David Dobbs

Gorilla Youngsters Seen Dismantling Poachers’ Traps—A First by Ker Than

Life on the Leg of a Crab by Craig McClain

Can you Shoot an Arrow Backwards – into Space? by David Dilworth

How to “downplay the achievements of science” by Eoin Lettice

Why Facial Disfigurements Creep Us Out by Joseph Bennington-Castro

Wisconsin’s Sand Rush by Kate Prengaman

A Way to Trap Carbon Deep in the Ocean and City Officials Declare War on Lawn Gardens by Rachel Nuwer

From Living Room to Lily Pad: Is the Fatal Amphibian Chytrid Fungus Spread via Pet Frogs? by Sarah Fecht

Just good friends? Attraction to opposite-sex friends is common but burdensome by Christian Jarrett

Just My Luck (or is it?) by David Nussbaum

The Bra Is 500 Years Older Than We Thought and 400 Years Worth of Water Discovered in Sub-Saharan Namibia by Colin Schultz

Learning from the Tubeworm by Michelle Nijhuis

The Real Life of Pi by Noby Leong

How would you like to sleep with the fishes? by aranyak

‘Get Over It’: Climate Change Is Happening by Eric Roston

Recycling the Seasons by Erin Gettler

Fusing chromosomes by John Hawks

No sweet outcome for PhD worker bees by Elizabeth Gibney

Q&A With Mariette DiChristina: Born a Scientist by Jeanne Garbarino

Lion’s Mane Jellyfish Image: This Is (Literally) How Things Blow Up On The Internet! by Anthony Wing Kosner

The Endless Summer by Mark Bittman

Performance enhancement: Superhuman athletes by Helen Thompson

Discovery of ‘God particle’ has UNC roots by Samuel Mason

Just the facts ain’t enough, ma’am by Wilson da Silva

Artificial Volcanoes Aren’t the Solution to Warming by Erik Klemetti

Dolphins May Be Math Geniuses by Jennifer Viegas

New Science Emboldens Long Shot Bid for Dolphin, Whale Rights by Brandon Keim

What it’s Like to Witness a Grunion Run by Jason Goldman

Everything Is a Remix: The Sound of Horses Racing on TV Is Actually a Sample of Buffaloes Charging and Exploding Chocolate, Poisoned Scuba Suits, and the Bulgarian Umbrella: A Survey of Strange Assassination Tech by Alexis Madrigal

Secrets of the clam tongue: a case study in opportunistic science outreach and New nightmare fuel: the giant scaleworm Eulagisca by Miriam Goldstein

Pardon me–is this stool taken? by Bug Girl

10 species named after famous people by Bethan Jinkinson

Pancakes, served with a side of science by Aatish Bhatia

One fish, two fish and 400,000 zebrafish by Kathleen Raven

The Dirty Dozen: A wish list for psychology and cognitive neuroscience by Chris Chambers

Brain Scanning… Or Vein Scanning? by Neuroskeptic

What was the oldest Olympic sport? by Greg Laden

Dr Hornstein hasn’t gone the way of the dinosaur by Lucy Hornstein

Science Metaphors (cont.): Sub-Grid Physics by Ann Finkbeiner

Will we ever run the 100 metres in 9 seconds? by Ed Yong

Dinosaur Aunts, Bacterial Stowaways, & Insect Milk by Katie Hinde

Geneticists Evolve Fruit Flies With the Ability to Count by Liat Clark

Scientists take a bird’s eye view to prevent bird-aircraft collisions by Allie Wilkinson

Technique gets clear images from light reflected off blank paper by Matthew Francis

Vitamin D gets frequent testing, but the results are a bit quizzical by Jessica M. Morrison

How Placebo’s Evil Twin Makes You Sicker by Elizabeth Preston

Galápagos Monday: When Conservation Means Killing by Virginia Hughes

‘Canopy Meg’ wants you to care about the rainforest by Samantha Larson

Person With Autism Manages To Do Something by Zoe

Using zombies to teach science by Tara C. Smith

Ecomorphs Converge On Suites Of Correlated Traits by Yoel Stuart

Is Society Becoming Over-Medicalized? Interview with Executive Editor of Reuters Health, Dr. Ivan Oransky by Shiv Gaglani

How land-inefficient is organic agriculture? by Mark Lynas

Record Heat Wave Pushes U.S. Belief in Climate Change to 70% by Mark Drajem

 

Media, Publishing, Technology and Society:

That plan to archive every tweet in the Library of Congress? Definitely still happening by Andrew Phelps

More on the Library of Congress and Twitter by Dave Winer (also see my Science Blogs – definition, and a history)

v1 by Rethink Digg

Example Visualizations using the PLoS Search and ALM APIs and More fun with Visualizations by Martin Fenner

ScienceWriters2012: The NC Scouting Report by Rosalind Reid

Could the iPad save magazines? by Molly Mirhashem

The techies in journalism are not the problem by Anna Tarkov

Readership of papers vs. blog posts by Jeremy Fox

Why Flip The Classroom When We Can Make It Do Cartwheels? by Cathy N. Davidson

Higgs this, boson that by Richard Panek

Beginner Blogging – The Prequel by Renee Dobbs

Power to the People (When it Comes to Funding Research) by Aurélie Coulon

Curation techniques, types and tips by Steve Buttry

No Internet For One Year: Tech Writer Tries Life Offline by Joanna Stern

Why Dave Winer Invented the Blog and How blogging came to be by Dave Winer

Introducing #smarttakes: pop-up aggregation from the Guardian by Ruth Spencer

‘False Balance’ in Some Coverage of Carolina Sea-Level Controversy by Sara Peach

Brought to book: Academic journals face a radical shake-up by The Economist

All’s Not Fair in Science and Publishing by Frederick Southwick

Let journalists do their jobs by David Wescott

How Academics Face the World: A Study of 5829 Homepage Pictures by Owen Churches, Rebecca Callahan, Dana Michalski, Nicola Brewer, Emma Turner, Hannah Amy Diane Keage, Nicole Annette Thomas and Mike Elmo Richard Nicholls

MIT Economist: Here’s How Copyright Laws Impoverish Wikipedia by Robinson Meyer

Why ‘future of journalism’ confabs fail by Alan D. Mutter

Why paywall journalism is changing how journalists write by Tim Burrowes

ProPublica gets $1.9 million from Knight to expand its efforts in data journalism by Adrienne LaFrance

The trouble with content by Jeff Jarvis

The Scholar’s Frenemy by PHLane

Dealing with Edits and Comments by hurleybirds

Don’t Have Time to Tweet-bollocks! Twitter can even save you time as a scientist. by Scott Wagers

Communicating science in the age of the internet by Deevy Bishop

Laptops in Lecture? by Rhett Allain

What was the first science blog? by Paul Raeburn

Scientific particles collide with social media to benefit of all by Marie Boran

On science blogs this week: Scandal by Tabitha M. Powledge

Standing on the Shoulders of Bloggers: Carnival frustration searing my soul. by Thony Christie

The Rise of Open Science by Roger Câmara

The Web Is Not the Internet (You’re Probably Getting That Wrong) by Abraham_Riesman

Delete the Save Button by Farhad Manjoo

How Reddit Became the Internet’s Vigilante Voltron by Wylie Overstreet

 

======

Blogs of the Week so far:

May 11, 2012: Academic Panhandling
May 18, 2012: Anole Annals
May 25th, 2012: Better Posters
June 1st, 2012: Vintage Space
June 8th, 2012: Tanya Khovanova’s Math Blog
June 15th, 2012: Russlings
June 22nd, 2012: Parasite of the Day
June 29th, 2012: March of the Fossil Penguins
July 6th, 2012: Musings of a Dinosaur
July 13th, 2012: Contagions

The Scienceblogging Weekly (July 13th, 2012)

Blog of the Week:

Contagions is a blog written by Michelle Ziegler (Twitter, Facebook, the other two blogs by Michelle – Heavenfield and Selah – are focused entirely on history and not on medicine or science). In Contagions, Michelle explores infectious disease – there is a lot about the Plague – from history to epidemiology to most recent scientific papers. Sometimes gruesome, always fascinating.

 

Top 10:

Is Autism an “Epidemic” or Are We Just Noticing More People Who Have It? by Emily Willingham:

In March the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the newly measured autism prevalences for 8-year-olds in the United States, and headlines roared about a “1 in 88 autism epidemic.” The fear-mongering has led some enterprising folk to latch onto our nation’s growing chemophobia and link the rise in autism to “toxins” or other alleged insults, and some to sell their research, books, and “cures.” On the other hand, some researchers say that what we’re really seeing is likely the upshot of more awareness about autism and ever-shifting diagnostic categories and criteria….

New technique identifies magnetic cells in animals by watching them spin by Ed Yong:

A migrating robin can keep a straight course even when it flies through a cloudy night sky, devoid of obvious landmarks. That’s because it can sense the Earth’s magnetic field. Something in its body acts as a living compass, giving it a sense of direction and position. This ability – known as magnetoreception – isn’t unique to robins. It’s been found in many other birds, sharks and rays, salmon and trout, turtles, bats, ants and bees, and possibly cows, deer and foxes. But despite more than 50 years of research, the details of the magnetic sense are still elusive….

The Sex Scholar by Kara Platoni:

Decades before Kinsey, Stanford professor Clelia Mosher polled Victorian-era women on their bedroom behavior—then kept the startling results under wraps….

Bloggers and Bowerbirds by Erin Kissane:

There are still a lot of elbows being thrown in the squabble about “creation” versus “curation,” and it seems to be getting worse. As humans tend to do, we’re talking past each other and pretending to simplicity in the face of the complex and the weird. Here’s what I think is going on. I think we’re getting tripped up by two things: clumsy language and a misapprehension about competition for limited resources….

Citations, Social Media & Science by Morgan D. Jackson:

This morning I was reading a newly published paper that I found intriguing, not only for its content1 but also for who it cited — sort of. Among the regular cadre of peer-reviewed journal articles supporting the author’s findings were two blog posts by University of Glasgow professor Roderic Page. Rod is a major proponent for digitizing and linking biodiversity literature with all aspects of a species’ pixel-trail across the internet, so I was excited to see his blog being “formally” recognized. As I finished reading the paper and reached the References section, I skimmed through to see how a blog citation might be formatted. Much to my dismay, after breezing through the L’s, M’s, and N’s I found myself within the R’s, with nary a Page in sight…

Investigation: Drug Resistance, Chicken And 8 Million UTIs by Maryn McKenna:

…I’ve been working with a great new group, the Food and Environment Reporting Network — one of the grant-funded journalism organizations that have arisen in the wake of the collapse of mainstream journalism — on an important, under-reported topic. Which is: Over the past decade, a group of researchers in several countries have been uncovering links between the use of antibiotics in chicken production and the rising occurrence of resistance in one of the most common bacterial infections in the world. The infection in question is UTI, which just about every woman I know will recognize: It stands for urinary tract infection, and on average one out of every 9 women in the United States suffers one at least once per year. There are 6 million to 8 million UTIs in the US each year, costing at least $1 billion in healthcare spending….

The hows and whys of human attraction by Barbara J. King:

Robin Dunbar may not be a household name, but some of his thinking has reached the status of household ideas. You’ve heard that 150 is an approximate upper limit on the number of our family-and-friend relationships because that’s how many connections we can track? That’s Dunbar. You’ve read the theory that language evolved as a sort of replacement for hands-on grooming among our primate relatives when group size got big? That’s Dunbar too. Now, in The Science of Love and Betrayal, Dunbar, who is Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford, asks seductive questions about love and friendship. Why do men and women pair-bond when so many other animals don’t? How do biology and sociality intersect in explaining human attraction to others? …

Crimes and Misdemeanors: Reforming Social Psychology by Dave Nussbaum:

The recent news of Dirk Smeesters’ resignation is certainly not good news for social psychology, particularly so soon after the Diedrik Stapel case, but I believe it can serve as an opportunity for the field to take important steps towards reform. The reforms that are needed the most, however, are not restricted to preventing or detecting the few instances of fraud by unscrupulous researchers who are intentionally falsifying data. What we should be more concerned about are the far less egregious, but much more common offenses that many of us commit, often unknowingly or unintentionally, and almost never with fraudulent intent….

The Vampire of Venice Returns, or What Is that Brick Doing in that Skull’s Mouth? by Kristina Killgrove:

It seems like every spring there is renewed coverage of a partial skeleton that was found on the island of Lazaretto Nuovo (one of two 15th-16th century leper colonies near Venice) in 2009. I’ve never covered it here, but since I was alerted to an airing of a documentary about the skeleton on Italian TV this week, I thought it may be time to track the progress of the so-called Vampire of Venice (“il vampiro di Venezia” in Italian, and not to be confused with a similarly named Dr. Who episode)….

How the Deaf Brain Rewires Itself to ‘Hear’ Touch and Sight by Nadja Popovich:

Our experiences help shape our brains. So it might make sense that for a person born without hearing, the part of the brain that’s meant to process audio would be underdeveloped. But according to a new study, those who have been deaf since birth actually use the sound-related part of the brain — known as the primary auditory cortex — to do even more heavy lifting than their hearing counterparts. …

 

Special topic 1: #arseniclife:

The Case (Study) of Arsenic Life: How the Internet Can Make Science Better by Rebecca J. Rosen

Live-blogging Arsenic Life by Carl Zimmer

Discovery of an arsenic-friendly microbe refuted and Q and A: Critical ‘Arseniclife’ studies released by Dan Vergano

Pair Of Studies Rebuts Arsenic-Based Life by Carmen Drahl

Arsenic Death by ChemBark

“Arsenic bacteria”: Coffin, meet nails by Ashutosh Jogalekar

Arsenic Life, Cold Fusion, and the Allure of Wishful Thinking by Matthew Francis

Another chink in the Ingelfinger armor? Arsenic life talk forces Science to release paper early, without embargo and Science has “not asked for a correction or retraction” of arsenic life paper, and why situation is unlike XMRV-CFS by Ivan Oransky

Arsenic-Life Discovery Debunked—But “Alien” Organism Still Odd by Richard A. Lovett

Consider the publication embargo… and NASA’s cowardly responses to their #arseniclife FAIL by Rosie Redfield

New research points toward “no” on arsenic life by Phil Plait

Annoying Arsenic Claim Debunked for Good – We Hope. by Faye Flam

Notorious Arsenic-Tolerant Bacterium Needs Phosphorus After All by Quirin Schiermeier

Despite refutation, Science arsenic life paper deserves retraction, scientist argues by David Sanders

Two studies show ‘weird life’ microbe can’t live on arsenic by Alan Boyle

Latest on #ArsenicLife by Jonathan Eisen

Journal retreats from controversial arsenic paper by Marc Kaufman

New Science Papers Prove NASA Failed Big Time In Promoting Supposedly Earth-Shaking Discovery That Wasn’t by Matthew Herper

 

Special topic 2: glut of PhDs:

WaPo: Not enough jobs for science PhDs by David Kroll

The STEM PhD Glut Makes the Mainstream Media by Mike the Mad Biologist

Subtleties of the Crappy Job Market for Scientists by Julianne Dalcanton

The wages of a life science Ph.D. (not high!) and More on jobs & Ph.D.s by Razib Khan

“Alternate careers” is just the next exploitation strategy? by DrugMonkey

Too many scientists? by Puff the Mutant Dragon

Washington Post: “U.S. pushes for more scientists, but the jobs aren’t there.” by Chemjobber

Life as PhD student by Elf Eldridge

 

Best Images:

TICKS ON A SNAKE by teresa.frog.applause

On Writing by Abstruse Goose

Here’s Something You Don’t See Every Day by Jonathan Losos

Arctic Biologist Shares Astonishing Sea Creatures With the World by Pete Brook

Visual Field by xkcd

 

Best Videos:

Nobel laureate occasionally hangs out on street corners, answering physics questions by Maggie Koerth-Baker

Snake Stunt: Drinking While Dangling by Andrew C. Revkin

Talent Search » TED@Vancouver » Carin Bondar: Reproduction and survival in the animal kingdom

Talent Search » TED@Sydney » James Byrne: How plants have sex

Stomach Bacteria Show Early Human Travels by skepTV

Piecing together Patagonia’s ancient vegetation by Melanie Connor

Opening Keynote from Cameron Neylon – Network Enabled Research by Open Repositories 2012

‘Big Ass Shark’ Unexpectedly Swipes Fish Off Girl’s Line Like Something Out of a Movie by Neetzan Zimmerman

The Higgs Boson, Part II: What is Mass? by MinutePhysics

Alan Turing: His Mind, His Life (VIDEO, Part Two) by Cara Santa Maria

This is What Snake Venom Does to Blood! by fragrancemad

Is Apollo 18 Real? by Amy Shira Teitel

#CurlyHairMafia on the Secret of NIMH by DNLee

From Galileo to Galaxy Zoo: Astronomy in the Digital Age by Alessandro Mangiafico

 

Science:

No, the web is not driving us mad and Why I am always unlucky but you are always careless by Vaughan Bell

Where are the Canadian media in analysing the Death of Evidence protest? by Marie-Claire Shanahan

The Dead Sea is Dying: Can
A Controversial Plan Save It?
by Dave Levitan

Trajectory of a falling Batman by Ben Goldacre

The mundaneness of science by Christie Aschwanden

Brain Scans Predict When Poker Players Will Bluff and Why Successful Leaders Share Their Harems by Elizabeth Preston

Egg-eating snakes and This blog is supposed to be about snakes, but if you can’t make exceptions for family, then you’re a jerk by Andrew Durso

Doubt Is Good for Science, But Bad for PR by Stuart Firestein

When you throb with pain…are you feeling the beat? by scicurious

Little fellah bums by Michael Wellan

Silk cages preserve vaccines and antibiotics for months without refrigeration and Urban noise can turn sparrow females into bad mums and Chicken vaccines merged to form live viruses and caused outbreaks of irony and Uncertainty shrouds psychologist’s resignation by Ed Yong

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley slashes funding for coastal science and sustainable development by David Shiffman

Daily Mail, HuffPo Dumb Down Dinosex by Brian Switek

Q&A With Deborah Berebichez: Seeing the World Through Physics Glasses by Double Xpression

Mathematics and HIV by Jessica Wapner

Thai Farmers Fight ‘Global Warming Fines’ by Prangtip Daorueng

Why Crowds Can Turn Deadly by Emily Badger

You can hide those lying eyes by Zen Faulkes

You can’t ban redheaded sperm by David Winter

Zombies and Volleyball: The Benefits of the Bystander Effect by Melanie Tannenbaum

Q: Why Do We Wear Pants? A: Horses by Alexis Madrigal

There is something and not nothing by Roger Ebert

Want to Get Teens Interested in Math and Science? Target Their Parents by Anna Mikulak

Scientific History and the Lessons for Today’s Emerging Ideas by The Physics arXiv Blog

A striking experiment shows how you can run on quicksand and Black hole shines a light on dark galaxies by Matthew Francis

Why Canada’s scientists need our support by Alice Bell

Why Eugenics Will Always Fail by Esther Inglis-Arkell

Gnathia marleyi — or not by Susan Perkins

Will We Ever Find All the Dinosaurs? by Brian Switek

Should we all be guinea pigs? by John Rennie

Pipes, Reins, & the Cerebral Winepress: Mechanical Metaphor in Vesalius’ Fabrica by Marri Lynn

The climate of the climate change debate is changing by Myles Allen

Lizards Can’t Take The Heat – But Can They Take The Cold? by Martha Munoz

Crackpots, geniuses, and how to tell the difference by Maggie Koerth-Baker

Relativistic Baseball: What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90% the speed of light? by xkcd

I saw the (negative) sign: Problems with fMRI research by Dana Smith

Nikola Tesla and the magic of science by Danica Radovanovic

Why George Will Is Wrong About Weather And Climate by Jocelyn Fong

If “Fifty Shades of Grey” Had Been Written by a Biology Textbook Author by Ricki Lewis

Keeping Parkinson’s Disease a Secret by Kate Yandell

Distrusting Scientific Research by Kelsey Tsipis

Weird Fiction Monday: Mass Effect: Apocalypse by Greg Gbur

Could the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier Fly? by Rhett Allain

Planet of the Mega Disasters by Faye Flam

Dr. Drew Cashes In by Charles Seife

Galápagos Monday: The Sad Sex Life of Lonesome George by Virginia Hughes

Crowdfunding Questions With Petridish.org Co-founder Matt Salzberg by Travis Saunders

Roid Age: steroids in sport and the paradox of pharmacological puritanism by Greg Downey

Traditional Sexual Values Challenged in Classic Animal Study by Brandon Keim

Painless Injections by Tianyou Xu

Down, boy! The politics of humping by jwoestendiek

Notes on Some of Those 79 “New” Shark Species by Chuck Bangley

What’s the difference between “Opossum” and “Possum”? by Jason Bittel

A Brief History of Money by James Surowiecki

Tree Rings and Climate: Some Recent Developments by Michael E. Mann, Gavin Schmidt, and Eric Steig

The American Heat Wave and Global Warming by MarkCC

Brain Time by David Eagleman

Increase in wildfire frequency and severity – is it real? by Kelly Ramirez

 

Media, Publishing, Technology and Society:

If Mitt Romney were running a “post-truth” campaign, would the political press report it? by Jay Rosen

Chronicling Mitt’s Mendacity, Vol. XXV by Steve Benen

SPARC Europe’s response to the inaccuracies in the article by the Daily Mail’s City Editor on 18 June by Alma Swan

Wheeler: Spoken word, handwritten letters make lasting impressions by Burgetta Wheeler

The Blogfather on science blogging by NASW

Twitter and the Arab Spring: New Evidence by Henry Farrell

Predatory Open-Access Journals? by Sarah Hird

Academic blogging: minority scholars cannot afford to be silent by Denise Horn

Should Applied Funding Go To Academia Or Startups? by Elizabeth Iorns

The Importance of Open Access: An Interview with Patient Advocate Graham Steel by PatientsLikeMe

Are you sure that’s true? Truth Goggles tackles fishy claims at the moment of consumption by Andrew Phelps

The Dreamers’ dreams: young immigrants tell their stories by Ruth Spencer

Retraction tracking by Zen Faulkes

J-school grads turn to startup scene by Anne Field

Thoughts on the Finch Report, part 1 and Part 2 by Mike Taylor

A history of science blogging and Reflections on 10 years in science blogging by Razib Khan

A History of Science Blogging and Communicating Science to Society by Larry Moran

Bora’s Science Blogging Post by Eva Amsen

Video Tip of the Week: ScienceSeeker for science blogging by Mary Mangan

Sharpening ideas: From topic to story by Dan Ferber

Challenging ‘He Said, She Said’ Journalism by Linda Greenhouse

Are we stuck in filter bubbles? Here are five potential paths out by Jonathan Stray

Alan Alda warms up science communication with the Flame Challenge and The Flame Challenge winners, and other attempts to get science communication out of its rut by Peter Linett

Darpa Wants You to Be Its Hackathon Guinea Pig by Arikia Milikan

Science journalism through the looking glass by Chris Chambers and Petroc Sumner

How the byline beast was born by Jack Shafer

The left’s gone left but the right’s gone nuts: Asymmetrical polarization in action by David Roberts

Confessions of an Internet Addict by Alexis Madrigal

Science, Blogging and Plagiarism by Michael McBurney

How future-safe was the first Harvard blogging site? by Dave Winer

Why Blogs Fail by Neuroskeptic

Takes Two to Tango by Karen McLeod

How to live-tweet from an event by Tia Fisher

Is Open Access a Moral or a Business Issue? A Conversation with The Pennsylvania State University Press by Prof. Hacker

Reflections on Games For Change by Eric Martin

All’s Not Fair in Science and Publishing by Frederick Southwick

The ultimate geek road trip: North Carolina’s mega data center cluster by Katie Fehrenbacher and 10 reasons Apple, Facebook & Google chose North Carolina for their mega data centers and The controversial world of clean power and data centers and The story behind how Apple’s iCloud data center got built and That’s a wrap: The 4-part series on North Carolina’s mega data centers

What should society journals do about open access? and What does it cost to publish a paper with Elsevier? by Mike Taylor

The Blob versus the blog: arguing how social media is changing science and Transformative idea for peer review: reviewing & grading the reviewers by Paul Knoepfler

Three Keys to Clearing Two Social Media Hurdles by Farris Timimi

How the iPad helps scientists do their jobs by Joel Mathis

Reforming Copyright Is Possible by Pamela Samuelson

Piecemeal existence: For today’s young freelancers, what will traffic bear? by Ben Adler

The significance of plot without conflict by Still Eating Oranges

ScienceOnline2012 – interview with Bug Girl

Every year I ask some of the attendees of the ScienceOnline conferences to tell me (and my readers) more about themselves, their careers, current projects and their views on the use of the Web in science, science education or science communication. So now we continue with the participants of ScienceOnline2012. See all the interviews in this series here.

Today my guest is Bug Girl (Twitter).

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

I am a blue “talking head” that pontificates about insects.  I have a PhD in entomology, and I try to translate insect research into regular human speak.  I also provide color commentary, usually with more F-words that the average pundit, but that’s how I roll.

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

So much of science is received knowledge, presented out of context.  Science is a marketing tool now–products are presented with “Science Says” and some claim about efficacy. This undermines public trust in scientific results, since what “Science Says” appears to change constantly, or seems to contradict other information.

People value information gathered from friends over that of strangers–this has been supported again and again by decision-making and risk management research. I can see this in the conversations I have online–I can help people process issues surrounding bees, pesticides, or GM crops, for example.  There is so much misinformation out there–I like to try to set the record straight, especially when it comes to things that are clearly scams that can endanger peoples’ lives. By being a presence online, I can humanize (I recognize the irony here) the process of science communication to make it less “messages from on high” transmitted in an arcane language.

I can see first-hand how evidence is rejected by people because they are emotionally attached to an idea–I can present tons of data, show them how their arguments are flawed, and seems like the information is just bouncing off their foreheads.  Again, from the literature, the suggestion is that people have formed most of their beliefs before they get out of high school. I don’t really know what to do about that.  I wish I did.

The posts that consistently get the most traffic for me are “How-to” posts–how to remove a tick, search your hotel for bed bugs, get rid of mosquitoes, etc. That really shouldn’t be happening, since there is a HUGE body of work created by the US Extension Service, customized to each state.  The problem is that it’s usually all in PDF format, or behind a paywall.   Extension is beginning to figure out SEO, but it really isn’t on the radar screen for a lot of states yet.  (And, to be fair–Extension budgets have been hacked. That’s why my position in Michigan went away and I am now in Connecticut.)  I would love to see USDA or state extension folks at SciOnline.   People don’t value what they don’t know about–and the work that Extension and Ag researchers do is mostly invisible.

Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?  How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work?

I have a slightly unique career situation, since I use a pseudonym.   I even gave an invited talk at the Entomological Society of America National Meeting last year under the pseudonym of Bug Girl.  Had I used my real name as a blogger, I could have quite a bit to add to my professional resume.   When an academic passes up a chance to pad her resume, you know she’s serious about plausible deniability!

I’ve used the nickname “Bug Girl” since the early 90s–it was my first personal email address in 1993. Back then in the land of listservs and bulletin boards, women were rare.  I also had an….interesting career path, and I left my first tenured position over an academic freedom dispute.  It was useful to have a nickname where I could solicit advice online about the Dean’s instructions to soft-pedal evolution without publicly identifying myself.

Over time, this led to path dependence–rather than making a strategic decision between My RealID and a pseudonym, I drifted into the online identity of Bug Girl because of a bunch of random decisions from 20 years ago. Those decisions were made well before blogging was a “thing.”

It turned out to be a good decision, because as I began to be successful in my real-world career, I discovered that blogging was not only a thing, it was a bad thing as far as most of my bosses were concerned.  There are actually laws on the books on several states banning state employees from lobbying, or using their government positions to influence politics or the media. That is a reasonable restriction–it would not be appropriate for me to use an official .gov or .edu email to lobby for a specific candidate.  If you are high enough on the food chain that you manage large sums of money, lots of people, or set policy, then linking your real identity to a sometimes ribald blog can be a big deal.  Especially if you are in a job where you are not part of a union, not tenured, and basically serve at the pleasure of the provost.

Now that my current job has moved me into the Vice-Provost’s office, Bug Girl is honestly who I really am. Diplomacy and tact are now a major part of my day to-day-work life.  Anyone who knows me realizes this is an inherently unstable situation. To paraphrase one of my favorite blues songs, “It’s in her and its got to come out!”  Most of my friends call me Bug, and certainly my writing online gets several orders of magnitude more exposure than my scientific publications ever did or will.  I AM BUG GIRL.

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

Unfortunately, much of my time these days is spent looking for a new job, which has severely curtailed my blog posting.  I was laid off from my wonderful job in Michigan, and budget cuts are looming again for my new state employer.

It’s been a lot harder than I expected to translate my online success into actual employment. Now that I have passed the big 1/2 century mark in age, I am finding that I don’t have the stamina to be both Bug Girl AND my real world identity.  I have no idea how Spiderman maintains two completely separate identities–it’s exhausting. I had hoped to get out of higher ed administration and into the online world, but looks like that just isn’t going to be possible. I don’t think my use of a pseudonym is the problem–I suspect it has more to do with the way my resume looks. When you have references that are Deans and Vice Presidents, I don’t think people take your application for an entry-level job as a science communicator seriously.

When I started blogging, I just wanted to be better at writing about science for a lay audience, and be a better writer in general. It sort of got out of hand.  I never set any goals, but I think I have accomplished what I needed to–and as one of the first bug bloggers, I helped show other entomologists that there is a fun community out there that they could join.

When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites?

I actually started with a personal blog in 2005, and that morphed into a science blog when Rebecca of Skepchick asked me to start posting stories about science on her site.  I realized there was an empty niche online and started writing about insects.  For a while I was the only insect blog out there, but now there is a lively entomology blogging community online. I would estimate there are at least 100 english-language bug blogs, and probably far more. (I’m working on a census of insect-related blogs.)

How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, Google Plus and Facebook? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?

I have so many, many wonderful friends online as Bug Girl.  I am constantly humbled by how kind and generous people online can be, and the realness of virtual communities.   ScienceOnline is the perfect example of that.  Even though I had never been before, I felt like I was in a giant group of old friends.  I am very isolated in my current job, and having people online to talk to is a life-saver.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2012 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?

Because I am marooned in the Vice-Provost’s office, I don’t have people to share my love of science and insects with.  It was very exciting to be able to sit next to Ed Yong, or to finally meet Kevin Zelnio!  (What?? So I’m a fangirl. Bite me.)   It was exciting to see that people actually knew who I was, and liked some of what I had written.  Also, I think I told a good story 🙂

The main effect of ScienceOnline for me was to go back home re-energized.  It was so wonderful to have 3 days that were just about writing and ideas. I only wish I was able to stay up later and talk more (and that I wasn’t allergic to beer).

I think that SciOnline–and my online career–can best be summed up by from Charles Darwin in this letter:

“I am dying by inches, from not having any body to talk to about insects:—my only reason for writing, is to remove a heavy weight from my mind, so now you must understand, what you will perceive before you come to the end of this; that I am writing merely for my own pleasure & not yours.”

 

ScienceOnline2012 – interview with Michelle Sipics

Every year I ask some of the attendees of the ScienceOnline conferences to tell me (and my readers) more about themselves, their careers, current projects and their views on the use of the Web in science, science education or science communication. So now we continue with the participants of ScienceOnline2012. See all the interviews in this series here.

Today my guest is Michelle Sipics (Twitter).

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

I think my journey to science writing actually began in high school, when I was giving my guidance counselor fits as the only student she’d ever had who was trying to decide between engineering and journalism as a college major. I eventually settled on engineering, and ultimately got a Master’s degree in computer engineering from Drexel University in Philadelphia, splitting my research interests between fault-tolerant design and engineering education. But while I was doing that, I crammed in as many English and general writing courses as I could find, and worked as the science editor at an online magazine that the university had launched during my time there. Shockingly, this interest in writing was totally confusing to my engineering peers.

I was considering job offers the fall before I completed my graduate degree, not quite sure yet what I wanted to do, and happened upon a poster for the MIT Graduate Program in Science Writing. It’s pretty weird, I suppose, that the idea of being a science writer never occurred to me before that moment — I’d been devouring science writing as a reader for years — but that’s when it clicked in my brain that maybe this was something I could do myself. I applied to the program and was fortunate enough to get in.

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

I think I’ve benefited from having worked as a science writer for several very different types of organizations with different goals. I worked for the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics as a contributing editor for their monthly newsjournal, which was my first real introduction to the non-profit world — and boy was it different than what I was used to, having worked for government contractors and on defense projects. I got a lot out of that experience — not the least of which, of course, was writing about some really interesting mathematics! And while I worked at SIAM, I was also freelancing for broader markets, like writing pieces for the Boston Globe. It ended up being tremendously helpful for me to write for such different types of publications at the same time, to sort of be smacked in the face with the different challenges they offer — what kind of approach do you need to take with a pseudo-longform industry publication versus a newspaper, for example. As someone who was pretty much just getting into the field, it kept me on my toes in a way that I really needed. Still do, actually!

So, naturally, from there I jumped into a completely different kind of project, my favorite to date — the History of Vaccines project at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia (home of the Mütter Museum, for those of you familiar with its wonderful collection, which includes slices from Einstein’s brain and Harry Eastlack’s skeleton). I was the content developer on that project for 2+ years, and I did a little bit of everything: archival research in the College’s fantastic historical medical library, interviews with current vaccine researchers and developers, writing copy for the site (of course), editing video, arranging events, fixing parts of the website when the content management system got screwed up, you name it. Of course it helped that for me, the topic was fascinating, but just being involved in practically every aspect of that project was so rewarding. This might be a bit of a soapbox moment here, but I really think that every science writer can benefit from knowing at least a little bit about how the final package containing their work is going to be put together, whether it’s a website, a single post on a blog, an article in a magazine, or whatever. If nothing else, it’s a lot easier to work with all of the other people involved in that process — art directors, web design firms, web developers, photographers — if you have some idea of what it is they actually do. I will get off my soapbox now.

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

Not long after scio12 I took a position at the Yale School of Engineering and Applied Science as the director for news and strategic initiatives, so technically I’m still in the early stages of adapting to that job, and it by far accounts for the most of my time. It’s been really interesting to look at science writing from the “inside” perspective, so to speak, where one of your main goals is to specifically promote the research that’s going on at your particular institution. It’s yet another challenge that I haven’t dealt with before in this capacity, so of course I’m fascinated and trying to learn as much as I can. It helps, of course, that there’s no shortage of fantastic research going on at Yale Engineering, so I’ve got plenty to write about.

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

I’m really fascinated by the way people choose which sources to trust on the web when it comes to science news. There are no hard and fast rules about which ones are best, so it’s difficult to point people to trustworthy sources with any degree of consistency, especially when you’re talking about some of the more contentious topics. I still hear a lot of noise about how blogs are less trustworthy and accurate than, say, the website of a major news organization, but we all know of plenty of examples of science bloggers who are just downright neurotic in their attention to detail (I absolutely mean that as a compliment) and probably put more research into their posts than some of their counterparts in professional newsrooms. So I suppose it’s the incredibly wide span of potential delivery sources for science communication on the web, and the way people prioritize them, that fascinates me.

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

I’ve been trying for about the last year to get a history of science blog launched, with a general focus on things that go wrong with the human body — I’m still especially interested in infectious disease — but I’m putting that on hold for a while while I focus on learning the ropes of my current job. You people who have full-time jobs AND manage to publish all these great science blogs just astound me. I am jealous of your energy and dedication!

I’m not much for Facebook, but I love Google+. I find Twitter challenging sometimes, mostly because it can be way too distracting, but I have to say that it’s been a net positive for me. I’ve heard some people say that being on Twitter and Facebook and G+ is a necessity to be a successful science writer these days, and I’m not sure if I agree with that… but I can say that Twitter, at least, has been incredibly helpful for me when it comes to getting to know the larger science writing community, and learning from all of the brilliant people in it. And that was a really pleasant surprise for me, because I basically had to be forced to join it. I was seriously anti-Twitter a few years ago. I still have a love/hate relationship with it, but hey, it did get me to scio12, so that’s worth quite a lot right there!

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2012 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 my first trip to ScienceOnline, so the whole experience of spending a few days among that many brilliant science communicators was just amazing. I don’t know that I could even choose a single best part. It was refreshing change, though, not to have to explain myself further for once after saying “I’m a science writer.” It’s the little things.

Probably the biggest thing that I took away from scio12 was the realization of exactly how supportive the science writing community can be. Fundamentally we’re all doing the same thing, and I suppose in theory you could say we’re competing with each other, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more supportive community than this one. Everyone really just wants to get it right, and we all struggle with the same problems: deadlines, difficult interviews, word counts, journal access, admitting that the super cool factoid you want to include in your story really does have to be cut even though you think everyone should know about it, etc. There really is nothing new under the sun — if you’re struggling with some aspect of whatever it is you’re working on, some other scio person has probably struggled with the same thing before. And the beautiful part is that if you just ask, they’ll almost certainly give you the benefit of their experience.

And, after you do admit to yourself that you have to cut the super cool factoid from your copy, you can at least share it on Twitter with a scio hashtag and know that it will be appreciated by others just like you. Which is possibly the most valuable thing of all.

Thanks to everyone for making my first scio experience such a great one!

Thank you! I hope to see you again in January!

Science Blogs – definition, and a history

I have been asked recently to write an article, somewhat along the lines of this one but longer, and with a somewhat different angle, asking a little bit different questions: What makes a science blog? Who were the first science bloggers and how long ago? How many science blogs are there? How does one differentiate between science blogs and pseudo-science, non-science and nonsense blogs? The goal of the article is to try to delineate what is and what isn’t a science blog, what are the overlaps between the Venn diagram of science blogging and some other circles, and what out of all that material should be archived and preserved forever under the heading of “Science Blogging”.

We’ve had these kinds of discussions for years now… but I’ll give it my best shot. And I need your help – let’s crowdsource this a little bit. I was active on Usenet in mid-90s, started political blogging in 2003, but only joined the science blogosphere somewhere around late 2004 or early 2005. I am much more familiar with biology and neuroscience corners of the blogosphere than, for example, math, space or psychology circles (thought I increased my breadth as I was assembling this network). There were several science bloggers before me, posting their stuff for several years before I discovered them. They will know stuff I don’t. I hope bloggers, old and new, join me in this project, fix my errors, add missing information, and more, in the comments (and perhaps someone can put the final result on Wikipedia later on).

Defining a science blog

Defining a science blog – heck, just defining a blog – is difficult. After all, a blog is just a piece of software that can be used in many different ways.

What is considered a science blog varies, and has changed over the years. Usually it is meant to be a blog that satisfies one or more of these criteria: blog written by a scientist, blog written by a professional science writer/journalist, blog that predominantly covers science topics, blog used in a science classroom as a teaching tool, blog used for more-or-less official news and press releases by scientific societies, institutes, centers, universities, publishers, companies and other organizations. But is a blog written by a scientist that never covers science really a science blog? Is a blog by a PhD in dentistry who spews climate denialism in every post a science blog?

What is considered a science blog also changes with the advances in technology. There is now a fine-grained division of blogging into macro-, meso- and microblogging. Initially, this distinction was made by technology. Macroblogging happened on platforms like WordPress or Blogger, mesoblogging on sites like Posterous or Tumblr, and microblogging on social media like Twitter and Facebook. But technology moves, and now it is possible to do all three “sizes” (or is it “speeds”?) on any of those platforms – and some people do.

Is a one-liner posted on a blog the same as a one-liner posted on Twitter? Some posts on Facebook and Google Plus are longer and more thorough than some others that use the more traditional blogging platforms like WordPress, Blogger or Drupal. Yet G+ is very new and Facebook, until recently, had quite a short word-limit. Many people used blogging software to do very brief updates back when that was the only game in town. Today, quick updates, links etc. are done mainly on social media and many bloggers use the traditional blogging software only for longer, more thorough, one could even say more “professional” writing.

Finally, blogging is not just about text. There is photoblogging, videoblogging, podcasting etc. And for each of these specialized types of blogging, one can potentially use a traditional blog software, or instead choose to do it on social networks, or on specialized sites, e.g., Flickr, Picassa, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, YouTube, DeviantArt etc. Does all of that count?

The beginnings of science blogging

Pin-pointing the exact date when the first science blog started is a fool’s errand. Blogs did not spring out of nowhere overnight. The first bloggers were software developers who experimented with existing software, then made some new software, fiddling around until they gradually hit on the format that we now think of a ‘blog’ today. The evolution was gradual in the world of blogging, and it was also gradual in the more specific world of science blogging.

The earliest science bloggers were those who started out doing something else online – updating their websites frequently, or participating in Usenet groups – then moving their stuff to blogging software once it became available in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

As much of the early online activity focused on countering anti-science claims, e.g., the groups battling against Creationism on Usenet, it is not surprising that many of the early science bloggers came out of this fora and were hardly distinguishable in form, topics and style from political bloggers. They brought a degree of Usenet style into their blogs as well: combative and critical of various anti-science forces in the society. And certainly, their online activity had real-world consequences and successes, for example the Dover trial for which a decade of resources accumulated by the bloggers and their community, in some cases presented at the trial itself by those same bloggers, helped defeat a Creationism bill in a resounding manner that, in effect, makes all future efforts to introduce such bill relatively easy to defeat.

Phil Plait, Chad Orzel, Razib Khan, Derek Lowe, David Appell, Sean Carroll, P.Z.Myers (whose blog started as a classroom teaching tool), Tim Lambert, Chris Mooney, and Carl Zimmer were some of those early science bloggers. Panda’s Thumb blog and Larry Moran’s Sandwalk are for all practical purposes direct descendants of the old Usenet groups. Real Climate has, I believe, similar origins. Among early adopters of blogging software, rare are the exceptions of people who instantly started using it entirely for non-political (and non-policy) purposes, just to comment on cool science, or life in the lab etc., e.g., Jacqueline Floyd, Eva Amsen, Jennifer Ouellette, Zen Faulkes and Grrrlscientist.

In those early days, we pretty much all knew, read, linked, blogrolled and responded to each other, despite a wide range of interests, backgrounds, topics, etc. As the blogosphere grew, the nodes appeared in it, concentrating people with shared interests. Those nodes then grew into their own blogospheres. Medical blogosphere, skeptical blogosphere, atheist blogosphere and nature (mostly birding) blogosphere used to be all part of the early science blogosphere, but as it all grew, these circles became separate with only a few connecting nodes. Those connecting nodes tend to be veteran, popular bloggers with large readerships, as well as bloggers on networks like this one which tend to want to have representatives from many areas, e.g., medical bloggers mixed in with paleontology bloggers mixed in with space bloggers, etc.

Some key moments in the evolution of science blogging

I will now try to identify some of the events and developments in the history of science blogging that, in my opinion (and please disagree in the comments), were especially important in the direction science blogging evolved: the changes in styles, the growth in size, and the rise in respectability.

Tangled Bank, and other science blog carnivals

What is a blog carnival?

It is a crowd-sourced online magazine, occurring at a regular interval, usually rotating hosting blogs for each edition. Bloggers submit their best posts from a particular period or on a particular topic to the next editions’ host who accepts (or rejects) the entries, and edits a blog post that contains nicely arranged and introduced links to all the entered posts. Thus, it is a well-defined, well-archived, regular, rotating linkfest. Usually all the included bloggers link back to the carnival from their blogs (as well as other online sites, e.g., social networks) thus bringing attention and traffic to the host, as well as to all the bloggers whose work is included in that edition.

The very first such “rotating blog magazine” was started in 2005 under the name “Carnival of Vanities” (from which the phenomenon got its name) and the concept quickly spread like wildfire.

One of the very first carnivals was started by by P.Z. Myers. This was Tangled Bank (unfortunately, the archive appears to be gone). This weekly rotating linkfest helped science bloggers discover each other, promote themselves and each other, encourage new people to start blogging, and start building a community. Several spin-offs showed up later, e.g., Grand Rounds (medicine), Skeptics’ Circle (countering pseudoscience), I and the Bird (birds), Circus of the Spineless (invertebrates), Berry Go Round (plants), Change of Shift (nursing), Friday Ark (animals, mostly photos), Encephalon (neuroscience), The Accretionary Wedge (earth science), Carnival of the Blue (marine science), The Giant’s Shoulders (history of science), Festival of the Trees, Carnival of Mathematics, Carnival of Space, and a few dozen others. Some of those are still around, but most have closed after a good multi-year run.

I have written quite a lot about blog carnivals before, what they are, why people should participate, and how carnivals affect journalism and science.

With the more recent development of social media, the carnivals are not seen as important for community building as they once were. First came the feed readers, and feed aggregators (especially FriendFeed) that made it easier for one to track and filter blog posts and other content by topic or some other criteria. The primary function of the carnivals – to build community – could easily be done in these new spaces. Then Twitter came along, though it took some time for people to figure out how to use it, to invent various Twitter norms (e.g., RT, hashtags, @reply), and to build apps that make Twitter more useful (though this is now endangered).

A little bit later, Facebook bought FriendFeed and imported all of its good functionalities (e.g., “Like” button, “Share” button, “Friend of Friend”, “Pages”, video embed, toggling between “Top stories” and “Most recent” on the homepage feed, etc.), lifted the word-limit on status updates, made importing other feeds easy, and made long-form blogging easy as well. Finally, a year ago, Google Plus was launched – essentially FriendFeed on steroids, linked more and more intimately to all the other Google stuff, from your Gmail to Google Docs to YouTube to Picassa. Give them another year, and G+ will become what FriendFeed would have been if it was not sold and continued to be developed.

All of those platforms make community-building easier than traditional carnivals. It is easier to do. It is easier for newbies to join in and get noticed. It is easier for one to individualize a degree of engagement with that community. But easier the community-building gets, harder it is to perform the second key role of carnivals – as archives. Each edition of a carnival is a magazine, a snapshot of the moment, and a repository of pieces that both their authors (by submitting) and hosts (by accepting) thought were good and important. And when a carnival dies, and the archives’ host subscription expires, all those historically important links are gone!

In place of carnivals, what people tend to like these days are linkfests done by individuals who serve as trusted filters. I started doing it myself a couple of months ago, picking perhaps a third of the links I tweet over a period of a week and organizing those links in a single blog post.

In the very first installment of my Scienceblogging Weekly, I wrote:

Ed Yong’s weekly linkfests (like this one) and monthly Top 10 choices he’d pay for (see this for an example) are must-bookmark resources.

Some other bloggers are occasional or regular sources of links I pay attention to, e.g., John Dupuis on academia, publishing, libraries and books, Chad Orzel on academia and science – especially physics, Mike the Mad Biologist on science and politics, and the crew at the Knight Science Journalism Tracker for the media coverage of science. And at the NASW site, Tabitha Powledge has a must-read On science blogs this week summary every Friday.

These one-editor carnivals seem to be the fashion of today. But old-style carnivals were, in my opinion, better both at community building and as historical archives.

Research Blogging

Second important moment was the start of a new blog, Cognitive Daily, written by Dave and Greta Munger. They pioneered the form of blogging that was later dubbed ‘researchblogging’ – discussing a particular scientific paper (which is referenced at the bottom), usually in a way that lay audiences can understand.

At the time, science blogging was developing its own norms, as there is no such thing as “word limit” online (blog posts tend to be much longer than traditional news articles, not cutting out any relevant context out of the article), bloggers instinctively understand the value of links (which forces them to research much more thoroughly than the usual daily news article), blogs tend to have a more chatty and personal style, yet most science bloggers are either experts in their fields (thus no need to interview other experts just to get the quotes) or have acquired expertise by covering a topic for decades (e.g,. Carl Zimmer on evolution), thus can speak with authority.

Even today, but especially in the early days, bloggers usually did not care to cover brand new papers the moment the embargo lifts. In the early days, coverage of papers was quite rare. Apart from debunking pseudoscience, much of early blogging was more educational than journalistic – covering decades of research on a topic, or explaining the basics. If they covered a paper, bloggers were just as likely to cover an old, historical paper as a new one.

But when Dave and Greta started their blog, others took note. With the researchblogging style, not only can the blogger report on a paper, but there is also a way to embed videos, polls, animations, etc, to make the readers engage much more actively – which their readers did. In many a post they did a sort of quick-and-dirty replication of studies online, with readers as volunteer subjects.

This format of blogging rapidly took off – many bloggers started emulating it, and especially new bloggers immediately started doing this style of blogging, probably vastly outnumbering the anti-pseudoscience bloggers today. Formation of the ResearchBlogging.org site (more about it below), with its icon, code and aggregator, also made this type of blogging attractive to newcomers. Probably the best example is Ed Yong, who instantly took to the format, blogging about at least one paper per day, often covering nifty papers that the rest of the media missed. And Ed covered new papers. The moment embargo lifted. This was obviously journalism even to the most traditional eyes. This was something that other journalists, or people hoping to get into journalism, could also do. So they did. In droves.

Blog Networks

Third important moment in the history of science blogging was the start of science blogging networks. The first one was NPG’s Nature Network. It was essentially an accident – the site was supposed to do something else, but ended inviting people to write blogs instead. Unfortunately, due to technical architecture, it is not well connected to the rest of the world (for example: posts, if they show up on Google Blogsearch at all, show up with several days of delay). One had to remember to go there instead of having the links thrown in one’s face wherever one may be online. Also, the initial strategy of the network was to ask researchers to blog, but very few of them took to the format very well – most of their blogs had one post and then died. Those few who did start blogging well, found themselves isolated, not knowing who is reading them, or even how many did. After a decade, the network has undergone some changes, the bloggers have rotated in and out with some excellent writers there now, and it appears to be more visible now than it used to be when it first started.

The second network (launched in January 2006), Seed Media Group’s Scienceblogs.com was what really made a difference. Here was a media organization vouching for the quality of bloggers they hired to write on their site. And they picked bloggers who already had large readership and traffic, as well as clout online, the likes of P.Z.Myers, Orac, Grrrlscientist, Tara Smith, the Mungers, Revere, David Kroll, Tim Lambert, Ed Brayton, Razib, etc. This gave the network’s bloggers respectability, and the rest of the mainstream media got into a habit of checking Scienceblogs.com as their source of science news online.

A couple of other networks started relatively early in the history (Scientificblogging.org which was later renamed Science2.0, Discover, Discovery News, Psychology Today, Smithsonian…), but mainly dwelled in the shadow of Scienceblogs.com until the infamous #Pepsigate (more about that below). I wrote quite a lot about the role of networks at the time of Pepsigate, in my farewell post at Scienceblogs.com and a couple of more subsequent posts immediately after.

Open Laboratory

The fourth important moment was the first edition of the Open Laboratory, annual crowdsourced anthology of the best writing on science blogs. After five years of getting published at Lulu.com, the sixth edition is about to get published by FSG, imprint of Scientific American at MacMillan. Here was, as early as January 2007, a collection of some amazing blog writing about science, in traditional book format, built by the community itself. It really helped the community define itself. Gaining an entry into the anthology became a big deal. The Open Laboratory was a project designed to go together with the first ScienceOnline conference, and although the publication date is now completely different from the date of the meeting, the books are still a project of the ScienceOnline organization. The conference itself added to the feeling and spirit of the community in a way that gatherings of techie, skeptical, atheist or political bloggers could never accomplish.

For many people, seeing words printed on paper still carries a certain dose of respectability. After all, the real estate of the paper is expensive. A book is a result of a large investment of time, money and effort – either bottom-up, by the author (sometimes perceived as a result of a big ego), or top-down, with an editor choosing what material is worth the investment.

Open Laboratory turned that on its head. Authors submit what they think is their best work, trusting that a jury of peers will fairly assess them, choose the best pieces, perhaps improve them a little bit (more this year than in previous years), and that the entire community will help promote the final product. Inclusion of a blog post in #openlab is not just a result of the whim of an editor, but a result of two or three rounds of judging by multiple people all of whom are also science bloggers and writers. This mutual trust matters.

Awards

Early on there were Koufaxes, later Webbies, and all sorts of other blogging awards. Some of those had awards for science blogging. But if the managers of the award allow bloggers who only pretend to be scientists and use seemingly-scientific language to push pseudoscience (e.g,. global warming) into the Science section of the awards, then real science bloggers react with disdain, then ignore that particular award in the future. When the award is set up essentially as a popularity contest, and when such anti-science bloggers, due to hordes of followers, win such contests, then there is no real reputation linked to that victory, thus there is no need for science bloggers to expend their energies or in any way promote such awards.

Fortunately, over the last few years, a reputable award for science blogging emerged (the fifth important moment in the evolution of science blogging), the 3 Quarks Daily Award, with three rounds, one with reader voting, one with jury voting, and final judgement by the prominent judge who declares the final winners out of ten or so finalists. The winners get money, and proudly sport the 3QD buttons on the sidebars of their blogs.

The aftermath of #Pepsigate

The sixth important moment was #Pepsigate, when Scienceblogs.com broke up and about a quarter of the bloggers left. The time was ripe for it – there were too many science bloggers around, yet only blogs at Scienceblogs.com got any traffic or respect. That was an unstable situation. So many good bloggers were out there, writing wonderfully, but were essentially invisible under the shadow of “The Borg”.

In the wake of #Pepsigate, existing networks (e.g., Discover, Nature Network) redesigned their sites and brought in some of the bloggers fleeing Scienceblogs.com. New networks sprung up almost instantly to lure in more of these blogging veterans. There were new networks started by organizations like Wired, The Guardian, PLoS, NatGeo, AGU, ACH as well as self-organized science blogging collectives like Scientopia, Field Of Science, Science3point0 and Lab Spaces. The last one to launch was Scientific American network which just celebrated its first anniversary last week.

Being on one of these networks became a stamp of approval for the bloggers, and we quickly built Scienceblogging.org site (which is about to undergo a thorough rebuild and redesign, also a project of ScienceOnline organization) to help people find all of the networks, collectives and key group blogs all in one place. While the inclusion there is not as stringent a process as it is on ScienceSeeker.org, this site is also a proxy for quality in some ways, as most of the blogs appearing there wear the imprimatur of traditional organizations, be it the media, publishers, or scientific societies, or the warranty by their colleagues who invited them to join their collectives. This site has, to many in the mainstream media as well as bloggers and readers, replaced scienceblogs.com as the “homepage” where they start their day.

Aggregators

I have already mentioned above that an important moment in the history of science blogging was the start, by Dave Munger, of the website ResearchBlogging.org which aggregates blog posts from science blogs but only if the posts contain the code indicating that the post is covering a paper. The code also renders the citation correctly in the post itself. As the site has editors who decide which applicants can be accepted (or rejected), this became an unofficial stamp of approval, the first method of distinguishing who is and who is not a science blogger.

A couple of years later, when PLoS started accepting bloggers onto their press list, being a member of ResearchBlogging.org was the criterion used for acceptance to the press list (I should know – as I was the one doing the approval at the time as their blog/online manager). A little later, PLoS introduced its Alt-metrics on all of their papers. One of those metrics counts the number of blog posts written about the paper. Going through Google Blogsearch and Technorati bring in all sorts of spamblogs, or people who use blogging software to post copies of press releases, instead of genuine science bloggers. Thus PLoS used ResearchBlogging.org as a filter on their papers.

As ResearchBlogging.org is owned by Seed Media Group, now controlled by NatGeo, and as there seems to be no technical support, financial support, or development of the site any more, people who are using it are advised to switch instead to the successor site, ScienceSeeker.org – another project of the ScienceOnline organization, a much better site that serves the same purpose but also does much more, has some funding (and is asking for more) and is in constant development. Dave Munger is, again, one of the key people involved in the development of this site. At ScienceSeeker.org, one can filter by discipline, or only show posts that have the ResearchBlogging.org code in them, or only show posts that ScienceSeeker editors have flagged as especially good. Both ResearchBlogging.org and ScienceSeeker.org now count (as far as I know) around 1200 blogs on their listings (with much, but not total, overlap). More blogs need to be added for the site to become a more comprehensive collection, but blogs that are on there are a pretty good snapshot of the core of the scientific blogosphere today.

Size of the science blogosphere

It is relatively easy to count science blogs in “smaller” languages, e.g., German, Italian, French, Spanish or Portuguese, with several dozen each at most. It is much more difficult to count science blogs written in English, Russian, Chinese or Japanese – those most likely count in multiples of thousands. But it is impossible to make a good estimate as it depends on one’s definition.

Searching Google or Technorati brings up many blogs with a “science” tag that have nothing to do with science – or worse (spam blogs, anti-science blogs, etc). Researchblogging.org and ScienceSeeker.org are still too small to be useful for counting the total size of the blogosphere.

How does one count blogs that have not been updated in six months – on hiatus or dead? How does one count multiple blogs by the same person, perhaps not even updated simultaneously but successive editions of the blog (e.g., as the person moves from one network to another)? One blog or many? Does one count classroom blogs, at least those that are not set on ‘private’? How about institutional news blogs? Are they “real blogs” or just an easy software to use to push press releases? And do press releases count? We can fight over this forever, I guess, so I’d rather concede that blogs are uncountable and to leave it at that.

Rising power and respect

I have written recently, much more briefly than here, about the history of science blogging and the problem of delineation of who is in and who is out. In that article I also mentioned some events that added to the respect of science blogs, e.g., Tripoli 6 affair, George Deutch affair, the PRISM affair, and #arseniclife affair (finally concluded last night!), though there have been many other cases in which science bloggers uncovered wrongoing, or forced media to pay attention to something, or forced action on something important. Some of those cases involved clearing the record within science, others had effect on broader society or policy.

Each one of these cases strengthened the respect for science bloggers. In some cases they did a much better job reporting than the mainstream media did. In others, they tenaciously persisted on a story until they finally forced the mass media to pick up the story and broadcast it to bigger audiences that, in turn, could effect a change (e.g,. by calling their representatives in Washington). In many ways, science bloggers shocked the old system and built a new system in its place.

Increased reputation also came from cases in which bloggers solved scientific problems online, in public, for everyone to see. The most famous case is, of course, the Polymath Project, in which Tim Gowers and his readers solved an old mathematical problem in the long comment section of his blog post. The details of the project, as well as why it was so important for open science, were wonderfully detailed in Michael Nielsen’s book Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science.

The best such example to date is the #Arseniclife affair because it did two things simultaneously. First, the scientists with relevant expertise took to their blogs to critique, criticize and debunk the infamous paper about the uptake of arsenic instead of phosphorus by the DNA of a strange bacterium living in a Californian lake. That is not so new – bloggers criticize studies all the time, with expertise and diligence and thoroughness.

But importantly, the second thing also happened – the attempt at replication of the experiment was live-blogged by Rosie Redfield, describing in painstaking detail day-to-day lab work, getting technical feedback from the commenters, resulting in the Science paper demonstrating that experiment could not be replicated. This was a powerful demonstration of the process of Open Notebook Science as one of the things that scientists these days can do with their blogging software.

Professionalization of science bloggers

You may have noticed a few weeks ago the so-called Lehrer affair (scroll all the way down here for several representative links). In the aftermath, Seth Mnookin used his blog to further explore the professionalization of blogs and the blurring of the lines between blogging and mainstream journalism: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

One of the most interesting reactions by some of the Scienceblogs.com bloggers during #Pepsigate was “we are not journalists, I am not the media”. But they were. If your blog is indexed by Google News, hosted by a media company, you are the media. New media perhaps, but still media. More personal, more conversational, but still media.

The issue with Jonah Lehrer was something people called “self-plagiarism”, i.e., re-using one’s own old words in a new article. This is the clash between old media (“our content is exclusive!”) and new media (“my blog is my writing lab where I develop my ideas over time”). Judging from all the discussions, journalists, bloggers and readers are all over the place regarding this issue. Is it OK to re-use one’s old words if one is not paid? Is it OK if one is transparent (perhaps using links to old posts, or quotes – I am all for it and do it myself a lot)? Is it OK on a blog but not in an article (and how does a reader know what is what)? Is it OK to reuse one’s own tweet or Facebook update (because it is not always thought of as “blogging”, attitude which I find silly), but not OK to reuse words that occurred on a WordPress platform? What is the real difference here?

Obviously, the times are in flux. Some science bloggers would rather not be considered media, and not asked to write the way journalists write. Some prefer to use their blogs as writing labs, often repeating and reiterating ideas and words and sometimes entire passages in new contexts, with a new angle or twist, gradually adding and changing their own thinking over the years, introducing new readers to old ideas (after all, who digs through the years of archives?), with no intention of ever turning that material into commercial fare, e.g., a magazine article or a book.

If your beat is debunking anti-vaccination misinformation, how many ways can you do that if you post every day? And getting a couple of hundred dollars per month for editor-free posting on someone else’s site is not really “professional writing” in a traditional sense. Writing under the banner of a well known media organization, while it confers respectability by virtue of being chosen to be there, does not automatically means that blogging is the same as reporting news or writing professional op-eds. There is much more freedom guaranteed. More editorial control would require much more money in exchange.

On the other hand, some science bloggers see their blogs as potential marketing tools for themselves as writers. Their blogs are a different kind of a “writing lab” – a place to write more fine-tuned kinds of pieces, more ‘journalistic’, in hope of being seen and then getting gigs and jobs in the media. They tend to cover new papers, rather than write broader educational pieces. They try to proofread and polish their posts better. And why not? Nothing wrong with that. Just like there is nothing wrong with NOT wanting to do that either. Many scientist-bloggers really have no journalistic ambitions. Others do. Each has different goals, thus different writing styles and forms, slightly different ethics (neither one of them wrong, just different), and different understanding what their blogs are all about.

During one of those debates about professionalization of science bloggers, I sometimes heard a sentiment that bloggers with no journalistic ambitions should not confuse everyone by being on networks hosted by media organizations. As an editor of one of those networks, I beg to differ. I want all kinds of bloggers, all styles and formats, because I want to diversify our offering, I want to have something for every kind of reader – from kids to postdocs, from teachers to researchers and more. I want to blurry the line between old and new media, make it so new, more Web-native forms of stories become a norm, not just the old tired inverted pyramid.

The world of media is rapidly changing and, in many ways, returning to the many-to-many communication that we are used to, the 20th century broadcast model being the only weird exception in history. Mixing and matching various styles of communication in one place, especially a highly visible place, is a good thing for science, as each piece will be interesting to a different subset of the potential audience, which will keep coming back for more, looking around, learning how to appreciate other styles as well.

I want cool science to be everywhere in the media ecosystem – from movies and television, to theater and music, to newspapers and magazines, to books and blogs and tweets. I want the science communicators to practice the new journalistic workflow which assumes, almost by definition, that a lot one says will be repeated over and over again in various places in various contexts. Self-plagiarism does not make sense as a concept in this model. Self-plagiarism IS the new model – that is how good ideas get pushed (as opposed to pulled) to as many audiences, in as many places, over as many years as possible.

On one hand, bloggers need to adjust. Moving from indy blogs to Scientific American put a lot of our bloggers into a phase of self-reflection. They sometimes try to write perfect posts (and sometimes need encouragement to just throw things up on their blogs even if they are not entirely perfect). But blog posts are not supposed to be, with occasional exceptions, polished, self-contained pieces. A blog post is usually one of many in that person’s series of posts on the same topic, reflecting personal learning and growth over the years. Or a post on something new to the person, a way to organize one’s own thoughts about a very new topic. That post is also a part of an ongoing conversation the blogger has with regular readers and commenters. That post is also part of a broader online (and sometimes also offline) conversation.

A blog post is just a ginormous tweet in a series of other ginormous tweets, usually, but an occasional polished diamond is certainly welcome as well. It is a writing lab, after all, so occasionally a perfect article may appear. But focusing on that goal is misguided – a blog is a place to think in public. And if the media host understands that, then there is no question or problem of “self-plagiarism”.

On the other hand, readers also need to adjust. When they arrive at a media site, they should learn not to expect a self-contained inverted pyramid every time. Blogs have been around for fifteen years, they are not so novel any more, it’s easy to see if a place is a blog, if it reads like a blog, and one should know what one should expect on a blog. I think that most complaints in the comments are really trolling – people who dislike what scientific research concluded complain about typos, or format, or length, in order to divert the discussion that makes them personally uncomfortable. Our bloggers have full moderation powers to deal with such comments in any way they see fit.

Saving science blogs forever

A couple of weeks ago I was at a meeting at the Library of Congress about archiving and preserving all the science that is happening online – from data to journal papers to discussions. This includes blogs and social media as well. Here are is my own personal summary of what I learned there.

Capacity. Apparently, this is not a problem. LoC has as much space as needed to save everything forever.

Technical difficulties and link rot. Saving plain text is easy. But many formats, and especially concerning multimedia, will require some tough technical gymnastics. There are so many formats out there, it will be hard to make a repository that is easily searchable, browsable, complete, and usable. But it is not impossible.

I am a total technological Luddite – apart from HTML (and heavy use of the Web) I do not know anything about computers, code, internet and how it all works. But I know that if Dave Winer puts a lot of effort and time into a project and thinks it is important, one is wise not to ignore it. It may not work, or it may, but his track record suggests one should pay attention. After all, he picked up an abandoned old project and from it developed RSS (no, not RSS readers, the actual RSS infrastructure underneath it) – yes, the stuff that all of the Web runs on right now, how do you think you get all those articles brought to you, listed, automatically tweeted, etc.? Via RSS, of course. Dave also developed the first blogging software, promoted it, blogging took off, and now blogs are ubiquitous. Dave invented podcasting, and now it’s all the rage.

So I am watching carefully what he is doing with Radio2 and River2. I still have to play with it, see if I can figure out how to do it myself, but my first impression is that RSS, a super-simple blogging platform and something like open source Twitter had a wild orgy and this is their offspring. This looks like an easy, simple and open way for anyone to put any kind of content anywhere online, to curate one’s own and others’ content, and to easily move stuff from one place to another. And this last piece is, I think, the key. One can move a blog post, or entire blog, from one place to another and that does not change the URL and does not break the links. If something like this takes off and everyone uses it, the problem of link rot will become very minor.

And link rot is a big problem. After #Pepsigate, many bloggers feel the freedom to move from one network to another, or on and off networks, with considerable ease and speed. What happens to the archives? A couple of weeks ago, someone at National Geographic flipped the wrong switch and years of archives from almost a 100 science blogs were gone. Completely gone, even blocked from viewing at Wayback Machine and Internet Archive and Google Cache and what not. It took a dozen of tweets to get the attention of some of their bloggers who contacted the relevant person who flipped the switch back on Monday morning, making all those historically very important archives accessible again. See how easy it is to erase history? Perhaps with Radio2+River2, if it is universally used, this would not be a problem. Wait and see.

Curation. For a huge archive to be useful to users – and that’s what such an archive is for – it has to be organized in a meaningful way. Should it be by topic? Or by person? By narrow area, or by a whole discipline (human genome or entire genetics)? Or by technological platform (tweets to the left, datasets to the right, blog posts straight ahead)? Or separate independent blogs from network and institutional blogs? If all of the stuff all of the science bloggers in the world have ever posted on all of their blogs is to be archived and preserved, how should that material be organized? Chronologically, minute by minute? Or in chunks akin to blog carnivals? Or sorted by topic? Should papers be connected to blog posts that discuss those papers? Should #arseniclife be its own “unit”?

Another problem is privacy. Facebook has many privacy settings. Tweets, and some blogs, occasionally switch from private to public to private – what is a repository to do with stuff that is uncertain if it is private or public at any given time? Should the archiving be opt-in? In that case, how does one ensure that most of the people opt in so the repository is of decent completeness?

Also, many blog posts are reactions to other sites. A blog post may debunk a claim from a creationist, or anti-vax or GW-denialist blog, linking to it and quoting from it. If science blogs are preserved, but anti-science blogs are not, there will be link rot right there, preserving reactions without the context of the reactions. So perhaps all those antiscience and pseudoscience blogs should also be preserved – they may be bad science, but they are an important aspect of today’s society and will be interesting to future historians. In which case, how does one label them? They are clearly not science blogs (although some of them pretend to be), so they should not be just thrown into the same bag. Which is why this delineation between “real” science blogs and other stuff has to be made.

And how will this decision be made and by whom? Should something like ScienceSeeker be used as an edited, peer-reviewed collection of respected science bloggers? If so, how does one get more bloggers to know about this and apply to it?

ScienceOnline2012 – interview with Kaitlin Vandemark

Every year I ask some of the attendees of the ScienceOnline conferences to tell me (and my readers) more about themselves, their careers, current projects and their views on the use of the Web in science, science education or science communication. So now we continue with the participants of ScienceOnline2012. See all the interviews in this series here.

Today my guest is Kaitlin Vandemark (blog, Twitter)

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

Hello, my name is Kaitlin Vandemark. I am currently a student at Cleveland State University studying physics and communications. I was originally studying to get a bachelor’s degree in physics, until I started to become more interested in communications and finding a way of expressing my love of science to others. I will graduate in December of 2013 with my bachelors in both Physics and Communications. I am hoping then to find a career that allows me to pursue my passion in both science and communication.

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

I am still a bit new to the field of online communications. Like anyone from my generation, I have a Facebook and Twitter, but only recently have I started to expand on my online science communication. For the past 2 and ½ years I have been doing optics research at my university. This research has allowed me to attend many conferences, where I can present my research and passion for science to others.

After attending Science Online 2012, I have started a website with AmoebaMike. The site is called the Sardonic Scientist, and its main focus is to parody science news. We have been trying to jumpstart the website with new articles, and I am very excited to see the website grow.

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

School takes up most of my time these days. Between classes, clubs, student government, and research; I am kept pretty busy. I write articles for the website whenever I have free time. As I near graduation my next goals consist of finding a career path. I have been researching companies and graduate schools to decide my next steps. I am currently torn between entering industry after my bachelors or continuing my education with graduate school in physics or communications.

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

I think Science Communication (especially through the web) is important because of the misuse of science today. Many people rely on the internet to get information, and form ideas about issues that face society today. Unfortunately, many people use science as a tool to gain support for their ideas; whether or not the science they claim is true. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone quote a scientific study of some sort to prove a point that doesn’t even relate to the original studie’s goal. This misuse of science motivates me to communicate science to the world. I do this in the hopes that they will do their research before believing in false claims.

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

Currently I do not blog much but social networks have a huge effect on my activities. I use Twitter and Facebook to not only connect with people, but to promote my activities. I am currently involved in the Society of Physics Students at my University as well as Student Government. I use Twitter and Facebook to promote events to students. I also use Twitter and Facebook to promote the Sardonic Scientist, by posting new articles on each site.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2012 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 is a very difficult question for me. ScienceOnline2012 was such a great experience that it was hard to pick one aspect. This was the first conference I have been to of this nature. I have been to dozens of scientific conferences, but they seem to be filled with nothing but talks and seminars. This was the first conference to encourage the attendants to speak to each other and share ideas openly in forum. I would say my favorite aspect of the conference was the fact it was an “unconference”, this opened up my eyes to a new way of communicating in science.

Another great aspect was meeting new and wonderful people. Without this conference I would not have meet AmoebaMike and started our website.

Every session I went to offered new ideas and helpful hints for succeeding in science communication. My two favorite sessions were the “2 Minute Elevator Pitch Session” and “Science Communication the Mel Brooks Way”. Each of these sessions provided me with a different tool to succeed at my career. The Elevator pitch session helped me to prepare for my career, whether it is in the university setting or industry. The Mel Brooks session confirmed my love of humor to spread knowledge. I have always firmly believed that humor is a useful tool to teach, but it was amazing to see so many people in one room who believed the same.

For this upcoming ScienceOnline I would definitely stick with the “unconference” idea. I would be interested in a session for new bloggers who are interested on tips to get started.

Thank you! I hope you’ll come back next January.

Thanks so much.

 

The Scienceblogging Weekly (July 6th, 2012)

Blog of the Week:

Musings of a Dinosaur is a blog written by a physician, family practitioner, Lucy E. Hornstein, author of the book Declarations of a Dinosaur: 10 Laws I’ve Learned as a Family Doctor. Having a small general family practice is different from beeing a specialist in a large hospital. Approach to patients is different. The way one runs the business is different. The thoughts about electronic medical records (a frequent topic of the blog) are different. A valuable perspective, wry and funny and insightful.

 

Top 10:

Maxwell’s demon goes quantum, can do work, write and erase data by Matthew Francis:

At any temperature above absolute zero, particles in a system move randomly, an effect known as thermal fluctuation. The random character of the fluctuations means they cannot be put to work in a mechanical sense (the measure of the energy unavailable for work is called entropy). 19th century physicist James Clerk Maxwell proposed a tiny intelligent “demon” that could harvest the thermal fluctuations to restore their usefulness; later work in the 20th century showed that the demon itself would have entropy, which would keep the thermodynamic books balanced.

Interesting by Shara Yurkiewicz:

I pull up a test result for my patient, and the senior resident standing behind me lets out an excited squeal. “I’ve never seen the imaging come back positive for this,” she says. Our two-week-old infant, who already has a rare infection, also has a rare associated structural abnormality. It’s not benign, but it is fixable. The fix usually requires surgery. As we walk over to the patient’s room to update her mother, my senior gushes about the zebra that was uncovered on the ultrasound. She asks me if I’m excited. “I dunno,” I mutter, which is somewhat more diplomatic than my disgust that she is. ”Her kid has to get surgery now.”

The world’s smallest fly probably decapitates really tiny ants by Ed Yong:

…Even though flies as a group aren’t exactly giants, the new species was around half the size of the previous smallest species. Brown named it Euryplatea nanaknihali after Nanak Nihal Weiss, a young boy from Brown’s home town in Los Angeles. Weiss is an entomology fanatic and Brown hopes that the name will help to keep his interest for years to come….

Creationists and Climate “Skeptics” – Separate Species or Just Different Breeds? by Faye Flam:

Several of the regular readers of this column have told me that since I’ve been brave enough to tell the truth about evolution, I should do the same for climate change and expose it as a hoax. In one case I replied that in my stories I always strive to reflect the truth to the best of my abilities. He wrote that he was “disappointed.” These evolution-accepting climate change “skeptics” are an interesting breed, revealing some key differences in the ways they and creationists approach science. Self-described climate skeptics are much more scattered in their views than are creationists, but they are better organized and together speak with a louder, and angrier voice….

Printing dinosaurs: the mad science of new paleontology by Laura June:

In April of this year, I headed out to a marl pit in Clayton, New Jersey to watch a team of Drexel University students and their teacher, Professor Kenneth Lacovara, dig for fossils. Marl, a lime-rich mud, had been mined and used as the 19th century’s leading fertilizer, but since around World War II (with the development of more advanced, synthetic fertilizers), demand for it has steeply lessened, and there aren’t many marl mining businesses left in the US. The marl pits of Southern New Jersey are famous for something else, though: they have been incredibly rich in fossil finds. In February, Dr. Lacovara had announced that the Paleontology department at Drexel would team up with the Engineering department for what would largely be a novel new project: scanning all of the fossils in the University’s collection (including some previously unidentified dinosaurs of Lacovara’s own finds in other parts of the world) using a 3D scanner. The Engineering department would then take those scans and use a 3D printer to create 1/10 scale models of the most important bones. But, he reported, that wouldn’t be the end of it: they intended, he said, to use those scale polymer “printouts” to model and then engineer fully working limbs, complete with musculature — to create, in effect, a fully accurate robotic dinosaur leg or arm, and eventually, a complete dinosaur….

Childbirth and C-sections in pre-modern times by Kristina Killgrove:

Basically since we started walking upright, childbirth has been difficult for women. Evolution selected for larger and larger brains in our hominin ancestors such that today our newborns have heads roughly 102% the size of the mother’s pelvic inlet width (Rosenberg 1992). Yes, you read that right. Our babies’ heads are actually two percent larger than our skeletal anatomy…

Self help: forget positive thinking, try positive action by Richard Wiseman:

For years self-help gurus have preached the same simple mantra: if you want to improve your life then you need to change how you think. Force yourself to have positive thoughts and you will become happier. Visualise your dream self and you will enjoy increased success. Think like a millionaire and you will magically grow rich. In principle, this idea sounds perfectly reasonable. However, in practice it often proves ineffective….

The Uncertainty Principle for climate (and chemical) models by Ashutosh Jogalekar:

A recent issue of Nature had an interesting article on what seems to be a wholly paradoxical feature of models used in climate science; as the models are becoming increasingly realistic, they are also becoming less accurate and predictive because of growing uncertainties. I can only imagine this to be an excruciatingly painful fact for climate modelers who seem to be facing the equivalent of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle for their field. It’s an especially worrisome time to deal with such issues since the modelers need to include their predictions in the next IPCC report on climate change which is due to be published next year….

The living rainbow: A fatal flaw in a classic study of sexual selection by Jeremy Yoder:

A key component of classical sexual selection theory is the idea that males maximize their evolutionary fitness—the number of children they ultimately have—by mating with lots of females, while females maximize their fitness by selecting only one or a few high-quality partners. It’s pretty clear that this model works well for some species (like ducks), but also that there are many it doesn’t fit so well. Now it looks like one of the “classic” experimental examples of sexual selection may actually fall into the latter category….

Dr. Google and Mr. Hyde by David Gorski:

….Like all major new technologies, the Internet has a good side and a bad side. In many cases, the same property is both good and bad, and one place that this is particularly true is in medical information. The Internet has an abundance of medical information, all there for the reading and learning, and various discussion forums that began with online BBS services and the now mostly obsolete global discussion community of Usenet allow people from all over the world who would never have communicated directly with each other before to share information and experiences. Unfortunately, there is a dark side to this. Regular readers of this blog know what that dark side is, too. The same technology that allows reputable scientists and doctors to publish reliable medical information to the world at very low cost also allows quacks and cranks to spew their misinformation, nonsense, pseudoscience, and quackery to the whole world at very little cost. And, boy, do they ever! In many ways, the quacks are a far more effective online presence than skeptics and supporters of science-based medicine. I mean, look at SBM itself. We’re still using a generic WordPress template. Now look at an antivaccine website like The International Medical Council on Vaccination or Generation Rescue or the antivaccine blog Age of Autism. Look at quack websites like NaturalNews.com The comparison, at least when it comes to web and blog design, is not flattering…..

 

Special topic: Higgs boson:

What is the Higgs boson? – video by Ian Sample and Laurence Topham

What Is the Higgs Boson? [Video] by George Musser

Higgs Boson VIDEO: A Metaphor To Explain The Particle, Or Further Confuse You by Cara Santa Maria and Henry Reich

Sonnet on a Higgs-Like Particle (video) by Vi Hart

New Particle Resembling Long-Sought Higgs Boson Uncovered at Large Hadron Collider by John Matson

If You Want More Higgs Hype, Don’t Read This Column by John Horgan

Beyond Higgs: On Supersymmetry (or Lack Thereof) by Glenn Starkman

Mr Boson, I presume…? by Charles Ebikeme

Live-Blogging the Higgs Seminar by Sean Carroll

Science Friday by Sean Carroll

Higgsteria: We Didn’t Need No U.S. Super Collider by Gary Stix

Pros and Cons of building particle accelerators – Werner Heisenberg by Beatrice Lugger

Higgs? Probably not tomorrow and Discovering a boson and Linux at CERN and The mysterious Mr. Higgs by Gianluigi Filippelli

Who gives a Higgs? by Jacqui Hayes

What If the New Particle Isn’t the Higgs Boson? by Natalie Wolchover

Why the Higgs Particle Matters by Matt Strassler

The Best Analogies Scientists and Journalists Use To Explain the Higgs Boson by J. Bryan Lowder

High on Higgs by Subhra Priyadarshini

Stop calling it “The God Particle!” by Dr. Dave Goldberg

The Higgs Boson explained by PhD Comics by Jorge Cham, via Nathan Yau

Scientists’ search for Higgs boson yields new subatomic particle by Brian Vastag and Joel Achenbach

The Higgs Boson – Certainly, certainly (?) there! (at least, I am pretty certain it is) by Julian Champkin

Gallery: how Wired readers picture the Higgs Boson by Ian Steadman

The Art of Science – Particle Accelerator Art by Michele Banks

Gettin’ Higgy With it: A Roundup of Higgs Boson Jokes on Twitter by Xeni Jardin

Higgs! by Phil Plait

Higgs Boson: the jokes edition by Khalil A. Cassimally

Scientists might have found the Higgs Boson by Maggie Koerth-Baker

Higgsdependence Day! by Matthew R. Francis

Physicists Find Elusive Particle Seen as Key to Universe by DENNIS OVERBYE

How the Discovery of the Higgs Boson Could Break Physics by Adam Mann

CERN Announces Discovery of Higgs-like Particle by PRI The World

What It Means to Find “a Higgs” by Mariette DiChristina

So What’s the Big Deal About the Higgs Boson, Anyway? A Physics Double Xplainer by Matthew Francis

A Moment for Particle Physics: The End of a 40-Year Story? by Stephen Wolfram

Higgs-like discovery from the inside by Jon Butterworth

The Higgs Boson and my mom by Laura Jane Martin

What Higgs Boson Evidence Looks Like by Ira Flatow

Higgs boson: Prof Stephen Hawking loses $100 bet by Nick Collins

Physicists Detect New Heavy Particle by Virat Markandeya

Hipster Pop Quiz: What is the Higgs Boson? by Motherboard

These Hipsters Have No Idea About the Higgs Boson by Megan Garber

CERN Finds New Particle (And it Might be the Higgs Boson!) by Miriam Kramer

Does 5-sigma = discovery? by Hyperspace

It’s true, they say they have the Higgs in the bag. Big news. Just imagine the hubbub were it deemed imaginary. and Goldarned god particle by Charlie Petit

So the Higgs boson walks into a… by Eryn Brown

Lighter side of the Higgs boson by Alan Boyle

Nobel Laureates in Physics React to the Higgs-Like Particle News [Video] by Nature magazine

Do You Understand The Higgs Boson? by Fake Science

It’s kind of a Higgs deal by Zen Faulkes

Field Day by Rheanna Sand

 

Best Images:

Snake Oil? The scientific evidence for health supplements by David McCandless and Andy Perkins

Unusual Bridges For Animals – Wildlife Overpasses by THE WORLD GEOGRAPHY

Horoscoped by David McCandless

The complete history of philosophy visualized in one graph by Simon Raper, via George Dvorsky

Paper birds – now with some internal anatomy by Diana Beltran Herrera

How Do We Know by The Census Bureau

 

Best Videos:

Curiosity’s Seven Minutes of Terror by NASA

Hermit Crab in Glass Shell turning over by Robert DuGrenier

Virtual Pigeon Attracts, Baffles Randy Males by Rachel Nuwer

Stephen Colbert Interviews Neil deGrasse Tyson at Montclair Kimberley Academy – 2010-Jan-29 by teridon

Fracking by Carin Bondar

Watch a giant African land snail enjoying a nice cool shower by Lauren Davis

Science Is A Girl Thing: Chris Hardwick, Cara Santa Maria Talk Women In STEM On G4’s ‘Attack Of The Show’ by Cara Santa Maria

Speed Comparison: GT vs. F1 cars by mclaren777

Why We Need to Broaden Participation in Science by RMCRSLDM

Science Writing in the Age of Denial, April 23, 2012 videos by University of Wisconsin-Madison

What Happens Inside the Large Hadron Collider? by George Musser and Rose Eveleth

Som Sabadell flashmob by Banco Sabadell

Octopus ‘vulgaris’ hatchlings hatching by Richard Ross

Ophiarachna Predatory Brittle Star FEEDING ACTION! by ChrisM

Deep-Sea Cephalopods Hide Using Light by AMNHorg

 

Science:

The Good-Old Days of Contraception: Lemon-Peel Diaphragms and Beaver-Testicle Tea by Sophie Bushwick

TGIPF: Iceland’s Phallological Museum by Alex Witze and Jeff Kanipe

The Myth of the Rational Scientist by Byron Jennings

Do scientists need an equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath to ensure ethical conduct? by Lou Woodley

Will We Ever Find Dinosaurs Caught in the Act? and Pterosaurs Done Wrong by Brian Switek

Trees, grass, carbon dioxide and the battle for dominance by GrrlScientist

Franz Boas and Neuroanthropology by Daniel Lende

Altmetrics and the Future of Science by Samuel Arbesman

Lunch: An Urban Invention by Nicola Twilley

The Making Of Meat-Eating America by Dan Charles

How To Start Your Own Farm by Forrest Pritchard

Foie Gras Hypocrisy by Matt Pressberg

U.N. Report from Rio on Environment a ‘Suicide Note’ by Mark McDonald

A “rule-of-forearm” for collecting data in Botswana by Andrew J King

Microbiomes mediating microevolution by Zen Faulkes

Dietary supplements: Manufacturing troubles widespread, FDA inspections show by Trine Tsouderos

Grizzlies move into Polar bear territory by Rebecca Deatsman

The Unsung Scientist, Louis-Antoine Ranvier by Cynthia McKelvey

Turning trauma into story: the benefits of journaling by Jordan Gaines

The tyranny of π: A semirational rant on an irrational number by Jonathan Chang

Draining the Desert? by Kate Prengaman

BOOK REVIEW: Companions in Wonder: Children and Adults Exploring Nature Together by Michael Barton

Ancient impact crater may be largest ever found by Stephen “DarkSyde” Andrew

Rising Heat at the Beach Threatens Largest Sea Turtles, Climate Change Models Show by Rachel Ewing

You Can See Poor From Space by Philadelinquency

Maya Lin: A Memorial to A Vanishing Natural World by Diane Toomey

The Problems With Forecasting and How to Get Better at It by Nate Silver

Ray Bradbury and the Lost Planetarium Show by David Romanowski

Opossums: Survival Machines and Opossum Reproduction by Jason Bittel

Conducting Cells in Mosses by Jessica M. Budke

What’s the difference between one kid with a fever and one without? by Connor Bamford

You want to cut me where? by Steven Salzberg

Birds of the Sun by Christopher Taylor

Coffee: a caffeinated chronicle by Jordan Gaines

Inner Ears Reveal Speed of Early Primates and The Shambulance: Ab Toning Belts (or, Muscle Tone Is All in Your Head) and Flightless Giant’s Flower Diet Revealed by Poop Fossils by Elizabeth Preston

Reviving the ‘apparently dead’ in Georgian Britain by Alun Withey

Don’t trust the religious by P.Z.Myers

Mother Nature Wants to Eat You, or: The Trouble With Alternative Med by Puff the Mutant Dragon

Galápagos Monday: World Within Itself by Virginia Hughes

Not in Our Genes by Bryan Appleyard

On the merits of science literacy by Alice Bell

Defining a hybrid species by Retrieverman

Sleep Research in the Blind May Help Us All by Steven Lockley, Ph.D.

Male Lactation- there’s probably something wrong with you by Noby Leong

Bill McKibben on the Global Warming Hoax by Bill McKibben

Why the Left-Brain Right-Brain Myth Will Probably Never Die by Christian Jarrett

Do Bears Sense That Hunters Are Afoot? and Thinking About Your Own Demise Inspires Environmentalism by Rachel Nuwer

Infrastructure and You by Marie-Claire Shanahan, Scott Huler and Tim De Chant

Bottles Full of Brain-Boosters by Carl Zimmer

New Study: Climate Deniers Are Emoting–Especially the Conspiracy Theorists and The Politics of Ice and Fire by Chris Mooney

What’s Behind The Record Heat? by Douglas Main

Jungle Science and the Future of Conservation by Mireya Mayor

A Poison for Assassins and Tiny Fireworks by Deborah Blum

“Why Do We Have to Learn This Stuff?”—A New Genetics for 21st Century Students by Rosemary J. Redfield

Darwin, Darwinism, and Uncertainty: book review by Matt Young

You’re Not as Happy as You Think You Are, Behavioral Scientists Report by Thomas Hayden

Strange sounds: How the brain makes sense of degraded speech by Julia Erb

Do We Need “Evolutionary Medicine”? by Harriet Hall

What the Germs in Your Bellybutton Say About You by Jason Tetro

Just a Reminder by Mike Haubrich

Night Shift by Rob Dunn

When Killer Whales Attack by Kieran Mulvaney

Voyager 1: The Little Spacecraft That Could by Amy Shira Teitel

Marriage is a tool society uses to reproduce by Greg Laden

Supplements: Something Smells Fishy by Cassandra Willyard

Cost of scientific research – and political naivity by Ken Perrott

The time has come: public participation in science policy making. and Harnessing Citizen Scientists: Let’s Create a Very Public Office of Technology Assessment by Darlene Cavalier

Get to know the narwhal! by Heidi Smith

Worm kills insects by vomiting Hulk-like bacteria by Ed Yong

The Tasmanian Echidna’s Four-Headed Penis by Lucy Cooke

Why Do Flamingos Stand On One Leg? by Matt Soniak

The First Poem Published in a Scientific Journal by Maria Popova

Truth and Reconciliation for Group Selection (pdf) by David Sloan Wilson

With a snail’s help a fish transitions from dying to dead by Craig McClain

Can You Learn To Be Synaesthetic? and False Positive Neuroscience? by Neuroskeptic

The Psychologist: Vladimir Nabokov’s understanding of human nature anticipated the advances in psychology since his day by Brian Boyd

 

Media, Publishing, Technology and Society:

The Geek Poet Strikes Back by Beth McNichol

A field guide to ocean science and conservation on twitter by Andrew Thaler

How to solve impossible problems: Daniel Russell’s awesome Google search techniques by John Tedesco

Should Google and Amazon be allowed to control domains? by Mathew Ingram

Calling Dr. Google by Jeff Jarvis

Belated thoughts on the Finch Report on achieving Open Access by Mike Taylor

The ‘Busy’ Trap by Tim Kreider and Have You Fallen Into The Busy Trap? by Brad Feld and Do We All Work Too Much? And Do We Really Have a Choice? by Walter Frick

The Death and Rebirth of Television News: “All of Life is Reduced to the Common Rubble of Banality” by Steven Lloyd Wilson

The Enlightenment project could inspire our media by Matthew da Silva

What Twitter could have been by Dalton Caldwell

A manifesto for the newspaper’s public editor in the social media era by Dan Gillmor

Why Google Plus isn’t dead — well, yet by John D. Sutter

SciWriteLabs 8.3: Adjudicating the Lehrer plagiarism accusations. Plus: Do Arianna and Oprah deserve lifelong bans? by Seth Mnookin

The Great American Novel by Maria Konnikova

Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit by David Graeber (also see reactions by Henry Farrell and Cassiodorus)

Journatic worker takes ‘This American Life’ inside outsourced journalism by Anna Tarkov

Positive signs from Wiley on open access and Dear Wiley: please use Creative Commons Attribution for your open-access activities by Mike Taylor

On Tides, Visibility, and Quiet Revolutionary Acts by Dana Hunter

The View from Nowhere Interviews Trenberth by Michael Tobis

Social Networking For Scientists – The Wiki by Christie Wilcox

Save your darlings: Blank on Blank gives new life to old tape by Adrienne LaFrance

Hooray for the Awesome Wave of Lady Scientists in Action Movies by Alyssa Rosenberg

Long-form journalism project Matter aiming for September launch by Rachel McAthy

The Predictable Comment by The Digital Cuttlefish

Dramatic Growth of Open Access by Heather Morrison

The 2012 presidential election: what voters want – the community agenda by Jay Rosen and Nadja Popovich

Website Tests How Political Opposites Actually Discuss Differences by Marissa Alioto

Sorry, Your Tweets Can Still Be Subpoenaed by Adam Martin

Why You Should Be An Open Notebook Scientist by Anthony Salvagno

Startups that Catalyze Science by Samuel Arbesman

Some upcoming events.

#Triscitweetup #4 is this Sunday, July 8th, in Durham, NC, at Fullsteam Brewery, 726 Rigsbee Avenue. We’ll start arriving at around 4:00pm, but you can come earlier to catch the “Meet Your Urban Farmer!” event at 2pm at the same venue.

On Saturday July 14, 2012 1:15pm – 2:45pm (local time), I’ll be on a panel Conversations about science: the role of ‘social media’ at Euroscience Open Forum 2012 in Dublin, Ireland. If you are there, come and say Hello to me before or after the panel.

Next ScienceOnlineBayArea event – Inside the E-book Revolution – will be on July 17, 2012 from 7:00 PM to 8:30 (Pacific).

Next #NYCSciTweetUp will be on July 7th at Loreley Restaurant – Manhattan – 7 Rivington Street (between Bowery & Chrystie) starting at 6:30pm. I’ll be there. Try to come by if you can. So far we’ve tried to rotate between Manhattan and Brooklyn, but are now considering spreading out to the Bronx (first week of August) and perhaps Queens (first week of September). Stay tuned.

I’ll be giving a talk, a workshop, and be on the panel (all about science blogging, social media and online communication) on July 30th at the Metcalf Institute for Marine & Environmental Reporting at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography, co-organized in partnership with Rhode Island EPSCoR. I do not know if the event if open for public, but if you know you’ll be there, come and say Hi.

Later in fall, October 15-20 – Society for Vertebrate Paleontology Annual Meeting, Raleigh NC

October 26-30 – Science Writers (NASW/CASW) meeting, Raleigh NC

Let me know about other events in the comments….

ScienceOnline2012 – interview with Emily Buehler

Every year I ask some of the attendees of the ScienceOnline conferences to tell me (and my readers) more about themselves, their careers, current projects and their views on the use of the Web in science, science education or science communication. So now we continue with the participants of ScienceOnline2012. See all the interviews in this series here.

Today my guest is Emily Buehler (book homepage, LinkedIn, Twitter).

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

I’m from Connecticut but came to North Carolina for graduate school at UNC, and have been here ever since. I got my PhD in chemistry, but I did not want to get a job in a lab or as a professor when I finished. I was 27 when I graduated, and had never done anything but be in school! At the time, I just felt a strong desire to “run away.” I wasn’t particularly happy and often got this trapped feeling, where I would daydream about getting in the car and just driving away… although I knew I was too responsible to leave for good, which meant I’d end up returning and the drive would just be a waste of gas. So I never did it. But I didn’t want to continue on the path I seemed to be stuck on.

Also, I had never traveled, and I was not very confident outside of a university setting, and I didn’t know what my spiritual beliefs were, and it now seems like I needed to get away from an all-encompassing job to have some time to work on all that stuff.

Looking back, if I had known that “science writing” existed I might have looked into it; but as far as I knew my options were research and academia. (I did have a great internship with the National Academies of Science, that I mention because it is a great program and really helped me “break free,” although public policy was not right for me).

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

After grad school, I got a job in a bread bakery at a co-op. I knew some people who worked there, and they had 5 people unable to work all at once, which might be the only reason they hired me since I had no experience. I didn’t particularly want to make bread, but the idea of being a bread baker appealed, like it was the most basic thing I could think of to be. I quickly realized how much biology and chemistry is involved, and the learning curve involved constant data taking, so I was hooked.

The local arts center had requests for a bread class, and I ended up teaching it. I made a class manual and included basic chemistry, and the students were enthusiastic about it; but I couldn’t find a detailed explanation of the chemistry in any book. Also, at the time, all the bread cookbooks were recipe books, not basic how-to explanations. Long story short, I wrote a book about bread-making that is both an explanation of all the chemistry, and a how-to book. I wanted to capture all the things I had learned, while I was a recent-beginner, and to make bread-making more approachable. The science part… I included cause it interests people (including me) and I wanted it to be available to people, but I do not think it is necessary for baking. (People ask if I