Science online, #SciO11 hangover edition

The Deep Sea News crew knows how to party. Photo by hanjeanwat.

The science blogosphere was abuzz with ScienceOnline 2011 recaps, post mortems, and soul-seeking. The Columbia Journalism Review gave the conference a nice write-up. Dave Munger meditated on the line between jazzing up science and dumbing it down. Chris Rowan pointed out that no matter how well science blogging shapes its outreach, the broader media often fixes the game. Ed Yong worried that science blogging was “stuck in an echo chamber,” and Ryan Somma mapped it. Christie Wilcox tried out what she’d learned about online writing by murdering a darling. And Minority Postdoc started an inventory of diversity in the science blogosphere.

Meanwhile, in non-meta online science news:

And finally, here’s long-awaited video of Robert Krulwich’s inspiring ScienceOnline keynote address. Part two, and more, is at A Blog Around the Clock.

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#scio11 aftermath, and an idea for #scio12

At ScienceOnline, even the coffee break is nerdy. Photo by Ryan Somma.

So now I’m back in Moscow, mostly recovered from ScienceOnline 2011. I’ve almost finished the copy of Holly Tucker’s cracking good book Blood Work that came in my swag bag. (Cross-country flights are great for reading.) I’m breaking in my new “How to Explain Your Research at a Party” t-shirt from AAAS, and I’ve finished a conference weekend’s worth of laundry. I even got to resume my workout schedule with an outdoor run, because all of a sudden northern Idaho is as balmy as North Carolina. And I’m able to think about the conference a little more reflectively than I did in my previous posts.

One of the highlights of the conference that’s still sticking with me is the “How to Explain Science in Blog Posts” session, which broke the audience into small groups to discuss different aspects of science blogging. I made a beeline for the “writing” group, since that’s been on my mind lately. The group moderators, Ed Yong and Christie Wilcox, led a great discussion on tone and the use of metaphor, and even shaded into the writing process. None other than Bora Zivkovic related how he’ll have his wife edit particularly important posts.

As I said in my earlier brief wrap-up, the whole session reminded me of my undergrad creative writing class, and in a good way. But we didn’t really have time for specific examples, and could barely scratch the surface of the process from finding a subject to writing it up and presenting it.

It occurred to me (about two miles into the aforementioned run) that I’d really enjoy a workshop that took participants through that entire process for a single post. I’m imagining it’d have to be at least two sessions: one discussing how to come up with topics, another for the writing process, and maybe a third for presentation with images, layout, et cetera. It’d be especially cool to have participants actually develop a single post through the course of the different sessions, and do some peer editing at one or more stages.

Is it too early to start proposing sessions for ScienceOnline 2012?

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The remains of #scio11: Openness to #drunksci

In session at ScienceOnline 2011. More photos are in the ScienceOnline 2011 Flickr group. Photo by cephalopodcast.

Saturday at ScienceOnline 2011 was the meat of the conference, a full day of moderated discussion sessions at the Sigma Xi building. Video of many sessions was webcast live, and will later be archived online, courtesy of the National Association of Science Writers. Highlights from the ones I attended:

In data discoverability, Kiyomi Deards, Molly Keener, and Steve Koch covered the logistics of open notebook science from making published papers freely available online to opening up datasets as they’re collected. There wasn’t discussion about the point at which scientific results ought to be freely available outside the lab—I’m all for making my papers and the final data underlying them open access, but I don’t necessarily want to post my working notebooks.

In the first line of response, the crew of Deep Sea News and John Amos of the organization SkyTruth discussed how online coverage of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill this spring helped to counter frequently inaccurate official stories, and how they could maintain public awareness in the aftermath. It was the only session I attended that performed a formal post mortem on one of the biggest events for online science writing in the last year, and it had some useful insight for covering and responding to future disasters.

How to explain science in blog posts was the closest I’ve come to a writing workshop since undergrad. A long list of top-notch bloggers and writers (Scicurious, Joanne Manaster, Maryn McKenna, Vivienne Raper, Eric Michael Johnson, Brian Mossop, Carin Bondar, Melody Dye, Christie Wilcox, and Ed Yong) split the attendees into groups to discuss content choices, the writing process, blog design, and how best to promote work online.

After the sessions, Saturday’s activities concluded with a banquet that shaded smoothly into drinks at the hotel bar, and then more drinks in the suite rented by a couple members of The Gam. I called it a night at about 2 a.m. Now I’m leaning heavily on the free coffee in this morning’s final sessions about blogging in academia and the purpose of public science outreach.

It’s been a great weekend. Unlike most academic conferences, ScienceOnline is an opportunity to talk with scientists outside my immediate field and, maybe more importantly, a lot of non-scientists. It’s been good to see a bunch of folks I met last yearagain, and to meet more folks I’ve previously known only as Twitter avatars and/or fantastic online writers, especially Dr. Skyskull/Greg Gbur, Dr. Freeride/Janet Stemwedel, Eric Michael Johnson, Holly Bik, and Steve Silberman.

Apologies if I’ve missed anyone, but there was quite a bit of booze involved.

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#scio11 day one: Krulwich to climate change

In the Duke University research forest, towers like these dosed experimental plots with carbon dioxide to simulate the effects of climate change. Photo by jby.

I arrived last evening at ScienceOnline 2011 barely coherent after thirteen hours of travel from Moscow, Idaho (2 a.m. Pacific time) to Durham, North Carolina (about 6 p.m. Eastern time). Robert Krulwich’s keynote address woke me back up. Krulwich explained his approach to science journalism and illustrated it with clips from his work, including the transcendently good Radiolab. How do you get your audience excited about science, according to Krulwich? Talk about what excites you, and lead them to discover it with you.

I spent this morning touring the Duke University research forest outside Durham, where scientists from Duke and many other institutions are conduction some amazingly ambitious ecological experiments. Biogeochemist Ben Coleman presented studies of nanoparticle movement through terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems using mesocosms—semi-contained natural communities.

View inside an experimental warming plot. Photo by jby.

Carl Salk, a Ph.D. candidate in biology, walked us through plots that are being heated to simulate a changed climate. The plots are enclosed on four sides by plastic, with warm air pumped in via ductwork and electric lines warming the soil to bring them up to 3 or 5 degrees Celsius warmer than the outside. It doesn’t sound like much, but it makes a difference. Salk says plants in the warmed plots are developing leaves days and, in some cases, weeks earlier in the spring than plants in control plots.

The final stop was the biggest experimental setup, Duke’s Free Atmospheric Carbon Enrichment site, which has been testing how forests will grow in an atmosphere containing more carbon dioxide by pumping more carbon dioxide into forest plots. This is achieved with rings of towers like the ones pictured at the top of this post spraying carbon dioxide into experimental plots. The gas is reclaimed from fertilizer production, and into the air anyway; the experiment simply boosts it locally. The sheer volume of research done within these plots is amazing, but the site is now shutting down after 15 years.

The tour was over by noon, and the afternoon devoted to workshops. I attended a talk on how to develop course websites—with forums and online quizzes and integrated chat!—using Drupal, and another on the logistics of moving between blogging platforms. Once I’m done with this post, it’s off to a book-themed happy hour and dinner in Durham. Until tomorrow, here’s a slideshow of the other photos I’ve taken so far:

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Science online, looking forward to #Scio11 edition

Clownfish, anemone—and zooxanthellae makes three. Photo by jby.

First, the latest on ScienceOnline2011: The keynote speaker for the annual online science conference will be Robert Krulwich, the inimitable NPR science correspondent and co-host of Radiolab. And NESCent has announced the winners of its (now annual?) Science Online travel award for science blog posts: How Some Females Respond to Nuptial Gifts by Danielle Lee and Do mother birds play God? by Neil Losin. Go give them, and all this year’s entries, a read.

  • Twenty-eight thousand copies of “Romeo and Juliet.” In one genome. Sequencing the human genome, by analogy to Shakespeare. (The Occam’s Typewriter Irregulars)
  • Take your time, fellows. Men who put on condoms too quickly are more likely to experience “breakage, slippage and erection difficulties.” (NCBI ROFL)
  • Is Yossarianensis taken yet? Online journals are great for rapidly publishing new taxonomic names—but taxonomic descriptions must be published on paper to be “official.” (Open Source Paleontologist)
  • Don’t get your hopes, up just yet, Mom. Some clever genetic shuffling has produced mice with two genetic fathers. (Dan Savage, Wired Science)
  • It’s a regular undersea love-in. The mutual protection relationship of clownfish and sea anemones has another mutualistic wrinkle: anemones’ symbiotic algae benefit from clownfish, um, nitrogenous waste. (Sleeping with the Fishes)
  • X-ray apparatuses, Zeiss microscopes, and fire insurance. That’s what Dr. Skyskull figures scientists wanted for Christmas in 1903, based on ads in a contemporary issue of Nature. (Skulls in the Stars)
  • P(interesting|Bayesianism) = surprisingly high. Nate Silver explains Bayesian logic in the context of the legal travails of Julian Assange. (FiveThirtyEight)
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Time to start thinking about #scio11 already?

Science Online 2011, the conference for online science communication, now has a website, and NESCent, whose blog writing competition helped me attend Science Online 2010, has announced another round. I’m going to sit on my hands and let someone else have a chance for a change, but I’ll bet I can wrangle a grant from U of I’s grad student association to get me to North Carolina next January …

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