Science online, footprints of destruction edition

Great Vintage Movie Marquee:  Elmwood Theater, College Avenue, Berkeley CA Vintage theaters: charming. Vintage attitudes about women’s roles: unprofitable. Photo by Minette Layne.


Spring-cleaning Twitter

Masjid Sweeper Photo by Meanest Indian.

Late last week I happened to notice that I was following something like 1,400 accounts on Twitter. That seems like … a lot? So I decided to start pruning the list a little. I like Twitter for interactions with other scientists and science-y folks, for discovering new ideas and results and news, and for its overall global water cooler aspect. So with that in mind, I’ve decided to triage who I follow along these lines:

  • I’m only going to follow accounts that actually update regularly. Because otherwise, what’s the point?
  • I’m prioritizing accounts belonging to people I know personally.
  • In many cases, I was following both the official account for publications or organizations and accounts belonging to their staffers/contributors—and I’d get tweets about the same stuff from each. Given the choice, I’d rather follow individual people than organizations; Mark Joseph Stern over Outward.
  • I’m prioritizing scientists, particularly those in my field.
  • I’m blanket-unfollowing politicians and political organizations. I read the news; I don’t need links to press releases and official statements in my Twitter feed. And if they tweet something genuinely interesting, I should see it re-tweeted from the “real” people I follow.
  • I’m blanket-unfollowing parody and joke accounts. Yes, it’s funny to read the latest management tips from Captain Jean-Luc Picard, but I really don’t need a regular drip of them in my feed. As with political feeds, I’m now relying on the actual human beings I follow to show me the best stuff from these accounts.
  • I’m unfollowing any account if, when it comes up on my feed, I can’t remember the last time I clicked on one of its posts (unless the account falls into one of the priority lists above).

Twitter doesn’t provide any useful way to sort through a, let’s face it, ridiculously long list of account names based on anything other than the order in which I followed them, so I’ve been casting about for a third-party system. The interface at Tweepi is somewhat balky, but it does let me sort the list by how recently each account was updated, which is useful. I’m also simply keeping an eye on my main feed, and unfollowing whenever I see something that doesn’t meet the triage conditions. So far I’m down to … 1,169.◼


Science online, eddies in the space-time continuum edition

Ripples Photo by tomopteris.

Video of the week: Joe Hanson on the evolutionary history behind human endurance running, a topic near and dear to my heart.


Science online, moral hazards edition

Coffee cup Off to the races. Photo by @Doug88888.


Science online, gold-star creationist edition

Tomatoes You might want to plant your own tomatoes, this year. Photo by rachelandrew.


Science online, one in twenty edition

One in a billion Photo by Micah Sittig.


Science online, caricatures of ant toiletry edition

Crowd Is it getting crowded in here? Photo by James Cridland.
  • This week, at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense! The evolutionary compromise made by attractive flowers.
  • And, at The Molecular Ecologist: I mused about how science depends on what scientists notice.
  • Actually a pretty tidy solution. Ant larvae are completely constipated.
  • Woah. Has NASA captured images of water flowing on Mars?
  • Turning somersaults to remain inside the cave. The mental gymnastics of creationism.
  • Drosophila-philiac. A history of the fruit fly as a model organism.
  • Maybe not scary? No, that’s still a lot of people. Some fresh projections for world population growth—and a great in-depth report on the successful history of family planning in, of all places, Iran.
  • Where to even start? Fighting the good fight for science literacy online.
  • Hmm. Why don’t we have any numbers on the usefulness (or lack thereof) of online classes for minority students?
  • Because they’re designed to! When statistics make caricatures.
  • Superb. The endosymbiosis at the origin of eukaryotic life.
  • Step aside, Tyrannosaurus. Some fossil mammals that are just as cool as dinosaurs.


Science online, yet another final argument edition

First Stars There’s probably at least one class-M planet somewhere in this picture. Photo by redeye^.
  • This week at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense! Stalking the wild holobiont.
  • And at The Molecular Ecologist: How to “triangulate” your genome scan.
  • The fault is not in the stars, but in our telescopes. Will we ever find Earth-like planets orbiting other stars?
  • Wow. With winter precipitation at a record low, California is facing the third year of a catastrophic drought.
  • It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a scientist in possession of a hypothesis must be in want of Jane Austen. Jonathan Eisen takes issue with some literary advice for scientists.
  • A review of The Signal and the Noise. Why scientists need prior knowledge.
  • Yeah … probably not. Is this comparative karyotype the final piece of evidence that will shut down creationism?
  • In memoriam, Philip Seymour Hoffman. The science of addiction, in very personal perspective.
  • Wow. How a photographer caught a bee mid-sting.
  • The flaw in their thinking is the implicit assumption that a cat is a rigid body, an assumption that is obviously false to any cat-owner! The physics that lets cats land on their feet.


Science online, living in the future edition

Monarch (Butterfly), Virginia Will the future have monarch butterflies? Photo by Minette Layne.


On blogging under my Real Name

2013.12.09 - at the growth chamber Hi, yes, this is me. Photo by jby.

The following is my contribution to Hope Jahren’s roundup of commentaries from scientists who use their “real” names in online settings. I solemnly swear that we started working on this before it turned out to be so very, very timely. You should go read all the contributions!

I can’t recall exactly why, when I decided to start a blog over the holiday break in December 2006, I put my real name on it. I think I had some vague, naïve sense that attaching my own name to my online writing would hold me accountable to some degree of professionalism and quality. I do know that I was operating under the assumption that no one would ever read the damn thing, anyway. (Even though—let’s be honest—I was also hoping that someone, lots of someones, would!)

Eventually I started writing about evolutionary biology, which is what I actually do for a living. My dissertation advisor somehow found the blog, and decided that it meant I should take charge of building a website for my University’s hosting of the Evolution Meetings—and this is probably the point at which Shit Got Real.

I devoted a page on the site to aggregating blog posts about the conference, including several of my own. I set up a Twitter feed for the conference, and started a personal account for good measure. This was the equivalent, in HTML and RSS feeds, of jumping up and down in front of the entire international body of my colleagues and saying “hey, look! I have a blog!”

Hello My Name is Opportunity Photo by One Way Stock.

And this turned out better than I had any right to expect. The same year as the Evolution meetings, one of my posts won me a trip to ScienceOnline 2010, where I made some of my first contacts in the broader community of popular science writers. I’ve landed a couple guest posts at the Scientific American website, and gotten pieces included in print collections of online science writing. As I was wrapping up my Ph.D., I talked some grad school buddies into joining me at a new group blog, Nothing in Biology Makes Sense!, and on the strength of that site’s success, I was offered the job of managing The Molecular Ecologist, the blog for the journal Molecular Ecology. Just in this past year, my online contacts among gay, lesbian, trans* and queer scientists came together to help with a study of sexual identity in scientific careers—I’m currently writing up the first results for publication.

Writing, outreach, and interacting with my colleagues online have been major parts of my professional development as a scientist. Blogging is all over my CV, in a dedicated section of my teaching statement, and in every “broader impacts” section of every grant proposal I’ve written in the last three years. At this point, I genuinely cannot imagine how I would do some of the most basic functions of science—finding interesting new papers, reading what other people think of research results, learning new analyses and programming tricks, communicating my own thoughts and results—without online media.

When I was a graduate student, my blog was a way to try my hand at science outreach with a low bar to entry—did I have time to write a few paragraphs about an interesting new journal article this week? Now it’s a (still, I think) relatively novel, demonstrable strength I have to offer in my hunt for funding and faculty positions. But most of this would be inaccessible if I wrote under a pseudonym.

What’s more, even if I toyed with the idea of restarting under an assumed name, I can’t think of much that I’d do differently—more cussing, maybe? (I do about as much as I want to already.) More sniping at bad science? (Really, where would I find the time?) I suspect that my profile—youngish gay biologist with a thing for species interactions, a distaste for sloppy evolutionary storytelling, and a stylistic crush on David Foster Wallace—would, in a word, out me.

I’m keenly aware that there are risks in putting my real name and face all over the Web, attached to a years-long blog archive and thousands of offhand, 140-character remarks—including not infrequent mention of the fact that (surprise!) I’m gay. Some of the risks, I’m privileged to evade. As gender-conforming white dude, I generally don’t have to worry about attracting stalkers, or field the relentless harassment that women often deal with in online settings, and (I think) I’m allowed some social space to “raise hell.” Some of the risks I minimize to the degree that common sense and my own technical chops let me. I think I mostly keep things professional on Twitter—as professional as I keep things in the lab, anyway—and my Facebook profile is (I think) pretty well locked down.

And finally, I’ve decided that some of the risks aren’t really risks: If a faculty search committee looks at my online record and says, “there’s no way we can hire this guy,” then I think I probably don’t want that job anyway.◼