Science Blogging Conference: Post 1
(just got wireless going, woo-hoo!)
North Carolina Science Blogging Conference
Saturday, January 20, 2007
Opening by Anton
Participate – blog about others as they’d blog about you – thank the sponsors (thank you!)
Bora Zivkovic – Science Blogs
Seed Magazine – hosts about 55 science blogs @ www.scienceblogs.com
Start on the home page and click on “last 24 hours” for the zeitgeist
Book published by Lulu with best Science Writing on Blogs in 2006
- request for nominations
- received over 200 nominations and had a vote
- see his listing, lots of good science ones to just read the best of science blog writing
What types of things appear on science blogs
- same things other people blog about, in part (what my cat did today)
- translating science for the public
- classroom blogs
- debunking stories that appear in the media
- as a lab notebook with observations, measurements, procedures
- actual finished papers reporting the results of research -- especially smaller studies, negative results, and other things that may not go to conferences or journals
Q from the audience – how to do you find these expert bloggers?
- a: technorati
Hunt Willard -- Promoting the Public Understanding of Science
Earlier generations grew up with the space race and media attention was on science. It was part of everyone’s existence. Everyone followed the story, although few understood the science. Coolness and discovery factor, understanding of implications (such as Tang on the breakfast table), etc.
- To get the public to understand the science… even what a genome is – but this is really hard.
- Or - Not worrying about them getting it, but get them to support it through coolness factor, discussions of implications (why it matters as well as health and safety and environmental issues)
- Start and participate in debates about the ethics of things like cloning.
Examples of their efforts to communicate science to the public
- Announcement of an award for cell division in fungus (not exiting, cool, important while the work actually is)
- Creating the artificial chromosome project (it was a single gene chromosome that could be used to transfer DNA to other cells or successive generations) – they were very careful in the paper and the press releases to describe how this could be helpful for gene therapy. By the time the media got done with it, he had 300-400 letters from families who wanted him to cure their children with genetic disorders.
- Project comparing male and female chromosomes, gene expression. Fairly predictable in the male, lots of variety in the female (between and within). – became men are from Mars women are from Venus, men are boring and women are variable.
His work trying to communicate to the public via editorials, etc.
- about evolution-is-a-theory Cobb County ruling, about 250 e-mails nearly all negative, some thoughtful, some respectful, some “you’re going to hell”, some very scary
- questioning about the probability of gene doping which would be very difficult to detect
Writing op-eds and blogging to a certain extent
- can’t predict outcome, so scary
Blogs are hard for scientists because other publications go through extensive vetting and word choice and to be sure that nothing is printed that isn’t very well supported – OTOH, blogs are immediate and not vetted so may be uncomfortable for science
Comment from audience: Can you say that the message got away in your Op-ed because of a lack of context? In blogs you build context over time, which can be an advantage. Also lets people know that science doesn’t spring out fully formed
Response: There is context, it’s just different. The context is built up over the 40 years but it’s not in real time and it’s not findable in the same place (?) [maybe understandable by the same people?]
Comment from audience: About opinion and comments in blogs vs. papers in which “no opinion” – her opinion on her blog is actually an informed analysis, so not just equal to anyone’s comment
Response: the public doesn’t necessarily understand the difference between analysis, informed opinion, etc
Comment from audience: isn’t this context provided through education
Response: hopefully, but there’s a bifurcation early between I do science vs. I don’t do science cultures. We try to educate people, but
Comment from audience: not real dichotomy between public and science, us vs. them. Can’t get to original articles so bloggers can’t support their points so can’t be part of the discussion
Response: Well some of that is going away with PLOS and similar
Response (Bora): Science bloggers can be intermediaries having access (intellectual and physical) to both the original document and the press release.
Comment: What can be done to get more scientists to blog?
Response: The broader question is how do you get scientists to communicate to the public? It should be a requirement if you work in a public institution that you communicate to the public and work as a educator.
Comment: Would you say that scientists’ distancing themselves from the public is actually harming our funding? Is there a trend in younger faculty to explain research to justify funding?
Response: I don’t see it in younger faculty, but in middle career researchers it can sometimes happen because you’ve got tenure and you’re more secure.
Comment: WRT relationship between scientists, peer-reviewed publications, and publications with the broader world. (he’s from The Lancet). Interested in the timing of blogging – they have embargos and established channels with mainstream media – and they’re interested in opening up more communication… the journal wants to blog about the content, the scientists want to blog about their content. If scientists put up data before it’s peer reviewed, then will it be picked up by the media, or do they need the vetting of the traditional journal
Response: Coin of the realm is still peer review and he doesn’t see that changing yet. New students may find a better way to do this.
Comment: Media might be handcuffed by this timing. News reports journal articles when they come out because they are new, in a cattle stampede, and the rush loses the context. Maybe it shouldn’t be thought about as “news”. Maybe scientists can correct this by publishing things that are more like reviews (this is what’s going on in genetics right now…)
Response: For scientists in academia, there’s a conflict. There’s science as process – a constant flow of research – that’s punctuated by publishing reports.