Monday, 18 January 2010

Science Online 2010: The emotion session

Plenty, and I mean PLENTY, of other people have and will be blogging the Science Online conference of science geekery in North Carolina's Research Triangle Park much more comprehensively than me. Two who pipped me to the post are Henry Gee, on Nature Networks, here; and Jonathan Eisen's top 11 (okay, 12) things learnt here.

So I decided to take a different angle on proceedings, inspired (or is it just the jetlag?) by a feature in the New Scientist on 'new' emotions recognised by scientists. So we still have the usual suspects: sadness, anger, joy, blah, blah, but now also have shiny new labels for other emoted states of being - much more interesting. Here goes:

1. Elevation

Described as a feeling of uplift. I felt inspired by sharing of tools for blogging at Dave Munger's workshop (ditto Henry Gee). Also, by the infectious enthusiasm that scientists have for their fields, such as Miriam Goldstein in the Talking Trash session.

Even science journalists seemed optimistic about the future of science journalism online and elsewhere in the Re-booting Science Journalism session. Even Carl Zimmer, who had apparently intended to put forward a cynical angle – somewhere along the way, via duck's penises (corkscrewed, in case you were in a dark hole somewhere and missed that one) – ended up with an optimistic vision of how we can make science exciting and accessible by giving it intriguing hooks, such as writing about science tattoos or science sculpture.

One more example that reminded me why I love blogging is what David Dobbs was saying in the fact-checking session about how you can easily put up all your references when you are working online, or you can post an entry with sources to support a print article - online rocks. Simple.

2. Interest

Well, obviously there was a lot to be interested in at the conference. And journalist-blogger hybrids are notoriously curious. So the challenge to this was being online as an audience member. If something was engaging enough I focused. And if it wasn't (purely subjective, and subject to what was elevating me at that particular moment), I was probably only listening with one ear: the risk/benefits of the interwebs at conferences.

(More on what I was interested in above and below this, but not exclusively)

3. Gratitude

This is easy. It's relationship glue. And for me this was the most important thing at Science Online: the people. No question. Of course, I would like to thank Anton and Bora for inviting me to come and moderate a session, and giving me the opportunity to meet all these wonderful science bloggers and authors. Thanks to anyone that came to the session that Connie St Louis and I chaired and for all your brilliant contributions.

I would also like to thank Michael Specter for writing his book Denialism so I could win it (Q: how many times a day do rats have sex? A: 20. I tweeted 21. How I knew this, don't ask) and get lots of other lovely clever people to sign in his absence. And Specter was so nice about it.

Also a million times thanks to everyone – it would make a very long list to namecheck – who made me feel welcome and like my bouncy self.

4. Pride

This is a tricky one. According to the NS article there are two types of pride: one good, and "authentic" versus the nasty "hubristic" one. I don't actually think there's that much wrong with a wee bit of pride for that reason - it can be alright if you have good and humble intentions. Personally, I reckon it is spreading a bit of joy about. Why not? There are worse things you could spread from person to person. You might even affect people you haven't met, according to this piece on Connected in Sunday's Observer.

So, I was proud of the fact I managed to moderate the trust and scientists session without: hyperventilating, passing out, swearing, or other potentially embarrassing behaviour. No, seriously, I was pretty pleased with how it went for my virgin conference - there was some good discussion, quite a bit of controversy in the room and over Twitter, and some solutions put forward, such as a greater transparency on the part of the scientific journals with annotated entries - see here for a starting block on article level metrics of the type they are pioneering at PLoS.

Otherwise, what else came out of it was the need for scientists and journalists to work together to bridge the trust gap - this can be tricky from a journlistic point of view, as we discussed in the fact-checking session with Rebecca Skloot, David Dobbs and Sheril Kirchenbaum. There was debate over whether journalists should let scientists check their copy - in some cases this is against house policy so this is worth checking if you are a freelancer. Although I don't know how this applies to publishers in the UK.

5. Confusion

It seems wrong to end on lukewarm note, as I feel happily lucid about Science Online, the people I met, and the things that I learnt. But actually I do occassionally feel puzzled in the way that it discusses in the New Scientist piece: as a kind of "time-for-change" emotion. For me this time for change seems distant in my future, when I have to decide what to do when I finish my MA in Science Journalism in June. Still pondering...

One very thought-provoking issue is how I, and other nascent science journalists, are going to make money if we decide to go freelance. And I do want to be freelance, to mix it up with different media, to be independent, to be able to investigate. In the current economic climate this is probably going to be a challenge. But now I have connected with several other science journalist-bloggers that have similar values and want to strike out in similar ways, which equals support for each other. So despite the confusion, I feel shored up against the grey skies.

PS. If you think you spot Michael Specter's signature, it is cheeky fakery
PPS. Accurate to best of my abilities - if anyone has any corrs please comment. Thank you

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Breaking the ice

... and the tortoise says hi to the lions *waves*

The lovely blogger and Twitterer DeLene Beeland urged me I that I rule my blog, rather than the other way around. She's right, but I have promised some posts - some to other people and some to myself. So, here's where I say: I will do it. It might take a little while, but I will get there in the end. Less haste, and all that.

I would love to update more regularly but this MA course and all the other work I have been doing - like this blog on flibaserin, the "female viagra" for the Guardian's Comment is Free - plus, of course Christmas crash-out, means life has been a bit of rollercoaster recently. In an exhilarating, sleep-deprived kind of way.

This post breaks the proverbial ice for more blogposts to come, there will be a veritable deluge soon. Next one is on climate change journalism. And after that there will be some stuff on the Science Online conference, where I have the great honour of chairing a debate (add suggestions to the wiki! If you like...) on a previous blogpost called "Which scientists can you trust?"

I also managed to persuade my MA course director and award-winning journalist, Connie St Louis, to come and back me up when the organisers warned they were throwing me to "the lions' den".

A lot has happened since I initially wrote that post. So topics we'll be entertaining at the debate will also include: Climategate, Susan Greenfield, and the South Korean fraudster stem cell scientist Hwang Woo-Suk.

For our American colleagues: you have most probably been following Susan Greenfield's sacking over Twitter, but if you haven't here are some good blogs etc that explain all and give a variety of views:

  • Mark Henderson in the Times on why Greenfield outgrew her usefulness as director of the Royal Institution, here. There is also some links to other related pieces on the left if you scroll down.
  • The Telegraph write that Baroness Greenfield should have been sacked, not made redundant for her mis-management of the RI coffers.
  • The Guardian's editorial is more sympathetic to the Baroness.
  • And two significant blogs are from @gimpyblog and @mjrobbins
  • Oh, and you might want to watch this:

Again, I'm sure you're all well clued up on climategate, but it might be worth checking out these views:

Here's a press briefing from @climatesafety, a nonprofit climate change blog. You decide whether you think it's optimistic spin or the real thing.

And here's a blog from George Monbiot on the affair, where he famously apologises for being gullible, but says that the IPCC report is still valid.

There are also alternative, skeptical views. But I'm sure you can easily find those yourselves through a simple Google.

Hope you're all having a good start to twenty-ten.