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


  1. Sounds like a great conference!

    I was very struck by this sentence:
    "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"
    This seems a bit perverse to me, and I can't understand why you'd want to do things this way.

  2. Hehe, a well themed write-up ;-) I love the huge concentration of random acts of kindness you find at these conferences, I wish I could have made this one.

    With regards these new emotions, I still think there ought to be room for a new 'stubbed toe' emotion, which transcends mere pain.

  3. Alright, Ed just beat me to it as well:

    See 'ere @edyong209 Some scattered reflections on #scio10

    And now I feel I've been elevated by Ed to do the namecheck... So many lovely people and they all deserve a mention (if I haven't already). I'm going with Twitter handles - unless they don't have one *gasp*:

    @iescience @tdelene @samkrishna @mary_spiro @smallpkg @ivanoransky @scicurious @drisis @sciencegoddess @eroston @flyingtrilobite @abelpharmboy @j_timmer @palmd @DanicaR @fenellasaunders @ @younglandis @TomLevenson @laelaps & Vanessa Woods (

    If I've missed you sorreeeee! I tried my bestest :)

  4. SomeBeans:

    I think it is becasue they want to retain control over the piece and not get involved in lengthy to-ing and fro-ing on deadline. Also because should be accurate from the go-get I suppose?

  5. Exactly. Newspaper don't allow reporters to show copy to sources because they fear the sources, approached for technical review, will seize control over quotation wording, presentation of self or others, and even general approach to the piece. A reasonable fear, but when I write, if I'm facing a complex topic I commonly ask sources who know better than I do to review at least passages. I just finished a book and sent almost every chapter for review to at least one source. I'd rather be right, and if that means I end up wrangling a bit (it's never happened) I'm willing to take the chance.

    And, as you said: what a smasheroo of a conference.

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