Sunday, February 10, 2013

#SciO13 - Photo Journal

The conference ended late Saturday night. Though I folded myself into crispy hotel sheets my mind would not allow me fall asleep. Every five minutes throughout the night I got up, flipped open my computer and wrote down another idea. It was the first night since high-school I saw the sun rise without sleeping a wink. All thanks to the most epic conference I've ever attended.

Science Online is an annual meeting of people interested in science on the internet. As you can imagine this constitutes a lot of people. To distill the attendees the conference organizers (first photo below) allow a limited number of participants to sign up each year. Sign-up inevitably turns into a race on Twitter. This year I was one of the lucky 450. Like Charlie and his golden ticket I bounded off to Science Online 2013 in Raleigh, North Carolina to take part in a three-day extravaganza of beautiful ideas and new connections.  I met more interesting people in those few days than most people meet in a lifetime. One aspect of the conference I think worth noting was the incredible tolerance that flowed through the entire thing. I was amazed at how rapidly we all connected and immediately formed a large protective family. This was the first time I had been around a large group of people who were all twitter super-users. Indeed part of sign-up required disclosure of our twitter handles. These handles and our names were the only identifiers on our neck-credentials. The speed of connectivity in such an environment is breathtaking. If you have the opportunity to take part in an event like this I highly recommend it.

What follows are pictures and brief descriptions of just a few of those interactions. Over the next few weeks, as my mind mends itself from the internal combustion, I hope to bring you more descriptions and flesh out more ideas born at Science Online.
Karyn Traphagen                                                            Bora Zivkovic                                      Anton Zuiker

The organizers of Science Online welcome participants to Raleigh at the North Carolina Natural Science Museum - free to the public and a marvel to behold.
Carl Zimmer - Writes The Loom at National Geographic. Some T.Rex feathers were ruffled among scientists during the #explain session when Carl told the scientists in the room not to unload a textbook on anyone if asked to explain scientific concepts... unless they happen to be writing a textbook. I later unloaded his textbook on him. Carl's comment was taken poorly by scientists as it sounded like he was saying - "you do the science we'll do the journalism." He was later paraphrased by Karen James as saying "Wait, allow me to #journosplain."  I respect Carl and Karen both.  I hope we come to a time in the future when good scientific explanations come about organically from scientists in situ and are not the product of incentives in the publishing biz but then again I am just a naive scientist.

Karen James, who I mentioned above,  is a research scientist and educator. She and I had never met before but bonded while tweeting the Mars Curiosity landing in parallel last fall. I will never forget that night; my enthusiasm for science was set aflame once again. So, I was happy to make her acquaintance in person at Science Online 2013, I even got the chance to have dinner with her and Jonathan Eisen. Listening to them exchange stories about their first trip to the Galapagos Islands and their shared affection for Darwin made me want to buy a plane ticket.

Ed Yong is a renegade science journalist gone legit. He writes a brilliant blog I've followed for years called Not Exactly Rocket Science. NERS recently migrated from Discover Blogs to Nat. Geo.  I wonder how he feels about all the shuffling about that happens as the result of procuring "branded content" as it were. (I always begin writing with a British tone when I think of Edmond)

Kate Clancy is a force to be reckoned with. Thanks to Kate I am now more sensitive to the way I might phrase my explanations of science. #Mansplaining is a pitfall to avoid at all costs. Maintaining self-awareness of how one comes off as a writer and educator is extremely important.  Kate Blogs at Context and Variation. Put her and the rest of this lot up there in your bookmark toolbar!

Mark Henderson is the head of communication at the Wellcome Trust in the UK. He Blogs at the Geek Manifesto. What Can I say, Mark is a hero of mine, up there with Jonathan Eisen and Stephen Curry as crusaders for open access to all knowledge great and small. Bully to the bunch!

Michelle M. Francl was new face for me in world of online science-writing. I am certainly privileged to be connected to her and her brand of writing. She is professor of chemistry on the Clowes Fund for Science and Public Policy at Bryn Mawr College and Blogs at the Culture of Chemistry. Michelle had a phenomenal piece in Slate recently. The piece outlines the perils of irrational fear of "chemicals" it undoubtedly resulted from a session we both attended on #Chemophobia.  I was going to write a piece on this topic and I may still conjure up something of my own but I really do recommend her piece in the interim.

Seth Mnookin is a best-selling author and journalist and is currently co-director of MIT's Graduate Program in Science Writing. He is a contributor to Vanity Fair and blogs with PLoS. I like Seth. We first met in New York City at the 2010 World Science Festival at a panel discussion on Blogs and science-journalism. I sense he is becoming comfortable with his status inside the establishment of science-writing.  Wish time would stop washing revolution from our minds.
I know Jennifer Ouellette because of her presence on the Google+ social network though she is famous in her own right as an author and science blogger. She blogs at Cocktail Party Physics, part of the Scientific American blog network. It is funny how people you've never met before and are not paying any attention to you become like family on the internet. It was through Jennifer's Google+ channel that I first saw the Gangnam Style video.  Ha! She is pictured above inspiring us to use science fiction to explain real science. She encouraged us not to get hung-up on the short-comings of science fiction but to go with it and take liberties to get the audience into a mode of thinking where they can think about big scientific concepts like black-holes or alternate dimensions. I asked her if I could use the tree of Yggdrasil from Norse Mythology as an analogy for the phylogenetic tree of life without running the risk of getting in a creation vs. evolution debate. She gave me the go-ahead with Gusto.  I appreciate her style and hope to stay connected.

And Finally I come to Annalee Newitz. Annalee is editor-in-chief at the best blog in the universe - iO9.  I had only become aware of iO9 over the last year by using a personalized magazine app called Zite. Let me just say, my goodness is iO9 fucking awesome.  I had just read this article on the Evolutionary Biology of Star Trek a few weeks ago and had no idea Annalee wrote it and would be at this conference. How cool is it when you read someone's work before you know you will know them? Really really really cool I say. We got to talk while waiting of for the bus about our favorite TNG episodes. (Mine - Measure of a Man, Annalee's - Darmok, maybe... others were discussed). On top of all this I think the most thought-tastic moment of the whole conference came for me during the #SciFiSci session when Annlee described one utopian/dystopian vision of the future. A vision in which the earth is engulfed by an ever-expanding sphere of technology melded with human consciousness. A physical description of the singularity that sent my frontal lobes swirling into oblivion for several days thereafter. And thus you see why I have had such a hard time writing this first post to summarize my experience at Science Online 2013. It will take me awhile to get it all out there but I hope you stick with me while I try. Thanks for reading and happy Bookmarking!


Glendon Mellow said...

Great photos and commentary, Kristopher!

I love Jennifer's comments that you've shared. I agree. We need books and science fiction paraphernalia about things like microbiology the way we have them about space and dinosaurs. More creativity about various scientific fields will ultimately draw in a curious public.

Zen Faulkes said...

Jennifer Ouellette looks like she's about to summon a thunderbolt to smite something.