Thursday, January 21, 2010

A New Voice at ScienceOnline 2010

Allison sporting her map of the human genome t-shirt (courtesy of AAAS) after returning from ScienceOnline 2010.

For months, I had watched the Facebook event, the #scio10 hashtag on Twitter, and the Wiki. I had my hotel roommate and a Google map of directions to each conference location. But it was a couple days before leaving for ScienceOnline 2010, and I was nervous. I had experienced blogger star-strucked-ness before, and I didn’t want to clam up during such a great opportunity to learn from some of the best science communicators out there.

Fortunately, I had nothing to worry about. ScienceOnline retained the “dinner party” feel you often get on Twitter, where the person sitting next to you, shaking your hand, or leading your session could be a book author, a trained scientist, or someone from one of the many institutions and organizations in the Research Triangle Park area. All forms of participation were welcomed and rewarded, and I left feeling more connected to a community of science bloggers than I had before.

As a communication fellow at Research!America, I look through discussions about science communication through an advocacy lens. During the session “Rebooting Science Journalism in the Age of the Web,” Ed Yong of Not Exactly Rocket Science (I could listen to him talk, er, blog all day) asked whether the publication where science-related content even mattered anymore. “If it’s on the internet, people can find it,” he said.

For me, this raises issues of access: how can we create new advocates for research if the communicators aren’t pushing content to new audiences and instead pull them into a specialized community through blogs and other channels (thanks for BoraZ for this distinction)? I thought this question was answered constructively in David Kroll and Damond Nollan’s session on engaging underrepresented groups in online science media, where the discussion turned to using mobile phones and Facebook at historically black colleges and universities.

Who will be the next voice for research? There was so much potential among the ScienceOnline participants. I thought Anil Dash made a convincing case for Expert Labs, a new initiative supported by the American Association for the Advancement of Science which would serve as a filter for policymakers who seek answers from scientists and other experts, but may not know the right questions to ask.

Additionally, Michael Specter, Friday’s keynote speaker and author of Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives, ignited the conference with his impatience for misleading information about science, but reminded us throughout the weekend that he was dedicated to promoting scientific interest through his journalism. “Science is much bigger than special interest stories,” he responded to Ed Yong’s question above.

The diversity of the body of ScienceOnline made for lively sessions and informal conversations, and there are many themes not considered here. Based on the amount of content created during ScienceOnline--video, Twitter, blogs, images and Slideshare--I think you could spend a couple days sifting through it and feel as if you experienced the conference firsthand. All content should be marked with the #scio10 hashtag, so keep that in mind in your searching and posting.

Next up: ScienceOnline 2011!

Allison Bland is a communications fellow at Research!America and a graduate of McGill University with degrees in English and history of science. She has previously contributed to New Voices with posts on science education and how-to effectively use Twitter.


  1. Thank you for this lovely post! It was so nice to meet you. Sorry we did not get to chat a little longer - I promise to do that next year (or if I come to your neck of the woods in the meantime).