On science blogs this week: About time

YOU'RE GOING TO WANT TO BOOKMARK THESE SITES. They are for last week's 75th anniversary meeting of the National Association of Science Writers in New Haven. The sites are among the finest sources around for science writing professional development, full of dozens of tips and tricks and gossip, and much, much food for thought about the work we do and how we do it. Together they are an unbeatably rich online course in how to write about science in today's chaotic media world. And you don't even have to be an NASW member to get access; it's free to all.

First, archived webcasts of several of the NASW professional development workshops. Find them all here.

Sessions available as webcasts:

  • Profitable freelancing: Starting a business and keeping it productive;

  • How to be an effective science public information officer in the changing media world;

  • Civics of science: Literacy and the collapse of science journalism;

  • Get the numbers right: A workshop on reporting statistics;

  • Rebooting science journalism: Adapting to the new media landscape;

  • New funding models for journalism.

The Twitter feed is #sciwri10 and still going strong as I write. And, like all tweets, free.

Also consult the official blogging site here, which includes reports on all the workshop sessions. And did I mention it's free to all?

Here are a few sample links to blog posts, with apologies to the many fine posts not cited. I selected fairly randomly among sessions that were not among the webcasts.

Um, let me contradict myself immediately by citing David Berreby's thoughtful report on the Rebooting session, which was webcast, because it also covers a different (unrecorded) session describing some successes — and failures — in new media. The bottom line is not terribly optimistic about making a living from science journalism. His conclusion:

Our problem as our profession migrates from the old familiar niches is that we don't really know where we're going to. We're taking part in an ongoing media experiment. And the essence of an experiment, of course, is that the experimenter doesn't know how it ends.

Gulp.

Meantime, we must learn new skills. So check out Dawn Stover's report on the NASW workshop how-to on making videos. Obviously no one can become even minimally adept at video science writing in so brief a session, but the post teaches you something about how to prepare for learning how to do video. Not part of the meeting, but highly relevant so I'll cite it, is Jessica Palmer's post on science writing video (with video!) at Bioephemera.

Kirsten Traynor mined the session on covering a medical meeting for practical nuts-and-bolts tips on how to. Roberta Kwok reported on the book-writing panel, sharing wisdom from top science book authors Robert Lee Hotz, K.C. Cole, Jonathan Weiner, Charles Seife, Jennifer Ouellette, and Carl Zimmer.

Bloggers elsewhere shared their insights on sessions too. At his own blog, Freelancer Hacks, Jeffrey Perkel provided links to slide PDFs that were part of the webcast session on freelancing, which he organized. The PDFs are stored In The Cloud at Dropbox, but the site is very popular, and I found it slow going. YMMV.

EcoTone summarized the webcast session on science literacy, but I couldn't find a byline. Chris Mooney was one of the literate panelists and had a few things to add at The Intersection.

At the Artful Amoeba, Jennifer Frazer mused on the actual science around her while schmoozing at the Yale-Peabody Natural History Museum reception. Giant arthropods and more.

SCIENCEONLINE2011. More meetings, this one the annual Research Triangle event that is all about how the web and social media can be used to promote science — so popular that registration closed 45 minutes after it opened this week! Whoosh, blink and you missed it. (I did.) But if you're reading this, you're interested by definition, so if you're free January 13-16 next year. get on the waiting list here.

The program is still undergoing communal massage, but when it's ready you will find it here. One of the organizers is Bora Zivkovic, a panelist at the NASW Rebooting session and new head of blogging at SciAm. I am told he was the first NASW member to be accepted with clips of blog posts only. He's a chronobiologist, so of course his is A Blog Around the Clock.

SPEAKING OF CHRONOBIOLOGY, IF YOU SPRING FORWARD, WILL YOU FALL BACK? So we changed back from Daylight Saving Time to Standard Time last Sunday. Well, you probably changed. But I didn't. I'm newly transplanted to Arizona, one of the few places in the US that stays on Standard Time (in Arizona's case, Mountain Standard Time) year 'round.

Which puts me Out Of Sync with most of my fellow citizens. In the summer, on California time. In the winter, on Denver time. One week I'm watching Jon Stewart at 10:30, and the next week I must stay up late because he's on at 11:30. Or use the DVR, in which case my political fix is a day later than yours, and I am most definitely Out Of Sync.

Soon after I arrived here I grasped that not only had I moved into an entirely new and discombobulating biome, but also into a new and discombobulating relationship with time. I was in a different time stream from nearly all my friends and relatives, and furthermore the time stream was going to change every few months. It seemed crazy.

But as summer advanced, I changed my mind along with my time stream. Here in the Sonoran Desert, where daytime temperatures rise to well over 100 in June and remain there until September, and often stay in the 80s and even higher at night, not changing to Daylight Saving Time makes sense.

Yes, the humidity here is low, but let me assure you that, once it's into 3 digits, even dry heat is intolerable. So an early start is both natural and desirable. When you hire a guy to dig holes for your newly acquired drought-resistant plants, he turns up at 6:30 AM and leaves by 10 or 11 (we're still talking AM here.) And why not? We are so far south that the sun has been up and doing for hours, and people wake early too. Even natural night owls like me.

So I am now convinced that sticking with Standard Time makes sense here, even if Daylight Saving Time is better for the rest of the country. Except that this week, I find, science says Daylight Time may not be better where you are, either.

Brian Handwerk has a long piece explaining it all at the National Geographic. Many interesting comments follow. For a contrary view, see Mike the Mad Biologist, who wants to stay on DST all year. And at the New Republic, Barron YoungSmith blames it all on George W. Bush. (Parental Advisory: Language Unlikely to Please Republicans. Thanks to Eli Kintisch at ScienceInsider for the tip.)

Handwerk describes the historical arguments favoring DST, the point mostly being that, by taking greater advantage of the sun cycle, DST saves energy. But Handwerk also summarizes what scientists have told us, which is mostly that it doesn't, especially in the South. In summer, people come home from work to a broiling house and hit the A/C panic button. Energy consumption goes up, and so do electric bills.

Nor, it appears, does DST boost health, even if it does encourage people to stay outdoors. Handwerk says:

A 2008 study in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that, at least in Sweden, heart attack risks go up in the days just after the spring time change. "The most likely explanation to our findings are disturbed sleep and disruption of biological rhythms," [says] lead author Imre Janszky...

Now that we know the scientific truth about DST, I'm confident that politicians will quickly move to get rid of it and put us all back on Standard Time. I'm looking forward to the time when I am no longer Out of Sync.

Nov. 11, 2010

Drexel University Online