On science blogs this week: SciO12 too

ALL ABOUT SCIENCEONLINE2012, aka #SCIO12. ScienceOnline2012, the 6th annual North Carolina assembly of science writers and scientists — mostly bloggers but also explorers of other roads to, duh, putting science online — is now history. But you will not be surprised to learn that reports, commentary, and media about the meeting are to be found, well, online. Here's a roundup.

Find links to blog posts about SciO12 here on the meeting's site. It looks as if these links are posted by individual bloggers, so the list is probably incomplete. The Google+ SciO12 stream is not voluminous, but I see commentary, drawings, and other material that I have seen nowhere else.

Here's the SciO12 home page. And here's the agenda. And here's who was there, mostly. Up there at the top of this list are the three organizers who deserve much of the credit for SciO goodness. That would be Karen Traphagen, Anton Zuiker, and of course Bora Zivkovic.

Yes, just as you've heard, it's a meeting like no other. ScienceOnline is an extraordinary combination: a very organized, very smoothly run conference despite the fact that attendees comprise hundreds of very smart, very creative people who spend 3 days bouncing off each other. You'd think that would be a recipe for chaos, and yet they come away even smarter and more creative. Even the food is excellent. Good food may be unprecedented for a conference, but essential for good talk. Not to mention the best wifi in the history of the world. Which may be a mixed blessing, since it permits an astonishing tweet stream (#SciO12) many many thousands of messages long.

There had been hopes for official videos of the sessions and even live-streaming, but that did not happen. The irony appears to be that there was no money for putting ScienceOnline online. Some of those in attendance shot video and posted it on YouTube. Some of these videos may be full sessions, but there are several clips too. You can also find some videos and podcasts on the SciO12 site too.

At Not Exactly Rocket Science, Ed Yong wondered why SciO12 continued to feel intimate and personal and egalitarian even though it nearly doubled in size this year. He came up with some reasons, wisdom for meeting organizers everywhere.

Another old hand is John Dupuis, who shared his assessments of SciO12 and suggestions for the future at Confessions of a Science Librarian. For a newb's assessment, see the overview of several sessions plus extracurricular moments at Ya Like Dags?, Chuck Bangley's blog at Southern Fried Science. He really really liked it. No surprise there. And at Xylem, Kate Prengaman shares her top ten list of useful things she learned at SciO12.

One of the sessions focused on the sometimes-toxic mix of science and politics. Philip Yam reported on it at the SciAm editors' blog Observations. The topics included (of course) climate change and the nonrelation between vaccines and autism, and also explored how to reach the folks who can still be persuaded to look at the evidence before taking a stand. You can see it all for yourself because he embedded a video of the session, thank you Phil.

Speaking of videos, among SciO12 delights was the Cyberscreen Science Film Festival. See the winners at Carin Bondar's post at PsiVid. Also at PsiVid, Joanne Manaster posted her notes on the how-to session on video-making she moderated.

SCIENCEONLINE2012 VIA STORIFY. Several sessions were Storified, probably more than those listed here.

For example, Maryn McKenna collected tweets on the session that showed how to mine geometry and music to help structure long-form stories.

Tanya Lewis described the Blogging Science While Female session, incorporating some tweets. See also #bswf. But not everything about this session was Storified. Kate Clancy has a thoughtful post that considered how this session's tone differed from a like session at SciO11.

The central problem is this: what can be done about attacks on women bloggers, especially women bloggers who write about science, who seem to attract more than their share of misogyny? Clancy's solution is what she calls a posse, a group of regular readers and commenters who will drown out the bad guys. She notes that a posse has been more difficult to acquire since she moved her blog Context and Variation from her old site to the SciAm network. That's partly because readers must now register in order to comment. She hopes they will.

Commenting policy was also taken up by those at the session on writing about risky topics (for example sex and gender.) Scicurious posted a Storify on the session by Marissa Fessenden.

TALK ABOUT SCIENCE WRITING AT SciO12. At Wild Muse, DeLene Beeland took off from the session about how to provide illuminating context when writing about complex topics to offer several practical examples of how — and when not to. At Mother Geek, Jeanne Garbarino reported on the session about why you should write science for women's magazines. One big reason: those mags pay well. Find the Storify tweet stream on this session here.

Maryn McKenna listed several organizing tools for science writers collected from the session Tools & Tips for Project Workflow. I was at that session, which left me lusting for DEVONthink, a document management program that apparently uses AI to classify documents automagically. It's Mac-only though, and I'm PC. %^(

I have substantial experience with two of the others on the list and recommend them unreservedly. One is the speech-recognition program Dragon Naturally Speaking for dictating text. The other is Scrivener. Until late last year Scrivener was Mac-only too, but I beta-tested the Windows version and bought it the minute it came out. It's comprehensive software designed specifically for writers. You can store and organize your research in it, but you can write in it too, and label and annotate everything. Neither program is free, and Dragon leans toward being expensive, but the latest version is so spookily good at turning what you say into neat, grammatical, perfectly spelled, typo-free typescript that for me it is worth the money. Nearly.

At the SciAm blog Assignment: Impossible, Charles Choi says he and Maggie Koerth-Baker of BoingBoing were shocked, shocked to learn at SciO12 that scientists often don't get to sign off on press releases about their work.

He wants to alert science journalists — plus the programs that train them and trade pubs such as Columbia Journalism Review — to that fact, which he quite sensibly regards as a huge potential source of error. To say nothing of yet another reason to mistrust the churnalism sites that simply reprint releases and call themselves news outlets. He also argues

I think at this point it’s important for bodies such as the National Association of Science Writers to ask their public information officers how often they vet press releases with scientists, and to start a discussion as to why that is and whether those practices should get changed stat.

NASW has a newborn committee on public information officers, and the Choi suggestion would be a nice project for them. Earle? Melissa?

I'm not on the committee, but this is the NASW site and I'm on the NASW Board, so I'll start things off with this:

There are no acceptable reasons for a press release to be sent out into the world without being vetted by the principal scientist(s) who did the work. This will usually be the first author. Yes, it may sometimes be inconvenient to find a researcher and negotiate changes on a deadline. But inconvenience is an excuse, not a justification.


Great topic for discussion. At our institution, we never send out a news release without vetting it first with the scientists FOR ACCURACY. We work hard to ensure that the release is scientifically accurate, but not full of jargon.

There will, inevitably, be PIOs in our organization who do not agree with this vetting. Some will argue that we should be like journalists and not "show" our releases to our "sources."

I disagree with that. We owe it to the scientists and the public to be accurate and informative.

Scientists read the releases for accuracy. They do not get to fill them with jargon, or change all the sentences so they are passive.

The goal for us in a press release is to have an accurate depiction of the news so that journalists can refer back to it if they have questions while writing their own pieces. We have no expectations that they will use the entire piece. Also, we want to be sure that if the release is picked up by a "churnalist" site (nice word, by they way), everything in it is accurate.