So, ScienceOnline'09 was quite the experience again this year. My son Sam and I arrived in NC quite late on Friday night, so other than a quick drink there is really nothing to report for Friday. Sam's posted a bit on the conference so far.
Before I start talking a bit about the sessions I attended on Saturday, I just what to mention what my Theory of ScienceOnline was this year. I really ended up attending lots of sessions on topics that I really wasn't expecting, rather than some "usual suspects" type sessions. For example, I didn't go to the Open Access session or the Social Networking for Scientists session. Odd, since those are actually the topics I'm generally most keenly interested in, right? True, but I've been to sessions on those types of topics before so I ended up choosing in favour of other topics. And ultimately, I'm quite happy with that.
I won't really go into detailed summaries of sessions -- you can get a lot of summary information on the conference wiki or on FriendFeed.
So, here goes. In each case, I'll link to the wiki discussion page:
Science Fiction on Science Blogs? — moderated by Stephanie Zvan
This was a good session, but like all discussions on Science Fiction and X, it ended up talking about why normal people don't really appreciate SF. In any case, there was some talk about using sf as a gateway to engagement in scientific issues, and what role blogs could play in that, but not a lot. There were a few good book recommendations and some discussion about "What is science fiction for!" One thing I'm definitely going to track down is Tolkein's The Notion Club Papers!
Science online – middle/high school perspective — moderated by Stacy Baker and her students.
This was a great session, one of the highlights of the whole conference for me. Basically, private HS teacher Stacy Baker brought a bunch of her freshman and junior student to the conference and hosted this session where they could talk about what technologies they use in class and how they feel about the educational process in general as it pertains to social software. The kids talked about their use of software such as Twitter, Skype, AIM, Ning, FaceBook and others. More interestingly, the talk turned to the "creepy treehouse." In other words, how can kids, parents and educators co-exist in these online social and educational spaces, keeping it enjoyable, respectful and safe. The kids main message, probably to the despair of most educators, was "It can't be boring." I think we in higher ed will have a lot to deal with in a few years. BTW, these kids were absolutely amazing. Intelligent, articulate, funny and serious -- the future is in great hands.
Teaching College Science: Blogs and Beyond — moderated by Andrea Novicki and Brian Switek
Another very good session. For this one we broke up into groups and each group needed to come up with three ways to use blogs in education. The wiki page has very detailed notes for this, with all the ideas people came up with. This was an interesting session in that we never really seemed to run out of new ways to use blogs but we never really got to explore any particular ideas in depth.
Alternative careers: how to become a journal editor – moderated by Henry Gee (senior editor at Nature) and Peter Binfield (managing editor of PLoS ONE)
Since I don't want to become a journal editor, why did I go to this session? Mostly because I wanted to learn a little about what exactly a journal editor does and I was hoping that I'd gain some insight here.
And that's definitely the case, most particularly from Henry Gee of Nature. In his rambling, discursive style, he gave us all a very interesting picture of the life of an editor at Nature. Most precisely, the art (not science) of deciding what papers get published. He also made a persuasive case that journal editor should be considered a valid career choice for science people, not just as a fall back position for those whose more traditional career aspirations don't pan out.
Anonymity, Pseudonymity – building reputation online — moderated by PalMD and Abel
I'd tell you what happened in this panel, but then they'd have to kill me.
But seriously, I saw this session as one more about raising questions and speculating on possible best practices rather than giving hard and fast answers. Here's some of the questions that were discussed: Does anyone care what your real name is? Can a very determined stalker figure out your real name? How worried are you about being outed? What about revealing details about family members or posting pictures? Will you employer care about what you post? Do you need to let them know you have a blog before you start a new job? How about funders or sponsors? Is there an interaction between your real name and your pseudonym?
How to become a (paid) science journalist: advice for bloggers — moderated by Rebecca Skloot and Tom Levenson
As with most of the other parts of the science blogosphere, lately I've been thinking about what exactly science blogging is good for compared to more traditional science journalism. Of more precisely, how they're different and how both can be nourished and supported in their hopefully complementary (rather than mutually exclusive) roles. It seems to me that the main difference between the two modes is the emphasis on story telling, an idea that the moderators came back to repeatedly, even if indirectly. Blogs are slice of life, concentrating on one idea or event; journalism (at least in longer forms) is more about narrative, character and story structure.
Levenson and Skloot did a great job of exploring those ideas in the context of how a newbie could break into paid journalism from science blogging.
It's interesting that at the end, Tom tried to be controversial by maintaining that the habit and rhythms of blogging are inimical to being a successful journalist. Oddly, no one really took the bait.
I'll be reporting on the Sunday sessions next.