Over the weekend, I had the privilege of sharing a panel with two science writers I admire tremendously: Carl Zimmer and Deborah Blum. The topic was science blogging, journalism, and the changing media environment. Preparing for our session gave me plenty of time to consider the dynamic nature of the blogosphere and the evolution of online weblogs since my arrival in 2006.
Science blogging itself has virtually exploded during past years. What was once a small community of blogs and bloggers has grown into a myriad of lively networks that interact and engage with each other and broad audiences. We were initially a handful of familiar names and urls, yet now the list is so long that no one—except Bora Zivkovic perhaps—can hope to know every member of the ever-expanding science blogging community. Niches have emerged across disciplines, covering topics from genetics and open access science to, well, everything all at once. And the all-stars do a heck of a good job sharing stories and posing new questions as well.
It’s been extremely interesting to observe the shifting motivations of those who decide to enter the world of science blogging. Years ago, I suspect the majority of us were drawn to this kind of forum as a means of self-expression. A creative outlet. For me, it was cathartic–I had all of these ideas swirling through my head and posting served as a wonderful way to explore them further with readers. I doubt that five years ago, many of us envisioned blogging would be a career asset. At that time, it was still somewhat taboo. Universities didn’t know what to make of blogs and some initially tried to restrict participation by faculty and staff. Meanwhile, we supported each other and the community was close.
Fast forward to 2011 and I’m meeting so many so many fascinating individuals–particularly students, early career scientists, and journalists–who have embraced blogging as a way to stand out, engage others, and get noticed. Many job applicants list blogs near the top of CVs and universities are teaching courses on using new media. Bloggers with authority speak out when they see bad science reporting and a system of mutual online peer review has emerged. There are exceptions to all of this of course, but I like the overall trends I’m observing: Blogs have become the norm. They are redefining the meaning of “mainstream media” and often determine what makes “news.” Best of all, they are changing perceptions of who scientists are and what we do.
These are my thoughts on the flight home to Austin, and I’m curious to hear readers’ perspectives on the evolution of science blogging. If you are a blogger, when did you begin and what motivated your decision? If you’re a reader, do you enjoy the burgeoning community or feel lost because of information overload? Are your favorite blogs written by scientists, science journalists, or someone in between? The comment thread is yours for discussion, and I’ll be back to participate…
will.i.am, of the Black Eyed Peas, was one of the original stars featured in the 2009 Rock Stars of Science campaign.
During the SuperBowl halftime on Sunday, meanwhile, he added lyrics to a song so as to extol President Obama’s new science education push:
In America we need to get things straight/
Obama, let’s get these kids educated/
Create jobs so the country stays stimulated.
I get the sense that will.i.am gets it.
And why wouldn’t he: He’s also “director of creative innovation” for Intel.
Anyone who regularly reads this blog knows that I frequently write about women in science and the unique challenges for female science bloggers. And there have been many moments over the past four years when I’ve felt as if I was shouting into the wind.
I “Came Out” in 2007, was “Singled Out” in 2009, and went “Under The Microscope” in 2010, with lots of related posts in between. Each piece initially garnered an enormous response, high blog traffic, and echoed across the blogosphere–until a few days later when everyone seemed to forget and move on. The Internet has no memory after all.
So I can’t say I expected things would be any different when I proposed a panel entitled “Perils of blogging as a woman under a real name” for Science Online 2011. But two weeks later I’m wondering if maybe we’re reaching critical mass as attitudes are beginning to shift. As more of us stand up and speak out, transgressions become harder to ignore. If we raise awareness collectively, we shift cultural mores. And I’m encouraged that we’re moving in that direction.
After the panel, a chorus emerged that has been rising in pitch. Posts have been composed about the challenges we face, highlighting womens’ accomplishments, acknowledging sexism, and more. Despite smaller ripples of the past, something feels different this time. More men and women are joining the conversation fostering a thoughtful dialog. Ed Yong has composed a list of women bloggers to read, with specific reasons why and links to some of his favorite posts. In other words, he’s not promoting them because they are women, but rather because they are talented writers and scientists. (I’m humbled and honored to be namhttp://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/wp-admin/post.php?post=15486&action=edit&message=1ed. Thanks Ed).
Suddenly I feel as if I’m not shouting against the wind alone anymore. Sure, this week’s enthusiasm will ebb at some point, but times are assuredly changing. Along with the blogosphere. We still have a long way to go, but I’m optimistic at how far we’ve already come…
That’s the question I pose in my latest post at DeSmogBlog:
Essentially, President Obama wants us to recreate the same sense of urgency, and the same national unity, but without the same fear of another competitor country, unless that country is supposed to be China—which, the President noted, recently “became the home to the world’s largest private solar research facility, and the world’s fastest computer.” Okay, that’s something of a spur…but it is not, historically speaking, a Sputnik. (And, making China into the enemy is a very problematic notion.)
Obama wasn’t even speaking in a national security frame last night when he invoked Sputnik. He was speaking in an economic one. The sense of shared threat was displaced from an external other to our own economic problems—joblessness and deficits.
And that’s the real trick: Is the yearning for national unity, in the wake of Tucson, enough to overcome this chief non-parallel in Obama’s Sputnik analogy? Because undoubtedly, investing in more clean energy research, and more research in general, will spur jobs and innovation. But will we remember to forget our differences in the meantime? Is there some glue that will hold us together? Given the way politics now operate in the U.S., it’s hard to be so optimistic.
You can read the full post here.
If you haven’t already caught Bad Project by Zheng Lab, watch this and compare to the original fabulous video Bad Romance by Lady Gaga (produced by my brilliant cousin Nicole Ehrlich).
There is much I’d like to write about ScienceOnline2011 and the sessions I participated in. However, there’s already an outstanding blog post by one of my co-panelists Kathryn Clancy that’s a must-read. She hit a home run reporting on our session entitled, “Perils of blogging as a woman under a real name” where we shared the floor with Anne Jefferson and Joanne Manaster. Here’s a sample, but I strongly encourage everyone to visit her blog for the entire piece:
..while I think all my co-panelists had some very important things to say, and some great stories (and awful stalker stories), the audience is what made the panel. Here are a few things they had to say:
- We need to be clear about how bad it really is to write under your own name — some women have had no problems at all where others have been driven out. Depending on the topic you write about and the kind of audience you write for, you will have different experiences, and many women will have only good experiences. We shouldn’t be too negative.
- Some people think writing for a female audience is lame. Apparently there is a listserv of science writers, and about once a year a conversation starts up about whether science writers should write for women’s magazines — apparently many people come down on the side of not thinking science writers should write for them. (My take? Any time anyone says there is anything wrong with writing for women, it is sexist.)
- One fantastic young woman talked about how she avoids discussing her blog with her peers for fear of becoming the “soft skills chick.” Doing anything other than the hottest science seems to delegitimize women very quickly; however in some cases men get rewarded for doing the same thing (examples that come to my mind are picking up extra teaching and service, or having offspring, the latter being empirically supported).
- Robin Lloyd already mentioned this in her article, but Ed Yong attended our panel (one of, I think, only three men). He mentioned that he gets DMed on Twitter regularly by men who want him to Tweet or promote their posts. He said he had never been DMed for promotional reasons by a woman. I was completely flabbergasted by this comment (and I don’t think I was the only one), because it had never occurred to me that I could even do that sort of a thing.
- The brilliant Zuska made several great comments (as Sheril pointed out, she really should have been on the panel!). One that really struck me is that we need to interrogate assumptions about women and provide empirical evidence against them. The reason this came up was that we were discussing where attacks can come from, and how sometimes the attacks come from women as well as men. I believe someone made the comment that women can be worse, and alluded to the idea that women make bad bosses for women. Zuska pointed out that when you look at the evidence male bosses are still worse to women than women are to women. And of course, towards the end of the panel Zuska also used what is likely her most famous and beloved line, “I want to puke on their shoes.”
It was an honor and privilege to spend the hour with such the incredible group of women and men in the room. This is not a new subject, but one I hope we will continue to address on- and offline as science–and the blogosphere–continue to evolve. Now go read Kate’s full post…
See here, video courtesy of “Planet Foward”:
What do people think? The Sputnik analogy comes up frequently in connection with where we stand now in science and innovation, vis a vis the rest of the world.
Is it a fair analogy?
Video is now available from the L’Oreal USA/Discover Magazine Congressional briefing I moderated in September. I’ve posted part 1 of 4 below and you can watch the entire event here.
- Russlynn Ali, Assistant Secretary, Office of Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education
- Dr. Shirley Malcom, Head of Education and Human Resources, American Association for Advancement of Science (AAAS)
- Pr. Joan Steitz, Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, Yale University
- Pr. Sara Seager, Ellen Swallow Richards, Professor of Planetary Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Sheril Kirshenbaum, Research Associate at University of Texas at Austin’s Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy, Author, and Blogger for Discovermagazine.com (Moderator)
Over the past two days I’ve given talks at Indiana University and Penn State University. It’s refreshing to speak with so many bright students actively working to make their research more accessible and relevant to broad audiences. Today I’m very much looking forward to spending some time with the Fellows involved in Penn State’s CarbonEARTH program–a terrific initiative supported by the NSF GK-12 grant:
The CarbonEARTH (Educators and Researchers Together for Humanity) Fellowship Program teams Penn State Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) graduate students with elementary and middle school science teachers from Pennsylvania’s Philipsburg and Harrisburg school districts. The CarbonEARTH program uses the interdisciplinary theme of carbon, broadly construed, as a unifying platform for student investigation, discovery, training and education.
I tremendously enjoy these campus visits and sense a growing awareness among young scientists that public engagement beyond academia will be necessary to influence and inform the global decision-making process. If the individuals I’ve been meeting are representative of where the science community is headed, the times they are a-changin’.
And I remain optimistic.
This is a cute parody of “Most Beautiful Girl in the Room” by Flight of the Conchords. On one hand the clever lyrics make me laugh, but it’s also worth pointing out that the video isn’t really much of an exaggeration of the work environment for many.
In and out of academia, women (and occasionally men) often receive unwanted attention just getting through the course of a day, which can be uncomfortable and challenging. Since we’ve been discussing the XX drop off on the way to tenured faculty, you bet this is part of the equation…