If anyone wants to find out a bit more about me, my background, my goals and my thoughts on online science communication, this is probably a good place to start.
Some background: following every ScienceOnline conference, Bora likes to pretend that he doesn’t already know everything about everyone by watching their internet habits on a gigantic bank of monitors, while cackling and stroking a cat. To that end, he does a series of interviews, where the conference participants say a bit about themselves. It’s now my turn, and we’re both posting this up at the same time. Given that I wrote this for Bora, it seems fitting that I was a bit more verbose than usual.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?
I’m Ed, I talk to people about science and I do it in three main ways. I write a science blog called Not Exactly Rocket Science, I do a fair bit of freelance journalism for British press, and I work in a science communications role for a big UK cancer charity. Round about the time that swine flu was saturating the headlines, I started calling myself a triple-reassortant science writer, which is a seriously geeky affectation but worth it for the occasional person who gets it and sniggers.
In terms of my background, I did a degree in Natural Sciences at Cambridge, covering all sorts of fields from animal behaviour to experimental psychology. I assumed that research was going to be my calling and I spent a year or so as a PhD student before realising that I was apocalyptically bad at it. Mythically bad. People composed ballads about how much I sucked. If I didn’t destroy the world during my time in the lab, it’s only because that would probably have counted as a publishable result.
Thankfully, the insight that I sucked at doing science coincided nicely with the revelation that I wasn’t too bad at talking about it. Essentially, I can’t narrow my attentional spotlight on a single subject; I need broad vistas. I can’t derive motivation from rare but transcendental moments of success amid a long drought of failure; I need a more regular fix. And my hands are clumsy and inept when handling a Gilson; they’re much better at dancing on a keyboard. And thus concludes my origin story. Maybe I should have just lied and said something about being bitten by a radioactive David Attenborough.
Moving on to here and now, I’m constantly excited by the new discoveries that I read about and I’m keen to infect other people with the same enthusiasm. I just think that people will be better off if they have a deeper understanding of the world around them and if they’re motivated to sceptically seek out that knowledge in the first place. Telling awe-inspiring stories about science is one way of achieving both those ends. My own love for science was fuelled by masterful communicators and I want to carry on that tradition.
Oh, and I live in London, a great, beautiful, cosmopolitan, culturally vibrant city that has the god-awful problem of being full of Londoners.
Next week, I’ll be chairing a session at the Science Online 2010 conference called Rebooting science journalism in the age of the web. I’ll be shooting the breeze with Carl Zimmer, John Timmer and David Dobbs about the transition of journalism from sheets of plant pulp to wires and wi-fi. The title of the talk had been set before the panel was assembled but, being biologists at heart, we’re going to shift the metaphor from a technological one to an evolutionary one.
As a species, science journalists (in all their varied forms and behaviours) have found themselves thrust into a new digital ecosystem that presents fresh challenges to their survival. Some individuals will have adaptive traits that allow them to thrive in this brave, new world, while others are riddled with maladaptive qualities and face extinction. In this post (and hopefully, during the session), we’ll consider what the new ecosystem looks like, what opportunities and threats it presents, and how journalists can adapt to survive in it. Let’s start with opportunities (I’m bucking the trend by starting a blog post about science journalism on a positive note).