Friday, April 9, 2010

Using the active voice in writing and your careers

Nature magazine has a great career section at the back of each issue.  I thought you would like this recent article on the importance of young scientists communicating their work, to both the public and to possible collaborators.  Even if you do not do research, the ability to communicate what it is you do and your accomplishments is an important part of the vital networking that is needed in all careers.

The author makes a nice connection between the active voice in writing, science communication and in ones career.

End of the year project roundup

Here is a summary of upcoming deadlines for course projects:

Presentations will be given April 14th and 21st.  You can find your presentation day here.

Videos need to be finished and ready to view by April 21st.  Please email me to let me know when you need a video camera.  One group has already finished their shooting.

Long form blog posts are due on your blogs by April 28th.  We mentioned five guidelines for these posts, and that you could use Not Exactly Rocket Science as a model.  You can also check out posts at Research Blogging:

  1. They should cover one or two articles from the primary literature
  2. They should be written in a way that a non-scientist would understand
  3. They should be entertaining - use the readings and discussion from this semester, and your blogging experience
  4. Shoot for around 800-1000 words
  5. Try to give a feel for the hypothesis of the study, if there was one, and how the study was done.  How was science used to answer a question in this paper?  You don't need to go into detail about methods, unless you can make it entertaining (see point 3 above)
  6. Use hyperlinks when appropriate, and cite your paper at the end.  Use the doi number for your paper if it has one.
And of course email questions to me if you have them.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Your most popular blog posts

Thanks to the many of you who sent in your nominations for favorite blog post so far this semester.  Without further ado, here they are roughly in the order received:

That's a lot of fine science blogging.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Assessment test review

OK, putting the word "assessment" in a post title is probably not the best way to attract readers.  But since this is an assignment post, you don't really have a choice anyway.

Here are your assignments for next week's class:

  1. Review your answers to the assessment exam and identify at least three questions that you would like to discuss in class this coming week.  Look into the material relevant to the question before class.
  2. Identify a topic that you would like to cover in your 5-minute power point presentations.  This should be a topic that you discovered that you could know better after taking the assessment exam.  You will get additional guidelines for this presentation in class.
  3. I have emailed to you a link to a Google documents page with the start of a "What Every Biologist Should Know" list.  I have added the first two items.  Based on your review of the assessment test or your own experience, add at least three items to this list.  These should be topics/concepts/specifics that you think anyone graduating with a bachelors degree in biology should know.
  4. Determine who your partners will be for your 60-second science video.  It would also be great if you can start discussing topics for that video.  I believe that two groups have already identified potential topics.
  5. And lastly, be thinking about a topic for your long-form blog post, due later this semester.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, this project should be similar to the News and Views review articles found in the journal Nature, or the long form posts on Not Exactly Rocket Science, which are typically around 1000 words and explain the findings of one to three primary literature articles.  You can focus on a topic that you know well and that interests you, or use this opportunity to learn more about a new area.  We will discuss this project more in class this week.
And of course keep watching this and each other's blogs for new posts.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

What else are you going to do over spring break?

I hope you are all enjoying some down time this week.  This post is meant to give you a heads up on the course projects left this semester, and a couple of things to do before our next meeting (at the end of the list).

  • Keep thinking about potential ideas for your 60 second videos.  We will do some planning at our next meeting.
  • Do you already realize that there is some area of biology that you should know better?  That could make a great topic for your presentation later this semester.
  • You can be scouting out a topic for your long-form blog post on some article from the primary literature.  For some ideas on what this writing can be like, check out the posts at Not Exactly Rocket Science, an outstanding science blog by Ed Yong.  Or you can model your post after the review articles found in journals like Nature.  Check out this recent review from Nature's News and Views section on how mosquitos smell their human hosts (can be viewed on the AU network).
  • Read chapter 4 in Don't Be Such a Scientist and be ready to discuss it in class when we get back.
  • Look over the posts written so far by your colleagues for this class this semester, and take note of what you think are the best two.  Leave a comment to this post naming what you think are the best two posts, or if you prefer, email your nominations to me.  And don't forget to keep commenting on each other's posts.  

Sunday, February 21, 2010

How to add a StatCounter to your blog

I will let the video speak for itself

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Accuracy or boredom - your comments please

In Chapter 3 of Don't Be Such a Scientist Randy Olson describes the trap that we can fall into when communicating science.  Scientists are trained to prize accuracy above all else, and should constantly be skeptical of the things they read.  But striving for complete accuracy and completeness in stories about science can make them, well, boring.  Randy's advice, keep your story concise and interesting, even if you must sacrifice some detail.  As an example he compares the effects of two documentaries on public thinking about global climate change: Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, and another that I never heard of.

Check out some recent examples from the science blogosphere that express the frustration of some scientists with the approach that Randy advocates.  On the lighter side, Christie at Observations of a Nerd pointed out a biological inaccuracy in the latest episode of Psych, which really ruined her enjoyment of the episode (as well as that of many of her commenters).

On the more serious side, read over the beginning of this post from the DrugMonkey blog.  A little bit of background - Matt Nisbet is a professor of communications who posts at Framing Science, and advocates an approach similar to what Randy is writing about in his book.  Check out how this approach of "framing" your science message to your audience, in effect sacrificing some detail or nuance to get your point across, is described on DrugMonkey.

So what do you think?  Which of these two approaches do you believe is more appropriate?  Have these been issues for you as you write your posts?

Please leave your comments below.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Assignments for the week

During our next two meeting times you will be taking the assessment test.  All you need to bring to class with you is a pencil (OK, I will be bringing some too if you forget).

But there is some blogging and online discussion to do before then.

  1. Write one blog post on anything scientific that interests you.  Practice using some of the communication strategies we have been discussing.  Your goal is to inform a non-scientist about something scientific that you find interesting.  When you are done, test out your post by getting some non-science friends to read it.
  2. Write one short blog post that links to some piece of science video out on the web.  Many of you said that you thought video was an excellent way to communicate science, and if you look you will find a growing number of bloggers and science sites using video.  Find one that you like and either link to it or embed it in your blog.  If you don't find one that you like, write a short post linking to something else that you like.
  3. Think about possible topics for your own 60 second videos.  One possibility - a video on research being done by faculty and students in Kettering.
  4. Look for a new list of student blogs on the right and feel free to post comments there.
  5. Read or Re-read Randy Olson's chapter 3 - Don't Be Such a Bad Storyteller and look for a discussion question about it on this blog in the next couple of days.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Advice for new science bloggers

Wonderful comments on communicating science with different media.  And I am really enjoying the posts coming in on denialism.  Keep up the great work.

Your blogs have been part of quite an extensive discussion in the science blogosphere over this past weekend.  A very prominent science blogger named Coturnix (the online editor at the open access journal PLoS - and not his real name) posted about student science bloggers, and highlighted our class.  A pretty extensive comment thread on the post, as well as on Facebook, got people discussing why students and early career (young) scientists blog, and why many do not stick with it.  I followed up this discussion with two posts on my own personal blog (post one and two).

The result is that three Biology alums are now fired up to continue the blogs they started in this class last year (Science Haggis and Plague-erism), and a number of other young science bloggers are getting encouragement from the science blogging establishment.

On Sunday Coturnix added another post with great advice for young bloggers, along with links to your current blogs.  I'd like you to read this post for this week's class.  Pay particular attention to what he considers the most effective way to communicate science, and see how you think it relates to the discussion we had with Tom Hayden.

Keep up the good work, and I look forward to some face-to-face discussion.  In the meantime, I'd encourage you to check out some of the student blogs linked here and on the linked posts.  You can always leave a comment on those blogs if you are inspired.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Anti-science and denialism

With our class today sunk under a few inches of snow (and slippery roads) I thought I would throw out a slightly new topic for discussion for next week's class.  I would also like to try some online discussions over this next week via this blog.  So here is your assignment for the week:

During one of our first discussions we talked briefly about an anti-science movement, and the importance of science putting a good face forward to explain its relevance to the public.  Some have termed the refusal to listen to scientific findings "denialism", whether it is the movements against vaccines (thank you Jenny McCarthy), evolution, or the scientific evidence for global warming.  This week I would like you to do some investigating on this topic:

  1. Listen to this radio interview from NPR's Science Friday with Michael Specter on his new book "Denialism".
  2. Read this article from Nature about new research into how science on controversial subjects should be communicated.
  3. Use your newly found blog and online science sources to see what you can find out there about denialism and the anti-science movement.  And then use this material as a source to write a new post for your blog on this topic.
And lastly, for now.  Leave a comment to this post in the next couple of days addressing the following question:

What medium have you found can best communicate science - text, audio, video?  Something else?  What have you found to be effective in your travels on the web this semester, and why?

Don't be too shy to get the comments started, and check back every day for new comments.  I will post another question for you on Friday.

Friday, February 5, 2010

We've got quite the blogroll going

I have added almost all of the blogs that you recommended two weeks ago and I am very impressed with the diversity of stuff that you found out there.  And I believe that the vast majority of these blogs are written by fellow scientists.  Be sure to check out these blogs when you can, and add them to your google reader accounts if you like them.

Professional science writing

Spending an hour with Tom has inspired me to want to talk about good sources of professional science journalism.  Tom mentioned that with a large number of journalists being laid off in recent years, especially many on the science beat, the science journalism scene has become highly fragmented.  You have found some great blogs out there, many written by scientists themselves.  But what are the good sources for professional writing.  This will be a topic for this week's class.

So here is your assignment for Wednesday:

  1. Be ready to discuss what you liked and/or did not like about Tom Hayden's articles.  Did you prefer the straight textual pieces, or the multimedia pieces?
  2. Try to find sources for professional science stories on the web, in whatever media type you like.  Text, videos, audio, whatever.  Be ready to talk about what you did and did not like in class. Where to start?  How about major newspapers, news weeklies, National Public Radio, the BBC, etc.
  3. Read chapter 3 in Randy Olson's book - Don't Be Such a Poor Storyteller.
  4. Write at least one more post for your blog.  Any topic you want related to science.  If you have not done so already, check out the other posts from class and think about what you think works well, and what does not.  And keep Randy and Tom's suggestions in mind.
  5. And lastly, leave at least one comment on a post from one of the class blogs.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Big thanks to Tom Hayden!

for spending an hour with our class.

I hope you enjoyed hearing about communicating science from a professional, and about a possible alternate career path as a science journalist.  And I think Tom offered to provide some critiques of your posts later in the semester.
I would be curious to know what you thought. If you are comfortable commenting in public, please leave a comment to this post.  That would be a good place to leave any additional questions or comments for Tom as well.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Writing your first blog posts

Congratulations on setting up your new science blogs, perhaps your first blog ever.  I'd like you to try some writing before next week's class.  Go ahead and do the following:
  1. Have someone in your group email to me the URL for your blog so that I can link it to the central course blog.
  2. Coordinate with the others in your group to add a post that introduces your blog.  Explain to your readers what your blog is for, what you plan to cover, maybe even how you chose your name.  These are just suggestions.  It is your blog, so your introduction is up to you.
  3. Then I would like each member of your group to add one post prior to next week's class.  This can be on anything sciency that you like, but try to use the discussions we have had on good science writing when crafting your post.  I would prefer that you do not all wait until midnight on Tuesday to post.  Please give me some reading throughout the week.
  4. Check out a new You Tube video I posted today that runs through some tips on using Blogger to write posts.
  5. And of course be sure to read the selection of Tom's writing from my last post.
Lastly, feel free to tinker with the settings on your new blog.  The person in your group who set up your blog will need to go to the "permissions" tab under "settings" and make you an administrator for the blog.

Leave any questions you have as comments to this post and I will get back to you with answers.  Have fun.

Background for our video visit with Tom Hayden

Our guest in next week's class will be the freelance science journalist Tom Hayden (not to be confused with the 60's era political activist and former husband to Jane Fonda).  I met Tom in 1993 as a grad student in the marine biology program at USC.  Sometime around year three of our program Tom got a summer internship as a science writer for Newsweek magazine in New York City and never turned back.  In addition to being a staff writer at Newsweek, he has worked at U.S. News & World Report and has written freelance for Wired, Nature, The Washington Post and National Geographic (among others).  He is also the author of two books, including the recent Sex and War.

Next week's class is a great opportunity for us to learn first hand about science communication from someone who does it professionally.  To get ready, I would like you to read some of Tom's work, and take notes on questions that you might like to ask about these specific articles and science writing/communication in general.  I hope that we can get a good discussions going.

Read the following before next week's class:
Recently Tom has been working on more multimedia pieces that involved collaborations with four to eight other writers and editors:

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010

    Some online background on Randy Olson

    The second chapter of Don't Be Such a Scientist mentions Randy's work on the Shifting Baselines project. If you have not googled it yet, check out their webpage.

    Want to see Randy talk about his book?  Does he communicate well?  You can also see what reviewers at Science and Nature thought about the book.

    And I just discovered that Randy has a Wikipedia page?  Do you think he wrote it?

    Tuesday, January 19, 2010

    Almost time to start a blog

    Next week in class you will be starting up your own blogs.  In the meantime I would like you to read a bit about science writing and check out the science blogs that are already out there.  Here is your assignment for our next class:
    1. Read chapter 2 in the Olson book.
    2. Read chapter 4 from Deborah Blum's Field Guide for Science Writers and be ready to discuss it next week in class.
    3. Read the 25 tips from the science writer at the Guardian.
    4. Read the single page on naming a blog.
    5. Start reading through some science blogs to find ones that you like, and ones that you don't like.
    6. Use Google Reader to start following your favorite blogs.  This RSS reader will be important as you follow each other's blogs and when looking for post ideas.  Add this blog to your Reader account, and be sure to check it often.
    7.  Leave a comment to this post with the name of the best blog you find during the week and what it is about it that you like.

    Monday, January 11, 2010

    Welcome to our central blog

    This will be our central collaborative space for Bio 495 this semester.  Feel free to look through material on this blog from past courses.  We will start talking about how to blog, and why to blog about science, soon.