North Carolina Science Blogging Conference

Amsen, Graphical Abstract

The North Carolina Science Blogging Conference held in Chapel Hill on January 20th, 2007, was a great opportunity for teachers, journalists, scientists, and students to learn how science blogging can contribute to a greater awareness of science.

On January 20th, 2007, I attended the first annual North Carolina Science Blogging Conference at the University of Carolina at Chapel Hill. The conference originally started as an idea by science blogger Bora Zivkovic, who wanted to organize a gathering for science bloggers (1). He consulted Anton Zuiker, who had experience organizing conferences and meetups. Anton suggested making the event also accessible to others interested in science communication, and took on a major role in the conference organization.

The end result of this collaborative effort was a full day of talks and discussions with an impressive line-up of speakers and sponsors.

Most participants were scientists, students, or educators from North Carolina’s “Triangle” area (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill) – a hub of scientific activity thanks to the Research Triangle Park located here (2). But the conference also attracted people from other parts of the US, Canada, and the UK. Several publications were represented by their editors, including The Lancet and The Scientist, and of course there were a number of science bloggers.

The main goal of the conference was to learn how blogs can be used as a tool for science communication. Dr. Hunt Willard, director of the Duke Institute for Genome Science & Policy, led a discussion about science literacy at the start of the day. If blogging is a way to connect scientists with the public, he suggested staying away from too much scientific detail: the public could still get excited about science even if they didn’t understand all of it. As an example of great public support for science he mentioned the space race of the 1960s: hardly anyone knew how space shuttles worked or what we could learn from space exploration, but everyone got excited about putting men on the moon!

The second morning presentation was given by Dr. Janet Stemwedel, who is an assistant professor of Philosophy at San Jose State University, as well as a trained physical scientist and blogger. She sees blogging as a valuable addition to existing scientific communication, because the ease of interaction and the wide audience make it a completely different kind of conversation.

Several simultaneous breakout sessions were held in the afternoon. I attended a session on “Illustrating your posts” hosted by American Scientist editor Rosalind Reid. She showed examples of good and bad use of pictures in blog posts, and led a discussion on copyright and fair use of images online. A second afternoon session was “Teaching Science”, led by Adnaan Wasey from PBS The Online NewsHour. He was briefly joined by his colleague Lea Winerman who showed us one of many educational video clips on the PBS Online NewsHour website (3). The rest of this session was an interesting dialogue between two groups in the audience: on one side the middle- and high school teachers were exited about being able to communicate with scientists or science communicators through blogs, and on the other side were the bloggers in the audience who learned how to reach out to students. Useful websites for educational purposes were shared as well.

Two other afternoon sessions focused on Medical Blogging and on Open Source Science, which is an opportunity for online collaboration in scientific discovery (4).

It wouldn’t have been a proper blogging conference without WiFi, and throughout the entire day, people were “liveblogging” the events, taking notes on their laptops and posting them directly to their blogs. A collection of all the liveblogged posts can be found on the conference wiki, as well as news on the upcoming North Carolina Science Blogging conference on January 19th 2008 (5, 6).

This conference was unique in its ability to connect editors, teachers, scientists, students, and other individuals interested in science. There should be more occasions where such varied groups can physically gather for discussions on science communication. Until then, we always have the internet and science blogs!

References

1. History of the North Carolina Science Blogging Conference: http://scienceblogs.com/clock/2007/01/final_notes_on_the_science_blo.php

2. Research Triangle Park: http://www.rtp.org/

3. PBS The Online NewsHour video website http://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/video/index.html

4. The Open Source Science session is available at: http://drexel-coas-talks-mp3-podcast.blogspot.com/2007/01/nc-science-blogging-conference.html

5. Collection of links relevant to the conference, including liveblogged posts: http://mistersugar.stikipad.com/blogtogether/show/Conference+Links+and+Liveblogging

6. Information about the 2008 conference: http://mistersugar.stikipad.com/blogtogether/show/North+Carolina+Science+Blogging+Conference

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