Covering Science in Cyberspace

March 14, 2007

Good interactive ideas

Yesterday Cris Russell asked what “interactive” meant. She pointed out that merely clicking around a web site is little different than flipping through a newspaper or magazine.

Some of today’s suggestions have proposed excellent ideas to have readers meaningfully interact with a web page.

* Calculating your own carbon emissions
* Dueling blogs (two on one page) or Expert blogs (hopefully with expert contributions, to avoid he said/she said faux-balance of opinions)
* Coolest user on YouTube
* Interactive maps (to which users can upload their own illustrations of climate change, for example)

Also, I think it’s a great idea (nice one, Kat) to get attention-starved and under-appreciated grad students to advertise their work online. It would probably be a lot of work to set up a streaming feed from a lab, and to would require quite a bit of technical expertise. But we grad students are used to having to do all the work, and by and large science grad students are fairly tech-savvy. So a site would only have to ask, “do you want to be a celebrity?” and grad students would probably jump to do whatever it took to post information from their lab.

March 14, 2007

Joke of the Day, as told by Joe Palca

During some free time away from a scientific meeting in LA, a PI and her two graduate students are walking along the beach.  They stumble upon a lamp in the sand, and one of the students picks it up and rubs it.  Out pops a genie, who says, “Since I don’t know which one of you found me, I’ll give each of you a wish.”
The first graduate student says, “I wish that you send me skiing in the Alps, with fresh powder, beautiful mountains, and a snifter of brandy when I’m tired.”
The genie grants the wish and the student disappears in a poof of air and sand.
The second graduate student steps forward and says, “I wish to be scuba diving in Bermuda, and I want good visibility, amazing marine life, and a nice mai tai afterwards.”
He also disappears.
The genie then turns to the PI and asks for her wish.
“I want them both back in lab after lunch.”

As a graduate student whose absence from her lab has been sorely felt over the last few days, I appreciate the sentiment of the joke.  But what I can’t figure out is why, WHY, didn’t they wish for their PhDs?

March 14, 2007

Yeah, but who’s going to build it?

The first two presentations this morning presented very interesting-looking web sites with very vague sources of funding and unnamed contributors.

I understand that everyone at this conference works for different publications, and that resorting to media consortiums and non-profit sites with unnamed editors is a way to stay on safe ground. But come on, folks.

A site run by some non-specified government agency or consortium of competitors is a site run by no one. Fantasies of large staffs and pie-in-the-sky ideas of experts contributing for free will not lead anywhere.

Larry Gonick pointed out that this was a conceptual exercise, because it’s easier to do everything than to make small, focused suggestions, and there were only a couple of hours yesterday to work on this. Fine. But I’d be very curious to hear more practical ideas about how such grandiose plans might actually be put into action today in the discussion of the presentations.

March 14, 2007

The Soul of the Story

      “What is the role of the story?” Vicky Porter asked yesterday. 
“They are interesting,” said someone else.
“Important,” emphasized Tom Siegfried.
      “Stories excite neurons,” replied Larry Gonick.
And so the debate raged on.  While writers may never agree on their role in informing the public, they can agree on something bigger.  The importance of choosing a “good” topic (with as many definitions here as there are people in this room) should be one of their main concerns. 
      Educators and entertainers alike can unite over the gravity of topic choice.  And as science becomes more technical and narrow in scope, particularly in fields like molecular biology and neuroscience, it becomes harder to say something meaningful about the recent advances. 
      “We need to challenge each other,” concluded Vicky Porter.

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This blog was written by prominent science journalists and science communicators who attended the Knight Digital Media Center Best Practices: Covering Science in Cyberspace seminar.

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