Category: Internet

Benjamin Franklin and his ipad #3 750x400

Why do people read science blogs? Surprisingly, we don’t have a good answer to this.  There’s a vibrant online community of people blogging about science, and talking about blogging about science, and blogging about blogging and talking about science.  But we don’t know that much about the people that science blogs and bloggers set out to serve. This is a problem from a science communication perspective, because if we don’t know who we’re engaging, and why they’re engaged, it’s very difficult to communicate effectively. To address this rather vital knowledge gap, Dr. Paige Jarreau – one of the foremost researchers on science blogging – has a plan.  Working with 60 bloggers, she will be conducting a large-scale survey of science blog readers to map out who reads these blogs, and why. To my knowledge, it’ll be the largest systematic survey of it’s type, and will provide extremely valuable insights into the effectiveness of science blogging as a way of communicating and engaging on science with non-expert audiences, as well as indicating how science blogging can become an even more effective communication platform.  However, there is a catch. Research costs money, and this project is no exception.  Rather brilliantly though, Paige is raising some of the money needed for the study through crowdfunding. What excites me about this is that it gives the online science community the chance to have skin in the game.  It enables community members to demonstrate their support for, and dedication to, the effective communication of science through blogs.  And it enables the data collection and analysis that will help them better-achieve their science communication aims. And of course, being a science-based community, they understand the importance of data and evidence in guiding decisions and actions, so there’s a rather elegant symmetry to them supporting the work that will generate the data that helps them in their work.

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Risk Bites – my new foray into the world of YouTube informal education – was officially launched a few weeks ago (although the transition from “unofficial” to “official” simply meant posting new videos more regularly!).  The channel is an experiment in overcoming the tedium and seeming irrelevance of much academic online content by unbundling the things that I research and teach and talking about the interesting stuff in an engaging and accessible way. Is it working?  It’s too early to say yet.  I’m getting good feedback from my peers.  But I have yet to crack how to get a much wider pool of eyeballs onto the videos (any offers of publicity here gratefully received – the url is – just in case you need it!).  What I’m really looking for is a growing number of subscribers and viewers who are entertained and informed by the videos. That said, I’m learning a lot from the experience.  The workflow is admittedly crude (idea, script, voice-over, storyboard, film, edit, post – all fit into an already packed schedule).  But that in turn means that the videos can be nearly as responsive as writing a blog post – as last week’s response to the Sandy Hook shootings showed.  In fact, the whole feel of the exercise is very much like the early days of writing posts for 2020 Science. Filming Risk Bites (click the image to see the video) The big difference though is the challenge of taking my work on risk and evidence-informed decision-making and dividing it into very short pieces that create a coherent narrative.  A 1 – 2 minute video allows for between 200 – 400 words, which isn’t a whole lot to handle the intricacies of the science of human health risk.  Even seemingly basic concepts like dose-response need

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It had to happen – despite deluding myself that I could squeeze everything into a 140 hour work week, something’s going to have to give.  And that something is going to be regular posts on 2020 Science.  I’ll still be posting here, just not as frequently.  Chairing a department, directing a center, teaching, research, doing cool stuff with cool people, writing killer blog posts – it should be possible to do it all.  But apparently I have a family who would like to see me occasionally.  And I’ve heard that other people have this thing called “a life” – I’m intrigued to find out what that is! I’ll still be doing plenty of stuff on line, so please do carry on engaging with me and my work in these places: On Twitter at @2020science – 140 characters is so much easier than a 500 word blog post.  What do department chairs tweet about?  I guess I’ll find out! On the Risk Sense blog – I’ll be putting more energy into building up the Risk Science Center blog – please spread the word, as this has the potential to be a great resource and forum on the science of human health risk.  Also, please follow the Risk Science Center on Twitter at @umrsc On the Risk Bites YouTube channel (and also on Twitter at @microriskbites).  This is a tremendously exciting project we’re launching that provides bite-sized and highly accessible nuggets on cool stuff about science, risk and health.  We officially launch in November, but there will be a number of teasers posted before then.  Please spread the word and subscribe! At Mind The Science Gap.  I’m running this science communication course twice a year now for our students – please subscribe to get notifications of blog posts, and support the students

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Is social media messing up today’s teens?  Adults, it seems, love to pontificate on the benefits and ills of emerging internet-based communication platforms  on young people. But how often do they bother to listen to the teenagers they claim to be concerned about? Well, this is their chance. Over this past week, the members of my daughter’s YouTube collaboration channel Fellowship of the Ning have recorded their thoughts on camera, and provided a candid and personal perspective of how social media is affecting their lives.

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Yesterday I have the rather odd experience of opening the media140 meeting on the impact of social technologies on science communication in Brisbane Australia – from my basement in Michigan, USA.  Skyping into the meeting, it was hard to tell whether I was making sense, or just taking the title of the keynote too literally and talking a load of Jackson Pollocks.  Fortunately, based on the ensuing questions and the tweets (following the hashtag #media140) things didn’t go down too badly. From previous experience with Skype though, things might not have gone so smoothly.  Which is why I recorded a short video backup of the talk over the weekend – just in case. And having done so, I thought I might as well post it here.  It’s not as immediate as I suspect the live talk was.  But on the plus side, it is a lot shorter! ps – for those watching the media140 talk (which was broadcast from the family library), here’s an interrupted view of the books you were trying to make out behind me 🙂

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A few weeks ago, I gave a talk at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati under the slightly provocative title “Small Gods and the Art of Technology Innovation”.  The talk is now available on-line (slides and audio at least) – and viewable below – through the excellent work of the folk at CAC. Rather sneakily, I used the opportunity to talk to a (mainly) lay audience about risk science in the 21st century – did I get away with it I wonder…?

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Back in April I posted data on three indicators of “influence” for ~400 science-focused Twitter users – based on David Bradley’s list of “Scientific Twitter Friends.” Intrigued to see how these Tweeps’ influence evolves over time, I will be updating these data periodically. In this first update (aided and abetted by @ruthseeley – thanks Ruth!), the overall number of followers (both primary and secondary) of the SciTweep cohort has increased over the past two months – as would be expected given increasing interest in Twitter.  There is the slightest hint of an increase in overall Social Capital. But this is marginal, suggesting that SciTweeps are not deviating substantially from Twitter-wide trends in increasing followers. These data are available on Many Eyes to play around with (see the screencast below for tips on how to mess around with the bubble chart).  You can even download the original data here and dive deeper into it…

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Last night, Stephen Wolfram threw the switch on Wolfram Alpha – a ground-breaking… no, make that game changing… “search engine” that computes answers to questions rather than simply drowning you in a torrent of possibly-relevant web pages.  Itching to give it a whirl, I asked some of my friends on Twitter to suggest some questions to ask it. This is the screencast of what happened (press play to start):

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2020 Science is published by Andrew Maynard - Director of the Risk Innovation Lab at Arizona State University. More ... 

Andrew can be found on Twitter at @2020science and on YouTube at Risk Bites


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