“Assume you are writing for someone with a degree in history.”
As pointed out earlier in the workshop and highlighted elsewhere,1 the primary source of current news events and science and technology information for most people in the United States today is the Internet and television. At the same time, many people continue to look to newspapers, magazines, and books (print media) for this type of information. In this session, speakers discussed the strengths and weaknesses of communicating chemistry and science using print media and the ways traditional print media are evolving to meet the growing demand for Internet content. John Emsley from the University of Cambridge discussed steps to becoming a science writer. Ivan Amato of the Pew Charitable Trusts discussed the opportunities that exist to highlight chemistry. Joy Moore from Seed Media Group provided insights using print media and science blogs to promote a better understanding of chemistry.
John Emsley started this session focusing on popular science writing and chemistry. For those just starting out in this area, he said to write for college magazines or company newsletters, “for the love of the thing, not for any money.” After building up a portfolio, one can then approach publications that will pay for the articles, such as local newspapers and popular science magazines. After working through these steps, he eventually had a column in a national British newspaper called “Molecule of the Month.” Later (about 15 years ago), he was approached to write books. “If you want to become a popular science writer, don’t try and run before you can walk,” Emsley cautioned. He emphasized the need to build up a portfolio of work before attempting to jump into writing a book.
Emsley explained that there are two kinds of science books, those for an academic audience and those for a general audience. Academic books are printed in small numbers (fewer than 1,000) and are for readers who are looking for specialist knowledge. General audience books are printed on a large scale for readers who want to know more about the subject and to be entertained while reading about it. One of the books Emsley wrote, Molecules of Murder, was the result of prompting from his agent. He suggested that Emsley combine popular science and true crime to appeal to a general audience. As a result of that prompting, Emsley ended up writing two books, one called Elements of Murder and one called Molecules of Murder, which are two of his best-selling books.
“Don’t Give up Your Day Job Just Yet”
Emsley talked about what he thinks prevents chemists and other scientists from becoming popular science writers. One factor is the adverse effect it can have on one’s career. Some people in an academic department may view it as taking away from research activities. Another contributing factor is the difficulty scientists have expressing ideas in very simple terms. They are afraid of putting things in print and making mistakes, because people will remember those rather than remember the good points. Another barrier to becoming a popular science writer may be what Emsley calls the “sneers of your peers.” Once those barriers are overcome, it is then possible to think about writing.
Emsley spoke about the common mistakes new writers make. One is assuming the audience is knowledgeable about the material covered. The audience may not understand all
1For more information, see National Science Board. 2008. Science and Engineering Indicators. Arlington, VA: Division of Science Resources Statistics, National Science Foundation. Available at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind08/c7/c7s1.htm and The Pew Internet and American Life Project at http://www.pewinternet.org/.
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3 Chemistry in Print “Assume you are writing for someone with a degree in history.” –John Emsley As pointed out earlier in the workshop and highlighted you can walk,” Emsley cautioned. He emphasized the need elsewhere,1 the primary source of current news events and sci- to build up a portfolio of work before attempting to jump ence and technology information for most people in the United into writing a book. States today is the Internet and television. At the same time, Emsley explained that there are two kinds of science many people continue to look to newspapers, magazines, and books, those for an academic audience and those for a gen- books (print media) for this type of information. In this ses- eral audience. Academic books are printed in small numbers sion, speakers discussed the strengths and weaknesses of com- (fewer than 1,000) and are for readers who are looking for municating chemistry and science using print media and the specialist knowledge. General audience books are printed ways traditional print media are evolving to meet the growing on a large scale for readers who want to know more about demand for Internet content. John Emsley from the University the subject and to be entertained while reading about it. of Cambridge discussed steps to becoming a science writer. One of the books Emsley wrote, Molecules of Murder, was Ivan Amato of the Pew Charitable Trusts discussed the oppor- the result of prompting from his agent. He suggested that tunities that exist to highlight chemistry. Joy Moore from Seed Emsley combine popular science and true crime to appeal Media Group provided insights using print media and science to a general audience. As a result of that prompting, Emsley blogs to promote a better understanding of chemistry. ended up writing two books, one called Elements of Murder and one called Molecules of Murder, which are two of his best-selling books. WRITING ABOUT CHEMISTRY John Emsley started this session focusing on popular “Don’t Give up Your Day Job Just Yet” science writing and chemistry. For those just starting out in this area, he said to write for college magazines or company Emsley talked about what he thinks prevents chemists and newsletters, “for the love of the thing, not for any money.” other scientists from becoming popular science writers. One After building up a portfolio, one can then approach publica - factor is the adverse effect it can have on one’s career. Some tions that will pay for the articles, such as local newspapers people in an academic department may view it as taking and popular science magazines. After working through away from research activities. Another contributing factor is these steps, he eventually had a column in a national British the difficulty scientists have expressing ideas in very simple newspaper called “Molecule of the Month.” Later (about 15 terms. They are afraid of putting things in print and making years ago), he was approached to write books. “If you want mistakes, because people will remember those rather than to become a popular science writer, don’t try and run before remember the good points. Another barrier to becoming a popular science writer may be what Emsley calls the “sneers of your peers.” Once those barriers are overcome, it is then 1For more information, see National Science Board. 2008. Science and possible to think about writing. Engineering Indicators. Arlington, VA: Division of Science Resources Emsley spoke about the common mistakes new writers Statistics, National Science Foundation. Available at http://www.nsf.gov/ make. One is assuming the audience is knowledgeable about statistics/seind08/c7/c7s1.htm and The Pew Internet and American Life the material covered. The audience may not understand all Project at http://www.pewinternet.org/. 19
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20 CHEMISTRY IN PRIMETIME AND ONLINE have just read this, do you want me to write something?” Other “hooks on which you hang a story” that he mentioned included sex, health and money, discovery and novelty, dan- ger and confrontation, and national benefit. Don’t include any Commenting on how to make chemistry interesting to chemical formulas a nonscientist, Emsley said that it is important to include except H2O and CO2. a lot of human interest information. “The general reader is looking to read about people rather than things,” he said. For example, when talking about a research finding, it is good to give the names of the researchers, their status, age, where they work, and their role in the study. Emsley ended his remarks with this: “It is difficult to start FIGURE 3-1 Advice from John Emsley about including chemical out writing. When I lecture students at Cambridge, I always formulas in science writing. end up saying, become a writer, but don’t give up your day SOURCE: John Emsley, University of Cambridge. job just yet.” RESPECT FOR CHEMISTRY the technical words or be interested in having all the details Ivan Amato elaborated on the reasons he thinks the field carefully spelled out. There really is no time to do that in of chemistry does not get the attention it deserves: popular writing, because “you have got to keep the story flowing, you have got to carry people with you.” 1. Chemistry is the back story. For example, stories writ- Emsley strongly advised not using technical terms. If it ten about pharmaceutical drugs tend to focus on the impact is necessary to use a technical word, then the next word in of the drug, such as saving a person’s life, rather than about the sentence has to explain what it is. For example, rather the brilliant chemistry and reaction discovery that went into than saying nuclear magnetic resonance, it would be better putting that drug into the hands of a physician. to say it is a magnetic technique used to determine chemical 2. Chemistry is hard. Amato said, “Chemistry is why so structures. He also said not to include complex chemical many pre-meds do not go on to medical school. It is the thing formulas in writing, such as shown in Figure 3-1. He said that took the 4.0 or 3.5 [grade point average] down to 2.5.” that structures such as H2O and CO2 are fine, but nothing Chemistry is often thought of as being hard and not the most more sophisticated than that should be used. Otherwise, most enjoyable experience, rather than something that is fun and readers will not understand it and will tend to stop reading interesting. at that point. 3. Chemistry is invisible. While chemistry is everywhere, Emsley cautioned—as many in journalism do—not to in materials, medicines, fuels, and more, it tends to go unno- overestimate peoples’ chemical knowledge, but also not to ticed by most nonscientists. “The molecular bases of things underestimate their intelligence. He also said not to expect are invisible and they are a harder thing to talk about than people will read every written word. He said he was told looking up at night at the stars or a medical drama where when he was a newspaper writer, “Assume you are writing there is life and death,” said Amato. for someone who has got a degree in history, who is no scien- 4. Chemistry is an umbrella term. Chemistry covers many tist.” A writer also should not assume that people read every areas of specialization that are not always identified as chem- word of an article. He said, “Tell the beginning of the story istry. Areas under the disciplinary umbrella of chemistry can quickly, tell the whole story quickly, and then go into depth also be somewhat disparate, such as polymer chemistry and later on.” Many people never get past reading the headline biological chemistry. of a newspaper article. 5. Chemistry is an arcane language. Talking about chem- Emsley provided some insights on choosing what to write istry can be like talking in a foreign language. Amato said, about. He said people want to read about something that is “I think it is very hard for the chemistry community or for new. They like something that is an answer to a previously anyone who gets close and works with this language all the unsolved problem or that overturns a widely held belief. They time to keep it in mind.” like a news item that promises a better future or appeals to 6. Chemists are culturally biased against publicity. This national pride. One place to look for ideas is in areas where is not peculiar to chemistry, but it is a cultural issue that chemistry is important to people’s lives. While writing for comes both from the science community and from the edi- magazines and newspapers, he would look through the short tors and the editorial boards of journals. There seems to be papers at the back of the Journal of the American Cancer a sense of power that comes from using tough language that Society. He suggested approaching an editor and saying, “I only specialists can understand.
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21 CHEMISTRY IN PRINT Hubble images of astronomy, right there, for the chemistry community, if a certain kind of language and ways of think- BOX 3-1 MEN AND MOLECULES ing about it and embracing it can be worked on.” He shared by Roald Hoffmann poetry about the Periodic Table. He wrote a poem called God’s Table.3 Chemistry Nobel laureate Roald Hoffmann has also Cantilevered methyl groups, written a poem titled “Men and Molecules” (Box 3-1).4 Amato battered in endless anharmonic motion. described the Periodic Table as a “mandala of creation. It is A molecule swims, every color, every texture. It is an encryption of everything that dispersing its functionality, ever was, is, or will be.” He said “teachers should tell students scattering its reactive centers. to take off their goggles and gloves and stare at the table,” and Not every collision, the table should be “set in a rococo frame, gold leafed and not every punctilious trajectory intricate, flanked by candles day and night, never coiled up by which billiard-ball complexes like a window shade, unfurled merely for academic reference.” arrive at their calculable meeting places Amato explained that poetry is hardly tapped as a way to leads to reaction. communicate chemistry. When Amato was with the American Most encounters end in Chemical Society (ACS), Hoffmann actually did a poetry read- a harmless sideways swipe. ing at an ACS national meeting in the McCormick Exhibition An exchange of momentum, Convention Hall in Chicago. Amato described how Hoffmann a mere deflection. was surrounded by analytical instruments, mass spectrometers, And so it is for us. spectrophotometers, glassware, pipettes, and other displays, The hard knock must be just right. and “in a tiny part of real estate in the vast Convention Hall The eyes need lock, and of the ACS meeting, there were about 200 people, standing glimmers of intent penetrate. room only, listening to Roald Hoffmann talk about chemistry The setting counts. with emotion.” A soft brush of mohair Amato emphasized the idea that chemistry is in culture, not or touch of hand. apart from it, and that it really is all around us. He said that A perfumed breeze. “we don’t actually have to reinvent the wheel, although that Men (and women) are not is fun to do and I think we should try. There are examples out as different from molecules there that should be inspirational. I love this idea of a hugely as they think. corporate funded reservoir of money [proposed earlier by Stephen Lyons] for creative people to begin to follow through SOURCE: Printed with permission of Roald Hoffman. on some of these examples.” Amato discussed examples of chemistry in the cinema. One of his favorite movies from 1940 is The Man in the White Suit, in which the main character invents a new polymer that can In Awe of Chemistry be turned into a fiber for making a perfect fabric that never wrinkles and never stains. Another movie is Lorenzo’s Oil, Amato then proposed that one way to counteract the nega- which Amato described as a “great human” and “chemistry- tive views is for chemists to celebrate and draw more attention rich” story about a couple who tries to find a cure for their child to the Periodic Table of Elements. For example, he highlighted who has a rare medical disorder. Theodore Gray’s elaborately detailed wooden Periodic Table.2 Amato also highlighted examples of chemistry in literature, When Amato looks at the Periodic Table, he feels a sense of such as the book Uncle Tungsten by Oliver Sacks. He said, “If awe. He said, “It is a magnificent thing. If you think about what there is ever a book-length love letter to chemistry, this book is this is representing, not only is it an incredible consolidation it.” He said there could be no better public relations coup—and of a vast amount of scientific research and discovery and intel- something that should be done for the chemistry community lectual effort and brilliance, but it is a representation in some and the public at large—than to turn that book into a movie. ways of everything that ever was, is, or will be. That is a very “This is where I think we should get corporate money to do awesome thing.” this.” Other books Amato highlighted included The Periodic However, the chemistry community squanders that oppor- tunity. Amato explained, “[The periodic table] is all of the 2www.theodoregray.com/PeriodicTable/ (accessed November 12, 2010). 3ivanamato.blogspot.com/2009/11/gods-table.html. Also, see B. Halford. 2007. Theodore Gray: Element enthusiast talks about 4 Men and Molecules. 1984. S ynthesis 7 (1):43. Available at w ww. making a periodic table for the 21st century. Chemical and Engineering News 85(48): 50. roaldhoffmann.com/pn/index.php.
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22 CHEMISTRY IN PRIMETIME AND ONLINE One from Robert Hooke’s Micrographia, which he said is “one of the most important early microscope images in the history of science.” For example, there is the slice of cork that Robert Hooke looked at under his microscope; he saw the compartments and thought they looked like the cells of a monastery—so he called them cells (Figure 3-2). Other examples of impactful images Amato showed included a flea from Victorian times and the brain from a book by Thomas Willis, who was a contemporary of Isaac Newton. Another example given was the work of cellular neuroanatomist Santiago Ramón y Cajal, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology in 1906 with Camillo Golgi “in recogni- tion of their work on the structure of the nervous system.” Cajal helped develop various silver-based other kinds of dyes that enabled him to visualize the cellular details, such as the retina neurons shown in Figure 3-3. Amato also showed covers of Science and Nature maga- zines, which are magazines that “have recognized the beauty of the imagery of data forever.” He thinks of the covers as “a temporally distributed walk in a science gallery.” A cover from Science is shown in Figure 3-4. He then provided many examples of images from his book Super Vision. Many of the examples used scanning probe microscopies, which he described as “the Hubble instrument of chemistry if someone so chooses to embrace it that way and push it.” Amato also explained how artists are capturing images from within science labs.8 For example, there is a photographer who collaborates with a surface scientist at the University of Georgia. This scientist works with metal oxide powders and generates structures that the photographer finds beautiful in FIGURE 3-2 Engraving of a magnified view of cork tissue show- Ansel Adams-type landscapes. ing the cellular structures; a branch from a cork tree is also shown. SOURCE: Robert Hooke (1635-1703), Micrographia. U.S. National Amato discussed two more creative examples of communi- Library of Medicine, History of Medicine Division. cating chemistry. He said that one of the best speakers he has ever heard on the Periodic Table is an artist named Rebecca Kamen.9 She is a local Washington, D.C., area artist, who Table by Primo Levi,5 The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson,6 knows all about the history of the Periodic Table and generated and The Sweetness of the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley.7 her own sculptural interpretation of the Periodic Table (Figure 3-5), titled “Divining Nature: An Elemental Garden.”10 In an exhibition of the work, she included dancers and music to Chemical Art create what Amato described as an “unbelievable experience.” Although his main focus has been words and writing, He described how Kamen brought together “communities and Amato said, one of the things that has made a big impression populations that would never even think about chemistry or on him is the imagery found in the primary research litera- want to have anything to do with it.” It was one of the most ture. Many of the images can be thought of as art. He said, “You can focus on the aesthetic components of it even as you 8One important example not discussed in the workshop is the collaborative think about the scientific content.” He provided examples of work of Felice Frankel at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and George imagery from the early days of science, including examples Whitesides at Harvard University. See F. Frankel, and G.M. Whitesides from early optical instruments, telescopes and microscopes. 2009. No Small Matter: Science on the Nanoscale. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. For more information, see http://www.felicefrankel.com/ index.html (accessed April 13, 2011). 5P. Levi, R. Rosenthal, and N. Ascherson. 1995. The Periodic Table. 9For more information, see www.rebeccakamen.com/ (accessed April London: D. Campbell. 26, 2011). 6N. Stephenson. 1995. The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady’s Illustrated 10I. Amato. 2009. Rebecca Kamen: A sculptor nurtures an elemental Primer. New York: Bantam Dell. g arden. C hemical and Engineering News .87(40):43-43. For more 7C.A. Bradley. 2009. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. New York: information, see http://pubs.acs.org/cen/science/87/8740sci3.html (accessed Delacorte Press. December 26, 2010).
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23 CHEMISTRY IN PRINT FIGURE 3-3 Various types of nerve structures in the retina by Nobel Prize winner Santiago Ramón y Cajal, based on visualization of cellular details using silver-based dyes. SOURCE: U.S. National Library of Medicine, History of Medicine Division. engaging presentations of the Periodic Table he said he has is a media and technology company based in New York City. It ever seen, rivaling that of his past chemistry professors. does a number of different things, from publishing a magazine Another art form Amato mentioned was theatrical plays. to developing software. The company was funded by Adam One example given was the play Should’ve by Roald Hoff- Bligh, a young scientist who eventually founded Seed maga- mann, which involves the topic of synthesizing saxitoxin, zine and its parent company. She explained that Adam and the one of the most toxic natural compounds known. In the play, company believe very strongly in the potential of science to saxitoxin is used for terrorist purposes, and this opens up inter- change the world. Therefore, the company focuses on creating esting complex ethical discussions about how science can be media and software to support science, public understanding used both for good and bad.11 of science, and scientists themselves. She said that Seed uses science as a lens: “it is not the science content that is the focus, but rather science as a process and a way of thinking and a way FROM MAGAZINES TO BLOGS of understanding the world around us.” Joy Moore talked about her company’s transition from print Moore explained that Seed magazine, which has been to digital media. She explained that Seed Media Group (Seed) around for a few years, recently (like many other magazines and print media) has focused more on material online. “Seed- magazine.com is really where it is at these days,” she said. “We are publishing online daily, and we also publish ScienceBlogs, 1 1 For more discussion on Hoffmann’s play and “Experiments of which is the largest conversation about science on the [Inter- Concern,” see I. Amato. 2007. Experiments of concern: Well-intentioned research, in the wrong hands, can become dangerous. Chemical and net].” Moore also discussed researchblogging.com, which is Engineering News 85(31):51-55.
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24 CHEMISTRY IN PRIMETIME AND ONLINE FIGURE 3-5 A close-up of the installation, Divining Nature: An Elemental Garden, by sculptor Rebecca Kamen. The artist created a garden of “flowers” out of Mylar and fiberglass, inspired by the electron orbital patterns of the 83 naturally occurring elements in the Periodic Table. SOURCE: Rebecca Kamen, Artist, Professor of Art, Northern Virginia Community College. that chemistry is easily subsumed by other fields and bigger questions, so it is about the ‘why’ rather than the ‘how.’” For example, using chemistry to create a new clinical drug is often not reported or treated as a story about chemistry. Instead, it will be a story about health and medicine. Elucidating the pro- FIGURE 3-4 Chemistry-related cover art for the journal Science cesses by which carbon compounds form in interstellar space depicts a scanning tunneling microscope (STM) image of carbon is typically not treated as a chemistry story either; it will be an and phenolic inverse opals (image width ~17 mm). astronomy-space story. S OURCE: A. A. Zakhidov and I. Khayrullin. 1998. S cience The Seed editor said that in his experience most pure 282(5390): 897. research in chemistry is not very easy to cover or talk about in a compelling and interesting way for general audiences, for several reasons: the very long and easily confused names of an aggregating service for bloggers who write about peer- many organic molecules and compounds, the frequent neces- reviewed research. Another feature is the Seed Visualization sity for use of arcane and very specific nomenclature, and the Lab,12 which helps customers communicate complex data in tendency for most potential applications to boil down to an new ways. Seed also hosts many live events, including one at incremental increase in quality of a particular consumer prod- the Museum of Modern Art. The event featured various scents uct. Thus, from a science journalistic point of view, chemistry and explained the science behind them. is a real challenge to cover, but he said, “That doesn’t mean In preparing for her talk, Moore looked at what Seed had that there aren’t a lot of opportunities.” published about chemistry. She was surprised to find there A few recent articles from Seed specifically about chemistry was little chemistry content, despite all of the tag words that were highlighted by Moore. She said there is a lot of interest are given to posted content. She said she asked the editorial in green chemistry in particular. For example, one article she staff about what she found, and confirmed that overall the showed was about green chemist Amy Cannon (Figure 3-6). amount of Seed content that has been explicitly designated as Moore said that green chemistry is one area where Seed can chemistry is very small. When she talked to one of her edi- intersect with human interest and the science behind it. tors about why, what he told her was similar to what others had mentioned previously in the workshop. He said, “part of the reason behind the apparent dearth of chemistry content is ScienceBlogs Moore also talked about science blogs. She said, “I think there are a lot of really interesting things going on in 12For more information, see http://seedmediagroup.com/visualization/ the blogosphere and also a lot of potential that could help (accessed April 12, 2011).
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25 CHEMISTRY IN PRINT FIGURE 3-6 Seed article on green chemist Amy Cannon. SOURCE: Web screen shot, Joy Moore, Seed Media Group. inform the way we think about communicating in informal on data she compiled from compete.com performed April learning about science and chemistry.” She said that Seed 28, 2010). Media launched ScienceBlogs in 2006 as an experiment. The Seed Media had published more than 135,000 individual goal was to raise public engagement in science by creating blog posts across the platform of bloggers, according to a platform for conversation about science between scientists Moore. It has attracted more than 2 million comments, and nonscientists, she said. “Whereas Seed magazine’s jour- which, she said, means it is achieving its original goal of nalistic content is one way, it is didactic, ScienceBlogs was engaging the conversation, as shown by a really good ratio designed to be a forum for people to discuss science.” of comments to posts. “A lot of the excitement in reading Seed started with 15 bloggers in 2006 and has since ScienceBlogs is going through the comments and looking expanded to 130 bloggers. Moore explained that Seed at the discussions that the commenters are having with the picks the best bloggers, those who are going to write about bloggers and then even with each other,” Moore added. In interesting topics in interesting ways, and who are going to addition, Seed Media has generated 300 million page views keep people coming back. They have attempted to have as and has used ScienceBlogs to raise money for math and sci- much editorial diversity as possible, “We want to cover as ence teachers across the United States. many areas of science as we can to give the richest overall Moore noted that S cienceBlogs i s giving scientists, perspective.” In addition, since 2006, Moore showed that who are also interested in writing, a platform; it gets them ScienceBlogs’s audience and page views have grown on a exposed. On ScienceBlogs’s website there are dozens of sci- par with some of the most prestigious and oldest names in entists commenting in real time on many aspects of science. science journalism and science publishing, such as Nature. She added, “Most bloggers are eloquent, funny, sarcastic, com, Discover, New Scientist, and Scientific American (based and really smart. No sooner does a paper appear in a major
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26 CHEMISTRY IN PRIMETIME AND ONLINE or even a minor journal, than they jump in with knowledge- Moore mentioned two researchers in the Netherlands who are studying bloggers in depth.13 She said they focused on able reactions.” Seed Media has also partnered with the mainstream scientometrics and webometrics, and gathered data by going media in some instances. For example, the “Science” sec - through the Research Blogging website. In particular, they tion of the New York Times website shows feeds from Sci- focused on the chemistry blogs on Research Blogging. She enceBlogs. Seed Media also entered into a partnership last said they did a completely independent analysis of how the year with National Geographic digital media, where Seed blog’s coverage of chemistry articles compared with traditional provides ScienceBlogs content to its platforms across the citation metrics. They concluded that the blog coverage of the world. Similar to Seedmagazine.com, Moore said there is chemistry literature was more efficient than the traditional no specific channel in ScienceBlogs dedicated to chemistry, citation process. The science blogs were found to be faster but there are a number of bloggers who use chemistry in in terms of reporting on important articles, and they also did their work. a better job of putting the material in context within different Two chemistry-related blogs were highlighted by Moore. areas of chemistry. In general, the science blogs were also a The first one, called Speakeasy Science, is by a new blog- more useful tool for navigating to new information, in con- ger Deborah Bloom. Bloom is not a scientist, but chemistry trast to waiting sometimes years for other citations to journal informs her writing, especially her new book on the birth articles to come out. of forensic toxicology. Moore also showed a new public Moored ended her talk by saying that Seed Media will con- health blog from Seed, called the Pump Handle. Seed has tinue to build on the use of new social media and the Internet also focused more on chemistry, in particular environmental to create new models for publishing as well as new techniques toxins. Moore added, “So again, as we go through we can for reaching new audiences. find the chemistry as the supporting characters, but maybe not the star of the show.” OPEN DISCUSSION 2 Pat Thiel from Iowa State University commented that Research Blogging many of the remarks made in this session, particularly Moore also talked about work Seed Media has done in the those by Emsley, would benefit not only communications area of research blogging. She explained that it is not directly efforts geared at the scientific and general public, but also related to communicating science to the public, but it might communication among scientists themselves. She said that provide some tools to start evaluating how chemistry infor- there is too often a barrier for communication even between mation in particular is being discussed in the blogosphere. scientists in the same specialty, because they tend to use It provides some data and metrics that might help look for different languages. new ways to relate chemistry to other subject areas to get at a high profile. Blogging and Civility Moore said that Research Blogging is a tagging and aggre- gating tool for bloggers who write about journal articles. Bill Carroll asked Joy Moore about the blogs and scien- Bloggers who occasionally discuss journal articles on their tific discourse. He commented, “One of the things that I find blog sites can join the Seed Research Blogging commu- discouraging about reading many blogs or various comments nity. Seed provides the blogger with some code to put into is that it very quickly goes from one point of view to an blog posts that allows Seed to pick up those blog posts and opposing point of view to “you are a jerk.” My question is, aggregate them. Seed then offers the blogger on its website, How do you keep [the blog] generating light and not heat?” Researchvolume.org. This allows people to search across the Moore responded that they have taken a “very, very light” blog posts within these blogs. Moore said bloggers can also editorial approach at Seed. “We leave it up to the bloggers syndicate comments through the various Seed feeds, widgets, to control their own blogs,” she said. “Some of the bloggers and other websites. It basically brings together blog posts frankly thrive on controversy. You go to their blogs because about peer-reviewed research. At the same time, Seed gives you know you are going to see a couple of fistfights, whereas a direct link back to the journal article, so that people can others set the tone for much more civil and controlled discus- read the original source. sions.” She said that “it has been fascinating. It has been 3, “Who are these bloggers?” Moore asked. She said the blog posts take many different forms. Sometimes someone is simply pointing out an interesting article or picking a topic and citing 13P. Groth, and T. Gurney. 2010. Studying scientific discourse on the web using bibliometrics: A chemistry blogging case study. In: Proceedings two or three articles to preface it. Other bloggers almost do a of the WebSci10: Extending the Frontiers of Society On-Line, April 26-27, mini review. These are much more in-depth analyses or criti- 2010, Raleigh, NC. Available online at http://journal.webscience.org/308/ cisms of papers. (accessed November 19, 2010).
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27 CHEMISTRY IN PRINT Chemistry as the Supporting Actor, Not the Star almost 4 years, to see how this new medium has evolved. You could either try and put some rules down in order to control Steve Lyons commented that he was struck by the fact that it, or give it some breadth to see how it evolved, and we have both Ivan and Joy mentioned that one reason chemistry is chosen the latter path.” not more visible is that it is often in a supporting role. Lyons John Miller with the Department of Energy asked Moore asked if there was a way to get the public to recognize the if she thinks the activity on Research Blogging might even- critical role that chemistry plays in stories that are perceived tually replace the peer review system for journal articles. to be about something else. Moore responded that in her personal experience as a jour- Amato said, “There is a chemistry back story, if you can nal publisher, she definitely thinks this is a possibility on the have what you might call an explainer story in journalism.” horizon. She said, “What I find fascinating about Research That is where chemistry is not the main story but it is a big Blogging is that a lot of these blog posts are filling the gap part of the story. For example, in the big oil spill there is a between the article being published today and then some lot of chemistry to discuss, such as the dispersants and the months or maybe a year later when you see the letter to the chemicals used in the drilling industry. He said that there are editor appear in the published journal. So as thousands and some stories like that coming out, but not many. thousands of people are reading these journal articles, only Another example Amato mentioned was when the “Cash a few actually take the time to write up a formal letter to the for Clunkers” story came out. The killing agent for the editor. Then it goes to peer review, and then it may or may engines was a sodium silicate solution, which is essentially not be published. Because blogging is the medium that it “liquid glass.” He ended up learning all about the sodium is, we are able to see what people are spontaneously think - silicate market, how the compound is made, and what it is ing and writing about right away, and that accelerates the used for. Amato said they ran an explainer story online in discussions about the papers.” Moore added that Research Chemical Engineering News that was eventually picked up Blogging also improves communication from scientist to by the Wall Street Journal. scientist, not only to the public. She said that somebody Amato also gave an example of a story he wrote about the who has read the paper knows what it is about and they Russian Alexander Litvinenko, who was killed by polonium can digest it and explain what they think is important or poisoning. He wrote a detailed article about how polonium what might be questionable. She said Research Blogging actually kills. Wired magazine later ran the story. Amato said is serving the purpose of “meta-analysis of the literature, it was a lesson on the power of social media and how stories as opposed to a formal peer review.” can end up getting much, much wider exposure, “If you have the interest and it is a good topic, you can end up getting these chemistry stories out to where you wouldn’t expect them.”