Sunday, February 3, 2013

Reading assignments, vol. 9

This week's stuff is pretty heavily communication-themed; a lot of that is going around with the ScienceOnline 2013 deal having gone down. Anywhere, here's some general science enjoyment:


  • Chemophobia has been a major topic of the social-media-dom recently due to the ScienceOnline 2013 conference. In particular, Saturday marked the chemophobia-specific portion of the conference (Session 8A), which included a contemporaneous Twitter discussion via the hashtag #chemophobia. For those who had to work this Saturday (woo, columns, woo) the session notes have been posted online, and there's a quite impressive wiki entry containing an abundance of relevant and interesting chemophobia-related links and discussions.
  • Michelle at The Culture of Chemistry has a thoughtful analysis of a recent chemophobia-rife New York Times story; she points to language and how it affects perception of concepts.
  • Paul at ChemBark shares his tips and proposed strategies for how to combat chemophobia. It's a good read that sums up the origins and dangers of chemophobia pretty well. The recommendations are good, too: ACS should be doing its part (come on, guys!) but graduate students and faculty need to take it upon themselves to do outreach, regardless of the perceived waste of time. (That being said, the hostile intellectual atmosphere and the rough job market make spending any time on outreach seem unappealing to those trying to get as many ninth-author Tet. Lett. papers as possible published before graduating).
  • Don't miss this latest Chemjobber podcast, wherein he discusses chemophobia and chemical communication with freelance writer/chemist Rebecca Guenard. 

Science communication

  • See Arr Oh pokes fun at general features of chemistry blog entries.
  • I found this guest post by Frank Swain both insightful and heartening. He writes of his UK-based BenchPress Project, which seeks, among other things, to have volunteer scientists give guest lectures to journalism students. The goal is to increase science and math (maths) literacy among journalists. I think it's a pretty important effort; even if scientists themselves try to do outreach and writing, journalists have the broadest audience and the means to reach them. Changes in science communication have to come from within both sectors!
  • David Rubenson argues that despite a growing need for science communication, the quality of science communication has been in decline. He points to several symptoms (e.g. cluttered slides) and causative agents (e.g. overstretched researchers). I found significant his reference to two Nobelists who published infrequently (also, it reminded me of Daniel Day-Lewis).
  • Always-interesting and often-controversial, Keith Kloor discusses the relative importance of general science literacy and news literacy. He argues for the importance of the latter (while not neglecting the former); in particular, he calls for news literacy to have a place in education. It shouldn't be an unfamiliar concept to scientists, who (should) be experienced at evaluating credibility of sources.
  • UIUC anthropologist and science blogger Kate Clancy has an interesting piece (relevant to anyone who uses social media, especially those who write) about the pros and cons of filling out your online presence with your real identity.

Pseudoscience and denialism


[Edit: I forgot Brandon Findlay's columns week! Urp!]


  1. Is it terrible of me to discount complaints about intra-scientist communication from someone who 1) teaches a class on it and 2) has this title: " associate director for Administration and Strategic Planning at Stanford Cancer Institute."

    It is probably terrible of me, and I am a bad person. CJ out!

    1. Hefty title aside, I tend to agree with what he said. Evidence: sheer amount of boring seminars I've seen. Especially med chem seminars (and journal articles). Med chemists thrive on avoiding concise, clear communication. And how many times have you seen people put huge schemes in their presentations that they either (1) blaze through without giving time to examine the steps (why put the scheme rather than simply starting material and eventual product, then?) or (2) belaboring each step, scientifically significant or not (woo, you used DCC/DMAP here, thanks for explaining that again).