Archive for the '[Information&Communication]' category

Better Late Than Never: Book Review

May 15 2015 Published by under [Information&Communication]

I reviewed Connection: Hollywood Storytelling Meets Critical Thinking by Randy Olson, Dorie Barton, and Brian Palermo (Prairie Starfish Productions, Los Angeles, 2013) a while back for a newsletter. As the newsletter changed, this review got bumped out several times and seems less relevant right now. However, I still like it! Using the structures recommended for communications in the book to summarize its messages really brought home to me the utility of the methods.

CoverRandy Olson definitely marches to the beat of a different drummer. After becoming a tenured professor, he left for film school at the University of Southern California. What could lead someone to follow this path? He became distressed at the inability of scientists and others who know facts to communicate those to the public, particularly in the area of climate science and evolution. He made some films and wrote his first book, Don’t Be Such a Scientist: Talking Substance in an Age of Style (Island Press 2009) to try and give logical, fact-listing academics some guidance. His ongoing quest to improve our communication skills led to collaboration with others involved with film work, producing this 2013 book.

This volume provides a frame work for storytelling. Think about the last movie trailer you saw. With a short bit of image and words the makers had to tell you about the movie and make you want to see it. If they can learn to boil a two-hour film into a 1 minute trailer packing a punch that makes you want to pay to go to the theater, then we can use these techniques to sell our information to patients and others.

The first component of the framework is a word. What is your message in a single word? This sounds easy, but I found this the trickiest part of the technique. I actually did this part of the exercise last. For an example, I used this structure to review this book. The obvious words include communication, connection, and story. After crafting the rest of the framework, I picked influence. The real goal here goes beyond merely transmitting information; we want to drive people to action, be it changing their health habits or accepting the reality of evolution. Others may pick a somewhat different word, but I stand by my choice.

The second component requires creating a sentence, using the construct “and, but, and therefore (ABT).” For Connection, I created this:

Scientists know a lot of facts that can help people and they need to educate the public, but they often have trouble getting their message understood, accepted, and remembered; therefore, they need to read this book to turn facts and figures into stories that compel behavior changes.

Finally, a more detailed paragraph can be constructed using a logline technique. All story narratives can be boiled down to 9 steps:

  1. In an ordinary world
  2. A flawed hero gets life upended when
  3. A catalytic even happens
  4. After taking stock
  5. The hero commits to action
  6. The stakes get raised
  7. The hero must learn the lesson
  8. To stop the antagonist
  9. So the hero can achieve their goal

Dorie Barton deconstructs Star Wars using this technique. You can fit any story into this structure, even documentaries. I have summarized Randy Olson’s biography using this technique:

A scientist wonders why students accept things they see in movies as reality, even when shown evidence that these things are wrong in the real world. He gets his life upended when he heads to film school to figure out why movies have more impact than scientific fact. After some course work, he realizes that humans are hard-wired for stories, especially those with emotional impact. He begins making films with classic narrative structure. Soon he realizes that all academics need these skills, and all of them cannot go to film school. Alone he cannot give them the skills they need to get their messages heard and remembered. In order to spread the word, he teams up with others who do script writing and acting. They start workshops to teach these storytelling skills. Then they write a book so more scholars learn to get their message out there the right way, the way that will influence people.

In addition to these models (Word-Sentence-Paragraph; And-But-Therefore; and the Logline), the live workshops put on by the group feature some improvisation exercises and actual storytelling. Brian Palermo acts and performs stand-up comedy; he gets to be “the fun instructor” in this group. I would love to participate in one of these live events, but for now I have settled for the book and the apps. Oh, yes, there are apps for Android and iOS devices that let you fill out these templates and then email your results. This work gave me a great starting draft for the material above.

Humans are wired for stories. We remember the narrative events and the emotional reactions to them far more readily than a series of facts. These techniques may help us have more impact in clinics and classrooms if we adapt them.

No responses yet

Save the #ScioX Hashtag Please

Oct 22 2014 Published by under [Information&Communication]

ScioXDespite the organization's demise, I still have a column in my twitter feed for the #ScioX hashtag.

Why? Because the most important part of Science Online was not the organization or the meetings; it was the community. Via this hashtag, I can still connect with this amazing group of people. No other group lets me connect so quickly with scientists, educators, artists, and journalists, all interested in science communication.

Even though we no longer gather annually in North Carolina (or elsewhere), it will be worth our efforts to keep the community going.

So continue to use #ScioX when something of interest to the community arises.

Keep connecting!

No responses yet

The Fix for Bad Slides: MORE SLIDES!

Aug 28 2014 Published by under [Information&Communication]

I love this slide-show about breaking dense slides into "layers of slides." I have been trying to get some colleagues to do something like this for awhile.

Enjoy and please take this advice!

No responses yet

Getting the Floor

Jun 19 2014 Published by under [Information&Communication]

Daenerys-Targaryen-game-of-thrones-23107710-1600-1200Women often have trouble getting our voices heard in meetings. Our attempts to speak can be thwarted in a number of ways, and if we interrupt the way men do we are aggressive bitches. I cannot embed the video, but you can click over and watch my new solution:


Of course, we tend to frown on bloodshed in the twenty-first century. For more practical advice, I recommend this post in Inc.  with eleven suggestions for being heard. Not as dramatic as Daenerys Stormborn. Perhaps not as effective.

But infinity more acceptable outside of Westeros.

Because we all cannot be Mothers of Dragons.


2 responses so far

Haunted Manuscripts

Jan 21 2014 Published by under [Information&Communication]

Over at Retraction Watch an interesting question came up: Is it ethical to ghost write a paper? Click through for all the details and to vote in their poll.

I voted "no" for the specific situation described; there are too many issues raised about the data and hypothesis. The sitution obviously feels squeamy to the post-doc involved, as well as to me.

However, there are situations where a ghost writer could be perfectly acceptable.

  • A native English speaker to rewrite and correct dysfluencies
  • A large multi-author manuscript tweaked by a single writer to provide better verbal flow; to make it seem like the piece had a single author

In other words, there are times where  bringing in a pro to edit and rework the author's words and ideas into better prose is acceptable.

Go over to the post and vote. Comment below if you agree or disagree with my thoughts about ghosts.

No responses yet

The Passion of the Shoes

Jan 11 2014 Published by under [Information&Communication]

This morning, as part of a communication exercise, I wrote a 2 minute talk on something I was passionate about that was separate from my work. I presented it to the group, and after multiple requests I am posting it here.

Shoes are a woman’s best friend. Shoes have never told me it was time we moved on and saw other people. I have said that to shoes, which always exit gracefully and have never stalked me on Facebook. I never have an issue with the size of my feet. If I have to buy a pair half-a-size larger, the manufacturer is to blame, not my lack of willpower or that pizza binge.

A good pair of shoes can change my posture, my mood, and my sense of being. They can change an outfit from casual to formal. They decorate. They protect. They tell the world about me. A new pair can cheer me up, and they’re a lot cheaper than therapy.

Bette Midler said, “Give a girls the right shoes and she can conquer the world.” I haven’t found that pair yet, but I keep on shopping. After all, look at what a single slipper did for Cinderella.

No responses yet

Why I Will Be There: #Scio14

Nov 15 2013 Published by under [Information&Communication]

Thursday I did something I have never done before; I sat at my computer waiting for 2:00 pm CST when I could start clicking the link for Science Online Together 2014. All went well for me, and I will be returning to Raleigh in February for another round of the unconference.

Some have recently made clear their intentions to not be at the upcoming gathering (see here and here). Several factors entered into my alternate decision.

I came to Science Online at a different point in my journey from many others. I had scaled the rarified heights of academia to become a tenured full professor. As I embarked on a new journey, to create a news magazine for the American Society of Nephrology, I needed to learn about new-fangled things like blogging and Facebook and Twitter. Science Online 2011, my virgin year, gave me insights into the interactions possible between academic and popular media, as well as the potential interplay of Web 2.0 content and the dead tree media of my youth. That was the last really "small" Science Online, with our venue at Sigma Xi bursting with energy. I felt like I met most of the attendees at some point in time, and I learned a lot that has been put to work in my professional life. Sessions on narrative structure and writing tools have enriched my work as well. I now give talks to faculty about ways to get writing done, much of which is information intially gathered via Science Online sessions. I have recruited several articles for ASN Kidney News from Science Online participants. The magazine also hires journalists for events, so some of these are paying gigs for the freelancers in the crowd!

I also have a guilty secret. One of the reasons I love academic medicine is my love of writing. Had I not been a doctor, I likely would have majored in English and ultimately gone on to an advanced writing degree of some sort. Most academics do not understand this attitude; they hate the writing, even while acknowledging its role in their success. Attending Science Online was like visiting the Mother Ship. All of these people who liked science and writing existed! I was not alone! I also love it now when my husband likes a book, and I can say I have met the author.

Like all meetings, Science Online is not just about work. Evenings include a lot of chatting and networking (and often drinking), just like those at my professional meetings. If anything, I attend more sessions at Science Online than at "real science" meetings, simply because the unconference venue is not adjacent to the hotel. Once you are there, you may as well be in a discussion session since you can't run back to your room and "work on your paper" (AKA chill out with Diet Coke and a novel or daytime TV).

This will be my fourth Science Online, and I see the meeting at a crossroads. First, the venue (North Carolina State University McKimmon Center) and participants expanded in 2012 and 2013. Many of these participants remain unfamiliar to me; the meeting has already crossed the "intimacy" line (and not in the slimey sense of the word; you know what I'm talking about). Also, last year the informal organizational group became a real entity with a dot-com web site. Spin-off conferences, in a variety of locales and on selected topics, sprung up in 2013 as well. The people and concept of Science Online are evolving, and growing pains are inevitable. Will Science Online become a more formal organization with a bigger, more professional conference? Or will it step back and downsize into several smaller gatherings in an attempt to maintain the "community" feel?

I do not know which way things will go, but I plan to make my opinions known. If things proceed in a direction I do not like, I may be writing one of those "Why I'm Not" posts next year. In the meantime, I know I have achieved things I would not have without the Science Online experience. I will be there in 2014, for the learning and the party - just like every other meeting I attend.

No responses yet

Are New iPhones Girly?

Sep 22 2013 Published by under [Information&Communication]

Sometimes a piece of online writing presents something so brilliant yet unexpected that it deserves quoting. A prime example was found in The Macalope Weekly. The Macalope is a mythic creature (part man, part mac, part antelope) that writes for MacWorld, mostly addressing the Apple-bashing that has occurred since forever (but accelerated now that Apple makes so many things that people want). The release of new iPhones has brought out all sorts of Apple criticism, including this (Quotes within the quote have been italicized and greened):

Guess who’s back! That’s right, it’s our old friend, Dan Lyons! Aw, Dan, we missed you.

Well, we missed laughing at you is what we missed. So, that’s … well, that’s not really the same as missing you at all.

“Is Apple Designing Products to Appeal to Women?” (tip o’ the antlers to nostrich).

Sure! Men, too!

Has Apple become a brand that’s primarily targeting women?

Has HubSpot regretted hiring Dan Lyons yet?

The new operating system interface introduces translucent elements, as well as a palette of lighter, softer pastel colors.

For the ladies! Bow-chicka-wacka-wacka …

[opens can of Colt 45 malt liquor]

One of the harshest critics, tech blogger Jim Lynch, called the software “an estrogen-addled mess designed for 13 year old girls” and complained that “the manly, solid colors and design found in iOS 6 have been chopped off.”

Not that that’s incredibly sexist or anything.

(Also, “chopped off”? NICE.)

But Lynch’s tirade prompted some pundits, including Jim Edwards at Business Insider, to wonder whether Apple is indeed making a concerted effort to target women.

Will using iOS 7 make men sterile?! Teach the controversy, Business Insider!

Edwards isn’t hating on the new operating system; he just points out that the new software contains colors some would consider feminine.

Like white. And blue. Of course green. Is there a color that reminds you more of a woman than green?

Edwards also points out that the new low-end iPhone 5c comes in five bright colors, but “the new colors do not include ‘masculine’ shades like burgundy, navy blue, or Lincoln blue.”

Patton orange. Dwayne-Johnson yellow. Mixed-martial-arts red. Personally, the Macalope won’t even look at an operating system if it doesn’t have Lincoln blue.

(What the heck is Lincoln blue?)

For what it’s worth, I brought up this subject among my immediate colleagues at HubSpot, who are mostly women.

An now he’s got to go to “remedial sensitivity training,” whatever that is. Ugh. So stoopid.

They found the topic irritating …

Are you sure it was the topic they found irritating?

… asking things like, “What exactly does that even mean to say that a design is feminine? And even if Apple is trying to sell to women, why is that a problem, since women control so much spending power?

Also “Why are you in the ladies room?”, “How did you get hired here again?”, and “What’s the number for HR?”

Anyway, one of our colleagues has been using the beta version of iOS 7 for a while. She says she loves it.

Case closed! If you do not have lady parts, iOS 7 is not for you!

What the Macalope loves about this “stir” is that apparently these bros—who are oh-so-sensitive to color hues that the slightest lightening of them makes them rush to their blogs—were fine for years when they thought Apple was just marketing to men. Now that they think Apple’s marketing to women we need to have a big discussion about it.

The Macalope’s been using iOS 7 for a while now, so here’s a simple tip for iPhone users concerned about their strategic testosterone reserves: Just use a dark wallpaper, perhaps something in a Vin-Diesel gray or a Pabst-Blue-Ribbon blue. That’s an easy way to return a more masculine tone to your now tremendously girly portable computing and telephonic device.

Oh, and also, get over yourselves. That’s harder, but probably more important.

By the way, when the term "Lincoln Blue" is entered into Google, you get a bunch of stuff about Lincoln automobiles in various hues of blue, mostly a pastel shade I would have called "baby blue."

So masculine...

Anyway, the Macalope takes on a number of other criticisms of the new iPhones and iOS 7. I just loved the whole discourse about color and women.



One response so far


Jun 20 2013 Published by under [Information&Communication], Uncategorized

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Over at my other place, Academic Women for Equality Now, I have been creating female leadership gradecards for US medical colleges. Generating a report that contains all of these documents produces a large file, one that crushes the capabilities of most WordPress sites. Two years ago I got creative and found a bunch of work-arounds.

This year I put the whole thing on Figshare, a wonderful data-sharing site that I learned about at Science Online 2013. As shown in the figure, I can post a variety of formats there with a bunch of meta-data. Others can download, comment, and share what I have posted. They even provide a citation format and export capabilities to a number of reference management programs.

Figshare data can now be embedded on another site, like this blog!

Now those of you who just cannot be bothered to click a few links can get this report right here! Feel free to share this report with anyone who will listen (that's sort of the point); just give me some credit and use this citation:

Women Leaders in Academic Medicine 2013. Pascale Lane. figshare.

Retrieved 15:14, Jun 20, 2013 (GMT)


No responses yet

What I Am Reading: Better Presentation Design Version

Oct 10 2012 Published by under [Information&Communication]

When I first started in this business, slides were actual slides. With our early model computers, we carefully printed out our slides, had them photographed, and collected our 35 mm slides for loading in carousels. If the presentation were a big deal, like a national meeting, our art staff would generate blue diazo slides.

Soon we had PowerPoint. For a hefty fee, we could purchase full color slides. As the cost of slide printers dropped, we began to see the unfortunate consequences of eliminating designers and artists from this process. Now, with inexpensive digital projectors (some of which can present from your iPhone) we not only face the dilemma of unlimited colors, but also the potential for motion sickness from ill-advised animations and transitions.

Click to Amazon

I cannot remember where I stumbled across the recommendation for slide:ology by Nancy Duarte, but I am grateful. You probably know her group's work; they designed a little slide show for Al Gore called An Inconvenient Truth.

I have made my way through 80% of the book now. In general, it recommends a "less is more" approach. Uncluttered backgrounds, limited words, and striking images improve most presentations. Most chapters include before and after slides. If I could boil the book down to one line, it would be something like:

Step away from the templates!

My favorite part so far is the chapter on creating movement. We need to view our presentations not as a series of slides, but with a more cinematic approach. Careful use of animations and transitions can achieve this effect. I have screenshots of a double-paged spread below, illustrating a series of slides:

Click to enlarge

For those of you who cannot see the movement generated through transitions, color, and graphics, I captured images of each slide and put them into PowerPoint to generate this video. Please forgive the fuzziness of the enlargements!

Academics depend on clear presentations to get our message across. When was the last time you felt inspired by a slide show?

I thought so.

slide:ology is available in both dead tree and electronic format. Click, buy and make your slides better.

No responses yet

Older posts »