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.

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Book, Paper, Blog

This week a perfect storm descended on me, including a book, a paper, and a blog post:

All of these deal with the ongoing gender bias in our society, but particularly in our workplaces. Yes, men are at fault, but we XX folks are not blameless, either. My full thoughts on the integration of these readings is over at Academic Women for Equality Now. Please read that post, then get the book and peruse the other materials online.

Now think about how we can overcome these subtle, less blatant issues. Comment here or at awenow.org or at Zuska's place. We need to work together instead of against each other!

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#EB2012 #apsComm: Using New Communication Tools

Apr 22 2012 Published by under [Information&Communication], EB2012 Meeting

Yesterday, April 21, I had the pleasure of serving on a panel at Experimental Biology discussing the use of blogs and other social media to do public outreach. Yes, I got to be the old lady on the stage with Dr. Isis, Danielle Lee, and Jason Goldman at the session moderated by James Hicks. A good time was had by all (although Isis got a bit sweaty in her headdress replete with golden cobra) as we pontificated on our own uses of the brave new world of the internet. By unanimous request of the audience (OK, more like there were no objections) we have each agreed to share our slides on a number of platforms. I am also placing mine here.

Thus far many other sessions have addressed the use of these relatively new tools for communication. At their heart, Facebook, Twitter, and Blogs merely provide the latest pigment to spread on cave walls. Since the dawn of time humans have desired to tell their stories; these new media let us do it more widely and permanently than ever before.

The Animal Care and Experimentation Committee provided a Toolkit for Public Outreach (#apsACE) that addressed the need for transparency and engagement, rather than the bunker mentality that has prevailed at most institutions. Even this morning in accepting the Claude Bernard award, William Galey mentioned all the education resources available online. For today's students, access to information is not a problem. However, we must make sure that they learn to evaluate the reliability of information and sources before they use them in critical applications like patient care.

I ended my slides with a still from the movie Meet Me in Saint Louis. In its early scenes, a suitor calls the eldest sister, Rose, on that new-fangled invention, the telephone. A prolonged discussion ensues over whether or not a respectable girl should accept a proposal via an "invention". Similar attitudes toward the phone can be seen in the first season of Downton Abbey. All of the technology we use today was once considered radical, experimental, and unnecessary (I can remember when email elicited similar reactions to those about the phone). Social media will soon be just how we communicate, and we will move onto sessions on other cutting-edge topics, like flying cars or Star Trek transporter physiology.

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Who Are They? More Musings from #scio12

Jan 27 2012 Published by under [Information&Communication]

Over at Take as Directed the always-marvelous David Kroll posted an example of a scientific author taking exception to what he said in a post. The author emailed him about "mythology and gross misstatements" in the original post, and he offered to chat by phone about the issues. David asked him to point out factual errors and make his case in the comments, which he refused to do.

The comments house an interesting discussion, but many respondents also feel that it is not worth their time to participate in the comments of a blog post:

I do relate to the author’s comment about hesitant about engaging in blog comments. We as scientists are often told to avoid the comments sections of posts, as they are a quagmire where the time and energy required for engagement vastly outweighs the effectiveness of participating. I am sympathetic with the author’s decision not to engage in that way.

As a moderator of the Science Online session on the resistance to scienceblogging by journals and other established authorities, I am curious about where this impression came from. Did someone actually tell this person not to engage in blog-based discussions? Is this merely a general impression? What is at the root of this resistance?

Please comment below or over at Take as Directed and let me know what you think. If this effort is worth my time, it's worth a bit of your day as well!

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Female Blogging Manifesto: #Scio12 In Action

Jan 25 2012 Published by under [Information&Communication]

The Science Online 2012 session on the perils of blogging female generated discussion, both at the conference and on the internet.  Comments to female bloggers are not merely sexist. Many are viscious, some are threatening, and some cross the line into criminal intent. If you don't believe me, search the #mencallmethings hashtag on twitter for examples. Kate Clancy blogged about the need for a posse, a group that gets it and can fight off these, well, douchecanoes when they materialize.

A number of us gathered later that evening, expressing our frustration that the session continues to remain necessary. We cannot believe that we have not moved beyond these blatant displays of sexism and misogyny and hate. We are ready to move forward; why isn't the discussion?

Yup, it's pink.

The answer came at the banquet Friday evening, when Janet Stemwedel took to the stage in The Monti Storytelling event. (This story will eventually be available as a podcast here). In the fall of 2011 the blogosphere exploded with a discussion of "gendered" science kits - you know, pink girl kits for bubble bath and cosmetics, while the boys get microscopes and chemistry sets that look like something an actual scientist might have in the lab. These kits reinforce the overwhelming value of girls' femininity while supposedly encouraging scientific endeavors. Dr. Free-ride, her "nom de blog", related how she heard about this topic and thought, "Not again." She felt tired; she wanted to let someone else fight the battle this time.

Eventually, she sucked it up and posted.

Then, a miracle occurred. Someone at this scientific toy company saw the virtual shitstorm on the internet. Multiple blogs, opinions on Facebook, updates on Google+, and a flood from the Twitterverse were not ignored. The company announced that they would no longer sell gendered science kits. They would simply sell science kits.


Now, I cannot say that without Janet's post that this would not have occurred. Was she the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back? We will never know what the minimal unit of rant is for any given change.

As I look back on our musings in the bar that evening, I realize that we must continue having these same sessions. The conversation and complaints must continue until the appropriate parties notice and act. Yes, we get tired of it. Yes, it is repetitive. Yes, it sucks. But it must be done. If not for us, for our daughters. The real daughters, whether they be tomboys or pretty-pink-princesses, and our daughters in society, those younger than us who want to inquire and write and express their thoughts on an equal footing with the menfolk.

So we will continue to complain and rant and fight and whine and even bitch. Get over it, boys - only then will it stop.

I am in this battle for the long haul. And so is my posse.

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Writing Tools: #scio12 Pays Off Already!

Jan 23 2012 Published by under [Information&Communication]

Science Online 2012 rocked! Of course, we all knew it would. Old friendships were renewed in real life. New friends were made. I finally graced the Duke Lemur Center with my presence!

One session I attended on the first day dealt with writing tools. While I write a lot for work, most of it has been in that highly structured scientific prescribed format. Standard word processing tools handle that work fine. As I have moved to other forms of written output, I find that these usual text editors often fall short. Based on less formal conversations at #scio11, I outfitted my computer with Devonthink, a Mac-only research tool with artificial intelligence engine, and Scrivener, a writing tool with text editor that allows you to organize thoughts, facts, and other musings, then rearrange them easily. Eventually you can output them to another program for final referencing and formatting. I love Scrivener already, and I have only touched the obvious capabilites of the program. Devonthink has a steep learning curve, and I have not yet mastered it.

Putting the "Prod" in Productivity

The latest addition to my repertoire is Dr. Wicked's Write or Die (this post is starting out on that program). This bargain software (desktop version is $10 and they encourage you to install it on all of your computers) has you fill in how many words you wish to write in a given time frame. You can set it for gentle cues: when you pause, your background color changes. If you fail to resume writing the color deepens, and eventually you get an alarm.

When this software was described at the unconference, the Kamikaze mode also got our attention. With this setting, if you pause too long it starts erasing your work. Yikes! I am not ready to go there yet! You can also set it to disable your backspace key so you cannot self-edit as you go. That will be my next step, since I probably do too much immediate editing (yeah, I have spelling issues).

I downloaded the program to my laptop Sunday while several of us awaited airport transportation in the Brownstone Doubletree Lobby. Usually I get distracted and converse when in a group, even in a group of all strangers. Those visual prods kept me on track, and I finished 800 words in about 30 minutes for a piece due today (OK, technically it was due last Friday, but no one will die if it goes in today). When the word goal hit, triumphant trumpets sounded, a congratulatory window popped up and the whole group turned my way.

I. Felt. So. Proud.

I cannot wait to hit my goal for this current post. I hope someone hears it just outside my office, so I can gloat.

If you have trouble with the "sit down, shut up, and write" command, Write or Die could make you way more productive. It continues to amaze me that even at this level of education and motivation, we still struggle with getting an initial draft written. We still need the carrot and the stick.

By the way, the first draft of this post (500 words) took just under 15 minutes with Write or Die watching. Add another 15 minutes to clean it up a bit and add the illustration and links after I finished my clinic. Oh, and both of the reports that were due today were submitted before I started blogging.

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Extra Credit

My favorite comic of all time

Last year at Science Online 2011, as we discussed the role of blogging in scientific outreach, the topic of academic "credit" for blogging arose. Mostly junior participants lamented that blogging would never be taken seriously until full professors had it on their CVs.

I went back and added a section of online activities to my own CV. As one of those full professors, I felt it was the least I could do.

Earlier this week Kate Clancy wrote about her upcoming 3-year review, including the difficulty the committee will have discussing her blog:

It doesn’t help that “blog” doesn’t sound very academic (oh, if only I had thought to call this the Context and Variation Monograph). And it doesn’t help that this writing isn’t just for scholars, but for everybody. That’s not because non-blogging academics don’t see the point of interacting with the public, but because this particular way of doing it is so strange to them. This isn’t a radio interview, or a book, or a talk at the local library, but a style of writing where the jargon is not academic but from the internet. We talk in ALL CAPS, we use emoticons and use extra exclamation points!!1!!1

WhizBANG! Letters...hmmmm...

She goes on to outline the virtues of blogging for a junior faculty member, including building networks, public outreach, improved writing skills, and even (gasp!) scholarship. I suspect a number of us bloggers do not really get our thoughts organized until we write them down (that's why there is a huge whiteboard in my office), and playing with a new idea in cyberspace can generate valuable feedback from a great audience. Blogging about academic works increases the audience substantially; I hope that mainstream journals can eventually embrace this robust discussion as part of the post-publication review of work.

So back to January. As a full prof, my CV did not really get examined by anyone last spring. This week I found out that I have to undergo tenure review for my new employer, and my CV must be completely rearranged. I prepared a draft, including my posts for Scientific American and Biocareers as non-refereed publications, complete with hyperlinks. I also listed my project, Academic Women for Equality Now, as an "Other" activity. [Yes, this blog got left off, mostly because it includes any shiny thing that catches my eye, especially shoes. I cannot classify my thoughts on fashion, including bottle sweaters, as any sort of academic activity.]

Our departmental reviewer got back to me with a bunch of red pixels, none of which landed on these posts. She told me to put AWEnow into my national service section. No comments about these being inappropriate activities for academic credit.

I still have work to do on my packet before it goes to full review. There is still a chance that someone will snub my online work, but so far, so good.

Anyone else out there counting their online efforts as academic work?

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MegaTrip In Progress

Nov 07 2011 Published by under Feminist Musings

Last Friday I left my home at 7:30 am and arrived in a different time zone before noon. I am still at the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Medical Colleges (#aamc11) having a great time. I went to a very interesting session on social media yesterday, and I will share my thoughts in a bit.

Wednesday I fly to Philadelphia (without an interval at home) for Kidney Week (#kidneywk11). More blog fodder will arise from that gathering.

Today I posted over on Academic Women for Equality Now about a Dutch study and the ability of gender bias reminders to elicit queen bee behavior. It's an interesting phenomenon for those of us XX types, and yet one more reason to try to get bias out of our institutions (like we needed another). Click on over and enjoy (or be dismayed) by this research.

Later, Whizbangers, I will post something here.

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Better Blogging

Jun 07 2011 Published by under [Information&Communication]

An article in WebsiteMagazine.com (June issue) dealt with writing better business blogs. It covered the usual stuff, but pointed out two web sites to assess and, perhaps, improve readability.

Readability tools measure the educational level necessary to understand the material. These tools use measures of words per sentence, syllables per word, and other proxy measures of difficulty. Microsoft Word will generate a number of these via its proofreading tools. Below is the information for a one-page agreement for my son to play American Legion baseball this summer:

The analysis starts with basic count of words, characters, paragraphs, and sentences. The program then calculates sentences per paragraph, words per sentence, and characters per word. The first readability indicator, the percentage of passive sentences, has been addressed in earlier posts. Flesch Reading Ease purports to measure just that, with higher scores being easier. The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level presents the years of school needed to understand the text.

What if you work online rather than in Microsoft Word? The article presents two websites that can measure readability by URL. I tested a recent post of mine on stereotype threat, first at www.read-able.com, which generates the following scores:

Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease

Based on a 0-100 scale. A high score means the text is easier to read. Low scores suggest the text is complicated to understand.

206.835 - 1.015 x (words/sentences) - 84.6 x (syllables/words)

A value between 60 and 80 should be easy for a 12 to 15 year old to understand.

Grade Level indicators

These equate the readability of the text to the US schools grade level system.

Flesch Kincaid Grade Level

0.39 x (words/sentences) + 11.8 x (syllables/words) - 15.59

Gunning Fog Score

0.4 x ( (words/sentences) + 100 x (complexWords/words) )

SMOG Index

1.0430 x sqrt( 30 x complexWords/sentences ) + 3.1291

Coleman Liau Index

5.89 x (characters/words) - 0.3 x (sentences/words) - 15.8

Automated Readability Index (ARI)

4.71 x (characters/words) + 0.5 x (words/sentences) - 21.43

Coleman Liau and ARI rely on counting characters, words and sentence. The other indices consider number of syllables and complex words (polysyllabics - with 3 or more syllables) too. Opinions vary on which type are the most accurate. It is more difficult to automate the counting of syllable as the English language does not comply to strict standards!

So how did my post on a fairly complex topic with lots of pull quotes do?

Click to enlarge



For a general adult audience in the US, experts recommend a Reading Ease score of 60-70; Reader's Digest comes in at 65 while Harvard Law Review scores about 30.

Four indices show easy readability, while the Reading Ease score suggests a more difficult text. The Coleman Liau index suggests the text would be moderately challenging for most adults.

Another site, Juicy Studio, offers many of the same tests, but with more information on the scores. Here is a table they post on typical Gunning-Fog scores:

Click for source

How did my post do at Juicy?

The two sites must not calculate in the same manner. Read-able gave my post a less readable score for Reading Ease and a higher Grade Level than the Juicy site. However, the Gunning Fog index on Juicy suggested the post was written at the level of Time Magazine, while Read-able put it at the level of Reader's Digest.

The scores suggest that my blog writing hits the right level for this audience; when I write medical information for families, I keep the grade level 5-6 and the Reading Ease close to 70 so all of the people I serve can understand it. Of course, our baseball team produced a document that players (13-18 years old) and their parents had to sign that tests out far more difficult than my sample blog post. Someone should probably revise that document!

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The Carnal Carnival: PEE!

Apr 15 2011 Published by under [Medicine&Pharma]

Click image for original source

This month, the Carnal Carnival feature pee! May I present a collection of recent blogs about kidneys and the golden fluid they produce.

First up, Uremic Frost presents an obituary for Edith Helm, the first female kidney transplant recipient. A 20-year-old newly-wed when she found out she had months to live, she underwent the transplant and ultimately became the first transplant recipient to give birth. She died at 76 in her home state of Oklahoma.

Next, we had an unusual event this week, documented by the Renal Fellows Network. The event was presentation of a new predictive equation for patients who have lost at least 40% of normal kidney function, and it predicts the two year risk of end-stage kidney failure with at least 90% accuracy. As the equation was presented at the World Congress of Nephrology, it also got published in JAMA and an app including the equation was released for all major mobile platforms. Very Media 2.0.

University of the Kidney presents a cool video on the dream of organ regeneration. Over at Nephron Power an excellent slide show on cystic kidney diseases can be viewed.

Precious Bodily Fluids considers how fast your creatinine level would rise if someone really removed both kidneys and left you in a bathtub of ice.

Finally, I have to give my Scientific American guest blog another shot-out. Who wouldn't want to reminisce about Paradoxical Polyuria? Ah...good times.

So enjoy learning a bit more about the golden fluid, and try not to pee your pants in the liquor store!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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