Friday, November 2, 2012

What goes on at the Science Writers Conference stays... on the internet

What do science writers do at conferences? Well, if you are one of the conference hosts, part of what you do is wander around and look silly. Here's a photo of me from last weekend. Yes, I'm in the lobby of the conference hotel, wearing a lab coat, which led the medical association people who were meeting next door to us into thinking that I was trying to sneak into their meeting...

This is a screenshot of an Instagram photo by fellow science writer Anton Zuiker
The reason I was wearing the lab coat had nothing to do with the approach of Halloween -- it was a uniform we had designed to identify those of us who were ushering our fellow attendees to various activities going on at the meeting. There were a lot of activities, so those of us on the host committee spent a lot of time wearing lab coats in public. It did not feel very dignified, but it was, I guess, necessary to make the meeting run.

I say all this by way of explanation for why I didn't do what I promised to do a week ago -- live blog about all the interesting North Carolina science being talked about at the meeting. Our duties as one of the co-hosts was a little more time-consuming than we anticipated, so there was no time for blogging -- though we will post an entry or two later that Christina is still working on completing. I will, sometime soon (I hope), blog about a presentation by UNC Charlotte biologists Ken Bost and Ken Piller on work they are doing to turn the soybean into a factory for low-cost vaccines and other important bioactive materials.

What I did have time to do at the conference was tweet, and here's a sample of how the meeting appeared on Twitter: a Storify selection of Tweets concerning just one session (a presentation about social effects of industrial hog farming in NC by UNC faculty member Steve Wing) compiled by acclaimed writer Maryn McKenna (author of "Superbug"). With dozens of writers all tweeting at once, there was, of course, a lot more Twitter conversation about this one session than her post shows, but she's one of the expert journalists in this particular corner of science, so her selections give you a good, expertly guided tour of this particular session. If you know how to use Twitter and have a lot of time, check out the hashtag #sciwri12 for a voluminous amount of smart, witty (and sometimes silly) science writer chatter about the meeting.

Though I know some readers out there think Twitter is trivial, I'm bringing up the meeting tweets for a reason: it struck me at this meeting that social media now make meetings like this one into events that are no longer just for attendees, but, in fact, public events shared live with the whole world. In response to my own tweeting, I heard back from several faculty members at UNC Charlotte, who were actively engaged in the meeting through my posts (and others), as well as from fellow science writers around the country who could not attend physically but could attend virtually.  And, of course, I was just one voice among hundreds reporting into these new media. What was the virtual attendance of the meeting? Who knows-- but it was certainly very, very large.

What impression did the North Carolina-based science showcased in Raleigh make on the world? Again, I don't know -- but I do know that it impressed me. We are blessed in this state with an amazing assemblage of research powerhouses -- Duke University, UNC Chapel Hill, NC State, Wake Forest University... and, yes, UNC Charlotte... (not mentioning all the others... or the industry and agencies in the RTP... or the collaborations at the NCRC...), and the combined show of advanced knowledge happening in our compact region was awe-inspiring. The world saw quite a bit of this, and I'll bet it was impressed too.

No comments:

Post a Comment