A Blog Around The Clock

One of a Mind: Interview with Shelley Batts

Shelley Batts and I are of the same “generation”, meaning that we became SciBlings on the same day. You need to hurry up and check out her blog Retrospectacle before she moves to a new blog in a few days. At the Science Blogging Conference last month Shelley moderated the Student blogging panel–from K to Ph D.

Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your background? What is your Real Life job?

I’m an end-stage Neuroscience graduate student at the University of Michigan, my thesis is related to developing therapies for deafness through cellular repair and regeneration. I also write at the neuroscience blog Retrospectacle, which will soon be merged with OmniBrain into a super-blog called ‘Of Two Minds, ‘ to launch March 1st. I went to undergrad at New College of Florida in Sarasota where I climbed trees and did biochemistry. I play tennis, do pilates, talk to parrots, and write angsty poetry in my spare time.

What do you want to do/be when you grow up?

Get an RO1 grant and a Wii, in no particular order. And I want to rebuild a 1965 Mustang someday. But foremost on the list is to get a postdoc position, as I graduate in December.

When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favorites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while following the Conference?

ScienceBlogs plucked me out of obscurity when I was blogging away on neuroscience and hearing to an audience of about 30 people/day. I had decided to start a science blog as a way to condense and communicate interesting discoveries in science to a lay audience, and to point out fallacies in mainstream science reporting. And, to have a fun and educational hobby. I like being a jack of all trades, and merging my love of science and writing into a blog made sense.

Most science blogs out there have crossed my path at some point or another, but a few that were new to me were:

The Inverse Square Blog
Laelaps
NPR ScienceFriday Blog
Lab Life

My favorite blogs/bloggers are:

Drugmonkey
3 Quarks Daily
The Flying Trilobyte
Jon’s Travel Adventures
Acephalous
Digital Cuttlefish
Ectoplasmosis

i-99032d4aa3c11306126fba10aaa11d03-Shelley interview pic.JPGRecently, you had a first-hand experience with the issue of Fair Use and copyright. Could you, please, explain to my readers what happened, how it all ended, how it changed your blogging and what can we all learn from the episode?

In the spring of 2007, the media was a-buzz with hype about a study which purportedly found that ‘alcohol made fruit healthier’, just published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. I didn’t buy media spin, and decided to read the actual journal article for myself to blog what I thought. The paper was actually aimed at using various volatile chemicals to improve shelf life of berries by increasing antioxidants in the fruit. Ethanol was one such substance tested, but in fact the chemical methyl jasmonate performed the best (at extending berry shelf life) but this said nothing as to their healthful properties for human consumption. To make my point in the post, I included a snippet of a figure which I cut and pasted from the paper PDF. The morning I posted it, a representative of the journal emailed me, demanding I remove the figure and threatening legal action from their parent company John Wiley and Sons if I did not. I was completely surprised, it seemed like great (free)publicity for me to be discussing their paper, and an obvious case of fair-use in scholarly discussion of the figure. To make a long story short, I responded by recreating the figures in Excel, but letting the blogosphere know about the threats I was receiving as they initially refused to grant me permission. The blogosphere responded in full force, from BoingBoing to Slashdot to The Scientist, The Guardian and Newsweek and within a couple of days the journal issued an apology stating that it was a misunderstanding. Fortunately it came to an amiable resolution and hopefully both traditional and ‘new’ media learned something valuable from the discussion that ensued.

You have recently decided to pool your resources with Steve Higgins and fuse your two blogs (your Retrospectacle and Steve’s OmniBrain) into a brand-new blog. What considerations went into that decision? What are the pros and cons of running one’s own blog versus belonging to a group blog?

As it is my last year in grad school, I realized I need some blogging help to reduce the demands blogging made on my time. Steve at Omnibrain seemed like a natural choice, as we had become friends since he joined ScienceBlogs and he likes to blog about the humorous side of science. That will probably provide a good foil to my blogging style. Readers can expect still a lot of serious sciencey-type discussion with a bit of Steve’s same old raucous personality. :) The pros of running a joint blog are the cooperation and discussion it can engender (plus splitting the time demands), and as for the cons, well, ask me in six months.

How’s Pepper doing these days? When is he going to write his next guest-post?

Pepper is rocking the casbah as usual, although lately he’s recently taken to remembering and repeating whole phone conversations early on Saturday mornings. I’m sure Pepper will find time out of his busy day (of destroying over-priced bird toys) to make another guest post, hopefully in the form of a review of Irene’s upcoming memoir on Alex.

Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?

The ideas I really took away from the conference were ones about how traditional and non-traditional media can learn to live and work together. A real strength of the meeting was having “real” reporters there, as well as self-styled e-reporters such as myself, thrown into the same topics of discussion. It was fascinating to see both sides readily admit the failings as well as strengths of their own craft– if those conversations could be extended into the future, perhaps blogs won’t be treated as the ugly half-brother of science reporting.

It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview.

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Check out all the interviews in this series.

Comments

  1. #1 Mike Dunford
    February 25, 2008

    Off topic, but I just tagged you with a historical figure meme. Have fun.

  2. #2 Cuttlefish
    February 25, 2008

    The photograph you’ve chosen has revealed
    That Shelley is outstanding in her field!