A Blog Around The Clock

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years’ interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.

Today, I asked Christine Ottery from the MA program in science journalism at City University London to answer a few questions:

Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?

i-7f2bd8d327fb6a880403503aacefcf05-Christine Ottery pic.jpgDoes double As at GCSE count as a science background? Leaving aside exams I took when I was 15 years old, I’m a humanities graduate, with a BA in Philosophy and English. As such, my philosophy is that it’s useful to build our pyramids of knowledge from the bottom up using facts as the foundation. Or, like a game of Jenga gone wrong, we could fall down.

My particular intrigue with science is its potential to explain why humans behave the way they do. The fields of neuroscience, genetics and psychology are all fascinating. I’m concerned with the way these interact with big questions such as climate change, health and feminism to the banal and beautiful in our daily lives.

This is starting to sound like a manifesto! Ahem, moving on.

(By the way, I’m from London, England.)

Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?

In my previous incarnation I was a journalist and editor writing about adventure travel and sports. I felt pretty good about encouraging people to take up a more active lifestyle. A sedentary lifestyle isn’t all to good for health. Read Travis Saunder’s take on the effects of being a couch potato.

So, although I planned and commissioned health writing, I did very little myself. The first proper piece of science writing I did was a piece for Fall-Line Skiing magazine on the science of powder snow.

Last summer, around the same time as I was applying to go back to school to do an MA in science journalism at City University London, I began to write long blogs on science communication and tweet like a creature possessed . Then all kinds of funny things happened. I was asked to write for Comment is Free in the Guardian online, and invited to come and speak at Science Online 2010 (Wooo-hooo!). I became a researcher for my journalistic hero, George Monbiot, started writing for TheEcologist.co.uk and even penned a piece about bonobos for Newscientist.com.

What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?

The two main things that I’m fired up by at the moment are: the mega-inspirational green heroes research I’m doing for Monbiot and a website I’m launching to address science in women’s magazines – can’t wait to get my teeth into that one. For the site I will be looking at how science features in women’s mags and comparing it to what readers want. After all, women are the ones who make the majority of consumer decisions – possibly on the basis of dodgy science. As an antidote, I’ll also be research blogging.

What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?

Science videos on the web going viral is the way forward for science communication, and no, I’m not just talking about the ubiquitous duck’s penis. Brain surgery, historical experiments and so on are a good way of reeling people into science. Complex scientific concepts can be more easily understood when they are demonstrated.

How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?

Twitter and Facebook are important, but mostly as a way to skim off the cream of what other people are reading and writing about. Twitter, in particular, can be a veritable fount of story ideas, especially for blogposts. When people start chatting about something on Twitter, depending on how I rate their opinions, I sit up and take notice. In fact, can we come up with a formula for that? Who’ll take a bribe of half a flapjack and lukewarm mug of tea?

When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any cool science blogs by the participants at the Conference?

Before coming to Science Online, I have to confess to only having properly read a small handful of science blogs: Bora’s of course, Ed Yong’s Not Exactly Rocket Science and some of Scicurious’s posts on Neurotopia. Since then, I’ve acquainted myself with: Janet Stemwedel’s Adventures in Ethics and Science, Brian Switek’s Laelaps, and Eric Michael Johnson’s The Primate Diaries, and checked out a whole lot more.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 for you? Any suggestions for next year? 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?

I wrote about my impressions from Science Online 2010 on my blog. Since then, the stuff I’m rolling around my mind basically consists of the meme: I’m writing about what I’m passionate about. Now how do I make enough money from it? So the most important session for me, as stand-alone thought-provoking stuff and also because of the conversations that arose with DeLene Beeland, was: Rebecca Skloot, Tom Levenson and Brian Switek on how to go from blog to book.

It was so nice to meet you and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again next January.

Comments

  1. #1 Elia
    March 9, 2010

    Great interview. I can’t wait to see Christine’s analysis of science coverage in women’s mags!

  2. #2 Ed Yong
    March 9, 2010

  3. #3 Ed Yong
    March 9, 2010

    Ahem. That comment above should have read: “Eats the flapjack”