ScienceOnline2010 - interview with Emily Fisher

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 Emily Fisher from Oceana 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 grew up in Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina, and moved to Washington, DC about three years ago. I'm a writer and editor, not a scientist, but I've become more and more interested in science the last few years, which has surprised me. In school, science was always my least favorite subject and the one I did the worst in. The worst grade I ever got in high school was a C in physics, and that was after crying regularly during office hours. As an English major in college, I only took one science class: astronomy, and that was so I could go to UNC's great planetarium.

I've always loved reading, writing and spending time in nature, so I've come around to science as an environmentalist. I want to spend my life helping protect the environment through writing and editing, so I've come to appreciate that I need to know the science behind what's happening to the planet - and I'm increasingly curious about it. Scientific thinking doesn't come easy to me, but maybe that's also part of its appeal.

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

My first job out of college was as an assistant editor for a small non-profit publisher that focused mostly on neuroscience. I learned a lot about the brain, though ironically I can't remember most of it now...

After that I worked for a news aggregator web start-up called We took long-form journalism (articles from the New Yorker, Atlantic, Harper's, etc.) and published 100-word abstracts of the articles. It was like a thinking person's Digg. It was a tremendously fun atmosphere -- there were just a few of us editors, sitting around one big table in a one-room apartment in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of DC. We were churning out around 100 abstracts a day -- we had it down to a science, really -- and having a great time. We had a really cool thing going, but unfortunately the money ran out.

i-83a4624d55bd23e56619810bc8e9ec2f-Emily Fisher pic.JPG

For the past two years I've worked for the ocean conservation organization Oceana as the web editor. I've learned so much about the threats facing the ocean, from ocean acidification to shark finning to bottom trawling, and I've become an ocean advocate myself.

Twice I've gone to the coast of North Carolina (Bald Head Island) to write about sea turtles for our blog and magazine -- once I documented sea turtles hatching and once I wrote about nesting mothers. Both were incredible experiences.

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

At Oceana, I'm focused on making our website and blog the most readable and engaging place for ocean conservation information. I would love to make us the number one place online for the oceans.

More specifically, right now in light of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, we are trying to get 500,000 people to sign our petition to Obama and Congress stop new offshore drilling. So far we've gotten nearly 33,000 signatures.

I'm also passionate about sustainable food, so in my free time I spend a lot of time at the farmers' market and trying out new recipes with friends. I also do a lot of yoga and am attempting to learn how to play the guitar.

How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? 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?

Blogging is a big part of what I do on a daily basis. I aim to post one blog a day on Oceana's blog, The Beacon, and sometimes I do more. In the last few weeks, for example, I've been posting two, three, four posts a day because of the oil spill. I think a lot of folks at Oceana have recognized what an asset the blog is at a time like this, when we want to react swiftly to the crisis and get our voice out there.

I started our Twitter account last year, and a friend and colleague of mine has pretty much taken it over along with Facebook. She's doing a great job getting people engaged in our work.

I think blogging and social media are a crucial part of our communications work at Oceana -- it's our primary method of interacting directly with our activist base, or Wavemakers, and hearing their ideas, concerns and questions. Our CEO, Andy Sharpless, is even tweeting now, at @Oceana_Andy.

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 really enjoyed finally meeting people that I had online relationships with but never met in person, like Miriam Goldstein and the guys from Deep Sea News and Southern Fried Science. I also met some great new people, like the web editor from the New England Aquarium.

At the session about the future of science journalism, I realized that the line between blogger and journalist is truly blurred now. Similarly, at the session about social media from the Pacific Garbage Patch, I was impressed to see how science can be documented using social media tools like blogging and Twitter, even from the middle of the ocean. It was really striking to hear that the journalist's New York Times story about the garbage patch was less effective and reached fewer people than her personal blog did.

I also really enjoyed the "blog to book" session. It's my dream to write a book one day, and while a book project itself seems overwhelming, blogging doesn't. It made a book seem like an achievable goal -- some day.

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

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