Scattered reflections on ScienceOnline 2010

Now that is how you do a conference. Massive thanks to Bora and Anton for organising ScienceOnline 2010, one of the most enjoyable science shindigs I've had the pleasure of attending. I'll stick up more on the conference later, after I'm done recovering from the horrendous American plague that I may or may not have contracted from SciCurious. For the moment, some random musings:

  • I love the feeling of meeting people who you know relatively well for the first time. That face-to-face interaction is invaluable for building relationships that started online, and people's online personas largely correlated with their meatspace personalities.
  • One of the upshots of meeting people in the flesh is that I can now read their online words in their actual accents.
  • Despite the frequently cited demise of science journalism, almost every session on this topic was totally packed - empirical support for my Cambrian explosion metaphor.
  • Science writers look out for each other. We've all had big breaks because of the goodwill of friends and colleagues, and we're keen on repay the favour by helping out promising newbies. To some extent, this has always happened but new tech like Twitter makes it easier to do.  
  • If Americans like you, they will tell you about it. At great length. Seriously, the self-deprecating British part of my cortex nearly imploded.
  • I spoke to many people whose breadth of experience just floored me - people who blog, write books, do science, practice journalism, teach, make films, and so on. The Internet makes it easier to don multiple hats and doing so successfully is the way of the future.
  • The atmosphere at the conference was electric. There really isn't anything like getting 250 passionate, excited, down-to-earth people in the same place. These really are charmed times to be interested in science.
  • Even if you explicitly say that journalists vs. bloggers is old and tired, some people just can't f**king help themselves 

Anyway, you may be able to tell that I had a great time. Meeting people I only knew from avatars or thumbnails was the best part, and in no particular order, it was a pleasure to meet Abel  Pharmboy, Carl Zimmer, Rebecca Skloot, SciCurious, Janet Stemwedel, Sheril Kirshenbaum, David Dobbs, John Timmer, Jennifer Ouellette, Tom Levenson, Ivan Oransky, Nancy Shute, Dr Isis, Bora and Catherine Zivkoivic, PalMD, Arikia Millikan, Erin Johnson, T Delene Beeland, Brian and Tracey Switek, Ben Landis, Dave and Greta Munger, Chris Rowan, Anne Jefferson, Tamara Krinsky, Miriam Goldstein, Kevin Zelnio, Craig McClain, Eric Michael Johnson, Allie Wilkinson, Christie Wilcox, Zuska, DrDrA, Vanessa Woods, Natalie Villalobos, Darlene Cavalier, Chris Mooney, Clifton Wiens, John Logsdon, Allyson Bennett, James Hrynyshyn, Sandy Porter, Mary Spiro, Glendon Mellow, Fabiana Kubke, Joanne Manaster, Fenella Saunders, Jonathan Eisen, Kelly Chi. Stephanie Zvan, Nate Silver, Eric Roston, Kiki Sanford, Elia Ben-Ari and Michael Specter.


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I totally agree! It was a blast meeting you and hanging out!

"One of the upshots of meeting people in the flesh is that I can now read their online words in their actual accents."


It was wonderful meeting you, Ed! Except now, when I read your posts, they'll no longer sound in my head like my favorite Beatle or even Dick Van Dyke. Thanks for destroying that fantasy.

And, I'm glad the hostage situation got resolved.

It was, of course, a pleasure an a privilege to spend time with you. Now I know who I want on my team for the next trivia contest -- if not for total domination, then for side-splitting giggles.

I'm glad the kidnappers returned your conference badge.

It was a pleasure getting to meet you, Ed. Your first point is exactly right; you are just as brilliant and gentlemanly as you seem on the web. I hope your Pakicetus/Squalodon will always remind you of SciOn10.

Wow, it sounds like it was an amazing thing. Was great to be able to follow it all on twitter, and I'm looking forward to all the follow-up writing. Hopefully one year I'll have enough money to get over myself!

Ed, It was great meeting you as well. I still have not wrapped my head around everything that was discussed or processed all that I learned by interacting with so many brilliant people in such a short time. Still recovering from my existential crisis, you know. I also am still contemplating the idea of starting a content-mining website that consists solely of your hilarious snarky tweets during #scio10. I'd like to call it "What Hath Yong Twot," but I'm sure the porn filters would block it out. :)

It was such a pleasure to meet you, Ed. Your online persona reflects you too, although probably doesn't QUITE do the real you justice.

I still think that Scicurious and I would make MILLIONS with the Ed Yong GPS. "Please turn right, and admire the bonobo brochure in Carl Zimmer's back pocket."

Ed did you just use the word 'meatspace'? What did they do to you out there???

Glad you had fun, sounds fab - gutted I couldn't make it out there. See you at work (argh)


You lot are too kind. These comments are totally bringing a massive smile to my face, not least because they're reminding me of some of my favourite little moments from the conference. Such as sneaking off to the kitchen to get a signed copy of Rebecca's book, being on the other side of the bar and hearing Kevin loudly shouting "DOLPHINS ARE ASSHOLES", ransoming Tom Levenson's hat, getting my awesome Evolvem toy and getting photographed with it on my head, a photo which will surely come back to haunt me later, and sullying Carl Zimmer's good name during the Ignite Twitter competitions (sorry Carl!)

Oh and if anyone's going to monetize my snarky tweets and British accent, it'll be me.

Henry - you can't talk. I've heard you say words like "thinkings" and "going forward" with a straight face. You weren't even honourable enough to punch yourself out afterwards.

Yes ... sneaking off to "get" (aka "steal") a copy of my book with you was definitely a highlight. Few authors can say they've done such a thing (ie sneaking into a kitchen with you ... I'm sure plenty have stolen their own books).

And if anyone's wondering why Rebecca and I had to sneak into the kitchen to find her book, I'm none the wiser either. Maybe the lines between journalist, blogger and chef have started blurring too ;-)

Hope you soon shift the colonial lurgy. I think I picked it up too, and what with the jetlag ... bibble bibble bibble.

By cromercrox (not verified) on 19 Jan 2010 #permalink

Ed- Really excellent to meet you as well. Your first comment up there is spot on- and the #5 up there- us Americans always forget that about you lovely, charming, delightful, incredibly talented, and handsome British. :-)

Your post is spot on! As a newbie in the science writing community, I was thrilled to find a group of smart, witty, zany folk with whom to spend a weekend chatting about everything from journalistic integrity to online sciene games to corkscrew-shaped duck genitalia.

Well, I enjoyed meeting (and photographing) you, Ed, even though you apparently didn't enjoy meeting me. *sniffle* *sob* I shall hope to rectify that at next year's meeting.

By Elia aka smallpkg (not verified) on 22 Jan 2010 #permalink

Sigh I knew that putting up that list was a bad idea. Bear in mind that I wrote it while my head was full of rhinoviruses. Amended.

Ed, you are a sweetheart. I do hope to be able to chat more with you at ScienceOnline2011. And I hope you'll be rhino-free soon, if you aren't already. Keep up the great work!

By Elia aka @smallpkg (not verified) on 22 Jan 2010 #permalink

I hope that my incessant American blathering about your greatness was offset by my American buffoonery of hearing your lovely accent and saying, "Wait, I thought you were some sort of Chinese or something."

In all seriousness, I was delighted by the opportunity to chat with you and even have a photograph. I have long been a fan and your consistency in outstanding writing makes me look forward to seeing a new RSS ping from NERS.

Please pass along to Alice the gratitude of a great many attendees for sharing you with us at ScienceOnline.