Dancing With Data At ScienceOnlineSeattle

Do we wilt under the dim glow of mobile devices? Photo by Phil Todelano for the Atlantic

On the grand list of things to worry about, the internet is rarely far from our minds. We brood about privacy, security, and access, and we agonize over whether social media is guilty of making us lonely, reinforcing fast, lazy thinking, and damaging our relationships with each other and the real world.

It’s no surprise that many scientists are skeptical about the utility of social media, and disinclined to invest the energy in exploring how they might use it, right? Why would anyone add yet one more thing – with questionable return on investment – to our grinding workloads?

At COMPASS, we spend a lot of time thinking about mobilizing science and supporting culture change, and I think it helps to start by asking: what do I get out of this? How does it support or improve the hard work I already am doing? In my experience, social media is not just changing the way we can share finished research results, but it’s changing the way we do the work of science.

On a day-to-day basis, I’ve found shared Mendeley libraries to be incredibly helpful in writing projects or preparing for talks, and I’ve tapped into the Twitter hivemind for help with everything from introductions to key colleagues to writing code to make a map for a manuscript figure. On a bigger scale, you might be familiar with projects like Zooniverse or FoldIt that use crowd-sourcing to generate data and solve problems. Crowdfunding for science is exploding as well. Today is just day 14 of the second round of The SciFund Challenge, and scientists have already raised over $59,000 dollars for their projects. It gives me goosebumps to think about how these kinds of projects turn “the audience” into active participants in the process of science! It’s heady stuff.

My introduction to these exciting ideas was at the annual ScienceOnline conference. Held each year in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, it’s a raucous, high-powered, whirlwind of an unconference bursting with more than 400 researchers, bloggers, developers, hackers, science writers, journalists, educators, artists and people who don’t neatly fit into any single one of those categories. Take a look at the hashtag #scio13 on Twitter, and you’ll see that this is a group of people who can’t stop talking to each other, and together create an ambitious, generous, creative spirit that lasts year round.

This winter, I leapt at the chance to spin off a monthly discussion series based here in Seattle. Along with the University of Washington College of the Environment, and the Open Science Federation, we host a panel discussion once a month to explore all the interrelated topics about how we do and share science in this digital world. And it just wouldn’t be a ScienceOnline event if we weren’t also livestreaming and livetweeting our hearts out.

Dance, dance, for the figure is easy The tune is catching and will not stop Dance till the stars come down with the rafters Dance, dance, dance till you drop. ~W.H. Auden

Today (Monday, May 14) our theme is Dances with Data: Tools for Turning Information into Visual Stories. We have a stellar group of discussants sharing the very latest technologies and data viz projects. They come from Microsoft Research, Seattle Children’s Hospital, the Center for Environmental Visualization at the University of Washington, and Tableau Software. We are going to be geeking out – and hard – but as the title says, we’re really asking how we can use these tools to best share science stories with the rest of the world. We kick off this at 6:30pm PT. Hope you can join us in person or follow the livestream.


Post event wrap-up: check out the storify