Plots, Posses, and Feminist Terrorist Fist Bumps

The plotting started well before I got to Science Online. I mentioned to Scicurious that we’d be flying in on my husband’s birthday. She insisted we needed to do cake. I countered with cupcakes and found some nearby. There was still a problem, though, since we wouldn’t be landing until after the cupcake shop closed and Sci wouldn’t have a car.

Scicurious was on the job. She recruited Princess. By coincidence (not a requirement for procuring cupcakes) Ben and Princess share a birthday. This presented Sci with her own problem. Princess doesn’t usually make a big deal of her birthday, but Sci didn’t want it going unnoticed in all the furious meeting and greeting of SciO Day One. I suggested letting Bora and Karyn know, as they’d make sure it didn’t stay a secret.

Birthday Cupcakes

"Birthday cupcakes for the win!" by Ben Zvan

As you can see, the cupcakes part of the mission was a success. So was making sure Princess was included in the birthday celebrations. Cupcakes in a hotel lobby bar attract attention. Everyone wanted to know why they were there. It might even have been more attention than she wanted, or maybe she just slipped away to say, “Hi,” as people came in.

The cupcakes were a success in an unexpected way as well. I had ordered a bunch, not sure who would be at the hotel the first night. Several of the people I’d mentally counted were either absent or stuffed from what I hear was epic BBQ. That left cupcakes to share.

I’m not huge on initiating social contact, but now I had an excuse. I flagged down people I slightly recognized from Twitter avatars and others who merely looked wistfully curious as they walked passed a table of people eating and laughing. Introductions were made, birthday wishes given. Then the litany began.

“Black forest, bourbon pecan pie, ‘hot’ chocolate (with pepper), coconut, banana, maple, chocolate, an–”

“You mean chocolate chocolate chocolate. What? That’s how you’ve been saying it.”

“Chocolate chocolate chocolate, and raspberry.”

Cupcakes make an excellent ice breaker.One of the bar staff was later heard to say, “Those scientists.. really know how to throw it down. They were here until 3am. With cupcakes.”

That was only the first of the Science Online plots in which I took part. [Read more…]

More Politics at Science Online

The session that John Timmer and I ran at Science Online 2012, “You Got Your Politics in My Science,” was not the only discussion of politics at the conference. Not even close. The crowd of people from which Science Online participants are drawn are highly aware of politics, particularly as they pertain to science, but this was one of the years when politics surfaced as one of the main sub-themes of the sessions. And of course, this being the kind of conference it is, there are plenty of people writing about this online.

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You Got Your Politics in My Science

On Thursday, John Timmer and I ran a session at Science Online 2012 on balancing advocacy and credibility on science. Here is the video for this session. As video, it’s pretty silly, since neither John nor I spent much time at the front of the room where the camera was pointed. However, the audio is much better than in previous years. Most of what we discussed comes through pretty clearly. After the video, a few highlights.

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Whose Side Are You On?

This post is one of several intended to provide some starting points for the session John Timmer and I are moderating at Science Online 2012, “You Got Your Politics in My Science.” The general topic has to do with when scientific findings call out for advocacy, and when advocacy is appropriate in the reporting of science. Feel free to join the conversation even if you’re not part of Science Online. This is an unconference that works to see as many viewpoints expressed on its topics as possible.

In our correspondence on our session, John mentioned something that instantly rang bells: the tendency of people to look at scientific information you present and infer from that your cultural identity. He mentioned it as a speculative idea, in (I believe) that it hasn’t been documented in the research as a function of cognition. As that isn’t the literature I’m particularly familiar with, I can’t back him up on that. What I can do, however, is document the phenomenon in the wild.

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Reporting Science: Accuracy, Partiality, and Advocacy

This post is one of several intended to provide some starting points for the session John Timmer and I are moderating at Science Online 2012, “You Got Your Politics in My Science.” The general topic has to do with when scientific findings call out for advocacy, and when advocacy is appropriate in the reporting of science. Feel free to join the conversation even if you’re not part of Science Online. This is an unconference that works to see as many viewpoints expressed on its topics as possible.

The basic point behind reporting is to add to the readers’ body of knowledge as accurately as possible. Impartiality or lack of bias is considered a key aspect of this accurate conveyance, but we know that impartiality is a tricky subject. Not only do all humans come with a stack of biases, but there aren’t any simple mechanisms for overcoming bias.

Attempts to simplify the elimination of bias in reporting have led to “both sides” or “he said, she said” reporting, which is mostly good for informing the reader or viewer that there is a dispute. It doesn’t add much to a body of knowledge beyond that, in part, because it fails to fit information into its context, instead leaving the work up to a consumer who may or may not be qualified to do it.

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The Advocacy of Scientists

This post is one of several intended to provide some starting points for the session John Timmer and I are moderating at Science Online 2012, “You Got Your Politics in My Science.” The general topic has to do with when scientific findings call out for advocacy, and when advocacy is appropriate in the reporting of science. Feel free to join the conversation even if you’re not part of Science Online. This is an unconference that works to see as many viewpoints expressed on its topics as possible.

We are generally wary of mixing our politics with our science, and that is probably a good thing. One of the points of the scientific process, as imperfect as it is, is to reduce the impact of our biases on the production of human knowledge. Political beliefs are, of course, a major source of potential bias. But what happens when a scientist’s findings call for political action?

It’s hardly unheard of for scientists to get involved in political action as a result of their research. [Read more…]