Field of Science

Field of Science Now Taking Applications

Field of Science has come a good distance in its leisurely two years. In keeping with that pace, I thought I'd finally get around to opening up the floodgates to all the newly uninspired science bloggers out there who maybe thought once or twice about joining a network, but ultimately couldn't be bothered.

Field of Science lacks a grand manifesto/mind numbing contract/long winded code of conduct. We're also without a marketing department, a revenue stream, an editorial hierarchy, or corrupting force of any sort as far as I'm aware. In fact, if you look closely, you'll discover that the network itself is more or less just an allusion craftily assembled in order to give the appearance of some sort of official looking structure from which we propel our blog posts from the homely state of obscurity to the lofty realms of authoritative infallibility--which, as everyone knows, is the key to successful science blogging.

Anyway, Field of Science is the new-old science blog unnetwork-anticollective. Which is to say, I just finished a redesign in which I attempt to maximize the Bloggers ability to individualize their blog while still maintaining just enough of the sameness that gives a network its mojo. Having succeeded in spectacular fashion, I must now document just how wonderful and perfect in every way Field of Science has become with a blog post.

With that done, the only thing left to do is go on and on about how easy and hassle free it is to join Field of Science. It is.

Wrapping up, Field of Science has become the undemanding-cutting-edge science blog network you didn't know you were waiting for. Do have a look around, and do drop me a note if you like what you see.

Census of the Science Blogosphere - Update

While the Census of the Science Blogosphere 2000 to 2010 has only been up for a week, the pace of new entries has slowed to zero, with a total of 112 participants to date. Not a great showing.

Nevertheless, it's not like there's a deadline or some other arbitrary finish date. Therefore, if you happen upon the Census and haven't participated, please do. I'll continue to collect data all the way up until this time next year (October 2011), when I'll post another survey for the year 2011 to combine with this one.

Links:

The Survey: https://spreadsheets.google.com/viewform?formkey=dEdFM1hxdzBfMERqNkE1clhZNEtCOUE6MQ

Early Results: https://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=0AkEYSGrudhmJdGt2cHVsdE9hbW9PTG1CbkFxeFNJMGc&hl=en&authkey=CMLNupMH

Oh, and pass it on.

Census of the Science Blogosphere 2000 to 2010

Looking at the recent network centric attempts at visualizing the science blogosphere, I've been inspired to create a bubble motion chart of science blogs for the last decade. The chart will analyze/visualize Location (i.e. blogger, wordpress, scienceblogs.com, etc.), Type (network, independent, etc.), Gender and Anonymity over the last decade.

To participate, complete the following survey. The survey is divided into years, so if you only started blogging this year, simply scroll down to 2010 and complete that year's information only. Alternatively, if you've been blogging the entire decade, complete each section for each year you've been blogging.

Confidentiality: At the end of the survey I ask for your current URL. I'll use this information to clean-up the data set and drill down in those cases where your blogging arrangement is a unique Type (i.e. Group Blogs, etc.), but I will not publish it. I will, however, make the raw data minus the URL submissions publicly available so others will have an opportunity to use it in their own analyses. Again, your URL will not be published.

Questions Help:

- Platform/Independent/Network/Group Blog - I have limited the presets to what I presume will be the top 7 responses in this category. The presets are not meant to be all encompassing. Please utilize the "Other" option to designate your blogging platform, network or group if not already listed. (Note: This question refers to "location" and not "software" so if you're blogging at Wordpress (i.e. http://sciencetrio.wordpress.com/) then select Wordpress, if your blog is powered by Wordpress but you are publishing on your own domain name (i.e. http://blog.coturnix.org/) select Own Domain.

- XX or XY - Complete only the section that applies, leaving the other blank.

- Byline - Only check Pseudonym if you blog(ged) anonymously, and only for those years when that was the case. If/When you've not blogged under a pseudonym, leave blank.

- Current URL - Please enter your blog's full web address (http://...). This information will be kept confidential/never published.

9/29 10/4 Update: To further illustrate the hoped for outcome, I've created a down and dirty motion chart using the data from the first 66 112 responses. Be sure to play around with the many controls to get a sense of the full potential.





Notes: We can reuse this data again and again in the coming years by combining it with data from future surveys (2011, 2012, 2013…) and so on and so forth going forward, making this an annual census of science blogs.

Help Wanted

With the recent growth of Field of Science, an ongoing redesign effort, life getting in the way and the sudden crowding of the science blog networks, I've run up against a couple of areas of need in the operations of FoS that warrant more attention than I have time to spare, and which would most benefit from a set of talents and skills that I simply don't possess. To that end, I'd like to offer up a few speculative job titles should an interested party decide they'd like to carve out a contributing role for themselves here at Field of Science.

Editor-at-Large (Publicist/Social Networker/Advocate) - Mention or inclusion of Field of Science has been noticeably lacking from a number of recent meta science blog network discussions. This pattern of omission--in light of the fact that Field of Science predates the vast majority of science blog networks that are the subjects of these discussions--is of concern. The remedy, aside from shaming the various authors into doing better research, is to devote more time and resources to social networking. That is, personally connecting with the science blogging establishment and ensuring though various means (comments, post, tweets, emails, etc.) that Field of Science is mentioned in the same breath as those other science blog networks.

Art Director (Graphic Designer) - I'm a lot of things, but an artist is not one of them. For starters, as part of the ongoing redesign, finally getting around to properly branding FoS is one of the items on my to do list and I'm desperately out of my depth.

Front Page Editor - The "Featured Content" (blog) component of the Field of Science homepage is a great tool for giving the network's best content at little extra face time. There's an art to doing this job well. I'm failing miserably.

I offer these positions up as speculative job titles because Field of Science is first and foremost a collaboration. That means it's up to each individual to define their role and level of participation and commitment. Perhaps you feel like tackling both those editorial positions above, or the issues facing Field of Science you're interested in fixing aren't on my wish list. No matter, it's up to you to devise a role that's worth doing because you do it so well.

I toyed with the idea of presenting this request in terms of a limited number of internships. But for the caliber of people I'm interested in working with that would be both transparent, and not a little insulting to your intelligence. Nevertheless, these are unpaid positions. You'll get a FoS blog, my eternal gratitude as well as that of the FoS Bloggers, but beyond that, it will be entirely up to you to find satisfaction in the work itself, and who knows, perhaps the (learning) experience will pad your resume in all the right places come time to apply for that paying gig.

Contact.

Build Your Own Science Blog Network

No, really, build your own science blog network.

The merits of being on a network are many (community, traffic, search ranking, etc.), but the one that matters the most is the prestige a blogger gains by association with the other bloggers in the network and through being part of a professional organization. The reason for this is straightforward--the first impressions a blogger makes are largely built on split-second judgments, and among the things that can be judged the quickest are appearances and the company you keep. If you're part of a professional looking network that includes another blogger who a reader already judges favorably, you're ahead of the game even before the reader reads word one. That doesn't mean you don't need to still be a good/great blogger to have an impact, you do, but being part of a network is a foot in the door every single day of the year. All you have left to do is raise your game to take advantage of the privileged position being part of a network grants you. It is this privileged position, this perpetual foot in the door (not traffic, pagerank or friends) that the ScienceBlogs.com blog network is looking for ways to monetize. It is the future prospect of guilt-by-association (there's that word again) such a compromise entails that helped to spur so many bloggers to leave SB. No matter how you cut it, #SbFail is proof that the network effect is real and that it matters.

When I first started Field of Science I was pleasantly surprised to find that science bloggers were blazing their own trail. They'd resisted, for the most part, the urge to indulge in the sensationalism and rhetorical excess that was fueling and defining the rest of the blogosphere. This intrinsic resistance to short-term gain in blogging has much to do with the scientific method and uniqueness of the people drawn to science in the first place. But I would go further still and suggest that SB deserves some of the credit as well. It gave science bloggers something to aspire to. A reason, beyond simple adherence to an unwritten ethic, to blog credibly, consistently, for the long-term. But now that SB has been, how should I put this, unmasked, does it still play that role? If you'd argue that it does, has the example it is setting changed at all as a consequence? Has the type of science blogger SB is encouraging (seeking) shifted away from those that value the science and good opinion of their peers toward those that are equally or primarily interested in making money? So long as SB remains the best option (or chief steppingstone) for science bloggers hoping to achieve success in blogging (however they define it), SB is going to have an inordinate influence on how science bloggers define science blogging.

The benefits of being on a network are not in dispute. There's also room (and arguably an imperative) for alternatives to SB to emerge. It's all that other stuff, the endemic issues inherent in the network model, and the stuff that being on a network puts out of your control that still stand in the way. If only there was a way to create your own science blog network. One where you, the science bloggers, could be in control of who was on it. One you could afford to host. One where the technology behind it was both powerful enough to compete with the big boys while simple enough for you to manage it in passing. One that was no more demanding than the blogging it is meant to augment.

If only, instead of being forced to beg and plead for fish, there was a way to learn to fish. Well, there is.

You can create your own science blog network, putting you in complete control, for under $12 a year. Your network will be hosted and powered by Google, who, at no cost to you, will employ a crack team of super talented technology professionals to not only keep your network up and running, but to bring you regular innovations. What's more, because you're partnered with Google, your SEO will be the envy of the competition by default, and you can take for granted the innate integration with Google's ever growing list of tools...



Over the next few months I will teach a course on how to create your own science blog network. The total cost to take the course will be under $12, and that will be to pay for your network's first year of hosting. Whether you want to create a science blog network to rival SB, or you have an idea for a small exclusive network for you and your colleagues, or you want to leave the door open to the possibilities, it's up to you. The goal is not to tell you what to do, it's to show you how easy it is to do it. It's to empower you, the scientist blogger, so that you don't have to compromise, or be subject to someone else's whims, shortcomings or worse.

If that sounds like time well spent to you, class is in session: Science Blog Networks 101.

Edit: 08/12/10 - Class cancelled due to lack of enrollment. However, I'd still like to explore collaborations along the above lines, so if you're late or decide later that you're interested, leave a comment or email me.

Defining Science Blogging

The Virginia Heffernan piece in the NYT Magazine about science blogs (link not necessary for the few people reading this post) has gotten a lot of traction thanks to science bloggers. The reason for this is it represented the opinion of a popular writer printed in a mass media publication, and so responding to it holds the promise of traffic. It also helps that Ms. Heffernan's opinions were not above reproach, giving critics and targets of the piece something to sink their teeth into. However, take that same article and post it word-for-word anonymously on some unknown blog and the reaction it would garner from the science blogging community would be...crickets. Why? Because on its own, Heffernan's article about science blogs is neither insightful, compelling or correct. So not only would it not inspire a response (assuming anyone would bother to read it in its entirety), it would not warrant a correction--were it posted by a nobody on a nowhere site. For this reason I take a dim view of the science bloggers validating Heffernan's opinions with a response. It's insulting to their core audience and it's not science blogging. Science blogging would sooner shine a light on a nobody on a nowhere site who says something of substance than pretend a know-nothing managed to light the science blogosphere on fire in spite of the fact that she was wrong about everything--all in trade for a few extra hits.

So there, I said it. In science blogging, blogging is second to science (read: substance).

A Way Forward

For obvious reasons--I'm building a science blog network here--I've been paying close attention to the ScienceBlogs.com Diaspora. It is always fascinating to find out what a place looks like from the inside, and there's been a lot of that type of reflection going on. Then there's the teaching moment, the learning from SB's mistakes, but to be honest, the mistakes they've made (and are making) are pretty basic--so there's not a lot to take note of other than to marvel at how the thing managed to survive as long as it has. Finally, there's the prospect of picking up some of SB's talent. I admit, I've been circling the devastation not unlike a vulture, and I've even made a few inquiries and posted a few strategic comments around the fringes in an effort to at least get the word out to departing SBers that there is an alternative science blog network out there. One that doesn't suffer from a lack of vision or the corrupting influence of a financial motive/burden...

But this post isn't the open invitation to departing SBers to join FoS that you might expect. This post is a response of sorts to Bora's epic farewell. If you haven't read it, do so now.

If I told you that Bora echoes some of the themes I've been talking about for years would you believe me? What if I provided you with links? Or witnesses? Well, I will, upon request. However, the point of bringing up my history is not to say I'm smarter than Bora, or even as smart as Bora. It is to illustrate that I agree with Bora, not out of convenience or advantage, but because that's my honest assessment of the state of play. SB's disintegration is an opportunity for science blogging to evolve into a more sophisticated, diverse and dynamic species.

To that end, I have a contribution to make. Or rather, a vision to share.

FieldofScience.com costs a little over $11/year to run. That's it. There's no hosting costs, no tech support expense, no staff or other full or part-time paid position. FoS is hosted by Google, who can handle all the traffic we can send their way without breaking a sweat. FoS is powered by Blogger.com, which is owned by Google, and if you know anything about the Internet, then the fact that our blogging software is a property of Google is really all you need to know. And if your opinion of Blogger.com is over a year old, then you don't know Blogger.com. The picture I'm painting is this. You don't need a fully staffed media group replete with editors, writers, sales, technical, personnel and accounting departments in order to have a science blog network. All you need is a little vision, a willingness to learn a few simple technical tricks, a passion and a few dollar bills.

If you have those things, you're probably already seriously considering creating your own science blog network or collective with your fellow friends and familiars. If that's you, I would like to propose we create a network of networks. That is to say, I'll share with you the know-how I've gathered in creating and maintaining FoS (no need to reinvent the wheel), and in turn we collaborate to create like science blog networks. The example I have in mind is the Gawker group of blogs which, while each is unique (in theme and content), each shares a like platform and certain navigation elements.

Combining the Gawker model and the FoS model, we have the tools, the template and the technology to create a series of science themed blog networks that, while individual, compliment one another. There could be a science blog network for women scientists, one for science writers, another for the politicization of science, and still another for the infrequent science blogger. The list goes on and on. Just consider all the science carnivals past and present. All those themes could be networks of their own, and each of them a part of a larger, mutually beneficial group of networks.

To me, that would be a bright future for science blogging. One I'm fully prepared to invest heavily in.

Edward

Inured To Our Ignorance

inure: to harden somebody to something: to make somebody used to something unpleasant over a period of time, so that he or she no longer is bothered or upset by it

Here is a google trend for you. It shows the beginning of the decline in our interest in coverage of the ongoing gulf oil spill.

I don't bring it up to make you feel bad for going on with your life. I certainly have. I even went to the beach last weekend and sarcastically told my wife during the ride down that one day we'll reminisce about swimming in the ocean to our grandchildren who will react with a mix of disbelief and disgust (The ocean!? Gross!). My better half didn't find it amusing and used it as a case in point for why it's generally better if I don't talk. She's right.

Anyway, it's a familiar trend. We dispoil it, feel guilty for a bit then move on (read: forget about it). While we watch with increasing passivity as THE GULF OF MEXICO is turned into a toxic wasteland, I can't help but dwell on that last bit, that part about forgetting about how the world used to be, or even having ever been aware that the world was once very...different.

When was the last time your shadow was cast by the light of the Milky Way?

Astronaut's eye view: Mars Express orbiting the Red Planet

Cool video from the ESA showing what Mars bound astronauts would see from their cockpit -- the Red Planet turning below.


Time-compressed video of single Mars Express orbit 27 May 2010, with inset showing altitude.


Celestia simulation of Mars Express orbital path 27 May 2010

Source: ESA

What Kind Of Scientist Do You Want To Be?

Over the course of assembling FoS and finding ways to contribute "content" that compliments that of FoS's science bloggers, I've stumbled onto the answer to a question that has befuddled me all my many years, What do you want to do when you grow up?

Of course it's a little late for me, but maybe the method by which I discovered my true calling could be of some use to someone not so...old.

1. Quite by accident, having decided on science as the general theme of my favorite website, I was halfway to my answer without even knowing it.

2. Fast forwarding to today and taking a critical look at my subsequent contributions to my favorite website over the past year--see the LPB and /r/FoS/(?)--and the mystery of what I wanted to do when I grow up is definitively solved.

So what's the answer to the question? Astrobiologist.

But back to the method.

Step One: Look at your list of favorite websites and glean from them a general field of interest. Examples might be entertainment, business, games, food, etc. For me it was science. The key here is you're not forcing it. You've generated a list of favorite websites already. All you're doing is reading into that list what, at the end of the day, you're doing with your free time.

Step Two: Start keeping track of what content within this general category is most interesting to you. In this sense, I think the means are important. In my case, I wanted to populate a blog and forum with only the most interesting things I came across. So I wasn't just highlighting a list of bookmarks. I was selecting from that list of bookmarks only those items I thought worth sharing (would be interesting to others). Of course I'm still relying on my own discriminating tastes in making these determinations, so the end result was what's most interesting to me. To put it into perspective, what you see on the LPB and /r/FoS/ is only a very small percentage of the science content I've perused over the past year.
Broken down I've simply scrutinized my online habits for clues to what interests me. It took a bit of structure and discipline (editing FoS) for me to be able to narrow it down to the point that I could put my finger on a very specific vocation, but that's just me. Chances are if you scrutinize your own unique virtual meanderings with this question in mind, you'll find that you've already left yourself a trail of bookmarks and favorites leading to what you should be doing with your life.

Alternative Research Blogging Widget(s)

Research Blogging BadgeRecently John sent me the code for a ResearchBlogging.org widget that he wanted added to his sidebar. While adding the widget I discovered that it was highly uncustomizable. That is to say, it is what it is, and if it doesn't fit the scheme of your blog (height, width, color, etc.), well, that's just the way the cookie crumbles.

Needless to say, I like my cookies soft and chewy (read: malleable).

One solution I hit upon was to piggyback on Research Blogging's twitter account (ResearchBlogs) and Twitter's profile widget builder (which enables you to customize, among other things, the widgets colors and dimensions). What's more, Research Blogging's twitter feed includes posts from their News blog.

Another minimalist solution was to run a Research Blogging feed (pick one) through a pipe where you can then use the badge option to add a somewhat customizable widget to your web page.

To compare, here's a page with all 3 options side-by-side.

If you have another solution, or need help implementing any of the above, feel free to leave a comment.

Field of Reddit

If you build it...

I've been working on my science-blog-network, online-magazine (FoS) for a little over a year now. As part of its development, I've been experimenting with repurposing a subreddit as a FoS specific forum. After numerous iterations, I think I've hit on the right balance.

http://www.reddit.com/r/FoS/comments/aszmg/meta_field_of_reddit/

Over the years I've witnessed dozens upon dozens of great writers and contributors emerge from the ranks of the everyman only to be willfully ignored, and in some cases, openly resented by the "professional" journalists and editors who were too busy feeling threatened by the changes the internet was forcing on their profession to recognize all the untapped potential those same changes were putting within their reach.

It was this perpetual (I realized) state-of-missed-opportunity that finally caused me to abandon the established media a few years back, and started me down the road that has led me here. Today I'm not just in a position to witness the emergence of great writers and contributors; I'm in a position to help them reach their full potential.

Reddit is, in my view, the fittest of the descendants of the online forum. As such, Reddit is the pool from which many of the next generation of great writers and contributors will emerge. Tapping that potential is why I've sunk a well from the front page of FoS directly to Reddit.

It is one of my goals to see Field of Reddit turn into a science writer/blogger factory. A place for those among you who are a bit more serious when you play on Reddit, not because you lack perspective, but because amidst the fun, you sense you're flirting with something more, something that taps your talents or inspires your passion.

If you are a true fan of science, if you would like to wield your erudition and eloquence on a field of your peers, if you are ready to grow into the best writer and thinker you can be… then I'd like you to consider contributing to r/FoS/.

The aim is to create a dynamic, collaborative and intellectually stimulating community and steppingstone where if your potential surpasses the medium, you can graduate to your own FoS blog, and beyond.

Spitzer

Artist's impression and animation of a celestial impact suggested by observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope.



Astronomers say that two rocky bodies, one as least as big as our moon and the other at least as big as Mercury, slammed into each other within the last few thousand years or so — not long ago by cosmic standards. The impact destroyed the smaller body, vaporizing huge amounts of rock and flinging massive plumes of hot lava into space.

Spitzer's infrared detectors were able to pick up the signatures of the vaporized rock, along with pieces of refrozen lava, called tektites. -- August '09 Press Release


Image and Animation Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Launching in IMAX theaters in spring 2010.



Experience the gripping story-full of hope, crushing dissapointment, dazzling ingenuity, bravery, and triumph - in Hubble 3D, the seventh awe-inspiring film from the award winning IMAX Space Team.

Vividly captured in IMAX 3D, Hubble 3D recounts the amazing journey of the most important scientific instrument since Galileo's original telescope and the greatest sucess in space since the moon landing - the Hubble Space Telescope. Audiences will accompany the space walking astronauts as they attempt the most difficult task ever undertaken in NASA's history, and will experience up close the awesome power of the launches, the hearbreaking setbacks, and the dramatic rescues of this most powerful story.

Hubble 3D will also reveal the cosmos as never before - allowing viewers of all ages to explore the grandeur of the nebulae and the galaxies, the birth and death of stars, and some of the greatest mysteries of our celestial surroundings, all in amazing IMAX 3D.

Madagavatar

The list of people who have voiced their objections to Avatar for one reason or another . . . is long. Most, of course, are simply trying to hitch their particular agenda to Avatar's success--even if that means they have to rub shoulders with their ideological foes.

Avatar

As for me, I only have praise for Avatar. It succeeded on every level. It was exactly what it needed to be.

Nevertheless, I've detected something in Avatar's wake that is somewhat bothersome to me. It strikes me that audiences and critics are dismissing out of hand the environmental rape depicted in Avatar as if it were just another stretch of James Cameron's sci-fi imagination. This group denial of Avatar's nod to realism has served to remind me that humans are really and truly willfully ignorant of the severity and extent of the environmental atrocities being committed by us in the name of progress, greed and humanity each and every day, right here on planet earth.

What's more, that there is such a thing as 'Avatar' blues--because "the movie was so beautiful and it showed something we don't have here on Earth"--only serves to underline the remarkable fact that people are blind to the unmatched beauty of the very earth under their feet.

People of earth, the Sixth Great Extinction has arrived, and we are the cartoon bad guys. Enjoy the show: http://www.wildmadagascar.org/