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Science Blogging Conference notes January 27, 2007

Posted by jfoust in Science.
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Last weekend I went down to Chapel Hill, NC for the one-day North Carolina Science Blogging Conference. As the name suggests, it was about the role of blogging in science, and science in blogging. A few belated notes about the conference:

  • The conference, in general, was very interesting and informative. It was a little too brief, though: it started at 9:30 in the morning and was really over at 4 pm (the scheduled included mingling from 4 to 5 or so, but many people bailed out by that point, and there were no refreshments to lure people into staying a little longer.) The morning speakers, Hunt Willard and Janet Stemwedel, provided some interesting topics for discussion on the uses of science blogs and their roles in science communication both to professionals and the general public. (The audio of Willard’s talk, and the slides from Stemwedel’s talk, are here.)
  • One drawback to the conference format was that there wasn’t enough time for interaction with fellow attendees. While there were breakout sessions and mingling at a few times during the conference, this was not an “unconference”. Mingling, always one of the key aspects of any conference, was hindered here by the lack of open space: the entry foyer in the building where the conference was held could only comfortably hold a few dozen people; over 150 people attended. (In addition, food and drink wasn’t allowed in the auditorium, which further limited the options for gathering, especially at lunch.) A different, and arguably better, approach was used at a one-day conference organized last year by the Online Journalism Review. At the beginning of the conference there was an involved, but very useful, process whereby everyone introduced themselves one-on-one with everyone else. It might seem tedious, but it was very useful, and at the end of the exercise everyone knew everyone else, which immensely improved the conversation for the rest of the day.
  • The afternoon breakout sessions were a little scattershot: I sat in on a “blank slate” session that was a fairly free-form discussion of blogging-related topics, and then one on “emerging technologies”, which was about the role of blogging to educate the public about nanotech. The former was pretty interesting, but the latter didn’t capture my interested that much, perhaps because it involved discussing in small groups how to ease the public’s concerns about nanotech, which assumes that the “public” really has given much thought to the subject.
  • Kudos to the conference organizers for putting together a great grab bag of items for attendees, especially since there was no registration fee.
  • The drive down late Friday afternoon took nearly five hours, including about 40 miles of slow-and-go traffic on I-95 from the Beltway to Fredericksburg (even though I left work early, around 3 pm, to beat rush hour). The drive back, though, took only about four hours late Saturday. Still, it was a productive drive: I was able to catch up on several episodes of The Space Show on my iPod on the trip, and even managed to figure out how to orient the iPod and the FM transmitter so that I got interference-free reception for the whole trip without changing frequencies.

If I had to do the trip over, I’m not 100 percent sure I would have spent the time and money on it: I don’t know if I got that much out of it (which is, arguably, as much my own doing as the conference’s). It was nice, though, to visit a place I hadn’t been to before; although I saw very little of Chapel Hill itself I did wander around the UNC campus a bit. This is going to be an annual event, according to the organizers, so I’ll have to check out what is planned for 2008 and make plans accordingly.

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