Today’s comic is NSFW if you’re a duck. Sorry ducks. Last Wednesday I attended my first Science Online. Spanning from January 30 to February 3, SciO13 was the seventh international meeting on science and the web. Billed as an “unconference”, SciO differs from most gatherings in its unique take on attendee dynamics and session organization. At Science Online, affiliations drop off the name badges, and talks are replaced by group discussions on a wide range of salient topics. This egalitarian approach helps strip away the notion that any one attendee is more important or famous than another, and allows even the lowliest cartoonist-turned-science-bloggers to feel comfortable rubbing elbows with the top science writers in the ‘verse. It was easily the most inclusive conference I’ve ever attended.
Much of this is due to the machinations of Bora Zivkovic, editor of the Scientific American Blog network, co-founder of the conference, and probably one of the first science bloggers ever. Known as the “Blogfather”, Bora has a knack for networking and a keen eye for professional matchmaking. It was he who introduced me to Katie McKissick, Beatrice the Biologist author, mobile game developer, and fellow SciO Cartoonist-in-Crime. I’d love to say that he grabbed me by the elbow and led me through the intimidating waters of Science Online, but really he sort of just pushed me in. I am also forever grateful for this.
Katie and I ran two sessions at SciO: A comic-drawing workshop and a discussion on the role of comics in science communication. Both of them went swimmingly, and were well received by those in attendance. The discussion ranged from problems of accuracy vs artistic license to how non-artists can approach artists to commissions. It was a lot of fun and great to work with Katie in person. If you want a recap of some of the comics we showcased, Alan Boyle* over at NBC’s Cosmic Log posted a great wrap-up. Then, a late addition as co-moderator of the Art as Science Outreach discussion, brought my grand total to three sessions led this year. Considering it was not only my first Science Online, but also my first time ever speaking at a conference, I’ll allow myself to be impressed. Just a little.
I was also impressed by how many artists were in attendance, and by the number of sessions that focused on communicating science using media other than text. SciArtists included Glendon Mellow and Kalliopi Monoyios of Symbiartic, Henry Reich of MinutePhysics**, science illustrator Emily Coren, Michele Banks of Artologica, Steve D and Katy Chalmers from Mad Art Lab, and many more. It wasn’t just visual artists, either. Story Collider co-founder Ben Lillie and producer Rose Eveleth led the Beyond Text discussion, which took an enlightening look into the nuts and bolts of using video or radio/podcasting to communicate narratives. Read the Storify here.
Another highlight of the conference was the highly successful Game Changer discussion on how games can be used to teach science topics. In it, Cameron Pittman, a high school physics teacher, showcased how one of my favorite games of all time could be used to teach physics. That’s right. Now we’re Teaching with Portal.
The Portal 2 Puzzle Maker has a plethora of unique tools that allow students to experiment with physical properties such as conservation of momentum, force and trajectory, and even surface interactions. The room was quickly whipped into an excited frenzy of possibilities. We’ve already seen games like Foldit, solve complex scientific problems—what else can we learn? Does gaming as a teaching tool work for everyone? What games should we be looking out for? Check out the Storify of the event for more.
Other sessions included Persuading the Unpersuadable with Melanie Tannenbaum and Cara Santa Maria, Scientific Storytelling with Jeanne Garbarino and David Manly, and so many more that I missed because there were too many to choose from. If you went to a killer discussion and want it included here, send me a link and I’ll add it to the list!
Now then, if you read everything above you might be under the impression that it was all business at Science Online. I assure you, it was nothing of the sort. The social aspect of the conference was without a doubt the star of the show. I probably only slept 9 hours over the 6 days I was there. The interactions between attendees produced countless new collaborations, and I know a few people that got new jobs as a result. Personally, I literally made a bajillion new friends, got a chance to meet some blog heroes, and witnessed what was probably the most Real™ event in my life.
I also got to meet my arch-nemesis***, Brian Malow, the Science Comedian. You see, he and I go back a little ways on twitter, where he is @sciencecomedian and I am @sciencecomic. Sometimes we get mixed up. Or rather, people keep thinking that I am him. I joke about this a lot with him, humbly deferring to his superior celebrity. That is until the last day of the conference, when he approached me with grim news. Today’s comic was inspired by a sketch I made during the announcement of Science Online Oceans (coming this October), and when I tweeted that sketch during the conference, it caught fire a bit. Or it may just have been people’s eyes. Anyway, apparently somebody approached Brian and told him how much they liked his drawing. That’s right. They thought he was me. VICTORY IS MINE! That was a good moment.
So what’s next for Science Online? Well in April, right here in NYC, is Science Online Teen, with programming focusing on the future movers and shakers of the scientific web community. Then in October is Science Online Oceans, which is an amazing excuse to go to Miami in the fall. In the meantime, I’ve typed my fingertips raw. I’ll add more below as I realize I have forgotten stuff. Stay tuned, and thanks for all the fish.
Update 1:46pm EST - Do you have event ideas? Send them to Science Online executive director Karyn Traphagen: karyn AT scienceonline DOT com