Science Online 2012 on Twitter

January 23rd, 2012

Science Online 2012, held in at the NC state university in Raleigh, NC, last week was a transforming event. The 450 attendees were a colorful mix of science writers, journalists, researchers, educators and artists. Apparently, the ratio of scientists dropped in its 6th installment. But the love of Science in the air would have graced any proper scientific meeting. Much of it has already been praised in readable form and can be accessed in a wiki repository. So why was Science Online 2012 so great? The reliable WLAN, the conference hall, the sessions run by the usual suspects, more or less prepared? I fail to answer that question precisely but coming back  I realized I changed my views on many issues in science communication profoundly. When I wrote it up, it sounded as shallow as the following.

My most fundamental impact was on my view on Twitter, which was the online glue of this conference and the hose labeled #scio12 was connected to every participants’ mind. Twitter has its shortcoming in aggregation and search capabilities and problems that arise from the different styles of usage. But in this community, it’s the connecting information outlet. Most participant have certainly explored Google + and Facebook and I expected a lot more activity on + but those channels were as dead as MySpace. Individually, the tweets were neither smarter nor more useuful than those in my timeline on an average day – but they were essential in how they brought people together in person and provided a unique experience that I never encountered at a meeting of bloggers or a fully fledged academic conference ever. The plenty of joyful “I am about to depart for RDU” tweets were a better opening than any string quartett could ever provide.

To improve my participation, I finally decided to use @spithshine only for English, sciency material. The second, recently opened account continues my musings in German, typically of little relevance unless you know me well and received a personal, Latte cum Augustiner-long introduction to the tweet in German and have fun in  finding the stale punch lines on the talk page of a Wikipedia article. Follow and unfollow as you see fit.

In significance of conferences in my life, its only second to a meeting in Atlanta in November 1999, where I witnessed a young and cheeky John Logsdon arguing with the Nobel laureate Walter Gilbert, who had just advocated the introns-early idea. Working in a company at the time, that loud debate was my final push to pursue an academic path. This science was pretty cool. 12 years later, I bumped into John Logsdon again over lunch at #scio12. I wasn’t even surprised.

Reverse engineering dreams in Boston

October 23rd, 2008

After ten years in research, I finally make it to Boston next Tuesday.  I’ll attend the Recomb Satellite meeting, which comprises the 5th Annual RECOMB Satellite on Regulatory Genomics, the 4th Annual RECOMB Satellite on Systems Biology, and the 3rd Annual DREAM reverse engineering challenges and will be covering the events via FriendFeed.

USS ConstitutionThis will be a little exploratory, most talks are scheduled for 15 minutes, including questions. Being RECOMB related, I expect math-heavy talks, so let’s see how to get this across. and that the accompanying publications in Genome Research and Molecular Systems Biology are accessible. Those in the Journal of Computational Biology are already online to give you a taste. Correction: None of the papers presented will be available publicly for some time, if I read the conference site correctly.

I’ll stay past the meetings to work with collaborators. Anyone up to pay Old Ironsides a visit on Sunday afternoon?

[Picture by cheeseroc, cc by attribution]

The night is short and so are we

August 8th, 2008

I appreciate my short legs most on long flights. In a about an hour, I’ll put them to good use, first to leave this wretched coffee shop at LHR Terminal 4 and then board the airliner bound for Singapore, where I’ll be contributing to a computational biology course in the upcoming week.

The return jet lag will hopefully be cushioned by a couple of days on that pine forested beach called Mecklenburg. And then there’s Nature’s Science Blogging conference, on August 30th to conclude a very enjoyable month.

Genetics congress in Berlin

July 12th, 2008

The 20. Genetics Congress just started in Berlin. Its one of the biggest conferences in the field and was a regular topic in the canteen of the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics, my place of work, even during the European football championship.

Martin Fenner will cover the conference today and tomorrow and from Monday on, I will have the pleasure to follow up. I’ll use the blog of the Nature Network group Berlin. We (the Berlin group) have organized several activities around the meeting, including open dinners with outstanding scientists over the course of the next week (thanks to Nature for the support). If you happen to be in Berlin, come and see us.

A systematic review of media coverage of medical publications

May 29th, 2008

How journalists report scientific progress has been criticized strongly in the scientific community, certainly blogside, and has been the subject of many scientific studies itself. A recent article in PLoS Medicine reviews some efforts for reporting on new treatments and looks into reports published in There is a strong “who watches the watchblogs”-reaction in me after looking into the site conducting the reviews, and I haven’t made up my minds about how much of it can practically be done by science coverage in traditional media in the first place. For bloggers in the sciences, the evaluation criteria provide standards that you might not want to follow to the T but certainly review, at least before commenting on news coverage like “the cure for cancer by sequencing animals”.

[via the Short Sharp Science]

Scientific network activities in Berlin

May 27th, 2008

Berlin has numerous research institutes, which are spread all over the town and beyond. Many scientists find the connectivity amongst the researchers leaving a little to be desired. Blaming the institutes, their directors or the German research organization might be convenient and fun but of little good; luckily Phil Selenko, who is setting up shop for in-cell NMR (!) at the FMP contacted me via the Nature network a while ago when he arrived, looking for support to start an informal gathering similar to what he had experienced in his PostDoc in Boston.

We’ve had our first get-together with people from the area a month ago and  there is more to come. If you are in the life sciences in Berlin and want to meet people beyond your local crew, check the Berlin group at the Nature network for activities.

[Picture under CC-license from extranoise]

Up for maintenance

May 25th, 2008

The old blog layout was perfectly OK but there was no way to maintain it any longer. Here is a fresh start that still requires tweaking. May you be happy with your blog design and may your never fish for new Wordpress themes in that big sink hole. Use Kubrick. Aren’t we all using  feed readers?

Another experiment at Nature

May 10th, 2008

As a science publication, the journal Nature is held in highest regard; to me it shines even more for its science journalism, which is the focus of a new experiment. Somewhat modest in the light many activities at NPG and probably not entirely novel in publishing, the editors have selected three publications in journals outside the usual scope and the reader gets to select one of the topics to be investigated further. I have never heard of the journals before and one of the articles even seem to be a couple of months old but they all appear to be curious little stories, discovered by people who read more than the press releases. Last week’s story covers the genome of a giant bacterium and is freely accessible from what I can see. Let’s hope that there will always be a market that supports science journalism targeted at scientists rather than just a large crowd that wants to read hear about the latest cure for cancer.

EMBO World course “Computational Biology” in Singapore

March 3rd, 2008

In August, there will be an EMBO world course on Computational Biology that I co-organize with a number of colleagues, who also taught at the event in Mexico last year. Our course, entitled “From genomes to cells and systems” is intended for PhD students and PostDoc and is aimed to provide basic skills in computational biology with a particular focus on the treatment of data from next generation sequencing technologies. This year’s focus is on the application to the study of human disease and less on metagenomics.

The application deadline is April 1st, 2008, there’s more information at the EMBO website of the course.

[Skyline of Singapore by * etoile(License)]

Lazarus’ punctuation mark

February 21st, 2008

Even amongst programmers, the semicolon has a hard time. Newer languages in the C-tree such as Python and Ruby have no use for it and mirror its unfortunate demise in the literature and journalism. Its wikipedia entry is already shorter than the ampersand’s if you need hard evidence.
I like the semicolon; when I started writing papers, I tried to squeeze at least one in every piece of work. The few that survived the review of my peers were usually removed by the editors of the journals. I almost forgot about it and was touched when I discovered it again brushing up my touch typing skills (lower row, middle finger on a German keyboard).
Now, the NYT reports the re-emergence of the written-off punctuation mark in the subway. There is hope and nothing will hold me back to inflict it on my readership. Brace for impact!