How to promote a science blogging network at a national scientific meeting

Bora Zivkovic, DrugMonkey, and I have been really impressed by this idea by the online folks over at the American Chemical Society’s Chemical & Engineering News. This week, their blog network, CENtral Science, has been promoting their presence at the upcoming national ACS meeting in Boston.

Folks may not know this but ACS is the largest professional scientific society in the world with 161,000 members.

DrugMonkey, the king of science blogging schwag, has previously mentioned the benefits of such a promotion several times to another science blogging network but it never got traction with the powers-that-be.  But here’s the idea from CENtral Science – from this post:

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Here’s how to win:

  • Six key words will be hidden among the blogs between August 15–22
  • Collect all six key words and bring them to the C&EN booth #527
  • Pick up your FREE CENtral Science t-shirt*
  • Wear your t-shirt in the exposition hall Monday and Tuesday and you might be selected by C&EN staff to receive one of the VISA gift cards (worth up to $50) given out every half hour

*While supplies last

CONTEST RULES: This promotion is ONLY valid from 8/15 to 8/24. A total of 350 t-shirts will be given out (one per person) from 9:00 a.m. through 5:00 p.m. on 8/23 and 8/24 at booth #527 in the expo hall only. To receive a t-shirt each individual must present all 6 (correct) key words. Winners must be ACS members to participate. ACS staff and their families are not eligible. All gift card recipients must be wearing a CENtral Science t-shirt. There is no guarantee of winning any prize. Gift card winners will be chosen at random every half hour during published expo times.

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Now THAT’s how you do it.

You have to read the blogs to pick up each of the six keywords.

Three hundred and fifty T-shirts. 350!

And you wear them at the meeting.

And they give away a $50 $10, $25, or $50 gift cards every half hour for two days.

The T-shirt is very nice, by the way, and I’m grateful to C&EN Online editor, Rachel Pepling (Twitter) for sending me one. I will be wearing it for our panel discussion on Tuesday! Rachel’s also a Gator so she gets even more favor points from me.

Once again, hunt me down in Boston if you’d like to say hello.  I’ll be the one in the yellow CENtral Science T-shirt.

Congratulations to Anton Zuiker on 10 years of blogging!

Anton Zuiker, author of the mistersugar blog, posted Friday on the occasion of his 10th anniversary of blogging.

Here was my comment:

Congratulations, Anton! Your love for a good story and selfless innovative thinking about community infected me five years ago and I consider myself extremely enriched by having you in my real and online life.

This history is beautiful and heartfelt – I am certain that Frank the Beachcomber was and is proud of what you’ve done here and what you’ve become elsewhere. Not just Anton The Writer, but Anton the father, husband, friend, and community leader. Even if you simply launched ScienceOnline, your international impact would be something to be proud of for anyone’s lifetime.

Heartiest congratulations, my friend!

Anton wrote a lovely post detailing his path over the last ten years of an effort spurred by his wish to honor the lifelong writing and storytelling of his dying grandfather. Very much like his compatriot and co-founder of the science communications unconference now known as ScienceOnline, Anton had a vision that the online community can also be a vehicle to improving one’s local, IRL community.

Four months after I started blogging, I had the chance to meet Anton and Bora (and Ayse and Jackson Fox) at a BlogTogether meetup in Chapel Hill. A door had been opened to me that has brought these and other remarkable people into my life. I never blogged about it because it was at a time when I was fiercely protective of my identity and made no reference to my IRL existence. It’s been a gift to live in the same community with these fine folks.

And if you’re wondering about the origin of “mistersugar” and the pig avatar, go to Anton’s “About” page. “Mistersugar” is easy to figure out but I could never have guessed what was up with the pig.

Go on over and congratulate Anton on a decade of great things.

What’s my poison? Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, author, professor Deborah Blum

The Poisoner's Handbook.pngThis is going to be a quick welcome to Deborah Blum (@deborahblum) who has just moved her blog, Speakeasy Science, to ScienceBlogs.
Why quick?
Because I am only 22 pages away from finishing her latest book, The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York. This engaging tale of the race of science and medicine against chemical poisonings for profit and punishment features the true story of NYC chief medical examiner Charles Norris and toxicologist Alexander Gettler. Of course, the other actors are arsenic, methanol, chloroform, thallium, and radium, among others. In the teens through the mid-1930s, long before benchtop atomic absorption spectrophotometry and LC/MS instruments, Norris and Gettler devised methods to detect poisons in human tissues with high sensitivity. These advances led to the prosecution of some, the absolution of the wrongly-accused, and revealed that our own government poisoned citizens who dared to challenge Prohibition.
Blum’s colorful biography accounts somewhat for her fixation with insects, chickens, monkeys, and chemistry, a discipline she pursued at Florida State University until setting her braid on fire and switching to journalism at the University of Georgia.
Blum won the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for beat reporting in a newspaper series that led to her book, The Monkey Wars, about the ethics and polarization of primate research. A couple of books (Sex on the Brain, Love at Goon Park, and Ghost Hunters) and a plethora of writing assignments since, Blum now holds an endowed chair at the University of Wisconsin and as the Helen Firstbrook Franklin Professor of Journalism.
But before I learned of her award-winning writing, I first came upon Deborah Blum as co-editor (with Mary Knudson and Robin Marantz Henig) of A Field Guide for Science Writers, the official guide of the National Association of Science Writers (NASW). The guide was recommended to me by Tom Linden, MD, when I joined the graduate advisory board of his medical journalism program at UNC-Chapel Hill in his attempt to give a scientist some background on the profession.
Regular readers know that I am a huge fan of the history of science and medicine, so you can probably understand why I can’t wait to get back to reading The Poisoner’s Handbook. I was also originally trained as a toxicologist and published one of my first papers on heavy metals effects in the kidney before I moved to the discipline that chemicals are best used for therapeutic benefit. Hence, I am honored to now be writing under the ScienceBlogs masthead with a wonderful writer who has been one of my inspirations and with whom I share several passions.
But while I offer I warm welcome to Deborah Blum, a part of me also wants to warn those in her real life not to leave their beverage unattended in her presence.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot: NOT just for scientists

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks 250px.jpgThis past weekend’s international science communication conference, ScienceOnline2010, also saw the first, final hardback copies of Rebecca Skloot’s long-awaited book make it into the hands of the science and journalism consuming public. Moreover, an excerpt of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks has just appeared in the new issue of Oprah Winfrey’s O Magazine. And already, those online science communicators who left the conference with Skloot’s book are registering their praise via this Twitter feed that was so active it was a trending topic at the science aggregator, SciencePond.
The story of the rural, Virginia woman who descended from slaves and developed cervical cancer in the early 1950s is notable most obviously for her tumors giving rise to HeLa, the first immortalized human cell line continuously maintained in culture. I have noted previously my enthusiasm for this story as both a long-time admirer of Skloot’s writing and the fact that HeLa played a central role in my PhD thesis work and first papers from my independent laboratory.
But as a historically black college professor at a predominantly liberal arts school, I want to make clear that Skloot’s book is of far broader appeal than just the scientific community. So I was delighted to see some page referral hits from Skloot’s site which told me that my pre-press comments in that regard had been posted in academic publicity of the book.
So here is my “blurb” from the page, “What Professors Are Saying About The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”:

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Paul Offit, Amy Wallace, and Conde Nast being sued by anti-vaccinationist

Thanks to the always vigilant eyes of Liz Ditz, Ratbags.com is reporting that pediatric immunologist and vaccine developer Dr. Paul Offit, writer Amy Wallace, and Condé Nast (publisher of Wired magazine) are being sued for libel in US District Court by Barbara Loe Fisher, founder and acting president of the so-called National Vaccine Information Center.
Readers will recall that Wallace’s article on Dr. Offit and the fear and misinformation propagated by anti-vaccinationists was the centerpiece of a feature in Wired magazine aptly titled, “Epidemic of Fear.”
My short take: The lawsuit is an attempt to silence or intimidate those who speak out against individuals and organizations that threaten public health. When scientific facts accumulate that refute their views, the response is to file frivolous legal action.
Ratbags.com has posted a copy of the complaint here (PDF) that was filed December 23 in Alexandria, Virginia. Fisher seeks damages of $75,000.
As detailed on under item #20 on pg. 11, the complaint boils down to what is described this “principle [sic] attack on Fisher’s honesty”:
Offit was quoted by Wallace as saying, “She lies,” in reference to Fisher.
On October 25, I wrote a post singing the praises of Wallace’s article (original here) and the entire issue of Wired. Two days later, we wrote more, this time on the hostile, sexually-explicit comments made to Ms. Wallace by anti-vaccinationists following the lauding of Wallace’s article by the international science and medical community. An anti-vaccination organization followed up at Thanksgiving posting a “parody” photograph of Offit, Wallace, and others dining on a baby at the holiday feast.
Orac at Respectful Insolence puts this case in perspective in his post, “Suppression of speech through legal intimidation: Anti-vaccine edition.”
The incomparable Peter Bowditch provides his own analysis at Ratbags.com.
I encourage all bloggers who enjoyed Ms. Wallace’s article to be equally vocal in writing about this nuisance attack on her and Dr. Offit.
P.S. As I’m writing this post this morning, Good Morning America has a story on a study to be published today in Pedatrics that refutes the utility of “special diets” in helping children with autism. Watch for the response from those who advocate, or garner financial gain, from promoting such diets.

A. Thomas McLellan, Deputy Director of the US Office of National Drug Control Policy

By way of my substance abuse blogger colleague, The Discovering Alcoholic, I learned of yesterday’s New York Times article by Sarah Kershaw on Dr. A. Thomas McLellan. McLellan is a psychologist and drug abuse researcher with over 400 peer-reviewed publications to his credit. He held an academic appointment at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and was scientific director of the Treatment Research Institute which he co-founded in 1992 with Jack Durell, MD, and other researchers from Penn’s Center for the Studies of Addiction.
However, McLellan is not a career bureaucrat like many in Washington (“I hate Washington,” he is quoted as saying.). Beyond being a substance abuse researcher, he has experienced firsthand the pain and suffering of addiction:

But the loss of his younger son, who overdosed on anti-anxiety medication and Scotch last year at age 30 while his older son was in residential treatment for alcoholism and cocaine addiction, changed his perspective.
“That’s why I took this job,” said Dr. McLellan, who was sworn in as the deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy in August. “I thought it was some kind of sign, you know. I would never have done it. I loved all the people I’ve worked with, I loved my life. But I thought maybe there’s a way where what I know plus what I feel could make a difference.”
Married to a recovering cocaine addict, Dr. McLellan has been engulfed by addiction in life and work. His own family has been a personal battleground for one of the country’s most complex and entrenched problems, while as an expert he has been a leading voice for the idea that addiction is a chronic illness and not a moral issue. [emphasis mine]

McLellan notes that his experience in substance abuse research and treatment did not make him any better prepared for facing the addiction challenges of his sons:

“If it has to happen, better it happens to me, I’m an expert, right?” Dr. McLellan said. “I didn’t know what to do and none of my buddies knew what to do, and let me tell you they were experts. So I said, ‘What the hell are we doing?’ “

Kershaw’s article speaks in greater depth about the shift in drug abuse policy from one of a “war on drugs” to one of treatment and prevention. Even McLellan’s boss, former Seattle police chief, R. Gil Kerlikowske, has had family members with substance abuse issues.

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Revere(s) on pseudonymous vs. anonymous blogging

No, this is not the same old beaten horse.
Revere at Effect Measure, one/some of the best public health writers on the web, has written a splendid piece on the difference between the two types of blogging in response to the denial of his registration at the Knight Science Journalism Tracker. Revere has intended to comment on their coverage of the Brownlee and Lenzer cover article on swine flu at The Atlantic.
I was going to pick out some excerpts but the whole post is so clearly written and important in its entire context that I refer you to read it in its entirety.
I don’t believe that I have ever read a more insightful treatment of the “pseudonym” issue regarding those blogging about science and medicine.
Science journalists, bloggers and the Brave New World we live in by Revere at Effect Measure

Wired posts Amy Wallace love/hate mail compiled from Twitter feed

Just a quick follow-up from our last two posts about Amy Wallace’s article, “An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All,” in Wired magazine about vaccine developer Dr Paul Offit and the anti-vaccination movement:
Wired has now compiled Wallace’s tweets from the last two days into blog-readable narrative.

Only a week after Wired published “An Epidemic of Fear”, we’ve received more reader responses than any other story in memory. Journalist Amy Wallace has received hundreds of messages, weighing in on all sides of the issue, and posted some of those comments on her Twitter feed.

Readers Respond to “An Epidemic of Fear,” Part 1
Readers Respond to “An Epidemic of Fear,” part 2
To be fair, putting Amy’s tweets together was originally the idea of Sydney-based IT blogger, Bastard Sheep (part 1, part 2; the illegitimate sheep also twitpic’d last night a screen shot of his blog traffic before and after these posts).

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When critics disagree with me, I’m a Pharma Shill. When critics disagree with a woman, it gets sexual.

Wired fear2_cover.jpgCase in point:
A few days ago, I sang the praises of last week’s article in Wired magazine by Amy Wallace on pediatric infectious disease and immunology specialist, Dr Paul Offit, and the anti-vaccination movement in the US.
Wallace’s article has been widely heralded by the scientific community but has evoked the wrath of several anti-vaccination groups and individual followers.
When the target is a man, their motives are questioned and their intellect maligned. But when the target is a woman, guess what happens? Here is a compiled thread from a series of tweets yesterday from Amy Wallace (@msamywallace)

I’ve been called stupid, greedy, a whore, a prostitute, and a “fking lib.” I’ve been called the author of “heinous tripe.”
J.B. Handley, the founder of Generation Rescue, the anti-vaccine group that actress Jenny McCarthy helps promote, sent an essay title” “Paul Offit Rapes (intellectually) Amy Wallace and Wired Magazine.” In it, he implied that Offit had slipped me a date rape drug. “The roofie cocktails at Paul Offit’s house must be damn good,” he wrote. Later, he sent a revised version that omitted rape and replaced it with the image of me drinking Offit’s Kool-aid. That one was later posted at the anti-vaccine blog Age of Autism. You can read that blog here
I’ve been told I’ll think differently “if you live to grow up.” I’ve been warned that “this article will haunt you for a long time.” Just now, I got an email so sexually explicit that I can’t paraphrase it here. Except to say it contained the c-word and a reference to dead fish.

Amy Wallace is a seasoned journalist with over 25 years of experience writing professionally for such publications as The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and Condé Nast. She has covered the highly-contentious and often backstabbing culture of the entertainment industry, topics as polarizing as the death penalty, and charged profiles such as that of an emotionally-terrorized woman who murdered her husband. Yet, she notes that she has never before “experienced such an avalanche of letters and emails.”
Well, Ms. Wallace, you have committed the sin of 1) being a female professional and 2) questioning a vocal and vitriolic pseudoscience demographic.
And like every other woman science blogger I know, without exception, you are now the target of the type of electronic criticism of the lowest common denominator.

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Amy Wallace in Wired on Dr Paul Offit and the Anti-Vaccination Movement: Superb, Engaging Science Journalism

amywallace200px.jpgOne of the most engaging and clearly-written pieces of science journalism over the last year or so was published in Wired magazine last week. Amy Wallace’s, “An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All,” is part interview with rotavirus vaccine developer, pediatric infectious disease physician, Dr Paul Offit, and description of the anti-vaccination movement in the United States.
Wallace’s work is the centerpiece of a collection of smaller articles providing science-based information about vaccination that also refutes common anti-vaccination myths including “How To Win An Argument About Vaccines” and “The Misinformants: Prominent Voices in the Anti-Vaccine Crusade”.
Wired’s follow-up discussion of the issue includes, “A Short History of Vaccine Panic,” for those of us who “have a day job” and not enough time to read Paul Offit’s 2008 book, “Autism’s False Prophets.”
I have to admit that it wasn’t until I began blogging four years ago that I realized just how vocal the anti-vaccination movement was in the United States. I come from a time (just on the tail end of the Baby Boom) where I still have relatives who were afflicted with polio and other now-preventable infectious diseases. The devastation of these childhood illnesses makes the risks (yes, I agree there are some risks) of vaccination itself inconsequential.
Vaccination is a risk-benefit proposition but one where someone else’s view affects us all. Lack of vaccination compromises “herd immunity” that keeps us all safe, for example, from diseases like smallpox that have been eliminated from the face of the earth. For example, I wrote most recently about a whooping cough outbreak in southwestern Colorado and prior calls in Durango for vaccination as a socially responsible act, much like cutting brush on one’s property to protect a neighbor’s house in a wildfire.
Others, such as my colleague, Orac, have commented on Wallace’s article for its scientific and medical accuracy. However, I wanted to focus on the effectiveness of the writing as a scientific communication tool because much of the article gives the reader a concise view of issues and psychology that often take typical bloggers thousands of words to express (and still less effectively!).

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