Relationships online and off – ScienceOnline2010

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One of the major themes of the ScienceOnline2010 conference was actually personal relationships.

Despite the stereotypes of scientists, effective communication of science comes down to effective personal relationships online or off.  For bloggers, journalists, researchers and librarians, personal relationships are an essential part of doing their job well.  In a session called “Trust and Critical Thinking” moderator Stephanie Zvan and panelists Greg Laden, PZ Meyers, Deiree Schell and Kirsten Sanford discussed how essential it was to establish trust and authority in your online or media presence.  We discussed the hope that as more scientists communicate authentically with the public, pseudoscience might be pushed aside – it would be nice if the top Google search results on certain science subjects would come from authoritative folks.

A lightly attended session from librarians Dorothea Salo and Stephanie Willen Brown entitled “Scientists! What can your librarian do for you?” turned into a great discussion about the need for scientists and librarians to work together.  The librarians discussed repositories, how they can help scientists understand copyright, and how they can help teach students about scientific communication.  Since most researchers get a lot of information from their peers, the scientists suggested that one of the ways librarians can be helpful is to help them make these connections – recommending social networks and other tools to assist them in finding collaborators.  (A great list of resources discussed at the session can be found here, and Dorothea’s slides are available here.)

The last session of the conference got a little interesting – called “Online Civility and Its (Muppethugging) Discontents”.  Panelists Dr. Isis, Dr. Free Ride and Sheril Kirshenbaum lead a discussion about what “civility” means and how it applies to online environments.  At one point two participants were kind enough to demonstrate one type of online disagreement – the kind where two folks disagree vehemently about something, but it turns out that they were both talking about something slightly different.  I tend to dislike conflict, but the session gave me an opportunity to think about how ‘civility’ can be used as an excuse to prevent some members of a community from participating fully.

Of course, one of the best parts about a small conference like this is the chance to talk with folks over snacks, tea and available power outlets.  I got a chance to talk with some other librarians and a few scientists – these conversations are wonderful for helping me make sense of the formal talks and giving me ideas for how some of the concepts I learned about can be applied at my library and my college.