Tales From The Industry XVI – Correlations Meetup and More

It all began over dinner on Thursday night, before the rains began. Some of us met up at Ciudad (a favourite place of mine to eat in downtown Los Angeles, primarily for the mojitos) and the began to get to know each other in person, as opposed to online. I’m talking about the Correlations bloggers, and members of the team who work on the entire Wired Science website (which is excellent, by the way) with which Correlations is embedded. I met most of the latter group at various KCET events (the first screening of episode 1, the wrap party a few weeks ago I never got around to blogging, etc). This however, was the first time I got to meet Sheril Kirshenbaum, although we’d got to know each other so well online I have to say that it sort of felt as though we’d already met. Co-blogger (and show producer) Damon Gambuto arrived a bit later – I’d met him before at the party. The other bloggers coming from out of town to the meeting, Tara Smith and Michael Tobis, I would meet the next day since Michael’s flight was coming in late, and Tara was not feeling well. Tamsin Gray, being stationed in Antarctica, was not going to attend. Of the show host co-bloggers, Chris Hardwick (who I’d already met at the wrap party) would be there next day too. Ziya Tong was away.

Here’s a shot of some of us chatting at dinner (see also Sheril’s thoughts on this here):

correlations meetup dinner

Damon Gambuto is second from left, and there’s Sheril Kirshenbaum and cvj on the right – click for larger view. There’s also Liz on the left, and Philip Dunn in the centre, both from New Media.

The main purpose of all of this from the bloggers perspective was simply to meet and get to know each other. It was crucial to get as many of the bloggers together as possible and just look each other in the eye and chat, and it was also important to meet the New Media people and discuss the shape of the whole project.

correlations meetup brainstormingAlthough some business began to be discussed over dinner, the real brainstorming began the next day. We were all at a meeting room at the KCET studios, during torrential rain outside, for much of the day. The discussion was mostly involved with brainstorming ideas that the New Media team wanted to explore for the rest of the site – now that the show is off-air (probably until the next season starts in the Fall), the Wired Science site is to continue to be a living, breathing portal to lots of science, so they need new content, and new ideas. It’s all about science, and so it’s a good idea to talk with scientists – definitely the ones who blog for you. From the perspective of the Wired Science people this was a key (probably the key) reason to have us come together, and this is what we spent 90% (?) of the time discussing over the day.

correlations meetup brainstorming

Here’s a random still from some point in the meeting (click for larger view): Going anti-clockwise starting on the right: Jackie Kain, Phillip Dunn (who works all over the site to build and maintain the pages), Sheril Kirshenbaum, Damon Gambuto, Chris Hardwick (show presenter and one of the bloggers), Michael Lampert (a science teacher who has helped build a lot of the content on the education part of the site. Educators, please have a look!), Michael Tobis, cvj, Vince Beiser (who writes and edits a lot of the online material), and Liz (who also works all over the site to build and maintain the pages).

There was a lot of work to do in getting our various points of view across in both directions, and we all learned from each other, coming from our respective camps – tv, journalism (online and print), and science. As an example (and there were examples in the other direction too) Michael and I kept trying to bring the discussion back to science content. While the show and the site are a welcome breath of fresh air, we’ve both got the usual concern that surrounds science presentation in the media. The lasting educational component of these sorts of enterprises can get lost in the drive to treat science as just another product from which journalists and people in entertainment can pick the bits they like to sell as a transitory distraction. When the educational aspect is mentioned, it tends to get thought of as the concern of “educators” – which translates into stuff for kids and school teachers. This is a mistake, and this is why I see it as a great opportunity that PBS is doing this, since their portfolio has more than just entertainment in it. A science program (and its online partner) can have entertainment and education for all (not just school kids, but society in general) working together. A piece of science content as a potential focus should not then be judged first and foremost on whether it is cute and sexy for the viewers and readers – whether it is an important piece of the real science story that is going on out there should be the most important criterion. This is why (as I’ve discussed before) scientists need to be at the table in these sorts of media enterprises if we are to change the dismal way things are largely done now in science journalism and programming.

It is the scientists who know not just a bunch of science facts, but how the landscape of how their field works. Journalists usually don’t know it as well (in most cases, not at all), and neither do writers and program makers. On the other hand, the scientists are not usually endowed with the skills of journalists, writers, or program makers, and so we need them to help us bring that material out, unpack it, and present it, so that the general public can get a sense of what is going on. Without both components playing a significant role all through the process (which, sadly is rare) involved in bringing science to the public, entertainment and distraction will always triumph over lasting education and building of an awareness in the public of what science really is, who does it, what it can do for them, and how they can participate.


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