19 April 2012

New and old tools of science communications

Sci-comm thrives on social media. 
"Writing is thinking on paper" is one of the many beautiful phrases by William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well. Only, if Zinsser had put those words down more than three decades later, he might have added that writing is also thinking on blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

As I prepare to head off to San Diego for Experimental Biology (#EB2012)—where I’ll be blogging about The American Society for Nutrition's meeting—I’ve been thinking a good deal about Zinsser’s phrase and about Mary Canady's (@comprendia) call for those attending #EB2012Tweetup to share their new media science communications success stories. My own story begins with me simply blogging and tweeting as a way to think and as a way to remember what it was that I thought

I learned early on that I was never very good at thinking about new information clearly or remembering my thoughts later—unless I wrote my thoughts down. So, I originally began to write (as I'm sure many writers do) as simply a way to make sense of the world around me. Writing then became part of my education and eventually led to a profession in science writing (see "About David").

Why do I now blog and tweet about health? At first, I simply found blogging was a good way to take notes on new tidbits I was learning about as part of my master’s degree in human nutrition. Later, when I started attending science conferences, I discovered tweeting combined with blogging became a way to engage and network with the smart, like-minded people around me. I found that these new social media tools represented excellent ways to encourage discussion and debate about science. And, especially as it comes to health-related science, healthy skepticism is key.

 For these reasons, I often encourage others to blog and tweet—scientists and non-scientists alike—about topics such as food, nutrition, and medicine. Social media tools are the perfect avenues by which science can thrive. After all, science itself is all about collecting data, sharing information, and establishing consensus.

 It's also the engagement with science-minded people, the discussion, and, sometimes, the argument that encourages me to continue to blog. Most of all, it's the collective thinking. Thinking, after all, will always be a part of writing however or wherever it is done.

As Zinsser himself points out in the introduction of his 30-year anniversary edition of his classic, "I don't know what still newer marvels will make writing twice as easy in the next 30 years. But I do know they won’t make writing twice as good. That will still require plain old hard thinking… and the plain old tools of the English language."

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