ScienceOnline'09 - interview with Sam Dupuis

The series of interviews with some of the participants of the 2008 Science Blogging Conference was quite popular, so I decided to do the same thing again this year, posting interviews with some of the people who attended ScienceOnline'09 back in January.

Today, I asked Sam Dupuis from the Science of Sorts on My Mind blog (and yes, he is the son of John Dupuis, if the last name sounded familiar to you), to answer a few questions.

Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your (scientific) background?

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Glad to be here, in that way one can be said to have a presence on the Internet. My full name is Samuel Allen Greene Dupuis, and a while ago I discovered that if I, for almost whatever reason, were to change my name, then I'd also go for an acronym that would, suffice to say, not be SAGD. I'm sixteen years old at the time of writing this (I was about to turn 16 when I was at ScienceOnline '09). I currently go to Northern SS in Toronto, Canada, and I'm trying to emphasize math, science, and languages while I'm here. I've also found myself referring to my school path as a 'build', which may go to show exactly how much I play DotA (First, think World of Warcraft, The company that made it is Blizzard; they also make Warcraft III. This is a strategy game in which one may also create their own modified versions and spread them online; one map [a 'version' here is essentially a map with rules] is called Defence of the Ancients (DotA); I play it).

What do you want to do/be when (and if ever) you grow up, and what is growing up anyway?

I plan on being either a medical researcher or a physicist, but plans change; I've had other ideas in the past, and I'll probably have new ones later (being a politician just to see how I fare when I throw myself into the eye of the public storm). With regard to growing up, I'm thinking for now that the difference between someone in their late teens and someone who's 40 or 50, as far as personality goes, isn't huge. In my opinion, the difference may be between what they know when they're younger and when they're older.

Now, what said person 'knows' pretty much amounts to their experiences, from information they've acquired to experiences they've felt deeply affected by. It doesn't seem like an easily falsifiable hypothesis, so for now I'm just noting it as almost entirely pointless, but amusing, speculation. Growing up, as far as I know, would be an increase in maturity up to some semi- (but not completely) arbitrary threshold, which would be some series of thresholds across a wide range of ways a person behaves. Now, it seems that I've become a nihilist over the last few years (I'd only really thought about it recently, and I figure myself to be the heroic variety as defined in this article. Please trust me not to have said this only because it looks awesome, and I acknowledge this is only coming from Wikipedia).

I think words like maturity, good, bad and beneficial are subjective through and through, and that one doesn't always have to be mature to benefit oneself and society (Please note that I have and will continue to toss these words around for now for simplicity's sake-- because we're all ok with that, right?). I'll say now that the one thing I may never change my mind on is that I'll be changing my mind on at least something or another for as long as I live. And though I may try to mature for a while, I may go where I will depending on what I'm thinking at the time, because when predicting the future, even my own, I'm very ambiguous. So I'll probably do some more growing up, maybe some growing down (shrinking?) and other maturity-morphing sideways, forwards, backwards, and into other imagined dimensions where I find them (because I like trying to think outside the cube).

What is your Real Life job?

I did some volunteering over the summer--it ended yesterday, and I've looked after some guy's house for small amounts of money (taking turns/splitting the money with my brother, at that), but I'm still a jobless high school student. In fact, my brother has a job, and he's only entering high school this year. I like to say I'm less of a materialist and capitalist than he is. He retorts by calling me a jobless hippie. We're at a standstill on that one right now.

What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?

I'm not entirely sure. I haven't explored these in much depth. This may just be a thought that occurred to me because my attention span can be sub-par, but I've been wondering how people can most efficiently manage citation and other references online. For instance, say you're in one of the endless number of online arguments about something in which there isn't necessarily scientific consensus, but there is a substantial amount of literature from experts, as well as data to go with it. Now, there are people who simply won't be careful enough with how they manage this without at least being told sternly to do so, but otherwise it can be annoying (at least from my point of view) to comb through huge amounts of writing to, to some degree, memorize every single relevant point (so you don't get berated for missing it, on top of actually being better informed).

I've been wondering (just now, not for any serious length of time) if there's some sort of more advanced search system for word documents that doesn't just find specific words or phrases, but that can also search on specific pages when prompted, specific paragraphs, sections, and any (or some) other conceivable divisions a document can have-- even on one or another side of media or other objects that may be in the document. Also, what if one could import parameters from someone else that would take the receiver to exactly where the sender intended? What if one could also have searches that could open up other windows or at least show different parts of a document at the same time, for example, pairing original text and annotations? There are probably myriad other places such Xtremely-advanced searching could go, and there may also be the equivalents (or the same things) as everything I've mentioned, somewhere out there. Much or all of it may just be further convenience for the already lazy. Still, I'm interested in more accessibility not necessarily geared only toward experts (who are presumably more patient anyway), but as a way to more easily spread relevant information to laypeople (from laypeople and experts alike) who aren't otherwise willing to look carefully and for a while through piles of information when not all of it is actually necessary with regard to what's relevant to the issue at hand (I had been mostly thinking about that since SO09, pretty much, but I've also been interested by all the citations on Wikipedia).

What would I pair that with? A chat system, which in turn would be combined with a forum, sounds interesting; ScienceOnline is itself largely about the many ways scientists can communicate with each other, so I'm sure there are several versions of the pairing I just mentioned. With the addition of many of the other services that are becoming, have become and may become available, this might be one more thing tacked on that, hopefully, would be helpful without being intrusive, bulky, redundant, or otherwise unneeded.

How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook? How much will they in the future?

In Grade 9, I had a science project to do that was supposed to be about anything that had to do with the curriculum. They were pretty loose on this definition: if it in any way had to do with space, biology, physics, or electromagnetism (the very direct subset of physics we went into with more detail), you could go on any sort of quest to find out more about it provided you could and it was legal. This was such an open-ended and large assignment that my mind was blown for a couple of minutes (not because it was only one or another, but both). Then I wasn't sure what to do. I can't remember who later suggested a blog (me or my dad, who's prodded me a lot and for a while now to keep my blog going), but I ended up writing a blog about what I could learn about space exploration. It has simply become my blog, and is found at I've been filling the blog with things I find online, when I get inspired (but often when my dad asks for some consistency, too; he still often gives me great places to go, too), and it's had a few visitors from Google or links from my dad's blog. I guess it shouldn't be too surprising that a solid portion of these visitors have been from faraway countries, but it's still amazing to see that tracked.

Blogging aside, I haven't really used much social networking at school; often I use email for working out project dates and for handling electronic information with group members, and toward the end of last year I found Facebook useful for contacting people in a hurry (because I'm not the only person I know who lets things go down to the wire). I got on Twitter briefly for some reason I've now forgotten, and I haven't used Friendfeed or any other site specifically used for networking with an identity. I went on Omegle for a week or so at one point, just because conversations could occasionally go to heights that were beyond hilarity. All in all I haven't used social networking much at school, but I'm coming to use it more.

When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while at the Conference?

I found out about science blogs (more specifically a few years ago... when my dad told me about them. That constant aspect of my knowledge has been embarrassing, but I still have to mention it. I guess I'll be looking more at Bora's blog now (I probably should have visited more of these right after the conference), and in the past my dad's talked about Uncertain Principles and Not Even Wrong the former is on SB, the latter is the first result of a Google search). So far, I've liked things each of these blogs brings to the table. It's a small number I know right now, and each of them has pretty much equally grabbed my attention (although I don't, again, actually use scientific networking too much right now-- blasphemer!). At the conference itself, it wasn't so much an issue of finding any new blogs, but of actually remembering the names of some of them from the endless tide. I haven't, but I do now have the luxury of combing through the interviews Bora's conducting (I only knew they existed a few weeks ago when- surprise- my dad told me he had been contacted about my interview). I do plan on checking these out in more detail at the end of the summer though, because the variety of information looks interesting to no end (I'll have little, if any, access to the Internet for the coming month).

Is there anything that happened at this Conference - a session, something someone said or did or wrote - that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading, blog-writing and whatever else you may be doing over the course of your life?

As with finding blogs, it isn't so much an issue of if I found anything, but if I could remember even half of all the things I thought would be useful knowledge for later. I had been advised to take notes in each session (I won't even bother saying who gave that advice now), and those notes should still be somewhere in the house. One thing that had been discussed in the conference that I am actively annoyed about because I can't remember it clearly (although I don't think it was a simple construct) was how some open-source projects do actually make money for the people behind them, such as PLoS. This actually seems a bit relevant to what I want to do for a living later: I would like to work in the public domain, and one would just have to take my word for it that I'm thinking of that because even if the pay isn't phenomenal, the goal would be to work somewhat out of goodwill as well as the quest for capital, and I'll get epic job stability if I work at a university, for a while, and do very well. The conference further inspired me to take a look at what I actually want to work toward when I go to work, not only pulling in money for food and shelter (again, if I end up with a 'real job', which I'm still hoping for), but actually providing something useful to the people I'm working for. Going into open-source, copyleft (I found that word out recently and wherever I did, I regret not being able to give that person credit) and the sort would presumably indicate the person going into it has good intentions. They may also be taking the high road solely to impress people, say they did, or for some other selfish reason, but everyone reading can only take my word on it that those aren't the only things I'm thinking of.

It was also reinforced at the conference that there's a lot to be critical of in the world of science, and that one has to look patiently and carefully at where 'something' (a tool, a database, etc.) comes from, how it's used, who's using it, how it's turning out, etc. to find out whether or not it's doing what it was designed to do (or at least that it's being used ethically-- I have to credit a lot of what I remember to Bjoern). Every time I go to a conference like this one (I have been to a couple), it shows me more of the complexity and inner workings of scientific establishments, both their good sides and bad. Further, it makes me interested in examining them even more.

It was so nice to meet you and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again next January.

I hope to see you and everyone else (I knew of) again too (and many more)!


See the 2008 interview series and 2009 series for more.

More like this

Hey Sam! If you're reading this, stop by Sandwalk for a visit.

Why don't you come and visit me at the University of Torontoâit's that other university in Toronto, you know, the one your father doesn't talk about?

This is such a good interview! it is impressive how dad can "infect" a son with science blogs, social network.But i recognize the enormous influence which SinceOnline09 made to Sam.



Thoughtful and impressive. Keep an eye on this one!

By Catharine (not verified) on 28 Jul 2009 #permalink