ScienceOnline'09 - interview with John Wilbanks

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 John Wilbanks from the Common Knowledge blog 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?

I'm John Wilbanks.

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I abandoned a biology degree about six months into my university education, in favor of philosophy and languages. I've got some informal experience in molecular biology and genetics. I floundered into bioinformatics by accident about ten years ago. Turns out that the philosophy work in epistemology and semantics has at least some utility in the computer world.

What do you want to do/be when (and if ever) you grow up?

I'd love to be a professor, but I'd probably have to go get more letters after my name to make that happen.

What is your Real Life job?

I am the VP for Science at Creative Commons. As part of that, I direct the Science Commons project at CC.

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

This question has forced me to write an entire blog post devoted to it. I'll be posting it later today, hopefully. Edit: Here it is!

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

I blog intermittently, and I get some responses from it. I think I'm too intermittent and too verbose when I post for it to be a real conversation. But it's been a constant surprise to realize that people actually read it.

For me it's a place to vent. I learn by talking. So I also learn by blogging. The ideas take shape as I try to frame them, and I often look at something after it's on paper and feel a real sense of discovery. It's also a more informal place to get my thoughts out - someplace I can speak for myself more freely than as the John-who-works-at-Creative-Commons.

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 didn't really start reading blogs regularly til 2004 or so. Once I got over the activation potential and got a good feed aggregator going, it was all over. I actually got started with the Corante blogs - Copyfight and In the Pipeline, in particular. ITP remains one of my favorite blogs of any stripe. Derek Lowe should be required reading for anyone who thinks drug discovery is easy or that IPRs are the reason drug discovery is hard. Drug discovery is hard because making drugs bend to your will and then work in real human bodies is fiendishly hard, and reading the daily logs of a working medicinal chemist brings that point home in a visceral way.

I track a lot of stuff via the Nature Network Boston site also. They come in through a common RSS feed so I don't even think of them as separate blogs. I read The Loom. Brain Waves. All My Faults Are Stress Related. I read Dorothea Salo when she was at Caveat Lector, and again at the Book of Trogool.

I discovered Danica Radovanovic at the conference, and read her Digital Serendipities.

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 and blog-writing?

I was sadly only really there for a few minutes. The conference fell during a time of extreme travel. But it did bring home for me how varied the blogging culture is in the sciences - I lost some preconceptions I had about the real potential of blogs to change the system.

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


See the 2008 interview series and 2009 series for more.

More like this

Great interview with John - thanks for doing that. And for the link to his blog post. I agree. People like stories. And there are some great stories in science - and we need more great storytellers.

That's why our all-volunteer ragtag outfit created a four-part lecture series with E.O. Wilson, Sean Carroll and others that will be webcast free. Ed Wilson and Sean Carroll are both great scientists and great storytellers.

All the details are here to sign-up for the free web lectures:

And we have a Facebook group with 250,000 members celebrating Darwin and shooting to reach 1 million by the 150th anniversary date on November 24.

We are having fun, celebrating Darwin and spreading a little science education.

Founder, Darwin150