ScienceOnline2010 - interview with Joanne Manaster

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years' interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.

Today, I asked Joanne Manaster from Joanne Loves Science to answer a few questions.

Where does blogging fit into what I do?

I began my website about two years ago, while I was in a bit of a life crisis. As everything was chaotic, I thought, "What has ALWAYS been true about me and will always be true?" and the answer was, "I love science". Hence the website was christened "Joanne Loves Science". At first, it was to be a vehicle for delivering stem cell and tissue engineering news (to replace a newsletter I had previously published). Clearly I am not doing that anymore. I mention this because I think it takes time for a website or blog to find its personality, so my advice to someone beginning a blog or website is to start writing about what interests you and allow your enthusiasm to shine through. You will eventually find the tone you wish to convey to the world.

I made a decision, based on time constraints, to not accept comments on my posts, although I can turn them on at anytime if it should seem worthwhile. My "About Joanne" page is quite long, as this has grown out of a demand from young people, especially young ladies, to get a sneak peek at my life, especially the modeling career. Happily, I am much more well-known now for my outreach currently than I ever was while modeling. This is very gratifying as I would much rather be known for adding a bit of intellectual value to society than merely being a pleasant object to look at. That being said, thanks to good genes and some tricks one learns while modeling, I am still maintaining a youthful exterior that belies my years of experience in academia, and I thought I should use that while I can. My telegenicity (or, as Neil DeGrasse Tyson once said of me, my "youtube-genicity") has come in handy to find new ways to reach to the general public about science.

A quick look at my site will demonstrate three main topics/beliefs I maintain:

  • There are numerous popular science books out there for your enjoyment and enrichment. I hope to share my love for these books (and gratitude to the authors) by demonstrating the variety of books available. I like the concept of promoting books for many reasons, which should probably be written in a carefully constructed blog post!
  • Everyday items have science behind them, in them, etc. I sometimes demonstrate this via the science of beauty, which is, by far, the most popular page of my website after the first page. I also use common/unusual items (gummy bears) to highlight simple scientific concepts.
  • The basics of the scientific method and how scientists conduct and communicate their work are very important and I am trying to gently reintroduce these concepts to my readers. Most American students have heard the same boring lessons about the scientific method a handful of times, but seldom grasp it fully and then are left befuddled by the significance or validity of scientific (or pseudoscientific) findings, possibly leading to misunderstandings and misconceptions about scientific topics.

With respect to the book recommendations, I try to make a point to meet any science author who comes near to town. At the very least, I hope to express my gratitude for the work they do in making science accessible. If I have more time, I appreciate a nice conversation because I am a great admirer of intelligence and enthusiasm, both of which authors simply must possess. This is just pure selfishness on my part! My life has been extraordinarily enriched by the interactions with the ones I've communicated.

I recently met Jonah Lehrer when he came into town. He graciously spent some time with me and even helped create this video about the continuum of scientific expertise using my growing Barbie doll collection. He is quite the sport.

I would like to point out, for those of you who are new to my videos, that while I have experience "working the camera"......

i-a2c4ea560409779388cf431765bd9fc9-Joanne Manaster pic1.jpgi-db46c7d04abb6270eb429bcfbb0ebe5b-Joanne Manaster pic2.jpg

.....I have much to learn about operating one, so the video is slightly crooked, not centered and the lighting leaves something to be desired. I notice in particular that this one has many blips and skips which I suspect is an effect of uploading in less than optimal internet connections and my poor editing skills. Hopefully the content more than makes up for this! Grab a cup of coffee or tea or a beer and sit back and watch as Jonah drops his cell phone (oops) and confesses his predilection for blue bracelets.

What next? Carl Zimmer and Matchbox cars? Steven B. Johnson and Hungry, Hungry Hippo? Rebecca Skloot and Candyland?

About twitter and other social media, but mostly twitter:

Twitter has been a wonderful experience for me. Allow me to bullet point the benefits I have experienced by using twitter:

  • It has been a fabulous way to promote my videos and get the word out, hopefully to the appropriate audience.
  • I am learning to become a better science communicator by watching carefully how other great science communicators do their jobs!
  • I have been richly rewarded by new friendships and collaborations I have made on twitter.
  • I enjoy leaving an "open door " to the public in order to indicate that I am available to carry on a rational and friendly exchanges about science. I follow most people back because I have discovered that a seemingly "random" person will pipe in with comments such as "That was interesting." Or "Can you answer such and such?" And if I can't answer, my contacts might be able to do so.
  • I've learned to set some personal boundaries on the internet, often learning this the hard way, unfortunately (particularly on youtube). It has been a surprisingly gratifying skill. I'm also learning to discern those who want to start an argument just for the sake of arguing or those who are trying to trick me into supporting their pseudoscience or to help them promote themselves. These people, frankly, take away time from those who have a genuine interest and curiosity about science and I'm learning to deal with them effectively.

How did I discover science blogs?

How does anyone discover anything on the internet these days? By accident, of course. I'm sure I was looking up particular bits of information and came across one blog, then another, and another. I use the information in these blogs, frequently visiting ones with reliable and well documented information. I enjoy reading information and opinions from great science communicators!

And finally, you ask, what about my future plans?

Honestly, I have so many ideas, it's a little ridiculous. I hope to continue communicating science, gaining a larger audience for the cause of quality and entertaining science. If I have to manipulate the entire world with gummy bears, cats, Barbie dolls, (and coming soon: cookies!), a giant helping of whimsical, lacy, heart-shaped Midwest charm coming from a fresh-faced biologist, then I'm going to do it. Unabashedly.

I made a promise to myself that I would never do anything on a video that I haven't done in class. Well, it looks now as if I will have to sing in class. Yep, I sang in the next video. Why? Because thinking about science makes me so happy, I want to sing. That, or I just felt during some lapse of reasoning, that you all might want to see me sing a bouncy pop song and add scientific commentary. Why should musicians get a corner on metaphor? Pedantic's where it's at!

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

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