L’Embarras Des Richesses: ScienceOnline2013 and ScienceWriters2012

In this quiet moment on a rainy Saturday evening in North Carolina Piedmont, I lie here in awe of the breadth of creative talent and boundless enthusiasm that this place attracts. Tonight at 5:00 pm Eastern time, a couple hundred folks or so learned that they had not scored a slot in the lottery for the remaining spaces at ScienceOnline2013. I won't be there this year either but I can certainly understand the disappointment. This simple idea of Bora Zivkovic along with Let's-Get-Together-and-See-Where-This-Goes Guy, Anton Zuiker, has grown from a small gathering of likeminded online science enthusiasts to become the South-By-Southwest of science meetings, now under the exceptional leadership of Karyn Traphagen. I encourage everyone to stay on or sign up for the waitlist. Lots of plans change between now and late January so registration slots will most certainly open up.

Y'all come! Click for details.

But in the meantime, you might consider another possibility that just happens to be available this year very near to the same GPS coordinates: ScienceWriters2012, the annual conference of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing and the National Association of Science Writers. Scheduled for October 26-30, 2012, ScienceWriters2012 will be headquartered at the very same hotel with a program crafted by a broad group of science communicators that include a subset of ScienceOnline folks. (For the record, we're called Science Communicators of North Carolina, or SCONC.). Here, look at the schedule yourself. There is one considerable difference between the NASW and ScienceOnline: NASW has a membership application process (and I only just became a member this past year). Students can probably still get in before the meeting registration deadline of October 10 by submitting their membership application now. That qualifies them for the $75 registration fee (and membership is only $35/year). Go to the bottom of the membership registration information page here and sign up for a free NASW account to begin the registration process. You're permitted two years of student membership after which you must apply to be a full member. For us folks who are, um, in the years out of school, non-member registration for the meeting is $395 and member registration is now $195 (the early-bird deadline has passed). If you're not currently a member but wish to become one, the process requires submission of five published clips (written for lay audiences over the last five years) and two sponsor nominations from current NASW members. I'm not sure if that can be accomplished in time for the meeting but you might inquire with the NASW Director's Office (_director_at_nasw_org_ -- you know what to do with the underscores). This will be my first NASW meeting so I'll leave it to others in the comment thread to compare and contrast ScienceOnline and the CASW/NASW annual meeting. Weather-wise, the NASW meeting falls well after hurricane season and is bound to be splendid with highs in the high 60s°F/18-20°C and lows in the mid-40s°F/7-8°C. ScienceOnline tends to be a toss-up as we've had temperatures of 70°F/21°C some years and snow and ice storms for others. I just think that we're really fortunate to be hosting both this year. So if you didn't make it for ScienceOnline2013 registration, stay on the waitlist. But do consider joining us here in late October for ScienceWriters2012.

Author: David Kroll

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  1. Yes, yes, yes! I am biased about ScienceOnline, but ScienceWriters is my second favorite meeting. This will be my third – I hugely enjoyed the last two years in New Haven and Flagstaff and am so excited to have it here, at home, in Raleigh this year. Not just that there will be no travel hassle for me, but also that I get to play the host!

    The venue for the actual meeting is different for #scio13 and #sciwri12, but the hotel is the same. So, you can come to #sciwri12 to test-drive your bed for #scio13! 😉

    NASW membership is a good thing to have if one is a science communicator – lots of perks come with it, from the quarterly magazine chockful of useful information, to access to parts of the website that are members-only and provide links to gigs, jobs, opportunities etc. Two years ago, the criteria for membership changed, so online-only writers can apply. I was the very first online-only member, and have, since then, sponsored several wonderful online writers for the membership.

    How much overlap is there between the two meetings? Actually, not that much! The NASW portion of the meeting, the first day of the event, is a meeting of science writing professionals, with workshops and panels about improving one’s writing, fact-checking, using social media for extending one’s reach, getting pitches accepted etc. This portion is very similar to the #scio13 “journalism track”. It will even have some of the same people. Also, many of the people moderating #sciwri12 sessions have been influenced by the unconference style of the past ScienceOnline meetings, so some of the sessions will be less traditional and more dynamic and interactive. And we consciously tried not to have exactly the same topics covered, although they are related.

    But outside of that, there is little overlap. #scio13 has a number of other tracks, for scientists interested in communication (i.e., not trying to become professional writers), on science education, on citizen science, on math, on medicine, on history and social sciences, on online behavior, on rhetoric of online discourse, on developing online tools for scientists, on using science to better the society, and more.

    On the other hand, the CASW portion of the meeting brings in some of the top, cutting-edge scientists to give talks. Those also tend to be the people who are not just top researchers, but also top communicators, people interested in science education and communication, people who want not just their own research, but also the entire disciplines or science as a whole, to spread further into the consciousness of the society. And they will give kick-ass talks that are instant article/blog-post fodder!

    So, each year, I want to go to both. But if you cannot, choose either one of them and you will not regret it.

  2. David, thanks for the mention, and even more for your enthusiasm for both meetings. The fact that we can attract such dynamic communities of science communicators to our region each year is a testament to the energy of our local community, and there are so many individuals to give shout outs to – first and foremost, to Karl Bates of Duke University for his tireless planning of the ScienceWriters2012 logistics.

  3. There are many important differences between the meetings, but let me hit just a couple.

    Content – This year’s ScienceWriters marks the 50th meeting of the CASW’s New Horizons in Science Briefing, which was like TED talks for science journalists long before there was a TED. The media landscape has been completely remodeled, so this isn’t the agenda-setter for the year’s coming science coverage that it once was, but New Horizons is still an incredibly stimulating two days of high-level talks on some of the most exciting topics to come from scientists you haven’t read much about — yet. Program Director Rosalind Reid has carefully handpicked New Horizons faculty who are on breaking topics and have rock star presentation skills.

    Socially – a little more structured and organized, but with more open bar parties. You can pretty much eat and drink for free the entire weekend. The highlight is the Saturday night gala at the NRC (T.Sig’s shiny new home)to recognize the winners of the Science in Society Journalism Awards, the Evert Clark/Seth Payne young journalism winner and the Victor Cohn Medical Journalist. There will be some nice surprises too.

    Geographically – more tours to more places: Duke Lemur Center, EPA, Medicago, RTI, Nanotech at UNC, RTP Headquarters, Novartis’ new cell culture vaccine plant, NC State’s Smart Grid research center, The NC Research Campus in Kannapolis, the Duke Marine Lab … might be missing a few, but you get the idea.

    Attendees — about half salaried journalists and freelancers, a third university science writers, and a bunch of students and faculty to round things out. Multiple science writing celebrities, if that’s your thing.

    Cost/Benefit — If you’re a freelancer trying to make a living at this stuff, we guarantee you enough story ideas and contacts to finance the trip. It’s fun and social, but there’s a ton of practical content, including a 50-page tips book of story ideas. The hardest part is always keeping your head from exploding.