CHAMPAIGN, lll. — When Scientific American unveils its new blog network Tuesday (July 5), the roster of hand-picked science communicators will include three University of Illinois bloggers. The university is one of the few institutions represented by multiple bloggers on the blogroll of the 165-year-old publication, the oldest popular science magazine in the world.
Alex Wild, a postdoctoral researcher in entomology whose personal insect photography blog led to his shots being published in The New York Times and National Geographic, will host a blog titled “Compound Eye,” focusing on science photography. Joanne Manaster, an instructor in the School of Integrative Biology who uses video on her personal blog to teach science, will co-host “PsiVid,” a blog about science videos and film. And Kate Clancy, professor of anthropology, will move her oft-cited “ladybusiness” blog, “Context and variation,” to the Scientific American network.
The three U. of I. bloggers were chosen by Bora Zivkovic, Scientific American’s blog and community editor who previously held a similar position with the Public Library of Science. He is known in scientific circles as “The Blogfather,” in part because of his pioneering work organizing the first science blogging network, scienceblogs.com.
“I checked out thousands of science blogs, dug deep into the archives of several hundred of them, then closely followed, day-by-day, about 200 of those … finally managing to whittle it down to about 45 who I ended up inviting,” Zivkovic said in an email. “We treat bloggers as part of our team, as continuous correspondents or full-time freelancers. Thus, I made careful choices keeping this in mind. I invited bloggers whose expertise, quality of writing, and professionalism fit well with the mission and general tenor of our organization.”
Wild began blogging almost by accident. In the late 1990s, he was a graduate student in entomology at the University of California at Davis when he began taking pictures of ants to show during his lectures. After a few years of accumulating photos, he decided to create a website (myrmecos.net, derived from myrmex, the Greek word for ant) to share them with other interested researchers.
“Completely unexpectedly, I started getting emails and phone calls from photo editors of textbooks and field guides and magazines – people who had a need for photographs of insects that had been properly identified,” Wild said. “I had no idea what I was doing. I had to scramble to learn how to write invoices and figure out how to pay the taxes.”
In 2007, wanting to make his site “more interactive,” he added a wordpress blog, which was soon featured as a guest blog on the scienceblogs.com network. That exposure brought his photography to the attention of major mainstream media, leading to the publication of his photographs in the Times, National Geographic and Popular Science, among others. The current issue of Natural History features his work on the cover and inside, in a feature story about insect sex.
Wild plans to continue his myrmecos.net blog, with its small but specialized readership that he estimates at “200 to 300 regulars – including my mother,” because he wants an outlet to continue blogging about “technical ant science stuff.” His “Compound Eye” blog on the Scientific American site will concentrate of science photographers and scientific imaging.
Similarly, Manaster will continue her blog, www.joannelovesscience.com, which she created three years ago, initially as a way to distribute her newsletter about stem cells and tissue engineering.
“Then it grew,” she said, “and I sort of found this voice that I use when I’m teaching.” She had been blogging about a year when she decided to add video, presenting short lessons in scientific concepts in her own “quirky way, maybe a little bit whimsical.”
On her blog, Manaster uses – and pokes fun at – her background in modeling; a “top model” Barbie doll (a gift from her oldest daughter) can often be seen lurking in the background of Manaster’s videos.
For Scientific American, Manaster has partnered with Carin Bondar, a Vancouver-based scientist who is, like Manaster, a working mom. Their interests dovetail: Manaster concentrates on science videos and laboratory work, while Bondar concentrates on science films and fieldwork. Their blog “PsiVid” will analyze scientific media, from YouTube videos to movies, with input from the producers, scientists and blog readers. One of Manaster’s first posts will feature Bill Hammack, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at U. of I., whose videos can be found at www.engineerguy.com.
Clancy, a biological anthropologist, has been blogging seriously only since August 2010, but she gets up to 1,000 hits per day on her blog, “Context and variation,” which has been linked or republished by popular magazines and websites such as Wired and Jezebel.com. Clancy’s specialty is women’s health and the spectrum of “normal” monthly cycles that is broader than the 28-day rule (a topic she calls “ladybusiness”).
“The medical model is like if you don’t fit into this really narrow interpretation of ‘normal,’ then there’s something wrong with you, and here’s a pill for it. So a lot of my research and a lot of my outreach work is trying to teach women that there’s really nothing wrong with them,” Clancy said.
The topic that she gets the most questions about? Birth-control pills.
“Women are desperate for good information on the pill, because everyone’s on it, but everyone’s ambivalent about it,” Clancy said. “I think it would be nice to give them some information to help them either feel better about it or get off it.”
She also addresses evolutionary psychology and human behavior on her blog.
The three U. of I. bloggers will join a community of 60 at Scientific American, counting the magazine’s in-house staff bloggers, as part of what Zivkovic describes as the magazine’s cutting-edge online presence.
“You’d think an organization with such age and such tradition would be stodgy and old-timey, but you’d be wrong,” he said. “It is fundamentally a web-first organization, where the print magazine is just one of many – though most important – products of the website and the team that primarily works online.”
The web address for the new blog network is blogs.scientificamerican.com.