I am way ahead of the scientists

nsf_logoI was driving to work when I heard a story on Michigan Radio’s “The Environment Report” about how scientists are being encouraged to blog about their scientific studies by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Basically, the NSF is giving more attention to grant proposals that are able to show that their study has a wider social impact, which can be shown through social media.

Marketing manager for the Nature Conservancy’s Great Lakes Office Melissa Molenda says it’s not easy to turn scientists into social media believers.

“The scientists are inherently introverted people, and were somewhat reluctant to do something so public and so extroverted,” she said.

At this point in the story, I really honed in because she just described most novelists that I know. Even though fiction may be considered to be at that other end of the creative spectrum from science, they unite on the issues of blogging.

Some people see social media (blogging, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) as an avenue to new readership, new collaborations,  and potentially new funding. The story mentioned aquatic ecologist, Matt Herbert, who tried his hand at Twitter (@Etheostomatt) and now has 700 followers.

“I’ve gone to different professional meetings where I will interact with scientists that I’ve never met before, but I know them through Twitter,” Herbert said.

“So I’ve actually met people, I’ve built relationships with people, through Twitter.”

But for every success story, whether for science or fiction, there is the fear of blogging.

Bradley Cardinale is an associate professor in the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and the Environment. He thinks Twitter is an inefficient way to communicate among scientists, and he says blogs can force unhealthy trade-offs.

“Keeping a blog, for instance, would be a heck of a lot of time on my part,” said Cardinale.

“I could spend two hours a night writing on my blog to communicate my science to a general public, or I could spend two hours a night writing up my science paper so that I summarize my data and tell people what the actual results are in a rigorous way,” he said.

For writers like me, the struggle isn’t between writing for the public vs. writing for our colleagues, it is writing our novel vs. attracting potential readers. The problem is that if we never work on our novel because we spend our time blogging, we won’t have anything to offer to the people who like our writing style and want to hear the stories that we have inside of us.

So there must be a balance. We live a world apart from the days where writers could retreat to nature and write without consideration of things like platforms, online footprints, and marketing plans. Publishers today expect storytellers to be as savvy in self-promotion as they are in sentence structure. Introversion itself must be put aside in order to plan successful book tours and television interviews.

And so, we blog, but we also write in private. We communicate with the masses while writing a book for just one person. And we hope that our efforts will not have been for naught.

If you are a blogger, are you also working on your novel? And if you are a novelist, when is the last time you updated your blog? And if you are neither, what do you expect or want from authors today?

The Squirrel Experiment Continues – Days 21-28

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Experiment Day 21 – The squirrels have proven their worth. Two of my corn cobs are gone. My scientific study is paying off.

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Placing the two additional corn cobs on the branch seemed to do the trick. Given that the squirrels still haven’t touched the original test cob, a few scenarios are possible.

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The original cob may have been inherently undesirable (which I doubt, because they have never before turned their little squirrel noses up at free food. That makes me think that the problem was having the cobs at an accessible distance to the tree.

I’m going to leave that last cob up anyway and see if they try for it or not.

* * * * * * * * * *

This post was supposed to go live last Friday, but it didn’t. In the time between when it should have gone live and now, the squirrels have captured my final cob.

As a congratulations, I have decided to stock their original feeder with 4 large corn cobs. Hopefully, this will also smoothe over any ill will on their part for forcing them to take part in my study.

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The conclusion of my experiment is this: I am disappointed that I did not get to see any squirrels fall off of my tree. And I can’t be sure that it wasn’t actually my neighbors (or wife) who took the cobs down one at a time to make me think that it was the squirrels. Oh well.

What should I do for my next experiment?

The Squirrel Experiment Continues

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Experiment Day 12 – As of yet, the squirrels have not decided to participate in my scientific study.

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Perhaps the corn is too far from the tree. Perhaps it is too far from the ground.

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So I’m going to adjust some variables. I’ve added two more cobs. One closer to the branch. One closer to the ground. Both closer to the trunk.

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We all really want to see a squirrel take a diving leap and fall on his face. You know, for science.

Experimenting with Squirrels

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“For Science!”

That’s what I told my wife when she asked why I had tied an ear of corn to the tree in our front yard with some string. Well, technically, I tied it up there with dental floss, because we had just visited the dentist’s office and what else are you supposed to use it for?

“The neighbors are going to think there’s something wrong with us,” said my beautiful wife.

“No, they won’t,” I assured her. “If anything, they’ll think there’s something wrong with me. You are too pretty to have anyone think bad things about you.”

“Just explain to me the science part of what you’ve done here,” she said.

“Um,” I started. “I want to see if the squirrels want the corn badly enough to risk shimmeying down the floss to get it.”

It isn’t like I’m starving them. You’ll notice that I filled their regular squirrel feeder at the same time as I tied the experimental ear of corn up. I’m not cruel, you know. And so what if I’m going to hold off on restocking it for a few days after all the corn is gone? It’s my corn and my feeder and I don’t have to share if I don’t want to.

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“You just want to see a squirrel fall off the tree,” she said.

“For Science!” I exclaimed again. “Besides, just imagine how funny it would be if we were here to see it.”

“Okay,” she agreed. “It would be pretty funny.”

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*Portions of this conversation may or may not have happened like this in real life. I’m terrible at remembering how these things actually go.

5 Links Worth Following

Fellow lovers of words,

It’s been a while since I’ve posted some links to other cool places on the internet, and for that I apologize. There are many wonderful things out there, and I was selfishly trying to keep you here on my blog and on my blog alone. But I’ve realized the error of my ways and I’m excited to send you out to some of the places that I’ve been. If it isn’t too selfish to ask, I would love your thoughts on the pages linked below. So visit them, then come back here and share. And as always, thanks for reading.

shapes_of_storiesThe Shapes of Stories by Kurt Vonnegut | Writers Write

I just recently added the Writers Write blog to my list of noteworthy places, and I am glad that I found them. If you use Facebook, their pages is constantly updated with fun prompts, thoughts on writing, and author birthdays and facts. For word nerds like me, this site is pure bliss.

silver_blade_clichesGrand List of Fantasy Clichés | Silver Blade Magazine

I stumbled across this page while seeking a publisher for some of my flash fiction, and it is too good not to share. For anyone who reads or writes in the fantasy genre, you will appreciate this list of overused fantasy tropes. Enjoy!

flash_fiction_contestFlash Fiction Writing Contest | Literacy Center of West Michigan

I was referred to this contest by writing friend and Guild member, Cynthia Beach. If you have an interest in flash fiction, please consider this contest. The grand prize is $150 and submissions are being accepted May 15 – June 30. There is an entrance fee of $15.

flying_pigImagine a Flying Pig: How Words Take Shape in the Brain | NPR

This is an interesting article about how words and language affect the way our brain works. Scientists used to think that we had a separate module in our brains that made language possible, given that human language is so much more developed than any other creature. But what scientists actually found was quite shocking.

writingWords | Radiolab

The NPR Article above reminded me of a podcast from Radiolab, so I went back and listened. It was great all over again. If you are fascinated by words, you won’t be disappointed by this podcast!