Thursday, December 17th, 2009
At the American Geophysical Union meeting this week I dicovered that I belong to a small community that I didn’t even know about: I’m a geoblogger! There was a luncheon on Wednesday for people who blog about earth or space sciences, and so I got to meet about fifteen other people who do the same thing.
One of the things that struck me was the diversity of the blogs: the different types of sites, the different reasons for blogging, the different people doing it. Every blog has its own flavor. The majority of the geobloggers were graduate students or faculty, but there were a few journalists too.
So who was there, you ask? Let me introduce you!
Reia Chmielowski came from the longest distance — all the way from Milano. She is a postdoc in metamorphic petrology. Her blog, The Musings of a Life-Long Scholar, takes a personal tone, and it might be of interest to academics outside of geology.
Larry O’Hanlon is a professional journalist who will be blogging for “two more weeks” at Discovery News before passing the blog on to someone else; however, he will still remain very much involved with the site. He notes that it’s kind of hard to tell the blog apart from the regular news now, because a recent redesign of the site has merged the two.
Claus Haslauer, Dave Petley, Pawam Gupta, and Steve Easterbrook had different approaches to the faculty blog. They are your go-to guys if you are interested in geostatistics, landslides, aerosols, and climate change informatics respectively. To a large extent their blogs are oriented toward colleagues rather than to the public. (Gupta said this explicitly — the purpose of his blog is to “review peer-reviewed papers.”) However, Petley’s blog in particular gets a lot of hits from outside academia, especially when a natural disaster hits. He also says that he attracts a lot of students with his blog, and has begun to be better known for his blog than for his own research! Faculty everywhere, take note!
Carrying the grad student torch were Cassaundra Myers and Julian Lozos, both of UC Riverside. Cassaundra’s blog, UCR GEOP Chalkboard, is more of a departmental blog that other students contribute to (but she does the most work on it). Julian was a wannabe musician, and is now a wannabe seismologist. He has been doing social media of one sort or another since he was a kid, and said that his choice of topics has graduated from “What is your favorite Pokemon?” to “Earthquakes are not the bogeyman.”
Actually, this last comment raises an interesting point. Julian says that people always ask him how he can study something as depressing as earthquakes, but in fact earthquakes give us lots of fascinating information about our planet. Like carnivores with big claws and big sharp teeth, they get a bad rap. To read more about them, check out his blog, Harmonic Tremors.
If there was one blog whose title made me immediately want to go read it, it was probably Brian Shiro’s. He is currently in training to become an astronaut. By some quirk of fate, he learned about an opportunity to apply for astronaut training the very same week he started his blog, Astronaut for Hire. That’s right, he started his blog first and then became an “astronaut for hire”! This is a true example of the power of positive thinking. By the way, his “geo” credentials are that he works at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, and his blog contains some posts about that topic as well.
There were two interesting blogs from people who, like me, are academic castaways. Andrew Alden is a former geologist with the US Geological Survey who now is the Geology Guide for about.com. He uses his blog as a front end to his main informational pages on about.com, which get the most traffic. He noted that when he started with about.com, he would write long informative posts, but he has since found that about 80 percent of the people who visit the site just want to look at pictures of rocks!
I hope that Michael Tobis doesn’t mind me describing him as an “academic castaway” because he is in fact employed at the University of Texas, but it sounds as if his job is not really his raison d’etre. “My blog has been the core of my intellectual and social life for the last two years,” he said. His passion is climate change and his blog is called Only In It for the Gold, and you need to check it out.
The name, by the way, is a reference to something someone once said to Tobis at a party. When he told the hostess that he worked on climate change, a hush fell over the room. (Living in Texas, in the heart of oil country, that’s probably as good a conversation-stopper as saying you are an atheist.) His hostess, fumbling for something cheerful to say, said, “Well, I’m sure there is good money in that!”
Finally, three representatives of mainstream publications were also there. Carolyn Gramling blogs for www.earthmagazine.org, Mouse Reusch is one of several writers for the Big Wide World graduate student blog at www.newscientist.com, and Harvey Leifert is a rather infrequent blogger at the Climate Feedback blog at www.nature.com. We forgive Harvey because he is the former public information officer for the American Geophysical Union and thus has done more to promote public understanding of geophysics than all the rest of us put together.
I apologize to any other bloggers who were there whom I haven’t written about, because I had to duck out of the lunch early (actually, at its scheduled ending time) to hear the great debate over the Younger Dryas Boundary. The question: Did an impact from an extraterrestrial object cause the climate cooling 12,900 years ago that maybe caused sabertooth tigers to die out and the Clovis culture to end? To me, the most convincing talk by far was given by Alan Harris of the Space Science Institute. The intrinsic probability of such an event, a 4-kilometer asteroid hitting Earth in the last 13,000 years, is so low that you need extremely compelling proof to overcome it. As a mathematician, I would use Bayes’ Theorem to explain this, but there is an old saying of Carl Sagan that works just as well for non-mathematical folks: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” And the evidence for the alleged impact, so far, falls way way short of being extraordinary.
Well, none of this has much to do with the moon, but it’s just an example of the incredible variety of interesting stuff you can hear about at the AGU meeting.