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ScienceOnline2012 – interview with Trevor Owens


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Every year I ask some of the attendees of the ScienceOnline conferences to tell me (and my readers) more about themselves, their careers, current projects and their views on the use of the Web in science, science education or science communication. So now we continue with the participants of ScienceOnline2012. See all the interviews in this series here.

Today my guest is Trevor Owens (blog, Twitter).

Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your background? Any scientific education?

I’m a digital archivist at the Library of Congress, I teach a very open and public digital history graduate seminar at American university and I am finishing my doctoral work in social science research methods in the College of Education and Human development at George Mason University.

I come to science from a historical bent; my BA is in the history of science. More specifically, I started out working on the history of science education. I wrote my thesis on the history of children’s books about Einstein and Curie. More recently I have been doing research on science communication and public understanding of science in places like gaming communities, or in discussions of statues on Yelp.

What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?

Coming from a history/library/archives background I’m fascinated in the transformation going on in science communication are changing about the nature and discourse of the scientific enterprise and public understanding of science. When historians look back on late 20th and early 21st century science they will undoubtedly be interested in understanding how the web has facilitated, altered and otherwise shifted scientific inquiry and the dissemination of scientific knowledge. If we want to be able to reflect back on the science of our times I think we need to be thinking about collecting and preserving science and science communication that is happening on the web.

So I would say that I am interested in doing what I can to help document and explore what is changing and what is staying the same around the nature and practices of science and science communication.

Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?

I worked on a few projects at the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University for about five years. In that time i was primarily focused on Zotero, a free and open source research management tool. Before that I worked on the games+learning+society conference for a few years. I’ve been at the Library of Congress for the last two years. In all of those roles I end up gravitating toward thinking about the role, nature, and place of science in society.

I can give a few examples of how these things all end up coming together in some of my recent publications. Each of these explore different subjects but they are all really about getting at ways we can go about understanding science in our world as documented in a range of digital modes.

Teaching intelligent design or sparking interest in science? What players do with Will Wright’s Spore. This article, forthcomming in Cultural Studies of Science is about figuring out how we should go about assessing the impact of a game like Spore on public understanding of science. My goal here was to think through how we could work from something like the Sporum, the games online forums, as a way to explore the ways that people are thinking about the game. In the end, this offers some initial evidence to suggest that a lot of the games players get past the problematic way the game presents evolution and use the game as a catalyst to get into some really interesting and fun thinking and discussion of science.

Tripadvisor rates Einstein: Using the social web to unpack the public meanings of a cultural heritage site. Near the US Capitol, in front of the National Academy of Sciences sits a gigantic bronze statue of Albert Einstein. The monument was created to celebrate Einstein and the sense of awe and wonder his work represents. This article explores the extent to which perspectives of the monument’s public supporters and critics can be seen in how people interact with it as evidenced in reviews and images of the monument posted online. I looked at how folks appropriate and discuss the monument on sites like  Fickr, Yelp, Tripadvisor, and Yahoo Travel, to explore how the broader public co-creates the meaning of this particular memorial.

Modding the history of science: Values and habits of mind in modder discussions of Sid Meier’s Civilization This article explores the issues involved in interpreting a game through analysis of the ways modders (gamers who modify the game) have approached the history of science, technology, and knowledge embodied in the game. Interestingly looking at online discussions of the game suggests that Civilization III cultivates an audience of modders who spend their time reimagining how the history of science and technology could work in the game.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2012 for you? Any suggestions for next year?

It’s all about the people. I’ve been to ScienceOnline twice, in 2012 and in 2010 and found both experiences to be very enlightening and invigorating. To begin with, I am a big fan of unconferences, there is a good bit more excitement in the air at them. Beyond that, there are a lot of conferences out there that people have to go to for professional reasons, this remains an event that people go to because they want to go. Everybody is there powered primarily because of how much they care about science and science communication and while it can be physically and mentally exhausting it is really great at recharging your drive for the work.

Thank you! Hope to see you again in January.






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