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A Busy Week at Scientific American: Meetings, Events and Honors

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Intricate scrimshaw decorates the skull of a river dolphin in the American Museum of Natural History exhibit "Whales: Giants of the Deep." Credit: Mariette DiChristina

One of the pleasures of Scientific American is how very international it is, just like science itself: In addition to the domestic (U.S. and Canada) and global English editions, the magazine is translated into 14 languages. Scientific American Mind also appears in about half a dozen. Last week, representatives of nearly all of them gathered for the first time in many years in New York. (The annual meetings are typically hosted by an edition in Europe, where the majority of them are located.) We talked about our various new projects. We described our market challenges. We shared a lot of ideas—and some laughs. One morning, we met up with the editorial staff based in New York. Perhaps for the first time, here are representatives of nearly the entire international family in one place. Next year: Beijing!

We had three exciting evening events as well. In the first, I moderated a terrific panel at the New York Academy of Sciences called “Envy: The Cutthroat Side of Science” (here: ). We talked about the huge pressures scientists suffer, from battles for grants in an era of tightened budgets to earning priority and even basic recognition for pioneering work. We touched on their ambition, “lust” for recognition, “self-plagiarism” with multiple publications of the same paper, and outright theft of others’ work. We spoke, most of all, about how science—which we know to be in general a wonderful, evidence-based system for getting at the truth or solving problems—is as human an endeavor as anything else.

Morton Meyers of SUNY Stonybrook gave two examples from his excellent 2012 book, Prize Fight, surrounding the developments of both streptomycin and MRI. Both innovations earned Nobel Prizes—and in both cases, somebody important was left out (and nobody was innocent). I recommend a read. Harold “Skip” Garner[http://www.vbi.vt.edu/faculty/personal/Harold_Garner] of Virginia Tech spoke of his research, analyzing large passages of text for replication—and finding plenty. There is even “double dipping” of research funds totaling hundreds of millions annually. See his recent paper in Nature (Scientific American is part of the Nature Publishing Group), Ivan Oransky of Reuters Health discussed Retraction Watch, which lists papers that have been retracted and tells the stories behind them.

Speakers for "Envy: the Cutthroat Side of Science" panel at the New York Academy of Sciences. Left to right: Morton Meyers, Mariette DiChristina, Harold "Skip" Garner, Ivan Oransky. Credit: Mariette DiChristina

The panel was part of a series the Academy is running this year on “Science and the Seven Deadly Sins,” part of the regular offerings of Science & the City. Besides being a clever way to organize a series, it was a fascinating way to delve into some serious topics.

The next night, we headed uptown. Whales are known for their singing, but tweets were the focus when Scientific American co-hosted a tweet up at the American Museum of Natural History in honor of the recent opening of the temporary exhibit “Whales: Giants of the Deep“: Whales Tweetup with Scientific American. Some 200-plus people attended the event.

After about an hour of enjoying the after-hours time with the exhibit, attendees gathered to hear—and then participate in—two Q&As that I ran. In the first, I asked exhibit curator John Flynn about special additions from the museum’s own collections to the “Whales” exhibit. In the second, I interviewed Howard Rosenbaum, whose work with the Wildlife Conservation Society (aka “Bronx Zoo”) and others focuses on some interesting whale tracking using satellites and other high-tech means, and Joy Reidenberg, of Mt. Sinai, who studies marine-mammal vocalizations. Visitors also had a chance to try out our Whale.FM citizen-science site, where you can help researchers study whales by matching audio clips of whale calls.

Before the tweet up, the Scientific American international visitors got a special behind-the-scenes look at both the modern and more classic areas of museum research. We toured the facilities used for genetics studies, including a peek into a giant tank of liquid nitrogen used to store samples, and visited the fossil-mammal collection.

"Headquarters": In the collection rooms at the American Museum of Natural History are these mammoth skulls. The trunk cavity (center) may have been a source for cyclops myths. Credit: Mariette DiChristina

The next night, Scientific American was out in force for another evening event: the National Magazine Awards—they are like the Academy Awards for magazines. We had been nominated for two awards: General Excellence, Special Interest, and Website. They honor “superior execution of editorial objectives.” Although we didn’t take home any Ellies this year, the team appreciated the recognition from our peers that Scientific American is among the best of the best, having been nominated four times in three years (and won once, for General Excellence).

Mariette DiChristina About the Author: Editor in Chief, Mariette DiChristina, oversees Scientific American, ScientificAmerican.com, Scientific American MIND and all newsstand special editions. Follow on Twitter @mdichristina.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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