Every week I post a quick Q&A with one of our bloggers on the network, so you can get to know them better. This week, we chat with Janet Stemwedel from Doing Good Science.
Hello! Let's start with first things first. What is the name of your blog and why did you choose that name - what does it mean?
My blog is called "Doing Good Science".
My blogging focus (not to mention the focus of my teaching and research in my day job as an academic philosopher) has been on what's involved in the ethical conduct of science, and ethical interactions between scientists and non-scientists (who, after all, have to share a world with each other). However, I decided on the name "Doing Good Science" rather than "Doing Ethical Science" because one of my central points is that you can't make knowledge that is good by the scientists' own lights without ethics. Without ethics, you don't get reliable knowledge, nor do you get the well-functioning scientific scientific community you need to make sure the knowledge is reliable.
Also, it's possible that "Doing Good Science" is the working title of a book that I'm trying to finish writing soon, in my plentiful free time (*cough**cough*).
Where does the artwork for your banner come from, and what are you trying to convey with it?
The "Doing Good Science" banner was created by friend and fellow philosopher of science P.D. Magnus (here's his website). Since he created the banners for two of the three incarnations of my other blog, "Adventures in Ethics and Science" (which you can see here and here), I knew I wanted him to do the artwork for my SciAm blog.
The banner shows two people doing good science (just like in the name of the blog), one swirling an Erlenmeyer flask, the other peering into the eyepiece of a microscope. You might not be able to tell just by looking that these scientists are being ethical -- because when scientists are being ethical, it just looks like they're doing science! But take the ethics out of the picture and suddenly there are a lot more explosions and daggers in backs and traumatized grad students huddled in the corner.
By the way, if I ever write a blog called "Doing Bad Science," I think that pretty much describes the banner I'd commission from P.D.
Tell us more about yourself - where are you from, how did you get into science?
I was born in America's heartland, grew up mostly in northern New Jersey, went to college in the Boston area, and have been living in the San Francisco Bay Area since September 1989 (moving here just in time for the 7.0 Loma Prieta Earthquake). I also spent five summers teaching at "geek camp" in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
It's hard for me to work out how or when I got into science, since it's always been an interest. I am blessed to have parents who nurtured the natural empiricist bent that little kids seem to have, and who protected it from the teachers I encountered who seemed convinced that science is all about memorizing big piles of facts, or that girl-brains (or really, any brain that is not abnormally large) just couldn't "get" science. My parents made scientific reasoning a thoroughly normal part of how we interacted with the world, and they also weren't shy about sharing their excitement about various cool phenomena in the world.
That said, after majoring in chemistry in college and even getting a Ph.D. in chemistry, I'm working as a philosopher. It's not that the job market in academic philosophy was any better than in academic chemistry (it might have been a squosh worse), or that I really felt that I needed to spend another half-dozen years in graduate school (though that maybe "built character" and certainly increased my awareness of events with free food). Rather, I figured out that I was most captivated by philosophical questions about chemistry (and science more generally), and that I should at least try to get myself into a career aligned with these interests.
So far, it's working out, but I'm curious to see how it might go in a world where education funding is adequate.
How did you get into science blogging and science writing?
The blogging started in connection with an "Ethics in Science" course I teach every spring. This is one of the only courses of which I've been a part where the first class meeting eats up the whole 75 minutes because the students are so ready to leap into discussing the issues. Needless to say, fitting all the conversations into two class meetings a week just got harder as the semester went on, so I decided to set up a blog to handle the "overflow". I'd also flag stories in the news that related to responsible conduct of research (including lots of headlines about scientists behaving badly), and before I knew it there were readers (and commenters) who weren't students in my class. In fact, a lot of them were working scientists, who brought a really useful perspective to the conversation and were not shy about letting me know when they thought I was wrong.
The rapid feedback and the conversational give-and-take of the medium was so different than the timescale of discourses happening in the scholarly literature that I got hooked.
What were the early influences on you regarding your blogging style and topics?
I will confess to having jumped into blogging before I was fully immersed in reading very many blogs, so a good bit of the style reflects how I'd talk issues through in my head when preparing for class meetings. But my early reads included the Philosophy of Biology blog (which no longer exists), Botanical Girl (also defunct), No Fancy Name (ditto), Crooked Timber, Geeky Mom, YoungFemaleScientist, and New Kid on the Hallway.
Probably I'm forgetting some others I should mention, but that was a long time ago!
The topics started out being driven by my course syllabus plus the current events that grabbed me, but before too long they were also shaped by my commenters, who were an interesting mix of scientists and non-scientists, USians and non-USians, students and working folk and retirees. Their participation in the conversation really helped me appreciate how the scientist/non-scientist interactions (and the ethical dimensions of these) played out in subtle and interesting ways.
What is your blog about? Who is your target audience, and why do you think people should read your blog?
You know, I wrote a whole post about that. But the condensed version is that I'll be blogging about what's involved in doing good science, including:
- Building a reliable body of knowledge about the world and how it works.
- Building a well-functioning scientific community.
- Training new scientists.
- Interacting with the larger society.
- Sharing a world.
My target audience is anyone who cares about what's required to do good science or about how scientists and non-scientists get along (or don't). While I'm always thrilled to have members of the tribe of science participate in the discussion, I'm not expecting that my readers have lots of scientific training. I think this stuff matters to non-scientists as well as scientists, so I'll strive to make it understandable to everyone.
Anything else interesting about you, perhaps cool hobbies?
Hobbies? Every few days, whether I need it or not, I try to sleep for a few hours. Does that count?
Seriously, owing to the ever increasing demands of my day-job (which I may have mentioned I would like someday to experience in times of healthy education funding), my "hobbies" seem mostly connected to my kids' interests and activities. I coach youth soccer during soccer season and go to swim meets during swim season. We try to get outdoors and hike in the open spaces. We talk about science (among other things).
Back before I had kids, I did a lot of ballroom dancing (especially Argentine tango and big band swing). From what I recall of it, the "backwards and in heels" part was actually easier than following a lead (which requires really careful non-verbal communication and a strong lead).
These days, when I find the time, I'm trying to learn to play ukulele and drums (though not at the same time). I have been known on occasion to write smart-alecky parodies of famous poems.
Generally, not very interesting. At least, that's what my kids tell me.