It seems inevitable that I come back from ScienceOnline conferences with an odd glow of enthusiasm which my colleagues want me to explain to them. What is this weird conference? Why does it attract such an odd array of researchers, educators, communicators, tool-builders, information curators, and science lovers? Are the conference-goers split off into their disciplinary tribes to focus just on the topic and initiative that are squarely in their wheelhouses?
With 10,000 words I'm not sure I could come close to explaining it. But as David Quammen pointed out when he spoke to us in a CONVERGE session, sometimes focusing on a piece of the experience, a part of the whole, can convey something more.
I had the pleasure of sitting right across the aisle from Jason Goldman on our short flight from Raleigh-Durham to Charlotte on Sunday, and he mentioned that he had captured a tiny bit of video that he was showing to folks to explain what ScienceOnline was like to them. He gave me permission to share that video here:
As a bit of background, Carin Bondar had launched a plan to create a music video to capture some sense of what it was like to be at ScienceOnline 2013. (She made one at ScienceOnline 2012 that was a big hit, so people were pretty enthusiastic to help.) This year's effort sought (among other things) masses of conference attendees delivering something recognizable as "Gangnam Style" choreography. If you don't know what that is, let me introduce you to pop phenomenon PSY:
The mission: get an odd array of researchers, educators, communicators, tool-builders, information curators, and science lovers to dance like PSY.
Our sensei: John Rennie, esteemed former editor in chief of Scientific American, adjunct instructor in New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program, science writer, editor, and blogger.
John's resume does not, as far as I can tell, include a stint as a dance instructor on a cruise ship or on land. However, when given the challenge of mastering some key choreography and of teaching it to a bunch of people (most of whom are not experienced dancers) on the spot, he attacked that challenge so earnestly that we were all committed.
We wanted to learn the steps. We believed we could figure them out, not just because we wanted to, but because John found a way to communicate them to us despite the fact that our entusiasm was much bigger that our talent. And by golly, we had an awesome time being part of the simultaneous transfer of skills and enthusiasm.
What happened that evening with a dance routine is not unrelated to what happens during the whole rest of the conference with our knowledge, our tools, our questions, our ideas for communication, for pedagogy, for outreach, for better ways of doing science, for better ways of sharing our world.
That's not the whole of the ScienceOnline experience, but it's an essential part of it, and it's just as infectious as a pop song.