Last evening (January 6, 2009) BioInformatics, LLC – the premier research and advisory firm serving life science companies – helped organize and moderate a Café Scientifique on the topic of Communicating Science in a Web 2.0 World.  The two-hour event was held in the atrium of the National Science Foundation in Arlington, VA and was sponsored by the Ballston Science and Technology Alliance of Arlington County.

In 1997, BioInformatics, LLC was one of the first market research firms to leverage the power of the Web by forming an online social network of scientists to gather expert opinions on the technologies driving the advancement of biological research and drug discovery.  After 12 years, this social network – The Science Advisory Board – remains a vibrant community with a growing membership that numbers over 40,000.

The experience of managing this online community and our work for most of the major scientific publishers has given us a unique perspective in the evolution of Web-based tools for facilitating communication and collaboration in the scientific community.  Despite the lingering stereotype of the scientist as someone engrossed in his or her work in isolation from the rest of the world, communicating science is, and always has been, an essential aspect of a scientist’s job.  Scientists were among the first people to utilize the Internet to communicate important findings and seek advice through email, USENET groups, bulletin boards and listservs.  So it should come as no surprise that their use of Web 2.0 and social media is widespread and considered an increasingly important means of not only communicating with their peers but also with a far wider audience that includes policy makers, educators and the general population.

The panel was comprised of four experts on Communicating Science in a Web 2.0 World who offered their perspective on the opportunities they see, as well as the challenges they’ve experienced.

Dr. Tamara Zemlo, Senior Vice President at BioInformatics, LLC opened the discussion with an insider’s view of why scientists need to communicate with each other, the traditional media used, and the impact social media is likely to have on the scientific community and publishing.  Excerpts from Tamara’s presentation can be downloaded at https://www.gene2drug.com.  Tamara’s presentation is derived from a 150 page market research report, The Brave New World of Scientific Publishing, published in November of last year.

Chris Condayan, Manager of Public Outreach for the American Society of Microbiology (ASM) has written extensively on the subject of new media in the sciences and is responsible for ASM’s communications using podcasts, video and blogs.  Chris shared many examples of social media in action in both communications between scientists as well as with the public at large.  Chris’ work can be viewed at http://www.microbeworld.org and he twitters at http://twitter.com/csuspect

Stephanie Stockman from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration followed Chris.  Steph discussed the many educational and outreach programs she has developed for NASA’s Earth and space science missions using a combination of social media including blogs, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.  Steph blogs at http://geosteph-adventuresinearthandspace.blogspot.com and twitters at http://twitter.com/geosteph

Finally, Nancy Shute, a Senior Writer for science and medicine at US News & World Report spoke about encouraging other science writers to use Twitter and other social media tools to cover science.  Nancy described her recent live-blog coverage of the National Association of Science Writers’ annual workshop in October 2008 using Twitter.  As a journalist, Nancy plays an important role in covering new advances in science and medicine and she offered her opinions on how social media will help to make science knowledge more accessible and understandable to the general public. Nancy blogs at http://www.usnews.com/blogs/on-parenting and twitters at http://twitter.com/nancyshute