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Twitterpated science writers?

Twitterbird illustration.JPGThe combined annual meeting of the National Association of Science Writers and the New Horizons in Science conference (sponsored by the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing) is wrapping up in Austin, TX today. Last year Stanford hosted the four-day event, which brings together professional science writers and scientists to talk shop and get up to snuff on emerging scientific topics likely to grace the pages and websites of media outlets across the country. Other conference workshops deal with the nuts and bolts of science writing and ways to effectively use internet and social media to increase the public's exposure to good science writing in this era of the incredible shrinking newspaper.

I couldn't attend this year, but I got a lot of the flavor of the conference by watching its Twitter feed. Although some of us were 'twittering' last year, the platform seems to have really taken off this time. Science writers Robin Lloyd (currently an online editor for Scientific American) and Christine Russell (president of CASW and a senior fellow at Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs) took note as well, writing about the phenomena in an article published online at the Columbia Journalism Review yesterday. I found it fascinating to read how people at the meeting were using Twitter, and what seasoned science writers thought of its influence ('critically important' and 'very valuable' were two comments). Other nuggets included summaries of other social media sites (Digg.com functions like a gang?) and a really interesting look at something new to me: a Twitter analytics tool called Need4Feed that categorizes conference tweets according to popularity. The service helps people like me sift through non-essential tweets like 'where's the nearest bathroom' to find information-packed gems like a link tweeted by MSNBC.com science editor Alan Boyle to a chart of social media presented by one of the speakers at the conference. And attendee Rachel Coker tweeted a shout-out to Google FastFlip this morning, which I'm exploring right now.

Even though 'popular' doesn't always mean 'useful', chances are they're at least fun to read. After all, how can you pass up this tweet from my science writing colleague and friend Bryn Nelson, posted during a (presumably well-attended) talk about why women have sex: "OMG. Can't even tweet about the last slide. Take home: bigger isn't always better. #sciwri09"?

Image courtesy of Matt Hamm

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