Covid-19, the third leading cause of death

For Scientific American, Youyou Zhou made a line chart that shows cause of death in the United States, from 2015 up to present. Covid-19 was the leading cause of death in April and is now sitting at number 3. The rise in unclassified deaths also stands out.

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Color breakdown of Scientific American covers

For Scientific American, Nicholas Rougeux and Jen Christiansen show the shift in hues for the magazine’s covers over the past 175 years. The changes serve as a proxy for technology advancements, changes in ownership, and shifts in thinking.

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Gallery of uncertainty visualization methods

It must be uncertainty month and nobody told me. For Scientific American, Jessica Hullman briefly describes her research in uncertainty visualization with a gallery of options from worst to best.

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Visualizing science

Jen Christiansen spoke about her extensive experience as a graphics editor for Scientific American. Her talk notes span a wide range of topics from the “rules”, the spectrum of visualization, and collaboration:

[S]ome of my favorite recent Scientific American graphics are the result of bringing together different artists—plucking experts from each of those groups and matching them up to create a final image that draws upon all of their strengths, not forcing one artist to excel in all areas. For example, I love to take an artist who can develop spot illustrations with a stylus or pen, and pair them up with an artist who can custom code data visualization solutions, as in this example by Moritz Stefaner and Jillian Walters.

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#SciArt Tweetstorm

Rainbow Microbes by Michele Banks

Rainbow Microbes by Michele Banks

The Grand Poobah’s of science art at the Symbiartic science art blog have declared 1-7 March to be the week of the science art tweetstrom using the hashtag #sciart.

Here at The Finch & Pea we currently have 181 “Art of Science” posts (well 182 now), or 30 per day for the the rest of the week. That should keep y’all busy.

Filed under: The Art of Science Tagged: Glendon Mellow, Kalliopi Monoyios, Katie McKissick, sciart, science art, Scientific American, Symbiartic

SciAm Blog Network revamp plus List of 2014 “best of” lists, Part I

Big changes at the Scientific American Blog Network Revamping the Scientific American Blog Network is quite a big deal. As Knight Science Journalism Tracker Paul Raeburn reports, SciAm is eliminating about half the bloggers in the network and instituting a … Continue reading »

The post SciAm Blog Network revamp plus List of 2014 “best of” lists, Part I appeared first on PLOS Blogs Network.

Scientific American and Blogs

Today, the editors of Scientific American published a post announcing a new vision for the Scientific American blog network. It is not exactly clear how that new vision is going to play out. It does seem to mean that many excellent blogs on the network, including those written by friends, will go away.

Blog editor Curtis Brainard’s discussion of controversy surrounding one of their blogs reads like a prelude to today’s announcement.

We are currently revising guidelines with our blogging community with the aim of preventing missteps.

The new “Blog Network Guidelines” are strict, and appear specifically geared to preventing controversies like a blog posting racist and sexist arguments.

It is too early to comment on whether this is the “right” approach. Frankly, I am hopelessly conflicted as a number of friends doing excellent work will be losing a gig. It is, however, telling that Scientific American is recognizing that they have to take responsibility for everything that appears under their brand:

Among other things, people expect a higher level of accuracy, integrity, transparency and quality from media organizations, and that expectation applies as much to blog content as it does to more traditional content such as news and features—especially because many readers do not differentiate between the two types of content.

On a lighter note, this booilerplate disclaimer is ridiculous:

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

If the views of “The Editors” do not necessarily reflect the views of Scientific American, whose do? In this case, it seems obvious that the only resolution is to conclude that Scientific American as a publishing company is incapable of holding “views”, which may be upsetting to certain members of the Supreme Court.

Filed under: Items of Interest Tagged: blogs, Curtis Brainard, Scientific American

PhD gender gaps around the world

How Nations Fare in PhDs by Sex

Periscopic, for Scientific American, visualized the number of PhDs awarded in various countries. You might expect men to be in high percentages and women to be in low, but it's not always in that direction.

In the U.S., women are going to college and majoring in science and engineering fields in increasing numbers, yet here and around the world they remain underrepresented in the workforce. Comparative figures are hard to come by, but a disparity shows up in the number of Ph.D.s awarded to women and men. The chart here, assembled from data collected by the National Science Foundation, traces the gender gap at the doctoral level for 56 nations. The situation in individual countries varies widely, but as the numbers make clear, there are interesting exceptions to the global trend.

Each view shows a vertical dotted line to indicate where PhDs awarded are an even split between men and women. To the left of that dotted line shows where men earn more PhDs than women, and on the right, where women earn more than men.

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Feynman the Creepy Genius

Another tone-deaf post (now taken down)* related to women and science from Scientific American Blogs sparked a great disturbance in our little corner of the internet around the question of whether or not we should care that Richard Feynman was both a genius and really creepy. Our friend, Matthew Francis has an excellent, thoughtful reply to this discussion.

He starts with a particularly important point about the perils of creating a moral equivalence between personality quirks and serious character flaws in our heroes:

Very few heroes can survive scrutiny unscathed. They all have flaws, by virtue of being human. However, hero-worship blurs those flaws,  leveling them: truly nasty aspects of a person’s personality or behavior become on par with little quirks and eccentricities. In that way, we justify our worship.
-Dr. Matthew Francis

Another friend, Janet Stemwedel has an excellent post** on the ethics of evaluating our heroes as individual components, the sum of their parts, or something in between, which should inform all our thinking on individuals like Feynman, or anyone else you think is a great [insert profession], but kind of a dick.

Before you remind me that I should be grateful that individuals of such staggering genius with intellects that cast mine in deep shadow have walked among us, I will remind you that it is a virtual certainty that for every Feynman or Einstein, there are several individuals with greater creativity and intellect who have lived under less fortunate circumstances and who we would be praising today but for the fact that they were not given the same opportunities.

Unfortunately, the comments have been predictably disappointing. I used this as an opportunity to make good on the positive commenting pledge I made with Eva Amsen. Maybe you should try it too?

*I have some thoughts on the editorial & perception difficulties of being Scientific American Blogs as currently structured.

**Hat tip to Matthew Francis.

Filed under: Follies of the Human Condition Tagged: ethics, heroes, Janet Stemwedel, Linkonomicon, Matthew Francis, Richard Feynman, Scientific American

Editorial Expectations

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

There is no requirement that what you say you are and what your audience expects you to be will be the same thing. It is very hard, however, to tell your audience that their expectations and reactions are “wrong”.

Scientific American finds itself in this position once again thanks to another tone-deaf post on the Curious Wavefunction blog on the Scientific American Blogs network. Scientific American makes the disclaimer that the content of individual blogs on the blog network does not represent Scientific American.

No matter what they say, people are naturally going to assume that something published under the Scientific American branding will represent Scientific American quality and values. 

The disclaimer may be adequate to keep any legal mud from sticking – though the legal team does seem willing to pull the trigger on taking down posts to reduce potential liability.

There are a couple of catches. First, as more traditional print magazine content moves online (whether behind a paywall or not), the line between a “blog” and an “article” that has editorial guidance and fact-checking blurs. While the difference may be very clear to professional editors and writers, we cannot assume that is the case for any given reader. Some readers are going to come to blog posts with the same high expectations they have for a Scientific American print article, and there are many bloggers on Scientific American Blogs that regularly deliver on those expectations.

Second, the Scientific American Blogs network benefits from its association with the Scientific American brand. That brand is built on reader expectations for interest and quality. The good news for Scientific American is that they have successfully associated their brand with quality and integrity. The bad news is that we are going to expect to see those things anywhere that brand is used.

When you are a household name with 100+ years of history, you cannot make those expectations and associations go away with a boilerplate disclaimer. You probably can’t make them go away at all.

A structural problem for Scientific American Blogs is that the network is too big and the editorial staffing too small to be able to provide the kind of editorial oversight the Scientific American brand leads people to expect. There are, however, indications that the new Scientific American Blogs editor, Curtis Brainard, is grappling with these issues and is working to address them.


Filed under: Follies of the Human Condition Tagged: blogs, Curtis Brainard, Scientific American