Dealing with Trolls

October 28th, 2009

This is how I deal with trolls commenting on my website (at least, today… strategy might change given time)…

Everyone, say hi to Paul! (This is his IP: 141.150.79.232) Paul left this wonderful comment for me recently. It left me feeling confused as to why someone / anyone would take the time to spew so much vitriol. It really makes no sense.

So let me get this straight… you’re 35 (although you look older), unmarried, childless, and very much involved with your “career”. If you continue on this trajectory, you will die a childless and miserable woman, and worst of all, you will have denied Western civilization (and this world) your progeny. It is because of women like you that whites will be an extinct group within a few hundred years. Your time is very near the end. Good luck with your meaningless career.

Hmmm… Glad to know that I am personally responsible for allowing white people to go extinct rather than it being a process of selection. Aside from that, I am quite happy, have wonderful friends and family, and look forward to my future, childless or not.

There is no room for personal misery when there is so much wonder in the world.

Communication Basics

October 28th, 2009

Today I co-led a media training session for scientists. The day went quite well, and I found it rewarding to be able to share my knowledge and experience with other scientists. I remember what it was like to learn about the media’s perspective on communicating science. It was so foreign to my science-trained brain, but understandable since it could be boiled down to one main point.

In communicating your work (whatever it might be) with anyone, you need to tell a story. To tell a story you need to be able to first draw in your audience, get them interested in what you have to say. Once you have them, you follow a story arc, feeding them supporting ideas and information to satisfy their interest. To tie it all up, you need a good ending that will leave the audience with a lasting impression.

In order to get someone’s attention, you should start by answering the question: “Why is this interesting or important?” Strangely enough, when you are immersed in the nuanced details of your work that is one of the questions that becomes the most difficult to answer. Think of the big picture and how the average person might be interested. What are the common human threads that can tie your work to something tangible?

The information that follows your story’s introduction needs to support that connection. Answering the question of “how” is fundamental here, but the story can’t get too bogged down in details at this point or you lose the interest of the audience. Think of the children’s story of the Three Little Pigs. When the big, bad wolf came to blow the house down all that you know about how he tried to do it was that “he huffed and he puffed.” You don’t need to know how many breaths he took or how large his lung volume was or whether or not he had asthmatic symptoms (although that might have changed the story a bit). The information given is enough to keep you engaged (”oh, man! He’s huffing and puffing!”) and wondering what will come next (”oh, man! IS he going to blow it down this time?”).

The story’s end is the place where you have your last chance to make an impression, if you haven’t already. I’ll continue with the Little Pigs example here, which ends with the wolf climbing on the third pig’s roof to get at the pig by way of the chimney. Instead falling down the chimney only to land in a pot of boiling water put there by the pig. The pig turns the tables on the wolf and end up eating him instead of the other way ’round. This ending leaves quite an impression, and ties up all the loose ends of the story (pig not eaten lives happily ever after, wolf is dead and can cause no further trouble).

In science, your ending can be a message you want people to hear or an action you want people to know about or do themselves. In either case, it helps to use strong words that elicit emotional responses that will make your message that much stronger.

There is lots more to communication than just the story, for sure. But, thinking about your work as a story to be told is a great place to start.