Saturday, March 01, 2014

When to "defend" on Twitter and when to listen #scio14 #scicomm

So - by Friday morning I was dying for the weekend to come. It had been a rough week.  Without getting too much into my saga, suffice it to say that "The saga of my pancreas..feet..microbiome ..blood.. liver - part 1" is not turning out so well right now and medical issues are on my mind a lot. With a little help from my family, friends, colleagues, and cats I have been getting by.
And as Friday went by things were not getting better. And then another medical issue and I had to head home early. Fun. I was just starting to recover, getting ready to watch a movie with my wife and kids when, well, the Twitter world intervened. I started to see some posts from Science Online 2014 making not so positive comments about the SpaceMicrobes project in which I am involved. Oh - and they were coming from people like Madhu Katti, who I deeply deeply respect.
It took me a few minutes to figure out that there was a microbial swabbing "event" going on at Science Online connected to the Space Microbes project. And there were many many questions being posted to the Twittersphere about the project by Madhu and a few others (e.g., see one below).
Hmm. This did not look good. But for perhaps the first time in a very very long time I felt like somehow I should not respond online. I am not sure why I felt this. I think partly I felt that, since the Space Microbes project is a collaboration in which many people from my lab are involved (and help run) that somehow I should let this play out without my "interference". I think somehow I thought that once I got involved it could become more about me and not about how the people involved handled the questions in real time. Now - I say "I think" and "somehow" and such because this was going on while I was reading books to my son (my phone was just sitting next to me, and I really did not want to look at it or follow what was going on). So - anyway - I did not do anything directly, but I sent an email to some of the people from my lab who are involved in the SpaceMicrobes project. It included an intemperate title line and the following text:
You should look at Twitter What exactly is happening at Science Online? Who is doing sampling there and what is the purpose?
Anyway - after I wrote this it was about time for movie night to start with my wife and kids and things were getting complex. My son did not want to watch the same movie as my daughter. Important decisions had to me made. And now I was getting sucked into Twitter. And I started to try to answer some of the questions Madhu and DocRicky and others had. Madhu made a Storify of much of the exchange.

Now - I personally believe that we can answer all the questions Madhu and others had about the project. And I started to try and explain some of the goals and aims of the project and the reason things were done in the way they were done. However, I was also explaining bits of Star Trek II to my son.  And I started thinking - was "defending" the project really the right thing to do here? I thought not actually.  And I decided that this was an important moment to listen and learn (and step away from the keyboard a little) and not to defend. The event that was happening (or happened - I was not sure if it was live or after the event) was what it was. If the people there could not answer the questions coming up, and if our materials on the web and in the handouts could not answer the questions, then we had, well, failed. And my explaining things on Twitter was, in a way, a cheat only made possible because I was willing to ignore family time and be online.

So - I did not completely put away the keyboard but I stopped trying to explain it all away and started trying to just listen and to accept that things had gone a bit awry. Anyway - clearly those of us involved in SpaceMicrobes need to do a better job in multiple areas. I will not try to defend or explain or justify everything here either. But I will say - thanks. To the people who are willing to ask questions and have high expectations. I will just end this post with a few of my last Tweets

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