Into the Woods at Harvard Forest

witnesstreeNESW members are invited to spend Sunday, May 3, for a day at Harvard Forest in Petersham, MA. It’s one in a network of 27 NSF-funded Long-Term Ecological Research stations that stretch from Antarctica to Alaska. Set up in 1907 by scientists at Harvard University, the site became part of the NSF’s network in 1988. We’ll spend the day with researchers who are studying land-use changes as well as the forest’s response to stresses that range from intense storms and climate change to air pollution. And, hey, it’s a chance to get outside after one bodaciously awful winter!

Plan on arriving between 9:30 a.m. and 10:00. We’ll be making the rounds until about 4:00 p.m., with time out for a bring-your-own-lunch lunch. Sturdy shoes and layers are the order of the day, in case we haven’t shaken the last vestiges of this past winter.

There is no charge for this event. But seating, or perhaps we should say sauntering, is limited to 20-25 participants. That’s about the most that can surround a scientist and still hear him or her beneath the trees. So get your bid in early.

To reach the research station from Boston, take Route 2 west to Exit 17 (Route 32) and head south 3 miles to Petersham. If you are coming from Boston, or even if you aren’t, here‘s what Google Maps shows.

Interested in carpooling? If you can give a ride, or if you want a ride, add your name in the comments section below and get in touch with each other!

Sign up here:

Telling Science Stories with Code and Data: April 18-19

Update: Check out the examples of what you can do at

Twitter: #hacksciwri

Date: Saturday, April 18, 2015
Time: 9 am-6 pm
(Optional half day to polish projects Sunday, April 19, 9 am-1 pm)
Place: MIT Media Lab
Two-step registration begins here:
* Note that workshop space is limited. Tutorials and examples from the workshop will be openly available online after the workshop

The workshop, funded by an Idea Grant from the National Association of Science Writers, will open with some short presentations before participants divide into groups for tutorials and hands-on project work, returning for presentation of projects and general discussion.

The MIT Media Lab is generously making their space available to groups that want to continue working into early evening and the following day.

If you’re interested in attending, please begin thinking of science stories you’d do if you had some programming skill and access to data to work with.

When we open registration later this month, we’ll ask each individual to submit a story idea. Our goal will be for you to work on a group project that uses the skills and resources that you’d need for that story—so you leave with a start on something you’d actually like to do.

From responses to our survey in November, we’ve determined that some of you are primarily interested in learning to acquire, analyze and interpret data, while others would like to learn how to visualize and present scientific information in interactive, reader-friendly ways for storytelling. Workshop activities will address both these objectives. Thanks for your input!

We’re looking for examples of data coding and visualization in science writing. Please help us by submitting links to stories and visualizations in the comments section, below.

See you there!

Ros Reid & Carol Cruzan Morton, workshop coordinators
Brian Hayes & Rahul Dave, presenters, developers and chief facilitators
Matt Carroll and the MIT Media Lab, hosts

Telling Science Stories with Code and Data: Help us Plan the Workshop Around What You Need

circos-table-vcmqzuqrand-largeNESW has been awarded an Idea Grant from the National Association of Science Writers to organize a one-day workshop called “Telling Science Stories with Code and Data. The idea is to create new and better SCIENCE stories by exploring and leveraging the new tools available to journalists—computer programming and data analysis.”

We hope to schedule the workshop in Spring 2015. Help us tailor it to you and your needs. We have in mind a hands-on workshop that is story-driven, not tools-driven (in contrast to “data journalism” workshops, which are typically tutorials in a particular tool). We need your input to design a workshop that equips you with skills, ideas and tools you can use for your stories and that advances the state of the art.

Below are a few examples of workshop exercises and a simple questionnaire. If you are interested in participating, please take a moment to tell us whether the examples seem useful and relevant, or to give us alternative ideas that better match your needs. We also want to know what you would want to gain from such a workshop.

The workshop will most likely be held in Cambridge, Mass. Attendance will be limited so that participants can work in small, well-supported groups to learn skills by exploring sample challenges together. The grant will allow us to keep registration fees very low and also to create a community website where we can share videos, tutorials and other resources afterward.

Here are three hypothetical examples of projects workshop groups could tackle:

1. Look for patterns in public data. Federal research funding is shrinking. Can we say anything interesting about how Massachusetts, traditionally a grant magnet, is faring? As a way to explore the challenges of acquiring and analyzing data, let’s scrape or download a decade of funding data from NSF, DOE or NIH and plot total funding and proposal success rates to look for trends and differences between Massachusetts and the rest of the nation.

2. Create an online interactive. A new screening test claims to diagnose green left thumb disease with 90 percent accuracy. Critics point out that because the incidence of green left thumbs in the U.S. population is only 1 percent, almost 90 percent of the positive results will be false positives. How can a test that’s 90 percent accurate give 90 percent wrong answers? As a way of learning to illustrate science stories, let’s create an interactive online illustration that will help readers understand this seeming paradox.


3. Visualize data on a map. In medieval Europe the bubonic plague spread at a speed of four miles per day. In the modern world, with air travel, epidemic diseases can move a lot faster. Using open-source mapping software and a database of air routes, let’s try creating a map showing possible paths of transmission for the West African Ebola outbreak.breastcancer

Please use this online form to let us know what you’re interested in, give us your suggestions and get on the mailing list for workshop details:

Who wants to use Python for reporting?

What: Python for Journalists — How to use simple coding to enhance your reporting.
When: Tuesday, Oct. 29, 6 pm
Where: Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass

Registration is limited to the first 50 people. Sign up at:

If you have little or no experience with computer programming, and you’re facing a problem that’s just crying out for a programmatic approach, what do you turn to?  The answer is Python!

Freelance writer John Bohannon, who had no experience with programming, taught himself the programming language Python, which allows people to author simple programs. He used it in his investigative story for Science,  “Who’s Afraid of Peer Review?”, an investigation of peer review among fee-charging open access journals. Between January and August 2013, Bohannon submitted fake scientific papers to 304 journals. Despite deliberate errors in the papers, they were accepted by 60 percent of the journals that received them. Each of the 304 papers was unique, with completely different authors and affiliations. Each paper described a different study, with different chemicals and cancer cells. The investigation generated over 3000 emails, all of which are now public record. So how did he do that?  With Python.

Bohannon will tell the story of that sting — in code.  It will be extremely newbie-friendly, and he’ll walk us through a little problem set that we do in the class in real time.

  • how to create a template for a Mad Lib and scale up production as big as you need
  • how to scrape the data from a website
  • how to create and curate data programmatically
  • how to send emails automatically from the command line (via Python, grabbing the body from text documents and the email addresses from your data)

By the end, everyone will have basically learned how to do what he did, and will have a starter kit of tools that allow them to do nearly anything.

Thanks to Neil Savage for organizing and to Rosalind Reid for hosting.

Sponsors: A co-event of New England Science Writers and Hacks/Hackers Boston. Hosted by Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

The Comet of the Century?

Please RSVP to our first Fall event to hear about the rumored “comet of the century.”

ISON on 10 Oct. 2013. From M.P. Mobberley (

ISON on 10 Oct. 2013. From M.P. Mobberley (

Wednesday, 16 October
6 pm – Pizza social
7 pm – Comet talk
Location: Haller Hall, located in the building housing the Harvard Museum of Natural History
26 Oxford St. Cambridge, MA.
Cost: $5
Twitter hashtag: #ISON

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Events, contest deadline

Here are some upcoming events and deadlines of interest:

1. Sunday, March 31 — Deadline for entries
American Geophysical Union’s David Perlman Award for Excellence in Science Journalism. The Perlman Award recognizes outstanding news reporting on the Earth and space sciences produced under deadline pressure of one week or less. The award consists of a $5,000 stipend and a plaque, and we now accept entries electronically (only), greatly simplifying the submission process. For further information about the award itself, see: To go directly to the nomination form: click this link.

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NESW party rocks the Pru at AAAS

Carol Morton (far left) leads the dancing

Carol Morton (far left) leads the dancing

More than 800 science journos, students, PIOs, ands guests partied and networked Saturday, February 16 at the New England Science Writers reception for communicators covering the 2013 annual American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting.

Fresh from a day of AAAS presentations on everything from brain plasticity to cosmic microwaves to sparse phenomena, science writers were treated to panoramic nighttime views of a bejeweled Boston from the 50th floor of the Prudential Tower. When not reserved for private functions, the well-windowed floor serves as the landmark building’s Skywalk Observatory.


Karen Weintraub (left) Claudia Dreifus (right)

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