Using WordPress

This morning I gave a presentation to a group of communications directors from some of the NCI-designated cancer centers, about how we used WordPress to redesign the NCI Benchmarks website.  I also discussed the differences between, and, the latter being what we used in the office.

Here’s a copy of the presentation:

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My #SocialMedia New Year’s Resolutions

In addition to the traditional resolutions of a personal nature, the turn of the year is also a time for examining professional goals — or at least it is if you are a federal employee and (at least in HHS) required to participate in the Performance Management Appraisal Program (PMAP).  As I think about the things I’d like to learn in order to improve my job performance, productivity, yada yada, this year I’ve come up with this list of social media-related New Year’s resolutions.

1. Choose and commit to using a proper RSS reader

I use twitter, almost more than any other source, to get my information, and often come across tweets about useful blog posts regarding social media, public relations, and/or health news.  If the blog seems particularly interesting, I will bookmark it in my browser, but to be honest, I NEVER go back to those bookmarks.  I use google desktop, which has a “web clips” feature that pulls RSS feeds, someone randomly it seems sometimes, into the side bar, but it isn’t at all organized and it’s easy to miss things.  I’ve decided I really need to find a RSS reader and use it to organize all these great information sources that I come across and subsequently forget about.  I’m thinking I’ll use Google Reader, but let me know if you have a better one.

2. Conquer my fear of social bookmarks

StumbleUpon, Reddit, Digg and the other social bookmarking communities are completely foreign to me.  They all have these intricate subcultures (David Harris said being popular on Digg was like being in a gang), and I find the whole thing overwhelming.  When they first started popping up, I was certain that they were a trend that would quickly fall away, so I didn’t bother learning much about them.  Well, clearly they are here to stay, so I feel that I must learn more about them — if for no other reason than to figure out how to use them to disseminate information/articles for my employer.

3. Become more active on LinkedIn

I know people who LOVE the site, but for me it still seems pretty useless.  I feel like it has potential, but I haven’t had the time (or desire) to truly explore it, other than finding people I know and posting my résumé.  I’ve joined a bunch of groups (probably too many), but I never actually read the postings.  This year, I need to explore the usefulness of that platform.  For now it just seems like Facebook, but way less fun.

4. Continue to share with and learn from others

Okay, maybe this one is cheating, but I always like to include a resolution that I know I can meet because I’ve already been doing it.  It makes the list seem more surmountable. In this case, I want to continue to seek out people who are doing exciting things in this area and learn from them.  At the same time I hope, through this blog, twitter, and the various other channels, that I can continue to be a resource to others who are learning along the way.  That is, after all, kind of the point of social media, isn’t it?

Happy New Year and Best wishes!


“This week…we threw the scientists under the bus”

Note: As always, this post is my own opinion and does not necessarily represent the opinion of my employer

As I was watching Meet the Press this Sunday, I caught a great quote from NBC’s Nancy Snyderman.  Starting at around 06:12 of this clip,  she sum’s up what I’ve been feeling this week:


“This task force did not look at the economics.  Their job was to look at the pure science. And I think in some ways we hear from the scientists, don’t like the message, and this week I believe we threw the scientists under the bus.  We in this country have three hot button scientific issues.  We have stem cells, vaccines, cancer screening.  We need to step back as a society and let the scientists present their data and then, as an informed populace, look at it, talk about it.  And what happened on Monday was that the headlines then ran with the weak…

“…instead of intelligent people saying, ‘OK, what does this mean and how do we mean it’ And the task force basically said to women in their 40s, individualize yourselves, talk to your doctor.  This is all about, and I think Nancy and I agree on this, better technology.”

The science says what the science says, and in this case, it wasn’t popular.  I don’t know that I agree with the new guidelines in terms of the public health message they put out, but I do believe that the time has come for greater discussion about the merits of mammography, and the need for improved technology in this area.  That discussion seems to be getting lost in the discussion, and I am glad that Dr. Snyderman brought it up.

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New project at NCI

I’ve been so wrapped up in the new blog I’ve been creating at work, that I haven’t been able to post for a bit.  I’ve got a few drafts going though, so I should have new content shortly.  In the meantime, check out the other weblog I manage at  It’s an example of a government site run on the platform. There’s also a YouTube Channel at  Did you know that YouTube offers free branding to government sites?  Or at least, I think they do.  I haven’t been able to find official confirmation of this, but I registered that channel using a .gov email address, and one day noticed that I had “Branding Options” which I hadn’t noticed before.  Branding Options usually cost thousands of dollars, from what I understand, but I had it free.  I saw a blogger say he was told that branding was now free for  government YouTube channels, but as I said, I haven’t seen anything official.  If you have seen official word, let me know in the comments.

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Utilizing Social Media

A while ago I did a presentation for the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance on utilization of traditional and social media as it relates to media relations professionals.  Since then, I’ve received a few requests for the slides, so I decided to post them here:

If you have questions, feel free to submit them via the comments.

Science Writers: Day 2

The second day of the Science Writers 2009 conference began the New Horizons briefings, hosted by the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing (CASW), a 501(c)3 non-profit organization devoted to improving the quality of science writing. My favorite sessions on day 2 were a session on Information Technology that focused on catching plagiarism, and a Statistics session that highlighted some Florida election troubles (not the election you’re thinking of).

Informatics and Plagiarism Scandal

Starting out the day, Harold “Skip” Garner, PhD of the Univ of Texas and his team created a web-based software program, called eTBLAST, to scan databases, like Medline (online database of biomedical research papers), to look for instances of duplication that may indicate plagiarism.  As someone who works a research agency that is also the single-largest source of funding for medical research, I found his research interesting, and just a little bit frightening.

The modern research environment is extremely competitive.  The cost of doing medical research is increasing, while the dollars available for that research has been in steady decline.  Academic researchers are judged, in large part, by the number of publications bearing their name, and the number of research dollars they bring into the institution.  A common mantra among scientists, in both public and private settings, is “publish, or perish.”  Perhaps it is this pressure to publish the next big paper, so that you can bring in the big research dollars so that you can publish the next paper, that drives some toward unethical behavior.

Previous studies cited by Dr. Garner have attempted to quantify instances of unethical behavior and found that 0.3% of researchers admitted to faking data, 1.4% admitted to some form of plagiarism, 4.7% published the same data more than once, and as many as 10% included authors that shouldn’t have been included.

Using their text analysis software, the researchers created a searchable database, called Deja Vu, which lists “highly-similar” publications found in Medline.  They currently list over 79,000 papers that are strikingly similar to other papers in the database.  The papers must be verified by hand, and currently only 6372 have been verified.  Mixed in that 6372 in that number are papers that were reprinted with permission, papers that are corrections of previous publications, papers from authors that republish after expanding upon their original work, etc.

The team follow-up on 206 papers, which had, on average, 86% of the same text and 73% of the same references as an earlier paper.  They sent surveys to the authors of the duplicate papers, and to the authors of the original papers.  Ninety-three percent of the authors of the original papers had no idea that their work had been copied.  As for the authors of the latter papers, 25% denied any wrongdoing, while 35% admitted and apologized.  So far, over 90 investigations have been initiated, and there have been over 50 retractions. I’m thinking that, in the “publish or perish” world, imitation is NOT considered flattering!

Nobody Does an Election like Florida

The second speaker was Arlene Ash, Ph.D., a statistician with Boston University whose recent work has focused on what she calls vote theft.  Dr. Ash shared data from the 2006 Congressional election in Florida’s district 13, where Republican Vern Buchanan earned a very narrow, 369 vote victory over Democrat Christine Jennings.

The problem, according to Ash, lies in the missing votes.  In Sarasota county, one of the four counties that make up the district, there were 18,000 people (15 percent) who voted for other elections, but didn’t vote for the Congressional race.  Other counties only had three-percent missing votes, indicating a clear anomaly.  Adjusting for the norm, there were 15,000 excess missing votes in Sarasota county.

If the 15,000 people voted in a similar pattern to the rest of the voters, then the missing votes would not matter.  However,  according to Ash, these votes were not lost at random, and therefore one cannot assume that the votes would be distributed as the non-lost votes.  Polls that showed the Democratic candidate having a strong lead prior to the election seem to confirm this suspicion.

It is speculated that many of the votes were lost due to the design of the ballot in that Florida county (wait, this feels familiar).  On the Sarasota ballot, the congressional race did not get its own page, as many of the other votes did.  It was squished at the top of a page, occupying about a quarter to a fifth of the page, while the rest of the page was occupied by one other election.  Also, for some reason, the headers of the  sections with for the other elections were highlighted with bright colors, while this one was just white.

Ash believes that this constitutes vote theft, which, according to her, occurs when the choices of eligible voters who make reasonable efforts to vote are not counted.  In other words, disenfranchisement.

Vote THEFT seems kind of harsh, but it does seem awfully fishy.  Considering the high potential for error when different places have different ballots, why don’t we just have standardized ballots in this country.  If we have standard passports, and are moving toward standardized ID’s, why not standard ballots?

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GovLoop bought out by GovDelivery

Today, GovLoop, the ning-based social networking site for government communities, announced that is has been bought out by GovDelivery, a for-profit, government communications service provider.

Upon hearing this, I deleted my account, because it just feels a bit icky to talk about communications issues on a social network owned by a company trying to get business solving those issues.

Via twitter, the founder of GovLoop contacted me and said that he chose this company because they promised not to use the network to solicit business, but that seems unrealistic to me. They are a business. If not to increase their potential for contracts, why would they bother buying the network?

Here’s the press release: Here is some additional info:

I’d love to hear what others think about this new development. Is it okay to discuss our communications challenges on a network owned by a company that might want to send us bids/proposals to solve those challenges?

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