An Interview with Eric Roston, Author of The Carbon Age

By Ms Baker


by Jordan

Eric Roston graduated from Columbia University and now works as a Senior Associate for the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University.  He plans to attend the Science Online ‘09 conference.

1) Why are you attending Science Online 09?

I learn a lot from the science bloggers. In some cases, I’ve become friendly with people I’ve “met” through blogging. That’s particularly true of my attendance of this event last year. People’s personalities come through their blogs. That combined with their professional analysis of new studies, trends, or whatever, makes science blogging a good way to stay in touch with people and stay up with new studies. It’s important to point out that my research (I’m a journalist and science writer) is based only on peer-reviewed journals or other reputable published material. I’ve never used a blog as a source for information. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t point out that my attendance has to do with two professional circumstances. I’m the author of a new book, called The Carbon Age (check out, and it has been received quite well in the science blogosphere. Also, I work for a unit of Duke University called the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. We are starting up a Web magazine (currently a 5 day-old blog) about oceans science and policy. Even though I live in Washington, DC, it helps that Science Online is near Duke — I might not make it otherwise. I should also point out that I am approximately the lamest blogger on the Internet, and post something about once a month (

2) Have you ever attended the Science Online conference in the previous years? If you have, do you have any suggestions to help me make the most of my experience?

I went last year and had a lot of fun. I suppose the trick is to just talk to as many people as possible. This is a group of bloggers, so nobody’s shy and everybody likes to talk. Also, it’s a good idea to think beforehand about what your own goals are for the conference, and then to use the conference to meet those goals. Maybe you want to learn more about people who write about the Big Bang; maybe you want to meet professors, or journalists, or whomever. If you have a strategy, you’ll be able to check things (or people) off the list as the weekend passes.

3) What are some of the difficulties of being a scientist?

I can speak to this question, even though I’m not a scientist, because I know a lot of them. Depending on the stage of your career and the specific field you’re in, it can be a lot of work. You really have to love what you do, because the hours can be long and the pay suboptimal. Fortunately (I suppose), we are in and entering deeper into a period of economic slowdown, so perhaps staying close to the academy isn’t such a bad thing! It’s really important to get along well with the people you work for in any kind of career. But in science it’s particularly acute because of the nature of the enterprise. We’re also living in a time where public interest in science is falling off a cliff. (CNN redesigned its web site this week and doesn’t even have a tab on the home page for science news.) That’s a frustration for some scientists.

4) What are some of the advantages of being a scientist?

Science trains you to think in a way that little else can. It emphasizes the necessity of evidence-based reasoning, which goes missing too often in our society, and the absence of which too often gets us in trouble. Scientists are often very passionate about their work, and are driven by intense curiosity about how nature works — and what we can get it to do. The elation of discovering something new is a powerful feeling, particularly if a scientist has been chasing a problem for many years. The thrill of knowledge can be a really powerful thing. Many scientists, particularly those at universities and colleges enjoy teaching, and serving as mentors to undergraduates and graduate students as they embark on their careers.

5) Can you list the top five colleges that specialize in scientific technology?

The places I’ve relied on most in the past for research are probably MIT, Harvard, Caltech, RPI, and one of the UC’s — San Diego or Berkeley (I’ll hold off from listing Columbia, where I graduated, and Duke, where I work!)

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