Monday, May 16, 2011

Trounson Joins the Blogging World

The president of the $3 billion California stem cell agency, Alan Trounson, has taken up blogging.

While he is no Matt Drudge(the high impact political blogger in Washington, D.C.), Trounson's effort is worth regular scrutiny especially by scientists seeking CIRM cash.

Blogger Trounson
Trounson blogged on April 22 about his views on current stem cell research around the world. His item was an extension of the summaries that he presents to CIRM directors at their regular meetings.

Trounson wrote,
"Since I arrived at CIRM late in 2007 I have maintained a tradition of presenting some of the top science journal papers from the previous month or two at each of our board meetings. Beginning last month, I decided this would be easier to digest in a written document than in PowerPoint slides amid a harried board meeting. You can see an archive of these periodic stem cell reports on our website.

"This month I want to start a second part of the new tradition, a brief blog note to let you know why I, as someone who toiled in stem cell labs for many years, chose these items as some of the most important papers in the field in the past month or so."
Trounson went on to comment, via a separate link, on research by M. Eiraku, Sheng Ding, Elias Zambidis, Howard Chang, R. Perlingeiro, P. Ma, Shinya Yamanaka, E. Morrisey and Richard Lee.

Trounson's new endeavor is a worthwhile contribution. It provides insight for other scientists and interested parties into the thinking at the highest level of a major funding organization.

As for Trounson's comments about PowerPoint, he is spot on. PowerPoint burdens every meeting of the CIRM board of directors and is a lazy and poor way of presenting complex information. Some critics refer to PowerPoint-induced sleep and death by PowerPoint. Says one critic,
"PowerPoint makes us stupid."
The PowerPoint problem, pervasive in many organizations, may have been best captured in an article last year about its impact on the American military. The headline on the New York Times story said,
"We have met the enemy and he is PowerPoint."
Consider this follow-up comment on
"The amount of information that gets conveyed in 20 Powerpoint slides is probably less than a five page paper. It takes forever to brief it, which limits the time for serious discussion by the audience or the senior officials who are subjected to the presentation.

"With Powerpoint, the military has been moving toward an oral tradition and away from the written word, with all the demands for precision, nuance and serious exposition that writing requires. And it's not just a problem for the military. The procedure has become quite common in other areas of government, among contractors and in think tanks.

"Sometimes Powerpoint presentations are used as a kind of bureaucratic filibuster: they can be a way to eat up time and restrict the opportunity for hard questions. But even when that is not the intent they are generally not the best means of communication. Clear and concise writing requires that issues be thought through and that is not always necessary if all that is required is to slap a few bullets on a slide.

"It would be far more efficient to prepare a concise and analytical paper that provides the essential information and arguments, circulate it in advance and then take questions about the assessment and recommendations at a meeting. If maps, graphics and charts are important they can be attached to the paper as needed. The essential information could be absorbed before the meeting, which could then be devoted to serious debate and discussion."
Enough said. I will now dismount from my PowerPoint soapbox.

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