How can we #sciencethenews?

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[Cross-posted from Estelle’s Blog]

Mainstream media are most adults’ primary source of new information about science. Yet even when mainstream media outlets cover science (which they rarely do), the coverage contains errors approximately 20-30% of the time. Consequently, a hefty majority of Americans (over 70%!) lack adequate literacy to reason about scientific evidence as it relates to civic life. As scientists, how can we bridge the gap between the ivory tower and the general public?

We interviewed researchers, journalists, and everyone in-between in order to understand how science news gets made, why it’s often challenging to produce, and what opportunities exist for new technological innovation. Check out the infographic above for a simplified visualization of the Media Production Pipeline (MPP), but make sure to read our forthcoming CHI paper entitled [Un]breaking News: Design Opportunities for Enhancing Collaboration in Scientific Media Production to get the whole story.

What’s critical to realize is that all of the diverse stakeholders involved in scientific media production have different skills, different incentives, and different definitions of success. The infographic below describes our primary results in more detail.

Scientists undergo extensive training to execute complex technical processes, and they might spend months or years creating a manuscript, yet the text, figures and images they produce aren’t usually comprehensible to the lay reader. Journalists have extensive training to craft effective and relatable narratives, yet they often have only hours or days to write a story, and they’re always juggling multiple stories at once. Plus, journalists need compelling visuals or multimedia to give their stories wings. Let’s just say, scientists aren’t artists, and they don’t generally have loads of catchy videos or photos lying around. These differences (and more) can result in awkward or failed interactions.

To top it all off, nobody truly knows exactly what stories the public should know. It takes a significant amount of effort for media professionals to sort through all the possible stories that could be written to find the right stories to write.

But what does all of this mean for technology designers?

We believe that future technology should make it easier for scientists to work with journalists, and for journalists to rapidly get the information they need to write accurate science stories. And no–that does not mean giving scientists the go-ahead to co-write or edit journalists’ work. Rather, it means supporting efficient interaction modalities that anticipate press engagement, generate materials ahead of time, and respect the perspectives of scientists and media professionals. We share our ideas in our paper, but we want to hear from you! Join the conversation with #sciencethenews.

…And then roll out of bed, grab a coffee, and come see the paper talk bright and early on Wednesday morning at CHI 2018 in Montreal, Canada! I’ll be presenting our work, which was awarded an Honorable Mention, on Wednesday, April 25, 2018 at 9am in Room 517D in the paper session: Curation & Collection. Mark your calendar.

As funding for scientific research dwindles, and powerful political and corporate interests continue to block and decry scientific progress, it has never been more important for scientists and journalists to work together. Our work lays down some groundwork; now it’s up to the scientific community to build new technologies and new attitudes towards public engagement.

Read the paper here.

Love Online in Saudi Arabia … It’s Complicated

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Finding love online is complicated and usually comes with a side of  social stigma. Sure, true love might exist on the inter-webs, but you also might struggle with skeptical family and friends who believe otherwise. Now just imagine replicating the scenario in the conservative culture of Saudi Arabia. Our new DIS paper shows just how complicated things become.

First, dating is not allowed…or at least not the way you would imagine a “date” to be. It usually involves parents being present, and we all know how awkward that can get. If you are lucky, you might get some private time together, but it would be in the house of your would-be in laws.

This is a constant struggle for singles in Saudi who try to find love online, and it is much worse for women. Balancing technology use to find life partners and staying true to cultural and religious beliefs is complicated. The most common way to get married is to have it arranged by parents, which is limited to what parents can arrange. Use of technology can be helpful, but it is always considered suspicious.

Singles in Saudi who try to find love online must balance their use of technology against staying true to cultural and religious beliefs, and this situation could be worse for women. Arranged marriages are the most common practice, but these are limited by parents’ willingness and social connections. Given that technology use is considered suspicious, how can this affect the design of technologies that would help Saudis find their spouses?

I have been always fascinated about the marriage process in Saudi. It may seem simple at first, but it gets complicated as it progresses. I personally had a struggle with my parents to choose whom I would marry. After talking to some Saudis, I realized it is a struggle that even some parents have trouble with.

I grew up in the US and spent my teenage years in Saudi Arabia. My collaborators have similar backgrounds and have done work to incorporate Arab and Muslim values into how technology is used within those contexts. We interviewed 18 Saudis (9 male, 9 female) about their opinions on the current marriage process and what role technology can play in it. Most of them had a more “progressive” view to support the use of technology to find a spouse.

Our interviews gave us the following insights (see infographic) :

  1. Parents control the process. Parents usually want a marriage that is sustainable. Their belief is that a marriage involving someone they know has a better success rate. Also, they believe gender interactions should be in check to avoid leading to unacceptable behavior such as flirting. Young adults understand their parents, but find marrying someone they know may compromise compatibility.
  2. Technology opens opportunities. Even though parents believe technology is not trustworthy, young adults believe it is a risk worth taking to broaden their search horizon. This usually involves parents demanding their young adults to respect their desires in marriage. Young adults understand that, but find that technology grants them some independence to make decisions for themselves.
  3. Culture and religion at risk! Parents usually associate technology as a disruption to culture and religion, but young adults are actually finding it as an opportunity to redefine what culture and religion means to them. Specifically, parents view marriage as a responsibility that may evolve into a friendship. On the other hand, young adults believe it should be the other way around.


Many of the concerns addressed by Saudis may even exist in other contexts. Family and friends in the US, for instance, might mirror the role of parents in Saudi. The current generation has a different definition of marriage compared to the previous one. Also, with the US population becoming more diverse, the concerns mentioned could apply to many Arab and Muslim families living in the US. In addition, non-Arabs and non-Muslims would have a better understanding when deciding to date or marry a Muslim or Arab.

You can read more in my DIS paper.

Different Strokes for Different Folks: The Value of Personality Type in Recommender Systems and Social Computing

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Did you know that your personality type can be used to predict your behavior on an online recommender site (how long you stay, what you do, whether and how much you are likely to rate)  and even what to recommend to you? That’s what we found in our latest research using the MovieLens recommender system and the Big Five Personality scale for modeling user personality. To learn more, read on!


Take Your Medicine: Write Online!

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Decades of research have shown that writing about our deepest, darkest emotions makes us feel better. But what happens when we write about those feelings online?

Patients with life-threatening illnesses must regularly process heavy emotions. Many patients and their caregivers turn to online health communities to get support and share their journeys. We partnered with – a large journaling platform that lets patients write about their health journey – to explore how expressive writing affects people’s engagement with their online community.

Haiwei demonstrates posting a journal update on CaringBridge.


Ramen is More Photogenic than Chicken Wings: A Winter Break Externship Report

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GroupLens externs with some of their favorite foods.


Guest written by Maryam Hedayati, Steph Herbers, Sophia Maymudes, and Anna Meyer.


Christmas is almost here. Do you know what most people won’t be doing on December 25th? Writing online restaurant reviews. Let’s dive deeper into the world of online restaurant reviews to learn more about this and other interesting trends. (more…)