On EarthSky: Science Needs Creative, Passionate Communicators

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | August 10, 2010 9:59 am

I recently sat down with Lindsay Patterson at EarthSky to discuss the state of science literacy in the United States.

Here’s an excerpt from the transcript:

Sheril Kirshenbaum: I think right now we are touching on an area where there is enormous opportunity. We have a very well-educated group of young people earning degrees looking to use what they know to contribute to society.

Kirshenbaum said part of contributing to the public’s understanding of science is making scientific research more accessible, through new media like Twitter or YouTube, or speaking publicly about their work and discoveries. Kirshenbaum said that today, fewer scientists are ending up in tenure-track, or permanent positions in a university. That’s why scientists who are experts in their field, and can also write or speak to the public, are at an advantage.

Sheril Kirshenbaum: Why not work with people who are thinking about science careers, but teach them science and something else? Enable young scientists to work with journalists and writers and gain skills to communicate that way. Get them more comfortable talking to media. Create the jobs for renaissance scientists, this new generation that’s going to have to step up and be prepared to tackle things we haven’t found solutions for already.

More at EarthSky

Comments (3)

  1. Jess

    Great interview!

  2. It’s great to work things at that undergraduate/graduate sort of level, but it seems to me most people are exactly as scientifically literate as they want to be. I think the real key to making long lasting changes in the level of science literacy in our country is going to be getting at kids early. Some people are starting to get the idea, but Bill Nye is only one man.

  3. There is great work being done at the moment at the intersection of art and science. Art communicates. Science is knowledge. Through art science can communicate knowledge. There needs to be more to this. I believe with the technology we have these days, art in schools and universities should be pushing the boundaries and using technology ever more so. We need more cross discipline work that draws peoples attention via one stream and introduces them to another.

    I’m a volunteer at the Royal Institute of Australia (RiAus – http://www.riaus.org.au/science/home.jsp) aka Science Exchange, Adelaide, SA. They do some fantastic work in this regard, holding conferences, art exhibitions, technology demonstrations etc. I think that we need more places like these but we also need our schools and universities to be more dynamic as well. I feel as though there is a movement in this respect with the RiAus and other institutions but they are confined primarily to the arts crowd still. It’s time to take it main stream.

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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.com For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com.

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