[Susan Joy] Hassol gave a memorable overview of the many wonk words that climate scientists use that backfire in communication with the public—or just fail completely to convey what scientists actually mean. “Anthropogenic,” for instance. How many times, she noted, have you heard someone try to sound smart and say “anthropomorphic” instead? And those are the ones that are trying to get it right.
Other words that backfire or have different meanings than scientists think? “Radiation.” “Errors.” “Models.” “Theory.” Oh, and especially “aerosols.” When people hear about aerosols, Hassol emphasized, they think of spray cans. What a perfect way of reinforcing the widespread misconception that climate change has something to do with the hole in the ozone layer.
And there was much more. You can read the full piece here.
I wasn’t a very good blogger last week–for which I am very sorry.
However, I will be more than making up for it in the coming week (and giving Sheril a break), as I’m going to be unveiling a considerable amount of new and in some cases experimental content–all organized around the theme of communicating science to broader audiences.
First off, this is the week when the images from the new Rock Stars of Science™ campaign are going public in GQ magazine’s blockbuster “Men of the Year” issue. So stand by for a roll-out of that, starting with a retrospective on the scientists who participated in 2009 and what the experience was like for them.
And second, on Wednesday and Thursday I’m one of three trainers at this National Science Foundation-sponsored workshop on science communication at George Washington University. It’s entitled “Science: Becoming the Messenger,” and little do they know it yet, but I have a suspicion that you may hear from some workshop participants right here on the blog!
There may be other sci comm news as well…but already, that’s a lot. So stand by….
Yesterday I appeared on a panel at the 2010 National Association of Science Writers meeting, along with public opinion experts Jon Miller and Carolyn L. Funk. Two write ups of the panel appeared on the event blog subsequently–here and here. To describe the event, then, let me just quote:
If you had $1 to spend on improving science literacy in America, how would you spend it? That was the question posed by Rick Borchelt, an organizer of today’s Civics of science session, to panelists Carolyn L. Funk, Jon Miller, and Chris Mooney.
Miller proposed spending half his dollar on improving pre-college science education, with the remainder on adult learning, a small portion of which would be used for science journalism. Mooney suggested spending the whole dollar on creating jobs for science journalists and young scientists, building an army of people devoted to improving public science literacy. And Funk said most of her dollar would go into the education system, with spending divided on efforts to incorporate science standards into elementary and lower-level education and on adult learning and informal adult education, the area where mainstream science journalism has its greatest impact.
Although the session raised more questions than it provided answers, the Agronsky & Co. style discussion, as promised, led to some interesting debate about the place of science journalism in science literacy and education in the United States. Science journalism is concerned mainly with delivering information about the latest developments in scientific discovery, and today most science reporting operates within the “just-in-time” model of new media. The cultural importance of science, the future of which could hinge on fitting into the new media scene, was perhaps most entertainingly discussed within the context of music and Rock Stars, a topic introduced by Mooney. Whether science and science journalism would benefit from riding the coat-tails of mass media remains to be seen.
As you can see, I talked a lot about the Geoffrey Beene Gives Back® Rock Stars of Science™ campaign at the panel–my current attempt to contribute to part of the solution.
One central issue that arose yesterday was how to identify the most important measure of scientific “illiteracy”–and how to assess whether the decline of science journalism is affecting that measure. Here, I argued that we should focus on the public’s engagement with science, and on science’s cultural standing, rather than strictly considering citizens’ knowledge of scientific facts.
I think the former is what’s really critical, as well as more closely tied to how journalism and media are faring. And in this sense, I don’t doubt that using celebrities and rock stars to draw greater attention to science is a solution that’s going to work.
Andy Revkin has the scoop on a letter from the IPCC (very misguided, to my mind) advising its scientists against having media contacts. An IPCC scientist, Edward R. Carr, also thinks this is a very bad idea.
More specifically, IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri wrote this to researchers:
I would also like to emphasize that enhanced media interest in the work of the IPCC would probably subject you to queries about your work and the IPCC. My sincere advice would be that you keep a distance from the media and should any questions be asked about the Working Group with which you are associated, please direct such media questions to the Co-chairs of your Working Group and for any questions regarding the IPCC to the secretariat of the IPCC.
What Pachauri’s letter should have said is the following:
I would also like to emphasize that enhanced media interest in the work of the IPCC would probably subject you to queries about your work and the IPCC. For this reason, the IPCC has developed a number of tip sheets, trainings, and other content to help scientists who may receive queries from the media. We also have several trained media consultants available at any time to answer your questions about the press, and to manage any journalistic contacts that you may have or help set up interviews. For more detail and to avail yourself of these resources, please see our new science in the media website….
Well, this topic has really run away on its own at this point. I can no longer keep track of all the things that have been said. I find Chad Orzel’s thread the best, because it really gets into a lot of the baffling reactions, many of which amount to saying, “this oped omits X” — even though X is to be found in the longer paper, or in the American Academy’s lengthy transcripts which I was asked to summarize.
So I really feel that the people who are making this argument about omissions, without even mentioning the longer work, are being unfair. An example would be Evil Monkey–here criticizing the Post piece without mentioning the longer paper, and yet nevertheless saying “I’ve already done more than Mooney. I’ve made a couple concrete suggestions for how the problem needs to be addressed”; here glossing over that omission by saying the prior post “was directed at the Op-ed, which was pedantic and useless, if not counterproductive.”
Look: Everybody knows that one has to pare a topic down in order to write shorter articles, especially for mass media outlets rather than specialized ones. I’ve really seen nothing raised as an alleged omission in my Washington Post outlook piece that I haven’t written on extensively elsewhere–denialist attacks on science, poor media treatment of science, academic disincentives to being a better communicator, etc. In many cases I literally wrote the book on these things, or have been writing about them for more than half a decade. In other cases, alleged omissions are to be found in the longer American Academy paper, rather than the Outlook essay, or in the academy’s workshops.
Believe me, folks, it has been covered. Read More
This is a guest post from a member of Science in the News (SITN), an organization of PhD students at Harvard University whose mission is to bring the newest and most relevant science to a general audience. For over a decade, SITN has been presenting a fall lecture series at Harvard Medical School, with talks on a diversity of current and newsworthy topics, such as stem cell biology and climate change. SITN also publishes the Flash, an online newsletter written by graduate students at Harvard, which presents current scientific discoveries and emerging fields in an accessible and entertaining manner. SITN engages in additional outreach activities such as “Science by the Pint”, and hopes students at other institutions will also make the commitment to strengthen science communication.
The following post is from Harvard graduate student Rou-Jia Sung.
The event was organized as a forum to bring people together to discuss the issue of science and the media: how these two entities perceive one another, and how the public perceives them in turn.
From my perspective as a graduate student, the bulk of science is not as black and white as the public might perceive it to be, but is made up of shades of gray; as you set up your experiments to address a particular question, you realize that it is extremely difficult to produce widely general rules and definite conclusions, simply because not everything is known. Read More
This week at the Intersection, in addition to our regular postings we’re also going to carry a series of guest posts from Science in the News (SITN), a group of Harvard Ph.D. students whose communication attempts we greatly admire. This is the first post, and merely intended to let SITN introduce itself. One hope is that by featuring the group here, we will inspire the growth of similar organizations at other campuses.
So, here they go:
Science in the News (SITN) is an organization of PhD students at Harvard University, and our mission is to bring the newest and most relevant science to a general audience.
At SITN, we strive to share our enthusiasm for science without over-hyping the promise of new discoveries, and to wade through the technical jargon to make science more accessible.
For over a decade, we’ve been presenting a fall lecture series at Harvard Medical School. The lectures focus on a diversity of current and newsworthy topics, such as stem cell biology and climate change. Read More
Frauds at work.
Science is not about PR, Mooney.
You and your ilk make me feel both ill, and embarassed to say I am a scientist.
You should go crawl back under your rock.
There’s no question that science is losing the public relations battle, so it’s interesting to me to still find scientists like the poster above who obviously believe that learning to communicate the science somehow harms the science. Yes, those who apply science commercially don’t suffer from such delusions, and they’re a good many of my clients. Others however, come to understand the real world of how science in funded only after long, losing struggles. Public support for science, essential to that funding, isn’t something to be scorned–and that can only happen when scientists learn how to talk to non-scientists.
Indeed–and that is only one of the reasons that many scientists are interested in having such trainings. Read More
Tomorrow at MIT, I’ll be giving a four hour “boot camp” on science communication to a group of graduate students and other interested parties. The session begins with an overview of the “theory” of science communication–why we must do it better, what the obstacles are, and how a changing media environment makes it much tougher than it was during the era when the dude at right was so popular (the same era when the dude at *top* right was about to deregulate the media…).
Then, the session goes into a media “how to”–rules for interacting with journalists, media do’s and don’ts, and an overview of various key communication “technologies,” such as framing. Finally, it ends with a role playing in which the scientists get to try out their chops in a Colbert-style interview, and see if they can stay on message while traversing the very rockiest of media seas.
I get the sense there is an increasing demand for this kind of training, which is often not provided in the standard science graduate curriculum. The hunger seems especially strong among the younger set of scientists.
Why? Read More
Our book reviews aren’t over yet–perhaps they will keep coming out all the way to the paperback release date in May. The latest is from David J. Tenenbaum of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, founding feature writer for the WhyFiles, who is reviewing in the journal Science Communication. Tenenbaum begins with a revealing vignette:
I e-mailed an eminent limnologist today, seeking to discuss an environmental issue that he’s considered important enough to study for several years. To my delight, he immediately responded with word that a new study was forthcoming in an important journal. Then, to my dismay, he added that the journal’s embargo would expire a couple of weeks after my publication date.
No problem, I replied. He’d watched the issue develop for years and would surely have a useful comment. Then I got the silent treatment.
Huh? When you contact scientists for a living (I admit, science journalism can seem a branch of telemarketing), you get used to nonresponses, to experts who think a “tight deadline” means 3 months, or are in Mongolia or at an invitation-only conference in Estonia. This latest wrinkle on the rejection letter told me that this expert would be happy to get help publicizing his newest research triumph but was unwilling to help me explain the environmental ramifications of oil sands mining in Alberta, which just happens to be the largest energy project in the Western Hemisphere.
For indeed, and as we argue in the book, some scientists–not all–aren’t particularly helpful when it comes to interacting with the media. Yet they simply must do more, writes Tenenbaum–and indeed, it is in their own interest to do so. Read More