In Chapter 3 of Don't Be Such a Scientist Randy Olson describes the trap that we can fall into when communicating science. Scientists are trained to prize accuracy above all else, and should constantly be skeptical of the things they read. But striving for complete accuracy and completeness in stories about science can make them, well, boring. Randy's advice, keep your story concise and interesting, even if you must sacrifice some detail. As an example he compares the effects of two documentaries on public thinking about global climate change: Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, and another that I never heard of.
Check out some recent examples from the science blogosphere that express the frustration of some scientists with the approach that Randy advocates. On the lighter side, Christie at Observations of a Nerd pointed out a biological inaccuracy in the latest episode of Psych, which really ruined her enjoyment of the episode (as well as that of many of her commenters).
On the more serious side, read over the beginning of this post from the DrugMonkey blog. A little bit of background - Matt Nisbet is a professor of communications who posts at Framing Science, and advocates an approach similar to what Randy is writing about in his book. Check out how this approach of "framing" your science message to your audience, in effect sacrificing some detail or nuance to get your point across, is described on DrugMonkey.
So what do you think? Which of these two approaches do you believe is more appropriate? Have these been issues for you as you write your posts?
During our next two meeting times you will be taking the assessment test. All you need to bring to class with you is a pencil (OK, I will be bringing some too if you forget).
But there is some blogging and online discussion to do before then.
Write one blog post on anything scientific that interests you. Practice using some of the communication strategies we have been discussing. Your goal is to inform a non-scientist about something scientific that you find interesting. When you are done, test out your post by getting some non-science friends to read it.
Write one short blog post that links to some piece of science video out on the web. Many of you said that you thought video was an excellent way to communicate science, and if you look you will find a growing number of bloggers and science sites using video. Find one that you like and either link to it or embed it in your blog. If you don't find one that you like, write a short post linking to something else that you like.
Think about possible topics for your own 60 second videos. One possibility - a video on research being done by faculty and students in Kettering.
Look for a new list of student blogs on the right and feel free to post comments there.
Read or Re-read Randy Olson's chapter 3 - Don't Be Such a Bad Storyteller and look for a discussion question about it on this blog in the next couple of days.
Wonderful comments on communicating science with different media. And I am really enjoying the posts coming in on denialism. Keep up the great work.
Your blogs have been part of quite an extensive discussion in the science blogosphere over this past weekend. A very prominent science blogger named Coturnix (the online editor at the open access journal PLoS - and not his real name) posted about student science bloggers, and highlighted our class. A pretty extensive comment thread on the post, as well as on Facebook, got people discussing why students and early career (young) scientists blog, and why many do not stick with it. I followed up this discussion with two posts on my own personal blog (post one and two).
The result is that three Biology alums are now fired up to continue the blogs they started in this class last year (Science Haggis and Plague-erism), and a number of other young science bloggers are getting encouragement from the science blogging establishment.
On Sunday Coturnix added another post with great advice for young bloggers, along with links to your current blogs. I'd like you to read this post for this week's class. Pay particular attention to what he considers the most effective way to communicate science, and see how you think it relates to the discussion we had with Tom Hayden.
Keep up the good work, and I look forward to some face-to-face discussion. In the meantime, I'd encourage you to check out some of the student blogs linked here and on the linked posts. You can always leave a comment on those blogs if you are inspired.
With our class today sunk under a few inches of snow (and slippery roads) I thought I would throw out a slightly new topic for discussion for next week's class. I would also like to try some online discussions over this next week via this blog. So here is your assignment for the week:
During one of our first discussions we talked briefly about an anti-science movement, and the importance of science putting a good face forward to explain its relevance to the public. Some have termed the refusal to listen to scientific findings "denialism", whether it is the movements against vaccines (thank you Jenny McCarthy), evolution, or the scientific evidence for global warming. This week I would like you to do some investigating on this topic:
Use your newly found blog and online science sources to see what you can find out there about denialism and the anti-science movement. And then use this material as a source to write a new post for your blog on this topic.
And lastly, for now. Leave a comment to this post in the next couple of days addressing the following question:
What medium have you found can best communicate science - text, audio, video? Something else? What have you found to be effective in your travels on the web this semester, and why?
Don't be too shy to get the comments started, and check back every day for new comments. I will post another question for you on Friday.
I have added almost all of the blogs that you recommended two weeks ago and I am very impressed with the diversity of stuff that you found out there. And I believe that the vast majority of these blogs are written by fellow scientists. Be sure to check out these blogs when you can, and add them to your google reader accounts if you like them.
Spending an hour with Tom has inspired me to want to talk about good sources of professional science journalism. Tom mentioned that with a large number of journalists being laid off in recent years, especially many on the science beat, the science journalism scene has become highly fragmented. You have found some great blogs out there, many written by scientists themselves. But what are the good sources for professional writing. This will be a topic for this week's class.
So here is your assignment for Wednesday:
Be ready to discuss what you liked and/or did not like about Tom Hayden's articles. Did you prefer the straight textual pieces, or the multimedia pieces?
Try to find sources for professional science stories on the web, in whatever media type you like. Text, videos, audio, whatever. Be ready to talk about what you did and did not like in class. Where to start? How about major newspapers, news weeklies, National Public Radio, the BBC, etc.
Read chapter 3 in Randy Olson's book - Don't Be Such a Poor Storyteller.
Write at least one more post for your blog. Any topic you want related to science. If you have not done so already, check out the other posts from class and think about what you think works well, and what does not. And keep Randy and Tom's suggestions in mind.
And lastly, leave at least one comment on a post from one of the class blogs.
I hope you enjoyed hearing about communicating science from a professional, and about a possible alternate career path as a science journalist. And I think Tom offered to provide some critiques of your posts later in the semester.
I would be curious to know what you thought. If you are comfortable commenting in public, please leave a comment to this post. That would be a good place to leave any additional questions or comments for Tom as well.