Scientists And The Changing Media Landscape, Part 1

Science journalism – like much of traditional journalism – is undergoing a culture shift. Understanding these changes can help scientists wanting to engage to do so most effectively. Photo from Thomas Hawk via Flickr.

This is part one of two in a short series on the changing science media landscape and what it means for scientists. You can read more on this topic in “Escape from the Ivory Tower,” Chapter 5: What the Changing World of the Media Means for You.

Lately, we’ve heard a lot about why scientists find it challenging to connect their science to broader dialogues. But influences external to academic culture may be contributing in equal measure to this frustration. Sweeping changes in the field of science journalism – the medium through which science has traditionally been shared with the broader public – are affecting the way scientists engage. And change has been hard for both scientists and journalists. [Read more…]

7/3/13 Link Round-Up

Carrier snails are quite crafty! Check out this post about the "masters of bling." http://bit.ly/14R7eqH

Happy Fourth of July! Over the holiday, the COMPASS staff will be enjoying time with family and friends. Since many of you may be out for the holiday like we are, we’re posting the link round-up a little early this week. We thought it would be a short one to reflect the short week, but we have a great variety of posts below! [Read more…]

Getting To The “So What?” Of Your Science

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Handwritten message box from my own COMPASS training as a graduate student (click to enlarge)

Recently, I rediscovered a description of my PhD research produced at a COMPASS training I attended in 2006. I deciphered my messy handwriting to find that I had used the analogy of how people move between cities to explain why I used DNA to track movements of marine plankton between populations. In both cases, understanding how many and how often individuals change locations can inform what might happen if these connections are disrupted. (Think about a freeway shutting down between San Francisco and Los Angeles.) As movement between places is reduced, so is the flow of goods and services, thereby isolating populations.

It turns out that my early attempts at finding the “so what” of my science used the very same tool that we still use at COMPASS today: The Message Box. At all COMPASS trainings (which typically range from half-day to three-day events), the Message Box is how we help scientists distill their science into the most essential and intriguing pieces. These are the key ideas with which you can build a firm foundation of understanding about your research in conversation with almost any audience. It’s not about dumbing anything down. Instead, the Message Box illuminates the heart of your science and inspires your audience to want to learn more. [Read more…]

Sharing Our Stories Of Scientific Engagement

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At the 2012 AAAS Annual Meeting in Vancouver B.C., I attended the “Good Science, Good Communication: Talking to the Media and the Public“ session. I was uncomfortably squished between two attendees, but we were lucky to be on the inside. People were five rows deep in the hallway, shushing passersby, in desperate attempts to hear the speakers. (Overflowing rooms in science communication talks at the major conferences we attend seems to be the rule rather than the exception these days.) The discussion period opened with what felt like half the hands in the room shooting into the air, waving with urgency and enthusiasm. One of the few lucky enough to be called on made a powerful statement: “I know it’s hard to do this, to find the time or even the courage to communicate outside academia – but if there is one thing we can all do, it’s to be supportive of our peers that do choose to communicate, and choose to get out there.”

We agree.

We support you.

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View from the stage in our 2013 AAAS session “A New Social (Media) Contract for Science”. These overcrowded rooms show the enormous appetite for conversations about science communication. Please jump in online this week with your questions, experiences, and insights. #reachingoutsci. Photo: Karyn Traphagen, 2013

Effectively engaging outside of academia demands considerable time, commitment, and practice. For the past decade, COMPASS has worked to support scientists who are ready to make that investment. We know it’s scary. We also know that increasing numbers of you want to do it. And we know, for those of you already involved, that it is rewarding. It makes a difference.

Today, the COMPASS team published a paper in PLOS Biology called “Navigating the Rules of Scientific Engagement”. It traces our own arc of supporting scientists from ‘outreach’ (simply broadcasting a clear message) to meaningful, multi-directional engagement. Ultimately we believe that engaging outside academia is rewarding, but also that it should be rewarded. [Read more…]

Plastic Pollution: Scientists Engaging To Make A Difference

Plastic pollution litters a beach in Welgelegen, St. Maarten.

Photo courtesy of Fabi Fliervoet via Flickr Creative Commons.

Persistent plastics pose problems for the planet. (Say that five times fast!) While many groups and organizations have been working to document and combat the problem, it wasn’t until recently that several scientists took a bold step. By identifying a gap between existing science and outdated policy, the scientists were able to suggest a policy change that might really help the persistent plastics problem. By labeling some plastics as hazardous, they said, society will be forced to look at, manage, and treat plastics differently.

Behind this argument lies a story of two scientists – Ph.D. candidate Chelsea Rochman of UC Davis and Postdoc Mark Anthony Browne of NCEAS– and their journey of engagement and outreach that may ultimately help change the way that international and federal agencies approach the challenges of debris in the environment. [Read more…]

Why Everybody Needs A Prep Talk

After considerable preparation, Dr. Mark Carr, Dr. Anke Mueller-Solger, and Dan Yparraguirre present their talks on long-term monitoring and adaptive management before an eager audience.

Photo by Chad English.

When people are asked about their greatest fears, many often include public speaking. Something about looking out into a sea of faces hanging on your every word is universally terrifying. However, for me, it is the idea of a practice talk that causes borderline panic – although I’m only looking out into a small pond of faces, they are all intently focused on what I am doing wrong and how to fix it. But here’s the thing: Public talks don’t scare me. Why? Because I am ready. And why am I ready? Because I have worked really hard to prepare.

Whether it’s a legislative briefing or a AAAS symposium, COMPASS requires the scientists we work with to commit to putting in the preparation time. Although we often work with already accomplished speakers, it still takes planning to make sure there is cohesion among multiple talks. After all, even talented musicians must rehearse before playing their first gig together. In the words of UC Santa Cruz marine ecologist Mark Carr, “The COMPASS prep calls prior to our panel presentation really helped to focus the messages of my presentation and linked my presentation with others to make a more cohesive suite of presentations and stronger messages.”

Our prep process generally involves lots of back-and-forth over email, as well as 2-3 conference calls with everyone participating in the event. As we evolve from setting the goals and framing everyone’s talks to dress rehearsals, scientists tend to go through the following three stages: [Read more…]

Scientists And The Media: Flight Behavior?

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At my childhood home in northern Michigan over the Christmas holidays, I curled up by our fireplace, watched the snow fall on the forest beyond our yard, and picked up a new book: “Flight Behavior,” by Barbara Kingsolver.  I had heard a little bit about the plot and the author in an interview on NPR.  It turns out Kingsolver, while being a critically acclaimed writer of award-winning fiction like the “Poisonwood Bible,” is also an environmentalist who lives off the land, and she trained as a scientist. She completed a Master’s in ecology at the University of Arizona and went most of the way through a PhD program before deciding she wanted to reach a broader audience than her thesis could. Perhaps as a result, “Flight Behavior,” though a work of fiction, has garnered praise  for its scientific accuracy and also sheds some light on the complicated interface between science and the media. [Read more…]

What Makes A Great Radio Interview?

Photo courtesy of dplanet via Flickr

In my last post, I described the importance of being a good listener in order to be an effective communicator.  As the former production assistant for the environmental radio show Living on Earth, (and as the show’s current part-time transcriber), I’ve had many opportunities to listen critically to and to be a part of great science-minded radio.  While there are many excellent guides out there for interview tips (like this one from AAAS), here are some of the interviewee qualities that I found make for an ultimately interesting and effective piece, as well as some of my own tips for how to best tell your story in this medium: [Read more…]

Hot, Sour, And Breathless

Left to right: David Malakoff, Science; Alok Jha, The Guardian; Juliet Eilperin, The Washington Post; Christopher Joyce, NPR; Jim Barry, MBARI; Scott Doney, WHOI; Dave Hutchins, USC; and Anne Cowan, WHOI.

This week, 572 scientists gathered in Monterey for the Third International Symposium on the Oceans in a High CO2 World. The numbers mark a sharp increase from the first symposium in 2004 in Paris where the community of ocean acidification scientists numbered only 124. And, this time, the mood was more urgent.  Atmospheric CO2 is entering the ocean and it is acidifying fast… the ocean is 30% more acidic than prior to industrialization. Combine this with rising ocean temperatures and decreasing oxygen levels (which cause dead zones) and, in the words of Swedish scientist Sam Dupont, you have an ocean that is increasingly, “hot, sour and breathless,” for its inhabitants. What these changes mean – from effects on plankton to shellfish and fish to entire marine ecosystems – was the subject of the meeting. [Read more…]

I Hear What You’re Saying, But….

At a recent training for Switzer Fellows, participants learned the value of active listening in being a good communicator.

This weekend, Erica Goldman and I traveled to a town outside of Boston to deliver a communications workshop for the 2012 New England Switzer Fellows. The fellows are in the midst of their graduate educations, and have diverse backgrounds – they are law students, representatives of NGOs, interdisciplinary and field scientists – all within the realm of environmental sustainability.

Like many of our workshops, our central message to the participants focused on the importance of understanding your audience when communicating your work. That includes formatting your work into clear and succinct messages, but it’s also about understanding the culture in which your audience exists, so as to make your work relevant to them and what they most care about… their “so what?” [Read more…]