On Vulnerability In Art And Science Communication

Fingerpainting at its finest – I loved the swirling textures I was able to produce in this set of waves enough to snap a quick photo of it.

My closet is organized in a color spectrum, as are my books, and more strangely, my cleaning products. My spreadsheets march in rainbow precision, as do my (many) calendars. I once actually uttered the phrase, “My contingency planning is a thing of beauty.” I desperately want to package a tidy story. Put everything neatly into place. Make it pretty. Make it precise. That’s what I do. But I’ve been home from my trip to Arizona for 28 hours now, and I don’t know yet exactly how I feel or what, precisely, I have learned. Instead, this is a story about letting go. [Read more…]

Burning Down Communication Barriers Among Fire Scientists

Tough questions from journalists often spark new insights for scientists. Here’s our panel of journalists (left to right, Ivan Semeniuk, Douglas Fischer, Natasha Loder, and David Malakoff) poised to grill a trio of scientists during a mock press conference at the workshop. 
Photo by Heather Reiff.

Fire may be one of the clearest manifestations we have of climate change – it’s visible, palpable, and stirs our emotions. Headlines from last week’s release of the Third National Climate Assessment predict a growing rash of wildfires. Fire seasons are lengthening. Fires are occurring in places or at scales they haven’t in the past. The US Forest Service intends to spend almost $2 billion to manage and minimize the impacts of fires across the country this year. When it comes to communicating with the public, the “why should I care” obstacle faced by scientists in most research arenas is almost non-existent for those studying fire. But, other communication challenges – complexity, uncertainty, risk, reframing – remain. [Read more…]

Finding My Fire On The Ice

The incredible setting for my pond hockey epiphanies -- the sun's afternoon glow on the Absorka Range.
(Photo courtesy of David Thomson)

Nestled in Montana’s Tom Miner Basin just outside of the Yellowstone Park boundary, the pond adjacent to my A-frame cabin beckoned. For weeks, I had been anticipating my ice hockey debut. The Sochi games had just ended. The wounds were still raw from the US women’s hockey team’s devastating loss to Canada for the gold. We had the numbers for a US – Canada rematch (even if it was co-ed). I was certain that somehow my days of playing field hockey and rugby had prepared me sufficiently to take back our country’s honor. Have I mentioned, though, that I can’t skate? [Read more…]

On Advocacy And Trust In Science

As I noted at the end of Monday’s post, I did not directly tackle the question of whether scientists’ advocacy has been shown to damage public trust in them (or their science). [Read more…]

Looking Beyond The Business Card

Synergy

COMPASS needed to investigate how they might contribute at the boundary of science and business, so naturally they needed someone who knew about synergy – an MBA intern! As a master’s candidate in environmental sciences and business management, I felt well positioned to help COMPASS investigate what they’ve been hearing for awhile now – an unmet need at the intersection of science and business. [Read more…]

True Leadership Takes Risking Being Yourself

Reflections of the Gallatin Mountains in the pond at the B-Bar Ranch, Emigrant, Montana. 

Photo courtesy of Amanda Hardy.

How do you gain leadership skills as a scientist? Although common elsewhere (particularly in the for-profit world), leadership training is almost non-existent for scientists. The Leopold Leadership Program and COMPASS trainings are notable exceptions. And unfortunately, like science communication, leadership skills are not part of graduate training (but perhaps they should be). Recently, I accepted a generous invitation to strengthen my leadership skills through TREC, courtesy of the Wilburforce Foundation. It was a transformative experience that has left me with new insights and much food for thought.

When it comes to leadership, many of us fall into the trap of trying to be like someone else. We ask ourselves, “How can I inspire like Jane Lubchenco or speak out like Stephen Schneider?” Pick your heroes. But the point is, these are the wrong questions. Being a leader isn’t about being like someone else. Instead, it’s about finding your own voice and being who you are. There’s no single way to be a leader. [Read more…]

Communicating Risk Vs. Communicating Science

Residents received orders to evacuate before Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc in coastal New Jersey. Shown here is the ravaged amusement park in Seaside Heights. Photo from the National Guard.

“Don’t be stupid, get out.”

Governor Chris Christie minced no words when he issued the mandatory evacuation warning to the residents of New Jersey’s barrier islands as Hurricane Sandy made her approach. To anyone thinking about staying behind, he cautioned, “If I turn out to be right, and you turn out to be dead, that’s not a great equation.”

This is a clear example of a public official communicating risk and asking the public to act based on that statement. To arrive at the decision to evacuate, Governor Christie weighed scientific projections of the storms impact, along with information on the integrity of infrastructure, traffic flow, social behavior, and other factors. But Christie’s blunt statement left little room to question that he held ultimate responsibility for making the public call-to-action. [Read more…]