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Taking Science to the People

A Communication Primer for Scientists and Engineers

Edited by Carolyn Johnsen

Publication Year: 2010

The American public, government, and the news media continually grapple with myriad policy issues related to science and technology. Those issues include global warming, energy, stem-cell research, health care, childhood autism, food safety, and genetics, to name but a few. When the public is informed on such topics, chances improve for reasoned policy decisions. Journalists have typically bridged the gap between scientists and the public, but the times now call for more engagement from the experts. The authors in this collection write convincingly about why scientists and engineers should shake off their ivory-tower reticence and take science to the people. Taking Science to the People calls on scientists and engineers to polish their writing and speaking skills in order to communicate more clearly about their work to the public, policy makers, and reporters who cover science. The authors represent a range of experience and authority, including distinguished scientists who write well about science, federal officials who communicate to Congress about science, and science journalists who weigh in with their own expertise. In this long-overdue volume, scientists, engineers, and journalists will find both a convincing rationale for communicating well about science and many practical methods for doing so.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page/Copyright

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii

Many thanks to the authors for their thoughtful contributions to this book; to UNL Vice Chancellor for Research Prem Paul for suggesting this project; and to Dr. Paul and my dean, Dr. Will Norton Jr., for supporting the project financially. Thanks...

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pp. ix-xvi

In July 2008 Rush Limbaugh, the conservative talk-show host, called the lead scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Institute “an idiot.” The epithet fit comfortably in the context of Limbaugh’s daily rants against liberals, environmentalists, Barack Obama, and...

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1. The Difficulty of Nubbing Together a Regurgitative Purwell and a Superaminative Wennel Sprocket

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pp. 1-13

Perhaps the best-known story of the untoward consequences of bad communication is the biblical account of the Tower of Babel, in which God is said to have created the world’s different languages in order to prevent the tower’s builders from...

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2. Who is Science Writing For?

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pp. 15-19

We all know the dismal statistics: Our children’s test scores on international assessments of math and science literacy are plummeting; the number of doctoral students in science and engineering is at a forty-year low; we are desperately short of...

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3. Taking Your Science to the Capital

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pp. 21-34

Policymaking has become increasingly technical over the last half century. The development of atomic weapons during World War II was followed by the space program in the 1960s and by rapid developments in physics, aerospace, earth and climate sciences...

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4. Building a Better Science Communicator

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pp. 37-42

Brent Deschamp was a doctoral candidate in civil engineering and mathematics when he entered the AAAS Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellows program. He wanted to broaden the public’s perception about mathematics and thought the...

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5. Reflections of an Engineer/Science Writer

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pp. 45-49

Being a science journalist is difficult. It’s difficult to write without big scientific words, to make a science topic interesting to the average reader, and to ask the right questions during an interview and get an interesting quote. I faced and conquered these challenges during the summer...

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6. Translating Science: From Academia to Mass Media to the Public

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pp. 51-58

When I introduce myself to a new client or colleague, one question inevitably follows: “How did a scientist end up working in corporate PR?” It’s a legitimate question: Going from earning a PhD in molecular biology to working in public relations is an unusual career move...

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7. Building New Media's Science Information on the Pillars of Journalism

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pp. 61-67

Science journalism — as with most journalism — is undergoing a crucial transition in response to technical changes affecting how the news and other information are presented. In addition, science journalists are adjusting to changes in the lifestyles, reading habits, and perceptions of their readers. Despite all...

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8. Preparing Scientists to Deal with Reporters

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pp. 69-72

Scientists and science students need to prepare themselves to deal with the news media. Like it or not, lay-language newspapers, magazines, and television programs form the only significant media through which adults in the general public learn of current research...

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9. Picture Power

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pp. 75-79

Even the most abstract, theoretical physics research is ultimately about something physical in the real world, not just mathematics. So I’ve found that if you look hard enough, you can almost always find a mental image to replace a lot of the physics language and...

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10. Communicating Real Science through Hollywood Science

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pp. 81-88

If you look for science in Hollywood films, you’ll find it mostly in science fiction. But although science fiction films are plentiful and viewed by millions, they are rarely considered as channels for communicating meaningful science. Even the wildest science fiction film, however, has somewhere...

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Afterword: The Challenge and the Need to Talk and Write about Science

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pp. 91-100

The authors of this book have addressed, albeit indirectly, two of the most perplexing questions in American culture: (1) What is science? and (2) Why should I be interested in anything “scientific”? These questions are perplexing because “science” can be defined easily at the Webster’s Dictionary level; but in practice...

E-ISBN-13: 9780803234505
E-ISBN-10: 0803234503
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803220522
Print-ISBN-10: 0803220529

Page Count: 120
Illustrations: 3 illustrations, 1 table
Publication Year: 2010