Speaking of (and for) science.
Periodical publishing (Services)
Sciences education (Management)
Jargon (Terminology) (Analysis)
Pub Date:
Name: Oceanus Publisher: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Earth sciences; Environmental issues Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution ISSN: 0029-8182
Date: Winter, 2011 Source Volume: 49 Source Issue: 1
Event Code: 360 Services information; 200 Management dynamics Computer Subject: Company business management
SIC Code: 2721 Periodicals
Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States

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Full Text:

Like doctors, lawyers, sportswriters, or monks, scientists commonly use jargon. They are trained to talk and write for their scientific peers in a prescribed style that lay people often find incomprehensible or can't relate to. In addition, scientific fields have become so specialized today that researchers in different disciplines often find it hard to understand one another's lingo.

But at the same time, issues demanding scientific knowledge permeate the media, schools, courts, and Congress. The web, newspapers, and airwaves are filled with discussions on climate change, sea-level rise, endangered marine life, ocean pollution, energy resources, evolution, and natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and tsunamis.

In an editorial in the prestigious journal Science, former editor-in-chief and Stanford University President emeritus Donald Kennedy wrote, "Science and technology are increasingly relevant to public policy, and unless those who speak for science can be understood, the policy decisions are likely to be wrong."

WHOI scientist Chris Reddy thought he and colleagues could do a better job explaining their research to the media and other audiences. Meanwhile, longtime science journalist Lonny Lippsett believed that scientists had untapped opportunities to communicate valuable information. They merged their complementary experience and disparate cultures to create a course for oceanography graduate students in the MIT/WHOI Joint Program called "How not to write for peer-reviewed journals: Talking to everyone else." The goal was to offer early-career scientists encouragement and skills to venture beyond their laboratories and add much-needed clear and accurate information to crucial issues under public debate.

The class was voluntary, and the students received no academic credit for it. Yet, this class and another given in 2008 were filled--a sign that these students recognize the imperative, and their responsibility, to communicate science effectively to a variety of audiences.

The class included guest lecturers from the WHOI Web and Graphics teams and several journalists (e.g. from the Providence Journal and the local National Public Radio station, WCAI), who offered firsthand guidance on interviewing, writing, graphics, photography, and multimedia. Each student was also connected with his or her own mentor: a professional science journalist (e.g. Dick Kerr of Science magazine, Frank Pope, ocean correspondent for T, Se Times in London, and two former Los Angeles Times journalists who won Pulitzer Prizes). These mentors volunteered to give the students step by-step training through the editorial process of creating the articles on their research in this issue of Oceanus. The mentor-student relationships also helped show students that journalists need not be adversaries--rather, they are important conduits of scientific information to the public.

We anticipate that as these students graduate and become leaders in their fields, they'll continue to speak for science.

This issue of Oceanus magazine resulted from a science communications course for graduate students in the MIT/WHOI Joint Program called "How not to write for peer-reviewed journals: Talking to everyone else." WHOI Senior Scientist Chris Reddy was supported to teach the course by the Henry L. and Grace Doherty Professor of Oceanography chair. Publication of the magazine was supported by WHOI Trustee Geoffrey A. Thompson and WHOI Corporator Nathaniel J. Bickford.
Gale Copyright:
Copyright 2011 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.