What is the mission of a science journalist? Entertainment? Education? Guarding democracy? That depends on your client, according to science journalist Martin Angler, author of Science journalism, an introduction (2017). If you work for a glossy magazine or free online news medium, you will probably see yourself mainly as an entertainer or educator. Employed by a critical national newspaper, you will probably see yourself mainly as a watchdog.
Tag Archives: science communication
In January we will give four workshops Science communication at the Topinstitute Food and nutrition. In these workshops, we will show how crucial a key message is to organizing a story. Developing a key message is crucial to organizing a story.
Meanwhile, the wider story is a sketch of a future world in which all kinds of industrial bacteria, plants and animals are made with….. synthetic DNA. That new ‘synthetic’ organisms are then going to deliver us thousands of new, convenient products such as bio plastic cups and carpets, disease free plants and animals, bacteria for data storage and resurrection of the Neanderthal man.
So we get a clear impression of the results and goals of the synthetic biologists. The book serves democracy too: who is against genetic modification, has got more idea’s, names and research programs to ‘attack’. And possible negative side-effects of synthetic biology are described in detail.
But this convincing sketch of a world in which ‘nature and ourselves are reinvented’ is also the ultimate marketing for the company of George Church. The more believers in new bacteria, plants, animals and men with (only) synthetic DNA, the more synthetic DNA Gen9 is going to sell.
So what I see in Regenesis is that thorough science journalism may well support democracy and science and technology marketing. And that writing a book together with a science writer is also a good marketing idea.
On 6 th October, we will give a workshop Writing for the we for 50 ‘web-writers’ from Wageningen UR. It is only one afternoon for many attendants, so our goals are modest. However, in this blog I have space to come up with a really good example of science communication. Excellent work is now being done by the group Your wild life a group of scientists, science communicators, students and citizens based at the North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Why?
So Smith’s’ blog is embedded in a broader strategy to change an injustice, using science and other means. That seems successful: more awareness makes it more likely that mine companies and politicians improve the working conditions. And also more likely that the research – visible changing an injustice – can continue.
Three participants from the storytelling game Famelab, including the winner Pádraic Flood, will give their winning talk, and tell the attendants what they have learnt from the training they have received. For the discussion afterwards, I have selected three characteristics of an excellent speaker and I will then use the Famelab stories to illustrate these characteristics. But for this blog I will use three famous TED talks. Because we need to watch and analyze as many good (TED) talks as we can to become an excellent speaker. So what have excellent TED speakers in common? 1. Excellent TED speakers are self-confident. Watch the American sports coach Ivan Joseph. He is not only extremely self-confident himself, but he also clearly explains that self-confidence is not a gift (either you have it or you don’t). It is a skill that everybody can learn. And this is his key-message: practice, practice, practice. Joseph’s talk seems spontaneous, but he himself, he tells his audience, had practiced many times. He has given presentations for friends, for students, and for colleagues. Dozens of times he had to overcome his fears. Repetition has made him self-confident. Speaking for myself: I am very self-confident when it comes to writing stories. However, I am less experienced in telling stories. So I have to continuously practice to improve my self-confidence. 2. Excellent TED speakers choose one key-message. Take the communication expert Simon Sinek’s TED talk. He presents a simple model for how leaders inspire action, starting with the question ‘Why are I am doing what I am doing?’.And that is his key-message: Organizations need to focus more on WHY they are doing what they are doing, instead of what and how they are making their product. They will then have more success. ‘People buy why you do things, not what you do’, he repeats several times in different words. (By the way, his key message is useful for researchers too. They sometimes forget the why-part of a story, which is what interest the general public most.) 3. Excellent TED speakers illustrate their key-message with appealing examples and beautiful images. In fact, the stories from the best researchers I have heard, were built up with only anecdotes and examples. Author Simon Sinek’ examples include Apple, Martin Luther King and the Wright brothers. Renowned Italian plant physiologist Stefano Mancusa has the key-message: ‘Plants are much more intelligent than we have always learnt’. Accordingly, he starts with some drawings from the bible, illustrating Noah’s ark. Only animals went in the ark, plants were forgotten. He then switches to a page from Darwin’s book ‘The movement of plants’, in which Darwin had wrongly compared the plant movement with the ‘lower animals’ movement. Furthermore, also David Attenborough was wrong in telling us that the whale is the biggest creature of the world. No, the giant sequoias (a tree weighing in excess of 2000 ton) is the biggest living organisms. Did you know that a rye plant has 13,815,672 roots. Mancusa goes from example to example to illustrate his key-message. Sometimes, he takes his own research as an illustration. Of course, there are more characteristics than these three. After the meeting on 9 July, I will report further on this theme.
7-12-2013. Are you struggling to create and maintain a website for a research program? View the Water, Land and Ecosystems CGIAR research program for a while. In my eyes, an inspiring site that excellently serves readers, the blogsite is particularly interesting.
In my role as a science writer, I follow research news in controversial fields including ‘land grabbing’ in developing countries. The greater the contribution from research to a topical issue, the better. Yesterday, while surfing on that CGIAR-site, I found an interesting blog about the amount of agricultural land (in hectares) that has been ‘grabbed’ in developing countries. A couple of years ago, Oxfam claimed that an area almost the size of Western Europe had been taken over by foreign investors. But then a recently published report claimed that most of these big ‘land grabs’ never got beyond the planning stage. So what is the truth? Accordingly, journalist Fred Pearce (author of ‘Land grabbers’) started researching different sources and figures (including figures from CGIAR). The result is a convincing blog/story that NGO”s such as Oxfam are probably right, but that they used the wrong figures to support their claim. Well, such analysis – with links to different figures and sources – really help a discussion further.
The homepage contains ‘news articles’, ‘Upcoming events’, ‘About’and ’Twitter’ (5000 followers). But three years after the start of this CGIAR research program, the blogsite is the most interesting and relevant part. It meets the program’s goal of providing a ‘platform for discussion and networking on ecosystems services and resource management’.
‘Critical opinions can be expressed here’, to quote the site, ‘but discussions must be forward-looking and solution-oriented.’ In this way, (blog)sites are fulfilling the traditional role of a professional journal, but with a broader based, more diverse audience. Journals calling themselves independent have a comparable goal of being a platform. And when research programs start inviting or recruiting good journalists such as Fred Pearce to actively participate, the difference between the professional journals and quality blogsites are negligible.
According to the blog of the CGIAR (one of the stakeholders): ’87 blog posts and over 2800 tweets were published at the end of day 2, reaching almost 800,000 people’.