Communicating Science Panels at the AAAS Meeting

The American Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meeting is underway in Chicago, and I’ve spent my morning livestreaming two panels from their Communicating Science Seminar (here are all the videos from that seminar).AM14-logo

The panels were on “Engaging with Journalists” and “Engaging with Social Media,” with some phenomenal panelists in both. Here’s a bullet-point list of the most interesting opinions to emerge from the panels:

  • Communicating science is now less about news, and more about telling a story. Public Radio International’s David Baron attributed this trend, at least on the radio, to the influence of This American Life. This echoes what every expert at ComSciCon said, though one of the panelists (I think Lee Hotz) warned against letting the narrative becoming like a soap opera. Scientific content should not be sacrificed for the sake of the story.
  • Long-form journalism is seeing a resurgence on the internet, but The Wall Street Journal’s Lee Hotz cautions that, because long form journalism is a difficult craft, there is also a surge in the amount of bad journalism out there.
  • There is universal concern about standards of scientific accuracy on the internet, but disagreement about whether high standards for factual accuracy should be upheld by individual journalists or some sort of organization.
  • These journalists were pretty optimistic about their audiences’ interest in relatively esoteric topics: Carl Zimmer mentioned his pleasant surprise at his article about X-chromosome inactivation being very widely shared.
  • The mantra of “knowing your audience” may not actually be that useful. Each of the journalism panelists pitch their own work to the broadest audience possible.
  • Being authentic in one’s writing, as well as one’s social media presence, is crucial. Tell the stories that you want to tell; share the links you care about.
  • If you decide to use a social media platform, be very clear about what you hope to gain from that platform–it’s a waste of time to join social media if you don’t really know what you want out of it.
  • The professional use of social media can mess with work-life balance, as it doesn’t seem quite like work, but isn’t not-work either. However, if you have clear professional goals for your use of social media, it is easier to justify spending time on it to achieve those goals.
  • There was disagreement as to whether one should keep one’s professional social media persona separate from one’s personal social media persona. The two panelists who advocated keeping them united emphasized their desire to increase the visibility of certain aspects of who they are: Kim Cobb is a climate scientist and a mother of four children, and Danielle Lee is an African-American behavioural ecologist and science blogger.

Danielle Lee had some fantastic suggestions for communicators who are looking to reach culturally and ethnically diverse audiences:

  • Recognize that the appeal and authority of science are regarded differently in different communities.
  • Make an effort to pitch science stories to media outlets that are important news sources in minority communities.
  • Make new friends and cultivate new sources for scientific expertise in diverse communities.

Watch the videos for more great advice on science communication!

One thought on “Communicating Science Panels at the AAAS Meeting

  1. Interesting read Ambika, as was the post about funding for graduate students, I’m in Westboro at Kishores sisters place, Bw, Ashwini

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