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24 July 2015

Scientists must woo the public to get past the awkward “blind date” stage

Steady eye contact. Open body language. Warm, conversational tones. These are phrases not used often enough to describe scientists. Alan Alda wants to change that. Alda, an award-winning actor best known for his portrayal of Hawkeye Pierce on the T.V. show “M.A.S.H.,” has always been attracted to science. On July 15 Alda spoke at The National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., about his experiences hosting the PBS “Scientific American Frontiers” T.V. series and his work with the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University.


21 July 2015

Sharing Science with the ten hundred most common English-language words

What if you were limited to using only the 1,000 most common words in the English language to explain your science? That’s what groups of scientists did this summer at several AGU Sharing Science communications skills-building workshops. This year, for the first time, AGU’s Sharing Science program is offering on-site workshops at universities and scientific institutions. During each of these workshops, we ask participants to break into small groups and use the 1,000 most common words in the English language to describe a scientific concept of their choosing. The exercise was inspired by an xkcd comic in which the artist, Randall Munroe, drew a diagram of the Saturn V rocket – the rocket that took astronauts to the moon – using only the “ten hundred” most common words in the English language.


17 July 2015

Falling in love with science all over again as a PhD-turned-journalist

“Please, please, please,” repeats in my mind. At least five other ideas were turned down this week, and I am on my third round of explaining this story idea, receiving my third, “I don’t think so,” from Mark Strauss, one of the quirky and brilliant editors at National Geographic. It’s 6:00 p.m. on a Friday afternoon. The office is nearly empty, the lights mostly off. But then, he hesitates. “Well,” he says before caving to the pitch—or rather my re-pitch—about redefining the mass of a kilogram. “I can’t guarantee we’ll post it.” But that doesn’t matter to me at the moment. I had what I needed: A chance to write my next piece.


29 June 2015

FAQ – Working with the Media: Part III – Avoiding missteps and pitfalls

This is the third in a three-part series answering scientists’ frequently-asked questions about working with the media. This FAQ series accompanies the Working with the Media webinar, offered by AGU’s Sharing Science program on May 29. Read part one and part two.

1. What are some common pitfalls when working with the media and how can I avoid them?

Common Pitfall #1: Getting into the weeds. Focus on the bigger picture. Prepare your top three key messages ahead of time and practice delivering them to a mirror, to a friend, over the phone, etc. During the interview, bring the conversation back to your key messages. Then, keep coming back to them. Communicating in simple, repeated messages is not a natural skill for many scientists, but it is a critical skill for any speaker. Often, audiences need to hear ideas repeated before they will remember them. For more on this, read “How much detail should I go into when talking with reporters” in Part II of the FAQ.


19 June 2015

FAQ – Working with the Media: Part II – Interviews and relationships with reporters

This is the second in a three-part series answering scientists’ frequently-asked questions about working with the media. This FAQ series accompanies the Working with the Media webinar, offered by AGU’s Sharing Science program on May 29. 1. How should I prepare for an interview? When a reporter contacts you to schedule an interview, find out what the format will be. Is it an in-person, phone, radio or TV interview? Who is the person doing the interview? About how long will it be? If it’s for TV or radio, is the interview being taped or is it live? Then, write and rehearse your key messages – the main thoughts you want to share during the interview. Practice repeating them until you can rattle off the essentials but don’t memorize them word-for-word.


10 June 2015

FAQ – Working with the Media: Part I – The Media

This is the first in a three-part series answering scientists’ frequently-asked questions about working with the media. 1. What should I expect when working with the media? Journalists may or may not have a science background, and may or may not have covered the topic before. So, it is best to talk to journalists as if they are new to the subject and don’t have a science background. They will ask for more detail if they need it.


3 June 2015

SoapBox Science – bringing science to public spaces

Soapbox Science is a public outreach platform for promoting women scientists and the science they do. Events transform public areas into an arena for public learning and scientific debate.


28 May 2015

Scientists should speak simply to other scientists, too

By Ilissa Ocko The canonical rule of thumb for scientists speaking to nonscientists is to talk as if you were speaking to eighth graders, because a lay audience often has a basic, and certainly not specialized, understanding of science – about the same level as an eighth grader. If you want the information to resonate with the non-scientist audience, you have to strip down to the essentials, craft a story, …


27 May 2015

The sounds and songs of climate data

Have you heard the statement, “any geophysical time series can be represented by music.” Look no further than this blog post to listen to the sounds of climate data over time.


27 April 2015

Things you learn doing outreach

A short, light post this time. I’ll be doing an outreach event as a USGS rep in a couple of weeks, and having done the demo once already at AAAS’s 2015 Family Science Days, I was thinking about the things I learned last time. Some of these have also applied to other outreach I’ve done (I love doing video chats with students and science clubs, especially if I can get people excited about geology!)


1 April 2015

“Reaffirming the Social Contract Between Science and Society” on

In a recent opinion story for AGU’s Eos magazine, Associate Executive Director and Senior Policy Fellow at the American Meteorological Society William Hooke reflects on the current status of the relationship between science and society: “Stresses over the past decade or so have frayed the fabric of the social contract between scientists and society. The complexity and costs of science have been growing … Society has asked scientists for more help, even as research budgets have remained relatively constant. Relations have been strained on both sides.”


30 March 2015

Q&A with journalist-turned-geologist Rex Buchanan (Part 3): A reporter on the other side of the media

I always thought I’d be one of those guys that got along with reporters really well. Well, maybe I wouldn’t. I had another television reporter just this week that I basically said, “Don’t call me again because I ain’t talking to you.” I went home and my wife said, “You know, you’re picking ‘em off one by one; sooner or later you’re not going to talk to any of them.”


23 March 2015

The clothes don’t make the scientist

Those of you who saw my somewhat exasperated tweets last week know that I was reacting to this story on the Scientific American Voices Blog about how female scientists are portrayed in media coverage. (Answer: Superficially and with far too much attention to appearances).


Q&A with journalist-turned-geologist Rex Buchanan (Part 2): Walking a political tightrope

About the first of October, we had a … I think it was a 4.2 [magnitude earthquake]. We had to go down to where the earthquake was and meet with the county commission. It was open to the public. All the Wichita television stations were there. [Many of us] had lunch together, and I said, “I know when I walk in that room, everybody’s going to say, ‘well I’m sure glad I’m not that guy.’” And everyone at the table pretty much agreed with me.


16 March 2015

Q&A with journalist-turned-geologist Rex Buchanan (Part 1): From journalist to geologist

When Rex Buchanan became interim director of the Kansas Geological Survey in 2010, earthquakes there were practically unheard of. Only a handful had occurred in the previous ten years, and none at all since 2008. But beginning in 2013, at least one tremor large enough for people to feel rattles Kansas every few days—an uptick in seismic activity that researchers have tied to the state’s oil and gas industry. Reporters have been quick to jump on the link. Many mistakenly blame the quakes on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in which geologists crack open subsurface rock formations using high-pressure fluid to extract oil and gas buried underground. A frequent source for media interviews, Buchanan finds himself setting the record straight.


2 March 2015

You can hide under your desk … as long as you still answer the phone

“Well, if you need me I’ll be hiding under my desk,” I told my adviser on Friday afternoon. I’d just finished a 20-minute phone call with PRI (Public Radio International)’s The World.

Responding to press inquiries is hard, and a morning of staring intently though the clutter on my desk wracking my brain for simple, concise answers to unexpected questions had left me feeling ragged. It had been just over 24 hours since the University of Arizona’s public information office had co-issued a press release with AGU about my recent paper on Icelandic glacial rebound, which was published in Geophysical Research Letters, and I’d spent all day Thursday and all of Friday morning answering emails and phone calls from reporters.


19 February 2015

Four Ways Scientists Can Give Good Answers to Bad Questions

One of the reasons I love working with scientists is that they tend to be very direct. Ask a question: get an answer. Sometimes the answer is a little long and makes me revisit basic physics I haven’t thought about since middle school, but I definitely get an answer. Thankfully, most of the questions journalists, policymakers and citizens ask scientists are straightforward. But many are off-base and sometimes even badly framed. If a scientist provides a direct answer to a bad question, they can inadvertently leave audiences with an inaccurate impression of their work.


17 February 2015

Science communication as a “responsibility”

“I am a scientist, first and foremost, but I feel it is my responsibility to answer questions from the public when I am asked,” Diffenbaugh said during a panel on communications Feb. 12 at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in San Jose, California.


13 February 2015

Video in Education and Outreach

Video is an excellent tool for conveying emotion and generating excitement. It’s got beautiful moving images, ambient sound, and music (if you dare). It’s got human connection if you talk with people on camera or see them active on screen. It’s the most visceral way to capture an audience and tell a story. It’s not the best at communicating the details of a story however. Text, well written, still does a good job at that. But if your audience is prepped and excited about a topic or in my current case, a research expedition (because they watched an interesting or compelling video), they may be more inclined to sit down and read more about it.


2 February 2015

The Funny Side of A Missed Forecast

I made an appearance on our local talk show Delmarva Life last Friday with Mike Lichniak our weekend meteorologist, and we talked about the funny side of a missed forecast. Our morning meteorologist Brian Keane also chimed in with some of the messages from social media. I also talked about how we forecasters can communicate a difficult forecast in a better way. Note: Skip to about 20 secs into the …