23 March 2015

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

Rex Buchanan Measures Groundwater

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.

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16 March 2015

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

Rex Buchanan

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.

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11 March 2015

Fukushima Daiichi disaster in the news is a teachable moment for scientists

Fukushima Daiichi disaster in the news is a teachable moment for scientists

Today marks the fourth anniversary of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. On March 11, 2011, a magnitude-9.0 earthquake occurred offshore of Japan and kicked off a tsunami. At the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, the natural disasters knocked out backup power systems used to cool reactors. Consequently, three reactors underwent fuel melting, hydrogen explosions, and radioactivereleases. Although it happened four years ago, the disaster, and possible consequences, still generates questions from reporters, scientists, nuclear plant operators and the public, says Ken Buessler, a marine radiochemist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. He says he uses the disaster’s news focus to try to educate the general public about the science of radiation, including how at-risk people really are.

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2 March 2015

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

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.

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19 February 2015

Four Ways Scientists Can Give Good Answers to Bad Questions

Answering Tough 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.

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17 February 2015

Science communication as a “responsibility”

Science Communications 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.

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13 February 2015

Video in Education and Outreach

Video on the Joides Resolution

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.

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8 December 2014

Geoscientist and singer-songwriter shares her creative side at AGU’s Open Mic Night – and you can, too

Geoscientist and singer-songwriter shares her creative side at AGU’s Open Mic Night – and you can, too

Science is about discovering universal truths. Music, they say, is a universal language. So what better way to communicate science than through music?

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3 December 2014

“Yes, And …”: How Improvisational Acting Improves Your Communication Skills

Mirror Exercise

The idea is not new – doing improv does improve your ability to communicate. While the specific vehicle – improvisational acting – may seem foreign from the scientific process, the concept connects the realities of life (improvised, after all) with the vagaries of doing science (experiments don’t always go according to plan, right?).

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21 November 2014

Thinking of giving a TEDx-style talk? Do it – but with plenty of preparation!

Thinking of giving a TEDx-style talk? Do it – but with plenty of preparation!

Although presenting my research to scientific audiences has always been one of my favorite parts of being a scientist, I’ve never found the opportunity or the courage to share my work more publicly. But that changed last March…

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