>Never Say ‘Diagonal of the Covariance Matrix’: 6 Things Scientists Can Learn from Science Journalists

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Never Say ‘Diagonal of the Covariance Matrix’: 6 Things Scientists Can Learn from Science Journalists
By Maggie Koerth-Baker
Science Editor, BoingBoing.net

The New York Times
February 26, 2011, 2:22 PM

Can Scientists Learn from Science Journalists?
By ANDREW C. REVKIN

Maggie Koerth-Baker, science editor of BoingBoing.net, gave a really good talk at the University of Wisconsin aiming to encourage scientists to communicate effectively with other human beings. A starting point: listening. Another: Start a blog.

Here’s a summary of the main points that I got from David Isenberg, who alerted me to the lecture:

  • Show, don’t tell.
  • Don’t just talk, ask.
  • Lay people know more (and less) than you think.
  • Not everything is news.
  • Be critical of your own work.
  • Mistakes last, but pedantry kills.

There are deep divisions between the cultures and norms of science and journalism.

One example: For scientists, peer review occurs before publication, for journalists, afterward.

Another: All lines in a newspaper story or broadcast, in theory at least, have to stand on their own as accurate; in a research paper, the inaccuracies produced by the compression in an abstract are seen as normal and acceptable by many scientists, with the nuance conveyed in the body of a paper.

In a recent conversation I had with Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist and communicator, it was clear we had utterly different norms for interpreting summaries of a research paper.

Some of the differences were touched on in my recent coverage of new analysis attributing some changes in extreme precipitation in the Northern Hemisphere to human-driven global warming.

I would add that scientists (and science journalists) would do well to review the talk given by Thomas Lessl of the University of Georgia at the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, on the limited role of science, even if communicated clearly, in shaping policy and human choices.

There’s a link and excerpt in my recent post “Do Fights Over Climate Communication Reflect the End of ‘Scientism’?”

The take-home thought:

As scientists and science journalists spar over who’s failing in climate communication, an outsider says they’re missing the point

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