Monthly Archives: November 2012


Scientists: Social Media Is Not Necessarily a Waste of Time

Posted 30 November 2012 by Matt Shipman

When it comes to social media, there seem to be two schools of thought in the science/research community. One posits that spending time on social media can be extremely useful. The other posits that spending time on social media is stupid. The truth, in my opinion, is that it can be either. I know scientists who have reaped significant professional benefits from their use of social media (particularly Twitter), so I know that it can be a good investment of... Read more

Why I Use the Word ‘Flack’

Posted 28 November 2012 by Matt Shipman

I’m a science writer, but I’m also a public information officer (PIO). That means I work in public relations (or media relations, anyway), so I often refer to myself as a “flack.” This startles some people and annoys others, so I thought I’d explain why I use the term. I never went to journalism school. My first interaction with the world of reporting was when I got a job after college in the production department of a news company. I... Read more

Popular Science Writing by a Scientist: An Interview with Rob Dunn

Posted 26 November 2012 by Matt Shipman

I love science books that are couched in language that is accessible to non-scientists. When done well, they are a joy to read. Most “popular science”(not Popular Science) authors are reporters or former reporters. But what about authors who are scientists themselves? Ask any nonfiction author and they’ll tell you that it takes an enormous amount of time, organization and effort to crank out a book. It’s a full time job. How do scientists engaged in research find the time... Read more

Matter’s Growing Pains, and the Value of Preparation

Posted 20 November 2012 by Matt Shipman

This is more of a note than a fully evolved post, but it’s a good reminder of the value of preparation. I’m talking about the recent (very public) growing pains of Matter – a new, online outlet for publishing long-form, independent journalism that focuses on various aspects of science and/or technology. I love the idea behind Matter, which published its first story this month, in large part because I love long-form articles when they’re done well. They are captivating. However,... Read more

Oops: How to Recover From a Mistake

Posted 19 November 2012 by Matt Shipman

Assuming you are a human, you are going to make mistakes. But if you’re a reporter, blogger or PIO, those mistakes can be public. And embarrassing. So how do you recover gracefully, or at least with as little damage as possible to your reputation? Here’s the short answer: admit your mistake as early as possible; never make excuses; and do not make the same mistake again. The problem with excuses When someone makes a mistake, their first reaction is often... Read more

Can News Media Boost Citations? Examining One (Old) Study

Posted 14 November 2012 by Matt Shipman

I recently raised the idea that media coverage of a research article may boost that article’s citations, and mentioned a 2003 study by Vincent Kiernan that found a correlation between news stories and citation rates. Now I’d like to talk about another, older study that makes a stronger claim regarding the link between news and citations. The paper, “Importance of the Lay Press in the Transmission of Scientific Knowledge to the Scientific Community,” was published in 1991 in the New... Read more

SciComm Matters Because…It’s Tough to Keep Up with Journals

Posted 12 November 2012 by Matt Shipman

(Note: this is the first in what will be a series of occasional posts about why science communication is important.) One reason that science communication, outside the peer-reviewed literature, is becoming more important is because of…the peer-reviewed literature. In my opinion, this is particularly true for researchers. If you’re a researcher, you want people to see your papers. You also want to stay abreast of new findings that are relevant to your work. For a number of reasons, both of... Read more

Communication 101

Posted 5 November 2012 by Matt Shipman

If we’re going to be talking about science communication, it's worthwhile to have a brief overview of communication basics. I have a hunch I'll be linking back to this post a lot. Step One: Know Your Audience Who, exactly, are you trying to reach? This is the first step because it will affect everything else you do. For example, if you are an entomologist, and you want to reach an audience of your fellow entomologists, you can write in technical... Read more

Ultimate Writing Challenge: Science Writing for Kids

Posted 1 November 2012 by Matt Shipman

If you’d really like to challenge yourself as a writer, I suggest writing about science for kids. Specifically, try to explain a basic science concept to children under the age of eight. I tried it recently and learned a few things along the way. I’m writing about this here because getting people excited about science is a lot easier if you catch their interest as children – and because science communication includes science communication for kids. I’ve thought of myself... Read more