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No, Writing Intelligibly Is Not ‘Dumbing It Down’

Posted 8 June 2015 by Matt Shipman

My list of pet peeves is pretty short. I can’t stand things that are misspelled intentionally (nothing should ever be “kwik” or “lite”). I don’t like rude people. And I can’t stand it when people talk about science communication as “dumbing it down.” Ugh. People usually use the phrase “dumbing it down” to refer to instances when someone who is writing or talking about science refrains from using jargon. As if the absence of jargon somehow changes the work that’s... Read more

Three Reasons I Love Being a Research PIO

Posted 4 June 2015 by Matt Shipman

I’m a public information officer (PIO) at a research institution. That basically means that I do public relations and media relations for a place that conducts a lot of research. And I love my job. Before becoming a PIO I spent more than nine years as a reporter, covering environmental policy issues for several “inside the Beltway” publications in Washington, DC. When I left reporting to become a PIO at North Carolina State University, I had very little idea what... Read more

‘How Long Is a Blue Whale?’ Kids, Science, and Scribbling on the Sidewalk

Posted 26 May 2015 by Matt Shipman

I love science. And I want my kids to love science. But before they love it, I have to get them to like it. Luckily, this is pretty easy. My kids, like most kids, are drawn to insects, sharks, dinosaurs, horses and a wide variety of other critters. Fostering this interest in living things (or, occasionally, prehistoric things) has been a fun and easy way to encourage their interest in science. My plan is to parlay their fascination in animals... Read more

Old News Won’t Help You, and More Tips on How to Pitch a Reporter

Posted 21 May 2015 by Matt Shipman

A few years ago, I wrote a long(ish) post on how to pitch story ideas to reporters without being annoying. A couple things have happened recently that make me want to add some new tips to the list. First, a reporter acquaintance of mine has been sharing some of the pitches she’s gotten lately which are particularly awful. And there are a lot of them. I won’t repeat the pitches, but I do want to highlight some of the mistakes... Read more

Journalism and Diversity: An Interview with Emma Carew Grovum

Posted 22 April 2015 by Matt Shipman

Journalism – including science journalism – has a long way to go in terms of increasing diversity. A 2013 article in Columbia Journalism Review reported that minorities make up less than 12.5 percent of newsroom staff – and only around 10 percent of newsroom supervisors. Earlier this year, I learned about the Journalism Diversity Project (JDP), which aims to boost newsroom diversity. To learn more about the project, I reached out to Emma Carew Grovum, one of the co-founders of... Read more

Quantity, Quality, and Scope: an Interview with Siri Carpenter

Posted 20 April 2015 by Matt Shipman

MIT’s Knight Science Journalism program (KSJ) announced April 13 that it will be providing financial support to the non-profit website The Open Notebook (TON). KSJ will give TON $60,000 under a one-year pilot agreement to support the site’s mission of helping science journalists sharpen their skills. TON is a great resource for science reporters, and science writers generally, so I reached out to TON co-founder Siri Carpenter to learn more about the agreement and what KSJ’s support will enable TON... Read more

The Substantial Costs and Minimal Benefits of False Balance

Posted 10 April 2015 by Matt Shipman

Good reporters strive to write balanced stories, presenting all sides of a story in as unbiased a way as possible. But this can be controversial in science reporting if the overwhelming body of evidence suggests that one viewpoint is, well, wrong. For example, some people believe that global climate change is a hoax and that vaccines do more harm than good. But the vast majority of scientific evidence tells us that climate change is real and that vaccines offer enormous... Read more

Is That Science/Health Story Full of Nonsense? Some Things to Consider

Posted 31 March 2015 by Matt Shipman

Someone recently asked me how I evaluate whether science- or health-related news stories are inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise full of nonsense. I hadn’t really organized my thoughts on this before. But I had read some pretty good tips from other science writers – including one by Michelle Nijhuis at Slate and one by Emily Willingham at Forbes.com. And I’ve also been reading the news with a more critical eye recently, since I started reviewing health stories for Health News Review.... Read more

Publishers Respond to NSF Public Access Plan

Posted 30 March 2015 by Matt Shipman

On March 18, the U.S. National Science Foundation announced the steps it will take to make federally-funded research publicly available. I had some questions regarding what this might mean for publishing companies and peer-reviewed journals. I reached out to some of the largest publishers of scholarly journals, and representatives from three of the publishers responded. The answers ranged from certainty that NSF’s plan would be easily implemented to uncertainty about what the plan would mean. I’m including all three responses... Read more

News Brief: NSF Unveils Plan for Public Access to NSF-Funded Research

Posted 18 March 2015 by Matt Shipman

The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) unveiled a plan March 18 that would require researchers to make publications pertaining to NSF-funded research freely and publicly available within 12 months of their initial publication. The requirement will apply to all projects whose proposals are submitted after the agency issues its Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide in January 2016. The change is outlined in the NSF’s new public access plan, titled “Today’s Data, Tomorrow’s Discoveries.” In a March 18 announcement,... Read more