Statement of Purpose (or, Why I’m Launching a SciComm Blog)

24 October 2012 by Matt Shipman, posted in Uncategorized

Photo: abcdz2000/stock.xchng

When I was first approached about launching a blog that focuses on science communication, two questions popped into my head. Is there enough to say about science communication to sustain a blog? And, if so, who would want to read about it?

Judging from the existence of annual conferences that focus on various aspects of science communication (e.g., ScienceOnline, National Association of Science Writers), there is a lot to discuss when it comes to science communication. I plan to write about a wide range of these issues on this blog, including social media, science outreach and working with reporters. I also plan on recruiting guest posts from experts in a variety of fields.

I’ll be running this blog with two audiences in mind: researchers who are interested in the nuts and bolts of how to communicate about science, and professional communicators – including reporters and public information officers (or flacks).

By way of background, I’m including a list of links to some of the posts I’ve written for other blogs – and which helped me land this gig in the first place: What Scientists, Science Writers and PIOs Should Expect from Each Other; Writing About Science, When You’re Not A Scientist; Social Media: Taking Science To The People; and Why Scientists Should Publicize Their Findings – for Purely Selfish Reasons. These are all issues that I’m likely to revisit in the future, but they’ll give you some sense of where I’m coming from.

Ultimately, the goal of this blog is to help all parties – from scientists to science writers – do a better job when it comes to communicating about science. No matter how good we are, we can be better. That definitely includes me.

While I’ll be sharing my thoughts and opinions on a variety of issues, I am well aware that I do not have all the answers – and some of the answers I think I have are probably wrong. I’m hoping that readers will take an active role in discussing any issues I write about. I hope you benefit from my experience in the field, but I also want to learn from you.

Since I’m just getting started, here’s a question I’m really hoping you’ll answer: What science communication issues do you want to talk about?


14 Responses to “Statement of Purpose (or, Why I’m Launching a SciComm Blog)”

  1. Lou Woodley Reply | Permalink

    Congrats on the new online home, Matt! I really enjoyed your series on Soapbox Science and am looking forward to ongoing discussions about science communication here.

    Some suggestions: can we talk some more about strategy? How do you decide who you're trying to communicate with in the first place and how do you measure if you've successfully engaged with them? Also, what about the importance of narratives? Should everyone who wants to communicate be thinking about deliberately using narrative models and if so, what's the best way to teach them to scientists?

  2. Matt Shipman Reply | Permalink

    Thanks, Lou. Those are all good questions. I'm going to be speaking at the NASW conference Oct. 27 about metrics, or measuring the success of communication efforts. I'll definitely be putting up a post here on the same subject very soon. Choosing your audience, using narrative and strategy (versus tactics) are also things we can talk about. There are so many things I want to write about, the trick (for me) is deciding which to write about first!

  3. Kausik Datta Reply | Permalink

    Welcome to your new home, Matt! I am sure I'd have lots of questions as I keep reading your essays. To start off, I'd like you to address the issue of length vis-a-vis substance. Which is more important? The professional science writers I follow (Carl Zimmer, Ed Yong, Deborrah Blum, Maryn Mackenna, GrrlScientist - just to name a few offhand) do a marvelous job of balancing the two. But many others I've often seen sacrifice important content in favor of brevity.

  4. Matt Shipman Reply | Permalink

    I don't think the length of a story/article is important at all. There is a school of thought that writing for the web needs to be short. I don't agree. Writing, for the web or anywhere else, needs to be GOOD. If you're not engaging, people won't read the piece, regardless of length. If your writing IS engaging, people will read it whether it's 300 words long or 1,500 words long. And content, in my opinion, is king. You need to explain to the reader fairly quickly why they should give a shit about what you're writing. But then, with science writing, you need to muster your facts. Not only do you need to explain them in terms your audience can understand (which will differ depending on whether you're writing for an expert or non-expert audience), but you need to place those facts in context. E.g., where do new findings fit in on the continuum of research in that field? What came before? What new directions do these new findings indicate for future research? I wrote a bit about this here: http://blogs.nature.com/soapboxscience/2012/02/28/the-promise-pitfalls-of-public-outreach-part-2-writing-about-science-when-youre-not-a-scientist

    I suspect I'll be writing more on this in the future. :)

  5. David Wescott Reply | Permalink

    Congratulations on the new blog! I'd love to see a response to the recent piece in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine on "Spin and Boasting in Research Articles." I know Ivan Oransky wrote a bit about it on Retraction Watch, but your opinion in all this seems fairly relevant...

  6. Matt Shipman Reply | Permalink

    Ivan's post on that paper is pretty solid: http://retractionwatch.wordpress.com/2012/10/22/researchers-stop-the-spin-and-boasting-in-articles-say-other-researchers/

    I didn't find that paper particularly surprising. Finger-pointing, in regard to flawed science stories, is nothing new. It's sort of a perpetual game of round-robin, with researchers, PIOs/flacks and journalists taking turns blaming each other for various scicomm mistakes. In truth, I'm pretty sure there's more than enough blame to go around. Sometimes researchers, intentionally or not, hype up their results. Sometimes PIOs misrepresent research findings. And sometimes reporters make mistakes or are lazy and don't do a great job of understanding/presenting what they're writing about. But playing the blame game doesn't really get us anywhere. Since researchers, PIOs and reporters all agree that good science communication is the ultimate goal, what can all parties do to help move us in that direction? Addressing that question is the primary reason I decided to write this blog.

  7. Ivan Fernando Gonzalez Reply | Permalink

    Great to have you here! I enjoyed "The Promise & Pitfalls of public Outreach" series, read them just as I started using Twitter and blogging for science communication. Do you have any advice for scientist that may want to become professional communicators?

  8. Ben Chapman Reply | Permalink

    Ship - I'd be interested in your take as to what the role of science communicators are? Should good science communication be created with the objective of raising awareness about a particular issue; to help individuals or organizations make better/informed choices; or, to counter misinformation?Or maybe all of these things?

  9. Matt Shipman Reply | Permalink

    Ivan - that's a tall order, but I'm pretty sure that a lot of the things I'll be writing about on this blog will be of interest to scientists who want to pursue scicomm -- either full-time or part-time.

    Ben - all of those things. ALL. OF. THOSE. THINGS.

  10. KeAnne Reply | Permalink

    Yay Matt! I'm not a science writer or communicator, but I look forward to following your blog and learning new stuff. I do write about manufacturing and engineering topics from time-to-time, so I'm sure some of what you post will be relevant.

  11. sedeer Reply | Permalink

    As a scientist trying to transition into popular science writing, I'm pretty excited to read what you have to say about science communication. I started my own blog back in January and eagerly look forward to the day I'll be able to support myself doing this -- to be honest, I enjoy it so much that I have difficulty believing people actually get paid for it!

  12. Matt Shipman Reply | Permalink

    Thanks Sedeer. I hope you find the content on this blog useful. Some of the stuff I write about will be of more interest to PIOs than to reporters. Some will be of more interest to reporters than PIOs. And some of it will be of more interest to researchers than anyone else. However, I hope that all of it will be of some interest and value to all of the above. If you have any questions, comments, ideas or experiences to share, please don't be shy about chiming in on the comments section of any of the posts!

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