The Sciences

Sci Comm Training at Scripps

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyAug 16, 2010 3:17 AM

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I'm in lovely La Jolla this evening, getting ready for my third annual contribution to SIO295/295L: Introduction to Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, Climate Change and Marine Ecosystems. It's "Communications Week," and I'm teaching a full day media training on tomorrow, to be followed up by Randy Olson teaching on film and, well, how not to be such a scientist. The more of these sessions you do, the easier it is to get set in your ways--but I'm trying to avoid that. I'm changing things up. In particular, I am going to start teaching about that Sagan clip I posted earlier--why was Sagan so effective? What message did he articulate, and why did it resonate enough that Cosmos was able to reach half a billion people around the world? Would a similar science communication model work today? Or is it hopelessly dated? Another thing I teach on is web-based science communication, and the blessings (and downsides) of blogs. In particular, I contrast science blogs with other forms of online communication that, I believe, have greater potential to reach non-scientific audiences--in particular, entertaining YouTube videos. Videos like this one (yes, that's right Phil, as of today you made the curriculum!): Why is Phil Plait good at what he does? Why is listening to him talk about black holes not a drag, not boring or wonky, but actually intriguing and more than a little amusing? (For another example of Phil making black holes a blast--rather than a dark abyss--listen to our Point of Inquiry episode.) At Scripps, and in these trainings in general, I teach the students the basics of how to design a message, how to deal with weirdo journalists, how to grapple with a changing media. But the higher level stuff--the stuff that makes a Phil Plait--isn't something you can necessarily teach. It emerges from a combination of talent, insight, and creativity. It's...star stuff. (Thanks, Carl.) My hope, though, is that by training larger numbers of scientists in the basics of communication, we'll set some few on the path towards being real media entrepreneurs. It won't be everyone. But there are more communication innovators out there than we've yet encountered--of that I'm very sure.

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