(Originally published by Stony Brook University)
June 20, 2011
University faculty and administrators from 20 states gathered at Stony Brook in June for an innovative, four-day conference dedicated to improving the way scientists communicate with the public — and many left with new ideas about collaboration and plans to expand science communication efforts on their own campuses.
The conference was conducted by the Center for Communicating Science (CCS), an interdisciplinary center in the School of Journalism, with funding from The Kavli Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education. CCS is developing ways to help scientists speak and write about their work clearly and conversationally in ways non-scientists can understand.
“Our participants were full of ideas and enthusiasm,” said Elizabeth Bass, director of CCS. “We’re excited at the prospect of continuing to work with them to share ideas and resources about how universities can make science more accessible to the public.”
The 36 participants were welcomed by President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. and heard a keynote address by actor-writer-director Alan Alda, a Visiting Professor and founding member of CCS.
The group experienced training being pioneered by CCS, including use of improvisational theater exercises to help scientists connect more directly with their audiences. They also received training in “Distilling Your Message,” how to explain complex material clearly without “dumbing it down,” did practice interviews with professional journalists, and shared strategies for improving science communication training on their own campuses.
“There are lots of reasons to do this kind of training,” said Howard Schneider, Dean of Journalism and co-chair of the CCS steering committee, “but the overriding reason is to boost scientific literacy at a time a when our country is facing crucial public policy decisions on everything from climate change to investment in cancer research and space exploration. At the same time, the public is increasingly bombarded with a flood of information and misinformation. So it’s never been more important to train scientists to communicate clearly.”
Participants came from a wide range of institutions, including Auburn, Bard, Central State, Colorado State, Fordham, Lawrence, Harvard, Mount Sinai Medical School, the New York Academy of Sciences, Ohio State, Northwestern, Purdue, Rutgers, Utah State, Virginia Tech, Texas A&M, Yale, and the Universities of Alabama, Cincinnati, Georgia, Kentucky, Idaho, Maryland, Missouri, and Tulsa, as well as from the University of Melbourne (Australia) and the University of the Aegean (Greece).
The Center for Communicating Science has led workshops for about 250 scientists and health professionals, as well as presentations for the National Institutes of Health, the Council of Graduate Schools and the World Science Festival in New York. In addition, the Center has developed for-credit courses in Communicating Science to the Public that are offered to graduate students in the sciences at Stony Brook University. For more information about the Center, please visit its website, www.centerforcommunicatingscience.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org