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Scientific writing for the public

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Talk on Scientific Writing for the Public for the EOL Fellows workshop by Laura Helmuth, science editor for the Smithsonian Magazine

Talk on Scientific Writing for the Public for the EOL Fellows workshop by Laura Helmuth, science editor for the Smithsonian Magazine

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    Scientific writing for the public Scientific writing for the public Presentation Transcript

    • How to Communicate Science to People Who are Afraid* of Science Laura Helmuth Smithsonian Magazine www.smithsonianmag.com *or opposed to or suspicious of or marching as to war against science
    • Which over-the-counter drug do doctors recommend that people take to help prevent heart attacks?
      • Antacids
      • Cortisone
      • Aspirin
      • (91% correct)
    • Which of the following may cause a tsunami?
      • A very warm ocean current
      • A large school of fish
      • A melting glacier
      • An earthquake under the ocean
      • (71% correct)
    • How are stem cells different from other cells?
      • They can develop into many different types of cells
      • They are found only in bone marrow
      • They are found only in plants
      • (52% correct)
    • Electrons are smaller than atoms.
      • True
      • False
      • (46% correct)
    •  
    • A typical letter (emphasis added):
      • Evolutions Big Bang article:   I still can't believe how scientist and researchers cannot believe the creation of the world by God.  The scientist are on that mountain searching and trying to prove a theory that apes came from a rock and people came from the apes.   I believe we were created and the earth is around 6000-10,000 years old.  What's up with millions of years theory....of course that million years is needed for evolution to occur.   It just seems the evidence is right in front of them .  Look at your human hand and see the intricate work that God made, he is a God of detail. They are telling me that my human hand was formed over millions of years from a exploded rock? Just can't grasp that theory at all.   Carbon dating?..made by man to fit the theory?     Nothing + No One = Everything..evolution? I don't get it.  It just seems foolish.
    •  
    • And a response:
      • I must take exception to your March 2010 edition. Your lead article on “Our Earliest Ancestors” presents evolution as a fact, and not a theory. There is an equal body of scholarly work that supports the creation theory (i.e., The Institute for Creation Research). My problem with the article is NOT in its publication, it is in its presentation as absolute fact, which is not the case. What would prevent Smithsonian from presenting BOTH theories objectively , and allowing the readers to come to their own conclusions? Would that be any less scholarly?
    •  
      • I just opened your current issue and cannot believe my eyes. You, a
      • journal covering, among other disciplines, science, are still hanging
      • onto the fable of man-made global warming ? Have you read the newspaper
      • stories or watched tv news broadcasts? Have you heard of the data
      • manipulation, lies and conspiracies that have been an integral part of
      • the "research" and the connivance of government officials (and
      • ex-officials)? And no, I did not read the article . I'm already being
      • buried in falsehoods and will not willingly take any more on board.
      • Please, either come into the real world or cancel my subscription. The
      • one thing I hate most is to have anyone, including science journals, try
      • to con me. Please advise what you intend to do. My reading time is
      • limited, and if I want fables I'll pick up the latest copy of Aesop. The
      • reading I'd enjoy most is your written, published apology for being a)
      • dupes of the panic mongers or b) admit your part in the conspiracy.
      And a response:
    • And another for good measure:
      • As a new subscriber to SM, I was looking forward to your usualy beautiful photography as well as interesting articles about the world and the creatures in it. Well, I got some of that, but I also got a dose of the PC Global Warming BS that is so de rigueur amongst leftist elites nowdays . No matter that your base data is either 'missing' or outright lies; no matter that its main proponents are being exposed as buffoons, thugs, bullies, or criminals; no matter how mush conflicting evidence is out there, you continue to push this garbage. I think it's now a case of saving face. You can't admit you were wrong because you have too much invested in it. You must double down and try to bull your way through, or look like total fools. Please, my opinion of the Smithsonian took a big hit as soon as I saw this article, so, no more of this BS, or I will not be renewing my subscription.
      • The point: people do love stories about wildlife and the environment and the world around them. But for many people, political and religious views and/or scientific illiteracy profoundly distort their understanding of what you’re trying to convey.
    •  
    •  
    •  
    •  
    • Lots of readers love these stories....
      • Wild Things (page 12) proved to me once again the
      • value of this excellent magazine. The unfortunate ant that contributed, will-nilly, to the propagation of a nematode via an almost incredible natural selection process, and the romantically-driven hummingbird that, more happily, tail-chirped his way to a potential mate in a power dive, were a delight. Visions of an ant that took on the appearance of a luscious berry and of the undoubtedly successful courting ritual of a four-gram bird quite haunted me.
      • James “The Amazing” Randi
      • James Randi Educational Foundation
      • Fort Lauderdale, Florida
    • What do readers respond to?
      • Elephants!
    • What do readers respond to?
      • Elephants!
      • Other charismatic megafauna: any cats or primates; predators; big-eyed species; smart species, especially whales and elephants
    • Some Popular Recent Stories
      • Profile of cheetah researcher Laurie Marker
      • Giraffes in Niger, living among villages
      • Gorillas threatened by warfare in Congo
      • Mountain lions making a comeback in the West
      • Lessons from panda insemination research
      • Spotted owls versus barred owls
      • Lion social behavior
      • Mustangs in the wild
    • What do readers respond to?
      • Elephants!
      • Other charismatic megafauna: any cats or primates; predators; big-eyed species; smart species, especially whales and elephants
      • Animals in distress (orphaned elephants)
    • What do readers respond to?
      • Elephants!
      • Other charismatic megafauna: any cats or primates; predators; big-eyed species; smart species, especially whales and elephants
      • Animals in distress (orphaned elephants)
      • Success stories (especially captive breeding)
    • What do readers respond to?
      • Elephants!
      • Other charismatic megafauna: any cats or primates; predators; big-eyed species; smart species, especially whales and elephants
      • Animals in distress (orphaned elephants)
      • Success stories (especially captive breeding)
      • People with a link to animals
    • What do readers respond to?
      • Elephants!
      • Other charismatic megafauna: any cats or primates; predators; big-eyed species; smart species, especially whales and elephants
      • Animals in distress (orphaned elephants)
      • Success stories (captive breeding, clever conservation strategies)
      • People with a link to animals
    • What readers respond to, cont’d
      • Mysteries that are solved
      • Plants with character (Venus flytraps, coast redwoods)
      • Superlatives: the oldest trees, the fastest die-off, evolution in the deepest river, the coldest place in the universe
      • History, archaeology and art
    • What do readers want to know about a species?
      • What they eat
      • What eats them
      • How they mate (courtship behavior, whether pairs last, the mechanics of mating)
      • How they raise their young
      • How long they live
      • Surprising stuff: odd vocalizations or dances, social skills, hunting tricks, camouflage, disgusting parasitism, senses or signals we don’t have
    • Try to Think Like Your Most Science-Phobic Reader/Viewer
      • Get confused easily
    • Try to Think Like Your Most Science-Phobic Reader/Viewer
      • Get confused easily
      • Imagine ways to misinterpret the information
    • Try to Think Like Your Most Science-Phobic Reader/Viewer
      • Get confused easily
      • Imagine ways to misinterpret the information
      • Do frequent jargon checks
    • Try to Think Like Your Most Science-Phobic Reader/Viewer
      • Get confused easily
      • Imagine ways to misinterpret the information
      • Do frequent jargon checks
      • Spell out the logic in excruciating detail
    • Try to Think Like Your Most Science-Phobic Reader/Viewer
      • Get confused easily
      • Imagine ways to misinterpret the information
      • Do frequent jargon checks
      • Spell out the logic in excruciating detail
      • Spell out the significance of something explicitly; don’t assume they’ll see the point
    • Try to Think Like Your Most Science-Phobic Reader/Viewer
      • Get confused easily
      • Imagine ways to misinterpret the information
      • Do frequent jargon checks
      • Spell out the logic in excruciating detail
      • Spell out the significance of something explicitly; don’t assume they’ll see the point
      • Avoid “intelligent” “design” or “created” to save yourself irritating letters
    • Try to Think Like Your Most Science-Phobic Reader/Viewer
      • Get confused easily
      • Imagine ways to misinterpret the information
      • Do frequent jargon checks
      • Spell out the logic in excruciating detail
      • Spell out the significance of something explicitly; don’t assume they’ll see the point
      • Avoid “intelligent” “design” or “created” to save yourself irritating letters
      • Think of your densest relative at Thanksgiving
    • Useful techniques
      • Beautiful photos or amusing videos are a great way to get people’s attention.
      • Give every possible informal name for a species (lightning bugs, fireflies, glow worms).
      • Disgust is a response you can work with.
      • Strategically emphasize what we don’t know.
      • Enthusiasts can be embarrassing, but people often admire or identify with them.