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Journalists discuss science, news


April 05, 2007

Those were among sentiments expressed by veteran science writer Charles Petit and some of the nation's leading scientists and science journalists during a symposium April 2 at Arizona State University titled “Essential Dialogues: Why Scientists and Engineers Must Not Speak in Tongues.”

“Science has the advantage of telling us things that are entirely new,” said Petit, whose career includes 26 years at the San Francisco Chronicle and several years at U.S. News and World Report. “In mainstream media, most news is bad news. Science news is one of the few places where you can read good stories,” he said.

New York Times science journalist Natalie Angier also talked about scientists telling stories and suggested they resize scientific terms, like “protein,” to everyday dimensions. “Ask a scientist ‘if you could see a protein, what would it look like?'”

Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute, argued that most scientists should not get involved in science outreach “because they're not good at it.”

But Levenson countered: “We need more scientists doing more outreach.”

Robert Irion, director of the science communication program at the University of California-Santa Cruz, recommended that university science programs have mandatory public speaking and community outreach programs. He agreed with Levenson that such presentations should entertain in order to educate.

Another way to reach the public is through the Internet and blogs. Yet in any medium, “news is best told as stories,” noted Petit, though he added that the blogosphere “is the ultimate fractionization of information.”

The symposium, sponsored by the Hendricks Family Foundation, is one of several events this spring marking the official launch of ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration, a groundbreaking endeavor in higher education that fuses Earth and space sciences with engineering. More information is online at sese.asu.edu.