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New program to merge journalism, medical science

June 17, 2013

Arizona State University is launching a program designed to bring together the worlds of journalism and medical science.

The new program at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication will be led by Ed Sylvester, a longtime faculty member, national science journalist and author of five books exploring the frontiers and complexities of science and medicine for general audiences.

“There’s often great miscommunication when scientists try to explain their work to journalists, and journalists attempt to communicate those complex issues to readers and viewers,” Sylvester said. “Yet nothing is more important to the public than clarity in reporting on the latest discoveries in science and medicine. Our new program is designed to bridge that significant gap.”

Sylvester, who recently stepped down from his full-time faculty position to concentrate on the new initiative, serves as the mentor for the school’s innovative partnership with the Mayo Medical School, in which Mayo students take a year off from their studies in Rochester, Minn. to earn a master’s degree in mass communication at the Cronkite School.

He will continue to teach the groundbreaking course he created in 1999, Science and Medical Journalism.

Starting this fall he will deliver a new course, Collision Course – Science Intersects Journalism, which will investigate the very different backgrounds, disciplines and goals brought to the reporting of science and medical news by scientists, physicians and journalists, exploring ways to improve coverage of science and medical news. It will be part of the Cronkite School's online curriculum offered via ASU Online and will be open to all ASU students.

“We are thrilled that Professor Sylvester is taking on this critically important challenge,” said Christopher Callahan, dean of the Cronkite School. “A gifted science journalist and superb teacher, Ed is the ideal person to illuminate these complex issues. He will give both journalists and scientists deeper and new perspectives – journalists on how to cover these complex topics and scientists on how to better communicate the issues to journalists and the public.”

Joining the program as adjunct professor of medical journalism will be Joseph Sirven, professor and chairman of the Department of Neurology at Mayo Clinic Arizona. Sirven also is a health contributor and columnist for NBC Latino and editor-in-chief of

Sylvester will work with colleagues at ASU, Mayo and other science and health organizations to develop a comprehensive package of courses and other educational offerings to improve reporting of science and medical news.