Four Things I Learned by Starting a Science Podcast

By John Borghi Last week, I released the first official episode of Bold Signals- a podcast where I attempt to capture the human side of science. In each episode, I interview either a scientist about the lived experience of doing science or a non-scientist about how they experience science in their everyday life. If this sounds interesting, you can stream the podcast on SoundCloud or download it through iTunes. A new episode will come out every Wednesday this summer, with a second season starting sometime in the Fall. I started the podcast because I wanted to reveal the struggles and frustrations that exist between the lines of the results and discussion sections of scientific articles. But, even in the short time I've been working on Bold Signals, I've learned a whole lot about how science is produced, applied, and communicated. Here are the bullet points: 1. Making a podcast isn’t so difficult (except when it is) On some level, recording a podcast is as simple as plugging in some microphones and talking with some neat people for about an hour. Before I conducted the first interview, I spent a long time researching recording equipment, editing software, and hosting options. I interrogated experienced

Paths to Communication: Heather Berlin

by Maryam Zaringhalam A quick Google search of “science communication” will return a smattering of results ranging from hit television shows to community-based science outreach and education organizations. But what exactly could a career in science communication look like and how can we pursue one? I’ve become familiar with science communicators and organizations doing really incredible work to get the general public engaged and excited about science. I’ve watched their videos, tuned in to their podcasts, and attended their events. They’ve inspired me with their passion and poise and filled my mind with ideas. With that said, if science has taught me anything, it’s that the process is at least as important as the final product. To learn about their paths, from initial inspirations and lessons learned to plans for the future, I have begun to reach out to the science communicators I so admire. Another valuable lesson, courtesy of science, is that all my research would be for naught if I did not share it with my peers. For this reason, The Incubator has kindly carved out some space to feature Paths to Communication: a regular interview series with some stellar communicators of science. Dr. Heather Berlin Starting us

The Fine Li(n)e

By Simona Giunta Science communication faces stiff challenges with the blurring of boundaries between public and private science and the fragmentation of audiences. (Jean-Francois Podevin/Science Photo Library) 'A scientist, in a broad sense, is one engaging in a systematic activity to acquire knowledge'.  Scientist Definition: Wikipedia Is the universe expanding or contracting? How did life on Earth begin? How does damaged DNA get repaired? These are all tough questions for scientists, but are they the toughest?  Actually, no. One question I have always dreaded as a scientist is: “What exactly do you do?” There are two reasons why this seemingly simple question is actually very complicated to answer.  The first reason is that scientists often struggle to explain their research in lay terms. For many scientists, breaking down highly technical information in simple terms is an exercise akin to sending a probe to Mars! The second problem is the low science literacy rates in the US. For instance, terms like ‘DNA’ and ‘proteins,’ which are widely used by mass media, are neither fully understood nor appreciated by the public. Whose fault is this? Circle back to the first reason! So, how did I handle the dreaded question? “I’m a

Fiscal Cliff Part II: What can scientists do to protect the future of basic science research?

By Christina Pyrgaki, @CPyrgaki In Fiscal Cliff Part I, I talked about how the fiscal cliff will affect science and what citizens should do about it. Part II is for scientists: how can we protect the future of scientific research? Researchers are trained to write for scientific journals or funding agencies, but they are not necessarily trained - or inclined - to write for broad audiences. Many scientists shy away from advocating science to lay audiences, either because it is too hard or because there is no incentive. Now, with the fiscal cliff looming, scientists need to re-examine this notion. In a recent survey Research!America reported that a whopping 72% of Americans believe that Congress and President Obama should take action to expand medical research within the first 100 days of the new Congress. While this number is very encouraging, we should note that 20% of people were “Not Sure” about important science and medical funding topics. This needs to be rectified! Here, answering “Not Sure” means one of two things: either people do not have the necessary information to answer the question or they do not consider the question important enough to think about. In either case, sciences loses.

On the Importance of Fun

By Dan Gareau, @LASER_Beam This guy knew how to have fun. Science is a creative process and scientists are creative people who like to have fun... but scientists are not known for being flashy. A paper in Cell or Nature is typically where scientists stop and where the threshold of “success” has been set. However, there is another direction that is rarely taken: distilling and polishing scientific content for non-scientists. When scientists do more to explain how science relates to nearly every aspect of our lives, the results are far-reaching. Take the popular blog, “It’s Okay to Be Smart,” and the graduate student behind it, Joe Hanson. In just over a year, Joe managed to provide enough valuable content to land him on Time magazine’s 2012 list of must-see Tumblrs, and eventually helped him get his own YouTube show on science. His effort is helping to raise public awareness of science, and to show that science is, in fact, cool. But, Joe is only one scientist out of many that actually speaks to a broad audience. Why don't more scientists do this? The problem is that science is hard, and communicating science to a general audience takes a

Sensationalism in Science, Part II

By Gabrielle Rabinowitz, @GabrielleRab In Part I of this post I explained the harm that can result from over-hyped science reporting. But what if scientists’ own enthusiasm for their work is what sparks the hype? As Rob O’ Sullivan of Dar-winning pointed out in a comment on Part I, scientists in poorly funded fields sometimes rely on hype to raise funds. As science funding is increasingly threatened by federal cutbacks, scientists need to reach out to the public to explain why their research is exciting and important. As we reach out, we need to be careful that our sincere enthusiasm doesn’t feed the hype machine. Every scientist needs to consider the consequences of their words. Hype on Mars No one knows better about shrinking funds and the need to excite the public than NASA. I’ve already mentioned the “arsenic life” incident of 2010, where NASA scientists did nothing to stop the overexcited press from exaggerating their findings. Last November a much more cautious NASA research team unwittingly let their enthusiasm become the source of hype. The senior scientist from NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory, John Grotzinger, told NPR that he and his team had discovered something in a soil sample from Curiosity that was “gonna be one

Jargon Rehab: A Call for Clearer Communication

By Laura Seeholzer Miscommunication Pronunciation of the Kiswahili words for mosquito (mbu) and penis (mboo) are precariously close. Unfortunately, I only became aware of this a month after I started researching mosquitoes in Tanzania. The project I was working on required me to use a blended nylon material found in men’s boxers so once a week I would go down to the market and buy men’s Tommy Hilfigers (they had the perfect blend). When explaining to the marketplace vendors why I wanted men’s underwear, not women’s, I’d say in Kiswahili, “I study penises. I need underpants for an experiment with the penis” of course, I thought I was using the word mbu (mosquito), but I was of course saying mboo (penis). Yikes. This innocuous miscommunication can be used as an analogy for a serious problem: a disconnect between what scientists think they are communicating and what the public is actually hearing. In December, Alan Alda spoke to the Rockefeller community about this communication gap, a problem I knew existed but never fully appreciated.  He first asked us: “what level of knowledge is the public really starting at?” For instance, if you told a person on the street that you study

Sensationalism in Science, Part I

By Gabrielle Rabinowitz Image credit: Zach Weiner (SMBC) “NASA Discovers Alien Life”  “Doctors Talk to Vegetative Patient Through Brain Scans”  “Sleep Apnea Tied to Increased Cancer Risk” The world according to popular science headlines is a pretty crazy place. Miraculous cures and surprising causes for all of our ailments can be found in a bite of chocolate. Everything we knew about something is wrong. And NASA has confirmed either the existence of aliens or a world-engulfing black hole. Of course, these are just sensational blurbs intended to grab your attention. Surely the real science can be found after the jump… And yet more often than not, the articles themselves are mere jumbles of over-hyped conclusions, out of context quotes, and clichés. But where do these headlines come from? Buried under all the hype, there is an actual scientific study. This source may not even be cited in the article, but it is out there. It presents evidence for a new discovery, or a new way of thinking about some, often small, aspect of our world. Eventually, the data presented in that study will be reanalyzed, critiqued, revised, and applied to advances in health or technology. But that process

Welcome to The Incubator!

The Incubator - hatching conversations about science - is a blog fueled by The Rockefeller University community.  In an effort to help shape expectations for the type of content you will find on The Incubator, we have highlighted a few key points that are central to our mission: Community Engagement   By improving the dialogue between RU and the broader community, we hope to improve science literacy and create a base of informed consumers of science.  There is a clear disconnect between the appropriate interpretations of basic and clinical research projects and what the public understands.  When explanations are offered, they are generally dull, jargon-laden science lessons. We have seen the consequences of a scientific community that has become disengaged with the general public.  If scientists do not help pass on their passion for science to the populous, the public cannot differentiate between evidence-based science and pseudoscience.  Examples of this are found by simply looking at declining vaccination rates, or legislative policies that are not aligned with rigorously proven scientific findings. Scientific Openness The Incubator is meant to be, in part, a platform to facilitate discussions among scientists, and provide a window to showcase the work and philosophies born at RU in