a few words of wisdom from the AAAS 2015 meeting:

From this morning’s power-house, fantastic session, Scientists Engaging with Reporters, the Public, and Social Media: Survey Findings — a few words I found to be so powerful in reminding us—scientists, communicators, journalists, the “public” — what science really is.

“Science is not a stack of facts or of absolute truths. It’s a process towards trying to edge our way to what is true. That’s why it’s been effective. It adjust itself, it makes correctives, a scientist is allowed to change his or her mind. The best scientists are loyal to the truth. And the reason science has had a problem is that it tells us things we may not want to hear. It asks us to accept truths that contradict our perspective, but that process has given us the modern world around us. As journalists, we can help our readers or our viewers or our listeners understand the process, and why it’s been so effective. Not just “Look what they discovered yesterday.” –Joel Achenbach, Washington Post 

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Other panelists included Lee Rainie, Pew Research institute; Elizabeth Hadley, Stanford University, and Dominique Brossard, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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a challenge: breaking out of the GMO echo chamber

A version of this blog was originally posted at the Cornell Alliance for Science

I forever believed that there existed two types of people: Those who were anti-science, and those who advocated for GMOs as a necessary food production tool. I was a happy member of the pro-GMO camp, and saw educating the public as a means of solving this “debate.” But, transitioning from an undergraduate agriculture program into a social science discipline for graduate school has shown me the echo chamber I live in when it comes to agricultural biotechnology.

The GMO debate is far more complex than this simple dichotomy, as was reiterated during the National Academies’ recent workshop in Washington DC, When Science and Citizens Connect: Public Engagement on Genetically Modified Organisms. Continue reading

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media, mood manipulation, and morals

If you read anything news-related, it’s likely you heard about last week’s ethics and privacy discussions surrounding Facebook and social science research. Essentially, a paper was published by a team of researchers from Cornell University and Facebook—”Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks“—through the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (June 2014), which says to have physically manipulated the news feeds of thousands of Facebook users to control the emotions of their perceived-networks, to ultimately analyze their not-in-person emotional responses.

The research findings are fascinating. They’re simply described in the following excerpt from the paper Abstract:  Continue reading

Photo courtesy of Kevin Folta, University of Florida

biotechnology literacy day — university of florida (2014)

This week I had the privilege to attend the inaugural “Biotechnology Literacy Project,” presented by the University of Florida, the Genetic Literacy Project, and Academics Review. After three productive days of interacting with some of the preeminent scientists, social science scholars, journalists, policymakers, and industry professionals in the space of agricultural biotechnology and genetically engineered food, several of the speakers came together in this public forum—”Biotechnology Literacy Day”—to address the communication of such technology. What follows is an aggregation of these speakers’ presentations and supplementary materials, courtesy of the University of Florida. (May need to download Silverlight plug-in or switch web-browser)

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science communication: whose job is it?

“These are the general public. They are sincere, intelligent people who just don’t know the lingo,” actor Alan Alda told a sold-out auditorium of scientists at his recent lecture at Cornell University I had a chance to report on.  They’re also the funders, and the people you go to in Congress to get money from for your project.”

As a student interested in science communication and policy, this really hit home: the “general public” is not dumb; our representatives in government — the ones who lobby for funding for our research — are not [typically] dumb. Continue reading