Where Do You Go To Learn About The Practice of Science Communication?

Photo credit: Ion Chibzii, via Wikimedia Commons.
Photo credit: Ion Chibzii, via Wikimedia Commons.

Where do you go for information about the practice of science communication? I’m asking not only because I’m always looking to improve my own science communication efforts, but for a personal, selfish reason.

In fact, I’m not sure how to write about this without simultaneously confessing my own ignorance AND sounding self-congratulatory (a singularly off-putting combination). I really do want to know where I can learn more from other science communication practitioners and I really do have selfish reasons for asking. Both things are true.

So, let me explain why I’m asking, and hopefully I won’t come across as a navel-gazing jackass.

To be clear, I’m not talking here about science communication research (which I find fascinating). I’m talking about actually conveying scientific concepts and findings to specific audiences – the work done by reporters, bloggers, museum curators, public information officers (PIOs, like me), etc.

I recently realized that, with the exception of The Open Notebook and Paige Brown’s From The Lab Bench blog, I don’t have any specific go-to sources for this kind of thing. In fact, most of what I pick up about the practical process of science communication stems from conversations (online and offline) with friends and colleagues in the field.

This point was driven home by a question I was asked by the University of Chicago Press.

Here’s the deal: I wrote a handbook for PIOs at research institutions (basically, how to do what I do for a living), which is being published by UChicago Press and is scheduled to come out next summer. (I’m very excited about this, but also feel weird writing about it here because it seems self-congratulatory. I’m happy promoting other people’s work, but feel odd promoting my own, if that makes sense.)

Last week, the press’s promotions office asked me to send them a list of any reporters, bloggers, or editors who would be interested in interviewing me or reviewing the book. And I realized that there were no obvious answers. I listed The Open Notebook (even though it focuses on science journalism, not PIOs, and I have no contacts there) and From The Lab Bench (which is part of the SciLogs network), and then came up short.

There are a lot of places that periodically cover science communication issues, but it’s not a core issue for any of them. How many of these outlets would be interested in covering something for science PIOs? Or books at all, for that matter? Maybe the careers section of Science or Nature? (I think that would make sense, but I don’t know.)

Here’s the thing: I hate sending off-topic pitches to reporters. If I pitch a story to a reporter, I want to be at least 95 percent sure that the reporter will find the story interesting, even if they choose not to cover it. I don’t want them to read my pitch and wonder what the hell I was thinking when I decided to send them this.

As a result, I’m hesitant to send UChicago Press the names of reporters or bloggers unless I’m really sure they’d be interested. And that list of names is very (very) short.

So, I’ll reiterate my first question and add a new one: Where do you go to read about the practice of science communication? And do you think anyone there might want to read a book about it?


9 thoughts on “Where Do You Go To Learn About The Practice of Science Communication?

  1. How about the editors of alumni magazines? A lot of them are very good — they have to know what’s going on in their institutions and publicize it, but at the same time walk the line between PI and reporting. Anyway, I’ll bet they’d like to read that book. Not a large audience though, sorry. And don’t apologize for talking about your book — it’s now publisher-mandated and you have no choice except to comply with grace.


  2. You could try the science media centres? (Disclosure: I write a blog at a site hosted by the New Zealand Science Media Centre, sciblogs.co.nz.) Some of the people there might be interested, or they will know of people who are. Similarly, look to the courses on science communication – I’m aware of a few in New Zealand.

    While I’m writing, there are (of course) a few other books including A Field Guide for Science Writers, Ideas Into Words, Telling True Stories, etc.


  3. You might look into technical communication (which tends to cover science, technology, and other complex communications). I double-majored in english and geology, have a Master’s degree in English with an emphasis in Literacy, Technology, and Professional Writing and a PhD in Rhetoric and Scientific and Technical Communications. I teach scientific writing, writing in the social sciences, technical writing (which is typically science (all sciences), engineering, and computer science majors), and business writing (which is usually mass communications/journalism students and business majors). I’ve had quite a few science and mass comm students pick up my area as a minor so they could be writers in the field. Many of my graduate colleagues became writers in science and technology fields.

    In both my masters and doctoral work I had to do in depth analysis of scientific writing. While this may be more of the research you’re talking about, it’s imperative to teach others how to communicate within the sciences.


  4. Kate McKiernan

    +1 to Dawn’s suggestion of Technical/Professional Writing (the field is rebranding itself, so look for both). I’m an MA student in rhetoric, specialized in professional writing, and there’s a lot of useful stuff in that field.

    Also, Iowa State has a Science Communication that holds a yearly symposium, and I’ve gotten a lot of great material from them their conference proceedings. I gave a paper at their June symposium, and a lot of good ideas about theory into practice came up.


  5. I am a professor and Co-Director of the Science Communication Graduate program at Laurentian University in Sudbury, ON, Canada. We have been running this program in partnership with the local science centre down the road since 2005, have over 90 alumni in the field and I’d been happy to chat with you about the courses that our students take in our program. All of our students come to use with at least a first degree in science, some come with Masters and we’ve had one with a PhD.
    One of the books we often recommend to our students is Carrada’s Scientist’s Survival Guide to Science Communication. Again, I’d be happy to have a chat. Our website is sciencecommunication.ca.


  6. Brooke Norsted

    I’m late to the game, but I find the Association of Science and Technology Center’s Dimensions magazine very helpful, readable, and relevant to my practice of science communication. I don’t think they regularly do reviews, but maybe they’d be inclined?


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