Science Communication Seminar

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EEB 5894 (NOT Dr. Likens's seminar -- that's different. Sorry.)


Margaret Rubega, EEB; Kent Holsinger, EEB; Ken Noll, MCB; Bob Wyss, Journalism

This page lists weekly meetings of the Seminar in Science Communication. This semester (Fall 2008) we will be reading and discussing science reporting in the New York Times. If you need a permission number, please contact Margaret Rubega.

Meeting time: Thursdays 2 - 3 p.m.

Location: NOTE THAT THE ROOM HAS CHANGED (again, but hopefully for the last time) to TLS 263.

Required Reading:

You should arrive every week having read the preceding Tuesday’s Science Section in the New York Times, and ready to discuss it. You have several options for access to the NYT: You can use the order form to order a personal subscription OR You can pick up a FREE copy of the paper at selected locations on campus, as long as you arrive before the free copies are all gone OR You can read the paper FREE online.

Expectations for Students

READING: We would like you to read the articles in the Science section critically, assessing the quality of articles from the point of view of:

Accuracy: does the article say things you know or suspect to be wrong?

Evidence: is there sufficient evidence presented for you to believe the conclusions drawn by the reporter?

Balance: does the reporter consider alternative explanations? Are experts from all sides of an issue interviewed and quoted?

Clarity: how hard is it to understand the article? Pretend to be your grandmother while thinking about this one!

Newsworthiness: why did the reporter decide to focus on this story? Why did the editor run it? How likely it that the information presented will change policy/technology/behavior/the world?

PRESENTATIONS: Every student will be expected to present an analysis of a news article to the rest of the group at least once. Students should pick an article, read it, then investigate the background of the story in the primary scientific literature. Read the technical paper that prompted the story, at least. Reconsider all issues listed above; your presentation should address how good a job the reporter did achieving accuracy, balance, and clarity. Your presentation should also address what the scientist did, or could have done, to increase the chances that the reporter would produce an accurate, clear, engaging story.

Given the level of enrollment, and the limited number of weeks for presentation, at least some students will have to present in pairs. Presentation partners should consist of graduate/undergraduate pairs; NO undergrad/undergrad or grad/grad pairs. Talk to Margaret if you would like to present with a partner and you aren't sure how to secure one.

Discussion Schedule

Week of: Who Topic Notes
28 Aug M.Rubega Class intro: organization. Come prepared to introduce yourself
4 Sep Bob Wyss Science communication from the journalist's perspective :Pdficon small.gifBob's Slides
11 Sep Brian Hiller Article on nitrogen effects from last week's paper. Supplemental reading (for those with the time and the will: the Nature paperthat stimulated the news piece, and a link to another technical article on nitrogen, and LOTS of other supplemental resources from Science.
18 Sep Sarah Treanor Carl Zimmer article on "Friendly Invaders" from 9/9/08 the PNAS paperthat stimulated the news piece
25 Sep Laura Cisneros "A cold stare can make you crave some heat" By Benedict Carey from 9/16/08 copy and paste the link below in order to see the scientific paper (Zhong C. and G.J. Leonardelli. 2008. Cold and lonely. Journal of Psychological Science) in which the Times article was written on []
2 Oct Carrie Fyler & Julia Otero "Historical DNA analysis reveals living descendants of an extinct species of Galapagos tortoise" from: A Tortoise May be Bred Back Into Being. New York Times 9/23/2008 This link will take you to the PNAS Website where you can download a PDF of the original paper. It is a short paper and will help the discussion if you read it before Thursday's class!
9 Oct Tanner Steeves & Kevin Burgio "Applying Science to Alternative Medicine" NY Times 9/30/08 Please take a few minutes to explore the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine's website. And check out this article that offers criticism from an NIH-funded MD
16 Oct Andrew Lagasse & Adam Wilson Findings: A Gift From the ’70s: Energy Lessons NY Times 10/7/08 (we recommend you drink something warm before re-reading this) You should check out the followup comment by Tierny here and a reply by Amory Lovins here.

If you are still interested, you can read this Time article for a perspective that swings in the opposite direction. You can also check out Amory Lovins' (long) 2008 article re-examining nuclear power.

23 Oct Aaron Lescroart A Guiding Glow to Track the Movement What Was Once Invisible NY Times 10/13/08

ALSO Bob's notes on a special session at the annual meeting of the Society of Environmental Journalists

This is a press release by the Nobel foundation giving a background narrative to how the protein was discovered and eventually used.

Here's another press release by the foundation that explains the science behind how the protein works and scientific applications.

30 Oct Lyndsey Tanner & Kellie Kuhn We will be discussing "For breast health, taking the initiative" by Jane Brody Two supplementary articles: first and second, both from the New York Times.
6 Nov Brian Klingbeil Ravenous Bugs Find a Hot Spot in Trees' Pine Cones NY Times 10/27/08 Link to article in Proceedings of the Royal

Society Series B [1]

13 Nov Yannawan Wongchai The War on Dengue Fever Link to article from Clinical Infectious Diseases on the development of vaccines for dengue fever.
20 Nov Leroy Robinson "In a Novel Theory of Mental Disorders, Parents’ Genes Are in Competition" "Psychosis and Autism as Diametrical Disorders of the Social Brain" (Only Read page 1-15, unless you have a whole lot of free time!)


David Haig's 2003 paper "What Good is Genomic Imprinting: The Function of Parent-Specific Gene Expression" (One of the major influences on the Crespi and Badcock paper)(Optional Reading)

4 Dec Chiron Otero "In Bias Test, Shades of Gray" "How Do You Measure Bias?" is a follow-up in Tierney's blog explaining more about the debate.

Also, please take the Race IAT here (and remember your results!) as it will be discussed.

The two main scientific articles referenced in the NYT piece are here and here, but feel free to read them casually as they are a bit technical.

Related Reading

This space is for posting links to readings of interest external to the NYT. Students may consider leading a discussion on materials in the list below; if you wish to use one of these, get approval from Margaret first. Students using pieces not drawn from the list below should be sure to warn the rest of the group well in advance, so everyone has a chance to read the relevant piece in time.

An article from the Columbia Journalism Review on the practice of writing science news from press releases, rather than from interviews

A Science article on communicating the risks of Climate Change

News Humor!

The Washington Post's "GREEN: Science. Policy. Living." page, online.

A report on evidence of media bias from Scientific American

Peter Vitousek's 1994 MacArthur Lecture on Ecology and Global Change, wherein he notes that we are not doing a very good job of communicating our evidence to the public. Uh, yeah.

The first of two-part piece from the Columbia Journalism Review on Public Opinion and Climate Change

Part Two of the CJR Public Opinion and Climate Change piece.

Governor Palin's stance on teaching creationism in the classroom From the Anchorage Daily News, this ran during the last gubernatorial race in AK.