PDA

View Full Version : If Science Journalism Was a Degree...



cran
2005-Aug-05, 08:16 AM
About a year ago, the (then) Head of the School of Geology at my university called me into his office and said: "I would like you to consider doing a double degree, along the lines of science journalism."

:huh: I said: "I think you have me confused with a smart person."

He said: "Given your physical difficulties, and the quality of your written assignments, I think something like that would be ideal for you. Weren't you a journalist, before?"

>gulp&#33;< "Yes, in a previous life, but not accredited."

"Do you like the idea?"

"Yes, very much."

"Good. We don&#39;t have anything like that here...." >thinks, he&#39;s going to tell me to go somewhere else< "...so, you go and design the degree, and then we&#39;ll take it from there."

:huh: :blink:

Curtin University includes a School of Journalism - it&#39;s main focus is TV, radio, and electronic media...
Professional English and related topics are controlled by the School of Communications and Cultural Studies - that was where I was given the discourse project (bibliography and glossary of terms for first year students)....I&#39;ve discussed the idea with my supervisor - she thinks it&#39;s a great idea, and that CCS should have a major input...
Science is broken into at least half a dozen Schools (Geology, Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Computer...)

My first thought was that I would have to vastly broaden my science base, but was told "focus on the Earth Sciences, that&#39;s where your interests are"

Then, just in the last few days, a follow-up conversation with the now ex-head (but still acting until the new one gets back from overseas), "do you know anyone doing science journalism who might be able to advise you as to what other skills, outside of the science, you might need - from that, we can pick out the suitable topics (core and elective) until you have sufficient grade points, and put it together as a degree."

:huh: :blink: :D I do now&#33; fraser&#33; uh, fraser?
Any advice? huh?

StarLab
2005-Aug-05, 11:32 PM
Lehigh has a very nice Science/Journalism major.

Fraser
2005-Aug-06, 12:35 AM
Wow, I have no idea, I&#39;m neither a journalist nor a scientist. ;-)

I would probably say that the journalism training will be more difficult and important. So, perhaps something where you get your degree in communications, journalism, etc. You need to learn how to do research, interviews, verify sources, write with objectivity, etc. And most important, you need to get experience writing clearly and quickly. You need to write and write and write...

Explaining science to the public is similar to other kinds of branches of journalism, whether it&#39;s politics, health, etc. When you&#39;re trying to explain a difficult scientific concept, you just have to keep drilling down with the people you&#39;re interviewing until you feel that you understand it. Any training you take in science will help you in that process of understanding, and explaining, but at the end of the day, I think you need to be a journalist first.

I think journalists fail in their task of explaining science because they fail at performing their journalism duties. For example, when they fail to check their facts, write objectively, take good notes, or write poorly.

cran
2005-Aug-06, 04:07 AM
thanks StarLab; does Lehigh have a website I can check out?

fraser, you surprise me - I assumed you were either or both (by reading too much into one of your interviews, I guess). In fact, I&#39;ll take issue with you :angry:

Judging by the available evidence...You are a scientist, and a journalist&#33; :P -
Perhaps you are not accredited; but that makes you no less a scientist (if you seek to understand what is by observation and experiment, and share the knowledge with others) or journalist (if you strive to inform without bias) - by doing, you are&#33; so there&#33;
:P

I would probably say that the journalism training will be more difficult and important. So, perhaps something where you get your degree in communications, journalism, etc. You need to learn how to do research, interviews, verify sources, write with objectivity, etc. And most important, you need to get experience writing clearly and quickly. You need to write and write and write...
Agreed, my own experience in journalism has taught me that much...(my supervisors have expressed amazement at the depth of research I put into assignments) ...write clearly - yes, I can do that (though it might not seem so in this forum at times)...write quickly - ay, there&#39;s the rub&#33; I&#39;ve been writing (professionally, and otherwise) for ~25yrs ( :o maybe longer) not counting school days (but then, I missed most school days anyway - but that&#39;s another story...) Never missed a deadline...but quickly? no can do&#33; Not until I can plug my brain into my keyboard, anyway...

I think journalists fail in their task of explaining science because they fail at performing their journalism duties. For example, when they fail to check their facts, write objectively, take good notes, or write poorly.
You may be right...but some of that may also be a sign of poor grounding in the science (could you understand the facts/data if you don&#39;t understand their context?), requiring the journalist to trust the source(s) of information used...yes, objectivity is probably one of the toughest requirements to meet (and not just for journalists, methinks)...poor writing, or unclear presentation, of the information would probably cause an informed reader to wonder &#39;what the...? :huh: and question whether the writer has made a sound career choice.
To be fair, or at least put forward something of a defence on behalf of some journos: Sometimes, the journalist can do everything you&#39;ve mentioned, and do it well, but the published result is a total disaster - because some editor thought differently&#33;
eg. I had interviewed the manager of a mining company, and in the article I included a direct quote - "Over the years, I&#39;ve seen many companies that have collapsed..." - when it went to print it was "Over the years, I&#39;ve managed many companies that have collapsed..." My managing editor altered a direct quote, without consulting me, and I had to do some very fast apologising/explaining to the manager concerned.
And in high-volume, fast-turnaround publications - background and fact-checking can be overruled by imposed deadlines...the defence rests, your honour.

Matthew
2005-Aug-06, 04:21 AM
A science journalist does not need to explain to the general population exactly how the human genome was sequenced, nor do they need to explain in great detail how the process of photosynthesis works. However a science journalist will need to be able to explain the principles of the system and just the general outline.

What I&#39;m trying to say is that a science journalist will need to be able to simplify complex interactions/systems/processes into a basic explanation. And there is no way that a course could cover absolutely everything so a science journalist will need to be able to quickly research and have a broad understanding of what they are researching and be able to simplify it quickly.

As such it will be more on the writing and research skills of the journalist, than their actual scientific understanding. Though will still need to know many of the basics of science as well.

cran
2005-Aug-06, 05:06 AM
Agreed, matthew.

So language (comprehension, grammar), research (primary (source) and secondary(background/context)), general analysis and synthesis, science (basic principles), and a really thick hide, yeah?

What I&#39;m trying to say is that a science journalist will need to be able to simplify complex interactions/systems/processes into a basic explanation.
Damn&#33; I thought that was the scientist&#39;s job :rolleyes:
of course, how &#39;basic&#39; will be determined by the intended readership.

All in all, so far you seemed to have confirmed my worst fears...er, my own thinking...
except for one aspect which hasn&#39;t come up yet - legal responsibilities...you know, copyright, libel, misrep, plagiarism, ethics...you know, lawyer stuff and general credibility - good/bad - stuff...

Moseley
2005-Aug-06, 10:57 AM
I think journalists who write about science need to have specific training to better elucidate scientific principles to laypeople.
Too often I read that something is ten times smalller, or shorter or lighter or even nearer, than something else. This immediately tells the mathematician in me that the writer is not fully conversant with number systems.
I obviously understand what is implied but cannot understand why a tenth as large, long, heavy or far is not used when this is the correct terminology.
Best of luck finding, studying for and passing a course, we need some well trained science journalists.

cran
2005-Aug-06, 11:14 AM
Originally posted by Moseley@Aug 6 2005, 06:57 PM
I think journalists who write about science need to have specific training to better elucidate scientific principles to laypeople.
Too often I read that something is ten times smalller, or shorter or lighter or even nearer, than something else. This immediately tells the mathematician in me that the writer is not fully conversant with number systems.
I obviously understand what is implied but cannot understand why a tenth as large, long, heavy or far is not used when this is the correct terminology.
I understand the sentiment in wanting clarity and consistency in &#39;relatives&#39;, Moseley, not unlike Gourdhead&#39;s desire for precision in language (another thread); but even the great Doctor Curie (the daughter, not the mother) said "ten to the eleven times smaller" when describing the realm that Marie and Pierre were exploring and measuring - it&#39;s not a journo thing...it&#39;s a human thing <_<

Best of luck finding, studying for and passing a course...
Thank you

we need some well trained science journalists
Funny, that&#39;s just what my Professor said when he suggested I design such a degree... :)

StarLab
2005-Aug-06, 01:02 PM
lehigh.edu

cran
2005-Aug-06, 03:10 PM
thanks, StarLab, I&#39;ll check it out.

ToSeek
2005-Aug-09, 02:59 PM
Johns Hopkins has a writing about science program (http://www.jhu.edu/~writsem/sciwrit/).

cran
2005-Aug-10, 01:01 AM
Thanks, ToSeek :) and to all of you for your tips (keep &#39;em coming&#33;)

Yes, it looks like the course offers some valuable stuff...and is flexible enough to suit very different students...-_-

Writing about Science is a one-year terminal masters&#39; degree. :)

&#39;terminal&#39;? probably....&#39;master&#39; far from it, in my case :(