Journalist’s Toolbox science resources

This collection, part of the Journalist’s Toolbox, includes links to a variety of science resources for journalists, including articles about the basics of science reporting, as well as links to science news sites and organizations of experts. See also their collection of links to environmental topics.

Kid-edited journal pushes scientists for clear writing on complex topics

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

The reviewer was not impressed with the paper written by Israeli brain researcher Idan Segev and a colleague from Switzerland.

“Professor Idan,” she wrote to Segev. “I didn’t understand anything that you said.”

Segev and co-author Felix Schürmann revised their paper on the Human Brain project, a massive effort seeking to channel all that we know about the mind into a vast computer model. But once again the reviewer sent it back. Still not clear enough. It took a third version to satisfy the reviewer.

“Okay,” said the reviewer, an 11-year-old girl from New York named Abby. “Now I understand.”

Such is the stringent editing process at the online science journal Frontiers for Young Minds, where top scientists, some of them Nobel Prize winners, submit papers on gene-editing, gravitational waves and other topics — to demanding reviewers ages 8 through 15.

Shedding sentence deadweight to help science stories soar

Read the full story at The Open Notebook.

Under deadline pressure, science journalists often stick to what works. As a novice writer, I often experimented with my prose. Now, as a time-crunched freelancer, I find myself turning to my favorite words and go-to phrases. But hewing to the tried and true can produce stories that sound stale—stories that risk boring me and my readers.

Strong sentences can propel science journalism and bring the fun back into the craft. To write stories that resonate, reporters can spice up bland verbs, rethink repetitive nouns, transform dry descriptions, and freshen their text with wordplay. Creative and evocative prose not only keeps audiences awake but can better explain scientific concepts and the research that reveals them.

Study analyzes how fact-checkers from four different countries assess climate change claims

Read the full story from the University of Kansas.

A team of researchers analyzed fact checkers from four countries work in relation to climate change claims. They found their methods varied, that they most often checked claims made by politicians and from social media. They also provide arguments for the most effective practice of fact checking to ensure the public gets reliable, understandable information.

Confidence in research: researchers in the spotlight

Download the report.

Informed by a literature review, a global survey, expert interviews and roundtable discussions, the main research objectives are:

  1. Evaluate researchers’ perceptions of the impact of the pandemic on the production and communication of research;
  2. Assess whether and how researchers have changed their behaviour as a result of the pandemic;
  3. Identify gaps in researchers’ confidence in the production and communication of research;
  4. Identify interventions that will help researchers effectively bolster both scientific practice and confidence in research.

Beware of ‘Shark Week’: Scientists watched 202 episodes and found them filled with junk science, misinformation and white male ‘experts’ named Mike

Hammerhead sharks schooling near Costa Rica’s Cocos Island. John Voo/Flickr, CC BY

by David Shiffman, Arizona State University

The Discovery Channel’s annual Shark Week is the longest-running cable television series in history, filling screens with sharky content every summer since 1988. It causes one of the largest temporary increases in U.S. viewers’ attention to any science or conservation topic.

It’s also the largest stage in marine biology, giving scientists who appear on it access to an audience of millions. Being featured by high-profile media outlets can help researchers attract attention and funding that can help super-charge their careers.

Unfortunately, Shark Week is also a missed opportunity. As scientists and conservationists have long argued, it is a major source of misinformation and nonsense about sharks, the scientists who study them, and how people can help protect endangered species from extinction.

I am a marine biologist who recently worked with five colleagues to scientifically analyze the content of Shark Week episodes. We tracked down copies of 202 episodes, watched them all and coded their content based on more than 15 variables, including locations, which experts were interviewed, which shark species were mentioned, what scientific research tools were used, whether the episodes mentioned shark conservation and how sharks were portrayed.

Even as longtime Shark Week critics, we were staggered by our findings. The episodes that we reviewed were full of incorrect information and provided a wildly misleading picture of the field of shark research. Some episodes glorified wildlife harassment, and many missed countless chances to teach a massive audience about shark conservation.

Sharks are apex predators that are key to maintaining healthy ecosystems, but a 2020 study that surveyed 371 coral reefs found that 20% had no sharks present.

Spotlight real solutions

First, some facts. Sharks and their relatives, such as rays and skates, are among the most threatened vertebrate animals on Earth. About one-third of all known species are at risk of extinction, thanks mainly to overfishing.

Many policy solutions, such as setting fishing quotas, creating protected species lists and delineating no-fishing zones, are enacted nationally or internationally. But there also are countless situations in which increased public attention can help move the conservation needle. For instance, consumers can avoid buying seafood produced using unsustainable fishing methods that may accidentally catch sharks.

Conversely, focusing on the wrong problems does not lead to useful solutions. As one example, enacting a ban on shark fin sales in the U.S. would have little effect on global shark deaths, since the U.S. is only involved in about 1% of the global fin trade, and could undermine sustainable U.S. shark fisheries.

A shark caught in a fishing net dangles over the side of a boat with a crew member reaching out.
A crew member aboard a commercial fishing boat off the coast of Maine tries to cut a shark loose from a gillnet. Sharks often are caught accidentally by fishermen pursuing other species. Mailee Osten-Tan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Discovery Channel claims that by attracting massive audiences, Shark Week helps educate the public about shark conservation. But most of the shows we reviewed didn’t mention conservation at all, beyond vague statements that sharks need help, without describing the threats they face or how to address them.

Out of 202 episodes that we examined, just six contained any actionable tips. Half of those simply advised against eating shark fin soup, a traditional Asian delicacy. Demand for shark fin soup can contribute to the gruesome practice of “finning” – cutting fins off live sharks and throwing the mutilated fish overboard to die. But finning is not the biggest threat to sharks, and most U.S.-based Shark Week viewers don’t eat shark fin soup.

Spotlighting divers, not research

When we analyzed episodes by the type of scientific research they featured, the most frequent answer was “no scientific research at all,” followed by what we charitably called “other.” This category included nonsense like building a submarine that looks like a shark, or a “high tech” custom shark cage to observe some aspect of shark behavior. These episodes focused on alleged risk to the scuba divers shown on camera, especially when the devices inevitably failed, but failed to address any research questions.

Such framing is not representative of actual shark research, which uses methods ranging from tracking tagged sharks via satellite to genetic and paleontological studies conducted entirely in labs. Such work may not be as exciting on camera as divers surrounded by schooling sharks, but it generates much more useful data.

Gavin Naylor, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research, describes findings from his lab’s analysis of shark genetics.

Who’s on camera

We also were troubled by the “experts” interviewed on many Shark Week shows. The most-featured source, underwater photographer Andy Casagrande, is an award-winning cameraman, and episodes when he stays behind the camera can be great. But given the chance to speak, he regularly claims the mantle of science while making dubious assertions – for example, that shark diving while taking LSD is a great way to learn about these animals – or presents well-known shark behaviors as new discoveries that he made, while misrepresenting what those behaviors mean.

Nor does Shark Week accurately represent experts in this field. One issue is ethnicity: Three of the five most-featured locations on Shark Week are Mexico, South Africa and the Bahamas, but we could count on one hand the number of non-white scientists who we saw featured in shows about their own countries. It was far more common for Discovery to fly a white male halfway around the world than to feature a local scientist.

Moreover, while more than half of U.S. shark scientists are female, you wouldn’t know this from watching Shark Week. Among people who we saw featured in more than one episode, there were more white male non-scientists named Mike than women of any profession or name.

In contrast, the Discovery Channel’s chief competitor, National Geographic, is partnering with the professional organization Minorities in Shark Sciences to feature diverse experts on its shows.

More substance and better representation

How could Shark Week improve? Our paper makes several recommendations, and we recently participated in a workshop, highlighting diverse voices in our field from all over the world, that focused on improving representation of scientists in shark-focused media

First, we believe that not every documentary needs to be a dry, boring science lecture, but that the information shared on marine biology’s biggest stage should be factually correct and useful. Gimmicky concepts like Discovery’s “Naked and Afraid of Sharks 2” – an endurance contest with entrants wearing masks, fins and snorkels, but no clothes – show that people will watch anything with sharks in it. So why not try to make something good?

We also suggest that more scientists seek out media training so they can take advantage of opportunities like Shark Week without being taken advantage of. Similarly, it would be great to have a “Yelp”-like service that scientists could use to rate their experiences with media companies. Producers who want to feature appropriately diverse scientists can turn to databases like 500 Women Scientists and Diversify EEB.

For a decade, concerned scientists and conservationists have reached out to the Discovery Channel about our concerns with Shark Week. As our article recounts, Discovery has pledged in the past to present programming during Shark Week that puts more emphasis on science and less on entertainment – and some episodes have shown improvement.

But our findings show that many Shark Week depictions of sharks are still problematic, pseudoscientific, nonsensical or unhelpful. We hope that our analysis will motivate the network to use its massive audience to help sharks and elevate the scientists who study them.

Editor’s note: The Conversation US contacted Warner Brothers Discovery by phone and email for comment on the study described in this article. The network did not immediately respond or offer comment.

David Shiffman, Post-Doctoral and Research Scholar in Marine Biology, Arizona State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

MECCE Interactive Platform

The Monitoring and Evaluating Climate Communication and Education (MECCE) Project is developing comparative data on climate communication and education through case studies, country profiles, and indicators. Their data support international and national policymaker, educator, communication, and civil society sector decision-making.

The Interactive Data Platform is designed to be an accessible place to access data and indicators on the extent and type of CCE provision across countries and regions.

Job announcement: Sustainability communications and engagement manager, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Salary: Minimum $65,000 annual (12 months)
Applications due: January 3, 2023 and must be submitted online.
This position is partial remote.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison Office of Sustainability seeks a Sustainability Communications and Engagement Manager to play a central role in designing and implementing strategic communications efforts, as well as maintaining the institution’s sustainability designations, providing support for Office of Sustainability project managers, working closely with students, and assisting with administrative tasks as needed.

The Office of Sustainability is the hub for sustainability news, events, and engagement opportunities at the University of Wisconsin Madison. It is part of the the Division of Facilities Planning & Management (FP&M), a full-spectrum service organization that builds, maintains, and operates the physical environment of the UW-Madison campus in support of the university’s education, research, and outreach activities. FP&M works behind the scenes to coordinate campus planning, manage design and construction, maintain and operate buildings and grounds, supply utility services, ensure health and safety, and provide parking and transportation services.

Responsibilities

Develops and supervises the execution of communication programs and may supervise personnel and/or other resources in support of institutional or unit communication goals.

  • 15% Manages the day-to-day operational unit plans to align with strategic initiatives and to meet established objectives
  • 30% Plans, writes, and edits content for various internal and external stakeholders
  • 5% Plans and directs unit programs and/or projects to ensure adherence to deadlines and budgets
  • 5% Identifies, proposes, and implements new or revised unit operational policies and procedures
  • 30% Develops, implements, and delivers communication materials through various mediums to designated audiences
  • 5% Assists with supervising of student interns on the communications and podcast teams, in collaboration with the Student Intern Program Manager
  • 5% Develops the institution’s sustainability brand by identifying, pursuing, and maintaining
    certifications, designations, and other accolades that recognize the breadth of the university’s
    sustainability efforts.
  • 5% Supports subject matter experts and others at the Office of Sustainability in project and program
    management.

Required qualifications

  • Bachelor’s degree in communications, marketing, sustainability, environmental studies, psychology, sociology, or similar field.
  • Minimum of three (3) years of professional experience in communications, marketing, editing, or similar field.
  • Demonstrated experience in writing and publishing for a variety of media channels and platforms, such as web, e-news, social media, video scriptwriting, and/or print publications.
  • Excellent editorial skills and attention to detail.
  • Demonstrated experience in developing and curating visual content, such as graphics and branding collateral, for print, digital, web, and/or social media.
  • Demonstrated experience with project management, including ability to be self-motivated and to work collaboratively under tight deadlines.
  • Facility with social media and other information technology tools, such as e-marketing tools, web editing (WordPress), and/or CRM.
  • Demonstrated ability to work independently and as part of a team in a complex, fast-paced setting.

Preferred qualifications

  • Advanced degree in communications, marketing, sustainability, environmental studies, or similar field.
  • Professional experience working in a sustainability-related field.
  • Experience working in an academic environment.
  • Experience in event planning and execution.
  • Experience dealing with challenges through influence rather than authority.
  • Knowledge of, and experience with, content strategy, user interface/user experience best practices and methods, and web accessibility best practices.
  • Experience in photography and videography, including production and editing.
  • Experience with audio editing and production, preferably in a podcast context.

Diversity is a source of strength, creativity, and innovation for UW-Madison. We value the contributions of each person and respect the profound ways their identity, culture, background, experience, status, abilities, and opinion enrich the university community. We commit ourselves to the pursuit of excellence in teaching, research, outreach, and diversity as inextricably linked goals.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison fulfills its public mission by creating a welcoming and inclusive community for people from every background – people who as students, faculty, and staff serve Wisconsin and the world.

For more information on diversity and inclusion on campus, please visit: Diversity and Inclusion

Knowing the news: How Gen Z and Millennials get information on essential topics

Read and download the report.

Gen Z and Millennials follow a variety of “hard news” and “news you can use” topics. This report outlines Americans ages 16 to 40 who closely follow several such topics: national politics and government; social issues; crime and public safety; traffic, transportation or weather; practical COVID-19 information; and health or mental health. It also describes the sources and platforms the close followers of these topics turn to for information on the topic — and how the makeup of each topic’s close followers differs from one another. The report is one of a series intended to illuminate challenges and opportunities for news organizations in serving these diverse generations and gaining their trust and support.

Empowering social media users to assess content helps fight misinformation

Read the full story from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

When fighting the spread of misinformation, social media platforms typically place most users in the passenger seat. Platforms often use machine-learning algorithms or human fact-checkers to flag false or misinforming content for users.

“Just because this is the status quo doesn’t mean it is the correct way or the only way to do it,” says Farnaz Jahanbakhsh, a graduate student in MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL).

She and her collaborators conducted a study in which they put that power into the hands of social media users instead.