Tag Archives: author

Deborah-Blum-Science-Communication

Speaking to… Deborah Blum

I’ve never been bored – it’s like having an infinite list of questions that, if you can get them answered, will each in their own way make life more interesting.”

Deborah-Blum-Science-CommunicationThis is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Deborah Blum

Name?

Deborah Blum

Where are you based?

Madison, Wisconsin, USA

Who do you work for?

I have a lot of bosses. I’m a professor of journalism here at the University of Wisconsin. I’m a science blogger for Wired (Elemental). I write a monthly toxicology blog for The New York times (Poison Pen). I freelance for publications ranging from the Los Angeles Times to Tin House. I’m a non-fiction book author, most recently of The Poisoner’s Handbook.

What type of science communication do you do?

I’m a writer and I like to tell narrative stories. I do this across multiple platforms, blogs, newspapers, magazines, books and e-publications.

Who is your main audience?

A wide audience, I hope. I’m most interested in the audience that may have been turned off my science (say in high school) and lost the sense that it’s important in daily life. I like to tell stories – from murder to public health – that persuade them otherwise.

How did you get into it?

Well, my father is an entomologist and I grew up surrounded by his graduate students and post-docs. So I’m sure that influenced me. I spent about five years as a general interest newspaper reporter before going to grad school in science journalism. I wanted to write about science because I liked the way it helps us understand the world around us.

Why do you do it?

Partly for the fun of it. My kids tell me I’m a natural geek – I really do like understanding the world around us and science writing is a great way to get paid to ask all your favorite questions. I’ve stayed with it because I’ve never been bored – it’s like having an infinite list of questions that, if you can get them answered, will each in their own way make life more interesting. I’ve been a science writer for 30 years now and I still haven’t come to the end of the list.

Why do you think science communication is important?

Because science not only helps understand the way the world works – it helps us navigate it. And not just in a space exploration way. It’s important to our every day lives – how to be healthy, how to protect ourselves and our children and our communities – and I worry that people don’t fully understand it and I hope that what I do helps get that message across.

What do you love about science communication?

The ability to tell really good stories. The sense that I can make a difference. And fact that I learn all the time – thanks to the amazing generosity of scientists and to the many science communicators who are much smarter than me.

What has been your favourite project?

Boy that’s hard to pick. I’ve been writing about poisonous substances now for four years so I have to say that Poisoner’s Handbook has been incredibly influential in both subject matter and the way I tell stories. And I love the way it’s enabled me to reach a multitude of audiences. It was short-listed for a murder mystery award (The Agatha award after Agatha Christie ) and I’ve both spoken to murder mystery writers and even romance writers on the chemistry of killing people. Now those are new audiences for the science writer :)

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

I’m working on a book on poisonous food. It’s due to Penguin next year and it’s such a fascinating story so I’m really excited about it.

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

It’s a great time to be a science communicator because there are so many new platforms – blogging, podcasts, e-magazines and publishers. My advice is to just get started – launch a blog because it’s a great way to develop a writer’s voice. And build a network – go to meetings like ScienceOnLine or your science writers association. It’s not only that you make contacts but it’s so fun to hang out with people who love telling science stories the way you do. Which is probably my last point. Do it you do think it’s going to be fun – those are the best jobs anyway.

You can follow Deborah on Twitter at @deborahblum or see what she is up to on her website.

Katherine Harmon

Speaking to… Katherine Harmon

“Again, basically all of the above. It is also amazing to get to spend so much of my days learning about new things and always needing to deepen my understanding of others.”

 

Katherine-Harmon-science-communication
Katherine Harmon

This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Katherine Harmon

Name?

Katherine Harmon

Where are you based?

Longmont, Colorado

Who do you work for?

I’m freelance–as of just five months ago. I’m currently a contributing editor for Scientific American, where I was an associate editor before going full-time freelance. I also write for WIRED, Gourmet, Nature, and others. I recently finished my first book, which will be out this October. It’s a nonfiction book about octopuses called Octopus! The Most Mysterious Creature in the Sea (Current/Penguin).

What type of science communication do you do?

Journalism

Who is your main audience?

Generally the science-interested. Although I always hope that my work will also reach folks who didn’t think they were interested in science, health or a particular field and turn them on to it–even if just a little bit (even if just for the duration of the story).

How did you get into it?

I’ve always hoped to write as a career, but I didn’t consider journalism until a couple years out of college. I wound up (happily) in science journalism by getting an internship at SciAm in the last semester of my master’s program (at the Missouri School of Journalism). As I was going through J school, I knew I was interested in “explanatory” journalism–and for that I figured either science or business journalism would be a good fit. Most of my family was much more into science than I was when I was growing up, which helped give me a comfort level with the subject even if I didn’t have the formal academic training. Although now I do wish I had taken more science and statistics in school.

Why do you do it?

Aside from always loving a challenge (switching gears from learning about how a new vaccine works to brushing up on the latest early human ancestor controversy in one day keeps one on their toes), I think there is a lot of good to be done by helping to bring more science and health information to more people. Huge issues of our day, such as global climate change and the current health crisis in the U.S., are at stake, and if people aren’t well informed about these issues, our future is going to be even more challenging. The hope is that by covering these topics responsibly, we can help create a better-informed public discussion and hopefully better policy. Additionally, being able to convey the “wow cool!” in a new scientific discovery, be it a crazy new species of spider or a new insight into how to study earthquakes, to readers is an absolute joy and huge honor.

Why do you think science communication is important?

See above. Also, I hope that it will help more people see that “Science” isn’t just some mysterious back-lab process but a way of looking at the world that we can each use (regardless of training) to better understand our world (from what to buy at the grocery store to what’s “out there” in the night sky).

What do you love about science communication?

Again, basically all of the above. It is also amazing to get to spend so much of my days learning about new things and always needing to deepen my understanding of others. And once the writing, editing and revision process comes along, I look at it as, essentially, problem solving, which helps even when I’m feeling uninspired to turn a project into a fun puzzle.

What has been your favourite project?

This is a tough one. I tend to get excited about just about every story germ that crosses my path (which means I have a hard time taking it easy). Of course my book was a huge, engaging and challenging project (especially since I had nine months to research and write the darn thing–while working full time as an editor at SciAm). I also will always have a special place in my heart for a newspaper feature I wrote in graduate school called “Murky Waters” about management challenges along the Missouri River. I was flattered that my editor gave me a Sunday front-page feature for a story about sediment (okay, it was a relatively small town). Plus I actually got a few awards for it, which was surprising and really nice.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

There is my book, Octopus! coming out October 31, 2013 (from Current/Penguin). And I am working on a couple related pieces for national magazines that I’m excited about. I am also starting a small side project about the microbiome for another national outlet. And I’m hoping to be able to start on another book proposal soon!

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

Take some stats classes! Read as much good writing as you can. But also save time for quiet, creative reflection of your own–I’m not great at always doing this, but it never fails to offer fresh perspectives for a story (whether that’s a better analogy or a better structure altogether).

You can follow Katherine on Twitter at @katherineharmon or see what she’s up to on her website