Tag Archives: Scientific American

Speaking to… Eric R Olson

“I love that it pushes me to use both the creative and analytic parts of my brain.”

This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Eric R Olson

Name?

Eric R Olson

Where are you based?

New York City

Who do you work for?

I am the sole video editor & producer for Scientific American magazine. Previous to that I split my time as a multimedia editor for both Nature & Scientific American.

What type of science communication do you do?

Science videos, both editorial and educational. To a lesser degree: writing, podcasts and audio slideshows.

Who is your main audience?

The science-interested general public.

How did you get into it?

I started off at very young age with an interest in making short films (usually recruiting my younger siblings to star in them). At university, my interests gravitated toward science and, in particular, molecular biology and genetics. After graduating and working in a human genetics lab as a technician for six years, I knew I either needed to go back to school for a PhD or do something else entirely. So I decided to try to combine my interests in filmmaking and science. To  some degree, I think I’ve been successful.

Why do you do it?

I really enjoy the process of making difficult information easier to understand, the creative process of filmmaking and learning new things about the natural world. What could be better?

Why do you think science communication is important?

As a society, I don’t think we can make good decisions about our collective future unless we stay informed. Science is the best tool we have for getting at the truth of what’s happening around us and therefore it’s crucial that we help people to understand both the process of science and the insights it produces.

What do you love about science communication?

I love that it pushes me to use both the creative and analytic parts of my brain.

What has been your favourite project?

A video I produced on the neuroscience of magic n 2010. We flew out a magician from Las Vegas whose expertise is pick-pocketing and recruited fellow employees to be his “victims”. After each pick-pocketing, we had two neuroscientists who specialize in illusions explain how the magician had fooled the subject.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

I do, but I can’t really talk about them before publication.

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

Learning to communicate science is very much a hands-on, iterative process. In other words, you only get better by doing it over and over again and learning from your mistakes. In addition, these days anyone can start a blog or YouTube channel and become their own publisher overnight. So while I think there is value in a formal science communication program, there’s no barrier to going it alone. You can really start communicating science this very moment. And for some people that is going to be an easier, more direct, and much less costly alternative to additional schooling.

You can follow Eric on Twitter at @ericrolson or see what he’s up to on his website at ericrolson.com

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