The Science of Media Relations

Friday, February 13, 2009


Being a brilliant scientist doesn't always translate into being a good talking head on television or even a good source for a science reporter. So the Aldo Leopold Leadership Program at Stanford University was created to give scientists a better understanding of how to deal with the media. Program director Pam Matson explains what goes on at their training camp.

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Comments [4]

Pam Matson

Many thanks to “On the Media” for its thoughtful, nuanced coverage of the Leopold Leadership Program. We were delighted to see this exploration of science communication and ways our program is helping to ensure that cutting-edge research is part of public dialogue on the environment. I want to offer one minor but important clarification on this excellent piece: the program was founded at Oregon State University by Jane Lubchenco and is now part of the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University. Listeners may also be interested to know that our communications training is led by professional staff from the Communication Partnership for Science and the Sea, a nonprofit that advances marine conservation science and communicates science to policymakers, the public, and the media.

Mar. 02 2009 02:17 PM
Steve Byers from Olympia, WA

Regarding the use of complex computer models to learn about complex phenomena, such as climate change or counterintuitive results of public policy, please go interview Dr. John Sterman at MIT. I think there is no one better in the country to explain how models are constructed, how used, and their limitations. He has written a number of popular papers about climate change and why people don't understand what's happening, as well as many fine scientific papers. He teaches a wonderful class/program at MIT called Business Dynamics.

Good luck.

Feb. 15 2009 09:44 PM

While it may not be that hard for Peter, too many scientists grew up without the interest or training in good communication that he evidences; they love their work and devote themselves to it. So when they indicate that their findings are not provably absolute, the reporter is free to assume there is "great" doubt in their results, whereas the opponents, who make use of the reporter's training for "balanced" reporting, even make things up out of whole cloth, and the reporter, often scientifically illiterate, has no inclination or basic understanding on which to point out that one side is "more" right than the other.

A good scientist (physicist) who is also a good communicator is Joseph Romm of Climate Progress.

Feb. 15 2009 07:16 AM
Peter from New York

When I was a post-doc at a large research institution in Germany a few years ago, a radio reporter spent half a day with us, interviewing many of the professors and asking me a few questions as well. Most of my comments made it into the resulting 3-minute segment, taking up almost half of it, while statements from the senior guys got cut or edited down beyond recognition.

I believe this happened because I made a point of speaking in short, declarative sentences that made sense on their own, while everybody else was speaking either in lectures or monosyllabic replies. It's not that hard; I learned the basics of talking to the media from the novel "Airframe" by Michael Crichton, whose cast of characters includes a reporter who has a hard time getting useful quotes out of her expert sources.

Feb. 14 2009 02:27 PM

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