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November 8th, 2010

National Science Writers Look Ahead


I'm sitting in a large ballroom at Yale University with roughly 600 fellow scribblers. They are here (those who could get here given their restrictive travel budgets) listening to the president of the National Academy of Sciences, among other noted researchers. We have heard about deep brain stimulation, feathers on dinosaurs, regeneration of organs, particle physics, and changes in the atmosphere among dozens of workshops on scientific findings. In this room are students, reporters, public information officers, and freelance writers.They gather every year to do this because they feel strongly about improving their craft and training newcomers to the field. They are the people who listen carefully to researchers, read the scientific papers and explain what it means for the rest of us. Without them the existing gap between science and the general public would be even wider than it is.

There is concern here about future funding for science and how science is regarded by the public and by those in leadership.  You probably agree that science is important to society or you wouldn't be reading a science blog. Still, it's worth repeating. The public's understanding of science and how scientists work has slipped in recent years as newspapers have cut back on space and staffers. "What science writers do is more important than ever," could be the subtitle of this conference, as I've heard it so many times in the last three days. New initiatives for outreach and broader public education are being discussed. About half of the professionals here write about medicine and health. They range from the Associated Press, broadcast networks, and major daily papers to the realm of online magazines and blogs. Their common traits are curiosity, a strong interest - if not love - of science of some kind, and the ability to put what they find into compelling prose. Their overarching concern seems to be one of accuracy and base their words on data, properly understood. And they hope society will continue to find value in that.

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