Deborah Blum and I were thrilled when Kathryn O’Neill, a communications officer with MIT’s School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, contacted us a few weeks ago to see if we’d like to participate in a formal Q&A about the role of science and technology journalism in modern society and the future of Knight Science Journalism at MIT.
Naturally, we said yes. And we had a great time working with Kathryn to explain—in 900 words or less—how sci/tech journalism fits into important policy debates, why it’s important for MIT to engage with the journalistic community, and where we plan to take KSJ in the near future.
Today the MIT News Office published Kathryn’s article: Q&A: Science journalism and public engagement. I encourage you to check it out. Kathryn did a great job of boiling the key issues down into just three questions: What is the major promise of contemporary science writing? Can well-done science writing can have a significant impact on public awareness or policy decisions? What are some of the ways the Knight Science Journalism program can further engage the public in important technology and science policy discussions?
Here’s an outtake from our answers to the last question:
Blum: As a science writer, I’m interested in the audience that has stepped away from, or even rejected, a science understanding. For many people — and that group in particular — science writing can become part of an informal post-secondary education. So, I’d like to see KSJ become more of a resource for both science and technology writers, and for the public — and a much higher-profile one.
Roush: What we can do next is begin to lead the conversation about equipping the public to have its say on problems like global warming, energy, health care, and food security. It’s time to admit that the media haven’t done an adequate job to date of cutting through the fog of misinformation and politicized rhetoric about matters like climate change, vaccination, the teaching of evolution in schools, or the place of the scientific method itself. In a piece for The Atlantic recently, science writer Charles Mann put it perceptively: “Bewildered and battered by the back-and-forth, the citizenry sits, for the most part, on its hands.” That’s not an acceptable outcome.
Our plan for the Knight program is to create some new space — through research, publications, events, and new-media experiments — for critical inquiry into this question of science and technology engagement or outreach. How does it work? Who does it well? In the era of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, what constitutes credibility?
Blum: We’re talking about ideas like this as well as more interactive ideas, such as innovative public events, building stronger relationships with other organizations interested in science literacy, and finding a way to support innovative science communication projects around the country and internationally. We’re still thinking our way through some of these ideas, and we’re excited about the possibilities.
We’re grateful to Kathryn, the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, and MIT News for taking an interest in Knight Science Journalism at MIT—and we hope to have much more news to share with them in the coming year.
For Further Reading
Back to the Future at MIT: My New Job at the Knight Science Journalism Program, WadeRoush.com, August 2, 2014.