The joint annual meeting of the National Association of Science Writers and the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing – known as ScienceWriters2015 – will begin here at MIT tomorrow. The conference has already made news by registering more than 800 attendees – almost double the previous year’s meeting – a number that emphasizes the growing number of professional science communicators both nationally and internationally.
This year’s conference is hosted by KSJ@MIT. “The conference reminds us that we are both a committed and connected profession. We care about what we do, doing it right, and learning to do it better,” said KSJ Director Deborah Blum. “And it’s a natural fit for a program like ours, dedicated to improving science journalism, to help bring this meeting to Cambridge.”
The ScienceWriters 2015 conference schedule offers a portrait not only of such connection but of a profession that continues to evolve and change. A review of NASW-organized events on Friday and Saturday highlights new growing interest in multimedia, data journalism, ethical challenges, and increasing diversity in story telling and in the community itself. The Saturday events begin with “a community conversation” on ethics in science journalism, and that conversation will continue across a variety of workshops, such as the “Other stories: Exploring alternative narratives” and “Sexism, science-writing and solutions: Charting the future” panels that seek to address how both narrative craft and news organizations’ policies can generate a more inclusive science news media. The Saturday program also recognizes the increasing role of freelancers in the profession, with a range of sessions looking at everything from contracts to power pitching, and emphasizes the importance of craft, with sessions that look at the use of art, humor, style, and voice in science story telling.
Traditionally, the CASW-helmed New Horizons portion of the conference primarily offers a venue for researchers to discuss frontiers of science to journalists. And while there will be plenty of such opportunities from Sunday to Tuesday, featuring high-profile researchers such as neuroscientist Ed Boyden and astrophysicist Sara Seager, there will also be more events where scientists and journalists talk with each other about how to convey contested and/or ambiguous scientific ideas to the public. For instance, Sunday’s “Vaccines and vaccine hesitancy: Lessons for science writers” panel and Monday’s session on Money and Medicine: Challenges and Opportunities for Science Writers, are among a number offering a deeper exploration of the interactions between social factors and science policy and discovery.
“When I look at this program, I see a picture of a community of science journalists that continues to become more thoughtful and more sophisticated in the way we think about telling stories of science,” Blum said. “And I think that’s a a very promising development.”