Let’s make connections, not translations

By Oscar Miyamoto

Basic research looks for universal truths, which are usually expressed in the form of physical laws and general theorems. In contrast, scientists and audiences have heterogeneous backgrounds and deal with constantly evolving issues. Therefore, journalists and PIOs should recognize cultural diversity as a key factor of their storytelling strategies. Such was the premise of "Communicating Ciencia: Adapting to the Changing Faces and Voices of Mass Media," a session at ScienceWriters2016.

Hispanic and Latino Americans — which make up about 17% of the U.S. population — were the thematic focus of this session, organized by freelancer Ben Young Landis and science writer Becky Oskin. As Landis put it, in order to reach this mainstream audience bilingual science journalists ought to make the most of their own multicultural backgrounds. In other words, we can make experiences transferrable by going beyond translation.

Aleszu Bajak, Claudia P. Tibbs, José G. González

Aleszu Bajak, Claudia P. Tibbs, José G. González; photo by Oscar Miyamoto

According to speaker Aleszu Bajak, senior writer at Undark and creator of LatinAmericanScience.org, embracing awkwardness and curiosity might be the key to accomplishing that, in the sense that journalists don’t have to be part of a community to appreciate it. What's more, for Bajak, science journalism resembles the scientific method as it also displays representative samples, which could lead us to discover meaningful relationships between hard evidence and unique people.

Whether involving Latinos, Chicanos, or Mexican immigrants, reporters must be aware of where the characters in their stories come from. In the words of speaker José González, founder of Latino Outdoors, "this is crucial to understand, that scientific terminology needs to be amplified rather than just simplified. We don’t want to dumb it down for people; we want to make sure that they understand."

As for speaker Robin Gose, director of education at The Thinkery museum, filling this gap could be easier if we approached science in more interpretative ways in early education. Either in a museum or in the classroom, "academic language may be very challenging … but if kids use their own words instead of learning academic jargon, they will be able to understand science at a much more fundamental level”.

In this bilingual context, speaker Claudia P. Tibbs talked about how common codes, such as sense of humor, transcend languages rather than simply breaking down linguistic barriers. To Tibbs, science educator at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, Calif., it is essential to identify your audience’s personal context, including geographical background and preferred mode of idea sharing. For instance, using memes in social media could be the tool to draw audiences in, provided reporters talk to people before writing their stories.

Audience members work in teams

Audience members work in teams; photo by Oscar Miyamoto

The session concluded with a workshop activity that divided the audience into four teams, which had to solve different tasks. These ranged from a multimedia platform for reporting whether Latino communities in the U.S. are disproportionately at risk for climate vulnerability, to designing a public information campaign on plastic pollution and its consequences for marine biology.

If modern science is built on the richness of an international community, why should science journalism not follow suit? Let´s do so by communicating ciencia! See more pictures and follow the conversation under the hashtag #CómoSciWri at #SciWri16 by @younglandis @aleszubajak, @joseBilingue @ThinkeryATX @cptibbs

Session slides and session activity sheet are available at: https://communicatingciencia.wordpress.com/

October 31, 2016

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