“My job is to explain science more simply.”
These are the words Quinn Eastman, a science writer at Emory University, works by when he composes press releases, magazine articles, blog posts and multimedia videos that explain science research to the general public.
With biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, and a broad range of other subjects, science is an enormous field with a wide range of information and research. Even with a background in environmental science, each time I read a science-related article in a newspaper or magazine, I realize that I have learned something new. This is Eastman’s key point: science writers should not assume that the general public has any prior background knowledge in the article’s topic, and it should explain everything in a way that is interesting, clear, and simple.
For example, an article by Eastman entitled “Threading the RSV needle: live attenuated vaccine effective in animals” meets each of these qualifications. Simple vocabulary and short sentences allow readers to understand the difficult concepts regarding the engineering of a respiratory syncytial virus, while the opening sentence draws the reader’s attention by emphasizing the significance of the researcher’s discovery – that there is a “right balance” for a vaccine that has been “a minefield for 50 years.”
Additionally, scientists should have relationships with media outlets that allow them to reach a larger audience. Eastman said that though researchers may go through journal publishers, social media outlets, or universities to reach the public, they can also establish direct ties with news organizations and even individual journalists. Eastman cited an article for Stat News as an example, describing how he did not pitch the article, but, rather, the author found out directly from Martin Moore, the subject of the article and a scientist with whom the author already had pre-existing ties with.
In my opinion, a more direct tie with the media is ideal; it allows researchers and writers to communicate more openly and clearly about their topic so that the subject of the article can be easily communicated to readers even if it is a complex concept to grasp. These relationships are essential to link the fields of science and journalism. As a science beat writer for the Emory Wheel, my school’s student-run newspaper, I have learned that it is important for me to stay in contact with various individuals in science fields. For instance, I stay regularly reach out to Taylor Spicer and Ciannat Howett in Emory’s Office of Sustainability, so that they can update me on any ongoing research or new story ideas.
Besides clear communication and direct relationships, science writing also requires compromises between research and journalism. Journalists, who look at their stories more episodically, face tensions against scientists, who like to see a continuum of research that progresses as new innovations are made. As someone who enjoys both the complexity and constantly growing research of environmental science as well as the established concepts and creativity of writing, I find this idea especially critical. Eastman also seems to think so; he writes his blog, Lab Land, in order to bring these two fields together by updating audiences with new posts each time an innovation is reached.
“I want to show that [research] fits into a larger trend. There’s a larger arc of research, and there’s always a way to relate it to something that’s happening now,” Eastman said.