On The Media: The Science of Media Relations

Being a brilliant scientist doesn’t always translate into being a good talking head on television or even a good source for a science reporter. So the Aldo Leopold Leadership Program at Stanford University was created to give scientists a better understanding of how to deal with the media. Program director Pam Matson explains what goes on at their training camp.

Reporters could do better, but isn’t it also the scientists’ responsibility to help distill complex scientific issues for the rest of us? Ten years ago, Jane Lubchenco, Obama’s pick to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, created the Leopold Leadership Program at Stanford University to sharpen scientists’ communication skills. Pam Matson is the current director. She says scientists have a lot to learn about getting their message across.

PAM MATSON: Well, I think it’s a special problem of scientists because we are taught how to communicate with one audience, and that is our audience, other scientists. We’re taught to provide lots of background information. We focus on the details of how we do the research, the uncertainty around our results, and then only at the very end do we talk about the conclusions, the bottom line. And so, I think most of us have to be taught to turn that around if we’re talking to the public, talking to decision makers of any sort, to put the bottom line up front.
On The Media: Transcript of “The Science of Media Relations” February 13, 2009

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  1. Many thanks to “On the Media” for its thoughtful, nuanced coverage of the Leopold Leadership Program. We were delighted to see this exploration of science communication and ways our program is helping to ensure that cutting-edge research is part of public dialogue on the environment. I want to offer one minor but important clarification on this excellent piece: the program was founded at Oregon State University by Jane Lubchenco and is now part of the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University. Listeners may also be interested to know that our communications training is led by professional staff from the Communication Partnership for Science and the Sea, a nonprofit that advances marine conservation science and communicates science to policymakers, the public, and the media.

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