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Address of the BSA President-Elect

Snow, Allison [1].

Botany in the news: how to communicate the fruits of our research..

Keeping botany in the news is an excellent way to promote the goals of the Botanical Society of America and biologists worldwide. Even more important, we need to encourage greater scientific literacy among voters, politicians, and other decision makers. One facet of this effort is explaining our individual research findings to the (tax-paying) public. Scientists have a natural aversion to oversimplifying complicated results for public consumption. We also worry about what our colleagues will think if reporters misquote us or use unflattering sound bites. My research on the ecological and evolutionary effects of transgenic crops is relevant to debates about genetic engineering, and I have had both positive and negative experiences when journalists report my findings. On the negative side, Iíve actually been accused of contributing to starvation in Africa! Some of the lessons Iíve learned are: journalists like talking to friendly academics; most reporters are conscientious, curious, and fun to work with; simple explanations and metaphors make their job much easier; reporters often work on unbelievably tight deadlines; and, finally, news reports are ephemeral, and itís not worth agonizing over the inevitable inaccuracies that creep into the media. Reporters need an event to justify writing about your research, such as a new publication or a talk at a national meeting. Even if your findings do not have earthshaking implications for society, there may be angles that the public would appreciate knowing about. Journalists are fascinated by exotic field sites, believe-it-or-not features of plants (biggest, oldest, smelliest, most endangered, etc.), and anything that is entertaining or dangerous. We all know the many ways in which botanists constantly make important contributions to society and the welfare of the planet. Communicating these findings to the public is always worthwhile, and is easier and more satisfying than many people realize.

1 - Ohio State University, Dept. of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biolog, 318 W. 12th Ave., Columbus, Ohio, 43210-1293, USA

scientific literacy
science reporters
publicity for botanists

Presentation Type: Special
Session: 0-0
Location: Ballroom 1 & 2 (Cliff Lodge)
Date: Wednesday, August 4th, 2004
Time: 8:30 PM
Abstract ID:160

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