by the U.S. Geological Survey. The same thing happened with the story of the Mt. Wilson fire in August 2009.

Why should scientists bother with Twitter or other social media? Each person needs to decide what they need and to use it that way, but what it can provide is visibility and promotion, community and networking, monitoring conferences (like this workshop), testing the waters for different ideas, keeping a finger on the pulse of what is happening, and improving writing skills, especially brevity.

This is a new era of experimentation, and we have no idea what will happen in the next 10 years. Try it out, the time is now, she exclaimed.


Jean-Claude Worms, head of the Space Sciences Unit of the European Science Foundation, and Sara Seager, professor of planetary science and physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, joined Johnson-Freese, Lawler, Cole, and Nicholson on the panel. Johnson-Freese chose to combine the panel discussion and audience interaction segments of this session.

Seager asked how, with so much information out there, one sifts out useful information. Nicholson replied that the social media tools create filters, and people have to be their own “curators,” even though one may lose the potential for serendipity because the information received is narrower in focus.

Worms asked about how to ensure scientific accuracy. Who does the filtering? Editors used to do that, he said, and asked if there might not be a role for that old media style in the new media. Lawler replied that perhaps the old media can inform the new media on models for filters. He also is worried about the absence of filters. He raised the issue of aerospace companies paying O’Brien to do interviews, as O’Brien recounted in his keynote address. Lawler remarked that it “made me really squeamish as a traditional journalist. Do people get that? That that person is paying money to be interviewed?”

Seager asked Cole what he thought of Nicholson’s talk because she thought it was orthogonal to what Cole was saying. Cole responded that the Science Channel has a team devoted to new media that is constantly part of the development pipeline. One cannot have just a pure television platform today. “We toss [viewers] to our website, toss to blogs, and toss to our own Twitter account where we get individuals to dialogue.”

An audience member asked Cole how his company handles the language of science in terms of setting the level of language that can be used to communicate. Cole replied that they have a team that looks at each episode and if terms are too scholarly, the experts are coached to speak in laymen’s terms.

Another audience member asked the journalists how they convey that there is uncertainty in science. Lawler said they use qualifiers like “maybe” or “could” or “possibly.” “You can tell readers what is clear and why, and what is not as clear,” as Moore did in his talk about climate change.

From the audience, NASA’s Alan Ladwig asked Lawler and Cole what NASA could do to make their jobs easier. Cole said the Science Channel is quite pleased with its relationship with NASA, although they would appreciate NASA deciding on the date of the final space shuttle flight so they know when to air their program. Lawler seconded what Kaufman said earlier that in terms of public affairs—NASA does an excellent job relative to its sister agencies. However, it is difficult to get into NASA headquarters now because of the concern and fear that has gripped Washington even before the September 11 terrorist attacks. He notices hostility toward reporters, which he finds tragic, especially at NASA, because part of NASA’s job is to disseminate information. It is virtually impossible for a reporter to wander the halls of NASA now, he observed. NASA should allow high ranking officials to be available to the media on a regular basis and let reporters talk to scientists without going through three layers of bureaucracy if it is not a controversial issue.

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