Embedded communicators: Bringing them along for the science ride

February 13, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO -- Often, it's like scientists are from Mars, and communications specialists are from Venus.

The professions usually have different languages, different paces and deadlines, different cultures.

But their common ground - the audience - is crucial.

At 9:45 a.m. PST Saturday, Feb. 17, Jianguo "Jack" Liu, Michigan State University's Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability, and Sue Nichols, MSU senior communications manager of science and research, have organized and are presenting "Worlds Collide: Why Embedded Communicators Make Sense for Science" at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting.

The goal: Explore and inspire communicators and researchers to work together, long before results are reported, to tell the story of science and research to the public.

"The vast majority of scientists have no training in communicating science to the general public and policy makers," said Liu, a University Distinguished Professor of fisheries and wildlife. "This lack of training creates a daunting task for scientists, especially those who deal with complex and sensitive issues."

In 2002, Liu took Nichols to China to document his multidisciplinary work which seeks to sort out the complexities of human needs, wildlife requirements, political realities and technological potential to understand how ecological and human dynamics interact, and how to produce science that can help make sound policy.

The trip evolved into several communication collaborations, and Nichols went on to accompany faculty members to Rwanda, Nicaragua and Brazil.

The symposium carries the theme that to truly advance public participation and development of effective policy, the effort needs stories that go beyond scientific journals. It needs rich, complete stories about what scientists do - and why.

"Everyone benefits when scientific exploration holds magic, excitement and promise, including the taxpayers who usually have funded the research," said Nichols, who works in the MSU Division of University Relations. "Trained storytellers can help advance the goals of the research team and science, generally."

Liu and Nichols, along with communicators Kim McDonald at the University of California (San Diego) and David Bricker at Indiana University, will explore the explosion of the content demand beyond traditional news outlets, how communicators and scientists can identify common goals, and potential funding sources.
Liu's talk is entitled "Rewards and Challenges of Working with Embedded Communicators."

Nichols talk is called "Crouching Scientist, Hidden Flak: Bringing a Communicator Along for the Ride."

For photos, links and full coverage of MSU at AAAS, see http://special.newsroom.msu.edu/aaas/index.html.

NOTE: Sue Nichols can be reached during AAAS Feb. 14-19 on her cell phone at (517) 282-1093.

Michigan State University

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