As translators of technical knowledge and research discoveries, science writers have opportunities to affect the discourse of human society. Accordingly, science writers in the United States — including journalists and public information officers (PIOs) — have an obligation to communicate science to the nation’s increasingly bicultural and bilingual population.
In February 2020, we published a guidance article on this need and obligation in Frontiers in Communication — as part of the “Inclusive Science Communication in Theory and Practice” special collection curated and edited by Dr. Raychelle Burks, Dr. Mónica Feliú-Mójer, Erika Check Hayden, and Thomas Hayden. Our article provides guidance for U.S. science writers adapting and adjusting their craft to the vibrantly changing demographics of the U.S. readership, using the U.S. Latinx and Hispanic experience as a focusing lens.
By identifying, acknowledging, and distinguishing language, historical, and social nuances across cultural and ethnic identities, science writers can engage more readers and amplify their reach. Simply put, they will write better stories, represent overlooked voices, and report more holistically on the research enterprise—and better fulfill their duty as society’s science translators.Excerpt from the CómoSciWri article published in Frontiers in Communication
Though published in 2020, our “CómoSciWri” article in fact is a proud culmination of conference panels, session activities, and collaborative conversations that first began in 2016, uniting the advice and experiences of friends and colleagues — all leaders in the spaces of journalism, education, and public outreach to bicultural audiences. Furthermore, the creative process for these conference sessions, activities, and materials were driven by unique design challenges. Namely: how do we create a truly interactive and educational experience on diversity awareness for a room full of media and science professionals within a short conference session time block — in a time when diversity and inclusion were not yet ubiquitous, unavoidable topics within media and science institutions?
Each year, the National Association of Science Writers (NASW) solicits proposals for workshops to be held at its annual professional development conference. The 2016 meeting had been advertised for San Antonio, Texas, with registration outreach targeting writers and journalists working along the U.S.-Mexico border states as well as Latin American and Caribbean nations.
The timing seemed ripe to propose a conference session on science writing for bicultural and bilingual audiences — especially since NASW had begun its own organizational pivot towards diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) that same year, marked by the establishment of its Diversity Committee along with new conversations on amplifying related resources and trainings within its professional membership. Plus, I had been looking for an opportunity to introduce the expertise and insights of José G. González — my trusted longtime friend and noted bicultural outreach educator — to my science writing peers. With further encouragement from friend, collaborator, and fellow science communicator Becky Oskin, we set plans in motion to organize the session “Communicating Ciencia: Adapting to the Changing Faces and Voices of Mass Media” for ScienceWriters2016 — coining the hashtag #CómoSciWri along the way.
We’ll tug at the practical implications of language, history, and society for the bicultural communicator — and ask ourselves: “Does this pass the abuela test?”Excerpt from the session description of the CómoSciWri session hosted for ScienceWriters2016
Our 2016 conference workshop was accepted and hosted to rousing success. Joining José on our expert panel were Dr. Robin Gose, then-Director of Education at The Thinkery; Claudia Pineda Tibbs of the Monterey Bay Aquarium; and Aleszu Bayak, journalist and founder of LatinAmericanScience.org — and in attendance were more than 80 journalists, writers, editors, PIO’s, and other science communicators.
NASW interrupted its conference schedule in 2017 to fulfil its hosting duties for the World Conference of Science Journalists but returned to organize ScienceWriters2018 in Washington D.C. — an event that was expected to draw peak attendance from metro areas across the Eastern Seaboard, doubling that of the San Antonio meeting. Hoping to leverage this wider reach, Becky and I decided to update and propose another CómoSciWri session for 2018.
Once again accepted by the NASW Program Committee, our 2018 expert panel consisted of José González, Claudia Pineda Tibbs, and adding outreach equity and inclusion specialist Dr. Jenny F. de la Hoz. Their panel insights — together with that of the 2016 panel — would go on to form the foundational arc of our eventual 2020 article published in Frontiers.
There are many valuable design lessons worth highlighting from our CómoSciWri efforts, touching on core tenets spanning audience, context, and user experience.
1. Identifying the Focus
While our proposal stated “communicating science to bicultural audiences in the United States” as a central theme, very early on in the design process, we had to decide whether to represent a selection of cultural experiences, versus using just one. Given our San Antonio setting and with José already on board, it was an easy decision to choose the latter — using the U.S. Latinx and Hispanic experience as the focusing example for our conversation. This allowed us to be much more efficient in our panelist recruitment process and our content design — though we made sure that all lessons remained applicable to cross-cultural engagement beyond Latinx audiences.
Ironically, our focus on Latinx audiences presented a second challenge. Once accepted for the 2016 conference, there had been some outside discussion to combine our session with another on science journalism collaborations with Latin American nations. We advocated to keep our session as is, since our objective was to teach U.S. science writers about engaging Latinx audiences in the United States — whose experiences are unique to their circumstances, history, and context (coincidentally, this one of the key messages of our session). Fortunately, our justifications were heard and granted, preventing any dilution of focus with what was already a challenging lesson plan to design.
2. Establishing Expertise
For this audience of science writers, we also needed to establish expertise and trust for our session panel of educators and outreach specialists.
Becky, José, and I were confident in our strategy of assembling outreach educators as our panelists. After all, informal science education practitioners have had to be relatively early adopters of DEI frameworks by nature of their work, which put them in direct contact with cultural and demographic shifts in public audiences. Plus, who better to teach a room of learners than a panel of education practitioners?
We knew that, but we had to tell our audience as well. So we took care to explain this angle in both the 2016 and 2018 sessions, before introducing the panelists.
At the heart of it, we’re all science writers because we want to educate others — and educators have firsthand experience expressing information to multiple audiences and assessing learning success. That’s why in a complex, nuanced discussion such as communicating science in bicultural/bilingual contexts, we wanted to approach the topic from its essential philosophical foundations in education — then weave back to mass media communication and marketing.Excerpt from “Session Philosophy” section of the 2018 session archive
Ensuring that our panel comprised mostly of educators worked to our benefit as well. Our panelists immediately intuited our approach to “teach the audience” rather than simply lecture as a talking panel — and enthusiastically and efficiently contributed to the content of our handout and learning activity design.
3. Organizing Information
Recall that our first session was in 2016, when “DEI” as an acronym and professional development centerpiece was nowhere as widespread across U.S. industries and workplaces as it emerged in 2020. Though writers and journalists are some of the most informed learners out there, we had to design a workshop experience that offered basic definitions, practical advice, expert advice, and an interactive exercise — all within a single 75-minute time block!
If you refer to the slidedecks for our sessions (2018 version and 2016 version), you can see that we injected terminology explainers and simple skills as “pro-tips” interspersed throughout the session. These served to get everyone in the room on the same page, since we had no way of anticipating each attendee’s baseline of knowledge. They also somewhat segued into each panelist’s expertise — teeing them up for their “three things” of practical advice.
In both years, we took care to ensure that every panelist provided complementary sets of insights, each suited to their professional space. We also condensed all sets of advice into a simple one-pager tipsheet (2018 version and 2016 version), providing everyone in the room a handy visual reference to follow along during the presentation and session activity.
4. Inducing Learning
By taking an educator’s approach to our session designed, we had to satisfy the central objective of teaching itself: to induce learning. We were thus tasked to design interactive exercises for a room of up to 100 attendees (we had no way of anticipating actual attendance) of different experience levels, while still leaving time for feedback and discussion. The activities needed to be practical to the everyday duties of our mixed audience of journalists, institutional writers, and PIO’s — giving them an opportunity to apply the insights they just heard from our panelists, and learn from that moment.
In both years, we created very straightforward briefs as our group activities. In 2016, the room was divided up into four groups, each with a specific discussion exercise led by a session panelist. Participants were asked to talk through one of four real-world scenarios, such as how they might contemplate a news story assignment that involved Latinx perspectives. We took this approach further in 2018, designing one particular prompt to be a editing exercise that challenged participants to spot shortcomings in bias and cultural perspectives:
Looking back, it’s hard to believe the number of needles we had to thread to make these CómoSciWri productions a success. Condensing these session materials into a journal manuscript was decidedly the easier part — a credit to the incredible team work and effort from our panelists across both conference outings. Encouragingly, NASW has gone to great lengths to support more training offerings, member resources, and conversational spaces around DEI issues in subsequent conferences — and we are proud to have played an early part in nurturing such an important dialogue for this professional community.
Our thanks once again to Dr. Raychelle Burks, Dr. Mónica Feliú-Mójer, Erika Check Hayden, and Thomas Hayden for initiating this Inclusive SciComm collection, and our gratitude to Dr. Mójer as our article editor and to Dr. Ana Maria Porras and Dr. Ivan Fernando Gonzalez as our article reviewers. Their dedication gave us this chance to inscribe our CómoSciWri project into academic record — so that these collected insights can live on beyond the conference experience and continue to make lasting impact for years to come.
— Ben Young Landis
Download the journal article “CómoSciWri: Resources to Help Science Writers Engage Bicultural and Bilingual Audiences in the United States” from Frontiers at https://doi.org/10.3389/fcomm.2020.00010
Visit the archived session websites for CómoSciWri from 2016 and 2018 at https://sciencewritersmeeting.org/2016/sciencewriters2016.html and https://sciencewritersmeeting.org/2018/sciencewriters2018.html, respectively.
Delivered: 2016, 2018, 2020
Creative Direction: Ben Young Landis with Becky Oskin
Advisor: José G. González
Website Content Writer: Ben Young Landis
Publication Lead Author: Ben Young Landis
Invited Panelists and Publication Co-Authors: Aleszu Bajak, Dr. Jenny F. de la Hoz, Dr. Robin Gose, Claudia Pineda Tibbs