In his June 2013 speech, President Obama said “Speak up for the facts.” These simple words motivate me to communicate science and help explain how I ended up in a newsroom.
This summer I participated in the AAAS Mass Media Science and Engineering Fellowship
, a program designed to bridge the gap between science and the public. The Fellowship Program selects 15 scientists and transforms them into news reporters by placing them at media outlets around the country.
My host newspaper, The News & Observer
, embodies a classic print newsroom with high standards and 150 years of reporting. As the only full-time science “beat” reporter, I had the freedom to write about almost anything, but a responsibility to cover the most important research.
One of the most surreal moments of the summer was talking live on air at the WUNC public radio station (listen here
How did I end up on the radio? A research study came out with an exciting finding: improved air quality in North Carolina reduced death rates from asthma and emphysema. News outlets around the country reported the study.
A tip from a seasoned reporter motivated me to investigate the study's methods. After a few phone calls, I discovered funding for the air monitors were cut in a North Carolina state bill. In my article about the study, I also discussed the bill and presented a cost-benefit analysis of public health, air pollution standards and monitoring.
This analysis caught the eye of the local public radio station, which requested I voice my findings on their show, The State of Things. A few days after the article came out and the show aired, lawmakers modified the bill to protect funding for the air monitors. While their motivation remains a mystery, bringing the issue into public discussion taught me the value of communicating science to inform public opinion on current issues and government policy.
The fellowship expanded my understanding of the role of scientists in society. Society benefits from effective science communicators. Now more than ever, I am inspired to speak up for the facts and communicate science.
Thank you to the American Association for the Advancement of Science
(AAAS) and my sponsor, the Noyce Foundation, for investing in my career!
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Author: Sarah Wheeler, Ph.D. Candidate, contact at email@example.com