2:00 PM 3 comments

Journalists Are Thinking What You're Thinking

We've been talking in class (and on your quizzes) about how the values of journalism don't always match up with the values of science (or maybe even of technology or policy).  A great piece over at the Colombia Journalism Review reflects exactly on that problem.



Environmental and Science Journalists quoted in the piece noted that their coverage of renewable energy-related issues tends to follow a pattern:  first reporters hype the energy source as a savior to many of our energy problems.  Then, in stage two, the gild falls off the lily and the reporters do stories noting everything that is wrong with the energy source or technology.  Finally, in stage three, "realism sets in," and journalists try to understand the energy source or technology in a deeper or meaningful way.

These reporters talk frankly about how they've covered everything from wind to electric cars.  They're cognizant of the media's failures in covering energy, and so it makes for an interesting read.
11:28 AM 0 comments

Second Reading Quiz: Model Answers

Here are some great answers, taken from your second reading quizzes, to the following questions:



1.    Describe the transmission model of communication, and define its strengths and weaknesses.


The transmission model is the simple mode of a "sender" sending a "message" to a "receiver."  In this model, it is a one way process:



This model does well at describing how many people (definitely scientists) think about communication.  It is simple and straightforward.  It concentrates on the message, emphasizing that it should be clear and easy to understand.  But there is nothing in the model to account for such things as the context the message is being sent in or the ideals, preconceptions, interests, and knowledge of the sender or receiver. 



2.     Provide a more complicated model of communication, and explain why it is better than the transmission model.
  


This model is better because the method of communication, feedback, and the audience type are specified.  Analysis of this model can consider effectiveness/importance of more factors than the transmission model.

Another possible answer:  the ritual model.  The ritual model emphasizes the surroundings, similar to watching a theatrical performance.  It has 5 components:  act, stage, agent, agency, and purpose.  This model defines the context in more detail than the transmission model.  It also creates multiple paths of communication (it is not one way).


3.     What “news values” are typically supported by science journalists (name and describe at least 4)?

fascination value
trustworthiness
timeliness
importance of the story to society/the reader
natural audience size of the story
correctness/accuracy
"newsiness" 

4.     How might these news values conflict with the values of science?

A major conflict has to do with fascination.  Sometimes important research is a little dry.  Scientific research would have to be "heart-pumping" to be published.  Most scientific breakthroughs also don't have a large audience.

Scientists are also concerned about how the news will affect their reputation and credibility.  They may wonder if it is actually their obligation to report their work.  Public perception of the science itself can also have an influence on the amount of funding the research gets.


5.     Describe the tension between views of the internet as enabling forms of open and democratic science communication and views that suggest that the internet further enables vested or bureaucratic interests to more tightly manage science communication.

While some people believe the internet is an open and democratic source for science communication, there are others who disagree and point to information embargoes, such as password protected sites and subscriptions.  These embargoes can control science communication in this way.  Most people are forced to get information on the latest scientific news from secondhand sources such as news reports and blogs. In this way, the internet has not done as much to make scientific information more widely available.
10:38 AM 0 comments

Midterm Pep Talk

Hi everyone!  I just finished catching up on all of your blogs and wanted to note a few things.

First, the quality of the posting has made a dramatic jump.  Several of you have found your blogging "voices" and seem to be getting much more comfortable with the form.  Well done!  Those of you who have been doing well all along continue to do well, and are trying new forms of address and engagement in your writing, which is great.

A small number of you have done a little backsliding and have disappeared from your blog.

Let me encourage you, if you've stepped away from your blog for a while, to return to it. I know some of you are discouraged by your first-period evaluations; some of you are busy with other projects; and some of you may just be losing steam at this point in the semester.  But we have a few weeks until our March 23 evaluation, which is plenty of time to turn things around and do very well on the next grading period.

Continue to keep up your quality, but also think some about quantity.  I'm not assigning particular blog topics you have to write about, which means you have to write about things that interest you.  Short, newsy posts are okay occasionally, but pair these with longer, more reflective or interpretive posts, too.  But try to post regularly.

You're doing great work.  This is a new project and not always an easy project, but hang in there, show up, and you'll see the results you want.  Don't be afraid to change things up and try new things--you have an immediate feedback mechanism (your commenters and me) that will let you know how things are going.

Nice work, everyone!
2:24 PM 3 comments

More on Climate Change Communication

I'm just back from the Western States Communication Association conference (held, luckily for me, in beautiful Monterey, California).  I mostly participate in the Environmental Communication interest group there, and as always, there were a number of panels and presentations focusing on climate change communication.

My impression of a lot of the scholar and practitioners working in the field is that they are tired of having the discussions about the science of climate change--about whether or not the climate change we're seeing is primarily being caused by humans--and instead have moved past that very difficult debate to looking at policy actions.  They're tired of the work of trying to convince people that climate change is "real."



In other words, let's quit worrying quite so much about trying to persuade the unpersuadable and instead just talk about what to do next.  In essence, they seem to be arguing we should do an end-run around the science-related aspects of climate change, which are mired down in political allegiances, personal values, and human emotion.

This largely makes sense to me.  If most Americans believe climate change is happening (and polls show they do--they just don't agree on what's causing it, or on its severity) and if we can waste a whole lot of energy trying to teach people the science of climate change and they still might not change their minds, why do it?

I'm not saying climate science isn't important, or that science literacy isn't important, but why not just go straight to talking about what to do about it?  Why not talk about health effects, or energy independence, or living lives in a pleasanter world?

For example, a report on a new study shows that if you tell people about climate change and indicate it's going to be very severe, very dire, they are less likely to believe climate change is really happening, primarily because it doesn't jive with their believe that the world is just, and that things end up working out in the end.

The just world belief is a hard thing to change.  So why try?  Why not go straight to what's to be done?

This is kind of what the Monterey Bay Aquarium's new climate change exhibit is doing, by the way.  There's not much about climate science or meteorology in there--just a lot of cool, mod-designed posters and illustrations of rising sea levels, and an opportunity to write your congressperson, electronically at a kiosk, right there.  And about which energy sources might be key to solving the problem.  You don't feel bogged down in trying to understand climate modeling, but you do get a sense of hey, this is where we are, and this is where we need to go.  Seemed effective--not dire, not heavy-handed, but serious and interesting--to me.



What do you guys think?  Any problem with leaving communication of the science of climate change behind?
10:04 AM 4 comments

Wind in Spain

Most of you know that Spain is a world leader in wind energy production.  ecogeek.org reports that on January 6, Spain had 75% of its electricity produced by wind.  Even given that it may have been an ideal day, that's a big number.  You can check out the article here.
9:59 AM 4 comments

Total Fail: It Happens

This brief piece was in the Chronicle of Higher Education today.  It reminded me of our discussion last night about whether or not there is something called "science" that exists outside the disciplines or institutions of science (the curiosity of a child?  an ideal situation on another planet?).

Look at how this author (a scientist) describes science, and the way it is done or performed:



Total Fail:  It Happens
By Heather M. Whitney




Be careful what you wish for. The other day, my husband, who is also in science, and I were talking about what qualities of a scientist we hope to model for our students as a part of our everyday interactions with them. High on our list was the ability to acknowledge that sometimes we’re not always at the top of our game. We don’t go around describing nature in perfect equations. Science, like all disciplines, is the pursuit of characterizing and understanding the as-of-yet unknown. It’s a process, not a life of looking up answers in a solutions manual.
Guess what happened the very next day in class? I was teaching my general physics course, covering (what I think to be) a very fascinating study in where an electron will be as it approaches a negatively charged sphere, at the point when the velocity is half its original value. (Trust me, it really is interesting.) On the board I modeled the problem solving approach for the students, talking about conservation of energy and how it motivated the solution. I came to next-to the-last step of the solution, the mathematical equivalent to a joke’s setup for the punchline. And it was gone. I mean, GONE. For whatever reason, I completely lost track of what to do. My notes were no help, because of course the final steps were crystal clear during my prep and I did not feel the need to write them out. After all, this is the fourth time around I’ve taught this course, right?
There were about ten minutes to go in class. I swallowed my pride and made the decision to end class a bit early, with the promise of opening up the next with the finished solution. There were of course many options I could have taken, such as letting the students work in groups to finish up the solution and then comparing options as a class. In my best moments, I would have even created a clicker question on the fly so that students could vote for which proposed solution was the “best.”
But I didn’t. At the time, I felt it was best to just leave it and come back to it. And that’s what happens in the life of a real scientist. Sometimes we get stuck. We don’t know what steps to next take and we leave the problem for a bit – get a cup of coffee, stare out the window, read some email. Sometimes we even lay problems aside for days (or weeks or years!) Then we come back to the problem and attack it some more.
Two days after, the next class period, I had a brief discussion with my students about how that situation mirrored what often happens in real life. We want to model for our students what we think is the best of being in our field – the beautiful solution to a problem. But we need to also model for them how to handle challenges, and part of that is maintaining a healthy bit of humility.
1:52 PM 0 comments

Blogs You Should Check Out

Hey, everyone.  Matt Nisbet (whose work on framing we've read in class) is teaching a similar course to ours at American University, and he had his students generate a list of blogs they refer to regularly for information.  You should definitely check out the list (and also those recommended in the comments) and see if there are any you could begin reading and commenting on.  You might even leave your own blog's .url as you comment....
7:18 AM 0 comments

Expertise and the Fix

The New York Times has a blog post today on some programs operating in rural India that aim to reduce significant health problems, such as neonatal deaths, without the use of doctors.

Here's the problem:  in many developing countries, such as India, doctors are highly educated in their fields, but then are lured away by countries in the global North (like us here in the U.S.) because they can be paid so much better.  This "brain drain" may sound like not such a big deal, but the ripple effects in society are huge--the home countries not only lose the investment they made in educating the doctors, but they also end up with a weakened health care system generally, which affects social fabric, economy, well-being...on and on.



One possible solution, according to the blog post, is to train not more doctors but more community members who can provide basic care.  One woman trained in this way, for example, travels the village weighing babies and giving new mothers basic advice on how to care for their children.  In some cases, these programs are having significant impacts on infant and child mortality rates.



I'm reminded of when I gave birth to my two children--we had doctors, of course, and nurses, but we also paid "doulas," women who were not necessarily medically trained but who were trained to understand the rhythms of birth, care, and comfort.  In our first birth, the doula averted an unnecessary c-section with her patience and willingness to try alternative methods to encourage the baby to descend in the birth canal; in our second birth, the doula delivered the baby, with a nurse, when the doctor could not reach the hospital in time.  Both women also taught me how to care for myself and the baby after the birth, which I needed.

Don't get me wrong.  I was really, really glad to have hospitals and medicine and all of that.  In my case, I needed them after both births.  But the two doulas--who were not recognized as experts by the doctors and nurses at our hospitals--made a huge difference in my experience and in those early days of motherhood.

So, what does this have to do with science communication?

Well, I'm thinking about the nature of expertise, I suppose.  After reading your blogs for a few weeks now, I think one of the things that is separating the very successful blogs from those of you who are still struggling is perhaps your relationship to expertise.  My hunch is that some of you still feel you need to be like the classically trained doctors described above--finished with your education, established experts in the field, respected and unchallengeable.  You may be worried that readers will think you're stupid and comment on your stupidity, or even laugh at you.

Then there are those of you who are more like community health workers or doulas.  You know that there is plenty you don't know, but you're jumping into the muck, talking to people, learning as you go, and bringing others along with you.

If you are worried about being an expert, or worried that others might think you're stupid, what might you do in the next few weeks, before our next evaluation, to shed your fears about expertise and to instead get your hands dirty with communication?  What fears do you have about showing your ignorance?  What experiments can you run to test your fears?  How can we get past these fears together?
10:58 AM 1 comments

Are YOU stuck in the echo chamber?

Oh, man, this is a great piece on science blogging, posted over at CJR.    It's called "The Scientific Method for Reaching a Wider Audience," and it's written just for folks like you and me, who are interested not just in blogging for a class, not just in blogging for our friends, but in reaching a wider audience.

The article, which will be required reading for our class, features a bunch of folks who are already writing successful science blogs and who have advice to give.  For example, they talk about the difficulty of being stuck in the media "echo chamber," where you feel like you're writing for the same people (maybe even the same scientists or other experts, who know what you know) and you can't expand your audience.

They also talk about the difficulty with jargon and how to go for depth and thoughtfulness (the strength of the blog) rather than the news blurb (more the strength of traditional journalism, like we might see in some newspapers).

Do check it out, since a lot of you are reflecting on how to widen your own blogging audiences.
3:57 PM 3 comments

Engineers Changing the Conversation

As someone who has studied engineers and engineering for a long time now, and also has a scholarly interest in popular culture (films, books, television) I've noticed that engineers in powerful spots--those in the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), or at the National Science Foundation, or elsewhere--are particularly concerned with how they appear to the general public.  Specifically, it is my sense that they are most worried about being invisible, but they're certainly also worried about negative connotations that might adhere to engineers:  that they are mostly white, mostly male, and mostly very technically narrow (nerdy?).

Engineers are also frequently worried about how they stack up against other professionals.  Doctors?  Plenty of television shows, movies, and books about them.  Same with lawyers (though not always positive depictions, right?) and scientists.  But there aren't a lot of engineers visible in the culture.

There's MacGyver, of course:


And, in an article I wrote once in a book about engineering, there are a handful of films that feature--prominently, or not so prominently, engineers and engineering.  The list I came up with is as follows:


Le Voyage dans la Lune (Trip to the Moon, 1902)
The Iron Horse (1924)
Metropolis (1926)
The Story of Alexander Graham Bell (1939)
Young Tom Edison (1940)
Western Union (1941)
The Fountainhead (1949)
No Highway in the Sky (1951)
The Dambusters (1955)
The Spirit of St. Louis (1957)
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
The Time Machine (1960)
Hellfighters (1968)
Colossus:  The Forbin Project (1970)
Tron (1982): [h/t Benito]
War Games (1983)
The Right Stuff (1983)
Emerald Forest (1985)
Pale Rider (1985)
Top Gun (1986)
Fat Man and Little Boy (1989)
Apollo 13 (1995)
October Sky (1998)
Pi (1998)
Space Cowboys (2000)
Spider-Man (2002)
Paycheck (2003)  [h/t:  Benito]
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Primer (2004)
Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Iron Man (2008) [h/t:  Michelle]

If you know of others, let me know.   In any case, it's not a very long list, compared with how many you could find featuring doctors or lawyers, or even scientists.

I think a lot of the concern over public perceptions of engineering has to do with engineers wanting respect and recognition for the hard and important work they do.  And, in my opinion, engineers are in fact frequently absent in prominent public debates over science and technology, or they are mistaken for scientists, or they are not labelled as engineers.  This may have something to do with how the profession trains itself, or with how it views the public, or with how the public views them.

But public perception also affects things like recruitment and retention.  And many engineers are concerned that the United States won't be able to recruit as many engineers as it needs to remain competitive.  Whether this is true is up for debate, but it's an argument you hear frequently coming from places like the NAE.

Which is why I think the Changing the Conversation (CTC) project, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and prompted by a report issued by the NAE, is so interesting.  It's intended to be a resource for engineers, educators, media professionals, and others interested in clarifying and promoting messages about engineering.

For example, there is a page of sample messages or talking points about engineering.  These messages were tested with sample audiences to test their effectiveness.

So, what do you think?  Will this matter?  How would it be used by communicators, and to what ends?

And why do you think engineers are largely invisible or marginalized in popular culture and in discussions about science and technology?
1:20 PM 4 comments

A Frightening Hook: Bedbugs

I'm something of an NPR junkie.  I have to do a fair amount of driving because my kids go to two different schools, and I'm one of those annoying parents who thinks her kids probably need to know what's going on in the world, so we listen to public radio quite a bit.

On the ride into work this morning, I heard this story on Colorado Matters, Colorado Public Radio's local news show.  The story is about how Denver has one of the largest and most persistent bed bug problems in the country.


I'd heard stories of bed bugs--another one of my favorite radio shows This American Life did a story on them a while back--and I'm interested in them because I'm pretty grossed out by bugs, and am maybe a little OCD, and if we ended up having a bed bug infestation in our house I'd probably consider burning the thing down.

Bed bugs, if you're not familiar, are a little harder to kill than the proverbial post-apocalyptic cockroach.  They can live anywhere in your home, are nearly impossible to get rid of, and they suck your blood while you sleep, then poop that blood on your sheets and wherever else.  They're my idea of horrific.

What does all this have to do with Science Communication?  Well, it occurred to me that the Colorado Matters story on bed bugs was actually a brilliant form of SC.  The show begins with the host Ryan Warner speaking with one of his friends, who had a bed bug infestation (and still has it) and has to live with it.  We hear about his struggles with bed bugs in fairly graphic detail.  It's fascinating and (for me) a gross-out.

But then, the show goes on to interview a specialist in bed bug biology and behavior, Gail Getty.  Getty speaks about the size of the bugs, their behaviors, and what it takes to get rid of them in strikingly clear language.  And it occurred to me, aha!  Here is a scientist who knows how to talk to laypeople.

The show is formatted with a really clever hook, in other words.  A hook (or news peg) is the thing that draws you into the story in the first place, either by making the content relevant to you in some way or by "hooking" or pegging the story on to another big news story.  If the Colorado Matters bed bug story had just started out as a story about entomology (the study of bugs) it might not have been so interesting.  But instead, we start out with the story of a man who is battling the bugs.  The human interest side draws us in, and then all of sudden the science becomes relevant and interesting.

A pretty good trick.
6:21 PM 1 comments

The BP Oil Spill: Possible Research Questions

BP Research Project

Format:  20-minute presentation (engagement encouraged) and follow-up blog post for CommForge

Points:  100

Required elements of presentation:

·      Introduction to research question
o   Why is this question important?
o   What does it help us to learn about the BP oil spill and SC?

·      Justification for constraints of research question (why is bounded the way it is?)

·      Literature review
o   What have others written about your topic or about topics like it?
o   Is your literature scholarly?  If not, can you justify why not?

·     Methodology
o   What data did you look at to answer your question?
o   Why is this the appropriate data to consider given your question?
o   What data is not considered and why?
o   What weaknesses exist in your data collection techniques?  What gaps are there?

·      Findings
o   What are your findings?
o   Are there questions you weren’t able to answer?
o   If you were able to revise your research question now, knowing what you know, how would you do this?

·      Discussion
o   What does your study tell us about science communication generally?
o   Can you make connections to topics we’ve discussed or read about in class?


Format for blog post:

Your blog post will be much less academic than your presentation.  You’ll want to focus on presenting your research question and your findings in a way appropriate for a lay audience.  Your post should be of medium-length and conform to the conventions of blog posting as already discussed in class.


We spent the first half of class tonight generating possible communication-related research questions about the BP oil spill that occurred in the summer of 2010.  Students will spend time preparing presentations and blog posts answering their questions.  Here they are:

Research Questions:  Science Communication and the BP Oil Spill
1.        Looking at commercials produced by BP, how did they frame the spill?
2.       What forms of upstream engagement did BP use, if any?
3.       What was the immediate response of frequent readers of BBC after capping the spill.
4.       How was the local reaction from the Louisiana Newspaper compared to the reaction from the Denver Post, taken from 1 month following the spill?
5.       How do man on the street articles in the New York Times compare with their science communication articles pertaining to the spill?
6.       How did the White House’s framing of the BP spill change over time?
7.       How did the frequency and content of press releases from other oil companies change in the weeks following the oil spill?
8.       How has the model of science communication within BP progressed as a result of the spill?
9.       Following the initial reports of the spill what were the differences in the facts reported by Fox News vs. MSNBC
4:43 PM 1 comments

Blog Self-Interview

Please answer the following questions about you and your blog, on your blog.

What is the purpose of this blog?
Who is the imagined audience(s) of this blog?
Have my posts matched up with my purpose/audience?  What/who might I be overlooking in defining my purpose/audience this way?
What can I do to encourage more reader participation with my blog?
How can I expand my audience in this class?  Outside of this class?
How would I characterize the tone of my blog?
What do I hope to get out of writing this blog?
What would I like others to get out of it?
What are the strengths of my blog/my blogging?
What are the weaknesses?
How would I describe my tone?
Have I used a deficit model in my writing, or something else?  How would I know?
How have I characterized (implicitly or explicitly) science, engineering, and/or technology in my blog? 
How have I characterized myself?
3:12 PM 0 comments

Comments on Reading Quiz 1

Much to my dismay, the outcomes of the first reading quiz suggest some misunderstandings of key concepts in Science Communication, as they were laid out in the last two readings (in Holliman et al). Some of you not only misunderstood the "deficit model," for example, and, worse, then embodied it on your quizzes, writing comments such as "The deficit model means the public is ignorant, and it works because that is the correct way to view the public."

So...let's talk about those questions again. I'm borrowing some answers (posted here anonymously and occasionally aggregated) from those of you who answered the following questions correctly:


1. What might be wrong with the statement, "The more science communication (SC) the better"?

Good possible answer:

"The amount of communication isn't as important as the quality of the communication. Thinking in terms of quantity lends itself to the deficit approach, thinking that the only way people can be involved with science is to have information thrown at them by scientists. This attitude does not foster engagement from the public."

2. What is the deficit approach to science communication (SC) and why does it persist as the dominant model of SC?

Good possible answer:

"The deficit model uses one-way communication with a passive audience such as a lecture with no questions. Scientists have long had the notion that the uneducated public (having knowledge deficits) just need knowledge dumped in their laps, and that they are the ones to do it. It remains dominant because scientists are more devoted to their research than to engaging the public in a meaningful way.  And public engagement is difficult.  But this attitude must change if the deficit model is to ever be removed as the dominant model in SC."

3. What is meant by "upstream engagement"?

Good possible answer:

"Upstream engagement" is an approach to involving the public in a dialogue concerning emerging technologies to get a sense of their opinions and input on the issue or study.  Obvious questions like, 'What are some alternatives to what we have planned?' can be asked that scientists may not have thought about.  This approach was used with GM/nanotechnology as the issues for debate.  The emphasis here is on when engagement happens (before studies or technologies are completed or released), i.e., upstream."

4.  What key challenges or risks do we face when trying to "engage" the public in forms of SC?  In other words, what is hard about public engagement?

Good possible answer:

"Some scientists feel that there should not be a democratic approach to SC because the public doesn't know enough about science.  Scientific research often hinders scientists' efforts to engage the public because it is not funded/rewarded.  Also, the public may take away messages from the effort that are anti-science or based on misconceptions, and scientists may see their projects jeopardized as a result.  Finally, some engagement efforts may be co-opted by special interest groups or others not interested in democratic discussions."

5.  What does it mean to "put the politics back in science?"

Good possible answer:

"To open up the hard questions of science, and how science is done and funded, to the public.  Allow for public debates regarding uncertainties, flows in research, erroneous assumptions, etc.  Bring key scientific issues and processes up for debate--make them transparent.  We must discuss topics such as what science we need, versus what we want, and issues of uncertainty.  Enhancing public involvement in science should be seen as an advantage and not a hindrance."
3:02 PM 4 comments

Using Video in Your Blogs

We've mentioned using multimedia in your blogs pretty much since the first night of class.  But we haven't talked much about guidelines.

Check out this video, distributed by the online newsletter Planet-Profit Report:



It's not terribly hi-tech, right?  Your videos don't have to be either, but note some things this video does well:

1)  It's a manageable length.  Keep in mind that most readers of your blog typically don't plan on spending any more than a few minutes browsing your post and, unless they're really passionate about your topic, probably won't watch a long video.  So keep your videos short, for the most part--3 minutes, max.  And if you post a longer video, indicate to your readers what to pay special attention to (i.e., "Fast forward to 33.14 for Johnson's most interesting point on electric cars."  Don't be afraid to edit things down, or cut out parts that move a little slowly.

2)  It uses intertitles.  Intertitles are those screens in-between interview questions that either quickly pose the question before the interviewee answers it or that split up the video into manageable chunks.  Basically, they're like headings for your video, and they keep things feeling as if they are paced well and moving right along.  Most basic video editing software allows you to place these into your video fairly easily.

3)  It uses cutaway shots.  Cutaway shots are those shots that are edited into the "talking head" part of the interview, so that we're not just watching the interviewee the whole time.  He's talking about gas prices, we're seeing a guy driving an electric car.  Keeps things interesting.

Don't be too intimidated by the terminology or technology, here.  You can shoot a decent, interesting, useful video on your cell phone.  Just keep it short, don't zoom in/out much, hold your camera or phone steady, and then post!
2:48 PM 6 comments

You're Not the Only Ones

While sifting through my emails this week, this story from the Columbia Journalism Review popped up.  It's about a group of high school bloggers who are writing for Scitable, a new site from Nature publishing group featuring student writing of all kinds, but focused primarily on college-age audiences.



Scitable is a form of public engagement, an effort on the part of the publishers of the journal Nature and other publications to reach out and create conversations about science among different sorts of audiences.

Take a minute, visit Scitable, and let me know what you think.  You all (college students) are the supposed audience for the site.  How do you navigate it?  Does it interest you?  Could you imagine doing this sort of writing yourself?  How does your blog compare with the blogs at Scitable?

Most important, what does this sort of "engagement" accomplish?  To paraphrase Sarah Davies, what is the purpose of this kind of Public Engagement in Science and Technology (PEST)?  Is Scitable accomplishing that purpose?