Special Topics in Communication: Science Communication (COM 597)

COM 597 12175

5 credits


Location: CMU126

Schedule: T 9:30-12:20

Department: Communication

Quarter: Winter

This course, designed for graduate students from any discipline, will examine how to effectively communicate science at both conceptual and practical levels.

We'll examine the rise of the science blogosphere and the sometimes antagonistic relationship science bloggers often have with the mainstream media and non-scientists. We'll use the debate over climate change as one case study, looking deeper at why scientists lost this communication battle early on and what they can do better now. We'll examine celebrity scientist/authors such as Neil degrasse Tyson and Jared Diamond and what they may sacrifice in terms of scientific and journalistic integrity. We'll look at the variety of roles scientists can play in shaping public policy and analyze how scientists are viewed, often unfairly, in the media and popular film. The class is run in a seminar format with some break-out sessions.

The class will include practical training, coaching, role-playing and short writing exercises so students become more comfortable speaking about their research, and science topics in general, to a variety of audiences including the public, politicians and the press. All students will learn techniques for giving a better scientific or public talk and will give a talk in class for critique.

There will be two tracks of assignments in the course -- one for those on an academic track that are looking to learn ways to better communicate their future research to their colleagues and an assignment track for those more interested in communicating broader issues, becoming science writers or exhibit developers or speaking to the general public. Students will be required to co-lead one class discussion and also help critique the communication skills of others taking the class.

The workloads and readings are not onerous and should compliment, rather than detract from the time you require for your research or dissertation. The instructor is happy to answer any questions from potential students or their advisors and can be reached at usha3@uw.edu.

This course will be taught by Usha Lee McFarling, currently an artist-in-residence in the Department of Communication. McFarling is a Pulitzer prize winning journalist who has worked for the Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and Knight Ridder covering a variety of fields ranging from climate, earth science and astrophysics to nutrition and psychology. She is also trained as a scientist, with undergraduate and graduate degrees in biology.

The course is 5 credits and will be graded.

The course size is capped at 18 students, so please enroll early if you are interested.

This course may be used to satisfy the Graduate Certificate in Climate Science Communication Seminar requirement.