Ann Marie Cunningham, Interviewed by Dr. Brout
Would you tell us about yourself and what you do?
I am a science journalist and producer. I’ve written for print and the Web, and I’ve produced for television and radio. I also produce live events, including LISoundFest: Long Island Sound Science Festival.
As a science writer, would you tell us what you think makes “good” science journalism?
1) No jargon! Either in print or in live interviews.
2) In print and Web articles, links to more information, especially video. Science is so very visual.
3) Good analogies or metaphors for scientific phenomena. There’s nothing better to make science understandable to non-scientists.
Would you tell us a little more about why you have spent so much time trying to educate children and middle and high school students about science? Why is that so important?
Making STEAM intriguing to young people is so important because the United States is lagging in recruiting youngsters to careers in science and technology. It’s also crucial to teach youngsters considering these careers how to reach the public.
Right now, LISoundFest partners with the statewide Arizona SciTech Festival to encourage middle and high school students to become Chief Science Officers (CSOs) for their schools. CSO are responsible for producing one STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) event for their school, one for their community, and one with other CSOs in their state.
Even if a young CSO doesn’t go into science, s/he will acquire 21st century skills in leadership that will stand him or her in good stead regardless of what s/he goes on to do. And any CSO is in a good position to make STEAM part of our culture in future.
You certainly have met many esteemed scientists in your “travels”. Would you tell us what you think make a scientist “great”. Is it notability? Is it something more personal? What do you think?
I think a truly great scientist combines outstanding work in his or her field with a real passion and talent for reaching the public. Among established scientists, Nobel Laureate in chemistry Dudley Herschbach.
founded Science News, to help people understand current developments in science. Theoretical physicist Lawrence M.Krauss is outspoken about the need for scientists to work on public understanding of STEM. Neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux helps by writing songs about the brain and performs them with his rock band, The Amygdaloids. Come hear them at LISoundFest 2017! Animal behaviorist Diana Reiss has put animal intelligence on the map in her popular book, The Dolphin in the Mirror, and her frequent public appearances, including LISoundFest 2015.
All this is terribly important because for too long, too many scientists considered talking to the public beneath them. I’m very happy that this is changing: the New York Academy of Sciences reports that younger scientists and graduate students are eager to help science teachers, appear at science festivals, blog, and help the public understand what they do as much as they can.
How do you think scientific studies are represented in the popular press in the new millennium compared to say… 25 years ago?
Twenty-five years ago, in 1991, I would not have been able to link to a study in any of my articles! Today, the public can look up a study and decide if my article represents it accurately.
Obviously, most science news in the popular press has moved to the Internet and to public forums like TEDTalks. Public journals, like those published by the Public Library of Science, are making an important contribution, as are reputable blogs like Andrew Revkin’s Dot Earth and Carl Zimmer’s The Loom.
As somebody highly educated in science, who writes about science, what sources do you use when you write an article about a scientists or a science subject?
Please! I am not highly educated in science! My mother was a botanist and gardener, who taught my siblings and me to love the natural world and being outdoors. My best friend is a neuroscientist at Columbia. But I studied French.
As a science journalist, I consider myself a translator – someone who translates science and scientists into English. My first job in science journalism was at Natural History, which hired only editors with no scientific background. All the contributors were scientists reporting on their work in the field, and we editors had to translate them into English that our readers would understand.
At Natural History, I learned that if a scientist is any good, s/he can explain his or her work to me in words I can understand. So I always talk directly to a scientist, over the phone or in person.
How would you say that has changed?
It hasn’t, despite the proliferation of information on the Internet.
Do you think the availability of so much medical/scientific information on the Internet is good or bad or both?
I firmly believe that more is more. The science articles on Wikipedia, for example, have proved quite accurate. But you must always check what you find on the Internet with someone in the field. For one thing, Internet information may not be as up to date as a researcher who has just returned from a conference and who is in close touch with others in the field.
Finally, since you have played so many different roles (writer, educator, producer, etc.), do you have any ideas regarding what misophonia sufferers can do to further the cause of misophonia research, press for misophonia education, etc.?
Besides making films and writing articles and books, misophonia researchers and sufferers should consider giving TEDTalks, appearing at science festivals, and attending the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (known as “the triple-A-S” meeting). This meeting attracts many science writers whom you can interest in writing about misophonia and the ongoing research.
And find a young CSO who will invite you to speak at his or her school! Don’t forget to educate the young.