[enviro-vlc] Ocean expert helps scientists speak plain English
vern.weitzel at gmail.com
Mon Oct 6 01:56:22 EST 2008
If you've ever started a conversation and soon got the
feeling that you lost them in the first sentence ...
Aldo Leopold Leadership Program:
Ocean expert helps scientists speak plain English
10/5/2008, 12:00 a.m. PDT
By JEFF BARNARD
The Associated Press
GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — Besides keeping tabs on how global warming is changing
the world's oceans, Jane Lubchenco — one of the world's leading marine
biologists — is teaching her fellow scientists to drop the academic-ese they use
among themselves and speak so regular folks can understand them.
Lubchenco is a member of the Pew Oceans Commission that recommended steps to
overcome crippling damage to the world's oceans from overfishing, pollution,
coastal development and climate change.
She is also founder of the Leopold Leadership Program, named for conservationist
and author Aldo Leopold. It puts 20 scientists from colleges and universities
through a communications boot camp.
"The philosophy behind it is that a key role of science is to inform people's
understanding and decisions. Not to dictate those decisions, but to inform
them," Lubchenco, a professor of marine biology and zoology at Oregon State
University in Corvallis, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
The first week of the boot camp is low-key in a retreat setting. The second is
in Washington, D.C., where the scientists go through simulated press interviews
and congressional hearings.
"Most of them won't even return journalists' phone calls because they're afraid
of them," Lubchenco said of scientists. "They don't want journalists misquoting
She said that when scientists talk about their research, they "typically start
with history, methods, materials, who did what in the field." Then they describe
their experiments, "and only at the end get to their conclusion."
But scientists are beginning to see "that's not a very useful way of
communicating with people who want to know first and foremost what is the bottom
line, why should I care, and is this relevant," she said.
Oregon State zoology Professor Andy Blaustein attended the boot camp, and has
started passing on what he learned to his graduate students.
"I don't think scientists resist talking in plain English to lawmakers, the
press and the public — I don't think most of them know how," he said.
Lubchenco is recognized around the globe as an expert on issues of marine policy.
She has received numerous awards, authored key scientific papers and has sat on
many national and international advisory panels.
Lubchenco is also a co-founder of Climate Central, a Web site devoted to
providing timely information and analysis on global warming to the press and
business, government and religious leaders.
Lubchenco has a B.A. in biology from Colorado College, a master's in zoology
from the University of Washington, and a Ph.D. in marine ecology from Harvard
University. She has taught at OSU since 1978.
As she does her part to improve scientists' communication with the public,
Lubchenco is looking forward to a change in the White House, whether it is
Democrat Sen. Barack Obama or Republican Sen. John McCain.
"The Bush administration has not been respectful of the science," she said. "But
I think that's not true of Republicans in general. I know it's not. I am very
much looking forward to a new administration that does respect scientific
information and that considers it very seriously in making environmental policies."
Last July she served as a staff scientist on an Arctic cruise co-sponsored by
the Aspen Institute, National Geographic and Linblad Expeditions that was
designed to bring together leaders of business, government, and environmental
groups to see firsthand the effects of global warming.
The cruise left her hopeful that leaders of government and business are
supporting the difficult steps to counter the bad effects of greenhouse gas
emissions on marine life, which include warming ocean temperatures, changing
currents, increasing numbers of low-oxygen dead zones and increasing acidity.
"I know there have been many times in the past where public opinion can shift
very very rapidly on an issue," ranging from cigarette smoking to slavery, she
said. "I think we are getting closer and closer to a tipping point on climate
change and other issues that affect our health, prosperity and well-being
globally. And I am hopeful we will get there in time."
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