News: News Archives
Scientists Put to Work in Newsrooms Across United States
While a AAAS Mass Media Science and Engineering Fellow at the Chicago Tribune this summer, Shannah Tharp-Taylor read a press release that claimed African American women were rarely susceptible to anorexia nervosa, a rare mental and physiological disorder that is most common in teenage girls.
On 25 August, Tharp-Taylor's article on the study ran on page one, but it was not the story the writer of the release might have expected. As a scientist and a graduate student of developmental psychology, she had questioned the methods the researcher used to arrive at her conclusions.
"I wrote a story about the under-reporting of anorexia and other eating disorders among African Americans," said Tharp-Taylor, a doctoral student at the University of Pittsburgh. "Partly it has to do with cultural stereotypes, with the assumption that there is a greater appreciation in the black population of larger body types, and that anorexia is a rich white girl's disease. So doctors are not looking for signs of eating disorders in African American girls."
For ten weeks this summer, Tharp-Taylor and 22 other science and engineering students honed their journalism skills as fellows in the program that is aimed at improving public understanding and appreciation of science and technology. They brought with them a questioning and curious eye, which Jim Beers, news director at KUNC in Greeley, CO, particularly appreciated. His intern was Robert Frederick, who is studying for a masters in applied mathematics at the University of Michigan.
"Robert's stories ranged from the teaching of math teachers, to space exploration, to hard news pieces," Beers said. "He was really a remarkable talent. He came in so full of ideas and ambition, and produced so many noteworthy stories. AAAS has provided KUNC with many talented individualssome of whom have even stayed with radio, others who have gone onto to finish their academic career."
Frederick has returned to school, but he says the summer internship hooked him on journalism.
"I enjoyed telling the stories," Frederick said. "I learned a lot about science reporting, particularly by taking the hard-news assignments because they taught me brevity. Admittedly, those stories were not as enjoyable to tell, but I definitely will be freelancing in the future."
Tahalia Barrett, who is studying for her masters in public health at UC-Berkeley, was surprised by the connection between a story she worked on for Popular Science and an event that took place just after her last deadline.
"I finished an article about emergency escape from buildings, just before the black-out," she said. "It's coming out in the October issue."
The AAAS Mass Media Science and Engineering Fellows Program began in 1975. About half the former fellows have taken jobs in the media. There are program alumni working at NPR and on Nightline and Good Morning America. But the scientists who return to their research say that they will apply their experience to their work as scientists.
"I became more aware of the points that scientists get tripped up by in communicating their ideas, and that will certainly help in the future," said Dan Cho, a Ph.D. candidate in mechanical engineering at MIT. "I've learned that communication is a lot more than writing news articles."
2 September 2003