Tuesday, June 21, 2011

David Taylor: Making Science Stories Compelling or How to Avoid Blinding Them With Science

You may not think that writing about science can compare with, say, the adventures of travel journalism. But my recent stint this spring as a science writer took me to West Africa on a short fellowship with the International Reporting Project. In the Sahelian brightness of Mali, on the Niger River, I tagged along with Malian researchers grappling with bringing down malaria’s deadly toll, visited a remote clinic where the local doctor has helped to overturn international guidelines on malaria treatment, chatted with his patients, and got stranded beside the road with my fellow passengers when the colorful Bittar bus (built for A.C. with windows sealed but hey, no A.C. on a 100+ day!) broke down with a flat. All for an article coming up in Science magazine.

Bridge across the Niger River in Bamako, Mali

In Senegal, I threaded my way through Dakar’s streets beneath a crisp Atlantic sky and learned how changing people’s behavior with music videos and media has helped to reduce malaria cases in that country, dramatically

Weaving a lively tale involving science can overlap with everything from travel to forensics. And when you develop an eye for the elements of a compelling story, you can shape a strong narrative out of material you find in everyday life.

Most Americans feel inadequate in the locker room of science. They know they should know more about biology, physics or whatever. But maybe they didn’t get the bug in school and now those words -- physics, biology -- are not their friends. So how does a writer invite them in? With a good story, and by breaking down the category dividers that society uses to mark off subjects.

We explore these elements and opportunities in Writing Brilliantly About Science. Join us for the half-day workshop later this week or the full journey in the fall.

David Taylor writes about science, history and for books, magazines and films. His articles have appeared in Smithsonian, The Washington Post, and Wired. His book Ginseng, the Divine Root explored the science and subcultures surrounding the medicinal plant. He wrote and co-produced the Smithsonian documentary Soul of a People: Writing America's Story, nominated for a 2010 Writer's Guild Award, and the book, Soul of a People: The WPA Writers' Project Uncovers Depression America, named among Best Books of 2009. He’s a member of the National Association of Science Writers.

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