Science communicators gather at GW for Networking Day, Building Skills | GW today

The George Washington University hosted more than 70 local science reporters, freelance journalists, press officers, editors and radio/video producers on campus for the annual DC Science Writers Association (DCSWA) Professional Development Day. The career development event, which is dedicated to networking and building skills for DCSWA members, was held July 23 at the Milken Institute School of Public Health.

This year’s agenda included a plenary session in which Milken Institute SPH faculty member Carlos Rodriguez-Diaz delivered the keynote address on health care disparities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The GW campus is always a great place for us to host this event, given our shared commitment to communicating science to the public,” said Richard Sima, DCSWA president. “We learned so much from Carlos Rodríguez-Díaz about how the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the health care disparities experienced by Latinos. His talk also highlighted why we as science communicators need to cover health disparities and social inequalities in our work so that we do our part to address them.”

An associate professor of prevention and public health, Rodriguez-Diaz described the varying impact of the pandemic on Latino communities in her presentation, “We’re Not in This Together: The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic in Latino Communities.” In 2020, Rodriguez-Diaz and colleagues published the first national analysis of COVID-19 cases and deaths among Latinos. Their study found that structural factors such as overcrowded housing and high-risk jobs in industries such as meat processing are among the main reasons Latinos are disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

“It was a pleasure to be able to share my research with this group because reporters play such an important role in disseminating scientific findings to the public,” Rodriguez-Diaz said. “In this age of misinformation and misinformation, it is critical that researchers like me take the time to meet and engage with science journalists and other communicators. Together, we can help demystify science and provide important evidence-based information to the public.

The afternoon agenda included five separate sessions covering a variety of topics of interest to science communicators. The session, Science Podcasting: From Idea to Episode, featured panelists from NPR’s Short Wave, Story Collider, National Geographic, and the National Air and Space Museum. Panelists participating in a session on creating science videos for diverse audiences were from Science, National Geographic, PBS, and the American Chemical Society. Representatives from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Cancer Institute and Chemical & Engineering News talked about how to make Twitter threads work for organizations.

Media and Public Affairs faculty members participated in a panel as part of DC Science Writers Association Annual Professional Development Day. (Photo: Kathleen Garrigan)


Three faculty members from GW’s School of Media and Public Affairs participated in a panel on how science communicators can address hate and bullying. Rebecca Tromble, associate professor at SMPA and director of GW’s Institute for Data, Democracy, and Policy, talks about how isolating harassment can be for victims and the different ways journalists can reduce the damage to their personal and professional lives. Tromble, with support from the National Science Foundation, is currently leads a multidisciplinary team to develop a rapid response system aimed at addressing and mitigating online harassment of journalists and other experts.

“One piece of advice I would give to journalists, academics and other public figures who may be victims of bullying is to build ‘support’ right now,” Tromble said. “Before you get hit by that first wave of hateful comments and attention, find a handful of people—family, friends, coworkers—that you trust. Explain to them why there is a chance you may be experiencing harassment and let them know how they can help when the time comes, from helping to monitor potential threats to offering a hearing.”

Silvio Weisbord, SMPA Director and Professor, and Lisa Palmer, National Geographic Visiting Professor of Science Communication at SMPA, also provided advice and insight to the group as part of the panel. Weisbord and Palmer previously conducted a series of in-depth interviews with science journalists to understand how bullying affects them. In an opinion piece they co-authored for the digital magazine Undark titled “Trolling affects science journalism,” Weisbord and Palmer write about how harassed journalists often feel insecure, burned out, and silenced, and how most newsrooms don’t do enough to protect and defend them.

“Bullying of science communicators is on the rise, and this panel provided a lot of great ideas and perspectives on how best to address it,” said Sima, who moderated the panel. “The panelists shared poignant stories about their personal experiences with bullying and what the research shows are the widespread consequences of these types of attacks. More importantly, the group made a strong case for why there should be more support from anti-bullying institutions.”

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