Fans of science writing and blogs like ours are likely familiar with the name Ed Yong. The Not Exactly Rocket Science blogger (who also has a very active Twitter feed) covers science in an entertaining, easy-to-understand way - and yesterday he talked about his work and background for a Q&A on the Communication Breakdown blog. When discussing how his previous stint in public affairs benefited his work now, he said:
It helped in two big ways. At [Cancer Research UK], we tested a lot of our leaflets and other materials with people most at risk of cancer, including people without much education, or those from low-income communities. It was an amazing lesson as to what level of scientific language and explanation a truly “general reader” can cope with before tuning out. There’s no more interesting lesson for a science writer than to watch a focus group behind a one-way mirror as they read what you wrote.
Second, we answered emails from people who had been confused/misled/angered by something they read in the paper. And we had to go on TV and radio and be the voice of reason, when the rest of the media were falling into misconception. Both of these experiences showed me how destructive bad science PR or journalism can be for readers, and how horrible it can be for interviewees and sources to be misquoted or misrepresented. I think they’ve helped me to be a better journalist. Certainly a more empathetic one.