And so we set ourselves the goal to get everybody off the treadmill for a few days.
Our “workshop for science writes”, which took place May 27-29, was devised for both, the writers and the physicists: For the writers to hear what topics in astrophysics and cosmology will soon be on the agenda and what science journalists really need to know about them. And for the physicists to share both their knowledge and their motivation, and to caution against common misunderstandings.
We modeled the workshop on “boot camps” organized by the Space Telescope Science Institute, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, U.C. Santa Cruz, and other institutions. Our workshop was a very intense and tightly packed meeting, with lectures by experts on selected topics in astrophysics and cosmology, followed by question and answer sessions.
On Tuesday evening, one of the participants of the workshop, Robert Nemiroff, gave a public lecture at CosmoNova. The fully booked lecture took the audience on a tour through the solar system and beyond, projected on the 17m IMAX screen, while Robert explained the science behind the amazing photos and videos. Besides the stunning images, it was also great to see so many people interested in the laws of physics that shape our universe. (The guy sitting next to me held a copy of Lee Smolin’s new book on his lap which caused me some cognitive dissonance though.)
It was admittedly quite an organizational challenge to find the right level of technical details for an audience that physicists rarely deal with. I think however that the question and answer sessions as well as a large number of breaks were useful for participants to talk to lectures individually. We also had many interesting discussions about the tension between scientific accuracy and popular science writing. As you can guess, I inevitably come down on the side of scientific accuracy.
George turned out to be an excellent organizer, though clearly not used to the physicists compulsive ignorance of deadlines and reminders. I found it quite interesting that when I sent out mass emails to the participants that asked for reply, the first cohort of replies would come almost exclusively from the science writers, frequently within minutes. Among the physicists there were but two who'd answer within 24 hours and meet the deadlines, the rest waited for multiple reminders. The other interesting contrast was that the science writers were considerably more comfortable and engaged with social media.
For me, it was a great pleasure to get to know such an interesting and diverse group of people. I’m neither an astrophysicist nor a cosmologist nor a science writer, and I learned a lot at this workshop - it will probably inspire some more blogposts.
You can find soundbites and links from the meeting on twitter here, and slides of the lectures here.
|George Musser, Robert Nemiroff, I, and a bunch of beautiful flowers.|