The Science-Journalism Duality: Behind the Scenes at Scientific American


Dr. George Musser, Scientific American

Hawken building (50) S201, 2-3 pm March 11th.

How did a (mostly) contented grad student running geophysical convection simulations wind up as a gatekeeper between science and the public? In this talk I’ll try to give a sense of what motivates science writers and editors, what exactly it is that we do, how we are navigating the turbulence in the publishing industry, and what it all means for the broader scientific community. I’ll naturally focus on Scientific American and other publications I’ve worked for, but I’ll comment on broader trends and offer thoughts and tips of use not just for writing a magazine article, but for any other writing or communications project you take on. One of the thorniest issues that science journalists face is how to make sense of scientific disagreements and avoid pitfalls such as false balance. I’ll offer some remarks, but I’m also interested in your thoughts and advice for how we journalists might do better.

Biography: George Musser is a contributing editor at Scientific American magazine, a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT for 2014–15, and the author of Spooky Action at a Distance (2015) and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to String Theory (2008). He has won numerous awards for his writing, including the 2011 Science Writing Award from the American Institute of Physics and 2010 Jonathan Eberhart Planetary Sciences Journalism Award from the American Astronomical Society. As Scientific American’s senior editor for space science and fundamental physics for 14 years, he was co-awarded the National Magazine Award in 2003 and 2011. Musser did his undergraduate studies in electrical engineering and mathematics at Brown University and his graduate work in planetary science under Steven Squyres at Cornell University, where he was a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow.