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Science Writers

Science Journalism:
How to learn the secrets of the universe, meet the most fascinating people, educate readers, and save the planet; all while being maddened, baffled, and terrified

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About the topic

To mark the end of spring and our upcoming summer holiday at Café Sci, we are delighted to present our first panel discussion. The idea was pitched by Kendall Powell, long-time Café fan and committee member and, because she has interviewed so many Colorado scientists in her time, great supplier of leads and tips. Kendall organized the online community of science writers called SciLance:

(from the website) SciLance is a tight-knit group of 35 award-winning science writers who live in big cities and small towns across the United States and Canada. We have worked as staffers and freelancers for newspapers, magazines, radio stations, and web sites; as public information officers; and as corporate, university, and non-profit organization writers. Together, we have over 300 years of experience in professional writing about nearly every science topic.

The group began in 2005, when Kendall Powell and a few other freelance science writers realized they needed to find a way to create their own version of the office "water cooler" a place to get advice, share joys or frustrations and take a break from the work day. Kendall created a private, online Yahoo! group, named it SciLance and drafted a few simple rules to define the community. Since then, "SciLancers" have shared thousands of online messages and make their virtual water cooler a real one by gathering at different professional conferences during the year.

BookThe specific trigger for our event is the very recent publication of the group's The Science Writers' Handbook, (Da Capo, 2013) to which all of our speakers contributed. You can read more about the group and the book at its website PitchPublishProsper as well as link to their entertaining and useful blogs. The book is a intriguing read for the very honest picture it provides of the trade of science writing, especially as a freelance. A lot of us, I'm sure, have read a nice bit of science reporting in places as various as Scientific American or The New Yorker and thought, I could do that. Yes, I realize after looking through the Handbook, but they seem to have to do it backwards, and in heels. Kendall, in the Introduction, relates the valuable advice she got from her first editor at Nature: "If you can turn copy in on time and to length, and know how to form even a decently written paragraph, then you'll be...golden." Copy in on time? OK, that lets me out right there. But you can learn to Pitch, Publish, and Prosper!

Each of the speakers has a different story to tell, and has told a lot of different stories. They will share some of their most interesting experiences with us, about researching stories in the field or in the Ivory Tower. If you ask, they'll be glad to tell you how to become a science writer, too. It will be a rare and fascinating experience.


Susan Moran lives in Boulder, Colorado, where she is a freelance writer covering energy development, climate science, environmental health, business and other issues. She writes for The Economist, The New York Times and Nature, and her work has also appeared in Marie Claire, High Country News, Newsweek, The Daily Climate and other publications. Susan also co-hosts a weekly science show on KGNU community radio, called "How On Earth." Before untethering as a freelancer, Susan worked as a senior editor at Business 2.0 magazine, a reporter and editor at Reuters (Tokyo, New York, Silicon Valley), and staff writer at the San Francisco Chronicle. She was a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT for the 2009-10 academic year. Susan has a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University, a master's degree in Asian studies from the University of California at Berkeley, and a bachelor's degree in political science with a minor in environmental studies from UC Santa Cruz.

Award-winning journalist Hillary Rosner writes about science and the environment for The New York Times, Wired, Popular Science, Scientific American, High Country News, and many other publications. Her reporting has taken her from the Nevada desert to the Nairobi slums, from Borneo's jungles to Montana's alpine meadows. Hillary was a 2011 Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT and a 2012 Alicia Patterson Fellow. Before snubbing health insurance and a 401K, Hillary was a senior editor at the Village Voice. She's worked on several media startups, co-authored a New York Times bestseller, and picked up two master's degrees along the way. She lives in Boulder, Colorado.

Freelance science writer and editor, Kendall Powell covers the realm of biology, from molecules to maternity. She jumped from the lab bench to laptop via the UC Santa Cruz Science Communication program in 2002. She has written news stories, features and scientist profiles for a variety of publications including the Los Angeles Times, Nature (including Nature Careers), PLoS Biology, Journal of Cell Biology, Science Careers and the HHMI Bulletin. In 2005, Kendall founded SciLance as a way to stay connected to a vibrant community of writers who are as much word nerds as science geeks. She lives near Denver, Colorado with her scientist husband, daughter, son, and two Labradors.

Garth Sundem anchored a BBC documentary on decision-making and lost the game show Wipeout. He's been on GMA, CBS Early Show, NPR, CPR, MPR, and CBC but will not be invited back to the podcast of the local skeptics society whose Skype call he dropped thrice. He's a TED-ED, business keynote, and science museum speaker, but his 5-year old daughter isn't buying it. He's a core contributor at GeekDad and Psychology Today, and has written for Scientific American, Congressional Quarterly, Publisher's Weekly, HuffPo, The New York Times, Esquire, Men's Health and more but really likes to draw and publish silly puns and mazes. He's published three pop-science books with Three Rivers Press (fourth forthcoming in the fall!), a math humor book with Workman Publishing, ghosted for a handful of good folks, and just finished interviewing over 130 Nobel, MacArthur and National Medal of Science winners for his book Brain Trust all while sitting next to the lawnmower in the garden shed that is his office in Louisville, CO. Find him at his easily searchable Facebook page and on Twitter @garthsundem.

© 2004 Colorado Café Scientifique