Tag Archives: outreach

Our impenetrable literature: partly a feature, partly a bug

Our scientific literature (and academic literature more broadly) has a reputation for being impenetrable. That reputation is entirely deserved. That’s why things like the Sokal Hoax sometimes work, and that’s why scientists are sometimes mocked, or scorned, for operating like a priesthood, holding truth away from the layperson. It’s easy and fun to find a complex sentence, dense with unfamiliar jargon and turgid acronym-laden phrases, and hold it up for all to see (I’ll plead guilty: I do it myself in my scientific writing course). But it’s also naïve, unless you’re willing to think carefully about it – because there are two very different reasons why our literature is impenetrable. One is a bug, yes; but the other is very much a feature. Continue reading

Tweeting your active research (as outreach)

At the 2018 conference of the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution, 5 friends and I put on a workshop on the use of Twitter in science.  Today: slides and commentary from Cylita Guy’s piece of the #CSEETweetShop.  How can you use Twitter to communicate your active research to the general public?


I’m here today to tell you a little bit about some of the strategies I use when tweeting during active research projects. But to set the stage, I need to tell you a little bit about myself first. Continue reading

Knowing, and naming, your audience (with “lay audience” poll results)

Last week, I asked for advice on preferred terminology for what’s often referred to as a “lay audience”.  I’d been uncomfortable with that term, because to some ears it carries an unfortunate implication of scientists as a priesthood.  I did wonder, to be honest, whether I might be the only one who cared, but that clearly isn’t the case – responses were thick and enthusiastic both in the Replies and on Twitter.  (Only 5% of poll respondents picked the option “Holy overthinking it, Batman”.)  I’ll report here on the poll results and on the other suggestions people offered for better terminology.  But I’ll also build from that to a more general and very important point about writing – one that emerged from discussion around the poll that was, happily, much more interesting that I expected.  Continue reading

Help! What term should we be using for a “lay audience”?

Stephen Jay Gould quote from izquotes.com

Over the years, I’ve frequently needed to refer to that set of people who are not trained as scientists.  It comes up in “broader impacts” sections of grants, in proposals to support science communication activities, in discussions of how to motivate societal and political support for science, and lots of other places besides.  It’s come up for me most recently as I work on a new book proposal.  My first book, The Scientist’s Guide to Writing, was written for scientists, but this one* will be written for – well, describing that audience of people who are something other than scientists is what this post is about.

My go-to term has been “lay audience”, but I’ve always felt a slight but nagging discomfort with it. Continue reading

Is this blog a “science blog”? If not, what is it?

Warning: mostly navel-gazing, albeit with some thoughts about SciComm and the openness of science.

I didn’t know much about the blogosphere before Scientist Sees Squirrel was born. Turns out maybe I still don’t, since I’m asking the rather obvious question in the title of this post.

So is Scientist Sees Squirrel a “science blog”?  Well, it’s about science (inasmuch as it’s about anything), so in that sense, surely the answer should be “yes”.  But I’ve just read Science Blogging: The Essential Guide, and according to that book, the answer is pretty clearly “no”.  This surprised me a little, but it also crystallized something I’d been wondering rather vaguely about anyway: what is, and what should be, my audience here? Continue reading

There’s fungus among us

Photos:  Top, yellow fly agaric, Amanita muscaria, Bernie Kohl via wikimedia.org, released to public domain; middle, chicken-of-the-woods, Laetiporus sulphureus, Gargoyle888 via wikimedia.org, CC BY 3.0; bottom, parasitic Cordyceps on fly, Moisés Silva Lima via flickr.com, CC BY 2.0

Note: This is a science outreach piece belonging to a series I wrote for the newsletter of the Fredericton Botanic Garden.  I’d be happy to see it modified for use elsewhere and so am posting the text here under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license. If you use it, though, I’d appreciate hearing where and how.


Autumn has arrived, and that brings fresh pleasures to a walk in our Garden: fall-blooming asters and goldenrods, the first tinges of fall colour in the trees, and (less obviously) fungi.  While you can see mushrooms and their fungal relatives almost any time of year, the fall is their peak season. If you train your eye just a little, you can see an amazing diversity of forms, and beauty to rival anything the plant kingdom has to offer. Continue reading

The garden of insects

Note: This is a science outreach piece belonging to a series I wrote for the newsletter of the Fredericton Botanic Garden.  I’d be happy to see it modified for use elsewhere and so am posting the text here under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license. If you use it, though, I’d appreciate hearing where and how.

I went for a walk in the Garden last week, and it was lovely to see the colours on display – nature in all shapes and sizes, with another species offering a different look everywhere I turned.  I’m not talking about the flowers – although those were nice too.  I’m talking about our Garden of Insects.

The Garden of Insects isn’t a signed attraction.  Continue reading

I have the best job on the entire planet

An opinion column in the Toronto Star got me riled up the other day. It wasn’t the topic of the piece (TA and sessional labour strife at an Ontario university). It was that the columnist seemed to completely misunderstand, and thus misrepresent, the nature of the job I do as a tenured academic. This is, depressingly, utterly routine in the lay media: university professors are “a coddled elite…among the best-paid on the planet… teaching fewer courses than ever, and sloughing off research duties” (Ha!), and we “enjoy paid summer breaks from May through August” (double Ha!). Continue reading