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Am I Making Myself Clear?: A Scientist's Guide to Talking to the Public Hardcover – November 29, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-0674036352 ISBN-10: 0674036352 Edition: 1st

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Am I Making Myself Clear?: A Scientist's Guide to Talking to the Public + Don't Be Such a Scientist: Talking Substance in an Age of Style + Escape from the Ivory Tower: A Guide to Making Your Science Matter
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; 1 edition (November 29, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674036352
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674036352
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 4.7 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #704,571 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In what Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum call, in a recent book, "Unscientific America," scientists need more than ever to know how to communicate their work to the public. They'll find help in highly regarded New York Times science reporter Dean presents a handbook for any scientist called upon to talk to a reporter, go on television, lobby legislators or in general answer that age-old question, What exactly is it you do? In this age of sound bites and Twitter, Dean exhorts her readers to keep things short and simple. Her advice ranges from what to wear on TV to how to write an op-ed piece to avoiding the appearance of personal gain when lobbying members of Congress. Many of Dean's suggestions are common sense (know what you're going to say, don't slouch), but make useful tips for anyone who comes into contact with the media, courts, or legislative bodies.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

Highly regarded New York Times science reporter Dean presents a handbook for any scientist called upon to talk to a reporter, go on television, lobby legislators or in general answer that age-old question, What exactly is it you do? In this age of sound bites and Twitter, Dean exhorts her readers to keep things short and simple. Her advice ranges from what to wear on TV to how to write an op-ed piece to avoiding the appearance of personal gain when lobbying members of Congress. Many of Dean's suggestions are common sense (know what you're going to say, don't slouch), but make useful tips for anyone who comes into contact with the media, courts, or legislative bodies. (Publishers Weekly 2009-09-14)

Book-length lamentations over the state of American scientific literacy are in no short supply, though a consensus on who is to blame may never be reached. Fortunately, Harvard professor and New York Times science editor Cornelia Dean cuts through this debate, getting down to the practical aspect of improving scientists' communication skills. Dean's advice comes in the form of a concise handbook, touching on everything from interview preparation to blogging, so some suggestions come across as easier said than done. Nevertheless, she drives home her core idea: If society is unhappy with the way the public relates to scientists' work, there are many simple things scientists can do to meet the public halfway. (Seed 2009-10-01)

I strongly recommend this book...Any researcher looking to communicate better will find Cornelia Dean's book invaluable. The range of ways to communicate that she covers is enlightening, challenging researchers to consider new outlets. (Kathy Sykes Times Higher Education Supplement 2009-10-22)

One can only hope that researchers--and the academic administrators who decide what the scientists of tomorrow need to know--read [this] concise, sharply written volume and take [its] message to heart. The process of reconnecting science and society cannot start soon enough. (Tom Jacobs Miller-McCune 2009-11-12)

Am I Making Myself Clear? is as much about why scientists need to talk to the public as it is about how we should talk science to the public. [Cornelia Dean] argues that scientists need to develop a civic persona that finds some way to communicate science. Dean's wisdom, especially for engaging in the political arena, is delivered with a mix of authority and charm...Am I Making Myself Clear? ought to be required reading in all science graduate programs. (Peter Kareiva Science 2010-01-01)

If you want the facts, laid down in a simple, unfussy style, then get a copy of Am I Making Myself Clear? by Cornelia Dean, veteran science writer and former science editor of The New York Times. This book should sit on the shelf of every scientist, science communicator and university press officer. I've never read a better, more thorough guide to science communication in all its forms. Dean's suggestions for how to be interviewed by a journalist--for print, radio and television--are spot on. From the preparation you need to do, including how to dress on TV, to always assuming everything you say is "on the record," her book is packed full of valuable information. She also advises on producing content for the web, writing your own book and press releases, and dealing with politicians. (Gia Milinovich Nature 2009-12-10)

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Customer Reviews

This book is an easy read and some of it is just plain common sense.
Sam Sloss
And her main point, one often lost in to those who've been trained in the jungle of university writing: MAKE YOURSELF CLEAR!
Claudia Dreifus
This is an excellent book for any journalist covering science and any scientist dealing with journalists.
Dave Jones

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By David J Kent on February 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A much needed book for scientific and non-scientific communities alike. Written by science writer (and former New York Times editor) Cornelia Dean, the book makes the case that scientists need to make "their work more accessible to the media, and thus to the public." This doesn't come naturally to most scientists, and so the book gives some practical tips on how scientists can accomplish this goal.

Dean starts with "an invitation to researchers" to put aside their natural reticence and distrust of the media and help themselves and journalists get the key messages of their science across to the public. Because there are plenty of people out there who don't hesitate to misinform the public about the science in order to protect their own interests (e.g., the climate change debate). In ensuing chapters she provides some insights into how scientists can better "know your audience," help educate and work with journalists, and how to get the message across on radio and TV, online, and in the courtroom. She also offers tips on writing books, writing Op-Eds and letters to news outlets, and writing about science and technology in other venues.

Two of the most valuable chapters actually have to do with how journalists cover science issues. In "Covering Science," Dean notes some of the differences in style and communication between journalism and scientific writing. These differences set up an inherent conflict. Scientific researchers view journalists as being superficial, insufficiently concerned with accuracy, focused on controversy, and even "ignorant." In turn, journalists view researchers as boring, "caveating things to death," prone to incomprehensible jargon, and incapable of drawing a definitive conclusion.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By J. Leeman VINE VOICE on May 8, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Overall this book was informative, but the stated objective was to focus on the "practical, political, and policy reasons why it is important for scientists and engineers to engage more vigorously in the public life of the nation." My impression of the book was it was a communication guide, not a book on the need for communication, I believe most scientists acknowledge the communication gap already and wish to close it.

The reader often feels the frustration of the author with scientists. Below are two examples, one slightly harsh, another rather condescending.

"Speak in simple declarative sentences and keep your subjects, verbs, and objects in order-- and close to each other. Again, if you don't know what I am talking about here, invest in an English usage book."

"Use straightforward language and verbs in the active voice. (If you don't know what I mean by this term, buy a good usage manual. You need one.)"

While some ideas in this book were useful, others were common sense and I feel a better appreciation for communication could be gleaned from other sources. I respect the communication abilities of Cornelia Dean, but I feel the style of the book was poorly selected for its intended scientific audience.
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Format: Hardcover
Scientists must learn to become better communicators, argues former New York Times science editor Cornelia Dean in her surprisingly terse, but most lucid, "am I making myself clear? A Scientist's Guide to Talking to the Public". However, unlike several recently published books on this very subject, Dean not only extols scientists to become better communicators, but she also demonstrates how, giving pointers on everything from personal etiquette and appearance when speaking on television, to giving extensive advice on handling questions, especially during interviews, from journalists. One could view this as her version of the classic literary reference "The Elements of Style" written originally by the writer E. B. White, in which she discusses every aspect of communicating more effectively, science to the public. To her credit, Dean's excellent advice on how scientists should communicate isn't limited only to traditional media. She discusses at great length, the rapid expansion of the internet and how scientists should use it effectively for communication, and devotes an entire chapter on how scientists can present evidence and discuss their legal Importance if called to testify in court cases.

Dean's recommendations aren't limited solely to scientists. Her book deserves to be read widely by journalists as well, simply because she has distilled her decades-long experience as both a New York Times science editor and as a science journalist into a series of recommendations which every journalist writing on science should heed. Of course her recommendations should be noted too by students studying science writing in college or in a graduate journalism or writing program.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Claudia Dreifus on January 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Cornelia Dean, as the former editor of the science section of the New York Times, is one of this country's leading science educators. In this useful little volume, she puts down everything she believes scientists ought know when they attempt to bridge the gap between the academy and the mass media.

We're talking here about two vastly different cultures and it's been my experience that many scientists are surprisingly ill-equipped to make the transition. The problem is in part the culture of the academy and it is also built into the way scientists are trained to describe what they do. Dean wants to give them a hand. She'd like to teach them how to pitch their ideas in a way that non-scientists will respond to; she wants to show them how to tell their remarkable stories, and to actually have people listen. And her main point, one often lost in to those who've been trained in the jungle of university writing: MAKE YOURSELF CLEAR!

Now, some truth in packaging: I've worked for Cory Dean at Science Times. But even if I didn't know and admire her, I'd still think she's performed an act of citizenship by penning this volume. Every American needs greater science literacy to understand the world we all share--which means that scientists had better learn how to communicate with the citizens who fund their work.

I teach a course in popular journalism for science graduate students at Columbia University and I find this book so valuable that I've added it to my syllabus.

Claudia Dreifus
Adjunct Associate Professor of International Relations and Media
Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs
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