Science communication: New platform lets scholars write their own stories


When armed protesters took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, two professors quickly presented their views on the federal control of Western lands in a new online publication called The Conversation. The nonprofit site features articles by scholars from around the world, chosen by editors looking to pique the public’s interest. Topics range from commentary on pop singers’ styles to newly discovered dinosaurs.

The Conversation claims a monthly reach of 35 million readers through syndication; publication under a Creative Commons license allows other media outlets to use all content for free. The U.S. version launched in October 2014, following sites in Australia and the U.K. Funding comes from universities, foundations and charitable institutions.

While some of the articles are inspired by current events, others focus on scientific findings. Editors trained in purging stories of jargon and narrow academic perspectives work with scientist communicators. Overall however, the authors get to address the general public without first submitting themselves to questions from a journalist.

While the articles are not free of opinion — a member of The Conversation’s editorial board called the site “a really smart op-ed page” in BU Today — the outlet’s main goal is to present informed perspectives. Perhaps most useful to journalists is that authors are ready and willing to be contacted for follow-up articles and interviews.

Marissa Fessenden is a freelance science writer and illustrator interested in biology, genetics, evolution, bioengineering, ecology, exploration and the history of science. She writes for, Scientific American and others.