Small step for scientists, large leap for science communication

It’s said that many hands make light work, but could that be true for science communication too? In an opinion piece in PNAS that came out last week (Kuehne and Olden 2015 ), we propose that lay summaries – published online alongside traditional abstracts – are an efficient and needed science communication option in a changing media landscape. Communication of research is undergoing radical and rapid change through ever-increasing reliance on the internet, resulting in a shift from traditional top-down knowledge transfers to a “media ecosystem” (see figure below). Within this ecosystem, widespread adoption of lay summaries could substantially bolster current science communication efforts by creating reliable and direct pathways between scientists and diverse audiences including journalists, policymakers, resource managers, and the general public. We argue that it wouldn’t hurt interdisciplinary communication between scientists either! PNAS 2015 Mar 112(12) 3585-6, Fig. 1

Although lay summaries should enhance science communication across all disciplines, the need for broadly accessible research results is paramount in ecology and the environment. So we are taking this opportunity to urge journal editors and publishers in these fields to provide the platform for publication and incorporate requirement of lay summaries into their peer-review process.  If you support the inclusion of online lay summaries we hope that you’ll join us in signing an open letter to major ecology and environmental journals which will be sent on April 10th.


Lauren Kuehne and Julian Olden

University of Washington School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences


Science communication in grad school: should you or shouldn’t you?

Taking part in education and outreach events: time well spent or a distraction on the way to a thesis?

Science communication in graduate school: time well spent or a distraction on the way to a thesis?

Spoiler alert: I am going to try to persuade you that all graduate students should engage in science communication.  In fact, our Freshwater Ecology & Conservation lab – made up of 3 master’s and 2 PhD students, 1 post-doc, 1 research scientist, and 1 early career professor – wrote a hot-off-the-press journal article in Conservation Biology about how graduate students can (and should) do science communication. But we know that grad students don’t have time to read any more papers, so a “Cliff Notes” version seemed in order.

If you are reading this blog, you may know something about science communication, by which I mean (very generally) talking about research to audiences other than scientists. Maybe you even have an opinion about it, something like “I wish I knew how to do that better”, or “If only I wasn’t so busy”. Or maybe you already dislike this post, because “I’m still learning how to DO science – I’ll figure out communicating it later!” Continue reading

If a fish could write your water bill

Would these fish approve your water bill? Photo of Rio Grande chub (Gila pandora) courtesy of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

By Lauren Kuehne

A few months ago, I wrote a blog post Why the mayor wants you to have a green lawn: The dark side of water conservation where I “exposed” the open secret of declining support for water conservation programs. Water districts and utilities end up with a big problem when conservation – to put it bluntly – starts cutting into revenues generated by water consumption, forcing a rise in rates for the same water. This leads to bewildered and betrayed consumers and increasingly strapped public utilities who literally can’t afford conservation. At the end of that article, I promised a follow-up post on water rate structures (aka, what you see on your monthly bill) that utilities can use which promote conservation and meet revenue-for-infrastructure needs. It’s taken me a while to follow up, partly because every time I started researching and writing about water rate structures I found myself inexplicably dozing off. Luckily, once I sat down to it, the breakdown isn’t that complicated, so I am hopeful that it’s possible to stay awake for the exciting conclusion (yes, there is one!). Continue reading

Publicly Funded Research: Our Tax Dollars at Work

Many of the natural resources that we value and prize – including clean air and water – are safeguarded by public funded research. Photos: C. Rupprecht (l), R. Broderick (r).

By Lauren Kuehne

Elections can be difficult times for all of us, perhaps especially so for scientists. Even as big issues of economics, environmental policy, and research funding come to the forefront, our opinions are bound by our training and emphasis on objectivity (and that’s on top of the normal tongue-biting everyone has to do around politics). The dilemma, of course, is that scientists know a lot about environmental policies and likewise, about short and long-term benefits of research funding for the environment, public health, and the economy – we are, in many ways, the inside informants.

Continue reading

Early Career Ecologist Profile: Meet Lauren Kuehne

In my element. Deploying a temperature logger, John Day, OR.

After almost 10 years spent pursuing a career in environmental science, I still have a hard time getting the words out: “I study fish – the freshwater kind”, when asked what I do for a living. And even though I sometimes feel almost as taken aback as the person I’m talking to, looking at my roots it should be surprising that I would do anything else. Continue reading

Stress increases ‘costs of living’ for juvenile salmon

By: Lauren Kuehne, Olden Research Lab, University of Washington

Although I originally just set out to describe some of my newly published research (Costs of living for juvenile salmon in an increasingly warming and invaded world), it’s probably not an accident that I find myself part of an unintentional series on effects of interacting stressors (e.g., temperature, disease, or pollution) on organisms. With all of the global change going on – from climate to ocean acidification – it’s no wonder multiple environmental stressors are on our minds. Continue reading

When sea lions go bad: “native invaders” divide loyalties

California sea lion at Bonneville fish ladder. Photo credit :National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

By: Lauren Kuehne, Olden Research Lab, University of Washington

As an early career ecologist, I could easily spend all my time (and even time I don’t have) writing my own “stuff”: grant proposals, manuscripts, blog posts. But taking the time to review and write about the work of other researchers in my field (especially a paper I don’t necessarily agree with or would not have read otherwise), is rewarding in a very different way, forcing me to really get inside a different perspective. So when I was recently asked to blog about a new paper from a colleague on a somewhat controversial topic of “Native Invaders”, I jumped at the chance. Continue reading