Columbia NeuWrite science writing group

The aim of the NeuWrite science writing group is to bring accomplished writers and scientists together in order to develop the skills necessary for writing accurate and engaging science articles, aimed particularly at non-specialist audiences.

Science articles in the mainstream press sometimes fail to account for the indeterminacies and wide-ranging debates that characterize the scientific process; on the other hand, academic research scientists tend to limit their communications to colleagues in their own or closely related fields. In other academic disciplines it is not uncommon for experts to share ideas and new thoughts in essays, articles, and Op-ed pieces–Law and Economics particularly come to mind. Given the public’s interest in scientific research, and the increasing role that scientific knowledge plays in social and political debates, it seems important that scientists contribute to these discussions in their own voices.

These considerations have motivated the formation of a collaborative writing group that will assemble people associated with Columbia’s Neurobiology program, Journalism School, and Nonfiction MFA program. We meet one evening a week in order to:

  • share and discuss published popular science articles, identifying their strengths and failures
  • discuss, experiment, and compare notes on strategies for communicating complex scientific concepts to a lay audience (eg: a biological membrane, functional magnetic resonance imaging, biochemical interactions and their relevance to a drug’s efficacy, green fluorescent protein, etc.)
  • practice writing concise, engaging summaries of recent findings, with an emphasis on the often unresolved and contentious nature of scientific claims
  • discuss the ins and outs of how to approach media outlets (the pitch; appropriate voice and content), and develop articles for publication.
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