• Amy Damianakes Roger Aines

Welcome to Championing Science

Science needs champions. We need scientists who can help Congress take a stand on important issues, or win the pitch for VC funding for a new energy source, or corral foundation grants to find the cure for Alzheimers.

Scientific breakthroughs start with an idea. Scientists in industry, government laboratories, and even in academia need to effectively present their ideas to people who can help make them happen. {…Read More …}

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Collaborators Trump Secrets – Why You Should Share Your Ideas

At a recent Department of Energy meeting lunch – the usual eight strangers around hotel rubber chicken – the conversation was brisk about new types of environmental and energy technology.  After a great discussion of a carbon capture demonstration of going on in North Carolina, I turned to the dapper older gentleman next to me and introduced myself.  He returned the pleasantry, telling me he was from a major southern university, after having spent several decades at a flagship industrial firm. He was at the meeting to try to get a sense of whether the Department of Energy might be interested in his new technology, which converts carbon dioxide (and apparently other oxides) into useful compounds.

At this point he had my interest. He had a long career, which should provide a lot of useful experience, and an application (converting waste carbon dioxide into useful products) that intrigued me.  Anything we can do to use carbon dioxide, is that much less in the atmosphere. For instance, I am quite interested in ways to form cements that have a high amount of carbon dioxide in them.  I anticipated a lively and informative discussion, perhaps even a new friend.

My question,”So, how do you do that?” got the answer, “I’m sorry, I can’t tell you.  We are here to talk to the DOE folks and we haven’t received all the patents yet.”

I hear this all too often. A magic technology that is going to save the world, and make the inventors rich.  But I was surprised to hear it from an experienced and worldly-looking academic. I pressed on.  “What products do you make?” was also rebuffed.  He wouldn’t even tell me what the process does, let alone what it is.

I turned away and continued the first, fascinating conversation about demonstrations. The thirty-something engineer was more than delighted to tell me why his demonstration mattered, and just exactly what he was discovering.  But the failed conversation continued to eat at me as I sat on the plane heading home.

Why do people think secrecy has any place in environmental and energy technology?

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  • Championing Science Interview Conversation

Influencing Decision Makers: What Does it Take?

“Decision makers will want to know, “Why am I talking to you? What information do I need to know? Am I going to need to make a decision? What action do I take?”  The action might be to book a committee hearing. It might be to start working on draft legislation. They just want to know what decision to make based on the information you have provided. It’s about meeting their needs; it’s not about the science.”         Julio Friedmann

A Conversation with Julio Friedmann, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Energy for Clean Coal

Julio Friedmann is one of the world’s leading thinkers on managing the emissions of carbon dioxide. In the 1990s he helped originate the concept of carbon capture and storage, where carbon dioxide from industry and power plants is captured from the smokestack, and then stored underground as a supercritical liquid, much like oil. Julio got his bachelor’s degree from MIT in music and a master’s degree in geology (yes, he is a renaissance man) and his PhD from the University of Southern California in sedimentology, the study of how rocks like sandstone form. He has worked at Exxon, the University of Maryland, and Lawrence Livermore Lab. Today he is the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Energy for Clean Coal – but we interviewed him in Livermore before that gig began, so his comments reflect those of the Chief Energy Technologist at Lawrence Livermore, not the Administration.

When people are trying to convince you of something, what do you need to hear in order to be compelled?

I listen for a couple of things. First, is this really new, or is it already around in another form? Second, is it materially important? {…Read More …}

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Dr. Richard Friedman: Champion of Heart Health


The Problem of Statistics vs Individuals – Conveying the Impact of Detailed Information in Simple Messages

One of science’s great challenges is to meet the multiple demands of the accuracy of statistics, and the visceral grip of an individual story.  Medicine is perhaps the field most impacted by this challenge.  Healthcare studies have the additional challenge of avoiding the implication that a simple message contains conclusions and advice that are inappropriately influenced by the money that funded the work.

About a week after the American Heart Association and American college of Cardiology issued new guidelines for cholesterol levels, Amy and I were eating dinner with an experienced cardiologist, Richard Friedman.  Amy asked him about the new numbers – leading to one of the most compelling examples of championing science we have encountered. With an annual worldwide industrial research budget  of more than $189 billion, medicine is the big science of our day, and that sheer volume of information makes it one of the most challenging for a champion. Dick Friedman shows us one way to succeed. {…Read More …}

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  • The Five Viewgraphs You Need

The Five Viewgraphs You Need

Every scientist has had the experience of needing a small number of viewgraphs for a short time slot.  Faced with the forty or fifty viewgraphs we have already prepared which describe the topic in sufficient detail to satisfy any expert, reducing to a small number is a daunting prospect.  This task, however, is one of the most important aspects of advancing science – editing your material, and thoughts, down to the central essence.

Short conversations with people (your colleagues, your friends, your bosses, your program leaders, your sponsors) are the most important thing you can do to advance your prospects of having an impact or getting a new idea adopted.  The first page of a proposal or a five-minute discussion can generate interest in spending another half an hour on the details. The short viewgraph presentation is perhaps the most difficult example of this short conversation, because we are naturally drawn to include more of the detail of our analysis than time, or audience attention will permit.

With that in mind I want to share some thoughts that originated with Jay Davis, Champion of Accelerator Mass Spectrometry and the first Director of the Department of Defense’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). (Check out our recent conversation with Jay). He emphasized that there are five things you need in any short conversation or presentation:

The Problem

The Technical Gap

Filling the Gap

Why You Are Right for the Job

How Will You Meet the Sponsor’s Needs?
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  • Championing Science Interview Conversation

The Art of Making Your Audience Comfortable – A Conversation About Structure, Style and Strategy with Joshua White

“Speakers often focus on the technical content and forget about other cues, like visual and emotional cues. One important element is that you have to give people a feeling of the structure of a presentation to make them feel comfortable as it unfolds.  Give them the feeling that they will understand it.”   Josh White

Joshua White – Engineer and Geophysicist

At Championing Science we have been interviewing senior scientists and communicators about their communication methods.  Young scientists also can be great champions, and we are curious to find out how they become good speakers so quickly.  Is it school, or experience, or disposition?  One such young scientist is Josh White, a geophysicist and engineer, and winner of the prestigious Lawrence Postdoctoral Fellowship at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.  His clarity and poise stand out in his cohort – we interviewed him in Livermore to find out how he does it.   {…Read More …}

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  • Championing Science Interview Conversation

Jay Davis on Accelerator Mass Spectrometry’s Impact on Medicine and The Importance of a Single Page of Text

“You have to have a social tolerance for the fact that you are going to talk past each other for a much longer time than is comfortable.  So that’s why you have to put it all on one sheet of paper. You can have all kinds of diagrams, but you need to boil it all down to what fits on a sheet of paper.”           Jay Davis

A Conversation with Jay Davis, Champion of Accelerator Mass Spectrometry and First Director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency

Jay Davis is a gregarious Texan transplanted to California, and then Washington DC, with his love of homespun wisdom and simple solutions intact. A physically imposing man who looks like he would be much more comfortable tossing telephone poles while wearing a Scottish kilt than fine tuning an accelerator, Jay is always thinking about how to make friends, and how to get along with people. He was the first Director of the Department of Defense’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and the principal implementor of large-scale accelerator mass spectrometry while at the University of California’s Lawrence Livermore Lab.    {…Read More …}

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The Championing Science Tenets

We believe that these nine principles can help every scientist communicate ideas to change the world.

1) Be passionate. Palpable enthusiasm is contagious. It will carry people along for the great ride of science.  Sharing what inspires you about your work will help others see the potential.

2) Build the big picture first. Resist the temptation to dive into the details.  Frame what you say by explaining what exists today, the future possibilities, and how your work will fill the gap.

3) Be understandable. Use plain, common language. Avoid or translate acronyms. Start from where your audience is, not where you are.  Use iconic references to link science to everyday familiar experience.   {…Read More …}

  • Championing Science Interview Conversation

Steve Bohlen on Talking Science to Decision Makers: Explain Its Value to Society

“I always discuss science in terms of the value to society. There always has to be value. It’s never about THE science.  The science is lovely to only the people who find it beautiful, but it is valuable to people and they need to understand the value.”

Steve Bohlen

A Conversation with Steve Bohlen
Program Director for Nuclear and Domestic Security
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Steve Bohlen was the Associate Chief Geologist of the United States Geological Survey from 1995 to 2000, and was responsible for the research program at that agency including the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction, Climate Change, Global Energy, and Minerals Resource programs. From 2000 to 2008 he went on to become the CEO of Joint Oceanographic Institutions, heading the NSF-funded global effort in scientific ocean drilling.   He’s had extensive experience in building programs and conveying the value of science.

We talked to Steve about his experience with Congress and working with audiences of mixed technical skills or mixed scientists and lay people.

Why do you think scientists have trouble championing their ideas?

I think people are generally uncomfortable when they hear detailed technical scientific information. It’s intimidating. That’s what scientists are up against when they explain their ideas.

I’ve seen scientists get so wrapped up in their science that they are oblivious to their audience.  When they have an appreciative audience, scientists tend to expand their topic. They get so excited they forget to keep the audience in mind.

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  • Frankel Visual Strats cover

Visual Strategies: Practical Advice for Beautiful Scientific Graphics from Frankel and DePace

Visual Strategies – A Practical Guide to Graphics for Scientists and Engineers by Felice C. Frankel and Angela H. DePace, 2012

The production of a great figure is one of the most difficult jobs a scientist faces.  We are poorly trained in graphics and design, and we spend so much time creating the data, or the new understanding, that we loathe the time spend recreating it for an audience that didn’t share our path to that knowledge.  But a great figure, either in print or in a presentation, can be a world changing thing – it gives the viewer a rapid, inclusive grasp of the topic similar to what you have – and then enables them to follow you rapidly on the path of what we can do with that new understanding.  It is not so much that a great figure has more information in it, but rather that the information it has, is easy to assimilate and quickly generates an iconic understanding of the topic.  Rather than having to think about disjointed aspects of a problem, the viewer now has a single anchor point with many issues and related phenomena accessible from that point.

But how can we learn to create figures with this kind of impact?  Frankel and DePace bring their experience from photography and biology together, along with a bevy of extraordinary contributors, to give specific advice on how to great good figures, and most importantly, how to carefully edit and adjust those good figures to become great figures.   {…Read More …}

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