“Science News” short writing assignment
For the “Science News” assignment, you will choose one of the articles posted to SmartSite (“Science News” articles folder in the Resources section, also listed below) and describe its importance and relevance to society. We expect you to discuss the scientific methods, findings, potential issues that introduce uncertainty into the findings, and to connect the findings to potential policies (regulations, who wins or loses, etc.). See below for additional pointers.
The motivation for this assignment is to provide practice in accessing scientific information, understanding its policy relevance, and clearly conveying the information and its implications to a broader audience (e.g., NY Times readership). We purposefully have a strict length limit, because focused, short, and clear writing is a critical skill for any career in environmental science and policy (e.g., policy memos, media communication, general-audience abstracts for National Science Foundation-funded projects).
Turn in hard copies of the assignment at the beginning of lecture on the due date, Oct. 22nd.
Each assignment must include:
• Your name and discussion section number
• Title: your title should try to grab your readers attention.
• Text: no more than 500 words, not including title, bibliography or figure titles and
• A bibliography/references cited section to appropriately reference any articles or
copywritten material that you use in your piece, including the article you are discussing. See below for directions on how to format your references. Any direct quotes from your source(s) need to be in quotation marks; be careful not to overdo quotes and use rephrasing too similar to the original article, as we are looking for you to show your understanding of the science by putting it in accessible language for a general audience.
• 0-2 pictures, graphs, or tables. Titles plus captions and legends need to accompany any figures or tables, and any figures or tables needs to be referred to in the paper. A figure caption should include two-to-three sentences summarizing the information in the figure. See the articles you are discussing for examples of how to include figures and tables.
Grading rubric: we will divide the 100 points for each assignment as follows:
• 40 for organization, grammar, maintaining objectivity (news reporter, not editorial
writer), and correct structure (title, bibliography/referencing, word limit)
• 40 for showing understanding of the science and clearly communicating it
• 20 for showing understanding of the policy implications and clearly communicating it
ESP 001, Environmental Analysis, Fall 2013
Articles to choose from:
Bechtel, Michael M., and Kenneth F. Scheve. 2013. Mass support for global climate agreements depends on institutional design. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110(34): 13763-13768.
Hannah, Lee, Patrick R. Roehrdanz, Makihiko Ikegami, Anderson V. Shepard, M. Rebecca Shaw, Gary Tabor, Lu Zhi, Pablo A. Marquet, and Robert J. Hijmans. 2013. Climate change, wine, and conservation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110(17): 6907- 6912.
Larsen, Ashley E. 2013. Agricultural landscape simplification does not consistently drive insecticide use. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110(38): 15330-15335.
Rockstro¨m, Johan, Mats Lannerstad, and Malin Falkenmark. Assessing the water challenge of a new green revolution in developing countries. 2007. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104(15): 6253-6260.
White, Helen K., Pen-Yuan Hsing, Walter Cho, Timothy M. Shank, Erik E. Cordes, Andrea M. Quattrini, Robert K. Nelson, Richard Camilli, Amanda W. J. Demopoulos, Christopher R. German, James M. Brooks, Harry H. Roberts, William Shedd, Christopher M. Reddy, and Charles R. Fisher. 2012. Impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on a deep-water coral community in the Gulf of Mexico. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109(50): 20303-20308.
Reference list format
In the text, include citations by author(s) and year, using “et al.” for three or more authors: for parenthetical references at the end of any relevant sentences use “(author[s] year)” [e.g., (White et al. 2009).], and for citations that are part of the text use “author[s] (year)…” [e.g., White et al. (2009) report that…]. Then, in a references-cited list, alphabetically list all items referenced in the text using the format: authors [list all authors, do not use et al. here]. year. article title. journal volume(issue):pages. For example, see the citations in the list of articles to choose from above.
For additional (i.e., non-journal-article) types of citations, see the MLA style information at
The audience you should have in mind is generally scientifically literate but not necessarily an expert in any given field, such as the level of the New York Times section on Science each Tuesday (nytimes.com/science) or the news pieces in the journals Science (“News of the week”, sciencemag.org) and Nature (“News & Views”, nature.com). Note that this is a news piece and not an editorial, therefore maintain the objective reporter stance (e.g., you cannot say “We should/need to/have to/etc. …”, but you can say “Options to address this policy concern include…”).
It is important to remember that your science news piece differs from a typical research term paper in that you are “reporting” on a specific study: you should succinctly describe what the study found and how it found it and then explain the policy implications and options. One way to think about the difference is to put yourself in the shoes of a news reporter who just read the
ESP 001, Environmental Analysis, Fall 2013
study and wants to convey it to the general public. Another way to test whether your ideas and presentation are coherent is to discuss your news piece with a friend—if they can understand what the article is about and the potential importance of it, then you are on the right path. Most likely, you will find in this discussion that you will hone in on the issues that are important and thus improve your piece.
Additional tips along these lines are:
• Talk about key results, putting them in a context that tells the reader why you’re reporting on
these findings: part of the challenge is to focus on the most policy-relevant findings; you
don’t need to cover everything.
• Briefly mention the methods and how the study arrived at the conclusion you’re reporting
(e.g., experimental or observational study). You need to let the reader know how the conclusions were reached and any potential uncertainties that limit them (e.g., confounding factors).
• Make sure quotes are integrated and not over-used, as the language in a research article often has too much jargon for a general audience.
• Reference the study in the lead paragraph – after all, the article forms the basis of the news piece.
• Make sure you discuss how the science could be used to inform policy: go beyond the original article and bring in information you learned in class, and be specific about possible policy options and different stakeholders (e.g., who are potential winners and losers from a policy based on this science).
• If you choose to include a figure or table (this is optional), make sure it is simple enough to explain in the space you have such that it adds clarity to your article. You can make your own, or if you choose to use a figure from the article you are reporting on or another source, be sure to reference it appropriately.
For examples, see the set of original articles and companion science news pieces in the Examples folder on SmartSite (again in the “Science News” articles folder in the Resources folder). These are for demonstration only—be sure not to choose any of the articles in the Examples folder for your own Science News piece. If you are in doubt, double-check that the article you are choosing is on
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