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Database to Increase Diversity in Science Reporting
Project leads: Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato and Greg Linch
We’re creating a database of minority and female scientists to address the lack of diverse perspectives represented or cited in science writing. Mollie started working on this project for her own use after realizing she’d written several articles on a tight deadline and only quoted white males. This happens a lot in science reporting—even for topics like women’s health—and it means we’re missing out on important points of view. Apoorva Mandavilli, Editor in Chief of Spectrum said it best when she wrote, “Without diversity in newsrooms… entire stories are missed, and those that do get written have the same, tired perspectives, missing nuances of color, race, class, gender and ethnicity.” The same is true for sourcing. This database will make it easy for science communicators to reach out to minority and female scientists for more varied perspectives on their daily stories. By increasing the diversity of sources in our stories, we improve our coverage and show our readers that we care about including their voices.
We all know there’s a gender gap plaguing the sciences. Women make up roughly half the national workforce and they earn more degrees than their male counterparts, and yet, they’re still not represented in the top positions in STEM. In fact, in 2011, women made up just 26 percent of the science workforce, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
That lack of representation unfortunately bleeds into science reporting. The Open Notebook’s Christina Selby wrote: “Women are the central focus in only 14 percent of science and health stories, and only 19 percent of experts quoted are women. Stories that challenge gender stereotypes—by overturning common assumptions or representing women in counter-stereotypical roles or situations—made up just 5 percent of science stories in 2015.”
“People of color are likewise poorly represented in the news media, including in science stories. ‘Whenever communities [of color] interact with science in the news, it’s rarely positive,’ says Danielle Lee, a biologist and Scientific American blogger. ‘You have to be super young or do something amazing for there to be a positive story.’ It creates a narrative, Lee says, that ‘our participation is rare or special’—when in fact, ‘there’s plenty of us out there.’”
So what can be done? We want to help science writers better weave these individuals into their stories. Instead of only showing up on one or two sites, we want female and minority scientists to be included in news stories across all publications. The more people who are reading quotes from diverse sources, the more effectively we can reflect our audience and, ideally, show them they too can attain these positions in society.
By making female and minority sources easy to access, we give reporters no excuse not to include these voices in their reporting.
We’ve been compiling a database of minority and female scientists to address the lack of diverse perspectives in science writing. The database includes scientists who identify as female or minority scientists. We’re collecting basic information: names, institutions, contact info, expertise, etc.
The goal is to make this for breaking news reporters. If you have three weeks to report a story, there’s no excuse not to include a diverse perspective. If you’re on a tight deadline, there’s still no excuse, but sometimes that makes the job more challenging. So the people on the list will know when they opt-in that they’re willing to work with tight deadlines.
The system will also notify sources who have been added and verified that they’re eligible to be included. The notification will also let them opt in or opt out so they aren’t included without their approval.
This is important because some reporters claim that women are less willing to talk to reporters because they’re shy. While we personally disagree with this claim, our vetting process will ensure that only sources who want to chat with reporters make it onto the list. To populate the site as quickly as possible, we’ll work with The OpEd Project, Women’s Media Center and the POWER Sources Project, which all have short lists of female experts happy to share their knowledge with the media.
Right now, we have hundreds sources who are excited to participate in this database. We’ve either reached out to each of them personally or they’re on other smaller lists. To make sure we have a wide variety of expertise, journalists and sources can submit names using a simple submission form that will populate a separate list. Then we can verify that data before moving it to the main database.
The sustainability of this project is important—a database is only useful for a year or so if it’s not updated. After initially populating the database, we’ll use crowdsourcing to keep all information current. Journalists and sources will be able to flag errors—for example, old phone numbers—and include more information at is it becomes available. A similar principle is used on sites like Yelp or Google Reviews, where users post updates for businesses and services.
We’ll make the database filterable by expertise to make sure users can more easily narrow down potential sources. For example, this will help avoid needing to search both “climate change” and “global warming.” Using the most popular term will avoid confusion and speed the search process.
We also plan to automatically calculate time differences so users can see, “Ohhh, it’s 2 a.m. in this person’s country so I shouldn’t call them,” etc.
After the database launches, we hope to implement a rating system to track how quickly sources respond to requests. For example, a rating of 1 is a response within 2 hours and a 5 would be responsive within a day. We can tweak the parameters to best serve the users.
To make sure we’re meeting the community’s needs and desires, we’ll seek feedback from potential users throughout the design and development process. For example, as suggested by Robin Lloyd, we’ll do beta testing with small groups, get feedback and iterate.
We can build this using free and open-source tools such as Google Forms and WordPress. This will make it easier for everyone to access the site across platforms. We’ll set this up as a separate site and purchase a yearly hosting service, or use the NASW website, The Open Notebook, etc. We’d love to work with whomever would like to be involved!
We will spend a significant amount of time promoting the site via organizations such as NASW, SEJ, SPJ, ONA, etc. We’ll also be reaching out to journalists in other countries so that they, too, can benefit from this database. Our goal is to print flyers advertising the site and disseminate them during the WCSJ in San Francisco.
Benefits to the Field of Science Writing:
As a member of the NASW Diversity Committee, Mollie know’s first-hand about the organization’s concerted effort to increase minority representation in science writing. This project fits with that goal. It will help science writers more easily and effectively find a broad array of diverse sources to include in their stories, particularly when on tight deadlines. The goal is help science writers better succeed in their efforts to report on their subject matter more inclusively as well as better represent the fields they cover.
We can also make the project open-source and available on GitHub, a site for sharing and collaborating on code-based projects. This would also allow others to replicate the concept in other specialties, such a business or political reporting.
Dec. 15, 2016
Photo credit: BRICK 101