Science Surveyor Is Set to Support Journalism

It is no secret that science plays a key role in the future of our environment and our existence. So, how do we (all of us non-scientists, environmentalists, chemists, or astronomers) have any idea of the presence of scientific threats and opportunities? We have journalists to thank for that.

Scientific discoveries and advancements are often published in complex papers. When the findings could be significant to the public, journalists face the challenge of translating scientific jargon and concepts into a simplified and effective story.

To help this effort, Columbia and Stanford researchers have collaborated on the development of the digital tool, Science Surveyor. Using the text of any scientific paper and algorithms, the Science Surveyor will aggregate articles of similar studies and conclusions to provide journalists with context and clarification on the topic. Computer scientists, designers, and journalists are focusing on three main goals for the Science Surveyor:

  • Develop algorithms that provide context and consensus to academic papers
  • Create an appealing visual presentation of the Surveyor’s material
  • Apply the tool to journalism to demonstrate its effectiveness

The development towards these goals is being funded by a $500,000 Flagship Magic Grant from the Brown Institute for Media Innovation at Columbia.

Accuracy is a staple of the journalism field, but deadlines offer limited time for research and fact-checking practices. Not only will this tool help journalists translate scientific news on a deadline, it will give way to well-rounded scientific reporting. Audience-friendly stories on the history of a scientific discovery, its research processes, and its varying conclusions and applications will result from the open access to Science Surveyor.

While Columbia and Stanford are strictly tailoring their tool to the science world, the Science Surveyor could be the beginning of a research revolution. Research databases have been around, but not ones that electronically compare one source to an entire archive to surface more information. I don’t believe this technology will stop at science. Versions of the Science Surveyor could span from political to sports to trade journalism. Additional surveying tools could result in journalistic relief on the strained field, the recognition of more academic papers, and plenty of well-rounded and comprehensible stories.

Considering the perspectives of readers, journalists, and published scientists, is the Science Surveyor evolving the experiences of all three? “Survey” says: yes.

Source Published: October 22, 2015 by Joseph Lichterman


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