Science of storytelling finds leadership at Western

Paul Mayne//Western News

Douglas Keddy, Associate Director (Research Promotion & Profile), has added President of the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada to his list of duties. The national organization works on increasing public awareness around the importance of science by supporting a diverse group of communicators, science writers and journalists across the country.

Douglas Keddy understands what a good story can accomplish.

“Storytelling, in its various formats, is an incredibly powerful tool for engaging and exciting people about the work we do,” said Keddy, Associate Director (Research Promotion & Profile). “Increasing research literacy can be one of the keys to unlocking wonder and curiosity – and, as a result, foster a more active participation in science.

“From Western’s perspective, research storytelling is one of the primary ways we connect to communities beyond our walls and describe some of the value our scholars add to improve lives on a daily basis.”

Keddy will help shape those stories on a national scale after being named President of the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada (SWCC), the organization announced recently.

Originally established by science and medical reporters to support each other in their writing skills, the organization amended its mandate last year and changed its name from the Canadian Science Writers’ Association. The move was to reflect the changing media landscape and include a broader swath of science communicators.

The first non-journalist to lead the group, Keddy said his almost 15 years at Research Western has given him the tools to understand where the organization wants, and needs, to go.

“Science is in everything we do – and everything we experience. Our modern world has also been built on technology. I’m equally fascinated by how we interpret this through the humanities and social sciences,” Keddy said.

“To remove the stigma surrounding science, we need to do a better job of helping people understand they’re already engaging with it in ways they may not even realize. Because science is all around us, and literally affects everything about our daily lives, it provides tremendous opportunities for us to connect to people as storytellers.”

This storytelling is taking place in more forms than just the printed word. Through a range of social media outlets, information is spreading more rapidly than ever before. Telling science stories accurately across all platforms can be both a catalyst for science and a proactive battle against the encroachment of ‘fake news.’

“Social media is only one small way people engage with science and scientists,” Keddy continued. “Some consume through traditional news media, others through theatre, video or hands-on experiences. I’ve met people who use clothing or jewelry to engage people in science. That’s half the fun.

“In some ways, our attention spans are shorter, so we need to go where people are and tell stories in new ways.”

Keddy noted teaching people about scientific practice and the process of discovery can also help combat ‘fake news,’ by learning how you interpret information, analyze its validity and recognize a trustworthy source.

“The change in the SWCC’s mandate to include a broader range of science communicators, in addition to traditional science journalists, reflects this changing and rapidly expanding landscape of science communications,” he said. “We need to look at commonalities. We all have a vested interest in sharing our excitement for science, and for discovery more broadly. It’s no different than how we establish relationships every day – a degree of empathy for the challenges the other faces can go a long way to continue to establish trust.”