Heard on campus: Fostering diversity in U.S. science writing

October 28, 2019

There may be a lack of diversity in science writing in the United States, but according to Penn State’s Marie Hardin, there are things that science writers and institutions alike can do to help solve the problem.

Hardin, dean of the Bellisario College of Communications, helped kick off the ScienceWriters 2019 conference on Saturday morning as a panelist on a session about the importance of fostering diversity in science writing.

Also participating on the panel were Marin Hedin, assistant director of media relations at Johns Hopkins University; Yanick Rice Lamb, chair and associate professor at Howard University; and Kendra Pierre-Louis, reporter at the New York Times.

“If you treasure it, you measure it. Measure it, and publicly share the results, over and over again."

-- Marie Hardin, dean of the Bellisario College of Communications at Penn State, on tracking progress in increasing diversity

The panel began by talking about why diversity is an issue in science writing. They noted that while the 2017 U.S. census found that 61% of the general population is white, 88% of National Association of Science Writers members are white. The panelists added that a lack of diverse science writers contributes to a lack of diverse topics being covered in the media. 

Hardin referenced her own research on women in sports journalism when offering four lessons learned on how to address diversity issues.

“The first is that at some point in the late 1970s and early 80s, there was a public acknowledgment of a problem of a lack of women in sports journalism,” Hardin said. “There were a few people who were willing to speak up and start organizing, and then a critical mass developed. I think that's important. You need to acknowledge the problem.”

Hardin added that creating formal programs to address diversity issues can be helpful, as well as the importance of metrics in tracking progress.

“If you treasure it, you measure it,” Hardin said. “Measure it, and publicly share the results, over and over again. Lastly, I would also say the same thing about who and what we’re covering. Put pressure on media outlets to cover diverse sources and topics. In sports journalism, we have seen the coverage improve. Is it where it needs to be, no. But we’ve seen it improve.”

Last Updated October 30, 2019