Using Science Communication to Uphold Scientific Integrity

Written by: Julio Beltran, Micah Wiesner and Shiru Wang

When the integrity of science is upheld, it provides insulation from bias, fabrication, falsification, and censorship of results and effectively communicating science to a general audience can reinforce integrity in science. Dr. Maria Caffrey visited Syracuse University as part of the Environment, Sustainability, and Policy Seminar Speaker Series to share her experience of having her work censored. Dr. Caffrey was contracted by the United States National Park Service to examine the impact of sea level rise and storm surges on 188 of America’s favorite coastal park units. Dr. Caffrey’s report included sea level projections under different carbon emission scenarios and the flooding caused by stronger hurricanes due to human impacts on the environment. The process of publishing her results were slowed down and only released if the words “anthropogenic” and or “human causing” were taken out. After sharing her story with reporter Elizabeth Shogren and receiving some publicity, her report was rereleased uncensored.

During the EMPOWER’s Water-Energy Seminar, students broadened the discussion of censoring to scientific integrity. They examined case studies that tackled unconscious scientific fraudulence, unreproducible results, and the need of modern scientist to publish results with “impact” rather than results that are correct. Students also express the need of emphasis on effective science communication to a broader audience that can lead to national discussion, such as when Dr. Maria Caffrey shared her story.

Best-Practices and Mock Interviews with Dan Olson-Bang

On Friday February 15th and Friday February 22nd, EMPOWER Water-Energy Seminar welcomed Dan Olson-Bang and Tracy Tillapaugh from the Graduate Office of Professional and Career Development to practice preparing for and delivering a great job interview! Prior to class, trainees researched an ideal job for themselves and framed their CV and a cover letter specifically for that position. The class worked in groups to assess and critique each other’s CV’s and letters in advance of mock interviews which were held the following week. For the interviews (some of which were filmed so trainees could readily review their performance), Dr. Olson-Bang and Tillapaugh coached the trainees on the spot – fine-tuning their skills to help them go for that “dream job” after they graduate Syracuse University.

Science Communication Workshop for Trainees

For 11 years, Alan Alda hosted PBS’s Scientific American Frontiers, where he talked to hundreds of scientists about their research. The conversational style he used during these interviews helped generate relatable and lively explanations of science topics. From this popular television show, a science communication training program was born, the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, housed within the journalism school at SUNY Stony Brook in Long Island, New York.

The Center, founded by Alda in 2009, “empowers science and health professionals to communicate complex topics in clear, vivid and engaging ways,” according to the program’s website,  These hard-won skills allow scientists to convey their knowledge more effectively to both scientists and non-scientists alike. Howard Schneider, the dean of Stony Brook’s journalism school said science departments were initially skeptical, with many thinking Alda’s improv-style science communication training would be a distraction. In the years since the school began at Stony Brook, however, the culture has shifted. Now, two graduate programs require students to take the center’s classes and all SUNY Stony Brook medical school students receive 10 hours of training.

EMPOWER trainees attended a full-day Alan Alda workshop on February 8th, 2019 at the Syracuse University Sheraton. In total, 19 of them worked through a series of improvisation and communication exercises to test their skills and challenge their understanding of how to best convey their science.

Water-Energy Seminar Tours City of Syracuse “METRO” plant

EMPOWER’s Water-Energy seminar class took an informative guided tour of Syracuse Metropolitan Wastewater Treatment Plant (aka METRO) on January 25th, 2019. Expert guide, Senior Operator Mike Burkett, brought the class through all of the primary buildings on the campus and explained the city’s water treatment process start to finish.

EMPOWER Trainees Attend AGU conference

A dozen EMPOWER students attended the 100th annual American Geophysical Union (AGU) fall meeting December 9th through the 15th, 2018 in Washington D.C.  The students attended keynote lectures by Lisa Jackson (VP Environment, Policy, and Social Initiatives, Apple) and James Balog (Founder and Director, Earth Vision Institute and Extreme Ice Survey), among others. Each day they also attended each other’s presentations (with 11 of them presenting at the conference) as well as supporting Syracuse University faculty presentations during the event. Three trainees: Amanda Campbell, Crystal Burgess and Emily Baker received AGU’s prestigious Outstanding Student Presentation Award for their work. As a group they participated in an Ecohydrology mixer targeted at young professionals seeking internship and employment opportunities. The mixer proved to be an excellent opportunity to network with individuals working in fields related to the Water-Energy nexus. They also arranged a group dinner following this event to share experiences and extend their networking. The group also welcomed two colleagues from the University of Rwanda who made the journey (their first to the U.S.) to present their work.


Framing the Debate on Climate Change

Written by: Nick Zaremba, Nimisha Thakur, Amanda Katherine Klaben and Connor Olson

Discussing climate change with skeptics and deniers can often seem pointless. It can be difficult to discuss the issue with someone who believes “the science behind climate change is weak or biased.” Such beliefs can lead to both parties talking over one another. These arguments about “weak science” or “climate change policy does more harm than good” are an attempt to persuade individuals by being relatable, this tactic is called framing. Framing can be used by any group not just climate deniers. For example it can be a very effective tool in furthering the discussion with a climate skeptic or denier to convince them of the severity of the issue. Recently EMPOWER students took part in a class discussion on how to better frame the conversation of climate change. Papers were discussed in which various frames were employed to convince an individual of the severity of climate change. These studies found that the local frame or stressing the effects that climate change will have on a certain regions is one of the most effective. The class then participated in an activity, utilizing the information provided by the paper, in which students developed frames to better inform a variety of individuals regarding the severity of climate change. The class was provided examples of individual cases including the reasons as to why the person did not think climate change was an issue or why they did not agree with policy that tried to mitigate climate change.


The discussion of framing was continued with a visit from Dr. Leigh Raymond, a professor of Political Science at Purdue University. Dr. Raymonds’ research focuses on how social norms or conceptions often affect environmental policy. EMPOWER students who attended lunch with Dr. Raymond discussed some of his most recent research which involved talking with farmers about the economic benefits of certain farming techniques which are also more environmentally friendly. Dr. Raymond’s presentation, titled Reclaiming the Atmospheric Commons: Carbon Pricing in the U.S. and Canada, on how framing an argument is used in policy decisions such as cap and trade of carbon emissions discussed how certain tactics are employed by various groups using frames in order to change current social norms and in turn provide a more compelling arguments. Dr. Raymond stressed how important the framing of a policy issue can be in order to acquire public support for environmental policy. He provided support of this through case studies in the United States and Canada such as RGGI (Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative) , the California dividend, and GreenON. By focusing on the need to change current social norms regarding Carbon Emissions, Dr. Raymond shifted the conversation and onus of climate policy provisions to all stakeholders of the environmental commons.

EMPOWER hosts Dr. Josh Henkin of STEM Career Services

In cooperation with the Graduate Office of Professional and Career Development, EMPOWER hosted Dr. Josh Henkin for two days of interactive seminars addressing a wide range of relevant professional development topics and skills. Dr. Henkin offered our trainees a uniquely credible perspective as a Ph.D. with direct experience as an industry hiring manager.

We began day one with “Strategic Career Planning” which provided much needed information to our STEM grads about assessing and cataloging their skills and preferences as a tool to plan their future career, use of social media, engaging a mentor along with valuable CV/resume tips.

The afternoon focused on branding. The “Elevator Pitch 2.0” workshop demonstrated how to frame one’s education, skills and experiences in way that best showcases them to potential employers. Students learned how to “tell a story,” with their CV/resume and in person during an interview or networking opportunity (and how to make those networking opportunities happen).

A classic Syracuse lake effect snowstorm on Thursday night/Friday morning did not slow us down! Friday morning’s workshop, “Writing a Cover Letter the Right Way” was a deep dive on searching for and then applying to jobs of interest. Josh explained when a cover letter is appropriate (or not) and how to best develop one that is suited to the job description. Trainees did hands on activities assessing multiple job descriptions – learning to pull pertinent details they could use to custom tailor their CV/resumes and cover letters when applying for a position.

A networking lunch and numerous one-on-one appointments between Josh and individual trainees preceded our final workshop for the day, “The Universe of STEM Careers Available to STEM Grads and the Communication Skills that Will Take You There.”  This workshop addressed a critical knowledge gap regarding what types of careers STEM grads may consider upon graduation and provided tools to help students identify how their values, interests and skills align with potential careers of interest. The workshop also introduced trainees to “mind-mapping,” a technique used to create a list of expanded professional skills (technical and transferable) called “micro” skills. Participants agreed that the exercises made them more aware of their strengths and better able to articulate them to others.

Continental Rifting in East Africa

Written by: Micah Wiesner, Lachlan Wright, Shaidu Nuru Shaban

Natural release of CO2 from earths interior can be associated with volcanic degassing, or fault related sources. This natural release is hard to quantify due to large geographic variance and the lack of studies focusing on fault related release.

The East African Rift System, an 8 million year old continental rift system which stretches from Afar in the North to Mozambique in the South of Africa, provides a natural laboratory to study the release of CO2 from faults and volcanoes in close proximity. Calculations from this setting can be extrapolated to better constrain the global natural release of CO2 from the earth to the atmosphere.

James Muirhead, a Research Associate within the Department of Earth Science of Syracuse University has helped to address this question in a recent paper Massive and Prolonged Deep Carbon Emissions Associated with Continental Rifting published in the journal Nature (2016). By measuring the CO2 released across faults in the rift, Muirhead and other researchers were able to constrain the flux through time, and the source region of the CO2 within the earth. By comparing this to the CO2 released from the burning of fossil fuels, they were able to show that fossil fuels release approximately 500 times more CO2 than processes associated with rifting.

From Cradle to Grave: Investigating Urban Agriculture and Waste Streams

Written by: Julio Beltran, Laura Markley, Gaired Jordan, Joseph Wasswa & Shiru Wang

Are you charmed by the recent community garden that’s taken over the abandoned lot down the street or shocked that the new apartment complex downtown has hydroponic tomatoes growing on its roof? Community gardens and hydroponic systems are both forms of urban agriculture that may help greenify cities and provide locally-grown produce to city dwellers. Making cities more sustainable with urban agriculture has a multitude of benefits, but may have implications for energy consumption, water usage, and the food supply chain. EMPOWER students discussed urban agriculture’s role in the food system, which contributes to 15% of the total US energy demand. Students participated in a debate where they had to argue that their assigned urban agriculture systems, water supplies, and energy sources were the best choice for a model city.

Dr. Lut Raskin furthered the discussion by sharing her research on converting organic waste streams into sustainable resources with novel anaerobic bioprocesses in her AEESP distinguished lecture on November 9, 2018. In attendance were students from Syracuse University, Cornell University, as well as other colleges. Dr. Raskin discussed harnessing the power of microbial communities to treat water, recovering resources from waste streams, and modeling engineering systems after the stomach of a cow. She also furthered the conversation of research expectations and how obtaining results you hadn’t hoped for can still further the field.

These discussions provided a holistic perspective of urban agriculture and waste streams from a cradle to grave perspective.

Exploring Real World Impacts of Research at the Water-Energy Nexus

EMPOWER students and faculty traveled to Cornell University to attend the first in a series of workshops held at The Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future this fall. “Science at an NGO” was presented in collaboration with the Center’s long-standing partner, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).  The distinguished panel featured Chief Scientist (and EMPOWER External Advisor) Steve Hamburg along with Jennifer McPartland, Ritesh Gautam and Doria Gordon. SU Professor and EMPOWER faculty member Charles Driscoll introduced Dr. Hamburg.  Each panelist discussed their career trajectories, what they are currently working on at EDF and the real-world impact of their research.