Itís all news to him: David Secko 

New science journalism prof teaches students how to make lab lingo straightforward

By Karen Herland

Dave Secko brings science to the mass media. Magnifying glass

Dave Secko brings science to the mass media.

Dictyostelium discoideum or little racecar amoeba; which one makes sense to you? If you're like David Secko, they both do.

Secko, a new assistant professor at the Department of Journalism, comes to Concordia with an interest in science reportage. He's that rare breed who can gleefully spend hours in the lab peering through microscopes and then happily tap away at a keyboard figuring out how to tell others what he's seen. Not only that, he joined the department with the goal to teach other reporters how to do likewise.

"Writing was always a strong interest of mine, but science was what I wanted to study first."

And that he did, applying for a BSc in Life Science at Queens. It was in his last year there that he developed an unlikely subject of fascination Ė he became intrigued with a type of soil amoeba called Dictyostelium discoideum.

"These are racecar-like little guys," Secko says with infectious enthusiasm. The interesting and unusual trait of this amoeba is its reaction to a dearth of the bacteria and yeast it feeds on within the forest. When the amoeba deplete their source of food, they respond in unison, by primal call or otherwise, and amalgamate into a single slug-like shape to crawl together to newer ungreen pastures.

Whatever your opinion of traveling slug-shaped bunches of one-celled organisms, getting other people to at least be interested in such arcana is Secko's passion.

"Scientists are paid to create new knowledge. They are pushing boundaries and doing interesting things." He acknowledges that there can be a distrust of media among many scientists. Broadcasting your discoveries can be dismissed as "showboating."

He insists that while scientists do love to communicate, they often only divulge to other scientists with a shared vocabulary and frames of reference. The journalist's challenge, explains Secko, is to widen that scope to make sure that it reaches a broader community. "Scientists love to communicate and journalists tell stories. The only difference is who are you speaking to."

After completing his PhD in microbiology and immunology at the University of British Columbia, Secko pursued a Master's degree in Journalism at the same university. He sees an increasing interest in science in general Ė more specifically, in environment and health (see page 2). Add to that the fact government bodies are currently insisting on more frequent knowledge transfers and dissemination to be built into scientific funding proposals, heightening the importance of the dialogue between lab and media.

ďSecko recognizes that science reporting is often criticized as sensational and polarizing. He is currently working on the FQRSC-funded Concordia Science Journalism Project to look critically at science journalism to find out how we can enable more of the good and less of the bad. The intention is to identify the factors that will facilitate society's engagement with science, while recognizing the political and ethical dimensions of the field.

Heís also enjoying teaching the first science journalism course in the department. He says many of the students who register are upfront about not being interested in pursuing a career in science journalism. However, Secko focuses on ways to explain the information without getting caught up in lingo. "The sports reporters dove into the science of sports medicine and the generalists into botox, lab-grown meat and the effect candy bar advertising has on the brain," says Secko. "They all just wanted to be better at communicating science."

 

Concordia University