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Mark Sarvary

May 6, 2019

Cornell Students Create Podcasts to Confront Science Miscommunication

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With emerging scientific controversies such as global warming and “designer babies,” complex and technical information is being presented to the public at an increasing pace. What’s growing at the same time, are misconceptions and miscommunications.

Yunyun Wang ’20, a student in a five-year program studying systems engineering and government, created a new student organization called State of the Pod to combat science miscommunication.

“[State of the Pod is an] entirely student-driven, science and tech oriented, student podcast production. So if anyone has niche interests they are passionate about, the podcast provides a way for students to come together, share ideas, and put all their thoughts onto this accessible platform,” Wang said.

Wang was inspired after her summer internship at a tech firm where she was exposed to emerging tech issues.

“These tech issues entrench every part of society, so by having students cover it, students from different fields as well, we are really putting a societal touch on that so we can hopefully reach a wider audience base,” Wang said.

Wang said that State of the Pod is a play off of the State of the Union. “SOT-P was founded on the idea that scientific developments impact everyone, and thus everyone is a stakeholder,” she said. “Our team hopes to give listeners a real-time take on the current, emerging issues lying at the intersection of science and society.”

The club currently consists of 10 undergraduates from diverse majors — such as entomology, government, industrial and labor relations, and computer science — who are trying to make the information palatable to people of various disciplines and backgrounds.

“It’s important that people understand where the science came from, how it was produced, who came up with the scientific information and how to decide whether that scientific information is trustworthy or not. It’s very important that undergraduates learn those skills,” said Prof. Mark Savary, advisor to the club.

Not only do students learn more about the scientific process, they also learn the process of creating a podcast from start to finish. “The idea is that instead of having content writers, producers, audio editors, we streamline that process so [club members] learn those skills,” Wang said.

From topics ranging from CRISPR research to Juul implications to climate change, the podcast team synthesizes technical explanatory information into an audio story.

“When we tell our journalistic science news … we tell them the wide-ranging implications as well as the backstory,” Wang said.

Recently, Sarvary — who is also a co-producer for a podcast called Locally Sourced Science, which is aired on WRFI Community Radio — received a grant from the Center for Teaching Innovation that funded the recording studio, also called the whisper room, that is located in Comstock Hall. The room is equipped with radio editing software that is used by audio journalists. This technology is accessible for students and school organizations to use.

Sarvary hopes that the podcast can reach a broader audience, “not just students, but also the community.” In the future, the group hopes to create workshops and introduce podcasting to high school students to learn more about podcasting technologies.

Wang hopes that students will be able to see their role in the direct storytelling process. “I strongly believe that anybody has an issue that they are probably knowledgeable enough or can be knowledgeable enough to share with the public. So it’s really about pursuing those interests and facilitating public dialogue,” Wang said.

Anyone can access the podcast’s episodes on their website and they will be available on Apple Podcast and Spotify. Wang envisions the ten episodes of the podcast to have a, “one semester release kind of like Netflix―encouraging binge-listening.”