Graduate student presents at AGU fall meeting in San Francisco

Sporting events have always attracted a large and enthusiastic audience. Now they may also be a generator for science stories in the media, a new survey by a UM J-School graduate student shows.

Abbey Dufoe is presenting her findings this week at the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting in San Francisco. Her poster shows that sporting events are prompting science articles in major media outlets.

Working with a mentor from her undergraduate studies, Dufoe designed the study to fill a gap she noticed at past AGU conferences – namely, a lack of communication about scientific topics to the public.

“We came up with sports science in the news and how to get the public excited through science news,” she said.

Graduate student Abbey Dufoe poses with her presentation materials.

Dufoe surveyed 20 articles published at the time of major sporting events like the World Cup and the Olympics. She found that major news outlets partner with science organizations to inject scientific topics into coverage of global sporting events. One article explored the physics involved in bicycle racing. Another compared the likelihood of being bitten by a shark to the chances of getting chomped by soccer player Luis Suarez (Suarez for the win!). She found videos explaining the physics behind a good golf swing, the neuroscience of scoring in soccer and how major sporting leagues are taking steps toward sustainability when constructing new stadiums. 

“Talking to the scientists here that came to my poster, my takeaways are that people do really want to explain their science,” she said. 

At past AGU conferences, Dufoe has approached scientific topics from a journalistic perspective. At her first conference she presented an iBook she created for middle school students that addressed controversies in the hydrosphere. Last year she spoke about the water crisis from the viewpoint of a concerned member of the public and gave a poster presentation about how creating a blog led her to apply to graduate school. 

What her topics may lack in scientific rigor, Dufoe makes up in curiosity and a desire for increased interaction between the scientific community and the public. Conferences like AGU combine two different worlds that wouldn’t necessarily meet otherwise, she said.

“I think it’s important that the scientists can see that journalists are actually interested in science, because I definitely am but I really don’t understand it.”

- posted on 12/18/14 -