As scientists continue to uncover major breakthroughs in their research, the need for explanation and communicating these ideas to “the average person” becomes increasingly important.
As part of the Conversations with Writers series, the University Writing Program and the UC Davis Bookstore will present a talk from 4:30 to 6 p.m. in MU II on Thursday with Professor Daniel Sperling, an internationally renowned researcher and expert in transportation technology.
“It’s an opportunity for him to talk about what it was like to write his book – writing about science and technology topics for a mixed audience,” said Gary Sue Goodman, a lecturer in the University Writing Program who coordinates the Conversations with Writers series.
In his presentation, Sperling will discuss the process of writing his book Two Billion Cars: Driving Toward Sustainability, and the importance of bridging the gap between journalists and scientists to relate high-level research to the general public. Sperling’s book explores a wide range of topics from the psychology of hybrid car buyers to China’s upsurge of car ownership to alternative technologies.
“I have written many books and many papers, so it is a good opportunity to reflect on how to communicate technical material in an accessible way,” Sperling said. “It’s a matter of thinking about who is your audience – I could have written a 2,000 page book on the topic, but to write a 300 page book and be able to communicate these ideas without formulas and complicated graphs is quite a challenge, but it’s a responsibility we in academia have.“
Two Billion Cars has received widespread recognition, with favorable reviews ranging from the Natural Resources Defense Council and former president of the Shell Oil Company, to Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show“ and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who wrote the forward to the book.
The success of Sperling’s book is largely attributed to his unusual ability to eloquently explain technical material – an unusual phenomenon, as traditionally scientific information is translated through writers and editors, who dilute the information to make it more palatable for a general audience.
“My motivation for writing the book was that most of the major books that had been written on transportation issues in science had been written by journalists – and I admire them for their writing skills, but journalists do not have a sophisticated understanding of the problems, challenges and solutions in these areas,” Sperling said.
In his presentation, Sperling hopes to encourage students and fellow researchers to delve deeper into the writing process and to reach across disciplines to better communicate their work.
“Students interested in environmental topics and issues, particularly of sustainability regarding energy fuels, I think would be particularly interested in this topic, but also people who are interested in writing about scientific or technical topics for a lay audience and want to learn how to do that,” Goodman said.
The presentation is open to the general public, and will be followed by a Q&A period and a book signing.
MICHELLE IMMEL can be reached at email@example.com.