Communicating Science at NASA

By Connor Muldowney and Benjamin Remaly
​George Washington University

“The planet isn’t just changing, its changed,” Thomas Wagner, NASA Cryosphere Program Scientist says at the top of our video. 

We would not be the first to use that specific quote from Wagner prominently either. Looking back at news stories Wagner had been quoted in, Reuters, The Huffington Post and Al-Jazeera America all used a nearly identical quote from Wagner from a teleconference call with the press about new sea level data in August 2015.

Over the past few years Wagner has been a source for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, PBS NewsHourNewsweek and Fox News. Our own interview with Wagner faced a time constraint as he had a televised interview scheduled after ours. 

Wagner’s vast usage as a source, and some of his practiced/repeated key-points highlight an important job researchers have that is easy to overlook. 

Environmental scientists looking at climate change are not only responsible for discovery, but for effectively communicating those discoveries. 

When I mentioned to Wagner that about his frequent media appearances he said, “You know what it is, it gets easier the more you do it. (It’s) kinda like after a while you build up answers to the questions.” 

But there is more to it than him publishing a report. He needs to explain it to informants in a way that is easy to understand. Wagner spent six years as a professor at the University of Papua New Guinea before he moved on to NASA, which most likely plays a role in Wagner being able to effectively communicate his message to reporters and the general public. 

Unless the masses start flocking to NASA’s blogs, it will be up to mega-sources like Wagner to get the message out through various news outlets through a compelling and comprehensible message.

How do you move the Planet Forward? Tweet us @planet_forward or contribute to the conversation with your own story.