George Musser is a science writer and editor focusing on space science and fundamental physics. He is a contributing editor at Scientific American magazine, a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT for 2014–2015, and the author of Spooky Action at a Distance (2015) and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to String Theory (2008).
We sat down with him to ask how he got into the science communication business and why he has grown to love it so much.
ASC: How did you find yourself in science communication?
George: I really just fell into science communication – just tumbled into it. I didn’t even know it existed as a career option. I was a grad student doing planetary science, but also journalism on the side – you could say that I was a scientist by day and reporter by night. And then I saw this job posting for a science editor and I went, wow, wouldn’t that bring together my two brain hemispheres? And to my surprise they hired me. Everything I’ve learned about it, I’ve picked up in the act of doing it.
ASC: Why is communicating science important to you?
George: Well, I’m an idealist. I want to help make the world a better place. And I think that science can do that. Forget even the doodads that science helps to bring into the world. Just the mindset that science shapes, could you imagine the modern world without it? Could you imagine not knowing the earth is a planet, or that humans are cousins of chimps? Science is our greatest source of novelty in the world, the best way to jerk us out of established grooves of thought.
ASC: What challenges have you faced in talking about science?
George: A science communicator is tugged in a thousand directions. Scientists want lots of praise of their own research and lots of dubiousness about other people’s. They’re more worried about getting one tiny thing wrong than getting eight big things right. Editors want to get rid of those pesky “mights” and “maybes”. Business-side people wonder why you don’t just write about kittens instead. Readers – well, what *do* readers want? Do they even know? Staying sane, let alone striking a balance, is the great challenge of this profession.