Science for The Public: TED Talks and The New York Times

Today, it is easy to disseminate information to the public through online blog sites, but often information can be misleading or incorrect.  Often people will stick to widely known sources for news, but how do you know if these sources are trustworthy?  It’s important to understand the purpose of science communication sources and the type of information they release.

Two popular and widely recognized forms of science communication to the general public are TED and The New York Times.  Both share current research and bodies of thought that are important and of interest to the public.  They focus on releasing well-developed and informative content on topics around the world and created by a diverse range of people.  Specifically, we will focus on how science content is delivered through these sources.

TED focuses on creating intriguing, though-provoking videos of various topics by people in diverse backgrounds and fields.  It was created in 1984 as a Technology, Entertainment and Design conference and has since grown to encompass other fields and languages.  Their purpose is to “spread ideas” and so often any science focused videos are of on-going or groundbreaking findings by scientists in “18 minutes or less” according to the site, though some videos to go over.

Content Creation. Periodically speakers are chosen to present their research at conferences where their TED talks are recorded and then uploaded on for anyone to view free.  Talks are a mixture of storytelling, photos, videos, and interactive presentations.

Although speakers are screened, not all talks are of the same format or presentation quality.  It is important to note that TED Talks are mainly new and on-going information so what is being presented may have changed since the videos have been recorded. Talks do not build off one another or are edited to reflect newer changes.  These videos are meant to spark interest on various topics that often one will need some background on or look further into afterwards.

TED conferences are also independently run by various organizations, including colleges like CUNY.  Like TED run conferences, they are often themed and include speakers from different walks of life to share their work and view points.  If you are interested in attending one, TEDxCUNY is happening on Nov 16th at the Macaulay Building. Get more information.

The New York Times appears in both digital and print, which started in .  While issues surrounding science are written about throughout the week, on Tuesdays there is a specific section in the paper dedicated to science.  Unlike TED, articles are released much more frequently, but can be segmented since the information is often time sensitive and very specific.  Articles also often focus on social, economic, and political issues that surround the scientific areas of discussion.  While TED focuses on ideas, NYTimes tends to focus on relevancy of information to certain areas and people since it is a news outlet.  The media they share is mainly in written word, but can include visuals such as diagrams, photos, and video.

The New York Times develops most of its own content, but also aggregates articles from other news outlets like Associated Press and other Times publications.

Content creation. Articles are written by selected journalists, both part of NYTimes and freelance by editors.  Articles are written typically after research and relevant interviews are made.  Some articles are opinion pieces, while others are written in review of new research. There are on staff media teams that develop relevant visuals like interactive diagrams, videos, and photos for each article.  Length depends on the importance of the pieces and the information available, but often do not exceed more than a few pages for the ease of the reader.

While NYTimes content is researched and reviewed by editors, there are sometimes misprint issues that arise.  The New York Times website is a great place to check articles to see if any amendments have been made about incorrect information or explanation.  It also critiques scientific findings more than TED Talks will do since the writers are not typically the researchers who tend to present in TED Talks.

Looking at Melting Ice 

James Balog, an engineer turned field photographer/researcher/advocate, created a project and documentary that focused on sharing information about global warming and the very prevalent evidence of the melting of bodies of ice.  His time-lapse work shows the increasing decrease of ice coverage.  The 1 hour, 15 minute film was covered by both TED and New York Times.

TED Talks released a blog post about the film including a 20 minute TED Talk by James Balog that focused on his research.  Compared to the movie, the video condensed Balog’s work and focused more on the findings.  While not in-depth, the talk focuses on gaining people’s attention and agreement that indeed climate change is occurring.

The New York Times in contrast had two short articles that reviewed the work that James Balog did in the form of a movie review and interview with the documentary’s director.  Here, the focus is not on the findings, but rather the scope of the movie and how it is portrayed.  In this case, the New York Times is a poor source of information about Balog’s scientific work.


What both sources of science content do well is attempt to spark interest in science topics by delivering content in very colloquial language and using intriguing methods of displaying information.  While neither tend to go in-depth into the nitty-gritty of certain studies, they are a great way of spreading recent findings in quick, digestible bites.  If you want to be inspired and get a taste at certain scientific research, check out TED Talks.  If you want to learn about current topics of discussion, check out the New York Times Science Section.  If you want a resources of finding quality, recent content, visit both.



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