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October 20, 2008
Volume 86, Number 42
p. 62

Constructive Criticism

Science radio show host offers opinion about ACS's podcasts

Sophie L. Rovner

Podcasting and other online multimedia outreach efforts are still relatively new, and the American Chemical Society and other science organizations continue to refine the content and production methods of their programs. One point they should keep in mind when presenting science to the public is that "low science literacy is the big problem. Even vocabulary is a challenge," says Preston MacDougall, a chemistry professor at Middle Tennessee State University who prepares a weekly, five-minute radio show about science and society. His "Chemical Eye" show airs on the Murfreesboro/Nashville National Public Radio station, WMOT (C&EN, July 31, 2006, page 47) and can also be downloaded from the station's website.

Aaron Thompson
On The Air MacDougall's "Chemical Eye" program airs on an NPR station.

C&EN invited MacDougall to critique ACS's three podcast programs: "Science Elements," for an audience with a background in science; "Bytesize Science," a podcast aimed at a young audience and teachers; and "Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions," for decisionmakers, policymakers, and the general public. When asked what makes for an engaging podcast, MacDougall says, "The science needs to be relevant, as it was in all pieces that I listened to. But it should not be preachy, or too much like a lecture," he adds. "This was a weakness of the 'Global Challenges' piece."

Different segments of a podcast centered on a particular theme also need to hang together, MacDougall notes. In a "Global Challenges" podcast devoted to sustainability, for instance, "the expert commentary was very good, when it was appropriate." He applauds a segment in the piece that defined sustainability clearly and "further developed that definition with relevant examples and recent chemical research." On the other hand, MacDougall says, a segment on nanotechnology in the same podcast "was very out of place."

Including sponsors' self-promotions at the beginning of a podcast can turn off listeners, he adds. "The 'Science Elements' piece started off with a long plug for ACS journals," he says. "This was not a good idea.

"Sound effects are important, and the 'Bytesize Science' piece did a good job" with them, MacDougall says. "They were fun and appropriate." He recommends adding background music to all three programs. "People are used to listening to their favorite music on their iPod, so that has to be considered as your competition," he explains.

MacDougall suggests adding listings to the programs' Web pages that indicate the length of each podcast. "People don't want to start listening to something if they don't have the time to listen to the whole thing," he says. On the other hand, MacDougall appreciates the program transcripts provided at the "Global Challenges" website. "Most places don't do that," he says. "Nice touch."

Overall, MacDougall likes each of the ACS podcasts, adding that "if the marketing could get anywhere near 'viral,' then they would have tremendous impact."

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Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2009 American Chemical Society


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