Plenary Session and Keynote Address

Plenary Session  

Communicating Science

  • Thursday, February 8:  1:30-3pm, Alexander 1-2 Ballroom

When we polled the breakfast roundtable participants at our 2017 annual meeting about future discussion topics and therefore meeting themes, science communication emerged overwhelmingly as the leading suggestion. Perhaps a sign of the times, we seem to be clamoring for ways to more effectively communicate science to peers, the public, and policy makers. The March for Science event that we sponsored in April 2017 is a case in point. Coincidentally, one of the Western Section’s objectives is to encourage communication between and among members and non-members. After all, science is not science until it’s communicated. The problem is that we tend to assume that when we present people with the facts, they will understand what we are saying and why it’s important. But they often don’t.

Our plenary panelists have devoted a lot of time to thinking about why that is, and they have developed ways to overcome this problem. Randy Olson, taking cues from the creative storytelling power of Hollywood, focuses on the importance of narrative structure in communicating science. Recognizing that learning anything well requires training and practice, Randy will also be presenting a workshop on recognizing and using narrative structure. Participants will then have the opportunity to join a 10-week post-conference story circle to hammer in this concept.

Jon Hooper strives to help us give more compelling presentations by identifying what to do and what *not* to do. In that regard, Jon will also give a workshop on how not to give a scientific presentation. Mike Gil and Sara ElShafie make science accessible to broad audiences, Mike through popular media like YouTube, and Sara by character development, conflict-resolution, and other Pixar-inspired storytelling techniques.  Each panelist will discuss their approach to effectively communicating science, impart one key communication device, and then address questions from the audience.

I’m inspired by these individuals and their ideas.  I hope they will stimulate you to rethink and refine the way you communicate science, help you more effectively communicate what you know, and ultimately contribute to making the world a better place.

—Jeff Davis, President-Elect

     The Plenary is Sponsored by  Colibri Ecological Consulting  

2018 Plenary Speakers

Image result for randy olsonRandy Olson  Once upon a time… Randy Olson was a humble, mild-mannered professor of marine biology at the University of New Hampshire. But then his brain sort of turned inside out and he shifted from scientist to artist. It happened in his first year as a professor. He hit a point where he realized that after fifteen years of telling stories OF science he had grown more interested in telling stories ABOUT science.  Despite his Harvard Ph.D., four years of post-doctoral research in Australia and Florida, and years of diving around the world from the Great Barrier Reef to Antarctica, he tossed it all in, resigned from his tenured professorship, and moved to Hollywood to explore film as a medium for communicating science.  Today he is an INDEPENDENT FILMMAKER and no longer considers himself a scientist, but is now fluent in the two languages of science and cinema. In addition to writing and directing his own feature films about major issues in science, he has worked with a variety of clients to assist them with the use of visual media in communicating science to the general public. Through his writings he has both related his journey and continues his exploration into the role of storytelling in the mass communication of science.


Jon Hooper  Dr. Jon Hooper’s professional “mission” is to help people better understand how ecological systems truly function (i.e., replacing fallacies with facts) so they can make ecologically-sound decisions on environmental issues. Jon has taught wildlife education and environmental communication workshops for more than 40 years throughout the U.S. for more than 35 agencies and organizations. He has published more than 40 wildlife communication publications. Jon is a Certified Wildlife Biologist via The Wildlife Society as well as a Certified Interpretive Trainer and “Fellow” with the National Association for Interpretation. He is a professor emeritus from the Department of Recreation, Hospitality, and Parks Management at California State University, Chico. Jon has worked for Wildlife Extension (Cooperative Extension Service) in both Colorado and California as well as for the Colorado Division of Wildlife where he did fisheries biology field work in -47-degree weather! Jon taught the Western Section’s “Natural Resources Communication Workshop” (NRCW) for more than 40 years (from 1975 until 2016) and received the Raymond F. Dasmann Professional of the Year Award from the Western Section in 2002.


Mike Gil  Dr. Mike Gil, Ph.D., is a National Science Foundation (USA) Postdoctoral Research Fellow (University of California, Davis) and a TED Fellow. Dr. Gil has studied various marine ecosystems in the USA, the Caribbean, French Polynesia and Southeast Asia, from coastal coral reefs, seagrass meadows, and salt marshes to plastic pollution in the middle of the Pacific. His diverse research efforts are unified by a common goal: better understand how natural communities of organisms function and provide invaluable services to humankind in a changing world. In addition to his scientific research, Dr. Gil is an award-winning science communicator with broad interests in connecting the public with the process of scientific discovery and all that it offers to individuals and to humankind, as a whole. To this end, Dr. Gil founded and runs a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization,, which uses mass science communication to diversify interest in science.


Sara ElShafie  Sara ElShafie is a doctoral candidate in Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. Her research, based at the UC Museum of Paleontology at Berkeley, investigates climate change impacts on animal communities over time. Sara is passionate about making research accessible and exciting for the masses. She works with artists, scientists, and educators around the country to develop programs that train professionals to engage the public with their work. Sara is currently piloting a story training workshop series for scientists, which she developed in collaboration with artists at Pixar Animation Studios. She is also organizing a symposium, Science Through Narrative: Engaging Broad Audiences, for the 2018 Annual Meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology in San Francisco.


The 2017 Keynote Address 

  • Wednesday, February 7:  10-11:30am,  Alexander 1-2 Ballroom

More information coming soon!