What should I write about? Examples from other scientists’ op-ed articles in the New York Times

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Write an op-ed! Op-eds and other newspaper articles are very effective ways to communicate a new idea or synthesis of ideas, or to remind a large audience of an issue you think they should consider.

But what should you write about? Easy- something you care about. It could be your work, someone else’s research, or a political issue.

Just some of the op-eds in the New York Times that are written by scientists in the last couple of years (2013- 2016), with the except of physicist Freeman Dyson’s 2000 op-ed “Science, Guided by Ethics, Can Lift Up the Poor,” are listed below. Many of the headline issues are here: elections, same-sex marriage, climate change, common core standards in public schools.

There are several observations one could make by a brief look. Op-ed contributors come from all over the world, though a majority are east coast scientists. Many of the articles are written by scientists who also have written a book or are in a non-profit in the field on which they are writing: perhaps they are comfortable with talking with the public. More cynically, I wondered, perhaps they are promoting new books? But I think many of these authors try to communicate a burning issue in every way they can, and so write books, write op-eds, give talks.

Sometimes people write about a concern not in a field of work that relates to their training. For example, Physicist Michael Riordan wrote an op-ed “Don’t Sell Cheap Coal to Asia” on the effect of such a policy decision on carbon dioxide emissions. But most write and relate their topic to their own experiences.

It isn’t terribly easy to have your op-ed published in the New York Times. Many issues are local, and writing op-eds for local papers might be a better way (and good practice) to communicate your thoughts as a scientist and citizen.

EXAMPLES OF NY TIMES OP-EDS WRITTEN BY SCIENTISTS.

Science, Guided by Ethics, Can Lift Up the Poor. Freeman Dyson, Professor of Physics at the Institute for Advanced Study and the author of books on science and philosophy.  May 29, 2000.

How to Handle the Vaccine Skeptics. Saad B. Omer, Associate Professor of Global Health, Epidemiology and Pediatrics at Emory University.  February 6, 2015.

The Roots of Implicit Bias. Daniel A Yudkin, graduate student and Jay Van Bavel, Associate Professor, New York University in the Psychology Department. December 11, 2016.

Second Thoughts of an Animal Researcher. John P. Gluck, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the University of New Mexico. September 4, 2016.

There’s Such a Thing as Too Much Neuroscience. John C. Markowitx, Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Columbia University and a research psychiatrist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. October 14, 2016.

Medicating a Prophet. Medicating a Prophet.Irene Hurford, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania and director of a psychosis program at Horizon House. October 1, 2016.

If You See Something, Say Something. Michael E. Mann, Director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University and the author of “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines.”  January 17, 2014.

How to Stop Overprescribing Antibiotics. Craig R. Fox, Jeffrey A. Wonder, and Jason N. Doctor.  Craig Fox is a Professor of Management, Psychology, and Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. Jessfrey Linder is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Jason Doctor is an Associate Professor of Pharmaceutical and Health Economics at the University of Southern California. March 25, 2016.

Evolution is Happening Faster Than We Thought. Menno Schilthuizen, Evolutionary Biologist at the Naturalis BioDiversity Center in the Netherlands and the author of “Nature’s Nether Regions” and the forthcoming “Darwin Comes to Town.”  July 23, 2016.

Are You in Despair? That’s Good. Lisa Feldman Barrett, Professor of Psychology at Northeastern University and the author of the forthcoming “How Emotions Are Made.” June 3, 2016.

The Lost Culture of Whales. Shane Hero, Behavioral Ecologist and founder of the Dominica Sperm Whale Project.  October 9, 2016

Eliminate the TB Scourge. Uvistra Naidoo, Pediatrician and Research Scientist in Cape Town, South Africa. May 19, 2016

Climate Change in Trump’s Age of Ignorance. Robert N. Proctor, Professor of the History of Science at Stanford and the Author of “Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition.” November 20, 2016

The Math of March Madness. Jordan Ellenburg, Professor of Mathematics at the  University of Wisconsin and the author, most recently, of “How Not To Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking.” March 22, 2015.

‘Run, Hide, Fight’ Is Not How Our Brains Work. Joseph Ledoux, Professor of Science at New York University and the author of “Anxious” Using the Brain to Understand and Treat Fear and Anxiety.”  December 20, 2015.

Unequal, Yet Happy. Steven Quartz, Professor of Philosophy and Neuroscience and Anette Asp, a political scientist, both the authors of “Cool: How the Brain’s Hidden Quest for Cool Drives Our Economy and Shapes Our World.”.    April 11, 2015

How I Got Converted to G.M.O. Food. Mark Lynas, researcher at the Cornell Alliance for Science and the author, most recently, of “The God Species: How the Planet Can Survive the Age of Humans.” April 26, 2015

A Bird Whose Life Depends on a Crab. Deborah Cramer, visiting scholar at the M.I.T. Earth System Initiative and the author, most recently, of “Smithsonian Ocean: Our Water Our World.” November 27, 2013

Academic Science Isn’t Sexist. Wendy M. Williams and Stephen J. Ceci, Professors of Human Development at Cornell. November 2, 2014

An Epidemic of Thyroid Cancer? H. Gilbert Welch, Professor of Medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for health Policy and Clinical Practice and an author of “Overdiagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health.” November 6, 2014

Beware Marauding Carp. David Strayer, a Senior Scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and the author of “The Hudson River Primer: Ecology of an Iconic River” and John Waldman, Professor of Biology at Queens College, City University of New York and the author of “Running Silver: Restoring Atlantic Rivers and Their Great Fish Migrations.” November 19, 2013.

Bring Back the Lyme Vaccine. Stanley A. Plotkin, Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania.  September 18, 2013

Don’t Sell Cheap U.S. Coal to Asia. Michael Riordan, physicist and author of “The Hunting of the Quark.” February 13, 2014.

Fix the Flaws in Forensic Science. Eric S. Lander, Director of the Broad Institute of M.I.T. and Harvard and the co-chairman of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. April 21, 2015

Give the Data to the People. Harlan M. Krumholz, Professor of Cardiology and Public health at the Yale School of Medicine. February 2, 2014

God, Darwin and My College Biology Class. David P. Barash, Evolutionary Biologist and Professor of Psychology at the University of Washington. September 27, 2014.

How to Fall in Love with Math. Manil Sure, Mathematics Professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and the author, most recently, of the novel “The City of Devi.” September 16, 2013

Iowa in the Amazon. Stephen Porder, Associate Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Brown University.   November 24, 2013.

Is the Universe a Simulation? Edward Frenkel, Professor of Mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley and the author of “Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality.” February 16, 2014.

Let Math Save Our Democracy. Sam Wang, Professor of Neuroscience and Molecular Biology at Princeton and the founder of the Princeton Election Consortium. December 5, 2015.

Meet the New Common Core. Jordan Ellenburg, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Wisconsin and the author of “How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking.”  June 16, 2015.

Nature’s Case for Same Sex Marriage.  David George Haskell, Professor of Biology at Sewanee, the University of the South and the author of “the Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature.”  March 30, 2013.

New Blood Donor policy, Same Gay Stigma. I. GlennCohen, Professor at Harvard Law School and the faculty director of the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology and Bioethics, and Eli Y. Akashi, a professor and former dean of Medical Science at Brown University. May 21, 2015.

Our Lonely Home in Nature. Alan Lightman, Physicist who teaches Humanities at M.I.T. and most recently the author of “The Accidental Universe.” May 2, 2014.

Reefer Madness, an Unfortunate Redux. Carl. L. Hart, Associate Professor of Psychology at Columbia University and the author of “High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self Discovery That Challenges Everything Your Know about Drugs and Society.” July 11, 2013

Predator and Prey, a Delicate Dance. John A. Vucetich is a population biologist at Michigan Tech , Michael P. Nelson is an environmental ethicist at Oregon State University,  and Rolf O. Peterson is a Wildlife Ecologist at Michigan Tech. May 8, 2013.

Stopping the Next Amphibian Apocalypse. Karen R. Lips, Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Maryland. November 15, 2014.

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