Science, not stigma: Navigating empowering language

Science, not stigma: Navigating empowering language

The words and images you use have an incredible impact on the individuals and populations they describe — especially when those groups face complex and interwoven societal and health-related stigma. Science writers have the power to passively perpetuate ignorance and bias — or provide respectful and accurate representation of the people at the heart of their stories. Beyond the ethical imperative, making an effort to use non-stigmatizing words and phrases is an essential step in crafting fair, powerful, and accurate copy. Yet the distinction between non-stigmatizing and stigmatizing language is not always obvious.

While the subjects of justice, fairness and representation in science writing are vast, this panel zeroes in on word and image choice. Rather than provide writers with a list of "bad words," this workshop explores a critical thinking approach to navigating the evolving norms of empowering language.

The panel — composed of communicators and subject matter experts — will offer examples and insights from their experiences with writing about disabilities, advocating to reduce weight bias and obesity stigma, evaluating consumer-health information for stigmatizing effects, and empowering communicators to write confidently about the trans* community. They will discuss strategies science writers can use to avoid missteps in word choice — such as exploring community-driven "preferred language" resources before publishing and asking sources from marginalized communities how they describe themselves. The workshop's discussion portion will provide a supportive venue for science writers to ask about and share their insights on using empowering language.

This workshop is applicable to communicators across scientific beats, working in any medium, and may be particularly useful for those new to the concept of stigmatizing language. PIOs can benefit by incorporating the principles learned into media training for their institutions' spokespeople and by assessing their institution's content for episodes of stigmatizing language.

Saturday, October 26th, 10:30 am to 11:45 am
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Wendy Lu
  Journalist, freelance, New York, N.Y.
Ted Kyle
  Founder, ConscienHealth, Board of Directors, Obesity Action Coalition, Pittsburgh, Pa.
Rachel Smith
  Professor, Department of Communication Arts and Sciences, Penn State, State College, Pa.
Earnest Aaron
  Advocate, KSUnited, Atlanta, Ga.
Gaius J. Augustus
  Freelance multimedia science communicator, Tucson, Ariz.
Hillary Hoffman
  Writer-editor, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md.
Judith Lavelle
  Writer-editor, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md.