Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Why academics need to learn the art of storytelling

Share 14 Join us on Follow us on News Feeds Global Edition Africa Edition Disclaimer All reader responses posted on this site are those of the reader ONLY and NOT those of University World News or Higher Education Web Publishing, their associated trademarks, websites and services. University World News or Higher Education Web Publishing does not necessarily endorse, support, sanction, encourage, verify or agree with any comments, opinions or statements or other content provided by readers. At a recent town hall meeting in the United States, a boisterous crowd demanded a strategy from their state representatives for how to influence the governor’s views on immigration. Should citizens send the governor research documenting the effects of state policy on immigrant children, or should they call his office to cite statistics showing the negative impact of these policies on schools and universities? No, the representatives told the eager throng of citizens: Write stories of immigrant students affected by state policy and send these to the governor instead. Storytelling may not be how academics in the natural and social sciences typically describe their work, but the use of stories is a powerful tool to make our research more accessible and to reach wider audiences. Now, more than ever, scholars must develop strategies to communicate the results of our research to the public as a means of challenging 'alternative facts' and appealing to politicians’ better nature in making policy decisions. Improving accessibility Two key ways to improve accessibility of scholarship are telling compelling personal stories about others and narrating stories about our own research. First, we need to develop real-life scenarios of the students, faculty, families and communities affected by changes in education policy and programmes. By turning statistics from our research into stories, we are employing a successful strategy in political communication whereby researchers contextualise a problem in an effort to persuade their audience to take action – to support a piece of legislation or to vote for a candidate who understands the impact of a policy on the lives of real people. In the United States, higher education scholars might talk about students affected by President Donald Trump’s travel ban, enrolment crises at public universities, food and housing insecurity or crippling debt to obtain a bachelor degree. The key is to translate numerical data on these issues into evocative stories, which can be followed by relevant, persuasive statistics once a compelling image has been presented. The second strategy for improving accessibility requires setting the scene for our research by explaining our personal connection to a topic before we present details of our discoveries. Undergraduate students, like audiences outside academia, often find the stories of the scientists as compelling as the story of the science in which they are engaged. We can use these personal accounts as a hook if we think about the narrative arc of a story: rising action – how our interest in a topic began to grow; climax – an unexpected experience related to the topic; and falling action – how we have turned this personal experience into our primary research focus. By Frances Vavrus and Lesley Bartlett At this point, we can begin to delve into the details of our research and why it should matter to the audience. Finding a climactic moment in our own research story is particularly important when the topic itself, such as educational financing or personnel management, may not have intrinsic appeal to audiences outside the academy. Influencing wider audiences As academics improve the accessibility of their writing, we must also disseminate it to wider audiences, including policy-makers and the voting public. We must learn to convey the gist of our findings in non-technical language using examples from everyday life, common metaphors and more focused, concise arguments. In addition, university instructors can incorporate public-facing writing assignments and presentations in their courses, which teaches students how to communicate with wider audiences and demonstrates the work of universities. We find that students are eager to learn strategies for writing effective op-ed pieces, book reviews and blog posts and they easily use social media to convey content relevant to their courses. These activities engage students in conversations with audiences beyond their classmates and professors, thereby increasing the likelihood that scholarly readings and discussions in the classroom will influence debate with the wider public. Risks and rewards To be sure, there are risks for academics in engaging with broader audiences through media over which we have far less control than in a book or journal article. Being interviewed by a journalist may result in the over-simplification, or misinterpretation, of our research. Internet trolls can be vicious in their attacks, and this can be particularly damaging to early career faculty. Promotion and tenure committees will likely not value the dissemination of one’s findings through non-peer reviewed publications. Nevertheless, readers often respond more powerfully to well-written stories than to tables, charts and graphs. At this time of budget cuts and restricted access to higher education, we need the public and the politicians whom they elect to understand fully what we do as higher education researchers and why it matters for every one of us. Professor Frances Vavrus is a faculty member in the department of organisational leadership, policy and development at the University of Minnesota, USA. Lesley Bartlett is a professor in educational policy studies and a faculty affiliate in anthropology at University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Research Africa science journalism internship opportunity

Description Research Africa is offering African journalists with a proven track record in science or financial journalism an intensive seven-month internship at its headquarters in Cape Town, South Africa. The internship will start in March 2014. The successful applicant will spend their time honing their journalism skills in Cape Town and at Research Africa's sister offices in London, as well as go on a reporting trip to an African country. The intern will work with Research Africa's excellent editorial team which produces news and analysis on African research funding and science trends on the continent. Non-South African applicants will be prioritised. Research Africa will cover the costs of travel to and from South Africa, fieldwork travel, accommodation in Cape Town and London, and a daily stipend. Visa costs will be reimbursed on presentation of valid receipts. The internship is funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) as part of their science journalism awards programme. Applicants need to propose a modest research project that they will carry out during their internship. Proposals should be no longer than four pages in length, and should describe how a topical issue related to strengthening Africa’s standing in global research will be investigated and the results disseminated. Applicants must also submit their curriculum vitae, three recent relevant articles (print or electronic), and a letter of permission from their line manager confirming that they would be allowed to take seven months off work (paid or unpaid leave). Applicants should be mature, self-motivated and independent, with fluent written and spoken English and a high degree of numeracy. They should be computer literate and comfortably able to use MS Office programmes. Competence in both PC and Mac environments would be an advantage. Applications, including certified copies of academic degrees, should be emailed to with the subject line: Research Africa-IDRC science journalism internship. Deadline: 29 November 2013. SOURCE:

Thursday, August 29, 2013


Although the number of Kenyans aspiring to be farmers is declining, agriculture has a huge potential in responding to food insecurity locally and internationally - thus job creation. In an age when more than 8 million Kenyan are classified as unemployed agriculture might be the neglected corner stone. The book Creating Abundance: Visionary Entrepreneurs of Agriculture by Hiram M. Drache says what makes the deference is how one looks at and practices agriculture that makes a difference. He cites an example of Louis Larson who started his dairy operation with one calf and now owns 12,500 milk cows. Leonard Odde left the farm at age 17 but returned years later to amass 40,000 acres of corn, soybeans and sunflowers. Beginning with just 200 acres in the Red River Valley in 1964, Ronald Offutt built an enterprise that has become the nation’s largest producer of potatoes. These examples illustrate that unlike other enterprises one can join agricultural entrepreneurship with a will and determination to succeed while having a clear vision. The book is crystal clear that these three farmers as well as others interviewed in the book are coming from different starting points however their success stories are interwoven by work ethic, determination and vision. These three components says the author who is a retired, 40-year history professor at Concordia College in Moorhead, MN, turned their dreams into entrepreneurial success stories. Drache says the books is a product of the realization that most people are not able to embrace dynamic the changes sweeping a round them and turn them into opportunities. He writes: “In 1975, I spoke at a symposium on the bicentennial of American agriculture and stated that 95 percent of our farmers did not grasp the rate of change that was taking place in their industry. You can imagine the kind of reception I received from that comment.” From the responses he got, he adds: “It was then and there that I decided it was imperative to write about incredible visionaries who were not only industrializing agriculture, but were taking it into the global era.” The books brings together a tapestry of agricultural segments, 15 different enterprises and show cases that any choice is worthy to deliver success – from poultry farming to cattle production, cereal farming to row crops among them. He is candid that attitude, mindset that is informed and transformed, that has grasped the bigger picture distinguishes successful agriculture entrepreneurs. Thus he says: “But the type of thinking these people put into their businesses is what can shape” their future; adding, “I truly wanted to look at all industries within agriculture and write about what it takes to change and shape an agricultural enterprise.” The books bring home that science, technology and innovation is not limited to, only, areas the present youths are envisioning thus rural – urban migration rather technology can be integrated in agriculture to steer it to a higher level of entrepreneurship just like any other sector.

Friday, May 10, 2013


Cancer is ranked a third killer disease in Kenya: more than 18,000 new cases of the disease are diagnosed every year, medical experts are pointing out that the numbers might be more than 70,000 if all cases were to be identified at hospitals. However, the government is yet to set aside budgetary allocation funds, specifically, for cancer treatment since it is rated as a national threat like HIV and Malaria. Early intervention for cancer promises its cure. Apart from cancer treatment being very expensive particularly when it is sought from private health care facilities lack of awareness of its causes and symptoms complicate the situation, make it impossible to cure as medical attention is sought at advanced stage. A single radiotherapy cost about Sh600 at Kenyatta national hospital, which is a subsidized fee while it is Sh15,000 in a private facility thus discouraging majority of Kenyans from accessing treatment. From the different types of cancer locally the survival rate is between 10 to 20 per cent as compared to 70 per cent in developed nations. Local statistics on mortality rates as a result of cancer indicate that about 18,000 people die of cancer related complications while the world Health Organisation estimates the figure to be 42,000. In Kenya, only two public health facilities offer holistic cancer treatment; the Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi and Moi Teaching and Referral hospital in Eldoret. Other health facilities offer partial treatment which includes diagnosis and chemotherapy with radiotherapy being offered at KNH only. Cancer a global disease The World Health Organization’s World Cancer Report (WHOWCR) 2008 points out that about 13 million new cases and 7.6 million deaths from cancer occurred in 2008. The WHOWCR shows an increase of about 10 million new cases and some 6 million deaths from 2003 to 2008. The WHOWCR survey indicates that no region of the world is cancer-free. “Age-standardized cancer rates allow identification of particular geographic variations, but not all databases are of the same quality. Generalizations, however, can usually be made with some degree of reliability,” says Dr. Allan R. Handysides, Seventh¬ - Day Adventist, director, General Conference Health Ministries Department. The WHOWCR unveils that regional differences in cancer rates are very distinct. The United States rates high, with some 334 cases of cancer per 100,000 men. Australia and New Zealand, with 356.8 per 100,000, has worse statistics. Northern Europe at 303.5 and Western Europe at 337.4 per 100,000 also have high rates. The risk of dying from cancer is even higher in Central and Eastern Europe. Women in the same regions also have high rates of cancer, particularly breast cancer. According to the International Journal of Cancer the lowest cancer rates occur in Central and West Africa, and South-Central Asia for men and Central and North Africa for women. Affluent societies carry a higher burden of cancer, the journal says usually related to tobacco smoking and other factors associated with a Western lifestyle. The journal explains that in developing countries, Kenya included, 25 percent of tumors are associated with chronic infections such as hepatitis B (liver cancer), human papilloma viruses (cervical cancer), and Helicobacter pylori (stomach cancer). In some Western countries there has been a decline in cancer mortality rates, because fewer people are smoking, the journal says, adding that worldwide, lung cancer is the most common, followed by breast cancer and then colon cancer. Cancer deaths are most often related to lung, stomach, and liver cancer. The increase in the world’s population is responsible for some of the gross increase in cancer statistics. Because some cancers are more amenable to treatment, cancer of breast, prostate, and uterine/cervix, for example, are the cause of death in only a minority of patients so affected. Causes of Cancer Many factors impact the prevalence of human cancer, Dr. Handysides says. “These range from cancer-inducing agents, or carcinogens, to chronic infections, dietary and lifestyle factors, alcohol consumption, and genetic susceptibility. Some 20 percent of cancers are associated with chronic infections.” Indeed the International Journal of Cancer says the most hazardous human carcinogens include tobacco, asbestos, aflatoxins, and ultraviolet light. Tobacco Tobacco smoke is irrefutably causally associated with lung cancer. Less recognized is the association of tobacco with laryngeal, pancreatic, kidney, bladder, and—in conjunction with alcohol—oral and esophageal cancer. Study shows the age a person begins to smoke affects incidence of cancer. Adults aged 55 to 64 who smoke 21 to 39 cigarettes per day and commenced smoking before age 15 are three times more at risk to die of lung cancer than those who started after age 25. World Health Organization, World Cancer Report 2003 says certain varieties of tobacco, example, black tobacco may be more dangerous than others, but there is no safe tobacco. Alcohol WHOWCR 2003 shows alcohol to be second in its summary of cancer causes. Heavy alcohol consumption causes cancer of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, and liver, and increases the risk of breast and colorectal cancer. A causal relationship between alcohol and colon and rectal cancer is also strongly suggested, and the risk of head and neck cancers in heavy drinkers is some five to 10 times higher than in nondrinkers. The risk correlates to the amount of alcohol consumed. Changing patterns of consumption suggest increases in less developed countries with a decrease in more developed countries. The actual carcinogenic effect of habitual drinking, however, is likely underestimated, the medical expert says. Going by the study alcohol is estimated to be involved in causing 3 percent of all cancers (4 percent in men and 2 percent in women). Of course, apart from its carcinogenic effects, alcohol is associated with a plethora of other problems. Occupational Exposure Some industries expose workers to a variety of chemicals. The first cases of occupational cancer were identified in the eighteenth century among chimney sweeps, who developed scrotal cancer, the Chirurgical Observations says, adding that currently there are about 25 chemicals, or groups of chemicals, for which occupational exposure has been established as carcinogenic risk. An encouraging note according to Chirurgical Observations is: in developed countries most such risks have been eliminated, especially for asbestos, crystalline silica, and heavy metals, but there are hazardous materials that are probably carcinogens that bring the total to nearly 50 potentially carcinogenic chemicals. “Awareness of such dangers is helpful in assuring vigilance and regulation of industries,” the medical director says. Some agents occur in the general environment, he explains, adding such as chronic hepatitis B and C viruses, aflatoxins, radon, and solar radiation. Diesel exhaust has been implicated in lung and bladder cancer. Environmental Pollution Harvard Report on Cancer Prevention says the environment, with its polluted soil, water, and air, is responsible for up to 4 percent of all cancers. While according to the Cancer: Causes, Occurrence, and Control, IARC Scientific Publication the “environment” that we create with smoking, drinking alcohol, dietary factors, lack of exercise, and excessive sun exposure may be implicated in the majority of human cancers. The publication says unavoidable nonoccupational toxic substances to which we are environmentally exposed include the following: Asbestos, one of the best-documented causes of cancer, specifically mesothelioma. Asbestos dust may contaminate not only the workplace but the homes of asbestos workers when transported on their clothes. The Human Experimental Toxicology says air pollution, which includes industrial work materials, not the least of which are vehicular emissions. These emissions may contain such products as benzene, toluene, xylenes, and acetylene—all known carcinogens. Urban populations have a higher risk than rural populations. Very high lung cancer rates have been noted in nonindustrial workers living at home. Studies show that nonsmoking Chinese women, for example, are exposed to indoor air pollution from their cooking and heating practices. Vapors from hot oil may contribute to such cancers, along with the smoke of their heating source and fuel. Water pollution, which can be combated with chlorination to reduce bacterial and viral problems, articulates the American Journal of Public Health, adding the chlorinating process, however, may produce harmful chlorination by-products. Studies suggest a causal relationship between chlorinated water and bladder cancers. The journal further explains that contaminated water is a source of arsenic exposure, which links to skin cancer, lung cancer, and cancer of other organs. High arsenic levels have been found in drinking water in several areas of Argentina, Bangladesh, Chile, India, Mexico, Mongolia, 
Taiwan, Alaska, and other parts of the United States. Food Contamination Not only the environment but also our food may be contaminated. Even natural foods can be infected with natural molds that can produce toxins such as aflatoxins. Residual pesticides can also be a problem. In Africa and Asia fungal growth and aflatoxin production are recognized problems. Animals consuming such foodstuffs, in turn, become problematic. When such contaminants are antibiotics, hormonal growth promoters, pesticides, and heavy metals, they may be concentrated in the meat, milk, or eggs. Organochlorines, such as DDT, have been associated with increased risk of pancreatic and breast cancers, lymphoma, and leukemia, points out the Relevance to Human Cancer of N-Nitroso Compounds, Tobacco Smoke, and Mycotoxins, IARC Scientific Publications. Further explaining that attempts to correlate polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) with breast cancer have proved conclusive. Infection Agents and Cancer Various study are showing that there is a cancerous effects of flesh foods. A Study by the National Geographic confirms that animal diseases cancer included can be transmitted to human beings. The study unveils that some flesh is “filled with tuberculosis and cancerous germs.” The Journal of the American Medical Association 56 shows infection link between animals and human beings in regard to cancer. With advances in molecular biology the link has been confirmed since it permits the detection of very small quantities of an infectious agent in biological specimens. Since then at least eight different viruses, four parasites, and one bacterium have been causally linked to cancer. Hepatitis B and C and the human papilloma viruses are transmitted by sexual means and blood contamination. The Epstein-Barr virus is also transmitted by human-to-human contact, as is HIV infection. The human T-cell lymphotropic virus causes lymphoma/leukemia, and is similarly transmitted by human-to-human contact. Human herpes virus 8 (HHV-8) has been associated with Kaposi’s sarcoma. Helicobacter pylori are associated with stomach cancer. Parasites of the liver fluke families, acquired by eating raw or undercooked fish, have been associated with liver cancer. As yet there is no evidence of animal viruses causing human cancer, but the concept of a cancer germ was dismissed in medical literature until the past few decades. Diet and Nutrition It’s been estimated that some 30 percent of human cancers are related to diet and nutrition. The incidence of various cancers differs by world region. There are many potential causes of such variation, but cancers of the breast, colorectum, prostate, endometrium, ovary, and lung are generally more common in developed countries. Cancer of the digestive tract is more frequent in developing countries. The most consistent finding is the association of reduced risk of various cancers with the eating of fruits and vegetables. Medical research support these findings, particularly showing that meat eaters experience a threefold to fourfold increased risk for colon cancers. There is a consistent association between red meat (pork, beef, and lamb) and processed meat, with increased risks being noted in many studies. Simple sugar (mono- and disaccharides) may be associated with increased colorectal cancer. The higher carbohydrate content of a vegetarian diet, with its complex carbohydrates, appears to offer a protective effect. Fat has been the focus of most hypotheses about dietary factors 
and cancer. Studies on ratios of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats have, as yet, not yielded clear data, although olive oil is associated with reduced risk. Dr. Handysides says healthful eating, exercise, fresh air, rest, and trust in God can go along way reducing cancer cases across the globe in the context of accessible and appropriate medical care for all.