Cormorants in flight. Image Credit: Jenny Woodman

Proteus (n) In Greek mythology, Proteus was the shepherd of the ocean’s flocks. The word protean (adj.), derived from Proteus, means adopting or existing in various shapes, variable in form; variously manifested or expressed; changing, unpredictable.

We strive to connect a science-curious audience with STEM professionals, writers, and artists working in the oceanic community through storytelling, writing workshops, and community outreach. Our primary goals are to build critical science literacy and to engage the public with the ocean–our planet’s life support system.

Our Team

Executive & Creative Director – Jenny Woodman
Web Development – Rachel Chenven Powers
Contributing Editor – Elise Mulder Osenga
2018 Science Writing Fellow – Malea Saul

Board of Directors
Prineet Pottmeyer – President
Linda Fergusson-Kolmes – Treasurer
Amber Hale – Secretary

Critical Science Literacy

A 2017 Pew Research Center survey confirms that the public struggles with science literacy, noting that approximately 44 percent of U.S. adults believe that the public doesn’t know enough about science and makes assumptions when applying research findings to their own lives (Gottfried & Funk 2017).

A traditional view of science literacy focuses on information and facts — on textbook knowledge, but critical science literacy emphasizes awareness of how science is practiced, from the collaborative nature of research and how science is funded to the ways we evaluate what we know to be true at any given moment. Communications scholar Susanna Priest likens critical science literacy to cultural awareness: “the kind of everyday, tacit knowledge of ‘how things work’ that members of a culture take for granted but outsiders can find mystifying.”

A science literate public is less concerned with scientific concepts rotely-memorized; rather, they are armed with enough understanding to think critically about the world around them and to participate in a Democratic society. They are skeptical of sensational science headlines and carefully consider the sources of the information they consume. And, most importantly, they possess agency and autonomy, which strengthens our commitment to provide tools for decision-making without manipulation or covert persuasion (Goodwin, 2018).

Informed citizens make better decisions. However, an ever-changing media landscape creates significant barriers between the public and the scientific understanding necessary to inspire meaningful action on climate change (Priest 2018; Schubel 2016).

While climate change makes headlines daily, there are fewer (and fewer) journalists assigned to science and environmental beats. This combined with the deluge of data and information widely available on the internet makes critical science literacy fundamental in an age where science and technology pervade almost all aspects of our lives (Priest 2013; Priest 2018).

Evidence of sea level rise, hypoxic zones, and ocean acidification are just a few of the indicators that suggest the ocean is inextricably linked with climate change. Factoring in other human-caused stressors like plastic and pollution adds an even greater sense of urgency to the task of communicating about how oceanic changes impact our future and the future of many other species.

Priest writes that climate change may constitute a science communication emergency. As mounting evidence suggests that action now may be our only hope; she is one of many experts making a case for swift action.

The ocean poses additional challenges for engagement. Over 70 percent of Earth’s surface is covered by water, but most of the ocean is out of sight and out of mind for the students, activists, and change-makers who might help mitigate threats to our vital ocean ecosystems.

Because of this disconnect between awareness and the scope of threats to our oceans, vast expanses of our planet remain unexplored and unknown. In the deep, cold waters, there are mountains that would tower over the Himalayas and bioluminescent sea creatures who use tools. There are species that coordinate with other species to hunt and survive in the harshest of environments. Currently, at least half of the anticancer drugs on the market come from marine resources, so ancient sea sponges and cold-water corals we’re discovering now may unlock medical breakthroughs the likes of which we can only imagine (Woodman 2016).

How do you build literacy and engage with something so distant, with a place that seems out of our reach? We build emotional investment in ocean issues through a media platform that uses multimedia storytelling and a vibrant social media presence to inform the public about key players in the ocean community and their challenges and successes. Science is, after all, a human endeavor and we are storytellers constantly searching for the connective tissue to make an audience keep reading, keep looking, and — most importantly — keep thinking.

Read more from the experts…

Goodwin, J. (2018). Effective Because Ethical: Speech Act Theory as a Frameworks for Scientists’ Communication. In Ed. Priest, S., Goodwin, Jean, & Dahlstrom, Michael F. (2018). Ethics and practice in science communication. Chicago ; London: The University of Chicago Press.

Gottfried, J. and Funk, C. (2017). Most Americans get their science news from general outlets, but many doubt their accuracy. Pew Research Center Fact Tank.

Priest, S. (2013). Critical Science Literacy. Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society,33(5-6), 138-145.

Priest, S. (2018).  Communicating Climate Change and Other Evidence-Based Controversies: Challenges to Ethics in Practice. In Ed. Priest, S., Goodwin, Jean, & Dahlstrom, Michael F. (2018). Ethics and practice in science communication. Chicago ; London: The University of Chicago Press.

Schubel, J. (2016). Positioning ocean exploration in a chaotic sea of changing media. Paper presented at 2016 Ocean Exploration Forum: “Beyond the Ships.” New York: Rockefeller University.

Woodman, J. (2016). NOAA’s Chief Scientists Charts Course Toward a New Blue Economy. IEEE Earthzine.