IAmSciComm: Origin of SciMoms

In May of 2018, Layla Katiraee, Jenny Splitter, and Anastasia Bodnar hosted a week of science communication discussions on the twitter account @iamscicomm. They each had some amazing things to share that can help inform different aspects of science communication (scicomm for short). We’ll share each day of their tweets in a separate post. The first day, shown below, was hosted by Layla Katiraee, also known as @BioChicaGMO.
SciMoms is a project of Biology Fortified, and their goal is to share information in accessible language on the scientific consensus and guidance from medical/scientific community on topics of interest to parents. They use various forms of media to achieve our goals. SciMoms’ members are Alison Bernstein, Anastasia Bodnar, Layla Katiraee, Natalie Newell, Kavin Senapathy and Jenny Splitter.

Hi Everyone! I am@BioChicaGMO from @scimoms This thread will outline my work, studies, & how I got involved in SciComm. I’m PhD graduate from @UofT @MoGen_Grad. Upon graduating in ’08, I started working in companies that develop sequencing instruments and assays (NGS).
I worked as a Field Applications Scientist, and then moved in-house to product development to represent the voice of customer & voice of support staff in product development. Then, I moved into product development in the lab, where I have worked for almost 5 years.
My work in the lab focused on targeted DNA sequencing: genes make up only a small fraction of all the DNA in our genome. Labs often choose to cut down on costs and analysis by only sequencing genes that they’re interested in.
Currently, I am taking a year off from work. I am back in school at Penn State’s World Campus where I am getting a certificate in bioinformatics. I am also dedicating a chunk of time to @scimoms
I became involved in #scicomm after my son was born. I had a lot of questions/confusion on what to feed him.

I started a blog under a pseudonym to just document my journey as a learned about GMOs and their safety (that’s why my twitter handle is so odd). After a while, I dropped the pseudonym as some sites asked that I write and demanded full transparency.

I met the rest of the @scimoms through social media. We cowrote a letter asking that celebrities consult with scientist and farmers on the topic of food safety.
Then @ncnewell contacted us: she told us that she had read the letter and wanted to make a movie about us.

And she did. She crowdfunded $$, came to each of our houses, asked us a bunch of questions, and put together a 30 minute documentary which tackles some of the questions/concerns parents have: vaccine safety, homeopathy, and GMOs.

SciMoms Challenge #1: when you have a scientific message that has become polarized (ex vaccines, climate change, GMOs), how do you reach new audiences and not just “preach to the choir”? How do you break out of silos?

SciMoms Challenge #2: Much of the marketing that targets parents is fear-based. Fear is a v strong emotion, particularly when it comes to our children. It often leads to “better to be safe than sorry” decisions (ex: spreading out the timing of vaccines). How do we counter this?

SciMom Challenge #3: This one is an internal challenge. How do we make time for our passion project, when we also have kids, work, chores, and staying-healthy?
Challenge #1: Breaking down silos. Our solution: diversify. This has been based on our own experiences. We’ve found that discussing a single topic builds a loyal following on that topic alone. So we discuss a broad range of issues. Like trampoline safety.
SciComm on polarizing topics often relies on building trust. But how can we break through silos on polarizing topics with people who dont know us? We think that by discussing different topics, some of which are not polarizing, we increase our chances of gaining trust.
We also diversify how our message is delivered. We regularly blog, but we also make memes, we will be making infographics, we also have a comic where we’re hoping to introduce scientific concepts and how to identify fear-based marketing.

We also diversify the platform where our message is delivered. We have our website, we’re on FB, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, Medium, and we just started our LinkedIn page.
By diversifying our message, we also give ourselves a break by writing something we’re interested in & won’t bring out hateful messages. Ex: I’m writing a piece on skateboard safety because it’s something that I needed to look into for my son’s latest hobby.

Although our project is very new, we’ve surveyed readers and know that no single effort appeals to all of them. Some love the comic. Others hate it. Some regularly read our newsletters. Others don’t open it. Some get all our posts on Facebook. Others don’t follow us.
#scicomm projects doing great work on polarizing topics: @Voices4Vaccines is one of my favorites. They feature parents who have chosen to immunize and why. Share your favorites!
SciMom challenge #2: countering fear-based marketing. We decided we needed cornerstone articles discussing concept of risk. As parents, many decisions are based on ⬇ risk, but we’re not good at this. SciMom @mommyphd2 & @Thoughtscapism wrote this series: Risk in Perspective.
When we discuss polarizing topics, we try to frame the piece using a proper definition of risk: zero risk is not possible, inaction has risk, risk of alternative must be considered, etc. This allows us to speak to topics with nuance. Even gun safety.
And of course, at the core of our project is the fact that in addition to being scientists or science writers, we are also parents. We understand the fear and the challenges that comes with parenting.
SciMom challenge #3: Among the @scimoms, we don’t refer to it as a balance. We refer to a seesaw. The benefit of having a passion project is that you have no deadlines. No boss. You can put it aside for a while when other parts of your life become overwhelming.


  1. I gave a talk at the American Chemistry Society last week, and I highlighted SciMoms as an excellent effort to break out of the old channels and into the mom-o-sphere. I mentioned the film, and Layla’s recent leap from the blog to an NPR story not long ago. Good job, team moms.

  2. I missed you there. But that was probably because of the large numbers of people there and I was down in the AGRO swamp – that and having to mark assignments.

  3. I love science. I support science education. And it’s important to “bust myths”. But some of the topics tackled by “science communicators” are complex, developing, and impossible for a person to understand without a certain level of education. What I’m seeing is a drive to lump these topics together and then say “these viewpoints are scientifically sound and these are not” when in fact the issues are too complex to approach in that way. I don’t like to see private parties filling the roles that public entities once held. There are too many conflicts of which the individuals themselves are unaware. But this is what happens when the cultural commons, which for a period of time was growing and enriching everyone, is eroded by the greed of private interests. Good luck to you all.

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