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Shankar Vedantam: Connecting Social Science Research and the Real World

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The Hidden Brain
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Much of the work of social scientists centers around explaining why we humans do the things we do. Not all social scientists are good at explaining that work – or putting it into context – for general audiences. But fortunately, one of tasks of journalists is also to explain why things are the way they are.

NPR’s Shankar Vedantam is especially good at doing just that. He's the host of the NPR podcast The Hidden Brain, and a correspondent on the NPR Science Desk.

Vedantam has a knack for taking complex theories and concepts and making them accessible to listeners. He says its a skill that's beneficial for both journalists and researchers. 

"The point of doing all that research is that it actually has an effect in the real world, that it actually connects with people in their real lives," says Vedantam. "And I think many universities are saying that it's not enough for us just simply to fund great research that makes it into prestigious journals. It's really important to communicate those ideas to the public in a way that makes sense to them." 

As a science reporter and podcast host, Vedantam is sent a lot of scientific studies and analyses, but they don't always make it out to his audience right away. "Things are constantly coming by my desk, and as they do, I'm keeping one ear open to whatever's happening in the news. And if something comes by my desk that is connected to something that's topical or interesting, I flag it and I say, 'This is the perfect time to talk about this piece of research, because everyone's thinking about the subject,'" he says. 

This piece was originally published October 17, 2016. Shankar Vedantam is NPR's social science correspondent and host of its Hidden Brain podcast. He's also author of the book, The Hidden Brain: How our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars and Save Our Lives

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Joy Powers joined WUWM January 2016 as producer for Lake Effect. Most recently, she was a director and producer for The Afternoon Shift, on WBEZ-fm, Chicago Public Radio.