Brain Balls: Effective Science Communication or Misinformed Hype?

Podcast – Brain Balls: Effective Science Communication or Misinformed Hype?

Which is more likely to catch a reader’s attention: a pop science article referring to “human cortical spheroids” or “brain balls”? Each has its advantages, but also its drawbacks. Communication of science requires reader-friendly translation of jargon-filled, complex ideas, but it’s crucial that this is done accurately and without misinformed hype. For Stanford researcher Dr. Sergiu Pasca, this challenge is especially relevant. His work developing three-dimensional models of human brain tissue could rile up fears of scientific creations gaining consciousness or even becoming “human.” Pasca’s challenge is shared by scientists in all disciplines, especially where innovation can seem closer to science fiction than reality.

In this episode of the Stanford SciCast, a class initiative that is part of the Stanford Notation in Science Communication program, Robel Daniel and Amanda Urke explore the many factors influencing how complicated and often controversial science is conducted, communicated to non-expert audiences, and perceived by the public. Through conversations with Stanford Bioengineering Professor Drew Endy and Stanford science writer Bruce Goldman, Robel and Amanda explore the philosophical basis and limitations of scientific communication and how it is achieved in today’s media.

Thank you to Drew Endy and Bruce Goldman for sharing their perspectives on science and how it’s communicated and to Jennifer Stonaker for her guidance in producing this podcast.

To learn more about Dr. Pasca’s research, visit his lab website at or check out Bruce’s articles:
• “Scientists generate, track development of myelin-producing brain cells” – Stanford Medicine news center, January 28, 2019
• “Brain Balls” – Stanford Medicine blog, Winter 2018

For science communication gone wrong, here are the articles mentioned in the podcast:
• “Brain balls grown from skin cells spark with electricity” – Wired, 2015
• “Scientists brew up the creepiest batches of brain balls yet” – Wired, 2017

For more podcasts from the Stanford SciCast, check out their website
Photography credit: Timothy Archibald.

Music credit: “Perihelion” by Arvind Ranganathan, used with personal and explicit permission. His current SoundCloud is, and “Perihelion” was retrieved from his older SoundCloud