Science grapples with some of the most abstract of ideas, and bringing its drama to life for a broad audience is a significant—and vital—cultural challenge. In an all-day, multisession program, the World Science Festival will explore the communication of science—on the page, on the screen, and on the stage—illuminating the process of translating science to story. Some of the foremost interpreters of science for the general public—including scientists with literary sensibilities, journalists, authors, bloggers, composers, actors, filmmakers, and dramatists—will discuss how their narrative crafts are helping to shift science to its rightful place at the cultural center.
Presented in collaboration with the Paley Center for Media
Science on Screen
Participants: Bill Weir, Louie Psihoyos, Simon Singh, Howard Swartz
Fantastic imagery and groundbreaking journalism dominate the best of documentary science storytelling. Director Louie Psihoyos’ Oscar-winning documentary The Cove (2009) stands as one of the most audacious and dangerous-to-film operations in the history of the conservation movement. NOVA’s Emergency Mine Rescue (2010) chronicled the unprecedented technological feat of rescuing 33 trapped Chilean miners. Today’s best producers of on-screen science are pushing the envelope, using a range of computer-based tools—including the highly cinematic techniques of digital science animation—to take viewers on a swooping ride through previously unseen worlds. How do these newly available techniques influence and enhance their editorial judgment? And what stories of science are left to be told?
Participants: Steven Pinker, Siddhartha Mukherjee, James Watson, E.O. Wilson, Brian Greene, Jonathan Weiner, Deborah Blum, Natalie Angier, Timothy Ferris
Scientists with literary sensibilities are telling extraordinary stories about their quest to understand the natural world. With consummate narrative skill, these scientist-storytellers are creating compelling works that provide broad audiences with an entryway into otherwise impenetrable scientific subjects. They are joined in this panel by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists who have ventured into strange but thrilling fields of science. Their work turns the abstract and the seminal into writing so memorable that the rest of us can embrace the science and fully appreciate it. Note: There will be a 15-minute intermission.
Participant: Alan Alda
What happens when scientists try a short course of training in improvisation? Actor-director-writer Alan Alda, who has interviewed hundreds of scientists from around the world in his role as host of the Emmy-award winning PBS series Scientific American Frontiers, is leading an effort to teach improvisational techniques to scientists. The goal is not to turn scientists into actors, pretending to be what they’re not, but to bring about greater authenticity, clarity, and personal presence. The exercises help scientists communicate with a warmth and lucidity that makes their work more understandable to a lay audience and to colleagues across other disciplines.
Telling Science Stories in Print and on the Web
Participants: Seth Mnookin, Carl Zimmer, Andrew Revkin, Bora Zivkovic, Emily Bell
A new generation of science writers is tackling issues where the repercussions of not communicating responsibly with the public have enormous policy and research implications. Meanwhile, it is the best of times and worst of times for science writing on the Web. An expanding cadre of fiercely independent, talented, and often very young science bloggers is coming to grips with a new dilemma: Just how do they fit into the changing landscape of science journalism, and to what degree are they willing to incorporate some old media standards into their new media work?
Since joining ABC News in 2004, Bill Weir has anchored several launches and landings of the Space Shuttle, was the first American to broadcast live from Tibet, and led off 2007’s Earth Day special with an unprecedented underwater live report from the Great Barrier Reef. His in-depth reports on the economic rise of China and India were signature features on Good Morning America, and he led the network’s coverage of Iraq, Where Things Stand at the height of the American troop surge. Domestically, Weir’s reporting often focuses on innovative solutions to America’s biggest problems, from border security and new energy to health care and education reform to the cause and effect of 2009’s recession.
Weir is the co-anchor of Nightline and the former weekend edition of Good Morning America. His reporting is seen on World News with Diane Sawyer, Nightline, and 20/20. In June 2007, he was named host of the ABC News magazine iCaught, and as a writer and host, he produced special hours for the network on topics ranging from religion, to brain science, to the rise and fall of General Motors.
Alan Alda, a seven-time Emmy Award–winner, played Hawkeye Pierce and wrote many of the episodes on the classic TV series M*A*S*H, and appeared in continuing roles on ER, The West Wing, 30 Rock and The Blacklist. He has starred in, written and directed many films, and was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in The Aviator. His interest in science led to his hosting the award-winning PBS series Scientific American Frontiers for 11 years, on which he interviewed hundreds of scientists. Also on PBS he hosted The Human Spark, winning the 2010 Kavli Science Journalism Award, and Brains on Trial in 2013. On Broadway, he appeared as the physicist Richard Feynman in the play QED. He is the author of the play, Radiance: The Passion of Marie Curie. He has won the National Science Board’s Public Service Award, the Scientific American Lifetime Achievement Award and the American Chemical Society Award for Public Service, among others. He is a Visiting Professor at Stony Brook University’s Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science.
Natalie Angier is a Pulitzer-prize winning science columnist for The New York Times and the author of Woman: An Intimate Geography—a finalist for the National Book Award—and The Canon: A Whirligig Tour through the Beautiful Basics of Science, among other books. She has also written for Smithsonian, The Atlantic, National Geographic, The American Scholar, Wired, Geo, Slate, and many other publications, and she has served as editor for both The Best American Science Writing and The Best American Science and Nature Writing series.
Her books have been translated into over 20 languages, and her honors include the American Association for the Advancement of Science prize for excellence in science journalism; the Lewis Thomas award for distinguished writing in the life sciences; the Exploratorium’s Public Understanding of Science award; the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s “Emperor Has No Clothes” award, and membership in the American Philosophical Society. Angier graduated with high honors from Barnard College, where she studied English literature and science, and she was, at age 22, a founding staff member of the science magazine, Discover.
Photo credit – Katherine Angier
Emily Bell is the director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism and a professor of professional practice at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. She was director of digital content for Britain’s Guardian News and Media from 2006 to 2010. Previous to that post, Bell was editor-in-chief of Guardian Unlimited from 2001 to 2006. Under Bell, the Guardian received numerous awards, including the Webby Award for a newspaper website in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009, and British Press Awards for Website of the Year in 2006, 2008 and 2009. Bell first joined the Observer newspaper, which became part of Guardian News and Media, in 1990, as a business reporter specializing in media business, marketing and technology. Bell is a leading media commentator in the U.K., writing about broadcasting and media policy issues. She is a 1987 graduate of Christ Church, Oxford University, where she earned a master’s degree in jurisprudence.
Deborah Blum is a Pulitzer-prize winning science writer and the author of five books, most recently the best-selling tale of murder and forensic detection in 1920s New York, The Poisoner’s Handbook. She writes Poison Pen, a monthly blog on environmental chemistry, for The New York Times, and is a staff science blogger for Wired. She has been published in a wide range of publications including Slate, TIME, Scientific American, Lapham’s Quarterly and the literary journal, Tin House. She began her science-writing career at The Sacramento Bee in California where she won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for a series on ethical issues in primate research. She is now the Helen Firstbrook Franklin Professor of Journalism at the University of Wisconsin where she teaches both science journalism and narrative writing. A past president of the National Association of Science Writers (US), she now serves as vice president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. She has been named both a lifetime associate of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in recognition of her work communicating science.
Timothy Ferris is the author of a dozen books (most recently The Science of Liberty), plus 200 articles and essays, and three documentary films—”The Creation of the Universe,” “Life Beyond Earth,” and “Seeing in the Dark”—seen by over 20 million viewers.
Ferris produced the Voyager phonograph record, an artifact of human civilization containing music and sounds of Earth launched aboard the twin Voyager interstellar spacecraft.
Called “the best popular science writer in the English language” by The Christian Science Monitor and “the best science writer of his generation” by The Washington Post, Ferris has received the American Institute of Physics prize and a Guggenheim Fellowship.
A Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Professor Ferris has taught in five disciplines at four universities. He is currently an emeritus professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
Brian Greene is a professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University, and is widely recognized for a number of groundbreaking discoveries in superstring theory, including the co-discoveries of mirror symmetry and topology change. His first book for general audiences, The Elegant Universe was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and has sold more than a million copies worldwide. His more recent books, The Fabric of the Cosmos and The Hidden Reality, were both New York Times bestsellers, and inspired the Washington Post to call him “the single best explainer of abstruse concepts in the world today.” Greene’s latest project, World Science U, brings science education online with innovative digital courses available to anyone with an interest in science.
Greene makes frequent media appearances on programs such as Charlie Rose, The Colbert Report and David Letterman. He has hosted two NOVA specials, based on The Elegant Universe and The Fabric of the Cosmos, which were nominated for four Emmy Awards and won a George Foster Peabody Award. Professor Greene is co-director of Columbia’s Institute for Strings, Cosmology, and Astroparticle Physics, and with producer Tracy Day, he is co-founder of the World Science Festival.
Seth Mnookin’s most recent book, The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear, uses a combination of investigative reporting, intellectual and scientific history, and sociological analysis to explore the controversies over vaccines and their rumored connection to developmental disorders. The New York Times said it was “just what the public needs…a tour-de-force” and The Wall Street Journal called it “a brilliant piece of reportage and science writing…a book that should be required reading at every medical school in the world.” He is also the author of the 2006 New York Times-bestseller Feeding the Monster: How Money, Smarts, and Nerve Took a Team to the Top, which chronicles the challenges and triumphs of the John Henry-Tom Werner ownership group of the Boston Red Sox. His first book, 2004’s Hard News: The Scandals at The New York Times and Their Meaning for American Media, was a Washington Post Best Book of the Year.
A former senior writer at Newsweek, Seth is currently a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and writes a column for the PLoS Blog Network.
Siddhartha Mukherjee is a cancer physician and researcher. He is an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University and a staff physician at Columbia University Medical Center. A former Rhodes Scholar, he graduated from Stanford University, University of Oxford, and Harvard Medical School. He won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction for his book The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, one of the New York Times “Ten Best Books of 2010”, and he has published articles in Nature, The New England Journal of Medicine, The New York Times Magazine, and The New Republic.
Photo credit – Deborah Feingold
Steven Pinker is a professor of psychology at Harvard University and a one of the world’s foremost science writers whose work has appeared in publications such as The New York Times, Time, and The New Republic. He is the author of seven books, two of which were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize: How the Mind Works and The Blank Slate. He was shortlisted for the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books for The Better Angels of Our Nature. His research touches on language, cognition, morality, and genetics, to name a few, and his work encourages a scientific approach to human nature. He was named Humanist of the Year and has been included in top 100 lists from Prospect magazine, Foreign Policy, and Time magazine.
Louie Psihoyos (rhymes with Sequoias) has been widely regarded as one of the top photographers in the world. He was hired directly out of college to shoot for National Geographic and created images for the yellow-bordered magazine for 18 years. His ability to bring humanity and wit to complicated science stories carries over to his filmmaking.
He has also shot for dozens of other magazines including Fortune, Smithsonian, Discover, GEO, Time, Newsweek, The New York Times Magazine, New York Magazine, Sports Illustrated and Rock and Ice. His work has been seen on the Discovery Channel, National Geographic Television and the History Channel. Museums and private collectors around the world have shown Psihoyos’ photography.
In 2005, he and Jim Clark created The Oceanic Preservation Society (OPS). This Boulder-based non profit seeks to show the world the beauty and threats to our planet’s crucial resource, our oceans.
His first film, The Cove has won more than a hundred awards around the world, including an Oscar. It has also inspired millions of individuals towards action to save the environment.
His next film project looks at the current mass extinction of species caused by mankind.
Andrew Revkin is the senior fellow for environmental understanding at Pace University’s Academy for Applied Environmental Studies and writes the Dot Earth blog for The New York Times. A prize-winning journalist, online communicator and author, he has spent nearly three decades covering subjects ranging from the assault on the Amazon to the troubled relationship of climate science and politics.
From 1995 through 2009, he covered the environment for The Times as a staff reporter. His work on climate change has won most of the major awards for science journalism and a John Chancellor Award from Columbia University for sustained journalistic excellence. Revkin has been a pioneer in multimedia communication, blogging and shooting still and video imagery in far-flung places. He has also carried his journalism to a new generation in The North Pole Was Here: Puzzles and Perils at the Top of the World, the first account of Arctic climate change written for the whole family. His other books include The Burning Season and Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast.
Revkin lives in the Hudson River Valley with his wife and two sons. In spare moments, he is a performing songwriter and plays in a folk-roots band, Uncle Wade.
Simon Singh’s documentary about Fermat’s Last Theorem was the winner of a BAFTA in the UK and was nominated for an EMMY. His publication on the same subject, Fermat’s Enigma, is the first book about mathematics to become a number one bestseller in the UK, and has since been translated into 30 languages. His other literary accomplishments include The Code Book (a history of encryption), Big Bang (a history of cosmology), and Trick or Treatment: Alternative Medicine on Trial.
Before joining BBC Science as a TV producer, Simon Singh completed a Ph.D. in particle physics at Cambridge University and CERN. In 2008, the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) sued Singh for an article criticizing claims to treat various childhood conditions. The case ended in 2010, when the BCA withdrew their action, thereby vindicating Singh’s original publication. Simon has spent the last two years as a member of the Libel Reform Campaign, which aims to bring English libel law in line with levels of free speech in other democratic countries.
As Executive Producer of the PBS science series, NOVA, now in its 38th season, Howard Swartz manages all phases of production, from development through the creative execution of NOVA programs. In addition, Swartz is part of the senior management team responsible for the overall direction of the unit by developing new talent, new projects and new production models for the acclaimed science series.
Swartz has supervised widely praised NOVA productions that include “Japan’s Killer Quake,” the highest rated NOVA episode in six years, “Emergency Mine Rescue” one of the fastest production turnarounds in the series history, and the award-winning “Mind Over Money.”
Prior to his current position, Swartz worked at the National Geographic Channel (NGC), where he executive produced highly rated and acclaimed science productions including Emmy Award winning programs “Five Years on Mars,” “Inside the Living Body,” and “Incredible Human Machine.” Swartz also oversaw NGC’s signature series “Explorer,” winner of 56 Emmys and the longest-running documentary series on cable television.
James D. Watson was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1928 and educated at the University of Chicago. In 1953, while at Cambridge University, he and Francis Crick successfully proposed the double helical structure for DNA. They, together with Maurice Wilkins, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962. While a professor at Harvard, Watson commenced a writing career that generated The Molecular Biology of the Gene and his autobiographical volume, The Double Helix. While at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Watson was a driving force behind the Human Genome Project that led to his receipt of the Royal Society’s Copley Medal in 1993. Among many honorary degrees and awards are election to the National Academy of Sciences (1962), the Medal of Freedom (1977), the National Medal of Science (1997), the City of Philadelphia Liberty Medal (2000), and the Benjamin Franklin Medal (2001). Queen Elizabeth II proclaimed him an honorary Knight of the British Empire on January 1, 2002. Watson has served the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory since 1968 as its director, president, chancellor, and currently chancellor emeritus.
Jonathan Weiner’s books have won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and many other honors. While working on His Brother’s Keeper, he was writer-in-residence at Rockefeller University. Now he teaches science writing at Columbia University’s graduate school of journalism, where he is a professor. He lives in New York with his wife, Deborah Heiligman, the children’s book author.
Photo credit – Piotr Redlinski
E.O. Wilson is a life-long explorer of the natural world whose pioneering studies of ants have led to revolutionary insights across a wide range of fields, from evolution to animal and human behavior. A founding father of the environmental movement, Wilson teaches us to understand, protect, and celebrate the earth and has greatly influenced the way scientists and nonscientists view the interwoven complexity and diversity of our planet.
Wilson is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner for General Non-Fiction and a winner of the National Medal of Science. He is currently Pellegrino University Research Professor Emeritus and Honorary Curator in Entomology at Harvard University.
Photo credit – Beth Maynor Young
Award-winning science writer Carl Zimmer explores the frontiers of biology in his writing. His work appears regularly in The New York Times and many magazines, and he is the author of twelve books, including A Planet of Viruses.
Zimmer is a contributing editor and columnist for Discover, and his blog, The Loom, appears on the magazine’s web site. He has won the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Science Journalism Award twice, in 2004 and 2009.
Bora Zivkovic is the blog editor at Scientific American Magazine. Born in Belgrade, Serbia (then Yugoslavia) he majored in biochemistry and molecular biology in high school, trained horses, and studied veterinary medicine at University of Belgrade. Upon arrival in the USA, Bora did research on circadian rhythms in Japanese quail at North Carolina State University.
Together with Anton Zuiker he organizes the popular annual ScienceOnline conferences in Triangle region of North Carolina. He is the series editor of Open Laboratory, the annual anthology of the best science writing on the Web.
Zivkovic lives out in the country halfway between Chapel Hill and Pittsboro, North Carolina, and this is his second telecommuting job (the previous one being with the Public Library of Science), using the power of internet to his advantage: being connected to the world while enjoying the natural surroundings. He writes at A Blog Around The Clock and tweets as @BoraZ.