For today's science writers, translating technical material for lay audiences is often not the hardest part of the job. It can be even more challenging to navigate the eddies of social and political controversy that surround topics in science today.
Three sessions at the ScienceWriters2019 conference, to be presented as part of CASW's New Horizons in Science briefings, will focus on topics at the interface between science and society, bringing scientists and science writers together on stage to discuss issues and solutions. The "Science + Science Writing" sessions at ScienceWriters2019 (#sciwri19), selected through a competitive proposal process, will be:
- Going there: Tackling genetics and racism. St. Louis-based freelance writer Leah Shaffer will convene a panel to look at how the study of heredity continues to be intertwined with racist pseudoscience. Her speakers include Brown University biologist C. Brandon Ogbunu and two authors of books on science and race: UK science journalist Angela Saini, author of the new book Superior: The Return of Race Science, and anthropologist Pat Shipman, whose 1994 book The Evolution of Racism surveyed the interaction of genetics, anthrology and racism beginning in Darwin's day.
- The #CRISPRtwins story. Last November, the world was stunned to hear of the birth of twin babies whose genomes had been modified. Two journalists separately broke the story of the work of a Chinese scientists and have continued to cover the ensuing controversy. CASW board member Dan Vergano of BuzzFeed News will convene a panel bringing together Marilynn Marchione of The Associated Press, Antonio Regalado of MIT Technology Review and Kiran Musunuru of the University of Pennsylvania, an expert who consulted with the journalists as they developed a startling story with lessons for both science and journalism.
- When ideology or special interests hijack science topics. The ongoing debate about climate change is a notoriously noisy one, with religious, economic and political concerns contending against scientific conclusions for the public's attention. This session will look at how other science topics get "hijacked" by interests wanting to change the narrative, and consider how writers can do their job in the midst of this manipulation. Organizer and moderator Beryl Benderly has written extensively on the science labor market, where interest groups push the concept of a "talent shortage." Freelance writer Tamar Haspel has written about genetically modified food crops, another "hijacked" science topic. They will be joined by cognitive scientist John Cook, who has studied the effects of communication strategies on public understanding of climate change.
ScienceWriters2019, jointly organized by CASW and the National Association of Science Writers, will be hosted by Penn State University and held in State College, Pa. Oct. 25-29. The New Horizons sessions will be presented Oct. 27-28. The program will be available at https://sciencewriters.org by July 1.
(Photo: Marco Verch (CC BY 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/2fbikR5)