Council for the Advancement of Science Writing



Writers to gather in Colorado and online for ScienceWriters2021

CASW and the National Association of Science Writers are pleased to announce that ScienceWriters2021 will be held as a hybrid event, with an in-person gathering in Colorado October 8-11.

In an announcement to NASW members April 8, the executive directors of the two organizations said:

University of Colorado Boulder and CU Anschutz Medical Campus are excited to welcome those who are able to travel to the Rocky Mountains this fall, and NASW and CASW are delighted that we will have an opportunity to gather in Colorado as a community. We are also excited to create unique, tailored virtual ScienceWriters2021 experiences in the weeks surrounding the in-person gathering for those unable or not yet ready to travel, or for those who prefer to gather virtually.

"We are all committed to the safety of the science writing community and have made these plans after much careful consideration. We will remain vigilant in monitoring ongoing developments, altering plans if situations warrant, and communicating with attendees and members as the dates approach. We expect to open registration in late summer. Looking ahead, we plan to hold ScienceWriters2022 in Chicago and gather in Memphis in 2023 (instead of this year). We are incredibly grateful to our hosts in Colorado and Tennessee for their flexibility in scheduling and the deep empathy they've expressed over the past year.

Please consider proposing a virtual or in-person NASW craft session or Science+Science Writing session, or contact CASW's New Horizons program director Wayt Gibbs to suggest a science session topic The deadline has been extended to Friday, April 23 for NASW proposals and April 30 for Science+Science Writing proposals. Learn more about how to share your creativity at

Scribing at the frontiers of science and ethics

by Brooke Dulka | 

I sat in front of my laptop, headphones on and pen poised. A long week of virtual conference events lay ahead, but that day I was fresh, rested, and ready. On October 15, 2020, I was a scribe for Journalists and Scientists at the Frontiers of Science: A Dialogue about Values and Responsibility, a workshop organized by the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing (CASW) with Kavli Foundation support as part of ScienceWriters2020.

We began by talking about the complexities of covering cutting-edge science. The jumping-off point was a 2019 New York Times Magazine article by Matt Shaer on the work of the Yale neurobiologist Nenad Sestan, which involved reanimating whole pig brains for tissue studies following death. Needless to say, this was an ethically challenging topic. Both Shaer and Sestan were on a panel along with bioethicists and Shaer’s editor for a discourse on the publication of the story, Sestan’s hesitations (as he realized that the reanimation of brains is a moral gray zone), and Shaer’s ethical concerns about how the public would respond. The headline for the online version of the story—“Scientists Are Giving Dead Brains New Life. What Could Go Wrong?”—hints at the ground his reporting covered.

Opening session, The Complexities of Covering Science on the Cutting Edge
Closing session, Journalists and Scientists at the Frontiers

How do you make sure what you write isn’t spun the wrong way after publication? That was just one of the questions asked by workshop organizer and past NASW president Robin Marantz Henig.

“We didn’t want this to be sensationalistic,” Shaer said, “but we didn’t want to get someone’s hopes up.” Although brain reanimation was the core topic of this article, another purpose of Shaer’s long-form story was to help people understand the scientific process by telling a story about how the science progressed and introducing the researchers as characters.

It was when Shaer talked about the “emotional burden” of getting a story right that the ethical decisions journalists have to make really became real to me. But before I could dwell on this, we broke into small groups to begin the hands-on part of the workshop, where four teams would tackle the challenges journalists face in covering four ethically challenging topics at the frontiers of science.

My group’s topic was gene editing techniques, such as the popular and recent method known as CRISPR. Our goal was to draft guidelines for writers and editors who are covering this subject. We live in a CRISPR world now—the discovery of CRISPR even recently won a Nobel prize—but how do journalists serve the public responsibly when covering this topic?

Separating real from hypothetical: An ethical mandate

Some of the challenges we discussed involved balancing the real and the hypothetical. In other words, in terms of CRISPR, journalists need to separate what is happening in actual laboratories from the theoretical applications of gene editing (such as designer babies or bioweapons). It is critical to provide context for our readers about where the science actually is.

When we began working on our deliverable, the first question raised was: are journalists obligated to discuss a story on human gene editing with a bioethicist before publishing? After a brief discussion, we decided that yes, science journalists should seek out ethicists when writing. This may not always be possible, but if you can, you should.

We also recommended that journalists reach out to affected communities when writing about gene editing with human applications. For instance, if scientists identified a gene that causes deafness, a journalist should investigate whether or not the deaf community would actually want that gene edited. We can’t assume that just because there is a scientific breakthrough, the communities it would most affect would actually want that change. As journalists, we should integrate this ethical facet into our stories.

Navigating the edges of possibility

Some other guiding principles we outlined included asking the researchers about the ethical considerations of their work, describing the scientists’ thought processes, and clearly distinguishing data from speculation. Further, when something is at the edge of possibility, a journalist should get multiple scientific viewpoints.

This last idea leads me to the guiding principle that really struck me: assemble your own peer-review community as a journalist. That is to say, journalists should get as many viewpoints as possible about a topic before reporting on it.

After the breakouts, I presented a synthesis of this conversation to the workshop. The topics covered by the other groups included solar geoengineering, artificial intelligence and predictive technologies, and brain-machine interfaces. Altogether, it seemed as though everyone at the workshop agreed that these ethically challenging topics require that the journalist think about how the public will be affected by an article, appreciate the viewpoints of the communities that are the target of a new technology, and decide if an ethicist should be consulted before publication. But just because topics can be ethically challenging doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be covered. If anything, the ethical quandaries associated with a topic might make them more important to cover.

As a fledgling journalist, this workshop had a major impact on me. During my scientific training, I often thought about the ethics of animal research. Now, as a writer, I know that I need to keep ethical considerations about any given topic at the front of my mind. Science doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and neither does journalism. What we write can have major impacts on the people we are trying to inform.

Brooke Dulka is a freelance science writer and postdoctoral research fellow in neuroscience in Milwaukee, WI. When she isn’t writing or in the lab, Dulka enjoys drinking tea and reading fiction. Follow her on Twitter @IsRewriting.

Image: In a moment during the virtual workshop, Robin Marantz Henig (top left), Matthew Shaer (top right), and New York Times Magazine editor Mike Benoist (bottom left) listen as Yale neurobiologist Nenad Sestan tells the story of his encounters with Shaer.

Kavli workshop to discuss challenges of covering emerging science

What new issues arise as 21st-century science creates fresh frontiers in research, from neuroscience to gene editing to artificial intelligence? Science journalists, scientists, and ethicists will tackle that question during an Oct. 15 half-day virtual workshop sponsored by the Kavli Foundation and organized by the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing as part of ScienceWriters2020.

“The science journalist’s job is not just telling people what scientists are up to, but also helping them figure out what it all means—digging into the social implications of research, its uses and abuses, sharing facts and stories that inform public discussion,” said Rosalind Reid, CASW executive director and an organizer of the workshop. “Startling developments in science inspire awe, excitement, anxiety, controversy, and confusion—and novel challenges for journalists who write about them. We’re going to spend some time talking about those challenges and looking for good tools and guidelines.”

The workshop, called “Journalists and Scientists at the Frontiers of Science: A Dialogue About Values and Responsibility,” will begin with a session taking a deep dive into a July 2019 New York Times Magazine article, “Scientists Are Giving Dead Brains New Life. What Could Go Wrong?” Veteran freelance journalist Robin Marantz Henig (@robinhenig), who teaches an ethics course for science journalism graduate students at New York University, will be joined by neuroethicist Karen Rommelfanger of Emory University in leading a panel discussion with the reporter and editor of the story as well as the Yale University scientist who was its primary focus and two ethicists who can comment on the issues raised.

The magazine story, about the re-animation of previously dead animal brains, addressed profound issues related to defining consciousness and the boundary between life and death. The discussion will tease out the different ethical codes of scientists and journalists as they played out in the development of the article. The author of the article, freelance writer Matthew Shaer (@matthewshaer) and his editor, Mike Benoist, will talk about how they wrestled with these challenges in a longform project that took Shaer behind the scenes with Yale biologist Nenad Sestan and his research team. Also participating will be Sestan, bioethicist L. Syd M. Johnson of SUNY Upstate Medical University, and Khara Ramos, director of the Neuroethics Program at the National Institutes of Health.

In small-group breakouts following the session, scientists and science writers will look at dilemmas that arise in reporting on other areas where the frontiers of science and technology raise social and ethical questions. Individual groups will discuss four areas of research:

  • Gene editing, where a Chinese scientist’s claims of having edited human embryos have sparked controversy and international debate.
  • Solar geoengineering, the development of techniques to reflect sunlight and cool the Earth,  a controversial area of research that is characterized by huge potential benefits but equally large uncertainties for the planet.
  • Predictive technologies using artificial intelligence and face recognition, which many have criticized as inherently flawed and certain to promote racism in areas including policing and hiring.
  • Brain-machine interfaces, which offer medical advances but also raise ethical questions about human enhancement and the merging of human and artificial intelligence.

The groups will be asked to suggest guidance for journalists and communicators working on similarly challenging topics. Ivan Amato (@ivan_amato), a Washington, DC-based science communicator, is co-organizing the small-group discussions with Reid.

Each discussion group will include science and policy experts as well as a journalist who has written on the topic. Journalists who have agreed to share their experiences include Karen Hao (@_KarenHao), artificial intelligence senior reporter for MIT Technology Review; Betsy Mason (@betsymason), freelance journalist and CASW board member; Emily Mullin (@emilylmullin), staff writer at OneZero; and Eliza Strickland (@newsbeagle), senior editor of IEEE Spectrum.

In a final session, editors who work with these stories will be asked to share experiences and respond to proposals and questions from the discussion groups. CASW President Alan Boyle (@b0yle), a veteran science journalist who is now a contributing editor at GeekWire, will be joined by Victoria Jaggard (@vmjaggard99), executive editor for science at National Geographic, and Alison Snyder (@alisonmsnyder), who manages coverage of science, space, transportation and other areas for Axios.

Aside from the discussion groups, which were filled by advance registration, the sessions are open to all ScienceWriters2020 attendees and will be recorded for delayed online viewing.

The workshop was developed by CASW in conversation with Brooke Smith and Stacey Bailey of the Kavli Foundation staff, with support of a grant from the foundation. As a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality and quantity of science news reaching the public, CASW presents educational programs for science writers and honors excellence in the field. CASW co-organizes the ScienceWriters conferences with the National Association of Science Writers. Registration for this year’s online ScienceWriters2020 events continues through Oct. 1.

Image by Gerd Altmann

New Horizons in Science 2020

Monday, October 19, 2020 to Friday, October 23, 2020

A New Horizons in Science mini-presentation was part of the ScienceWriters2020 virtual events. ScienceWriters2020, jointly organized by CASW and the National Association of Science Writers, included workshops, science and professional development sessions, networking events and virtual tours. 

Hosts & Sponsors: 

The 2020 virtual edition of New Horizons in Science was not hosted. Two University of Colorado institutions—the CU Boulder and Anschutz Medical campuses—will host the 2021 program.


CASW invita a propuestas de "Ciencia donde estás"

Como parte de las actividades virtuales que reemplazarán a la tradicional conferencia ScienceWriters de 2020, el Consejo para el Avance de la Escritura de la Ciencia (CASW) invita a periodistas científicos a unirse compartiendo experiencias científicas y presentaciones de investigadores locales este octubre.

Con la planeada conferencia de Colorado pospuesta hasta 2021 debido a la pandemia, ScienceWriters2020 no tendrá una institución anfitriona para organizar excursiones, almuerzos con científicos y visitas a laboratorios, señaló Rosalind Reid, directora ejecutiva de CASW. Pero hay un lado positivo. "Este año tenemos la oportunidad única de viajar virtualmente a las muchas instituciones que ScienceWriters nunca podría visitar. Y CASW está invitando a todos a compartir la ciencia de dónde TÚ te encuentras".

English version

Las propuestas para presentaciones virtuales de ciencias pueden presentarse hasta el 27 de julio. Un panel de miembros de la junta de CASW seleccionará hasta media docena de experiencias animadas e inmersivas que aprovechan el medio en línea. Los participantes ganadores serán responsables de la producción. Durante agosto y septiembre, CASW trabajará con los ganadores para finalizar, programar, anunciar y presentar los eventos #ScienceWhereUR.

CASW está colaborando con Martha Heil y Ellen Kuwana, copresidentes del Congress of Regional Science Writers Groups, para extender una invitación a todos los grupos regionales de periodismo científico. "Estamos buscando un programa que sea diverso en todos los aspectos", dijo Reid. "Esperamos que los periodistas de ciencias escuchen nuevas voces, experimenten ciencia nueva y sorprendente, y vayan a nuevos lugares".


Cualquier periodista científico, institución, instituto u otra organización en las Américas puede proponer una presentación #ScienceWhereUR.


Las presentaciones deben presentarse antes del 27 de julio (5:00 p.m. Hora del Pacífico)


Los ganadores serán notificados antes del 5 de agosto. El programa para ScienceWriters2020 se anunciará el 11 de agosto. Se incluirá información preliminar sobre #ScienceWhereUR.

Los ganadores tendrán hasta mediados de septiembre para completar la producción. Los detalles de #ScienceWhereUR se anunciarán en septiembre, y las presentaciones se programarán entre el 26 de septiembre y el 16 de octubre.

Las pautas y un formulario de envío se pueden encontrar aquí.

ScienceWriters2020 pivots to virtual program

After discussing the options for the annual ScienceWriters conference in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, CASW and the National Association of Science Writers have decided to replace the conference with a series of online activities this fall. The following joint statement was issued May 7, 2020:

Since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing and the National Association of Science Writers have been working closely together to determine the best course forward for the joint ScienceWriters2020 meeting.

Following a series of thoughtful, forward-thinking conversations among the meeting hosts and partners, we have together decided that it is unwise to continue with a plan for a large, in-person October gathering, given the unknown and potentially high level of risk for individuals.

We will postpone our gathering in Colorado, originally scheduled for October 2020, until the fall of 2021. The University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus are excited to welcome us to the Rocky Mountains next year, and we are delighted that we will still have an opportunity to gather in Colorado as a community. We will meet for ScienceWriters2022 in Chicago as planned, and move our Memphis conference to 2023. We are incredibly grateful to our hosts in Colorado and Tennessee for their flexibility and deep empathy.

We are saddened at having to forgo a beloved annual tradition, if just for a year. More than ever, it seems essential to see and support our colleagues. Yet with this grief comes opportunity. Together NASW and CASW will develop a series of virtual conference events for October. In addition to creating opportunities for professional connection and learning, these online events will provide an opportunity for those who have not experienced a ScienceWriters conference to participate with no travel required. We will spend the summer working with session organizers, speakers, and partner organizations to think about the best ways to engage and learn together online. We will use the time to think creatively about how to provide professional development sessions, science briefings and discussions, networking events, and even a tour or two in engaging, virtual formats.

We invite you to stay tuned to for details on our evolving virtual experiment, and we send our best wishes for continued health and safety to you and yours.

Executive Director Rosalind Reid added:

"I'd like to extend special thanks to our hosting partners: the collaborating University of Colorado campuses, who were preparing to host this year's conference, and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, which was to host ScienceWriters2021 and will now be our host in 2023. Both hosting groups have been extraordinarily thoughtful and generous in working with us to reschedule these events.

"In addition," Reid said, "CASW was working with several partners to offer training activities this fall, in addition to our New Horizons in Science program. We hope to be able to present parts of the science program and workshops online this fall, with a fuller program when science writers are able to meet in person."

Workshop reporting captures highlights of 57th New Horizons briefing

Eleven talented science graduate students and postdoctoral fellows were transformed into science news reporters during ScienceWriters2019 in State College, Pa. Oct. 25-29, 2019, providing journalistic coverage of nearly half of CASW's New Horizons in Science sessions at the conference..

The CASW sessions provide the raw material for stories prepared by the participants in ComSciCon-SciWri 2019, a workshop produced by the national organization ComSciCon in collaboration with CASW and with funding from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The junior researchers attended to strengthen their science communication and storytelling skills and learn more about science journalism.

Workshop organizers Jason Chang, Jordan Harrod, Samantha Jones, and Stephanie DeMarco selected the participants from universities in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, Arizona, Nevada, and Wisconsin through a competitive application process. A day of training and discussion sessions was held at Penn State's Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications before the conference, featuring presentations from professional science journalists and communicators. After meeting their conference mentors, participants attended a day of professional development sessions organized by the National Association of Science Writers before the start of the CASW New Horizons program.

Nine participants chose to cover New Horizons sessions; two more conducted interviews with scientists. The New Horizons Newsroom for 2019 also includes a story by New Horizons Traveling Fellow Paul Nicolaus. The stories were edited by Jennifer Cox, Hannah Hickey, Betsy Mason, Czerne Reid, and CASW Executive Director Rosalind Reid.

CASW thanks the hardworking workshop organizers, presenters, and editors; HHMI, for its generous funding; and the mentors who provided individual advice and professional support to the ComSciCon-SciWri 2019 participants: CASW board members Maggie Koerth-Baker, William Kearney, Betsy Mason, and Ashley Smart, along with Athena Aktipis (University of Arizona), Hannah Hickey (University of Washington), Jane C. Hu (freelance, Seattle), Amy McDermott (Front Matter, PNAS), Tom Ulrich (the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT), Jon Weiner (Kaiser Permanente), and Liz Zubritsky (American Chemical Society).

This was the second ComSciCon-SciWri workshop sponsored by HHMI and produced in collaboration with CASW. The first workshop produced coverage of the 2015 New Horizons in Science program, presented at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Image: Flooding at Assateague Island National Seashore from rising sea levels, discussed in the workshop story by R. Kevin Tindell of Arizona State University. Public domain image from the National Park Service.

Science writers gather at Penn State

Nearly 550 attendees are converging this week for ScienceWriters2019, featuring the science cornucopia that is the 57th presentation of CASW's New Horizons in Science briefings. The conference is taking place October 25-29 in State College, Pa., hosted by Penn State University. For coverage of conference events, follow #SciWri19 on Twitter. Session-specific hashtags may be found on event pages at the conference website, Watch CASW's YouTube channel for video of the seventh Patrusky Lecture, to be posted in November.

The black hole, Cygnus X-1, pulls matter from the blue star beside it. Topics in astrophysics and cosmology will be prominent in this year's New Horizons program. Image: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss


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