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Science & Story: The Art of Communicating Science Across All Media

Date & Time

Thursday, June 2, 2011
9:00 AM - 4:30 PM
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The Paley Center for Media

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?

Science Storytellers

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.

Improvising Science

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?


  • Bill Weir

    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. Weir is the co-anchor of Nightline. More »


  • Alan Alda

    Actor, Author, Director Alan Alda, a six-time Emmy Award–winner, played Hawkeye Pierce on the classic television series, M*A*S*H, and appeared in continuing roles on ER, The West Wing, and 30 Rock. His long-time interest in science and in promoting a greater public understanding of science led to his hosting the award-winning PBS series Scientific American Frontiers for eleven years, on which he interviewed hundreds of scientists from around the world. More »
  • Natalie Angier

    Author 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. More »
  • Emily Bell

    Journalist 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. More »
  • Deborah Blum

    Author Deborah Blum is a Pulitzer-Prize winning science writer and the author of five books, most recently The Poisoner’s Handbook, a New York Times best seller. More »
  • Timothy Ferris

    Author 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. More »
  • Brian Greene

    Physicist 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. More »
  • Seth Mnookin

    Author 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. More »
  • Siddhartha Mukherjee

    Physician, Author 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. More »
  • Steven Pinker

    Psychologist, Linguist, and Author Steven Pinker is the Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He is widely known for both his writings in publications such as The New York Times, Time, and The New Republic, and for his seven books, which include the two Pulitzer Prize finalists How the Mind Works and The Blank Slate. More »
  • Louie Psihoyos

    Documentary Filmmaker, Photographer 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. More »
  • Andrew Revkin

    Environmental Reporter 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. More »
  • Simon Singh

    Author, Science Journalist, Producer Before joining BBC Science as a TV producer, Simon Singh completed a Ph.D. in particle physics at Cambridge University and CERN. More »
  • Howard Swartz

    Executive Producer, NOVA 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. More »
  • James Watson

    Molecular Biologist, Geneticist, and Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine 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. More »
  • Jonathan Weiner

    Author 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. More »
  • Edward O. Wilson

    Evolutionary Biologist and Author 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. More »
  • Carl Zimmer

    Science Writer 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. More »
  • Bora Zivkovic

    Blogger 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. More »