Filmmaker Michael Werner to Kick Off 2023 AAAS Kavli Lecture Series

Earl Lane

headshot of Michael Werner
Michael Werner

Michael Werner, a documentary filmmaker, will open the 2023 AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Award lecture series on Wednesday, Oct. 4, at Emerson College in Boston. His talk will be the first of three such lectures this fall.

Maryn McKenna, a senior writer at Wired, will speak at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, on Oct. 24, and Nicole Mortillaro of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation will speak on Nov. 14 at Toronto Metropolitan University in Canada.

The annual lecture series, sponsored by the AAAS Kavli awards program, was established in 2017. It brings winners of the distinguished award to campuses for lectures and workshops with students. The AAAS Kavli award recognizes excellence in science reporting for a general audience and, thanks to a generous endowment from The Kavli Foundation, has accepted entries from around the globe since 2015.

At Emerson College, which has a well-regarded undergraduate journalism program, Werner will discuss the transformative power of telling science-driven stories about important issues such as climate change, endangered species, and loss of old-growth forests. He will be speaking at 2 p.m. before an audience of Emerson students and faculty. His talk also will be livestreamed here.

Werner is  a two-time winner of the AAAS Kavli award, in 2014 and 2021. In addition to the AAAS Kavli awards, Werner’s films have earned him a national Emmy Award and an Edward R. Murrow Award for Documentary. His work has been featured nationally and internationally through HBO Films, PBS, National Geographic, Netflix, CBS, MSNBC, Vox, and at the Cannes International Film Festival. Werner, who specializes in multimedia storytelling, studied narrative non-fiction writing at the University of Oregon with an eye to doing long-form print pieces and books. But he fell in love with video storytelling and innovative uses of technology in documentary filmmaking. For example, he is an FAA-certified drone pilot.

headshot of Maryn McKenna
Maryn McKenna

In her public lecture on Oct. 24 at UNC, Maryn McKenna will discuss how the COVID-19 pandemic was not only a profound public health challenge, but also a communication emergency, laying bare how information can be manipulated and misrepresented to fuel political and cultural goals. McKenna has covered the COVID-19 pandemic at Wired and also is a Senior Fellow at Emory University’s Center for the Study of Human Health, where she teaches science writing and storytelling. During the pandemic, she designed and led massive open online courses (MOOCs) for the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin that enrolled 13,000 journalists primarily from low- and middle-income countries. She won the AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Gold Award for her 2019 story for The New Republic, “The Plague Years: How the rise of right-wing nationalism is jeopardizing the world’s health.”

headshot of Nicole Mortillaro
Nicole Mortillaro

In her Nov. 14 lecture at Toronto Metropolitan University, Mortillaro – a TMU graduate – will discuss her pathway into science journalism (thanks largely to her fascination with astronomy); the challenges of preparing stories in a time of widespread misinformation when evidence-based reporting is more important than ever; and the value of looking closely at science as an institution, as she and her CBC colleague Amanda Buckiewicz did for their 2021 AAAS Kavli-award winning story on the past and future of Black people in science. The “Quirks and Quarks” episode examined the history of biased and false "race science" that led to misunderstanding and mistreatment of Black people by the scientific and medical community, creating obstacles for them to participate in the scientific process. Mortillaro also will also touch on her experience as a woman journalist of color.

Mortillaro’s talk will be the second AAAS Kavli lecture outside the United States. Melissa Hogenboom of the BBC gave the first international AAAS Kavli lecture last year at Imperial College London. The other speakers in last fall’s lecture series were Megan Molteni of STAT, winner of a 2021 AAAS Kavli Gold Award, who spoke at the University of Montana on her reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic. She grappled with the disconnect between accepted science and what was being observed on the ground, as both scientists and journalists struggled to get it right; and Amy Maxmen, Edward R. Murrow Press Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and winner of a 2020 AAAS Kavli Gold Award while working at the journal Nature, spoke last year at the University of California, Berkeley, on inequality as a frontier for science journalism.

Past lectures also have included talks from three-time winner Carl Zimmer, who specializes in coverage of biology, evolution and genetics; Llewellyn Smith, a documentary producer and two-time winner of the award; and Hilary Rosner, another two-time winner, who covers environmental topics. 

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