Megan Molteni to Kick Off 2022 AAAS Kavli Lecture Series

Earl Lane

Megan Molteni, a science writer for STAT News, will open the 2022 AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Award lecture series on Wednesday, Oct. 12, at the University of Montana in Missoula. Her talk will be the first of three such lectures this fall.

Amy Maxmen, Edward R. Murrow Press Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, will speak on Nov. 3 at the University of California, Berkeley, and Melissa Hogenboom of the BBC will speak on Nov. 17 at Imperial College, London.

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 public lectures and workshops with journalism 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. Hogenboom’s lecture at Imperial College will be the first overseas lecture in the series.

Past lectures 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. 

Megan Molteni

Molteni, winner of a 2021 AAAS Kavli Gold Award, will discuss her reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic and grapple with the disconnect between accepted science and what was being observed on the ground, as both scientists and journalists struggled to get it right.

Early in the pandemic, Virginia Tech aerosol scientist Linsey Marr and her colleagues met with the World Health Organization to warn them about airborne virus spread. At the time, WHO ignored their warning, insisting that the coronavirus disperses primarily through droplets that did not hang in the air and fell quickly to the ground. Their droplet argument led to guidelines centered around hand washing and social distancing rather than mask use.

The WHO’s initial guidance was based on a misinformed definition of aerosols which specified that all infectious particles smaller than 5 microns are aerosol spread, while anything larger than 5 microns is a droplet. “Reality is far messier,” Molteni wrote in her award-winning piece for Wired. Particles much larger than 5 microns can stay afloat and behave like aerosols. Marr felt the misunderstanding was a symptom of a deeper issue, that “outdated science was underpinning public health policy.”

Molteni’s talk, hosted by the University of Montana’s School of Journalism, will be at 7:00 p.m., U.S. Mountain time, in the University Center Theater. It will be livestreamed here.

Amy Maxmen

Amy Maxmen’s Nov. 3 talk at Berkeley is co-hosted by the university’s Graduate School of Journalism and its Kavli Center for Ethics, Science, and the Public. Maxmen, who won a 2020 AAAS Kavli Gold Award, spent eight months investigating how exploitation, poverty and discrimination drove the COVID-19 pandemic —and why scientists haven’t really addressed these issues, despite studying them for 150 years.

As a reporter for the news section of Nature in 2020, Maxmen observed scientists pondering the disproportionate toll of the disease in Black and Hispanic communities in the United States. Some searched for a biological explanation, like genetic predispositions. But as the pandemic wore on, she says, evidence accumulated related to economic inequality, housing inequality, healthcare inequality and long-standing discrimination.

The pandemic shows how urgent it is for science journalists to address inequality in their stories, Maxmen says. Whether covering disease, natural disasters or climate change, science reporters must not only document the uneven effects on society but also explore the roots of those imbalances and what keeps them in place.

Melissa Hogenboom

In her Nov. 17 lecture at Imperial College, 2017 AAAS Kavli Gold Award-winner Melissa Hogenboom will discuss her pathway into science journalism, what it’s like to work at the BBC, what makes a good story idea, how to get the best from interviewing expert sources, and the importance, now more than ever, of evidence-based reporting for a general audience.

Hogenboom launched and currently leads the documentary site BBC Reel, which uses short videos to connect viewers with people “living remarkable lives around the globe, as well as showcasing inspiring and innovative ideas for the future, discovering new mysteries, and debunking hype.” Her recent TV and digital documentary, “A Mother's Brain,” won a double 2022 Webby Award in the Science & Education category. Her 2021 book, “The Motherhood Complex,” is a scientific exploration of what it means to become a mother.

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