Miles O’Brien Kicks Off 2019 AAAS Kavli Lecture Series

Emily Hughes

Science correspondent and documentary director-producer Miles O’Brien will kick off the third annual AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Award lecture series on October 24. He will speak at the University of Missouri on the important role of science journalism in changing public perceptions around climate change.

O’Brien is a science correspondent for the PBS NewsHour, as well as a producer-director for NOVA. He won a AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Award in 2015 for his two-part NewsHour series about prosthetics and the challenges of developing a fully functional human limb.

O’Brien’s talk will be the first of three lectures this fall sponsored by the AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Awards program. On October 30, author and broadcaster Angela Saini will speak at the University of Maryland about the influence of prejudice on science research on race and gender. She will discuss her latest book, "Superior: The Return of Race Science," and her 2017 book "Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong - and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story."

PBS NewsHour producer Nsikan Akpan will speak on November 6 at Florida A&M University. Akpan’s lecture will explore the role of science video in today’s world and also will touch on the importance of bringing diversity into newsrooms.

The AAAS Kavli lecture series brings winners of the distinguished science journalism award to campuses for public lectures and workshops with journalism students. 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. 

All lectures are open to the public. The O'Brien lecture will be livestreamed by the University of Missouri School of Journalism and on the AAAS Facebook page: Arrangements to livestream the other lectures are pending. Follow us on Twitter for updates @AAASKavli.

Further information on the upcoming lectures:

“Science Journalism and the Changing Public Perception of Climate Change”

Miles O’Brien, science correspondent for the PBS NewsHour and producer-director for NOVA

Miles O'Brien
Photo Credit: Vincent Ricardel

Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019 at 6:00 p.m.

Fisher Auditorium, Gannett Hall

University of Missouri

Columbia, Missouri

Miles O’Brien has become one of the most recognizable voices in broadcast journalism, covering stories as diverse as the California megafire, the hunt for the Boston bombers, the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and the problem of junk news and Facebook. O’Brien will discuss the emergence of climate change as an issue of scientific concern, changing public perceptions about the topic, and how journalists – both those who cover science and those who cover politics – have helped shape those perceptions. He’ll talk about past and current challenges for journalists seeking to counter misinformation about climate change and trying to convince editors to keep the issue front and center in public discourse.

Before his work for PBS, O’Brien had been at CNN, where he covered the space program and secured a deal with NASA to become the first journalist to fly on the space shuttle. The project ended after the loss of Columbia and her crew in 2003. In February 2014, a heavy equipment case fell on O’Brien’s forearm while he was on assignment in Japan. He developed acute compartment syndrome, which required emergency amputation of his left arm above the elbow. He won the AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Award in 2015 for a two-part NewsHour series about prosthetics and the challenges of developing a fully functional human limb. In addition to the AAAS Kavli award, he has won a half-dozen Emmys, and a Peabody and a DuPont for his coverage of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

“Race, Gender and New Challenges for Science Journalism”

Angela Saini, science writer and author

Angela Saini
Photo credit: Henrietta Garden

Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019 at 7:00 p.m.

Eaton Theater, Knight Hall

University of Maryland

College Park, Maryland

In the midst of global political upheaval and a recent upsurge in fake news and pseudoscience, science journalists face a challenging media environment. But distortion of scientific information for political ends is not new, as British science journalist Angela Saini has recounted in two acclaimed books, “Superior: The Return of Race Science” and “Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong - and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story.” Saini will discuss how prejudice can affect scientific research on race and gender and describe her efforts to uncover manipulation of evidence, abuse and wrongdoing by those in power.

Saini will talk about the influences on her career, including fights for social justice, and the methods of reporting and research that inform her work. More than ever, she argues, science journalists must be prepared to counter political narratives on topics (such as climate change) that distort science and promote misinformation.

Saini, a 2015 winner of the AAAS Kavli award, has written for The Guardian, New Scientist, Wired, and New Humanist, and she regularly presents science programs on BBC radio. Her two-part video series, "Eugenics: Science's Greatest Scandal," presented with disabiility rights activist Adam Pearson, is being brodcast this month in the United Kingdom on BBC Four. 

“Science Videos for a New Age”

Nsikan Akpan, producer for PBS NewsHour

Nsikan Akpan
Photo credit: Ariel Min/PBS NewsHour

Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019 at 4:30 p.m.

School of Journalism & Graphic Communication Lecture Hall

Florida A&M University

Tallahassee, Florida

How do you work pizza crust, LeBron James and Carl Friedrich Gauss into the same short video? How do you make the switch from the neuroscience research lab to producing text and video content for a fast-paced news operation?

Nsikan Akpan, digital science producer for the PBS NewsHour, will discuss his transition from academic science into the evolving world of video science journalism. He’ll offer a behind-the-scenes look at how the NewsHour has been using a National Science Foundation grant to better understand what its viewers want from science videos. Akpan will share tips on producing stories for the web that grab the viewer’s attention while providing accurate information on topics both whimsical and urgent.

The son of first-generation African immigrants, Akpan also will discuss the continuing need, during a time of social upheaval, for more diversity in newsrooms across all beats. Akpan won his AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Award in 2016 for a video on “What a Smell Looks Like.” He has a PhD in cell biology and pathobiology from Columbia University.