New AAAS Kavli Lecture Series to Discuss Issues in Science Journalism

Earl Lane

Three prominent journalists will discuss the challenges of accurately reporting and presenting the latest science news in a series of campus lectures this fall sponsored by the AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Awards program.

The AAAS Kavli lecturers will address science reporting in the age of fake news, accurate reporting on biomedical research and opportunities for science on television in a changing media landscape.

The lectures at Stony Brook University, the University of Texas and the University of Oregon are made possible through a grant from The Kavli Foundation. They will feature three of the AAAS Kavli program’s “laureates” — journalists who have won the distinguished award three times and, under the contest rules, are no longer eligible but continue to serve as exemplars of distinguished science journalism.

Since their inception in 1945, the AAAS Science Journalism Awards have honored professional journalists for distinguished reporting on the sciences, engineering and mathematics. In recognition of a generous endowment by The Kavli Foundation, the awards are now called the AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Awards. Since 2015, the contest has been open to journalists worldwide.

The lecturers will hold classroom workshops with student journalists in addition to delivering a public lecture. The upcoming lectures:

“Science Reporting in the Age of Fake News”

Carl Zimmer, columnist at The New York Times and national correspondent at STAT

October 12, 2017 ­at 4:00 p.m. ET
Stony Brook University
Wang Center Theater, Stony Brook, New York

Are humans causing the planet to get hotter? Do vaccines cause autism? Did our species evolve 300,000 years ago? Scientists have come to firm answers about these questions (yes, no, yes). Yet these subjects and many others are now fiercely contested — in some cases by government officials. These challenges have dogged science reporters for decades, but the state of 21st-century journalism and politics has brought a new sense of urgency to the profession. Zimmer’s talk will explore the current state of science reporting, including some hopeful innovations that may bring more understanding to the public about how the world works.

Zimmer has written 13 books about biology and medicine and hundreds of features for magazines such as The Atlantic, National Geographic, Scientific American and The New York Times Magazine. As one interviewer wrote of Zimmer, “Unlike his literary icon, Herman Melville, he doesn’t adorn his writing with ornate flourishes or complicated scaffolding. His approach is simple, elegant, and potent, much like the microscopic lifeforms he so often examines. And, like these microorganisms, he is a marvel of adaptability and innovation.” Zimmer won the AAAS Kavli award twice in the large newspaper category (2012 and 2009) and once in the online category (2004).

“Bad Science, Good Science: Covering Medical Research”

Richard Harris, science correspondent at NPR

November 2, 2017 ­at 5:30 p.m. CT
University of Texas, Austin
Belo Center for New Media Auditorium

It is not enough for science journalists to faithfully describe research results. It is becoming increasingly clear that in many cases, initial results do not stand the test of time. Harris will discuss how he has changed the way he communicates science, mindful that many results are not reproducible.

Harris has reported on a wide range of topics in science, medicine and the environment since he joined NPR in 1986. In early 2014, his focus shifted from an emphasis on climate change and the environment to biomedical research. He is the author of “Rigor Mortis: How Sloppy Science Creates Worthless Cures, Crushes Hope, and Wastes Billions” (Basic Books, 2017). He has traveled to all seven continents for NPR. His reports have originated from Timbuktu, the South Pole, the Galapagos Islands, Beijing during the SARS epidemic, the center of Greenland, the Amazon rain forest, the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro (for a story on tuberculosis) and Japan to cover the nuclear aftermath of the 2011 tsunami. Harris won the AAAS Kavli radio award in 1988, for a segment on anti-noise technology, in 1995 for a story on hormones in the environment, and in 2010 for a series which found that the blown-out BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico was spewing far more oil than asserted in the official estimates.

“The Art of Science Television”

Paula S. Apsell, senior executive producer at NOVA-PBS

November 10, 2017­ at 6:00 p.m. PT
University of Oregon, Eugene
Erb Memorial Union, Redwood Auditorium

Using clips from the internationally acclaimed NOVA-PBS science series, Paula Apsell will discuss how topics are chosen, how to make difficult or controversial material not only accessible but compelling to a wide range of viewers, and how to address the challenges ­–– and opportunities –– science journalists face as they compete for the public’s attention in an increasingly fractured and crowded media landscape.

While at WGBH-FM in Boston, Apsell developed the award-winning children’s drama series “The Spider’s Web” and served as an on-air radio news producer. She then joined WGBH’s pioneering science documentary series NOVA, producing such programs as “Death of a Disease,” the first long-form documentary about the worldwide eradication of smallpox. Moving to WCVB, the ABC affiliate in Boston, she became senior producer for medical programming. She was a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT before taking over leadership of NOVA, which is the most popular prime-time science series on U.S. television. Apsell won the television award in 1986 for “The Case of the Frozen Arctic,” in 1990 for “Hurricane!” and in 1992 for “Eclipse of the Century.”

NOTE:  Carl Zimmer’s lecture will be livestreamed on Facebook at and The other lectures also will be livestreamed. For details, visit Follow the lecture series on Twitter: @AAASKavli  #sciencejournalism.