Every autumn since 1983, science writers have arrived at MIT in groups of eight to a dozen to take part in the Knight Science Journalism (KSJ) fellowships at MIT — the world’s best-known and most prestigious mid-career training program for journalists covering science, technology, health, and the environment.
But this year in October, MIT will witness a gathering of science writers on an entirely different scale. Over the Columbus Day weekend, the Institute will welcome some 600 to 800 science communicators for ScienceWriters2015, the largest annual gathering of science writers in the nation.
ScienceWriters2015 is a three-way collaboration between KSJ, a program of MIT’s School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (MIT-SHASS), the National Association of Science Writers (NASW), and the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing (CASW). KSJ and MIT-SHASS are the local hosts.
“We’re thrilled to be able to bring the meeting here,” says KSJ director Deborah Blum. “MIT is an ideal place to host a gathering of the country’s best science writers, both because it is home to one of the greatest research communities in the world and because of the Institute’s deep commitment to sharing that research with the public.”
Workshops on civic science controversies, women in science writing
After attending an opening reception at Walker Memorial on Friday, October 9, participants will gather on Saturday, Oct. 10, at the Hyatt Regency Cambridge for a day of professional development workshops organized by NASW, the nation’s oldest and largest professional association for science writers.
That day will include a panel discussion on coverage of civic science controversies such as vaccines, climate change, and GMOs, featuring Seth Mnookin, co-director of the MIT-SHASS Graduate Program in Science Writing. Later, attendees can participate in a discussion on sexism in science writing organized by Blum and veteran science writer Cristine Russell, a senior fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.
New Horizons in Science briefings to feature Seager, Banerjee, others
On Sunday, Oct. 11, the meeting will shift to an exploration of innovative science in the Cambridge area, for two days of New Horizons in Science briefings organized by CASW, a non-profit dedicated to improving the quality of science news. MIT Vice President for Research Maria Zuber will welcome New Horizons attendees to the campus. Nine of the researchers tapped by CASW to speak from the New Horizons podium are from MIT: Scott Aaronson, Abhijit Banerjee, Edward Boyden, Sallie “Penny” Chisholm, Michael Cima, Kerry Emanuel, Alan Guth, Paulo Lozano, and Sara Seager.
The New Horizons segments traditionally highlight new results and help journalists figure out what stories to watch in the coming year. Seager, for example, will share a predictive framework she’s developing for assessing whether exoplanets, observed by instruments such as the Kepler satellite and the upcoming MIT-led TESS mission, might support life. In another session, Banerjee will share the results of randomized controlled trials by MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab studying the effects of microfinance on poverty. (Microloans may actually suppress entrepreneurship, Banerjee’s group has found.)
Lunch with a luminary
An additional 13 MIT faculty members will meet with conference participants in smaller “Lunch With a Luminary” breakout sessions organized by KSJ on Oct. 11 and 12. Participating faculty include Vladimir Bulovic, Mildred Dresselhaus, Lorna Gibson, David Kaiser, Nancy Kanwisher, Dina Katabi, Peter Fisher, Neil Gershenfeld, Robert Langer, John Leonard, David Mindell, and Lawrence Susskind.
In addition to the workshops, talks, and lunches, ScienceWriters2015 attendees will have the opportunity to tour numerous local science destinations, including Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories, the Marine Biological Laboratory and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and the local facilities of Biogen, Johnson & Johnson Innovation, and the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research.
Part of MIT SOLVE and HUBweek
The ScienceWriters2015 gathering is part of a larger, unprecedented celebration of research and innovation taking place in Boston and Cambridge in October, including two new events, MIT’s SOLVE conference and the HUBweek festival. In addition, on Oct. 9, KSJ will host a half-day journalism workshop on nanotechnology, with support from the Kavli Foundation, while STAT, a new online journal of health and medicine from the Boston Globe, is organizing a public forum on research frontiers in the life sciences at the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT, and Harvard in Kendall Square.
This unique confluence of events, many related to science and technology and their social and policy impacts, is expected to help draw a record number of science communicators to this year’s ScienceWriters gathering at MIT.
The principal organizer of the event for MIT is Wade Roush, a science and technology journalist who was the acting director of KSJ in 2014-15 and has an appointment this year as outreach officer for the MIT-SHASS Program in Science, Technology, and Society.
ScienceWriters2015 is sponsored by KSJ and MIT-SHASS, with generous support from Johnson & Johnson Innovation; STAT; Biogen; the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research; the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences; the MIT School of Engineering; and the MIT School of Science. Additional sponsors include Boston University, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Draper Laboratory, the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the Harvard Museums of Science & Culture, the Jackson Laboratory, the Marine Biological Laboratory, New England Science Writers, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.