Science, Journalism, and Democracy: Keynote by Carl Zimmer

Science, Journalism, and Democracy: Keynote by Carl Zimmer



I'd like now to introduce dr. Rick Lifton president of the rockefeller in the conference Rik assumed the presidency here almost exactly a year ago at the beginning of September last year prior to his arrival at Rockefeller he was the chair of the genetics department at Yale University an executive director of the Yale Center for genome analysis which he founded Rick is a physician scientist who has pioneered the use of genetics and genomics to understand fundamental mechanisms underlying human diseases including cardiovascular disease neoplasia kidney disease and osteoporosis he's especially known for his research on hypertension and salt intake work that has informed public health efforts and therapeutic strategies used worldwide rick is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine he won the breakthrough prize in 2014 and has been the recipient of many other awards and honors for his research he was a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator for more than 20 years before assuming the Rockefeller presidency and he co-chaired the Planning Committee for President Obama's precision medicine initiative in 2015 Rick [Applause] good morning I'm delighted to welcome all of you to Rockefeller University today for what I'm sure will be an extremely interesting conference today's conference focuses on issues that are critically important to science and society and are very timely here at Rockefeller our scientists have been pursuing our mission science for the benefit of humanity since 1901 this credo was based on the realization that the surest path to preventing or treating disease is understanding their fundamental causes this has motivated the development of technologies and analytic methods to probe in increasing detail life in its interaction with the environment critical to this process is rigorous dispassionate analysis of data in search for enduring truths about nature building foundations upon which new advances can be pursued with confidence trust in the scientific method has drastically transformed human health increasing healthy lifespan by 35 years over the last century and continuing to increase a healthy lifespan by one year for every seven calendar years a remarkable record in that time extraordinary discoveries have been made here on the Rockefeller campus that have driven these advances including the discovery that DNA is the hereditary material at the Rockefeller Hospital just a few doors down here the discovery that the of the mechanism by which the immune system recognizes foreign proteins a discovery that underlies current uses to use the immune system to attack cancer cells the discovery that the hormone leptin is a hormone made by fat cells that informs the brain about the state of body nutrient stores a critical discovery in transforming obesity from a disease of one of failure of human character to one a fundamental biology discovery of combination therapy for HIV which has transformed this rapidly fatal disease into one compatible with a normal lifespan and recently the discovery of the mechanism of a replication of the hepatitis C virus which has led to recently to a cure for this disease which previously killed 350,000 people annually so despite our small size Rockefeller scientists have had remarkable impact most notably recognized in 24 Nobel Prizes which places are 80 faculty at Rockefeller a third behind the United States the UK in Germany in the number of Nobel prizes in medicine and chemistry but most importantly these discoveries were made possible because of the understanding that the scientific method can produce enduring truths based on facts and not beliefs that are based on rigorous objectively replicable into interrogation of the physical world in this regard science and journalism share a critical foundation based on this rigorous pursuit of discovery in search of enduring truths as Rockefellers history demonstrates imaginative inquiry is the best way to illuminate the complexity and beauty of our world it's increasingly obvious that the public understanding of science is critical to our society well substantiated scientists science is of great importance to health and the planet and yet is frequently ignored or denied by policymakers most alarmingly the repeated denial of facts in the public arena has become a routine and distressingly successful political device this observation underscores the importance of the role of journalism in disseminating scientific knowledge to the public science journalism plays a critical role in this link of our basic science to the public and plays an extraordinarily important role in our democratic society engaging the public and our leaders in new research findings and educating them as to the implications of those discoveries leading to progress in almost every aspect of our lives we are grateful and applaud your work and take great pride in our shared commitment to truth into advancing knowledge thank you very much for your attention and again welcome to Rockefeller University I'm sure you will have an energetic and product of conference today thanks very much hi I'm Brook Burrell I'm in journalists here in New York and a co organizer of the conference as you heard already thank you all for coming today I'm very thrilled at the turnout we put this conference together through volunteer work and sheer willpower and I'm really thrilled to finally be here today but this all started last December when Franco emailed me with the subject line reading an idea little did we know how much work would go into that idea ultimately but that idea was whether I would want to help organize a meeting to explore the issues in play involving science journalism and democracy following the 2016 election this interested me greatly because the incoming administration had been actively hostile to journalists I'm a journalist and also didn't seem too promising regarding at least some areas of science policy including things like climate change which is one of the most pressing issues of our time and all this had me wondering if I was in the right line of work not that I didn't want to be a journalist anymore although sometimes I do consider that but I was wondering if I should be focusing my skills somewhere else maybe not specifically on science but should I be covering more policy in politics and after some soul-searching I decided that writing about science and the environment and health were just as important as ever and my time is certainly well spent in this area still I had some lingering questions that I continue to have about how I should be doing my coverage what sort of stories I should be chasing and so on and so forth and the more I wondered about all of this the more I talked to colleagues about these things where our place was as science journalists and communicators and the sort of ecosystem that we're in the more I realized I wasn't alone in some of these questions so today we have several panels addressing these issues and more we have some speakers and topics that apply outside journalism to all of science writing and also to science itself what does this current political moment mean for all of us and to start us off I'd like to introduce our keynote speaker a man who probably needs no introduction in this crowd but I will introduce him anyway that of course is Carl Zimmer columnist for The New York Times and the author of many books including a new one about heredity which will come out this spring Thank You Brooke thanks to everybody for organizing this and thank you for inviting me it's sort of a chance for for me to actually sit down and really kind of think for a while about a lot of issues that had been on my mind for quite some time as they were with you Brooke and I'm sure a lot of you in the audience we're here at this meeting to talk about science journalism and democracy so let me begin by telling you about a newspaper article on a scientific experiment an experiment that ended up having a major influence on government policy on a vital issue the vital issue is food the experiment was on wheat in a lot of countries there are two kinds of wheat that you can plant spring wheat and winter wheat spring wheat is planted in the spring not surprisingly and immediately starts growing winter wheat is different in that you plant it before the winter it stays in the ground over the winter and then it comes up in spring winter wheat has the advantage of producing a much bigger yield but there is a catch a field full of winter wheat can be wiped out by something called the black frost which is not a monster from Game of Thrones all that the black Frost is is what happens when there's a really sharp cold snap without any snow to act as an insulating layer that can wipe out the wheat and so that in the spring you have no wheat that will grow so spring wheat never phases this this risk and so the idea was well we'll just stick with spring wheat because there's no way that we can take advantage of this winter wheat without running these risks so the newspaper article I want to tell you about described a new idea a new experiment what if you could plant winter wheat in the spring on face of is that on the face of it this should not work winter wheat actually needs the cold as a signal – tell it to prepare to grow once spring finally comes so if you planted in the spring it doesn't grow but this newspaper article recounted the work of a maverick young scientist that suggested otherwise you know we journalists we do love our young maverick scientists just before spring planting this scientist germinated some winter wheat seeds and then packed them in some snow for a few days after this artificial gel he planted the winter wheat in springtime soil and they started growing right away so this article describes this amazing experiment in very excited tones and it talks about the quote extraordinary scientific and economic value of the research I mean this could promise nothing less than saving this country from a food shortage this article I'm telling you about appeared almost 90 years ago on October 8 1929 the newspaper was Pravda the the propaganda outlet of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the title of the article was quote on the sowing of winter cultures in spring and then in parentheses the discovery of the agronomist EDI Cinco no foam lysine co at the time was a little-known researcher he did these experiments in the early years of Stalin's dictatorship when Stalin was facing dangerous food shortages in the Soviet Union he had just responded by forcing peasants onto collectivized farms a terrible decision that would lead over the next decade to the deaths of millions by starvation Stalin also demanded that Soviet scientists help in the fight by finding better crops and find them fast now at the time the Soviet Union was actually home to a thriving community of geneticists they were doing pioneering work under understanding how genes work in animals and plants and so in response to this crisis they threw themselves into work and they tried to use their knowledge of genetics to come up with better crops but it wasn't happening fast enough for Stalin and then comes AI Senko like Senko had a great backstory he wasn't one of those fussy cosmopolitan experts he was up from a peasant family and despite having little advanced education he was succeeding where mainstream scientists were failing or at least he seemed to be as soon as a as the agricultural ministry learned about lice anko's experiment on winter wheat they began promoting him as a scientific hero now in fact when the psycho first Lai Cinco first described his research at scientific conferences in early 1929 other Soviet scientists roundly dismissed it for one thing it was nothing new plant breeders have been trying to use cold temperatures for centuries to try to improve growth and they hadn't had much luck so why was Lenko suddenly having these great results well his critics said he was getting nothing of the sort he was doing bad science he was running experiments they were so small and sloppy that they couldn't be trusted so even in the early years of Stalin's rule Russian scientists were still having vigorous open exchanges and that's one of the essential ingredients of science because it allows scientists to hold each other to high standards now you wouldn't know this from the Pravda article it presented like same cosy experiment as an open-and-shut case prob that's worth mentioning was staffed by editors with little scientific training and was staffed by editors and with they had a lot of incentive to believe the government's claims that lysenko was right in their article downline saenko they didn't mention the scientific community's objections more fawning press coverage soon followed sometimes geneticists managed to get their objections known in public but the newspapers would quote government spokesmen dismissing them as bourgeois this complicit journalism historians have argued helped to lift lysenko to the highest echelons of Soviet science as the flattering press coverage poured out he got a huge laboratory to run more experiments and he went on to become a leader of the national effort to grow more food this power very quickly went to life's anko's head he started making sqweep pronouncements about the nature of heredity itself he claimed that chilling winter wheat plants did more than just allow farmers to southern in the spring the plants could actually then pass down their improved trait to their offspring so an inquired trait could actually override genes in fact like psycho now said that genes didn't really matter at all to life they might not even really be real the evidence of favor of genes evidence that had poured in for thirty years meant nothing to him he brushed the sciences of genetics office quote AG bourgeois perversion he attacked geneticists personally he called he'd called them fly lovers and people haters Soviet newspapers stuck to the same talking points they broadcast license amazing claims and they attacked geneticist genetics as a myth of the capitalist West by ignoring genetics they claimed lai Cinco would put the Soviet Union at the top of the scientific world geneticist soon found the Soviet Union a hard place to work in some lost their jobs geneticists from other parts of the world soon realized that the Soviet Union was no longer a place to travel to in order to collaborate with experts there Hermann Muller an American geneticist who later won the Nobel Prize for his work on mutations went to Leningrad in 1933 to work at the Institute of genetics he immediately discovered that lie saenko was running roughshod over Soviet science so Muller who was a very pugnacious character he'd already made lots of enemies in the US with the FBI in American eugenicist he did not shy away from taking only senko he actually took part in a public debate against Lysenko in front of 3,000 farmers and scientists and Mulder tried to convince them that genes were real that they were stable over generations that they mattered and they laughed him down after the debate mother realized that he was actually now in very grave danger and he fled the Soviet Union he was not overreacting now geneticist started ending up in jail the greatest plant scientist of the early 20th century Nicolas of Avila who had actually supported lai Cinco when he was younger spoke out against him now and ended up in prison where he died of starvation in 1943 now the historian mark trogir has actually observed that some Soviet geneticists still manage to carry on their science but they only managed to do so by disguising it quote by writing research plans and ways that deceived bureaucratic censors I'll get back to that trogir writes that they managed to publish some of their work in journals that you used articles quote on lice and kuis themes as camouflage now lysenko didn't actually need the support anymore of soviet scientists for his power stalin was his patron when lysenko spoke at an agricultural conference held in the kremlin in 1935 Stalin was in the audience and when Lenco accused geneticists of being quote saboteurs stalin rose to his feet and yelled bravo comrade like Senko Bravo and as Soviet newspapers also provided Lysenko with continued very important support they've call him things like quote the distinguished son of the collective farm peasantry and they hounded lie saenko scientific victims these newspapers would run hit pieces on individual geneticists they would brand them as fascists when a pair of Soviet scientists dared to publish a textbook that included Mendel one newspaper condemned it with the headline dry form of genetics from higher education Dyson Koch kept promising that his new theory of heredity would dramatically increased Soviet crop production but his ink the increase never came Stalin never asked other scientist maybe Eli Sanka was wrong instead he continued to support Lysenko for years damaging the soviet agricultural economy in the process and this Fiasco was unfolding even a scientist in other countries like the United States were relying on genetics to develop new varieties that would help to feed more people in 1948 lysine Co ratcheted things up even more 3000 geneticist were fired at one shot their library starry stalks of fruit flies were destroyed one of the scientists shot himself in the head when another scientist wrote a 200 page review of all the harmless anko was doomed to biology he was sent to a gulag for seven years how did no Soviet newspapers respond to these events they ran cartoon showing geneticists wearing the white hoods of the KKK Valery self you're a Russian biologist an historian has written how much Soviet science in general suffered in these years the ranks of its leadership were filled with people with good political instincts and little scientific training generations of students went through universities without getting a good education in the latest advances of science so its science was isolated from the rest of the world when Stalin died in 1953 by Cinco de mast enough power to let him hold on to his posts until the 1960s but finally Soviet scientists were able to mount a campaign against him which opened an investigation which led him to be pushed out of power in 1965 and that investigation along with later research shows that lie sank OHS work was a sham plants have genes that control how they how they use signals to decide when to grow and all the evidence indicates that lai Cinco accidentally picked out certain rare variants of wheat with mutations that altered their schedule it was nothing but good old genetics it's been nearly 90 years since that Pravda article about lice anko was published helping to launch his dis dismal career it's been over 50 years since he fell so when you hear this story you may think wow that's appalling but it happened a long time ago and in a faraway place and it has no meaning to us today in the United States and 2017 and I disagree the things we are discussing today this meeting democracy science and journalism are three valuable institutions that have made life in this country far better than they then it would have been without them they're worth defense and their worth worth keeping free from corruption we can look back over history to see how in different places and in different times each of these pillars cracked and sometimes fell we should not be smug when we look back at these episodes we should not be so arrogant as to believe that we are so much smarter or nobler that were somehow immune from these disasters we should look at these problems see how they arose and learn what we can about how to keep them from happening again they did not happen overnight it takes years and it takes a gradual shift in people's behavior and their norms when we look at science today we ought to ask what direction is it moving the last thing we would want for it is to move even an inch in the direction of the of these terrible episodes the historian Timothy Snyder sums up the value of history with a short line and his new bestseller on tyranny history can familiarize and it can warn so it's good to look at lice anko's story and ask ourselves what exactly about it appalls us well for one thing a government decided an important area of research one that the worldwide scientific community had been working on for decades was wrong instead they embraced weak evidence to the contrary they because this government ignored its owns best scientists and scientific academies they glamorize someone who opposed that mainstream research based on weak research turning his meager track record into a virtue it forced scientists either to be political allies or opponents it personally condemned scientists who supported a worldwide consensus and spoke out against the government's agenda casting the scientists as bad people who wanted to harm the country and the damage to the signs of community rippled out and lasted for years it it isolated scientists from international partnerships and it also created an atmosphere of fear which led to self-censorship and by turning away from the best science this government did harm to its country so let's turn to where we are now in the 1930s when Lysenko was on the rise climate change was actually barely appreciated but today it's one of the most important scientific issues we face and for years now the National Academy of Sciences and other groups of leading American scientists provided the US government with their best analysis of what is happening as humans put billions of tons of heat-trapping gas in the air they've since synthesized decades of research to do this human activity has already warmed the surface of the earth which is now almost two degrees warmer than it was in 1880 it's lower it's low to the oceans with vast amounts of extra heat it's lower the pH of the ocean it's raised sea levels glaciers are in retreat and climate change is starting to influence extreme weather if humans continue emitting carbon dioxide at this torrential pace climate scientists warn that we will face much higher sea levels mark Stream weather such as deadly heat waves and by the way climate change is going to take a bite out of US food production now there's still a lot of debate about the precise response that the earth will make to climate change there was actually a lot of debate about genes in the 1930s the discovery an establishment of DNA as being the stuff of genes wouldn't happen to places like Rockefeller University for years to come but people already knew that genes were real and we know now the climate change is real even if some people say it isn't the best science says it is and how of our current leaders responded our president tweets that climate change is a hoax concocted by China he just nominated Congressman Jim bridenstine to head NASA which is an agency which has taken on an irreplaceable role in monitoring the climate and atmosphere from space the website on the issues asked bridenstine what his position was on climate change and he said there is no credible scientific evidence that greenhouse gas atmosphere concentrations including carbon dioxide affect global climate Scott Pruett the man who runs the EPA now was recently asked if fossil fuels are the cause of climate change he responded I would not agree that it's a primary contributor to global warming that we see at the Department of Energy energy being the crucial source of human produced carbon dioxide and where research on new sources of energy can be done secretary Rick Perry recently also said the carbon dioxide is not the primary core cause of climate change he blames it mysteriously on quote the ocean waters and this environment that we live in these statements have no support from the scientific community as you can see if you look at statements about climate change from the relevant scientific societies such as the American Geophysical Union the American Meteorological Society and neither Perry Pruett or brightenstein I should add our scientists when Hurricane Harvey recently struck climate scientists spoke publicly about their research indicating that climate change will provide more moisture and energy for storms in the future and for this utterance the EPA attacked them quote the EPA is focused on the safety of those affected by hurricane Harvey and providing emergency response to support not engaging in attempts to politicize an ongoing tragedy a spokesperson told the press so think about that a branch of the federal government personally vilifying scientists as cynical sensationalists for discussing a well studied phenomenon that may actually affect countless lives for years to come scientists from 13 US government agencies have put together a National Climate Assessment which surveys the evidence for climate change it paints a dire picture of the future the report is not yet been officially released by the government when these assessments are usually released about every four years it's the president's science advisory typically signs off on them there is no science advisor right now on top of that the head of the EPA is now saying that the National Climate Assessment needs to be peer-reviewed now a fact checker would point out that the report or has been peer reviewed by a bunch of scientists so we're left to wonder who exactly he's talking about who do this peer review some in Congress are following suit on August 29th Axios ran a story about congressman Andy Biggs of Arizona someone who calls climate change quote a discredited theory they reported that Biggs has introduced an amendment that would wipe out funding for the National Climate Assessment who needs to delay bad news when you can make sure that doesn't get written in the first place the White House administration eliminates all climate related research in the Department of Energy and its proposed budget and just yesterday at the The Washington Post they reported that the EPA now has someone who has final approval for research grants who is not a scientist not an expert in environmental policy but a political appointee and according to the post source the appointee is going to kill any application with a quote CC word in it in other words climate change one member of the e of the transition team at the EPA really got to the heart of the matter a while back when the EPA took down its updated website about climate science simply saying there is no such thing as climate science so how is the scientific community responding so many marched on them are many marched in the march on science many others have spoken out about their research and its importance there are other responses that I think have a different sort of echo on August 25th that you reported that things the Department of Energy were going a lot like they are in the EPA scientists who would do in climate change-related research were basically told to take references to climate change and global warming out of the descriptions of their project one scientist who does this sort of research was chillingly realistic about the situation he said quote if that's what it takes to keep science going for a couple of years we will I guess play along I guess the idea is that just in a couple years somehow magically this will all be over will climate scientists from other countries want to come to the United States to research in this environment when the president of France invites climate scientists the United States to come to study in France is he just trolling us or are we gonna see a brain drain most of what I've just described to you has happened in just the last few weeks in some cases in just the last few days so for science journalists who are starting off in their careers I imagine this experience has been pretty overwhelming and maybe kind of incomprehensible you may be asking yourself what am I supposed to do so as a not so young science writer I would like to offer just a few bits of advice not just about reporting specifically about climate in this environment in 2017 but about really any other subject in science I myself became a science journalist starting in around 1990 I was an assistant editor at discover an dear African who now writes for ProPublica was a senior editor there and he had actually published one of the first cover stories about global warming and it was based on congressional testimony from the climate scientist Jim Hansen and in hindsight is kind of weird the story did not make big waves people took note of it but it felt kind of abstract kind of off in the future and it was kind of hard to imagine that we could have such an effect on the planet as a whole we working at the the dawn of modern climate journalism now I wrote a lot at the time about evolution and so I was being mean while being attacked by creationists that has a long and venerable history in the United States and I was getting a first row seat where I could watch the art of attacking science creationist would use false ideas of balance to demand equal time between evolutionary biologists and creationists they would try to give creationism other names to get around Supreme Court decisions they cherry pick to my articles to make it sound like I was supporting creationism and they personally attacked evolutionary biologist being out of touch elites who basically hated the country sound familiar ah I started to write some some pieces about climate change because you know you can't understand the evolution of life without understanding the climate in which it evolves and after a while I started to notice some familiar tactics from people who were trying to cast doubt on climate science so long ago back in 1994 I wrote about paleo climatology scientists were finding that for the most part in the past the level of carbon dioxide seemed to be influencing the climate in a pretty straightforward way but there were some odd periods that required more research so four hundred and forty million years ago for example co2 levels appeared to be sixteen times higher than they are in the 1990s but there was ice at the South Pole which seemed kind of strange over a decade later a climate denialist wrote a column in which they pulled bits of that article out and quoted it a misleading way to make it sound as if to make it make it sound like quote there isn't anywhere near as much close relationship between greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and the temperatures as many people seem to believe now of course what he was doing was he was leaving out that that paragraph were actually explaining like well this is how scientists do explain it for one thing the Sun has changed its brightness so that the Sun is four percent dimmer back then and so there was less heat to trap so you leave that out you make it sound like journalists are showing that there's this huge data about climate over the years I have seen this this kind of technique grow more more common they use other familiar techniques they keep calling for false balance they vilify scientists climate scientists become part of a global conspiracy to control people's lives so they become incredibly rich off of grants from the National Science Foundation this this this this passes for reality so my first suggestion to two young science writers is to read some history not just about Lenco but about science politics in the media and in recent times so for example merchants of doubt' by Naomi Oreskes near Conway the discovery of global warming by Spencer weird sometimes what seems totally new actually has fairly deep roots I would say number two don't give up on those old-fashioned principles resist the simplistic notion that somehow drastic times call for drastic measures remember that science journalism is a lot like science we should try to get as close as we can to the truth about science about its findings and its practice and its impact so don't let the overwhelming rush of astonishing developments you keep track of on Twitter or elsewhere make you forget that principle number three don't get bullied away from your principles so don't let someone on Twitter or TV guilt you into doing a bad reporting job in the name of false balance and don't let people push you to hide legitimate disagreements either if you're writing about plate tectonics and their geologists who are in conflict through peer-reviewed research let's say like how the Andes formed report that debate but don't pretend that the debate involves somebody who has a 200 page PDF online where he shows that there is no plate tectonics at all because the earth is hollow ok you know it's it doesn't make you biased it's not like you can be Pro plate tectonics ok then before always write for the public and never for Pravda we have thankfully a first amendment here we are not dominated by a state-run media at least not an official one but even in society we have to do voted to not do stenography for people in power no matter who they are no matter what the topic now may be easier to keep this in mind in some cases and harder and others so for example governments have urged people for four decades to keep their intake of fat low and many reporters have passed on this advice uncritically without looking at this at the strength of the underlying research and the ongoing debate in a scientific community the lot of studies have come out that have challenged that that mantra the latest one just came out at the end of august looking at a hundred and thirty thousand people found that people with a high carbohydrate diet were more likely to die a divergent fats did not raise the mortality rates like that that doesn't mean that you have to start championing some particular ideology of whatever the Paleo diet or whatever but like you do need to report on these things carefully and not feel like you're constrained because someone in the government doesn't want you to do that number five remember that circulation managers are heroes of journalism no less than some reporter who's climbed to the top of some Greenland glacier they bring in the audience in print and online and they make journalism organizations solvent for the long term now you can help by becoming circulation manager or social media manager yourself or at least by thinking like one people who care about science should not end up huddled around their own campfire taking turns as speaker and audience building bigger audiences means trying out new kinds of media what does each new format let you do that you couldn't do before what audience can you reach and also ask yourself why aren't you reaching more people are you failing to reach some big demographic swath climate change and other big stories of science affect everyone informed democracies need to know about them but that means acknowledging that people may not draw the conclusions from your work that you may think are obvious and it's not because they don't understand or because they don't have enough information so get to know the research on the psychology of science communication and learn about how everyone filters information about science through our identity and our cultural affiliations also remember that science is at the heart of humanity search for truth in the world of journalism science writers can feel on the outside looking in there's no editor-in-chief at a major newspaper that I can think of who got there after being a science writer there's no anchor on CNN who did either that I can recall but you know at times when disinformation is rampant people look to science as something that has to be preserved and protected so just look at Michael Lewis and his most recent piece and Vanity Fair quote why the scariest nuclear threat may be coming from inside the White House he reported on the new administration showing little interest on the key concerns the Department of Energy scientists have you know things like making sure that nuclear weapons don't accidentally blow up all they wanted to do was find out who had been sniffing around and climate change and were particularly interested in wiping out the ohi's climate funding so Lewis quotes John MacWilliams a Hideo e employee on the danger of this approach quote you can't gut the science if you do you were hurting the country if you got the core competency of the do-e you've got the country this isn't vanity fair– this is not in nature science we science writers are better at reporting this stuff than anybody else so let's seize this moment finally recognize that every science story can have a moral dimension no matter how small it may seem it's easy to think that a lot of what we do is just telling entertaining stories you know we get to write about pandas but there's a moral code hidden in every story most research costs taxpayer money so why was this particular study of so much value that taxpayers paid had to pay for it each study has to adhere to good scientific practice to have a chance of showing us something new about how the world works did it stick to those principles and when a country slides into authoritarianism nice little science stories are not going to be refuge for a journalist and to illustrate what I mean by this I just want to end my talk by talking about another story from Russia this is a more recent one and it comes from Masha Gessen Gessen has been getting a lot of well-deserved attention in the past year for essays about autocracy and the experiences of Russian journalists having under Putin and the lessons of journalists and citizens in the United States can learn from them but Gessen is actually one of us her portfolio includes science journalism she was even the editor of a Russian science magazine so as we look at other times and places to think about what we should be doing we can look at her experience which she actually wrote about in passing in a much longer piece that she published last year and the New York Review books so I'm just going to read you read you this one little piece of it in 2012 I was working as the editor-in-chief of a popular science magazine called vogue feta when Vladimir Putin who fancies himself an explorer and a nature conservationist took a liking to the publication his administration launched a kind of friendly takeover of the magazine one that the publisher could not refuse I found myself guessin says in meetings with the Russian Geographic Society of which Putin was the hands-on chairman they wanted me to publish stories about their activities most of which as far as I could tell were bogus in exchange they promised to help the magazine and one point every school in Russia was ordered to buy a subscription like many Kremlin orders this one ended in naught I felt a slow Rock setting in at the magazine that I loved but I kept telling myself that I could still do a good job and keep many fine journalists gainfully employed then I was asked to send a reporter to accompany Putin on his hang-gliding adventure with a migrating flock of endangered Siberian crane I refused not on principle but because I was afraid that the reporter would see and describe something that would get the magazine in trouble the publisher fired me but then Putin called me for informating and offered me my job back legally it wasn't his to offer but for practical purposes it was in comparison to putin's regimes major abuses of power and suppression of the opposition the story of the crane and my firing does not deserve a mention all that happened as a result of the hang gliding trip from what I know was that two or three of the cranes were badly injured for the sake of the president's publicity stunt and I lost my job but I also lost a bit of my soul and the sense of moral agency I'd earned over decades of acting like my best journalist self when Putin offered me my job back after the trip I hesitated to say no I'd love that job and I thought I could still edit a good magazine and keep some fine journalists employed I didn't want to imagine what would happen the next time I was asked to cover a Putin photo-op or a fake story produced by his Geographic Society would siphon off money like every other part of his mafia State fortunately for me my closest friend said have you lost your mind by which he meant my sense of right and wrong so let's not lose our minds thank you [Applause] fortunately as I read on the latest research the internal combustion engine is on its way out and so the use of fossil fuel will diminish and perhaps slow the growth of global warming and what is your comment on that well we will need to get away from fossil fuels of all forms in order to avoid the worst possible impacts of climate change there's no question about that yeah we we have to do that and that's and you know research on on batteries and on other forms of power are going to be the only way forward Rick Weiss former Washington Post now American Association for Vance – science I just wanted to add maybe one thing to your list of things reporters could or should do to help keep us from going down the slippery slope you described and that is beyond simply being spokespeople for the truth and for evidence and for scientific findings is to go further and always make sure that whatever the facts are that are being reported are somehow backed up in the story that especially these days when propagation of information is so instantaneous and easy and there's a lot of he shed he-said she-said going on it's not enough simply to be another he or another she in that debate and if science journalists just become another voice that can be shouted down with an opposing opinion it's not enough so it seems to me critical that for every assertion that science reporters make in their stories they need to use the valuable space of an extra sentence or two in that fraction of an inch that it's going to take to mention a study say or a result or what the source of the evidence was that led to that finding so that somehow there can be a little more gravitas to the said that you're saying compared to the said that someone else is simply saying sure and I mean you know we've had links for a little while now like it's it's not hard to back it up with that information and I think actually in a way like maybe the pressure we're having now is it's not even he said she said it's like he said just like just grabbing stuff quickly as quickly as possible not even trying to call anybody up for anything for any sort of context and and so so because there's just you want to get out there first you know within a matter of seconds you know people you know there's there's kind of I think there's kind of a push away from saying like is this legit and you know and you end up with stories that just are you know are quite weak because of that because of that hastiness and that's a challenge that may be very hard to to work around inspiring talk one of the questions I have is you talk a little bit about the advice you have for science journalists and you talk a lot about how in situations like this presently and in the past scientists are vilified but we're also in an age where journalists are being vilified so I'm concerned and wondering if you have any advice for kind of what what we can do in a situation where not just what journalists are doing is being vilified but even the topics that we're covering and the scientists were covering are being vilified it doesn't feel like facts are enough in this age and even the medium that we're using is enough when when both are really under attack right now well I think you know one thing is just as a bear in mind you know you know you don't want to end up like that sort of strange alien character in Star Wars or something says it's a trap because like you know the your you you people are poking you with a stick and want you to to to react badly because that makes you look bad so you got to keep your powder dry and and it you know it it never you know and that is that that is part of the job until you stop doing the job and so like I would say like you know I you know I I have been you know personally attacked by creationists since the early 90s you know and if I were to suddenly say go you're you're just all a bunch of meanies and I hate you or something like that I would my reputation as a journalist would suffer so we just have to remember like the part of our job is getting poked with a stick every day I really enjoyed your talk I'm a faculty member here and one of the things that's come up in discussion at the National Academy of Sciences is how best to take advantage of the many documents and committee reports that are available and I I would just suggest that when there's a new event newsworthy event that just searching the documented National Academy of Sciences reports looking for keywords that might have an authoritative scientific statement that relates to that work might offer an opportunity for balance in in the in the reporting and yeah thank you and also just factual factual accuracy just as I mean just due to – in order for scientific societies to make it clear that you know that it is just the in evidence for things so it's you know for example is human influence on climate change is over oil and clear that's very important I would in terms of science of communication just caution scientists that you know an 800 page report is not better than an 80 page report because it has another zero at the end scientists tend to fall into this or the information deficit fallacy where they're just like oh we just need to add on another chapter and so on and just to sort of overwhelm people with things and I think that you know scientists themselves would probably benefit from learning about what works in terms of effective communication and understanding what it is that you want other people to understand people are not going to read an 800-page report we've actually here participated in the Alan Alda from great Stony Brook but almost all of the Academy reports have executive summaries and have short things that potentially could be inserted as representing scientific consensus at that Roman that's great our structure of contemporary science to the power that wired in the USSR so you can't win you know kind of you know anyway just by using Lysenko you have to refer to you know kind of popular ignorance and the ability of the state to people which is what you're talking about right yes and I have seen these things where conservatives say that lie sang co literally there are things where people say like senko brought us global warming i mean you can google it you'll find it i'm just i don't need to go into more detail than that but yeah but in order to make these sort of claims you have to completely ignore the actual history of the lights anko affair you have to ignore the fact that you know just as there is a huge amount of evidence for climate change now at the time there was a huge amount of evidence for genetics then and you know it wasn't you know a government listening to its its scientific societies and academies give them the best information they can in the 1930s i would have led the soviet union to continue its work on genetics now in the united states it should lead the United States to be taking climate change seriously and putting in more investments into understanding how it works and what we can do to stop it that's the real story of lai Cinco I think thank you [Applause] you

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