Tuesday June 25 at 11:00-12:30
Denial of the scientific theory of evolution is the granddaddy of organized anti-science movements, cropping up repeatedly under different guises in the United States and in other countries around the world. Despite challenges by scientists, educators, politicians and lawyers, evolution denial hasnʼt gone away and wonʼt go away. Instead it has seeded doubts about science that have spread to other arenas, including denial of global warming science, vaccination, genetically modified foods, and the hazards of second-hand smoke.
Science writers need to be aware of the influence of anti-science efforts on the topics they cover, since science denialism efforts have spread more quickly and widely in recent years, aided by the Internet and social media. Well-organized campaigns linking opposition to evolution to other anti-science efforts, both legal and political, help fuel the digital denialism battles. Denialism has been defined as “choosing to deny reality as a way to avoid an uncomfortable truth”.
Why does science denialism seem to be spreading around the globe? Are there common underlying causes involving religion, political beliefs, economics, education, and human nature itself? What is the history of well-organized attempts to mislead the public about scientific evidence? What challenges does denialism pose to the media in general, and to science journalists in particular, in communicating about controversial scientific issues to the public?
This panel will provide global perspectives on these questions from leading science writers in the US, South America, and South Africa.
Producers: Cristine Russell & Deborah Blum
Moderator: Curtis Brainard, Science Editor, “The Observatory,” Columbia Journalism Review, Boston, MA, US
Cristine Russell, Science writer; Past president, Council for the Advancement of Science Writing & Senior fellow, Harvard Kennedy School, Cambridge, MA, US
“Covering the Political Linkage between Evolution, Climate Change, and other Science Denial Campaigns in the U.S.”
Cristine Russell is an award-winning journalist who has written about science, health and the environment for more than three decades. She is the immediate past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing (CASW), a group of American journalists and scientists dedicated to improving science news coverage for the public. CASW is an associate member of the World Federation of Science Journalists. Russell is an adjunct lecturer on the media at Harvard Kennedy School and a senior fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. She is a contributing editor for the Columbia Journalism Review and a correspondent for TheAtlantic.com. Russell is a former national science reporter for The Washington Post and a past president of the US National Association of Science Writers. She was a spring 2006 fellow at the Harvard Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.
Valeria Roman, Science Journalist, Clarín Newspaper, Buenos Aires, Argentina
“Reporting on Denialism in South America: how lobbying groups put science education and public health at risk”
Valeria Román is a science journalist for Clarín Newspaper in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She was the vice president of the World Federation of Science Journalists from 2009 to 2011. Argentina’s Konex Foundation selected her as one of the 100 best journalists in the country in 2007. She was a 2004-2005 Knight science journalism fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge (MIT), USA, and a Medical Journalism Program Fellow at the WHO, Geneva (Switzerland) in 2003. She has spoken at science and medical journalism workshops and conferences in Chile, Bolivia, Brasil, Venezuela, Nicaragua, México, Trinidad & Tobago, Spain, and England. Roman published her first book for lay people, Darwin 2.0 La teoría de la evolución en el siglo XXI, about evolution theory, its updates, and applications. It also reveals the barriers to teaching evolution in Argentina, Chile and other Latin American countries. In 2009, she lectured at different cities to promote evolution education, and her science weblog was honored that year by the University of Buenos Aires.
Colleen Dawson, Author & Vice-Chair, South African Science Journalists’ Association (SASJA), Kensington, South Africa
“Writing about Denialism in South Africa: Undermining Public Understanding of Evolution”
Colleen Dawson is a science writer and vice-chair of the South African Science Journalists Association. For 30 years, she has been a textbook writer and publisher, as well as an educator in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and England. She has focused on evolutionary biology and the challenge of teaching and writing about evolution when much of the public feels that belief in God precludes acceptance of evolution. She says that evolution was kept out of science curricula in South Africa until 1994 and was not included in the Grade 12 national exams until 2008. Dawson has co-authored many textbooks, writing chapters on evolution and related topics. Her paper on the challenges of writing about evolution is also included in a 2002 book, “The Architect and the Scafford: Evolution and Education in South Africa.” It was co-edited by Lynne Smit (then Wilson), president of the South African Science Journalists’ Association, a WFSJ member organization.