The art of storytelling at the World Science Festival

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The World Science Festival is gearing up for its third year in New York, and I’m delighted to participate once more. This time I’ll be talking about a topic near and dear to my heart–telling stories about science. On Thursday June 2, they’ll have a full day of scientist-writers, television producers, and science writers.

Science on Screen
Thursday, June 2, 2011
(9:00 – 10:00)
Participants: Bill Weir, Louie Psihoyos, Simon Singh, Howard Swartz

Fantastic imagery and groundbreaking journalism dominate the best of documentary science storytelling. Director Louie Psihoyos’ Oscar-winning documentary The Cove (2009) stands as one of the most audacious and dangerous-to-film operations in the history of the conservation movement. NOVA’s Emergency Mine Rescue (2010) chronicled the unprecedented technological feat of rescuing 33 trapped Chilean miners. Today’s best producers of on-screen science are pushing the envelope, using a range of computer-based tools—including the highly cinematic techniques of digital science animation—to take viewers on a swooping ride through previously unseen worlds. How do these newly available techniques influence and enhance their editorial judgment? And what stories of science are left to be told?

Science Storytellers
Thursday, June 2, 2011
(10:15 – 12:30)
Participants: Steven Pinker, Siddhartha Mukherjee, James Watson, E.O. Wilson, Brian Greene, Jonathan Weiner, Deborah Blum, Natalie Angier, Timothy Ferris

Scientists with literary sensibilities are telling extraordinary stories about their quest to understand the natural world. With consummate narrative skill, these scientist-storytellers are creating compelling works that provide broad audiences with an entryway into otherwise impenetrable scientific subjects. They are joined in this panel by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists who have ventured into strange but thrilling fields of science. Their work turns the abstract and the seminal into writing so memorable that the rest of us can embrace the science and fully appreciate it.

Improvising Science
Thursday, June 2, 2011
(2:00 – 3:00)
Participant: Alan Alda

What happens when scientists try a short course of training in improvisation? Actor-director-writer Alan Alda, who has interviewed hundreds of scientists from around the world in his role as host of the Emmy-award winning PBS series Scientific American Frontiers, is leading an effort to teach improvisational techniques to scientists. The goal is not to turn scientists into actors, pretending to be what they’re not, but to bring about greater authenticity, clarity, and personal presence. The exercises help scientists communicate with a warmth and lucidity that makes their work more understandable to a lay audience and to colleagues across other disciplines.

Telling Science Stories in Print and on the Web
Thursday, June 2, 2011
(3:15 – 4:15)
Participants: Seth Mnookin, Carl Zimmer, Andrew Revkin, Bora Zivkovic, Emily Bell

A new generation of science writers is tackling issues where the repercussions of not communicating responsibly with the public have enormous policy and research implications. Meanwhile, it is the best of times and worst of times for science writing on the Web. An expanding cadre of fiercely independent, talented, and often very young science bloggers is coming to grips with a new dilemma: Just how do they fit into the changing landscape of science journalism, and to what degree are they willing to incorporate some old media standards into their new media work?