A roundup of news about KSJ alumni. Stay in touch with your classmates by sending us notes (and pictures!) — about career and family updates, books and articles published, shout-outs to fellow alumni. And join our private Facebook page.
March 25, 2019
On October 12, 2014, Scott Huler (’15) stepped into a canoe in Charleston, South Carolina. Nine months later, he stepped out of one in the small North Carolina town of Bath, near where the Pamlico River empties into the Atlantic. In between, he had hiked and paddled hundreds of miles of Carolina Backcountry in an attempt to retrace the steps taken by explorer John Lawson some 300 years earlier. Huler, who made the ambitious trek as a 2014-15 Knight Science Journalism Project fellow, has now turned that adventure into a book: A Delicious Country, published this month by University of North Carolina Press.
During the original trek, Lawson — a naturalist and writer — produced a rich catalogue of the flora, fauna, geography, and people of the little explored Carolina interior. Huler, in his modern-day recreation, did much the same, except in decidedly higher tech fashion: He documented his travels on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, interactive maps, and a blog called “The Lawson Trek.” Several of his blog posts were republished by Scientific American and at the Knight Science Journalism website.
Huler’s observations and encounters have yielded a book that’s being called an “eye-opening journey through the contemporary South.” You can learn more about the book and the project at The Lawson Trek blog, which Huler continues to update.
Chloe Hecketsweiler (’17) has been named France’s “science journalist of the year” in the category of written media, for her participation in the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ collaborative investigation of medical implant failures, and for her stories on emerging technologies such as genetic engineering. Hecketsweiler reported on topics including designer babies, human-animal chimeras, and the use of synthetic biology by the food industry.
Valeria Román (‘05) is bringing serious science policy conversations to the halls of the Argentine Congress. Late last year, the former fellow organized and moderated a seminar called “Money for Argentine science: how to get information about the budget and understand it” at the Chamber of Deputies building in Buenos Aires. (The Chamber is the lower house of the Argentine National Congress, analogous to the U.S. House of Representatives.) Román organized the seminar as a member of the Argentine Network of Science Journalism. She says the seminar gave journalists, professors, and students an opportunity to learn about the evolution of Argentina’s science, technology, and innovation budget. The video of the seminar is now available here.
Jason Palmer (’14) has been named the host of The Economist’s new flagship, daily podcast, The Intelligence. Palmer will be supported by a team of eight editors and producers, and a global network of correspondents. The Economist’s Deputy Editor Tom Standage describes the show’s format this way: “Each 20-minute episode will kick off with a news segment, followed by a feature, and finally include a jolly segment that is spun around an unusual fact or statistic.”
Here’s what other alumni are writing: a compendium from Federico Kukso (’16).
Pablo Correa (’13): “Surgery with robots was not a good idea in cancer patients,” El Espectador (in Spanish).
Valeria Román (’05): “Who are the 5 Argentine scientists who are changing the health of humans and the planet,” Infobae (in Spanish).
Iván Carrillo (’17): “The next big earthquake: How vulnerable are we?,” Tangible/El Universal (in Spanish).
Mićo Tatalović (’18): “Serbia is rethinking science — but the reforms could cost hundreds of jobs,” Nature.
Jane Qiu (’18): “China creating national medical ethics committee to oversee high-risk clinical trials,” STAT.
Rod McCullom (’16): “Google Searches Could Predict Heroin Overdoses,” Scientific American.
Courtney Humphries (’16): “How Amazon Prime will change the way our cities look,” Boston Globe.
Federico Kukso (’16): “The hidden side of the Periodic Table of the Elements,” Tangible/El Universal (in Spanish).
Giovana Girardi (’15): “Planet in degradation could bring millions of deaths by 2050, warns UN,” Estadao (in Portuguese).
Dan Falk (’12): “How Artificial Intelligence Is Changing Science,” Quanta.
Sascha Karberg (’09): “Depression: therapy by algorithm,” Horizons.
Teresa Firmino (’09): “Once upon a time a star exploded regularly in Andromeda,” Publico (in Portuguese).
Herton Escobar (’07): “Bolsonaro’s first moves have Brazilian scientists worried,” Science.
Jeff Tollefson (’05): “Tropical Africa could be a key to solving methane mystery,” Nature.
Clive Thompson (’03): “Our Ears Are Unlocking an Era of Aural Data,” Wired.
February 25, 2019
For Betsy Mason (’16), the past five years have basically been one long deep dive into the world of maps. And now she has a gorgeous new book to show for it.
Last fall, Mason and her writing partner Greg Miller published All Over the Map: A Cartographic Odyssey, a beautifully illustrated, large-format book about maps, mapmakers, and cartography. Mason says she discovered several of the book’s more than 200 maps while exploring Harvard’s map collection during her KSJ fellowship year. The compendium has earned plaudits from CityLab’s Laura Bliss, who wrote that “with an eye for splendor, Mason and Miller dredge up stories of the past through the medium of maps, often with something to say about the present. Their new book binds hundreds of evocative maps into one volume, stitched with approachable, illuminating prose.”
Meanwhile, Mason’s online writing has also been generating buzz: Her recent story about common geographic misconceptions, “Why Your Mental Map of the World is Probably Wrong,” was highlighted as one of National Geographic’s best stories of 2018.
The prolific Steve Nadis (‘98) has added yet another book to his lengthy resume. This month, he published The Shape of a Life (Yale University Press), coauthored with Harvard University mathematician Shing-Tung Yau. The book, an autobiography of Yau, charts how the Harvard professor rose from impoverished childhood beginnings in China and Hong Kong to become a Fields medalist and one of the world’s foremost experts on differential geometry. Novelist Gish Jen calls it “candid, deep, and truly inspiring… an extraordinary story about an extraordinary person.”
Nadis and Yau will hold a book talk and signing at the Harvard Book Store on Tuesday, February 26th at 7pm.
Although Gary Taubes (’97) still writes the occasional book and article about health and nutrition science, he’s also doing more than just covering those issues from the sidelines. In 2011, Taubes co-founded the Nutrition Science Initiative—or NuSI—a nonprofit that funds targeted nutrition research, which Taubes says has been woefully neglected by NIH and other government funding agencies.
Last month, a NuSI-funded study on nutritional guidelines for children with fatty liver disease, published in JAMA, was the subject of a write-up in the New York Times. It was the second time in a matter of months that NuSI’s work caught the attention of the Gray Lady: In November, the Times picked up a NuSI-funded study exploring the weight-loss effects of low-carb diets, which had been published in BMJ.
Over the past several years, KSJ’s founding director, Victor McElheny, has written more than a dozen “Milestone of Innovation” columns for the business, science, and tech site Xconomy.com, in which he celebrates anniversaries of important dates in science history. His latest installment, “Holding the Mirror Up to Our Planet”, concerned the 50th anniversary of the famous Apollo 8 flight into, and back from, orbit around the moon—the same mission that resulted in the iconic “earth rise” photo by astronaut Bill Anders.
Says McElheny, “When I covered the flight for the Boston Globe I wrote that the moon had been converted in the human imagination from a decorative lamp in the evening sky to a place for explorers to visit.” 50 years later, those words still ring true.
And in other alumni news…
Ellen Shell (’85) continues to make a splash with her latest book, The Job. The former fellow was featured on a recent episode of the podcast Recode Decode, where she “explained why some of the conventional wisdom about the future of work is misguided and offered pragmatic advice for people entering an increasingly automated job market.”
Angela Posada-Swafford (‘01) published a captivating photoessay in Nature called “A voyage to map Earth’s polar ice from the sky—in pictures,” which chronicles her flight over Antarctica with NASA’s IceBridge Mission.
Sujata Gupta (’18) has a new job on a very exciting beat: She recently joined Science News as their social sciences reporter. Congrats!
January 18, 2019
Mark Wolverton (‘17) published his fourth book, Burning the Sky (Overlook Press), a gripping tale about a secret Cold-War program to perform Nuclear Tests in Outer Space, known as Operation Argus.
A glowing review in Nature calls Burning the Sky “informative and balanced in [its] attention to diplomacy, science and biography,” and says that Wolverton provides “much to ponder concerning the state of play now, from the nuclearization of North Korea to the unkown future of the Iran nuclear deal.”
Here’s what other alumni are writing: a compendium from Federico Kukso (’16).
Courtney Humphries (‘16): “Digital immortality: How your life’s data means a version of you could live forever,” MIT Technology Review.
Pablo Correa (‘13): “A Colombian in the big leagues of mathematics,” El Espectador (in Spanish).
Aleszu Bajak (‘14): “Science in Colombia on the cusp of change,” Nature.
Jeff Tollefson (‘05): “‘Tropical Trump’ victory in Brazil stuns scientists,” Nature.
Federico Kukso (‘16): “The first great plague in history (that we know of),” Tangible/El Universal (in Spanish).
Marcin Rotkiewicz (‘09): “Is Europe Lost for GMOs?,” Aspen Review.
Iván Carrillo (‘17): “No gasoline?: Given the shortage in Mexico City, efficiency in consumption,” Tangible/El Universal (in Spanish).
Debbie Ponchner (‘04): “How Many Manatees Are There? There’s an Algorithm for That,” Scientific American.
Zack Colman (‘16): “Question for Democrats: What is a ‘Green New Deal’?” Politico.
Daniela Hirschfeld (‘10): “A year of shocks in regional scientific policy,” SciDev (in Spanish).
Adam Rogers (‘03): “Is ’Oumuamua an Alien spaceship? Sure! Except, No,” Wired.
Steve Mirsky (‘04): “Ravenmaster Christopher Skaife Tells of His Relationships with the Tower of London’s Resident Birds,” Scientific American.
Valeria Román (‘05): “Rewilding: the challenge of repopulating the world,” Tangible/El Universal (in Spanish).
Susan Phillips (‘14): “How the Clean Water Act fixed the Delaware River’s pollution problem,” WHYY.
Cynthia Graber (‘13) and Nicola Twilley: “Sweet and Low (Calorie): The Story of Artificial Sweeteners,” Gastropod.
Justin Gillis (‘05): “Forget the Carbon Tax for Now,” The New York Times.
Esther Nakkazi (‘08): “No redress likely for 45 sacked Makere University staff,” University World News.
December 2, 2018
Congratulations to David Baron (’90) and Jason Palmer (’14), who each took home top honors in the American Institute of Physics (AIP) Science Writing Awards, the nation’s premier prizes for physics writing.
Baron won in the book category for “American Eclipse,” his story of the total solar eclipse that “crossed the wilds of America’s western frontier” in July of 1878. From AIP’s press release: “The judges had trouble putting Baron’s book down, stating that it was more than an eclipse story. It captured the excitement of a young nation exploring the frontiers of science as well as an entire continent.”
Palmer’s Economist feature, “Here, There and Everywhere,” won Best Article. The judges lauded Palmer’s exploration of quantum information applications, noting that “it allows a general reader to grasp its significance and to distinguish aspects that are already practical from other [aspects] whose promise has yet to be realized.”
Well done, both of you.
The way Ellen Shell (’85) sees it, the U.S. economy has come down with a serious case of “National Work Disorder.” As the workplace has become more automated and mid-skill jobs have declined, a few workers have transitioned into high-level skilled work, but far more have been displaced into low-wage service jobs. Hence, we have a few more people at the top, a bunch at the bottom, and relatively few in the middle.
Alarmed by the parallels between that economic polarization and our current political polarization—specifically, the rise of populism—Shell decided to put her narrative shoulder to the wheel. This fall, her labor bore 400 pages of fruit, in the form of her book The Job: Work and Its Future in a Time of Radical Change.
“I wanted to write a book that would be useful on several levels,” she says of her latest work, which has already earned plaudits from the Wall Street Journal. Yes, there are policy recommendations, she explains, but it’s also a personal journey of discovery. “I spoke with glass workers in Appalachia, ‘makers’ in Brooklyn, worker-owners of a commercial laundry in Cleveland, activists ‘reinventing work’ in Detroit, a convenience store chain magnate in Tulsa, a sausage maker in Finland, the multimillionaire creator of B-corporations in L.A., and hospital cleaners in New Haven.”
The book unmasks a number of myths—the skills gap, the “looming labor shortage,” and the passion paradox, to name just a few. “I even take on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs! So a lot of sacred cows on the chopping block.”
Chloé Hecketsweiler (’17) was part of what might be one of the biggest investigative projects journalism has known. The KSJ alumna was one of more than 250 journalists from 36 countries who spent a year investigating the safety of medical devices — from breast implants to spinal-cord stimulators. Led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the global reporting team filed more than 1500 Freedom of Information requests and analyzed more than 8 million device-related records. They found that more than a million people around the world have been injured by medical devices they assumed were safe.
This month, the results of the investigation were published by The New York Times, The Associated Press, The Guardian, Le Monde, and other publications. “We worked long hours for months,” Hecketsweiler says, “but it was worth it!”
It didn’t take long for the study to begin making waves. Following the investigation, some French parliamentarians asked the government to launch an investigation about the safety of medical devices, said Hecketsweiler. The French ministry of Health also decided to change its recommendations about breast implants. And, on November 26, the FDA announced that it will change the way medical devices are approved.
Says Hecketsweiler, “It’s rewarding to see that journalism can have an impact on such an important public health issue!”
And in case you missed it, Fabio Turone (’17) published a richly informative feature, “The trouble with health statistics,” in Cancer World.
October 31, 2018
On October 1, Paula Apsell (’84) — member of the inaugural class of Knight Science Journalism fellows — collected a trophy to which few science journalists can lay claim: An Emmy statuette. In a ceremony at Frederick Rose Hall in New York City, the Senior Executive Producer of NOVA became the first science journalist to receive the Lifetime Achievement Emmy for News & Documentary. From Broadway World:
PBS President Paula Kerger presented the award, noting, “You cannot tell the story of NOVA without telling the story of Paula Apsell … I am so grateful to the Academy for recognizing Paula for her relentless curiosity, for making science relatable, and for all that she does to encourage and empower young women.”
Luminaries such as physicist Sylvester “Jim” Gates and documentarian Doug Hamilton paid tribute to Apsell on the Emmy website, citing her leadership and commitment to excellence.
In her acceptance speech, Apsell called the award a recognition not just for herself but for NOVA and for science. Citing a current political climate in which facts are often treated as fungible, she called for the media to assume a greater role in informing debates and policies on issues like climate change, energy, and artificial intelligence. “We have the power to restore faith in facts, to cast light on the patient accumulation of evidence that is the scientific process, and to remind people of the vital role that science can play in building a better world,” she said.
Well put, Paula, and congratulations!
For years, Colombia native Angela Posada-Swafford (’01) has been writing a series of young-adult novels based on science done by researchers she’s followed during her decades-long reporting career. She’s happy to announce that the series, originally written in Spanish, is now being translated into Mandarin. So far, she’s written eight novels, and seven more are on the way. The plots are fictitious and center on Aunt Abigail, a science journalist, and her four nephews and nieces as they live out science-related adventures. The novels are read in literature, biology, and physics classrooms throughout Colombia and Mexico — and now they’ll be read in a few schools in China, too!
And in other alumni news…
Teresa Carr (’18) won a Folio Award in the Investigative Journalism category for her Consumer Reports cover story, “Too Many Meds? America’s Love Affair With Prescription Medication,” which explored the question of whether pills are doing more harm than good. Congrats!
Wallace Ravven (’93) published a New York Times feature on a surprising scientific find about birds and climate change: “California’s Birds Are Testing New Survival Tactics on a Vast Scale.” The piece has great visuals, including a 1910 photo of field biologists looking like dead ringers for Jesse James and his gang.
And as the nation was gripped by the Brett Kavanaugh nomination hearings, Mark Harris (’14) published this timely Wired feature on lie detectors: The Lie Generator: Inside the Black Mirror World of Polygraph Job Screenings.
October 15, 2018
Here’s what alumni are writing: a compendium from Federico Kukso (2015-16).
Valeria Román (2004-05): “Argentina’s economic crisis could trigger scientific ‘collapse,’ researchers warn,” Science.
Lauren M. Whaley (2016-17): “New survey paints dire picture of challenges black moms face in health care system,” Center for Health Journalism.
Wayt Gibbs (1999-2000): “Eyes on the High Seas: Illegal fishing is getting harder, thanks to public surveillance from space,” Anthropocene Magazine.
Rod McCullom (2015-16): “A murdered teen, two million tweets and an experiment to fight gun violence,” Nature.
Jeff Tollefson (2004-05): “Brazil’s presidential election could savage its science,” Nature.
Teresa Firmino (2008-09): “There are two super-telescopes in which Portugal participates,” Publico (in Portuguese).
Debbie Ponchner (2003-04): “Pineapple Waste Won’t Be Wasted,” Scientific American.
Daniela Hirschfeld (2009-10): “Venezuela puts pressure on the health of the Americas,” SciDev.Net (in Spanish).
Federico Kukso (2015-16): “The Kingdom of the Mouse: a visit to the world’s leading provider of laboratory mice,” Tangible (in Spanish).
Ángela Posada-Swafford (2000-01): “Ewine van Dishoeck, the lady of the nebulae,” El Tiempo (in Spanish).
Mićo Tatalović (2017-18): “Croatia’s top judge sues national ethics panel after it finds him guilty of plagiarism,” Science.
Zack Colman (2015-16): “2 Hurricanes Lay Bare the Vulnerability of America’s Poor,” Scientific American.
Cynthia Graber (2012-13): “One Week to Whiskey: A Los Angeles distillery aims to speed up a 10-year aging process to a matter of days,” The Atlantic.
Eli Kintisch (2011-12): “U.N. tackles gene prospecting on the high seas,” Science.
Dan Falk (2011-12): “The music moves us — but how?” Knowable Magazine.
Christine Mlot (1993-94): “Inbred Isle Royale wolves to get company, rebooting the world’s longest running predator-prey experiment,” Science.
September 21, 2018
A trio of KSJ alumni took home honors in the National Association of Science Writer’s Science and Society awards, announced earlier this week. Maryn McKenna (2013-14) won in the Book category for Big Chicken, which tells the eye-opening story of how antibiotics birthed modern agriculture and revolutionized the way we eat. Judges called it a “meticulously researched and beautifully written volume.”
Hillary Rosner (2010-11) and Rod McCullom (2015-16) were finalists in the Commentary and Opinion category. Rosner was cited for her New York Times piece, “The Climate Lab That Sits Empty,” an insightful rebuke of proposed funding cutbacks to greenhouse gas monitoring. McCullom was honored for his Undark essay “Facial Recognition Technology Is Both Biased and Understudied,” which sounded the alarm on the use of the poorly understood — and racially biased — technology in law enforcement.
Congratulations all around!
For the past several years, Marcia Bartusiak (1994-95) has been writing a column for Natural History magazine that combines two of her loves – cutting edge astrophysics and the history of astronomy. Her latest book, Dispatches from Planet 3, published this month, puts all those stories in one place. Each chapter stands alone, allowing the reader to wander from our solar system out to the Big Bang.
Bartusiak’s armchair investigations whisked her off in spirit to exotic locales: from ancient Mars, when liquid water once flowed freely on its surface, to the tiniest speck of cosmic real estate, where space and time allegedly come unglued. “I’d take a current discovery and dip into the archives to provide its backstory,” she says. “The controversial demotion of Pluto, for example, reminded me when another solar system member was similarly downgraded in the 19th century.”
Bartusiak says the biggest thrill of assembling the book — her seventh so far — was finding the appreciable number of women she had portrayed over the years. “Lo and behold, there they were: Vera Rubin brings dark matter to the forefront of astronomical concerns; Jocelyn Bell keenly spots a bizarre new star; Henrietta Leavitt ingeniously devises a revolutionary cosmic yardstick. Many of the names are not found in textbooks, so it was gratifying to bring them into the spotlight.”
The week of its publication, Dispatches from Planet 3 topped the list of new releases in astronomy on Amazon.com.
Ask multimedia reporter Ibby Caputo (2014-15) how she spent her fellowship year in Cambridge, and she’ll tell you about memorable classes on women, leadership, and the behavioral science of negotiation. As it turns out, that course load sowed the seed for her newly released audio documentary, “More Than Paper Cuts,” about gender discrimination in the workplace. The piece is part five of the Scene on Radio podcast series “MEN,” an exploration of patriarchy, sexism and misogyny out of Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies.
“I’ve worked with Scene on Radio’s John Biewen before,” Caputo says, “and after he told me he was working on a series exploring patriarchy, we started a robust email exchange on the subject, which led to my pitch.” Caputo says her goal for the documentary was to include stories of subtle and explicit gender discrimination from as many women as possible—from the farm to Silicon Valley. “I included one of my own stories as well—the life experience that propelled me to study and report on the problem in the first place.”
Caputo is currently working on a sexual harassment story for PRI’s The World, and her piece on a Hiroshima survivor who spent his life searching for families of American POWs aired at The World in August.
Anja Krieger (2015-16) is finally getting to do what she always wanted: make her own podcast on plastic pollution. Krieger, a veteran radio reporter, describes her Plastisphere podcast as a research and interview project on our relationship to plastic, the pollution it causes, and where it will all go in the future. Episodes will explore waste management in Vietnam, ocean cleanup, a trash intercepting device that became a social media star, and more. Listen to the first two episodes here, or subscribe at iTunes.
And in other alumni news …
Lila Guterman (2006-07) joined Science as Deputy News Editor this month.
Marjorie Kruvand (1987-88) contributed a chapter, “Journalists, Expert Sources and Ethical Issues in Science Communication,” to the book Ethics and Practice in Science Communication.
Mićo Tatalović (2017-18) took over as Nature‘s Europe News Editor in London.
Esther Nakkazi (2007-08) began contributing to The Lancet.
Judy Foreman (1989-90) submitted her third book, on the science of aging and physical activity, to her publisher, Oxford U. Press. She’s now working on a novel!
August 29, 2018
Here’s what alumni are writing: a compendium from Federico Kukso (2015-16).
Debbie Ponchner (2003-04): “Rescuing Ancient Art from Microbes,” Scientific American.
Lauren Whaley (2016-17): “The hidden social factors driving disparities in childhood cancer survival rates,” Center for Health Journalism.
Marcin Rotkiewicz (2008-09). “Judgment for gene editing,” Polityka (in Polish).
Federico Kukso (2015-16): “Carlo Rovelli: ‘Ignoring science in political and social decisions leads to disaster’,” La Nación (in Spanish).
Ángela Posada-Swafford (2000-01): “Underwater mining: a race to the abyss,” El Tiempo (in Spanish).
Ehsan Masood (2017-18): “The battle for the soul of biodiversity,” Nature.
Zack Colman (2015-16): “Trump kills climate plan, then celebrates with coal miners,” E&E News.
Giovana Girardi (2014-15): “NGO indicates 39% rise in Amazon deforestation in last year,” Estadao, (in Portuguese).
Sasha Chapman (2015-16): “Can you get meat without dead animals? Why farmers are wrong to say no,” New Scientist (subscription required).
Mark Harris (2013-14): “Ready for liftoff? Two flying taxi startups got Pentagon funding,” The Guardian.
Cynthia Graber (2012-13): “How Jell-O Got Its Bounce,” The Atlantic.
Eli Kintisch (2011-12): “Project lifts the veil on life in the ocean’s twilight zone,” Science.
Chris Mooney (2009-10): “Sea level rise is eroding home value, and owners might not even know it,” The Washington Post.
Valeria Román (2004-05): “The era of rejection of ultra-thin silhouettes: XS bodies arouse concern and not enchantment in social networks,” Infobae (in Spanish).
August 14, 2018
“The Great God of Depression,” the gripping story of the improbable collaboration between a brain scientist and an acclaimed author to come to terms with their shared mental illness, is a five-part podcast that can be found at Radiotopia’s Showcase page (or wherever you get your podcasts).
The series is itself a collaboration between two KSJ alumnae: Pagan Kennedy (2010-11), the main writer and narrator; and Karen Brown (2012-13), producer and editor. Here’s Karen’s account of how the story came together:
“Pagan and I met at a Knight-MIT food boot camp during her fellowship year, and then stayed in touch through my fellowship year and beyond. Pagan is a print journalist, nonfiction book author, and occasional novelist, while I’m mostly a radio reporter and audio documentarian. But I’ve done a lot of print freelancing and she is a voracious audio consumer. So it seemed natural that we’d eventually stumble on a joint project that would make use of our complementary skills and interests: a long-form narrative podcast.
“Pagan came up with the story idea itself, based on the experience of a neurologist in her book group named Alice Flaherty. Alice was a newly minted doctor at Mass General in 2004 when William Styron became her patient; he was suffering from a depression relapse, 15 years after the episode he wrote about in ‘Darkness Visible’ [a memoir that became the classic book about depression]. At the time, Alice was herself recovering from a psychotic break, sparked by the devastating loss of a twin pregnancy. Styron and Alice developed an intense friendship and doctor-patient relationship that lasted until Styron’s death from pneumonia in 2006. Before he died, Styron gave Alice permission to talk and write about his case publicly. As she never got around to publishing the story herself, she decided to trust Pagan with it — and fully participated in the podcast.
“When Pagan asked if I wanted to collaborate on the project as the audio expert, I was thrilled. We put together a podcast proposal to shop around different audio networks, and got a hit with Radiotopia at PRX; we signed a contract with the Radiotopia Showcase series. The executive producer put us in touch with a sound designer and studio assistants.
“From that point, we gathered archival sound of Styron and doing interviews with his surviving family, professional connections, and others to weigh in on the intersection of creativity and depression and Styron’s legacy around the stigma of mental illness.”
Karen is a longtime public radio reporter, print journalist, essayist, and audio documentarian, with a specialty in mental health issues. In addition to two decades at New England Public Radio, she has contributed to NPR, The New York Times, American RadioWorks, and other national outlets. Besides “The Great God of Depression,” her recent work has focused on the biology of stress and resilience, trauma-informed communities, and dying well.
Pagan is a contributing writer at The New York Times and the author of 11 books. She has been a columnist for the The New York Times Magazine, The Boston Globe, and The Village Voice. She has won numerous awards including an NEA fellowship, a Smithsonian fellowship, and two Massachusetts Cultural Council fellowships.
Rebecca Perry (2001-02) has been awarded a 2018-19 Fellowship in Aerospace History from the Society for the History of Technology and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
“Energized after the Knight fellowship,” she writes, “I entered MIT’s program in History | Anthropology | Science, Technology, and Society, and in 2014 received a Ph.D. in the history of technology, with a focus on the history of computing and computer graphics.” A researcher at the University of Virginia, she’s writing a book on computer graphics researchers at NASA/JPL, and co-editing The Handbook of the History of Technology for Oxford University Press.
Here’s what alumni are writing: a compendium from Federico Kukso (2015-16).
Aleszu Bajak (2013-14): “The Dangerous Belief That Extreme Technology Will Fix Climate Change,” HuffPost.
Dan Falk (2011-12): “Why Some Scientists Say Physics Has Gone Off the Rails,” NBC News; “Enrico Fermi and the Chain Reaction That Changed Everything,” Undark.
Teresa Firmino (2008-09): “Portuguese Physicist Advances Explanation For Two of the Great Mysteries of the Universe,” Publico (in Portuguese).
Gideon Gil (2014-15): “Pioneering Surgery Makes a Prosthetic Foot Feel Like the Real Thing,” STAT.
Courtney Humphries (2015-16): “The ‘Global Chemical Experiment,'” Harvard Magazine.
Sascha Karberg (2008-09): “Lucrative Prostheses: Kneeling in Front of the Shop,” Der Tagesspiegel (in German).
Eli Kintisch (2011-12): “Why Atlantic Fish Are Invading the Arctic,” Vox.
Federico Kukso (2015-16): “200 years of ‘Frankenstein’: A Myth That Reflects Very Current Fears,” La Nación (in Spanish).
George Musser (2014-15): “What Is Spacetime?” Nature.
Valeria Román (2004-05): “The Argentine Scientist Who Studied the Brain of Albert Einstein: ‘Geniuses Do Not Exist, We All Have Some Talent,’” Infobae (in Spanish).
Angela Saini (2012-13): “Racism Is Creeping Back Into Mainstream Science — We Have to Stop It,” The Guardian.
Fabio Turone (2016-17): “Italian Research ‘Condemned to Steer by Sight,’” Research Europe.
Lauren Whaley (2016-17): “Q&A: Dr. Emily Dossett on the Disturbing Lack of Mental Health Care for Moms in the Safety Net,” Center for Health Journalism.
Mark Wolverton (2016-17): “Before Launching Probes to Venus, NASA Had to Figure Out Exactly Where It Was,” Air & Space Magazine; “The General Is a Robot: Artificial Intelligence Goes to War,” Undark.
June 22, 2018
In 1587, a band of settlers — 115 men, women, and children — founded the first English colony in the New World, on Roanoke Island in what is now North Carolina. Three years later, their governor returned from a resupply mission to England only to find that they’d vanished with barely a trace. What happened to them? The answer is a mystery to this day.
Andrew Lawler (1998-99) reports that he’s “spent the last couple of years at archaeology digs, in archives, and mucking around in the occasional Carolina swamp” to find out. The results are in the June issue of National Geographic and in his new book, “The Secret Token: Myth, Obsession, and the Search for the Lost Colony of Roanoke,” just published by Doubleday.
“What surprised me the most,” Andrew writes, was “how the story of the settlers became an American myth wrapped up in our conflicting ideas about race, immigration, and gender. Who knew a 400-year-old mystery could be so strangely relevant?”
As part of his book tour, Andrew will be at Porter Square Books in Cambridge at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 28. Other stops are listed on his Facebook page. “I would enjoy meeting other Knight alumni!” he writes “And if anyone visits Asheville, N.C., be sure to let me know. I’m happily freelancing here and thinking about the next book.”
Also newly published this month: “Tasting the Past: The Science of Flavor and the Search for the Origins of Wine,” by Kevin Begos (2003-04), from Algonquin Books. The book is the result of a 10-year journey — from the Caucasus Mountains, where wine grapes were first domesticated 8,000 years ago, to Israel, Greece, Italy, and France, and finally to America, where vintners are learning to make distinctive wines from a new generation of local grapes. Kevin unearths a “world of forgotten grapes,” reads the note for his book on Amazon, and brings alive the research of the archaeologists, geneticists, chemists — even a paleobotanist — “who are deciphering wine down to molecules of flavor.”
Undark, the KSJ program’s science magazine, published a “What I Left Out” essay based on “Tasting the Past,” the tale of an octogenarian Israeli historian whose passion for ancient technology led to some startling discoveries about the history of winemaking.
And one more book, this one for children: “Dinosaurios del Fin del Mundo” (“Dinosaurs of the End of the World”), by Federico Kukso (2015-16), from Penguin Random House — a beautifully illustrated exploration of the most recent dinosaur discoveries in Patagonia. You can find it on Amazon, Google Play, and iBooks.
May 31, 2018
At 6:25 a.m. on May 22, an exultant Luke Timmerman (2005-06) reached the summit of Mount Everest. After writing about advances in cancer research for 15 years, and climbing mountains almost that long, he decided to combine the two passions in a fund-raising effort for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in his hometown of Seattle, “and to support science itself at a moment of tremendous possibility.”
Luke chronicled the climb on Twitter and on his website, the Timmerman Report. On May 25 he reported, “Safe and sound now at Yak and Yeti Hotel in Kathmandu, after two-day descent from the world’s highest mountain. Time for a shower, a shave, and a big celebration with teammates.” And on May 31 he tweeted a picture of Safeco Field with the caption “Sweet home Seattle.” As of that day, he’d raised $338,460 toward a goal of $375,000.
“The Most Unknown,” a documentary by the Peabody Award-winning Ian Cheney (2014-15), is opening in June in theaters from Anchorage to Cambridge, and will be released on Netflix in August. The 85-minute film follows nine scientists around the globe in their efforts to answer some of science’s supreme questions, like the nature of consciousness and how life began. It’s the first feature-length documentary from Motherboard, Vice Media’s tech-culture channel. (You can watch a trailer here.)
Ian, who was advised on the project by Werner Herzog, is known for documentaries like “King Corn” (2007) and “The Search for General Tso” (2014) — and “The Measure of a Fog,” his six-part exploration of climate change for Undark in 2016-17.
In The New Yorker, Sarah Larson calls “The Most Unknown” “gorgeous” and “amiable,” and adds that “Cheney’s goal isn’t so much to inform as to inspire, and it’s vicariously exciting to watch his subjects step out of their own research and into that of their peers.”
From Moscow, Olga Dobrovidova (2014–15) reports that she’s been working as a freelance and staff writer and teaching science journalism at ITMO University, in Russia’s first graduate program in science communication. She has translated two books into Russian: “A Field Guide for Science Writers” and Matt Shipman’s “Handbook for Science Public Information Officers” — “the first books on science journalism and scicomm published in our language,” Olga writes. And she is the freshly minted vice president for science journalism at AKSON, the Russian science communicators’ association.
Olga is one of several KSJ alumni who will be featured at the European Conference of Science Journalists in Toulouse, France, on July 8. She’ll speak on a panel moderated by Mićo Tatalović (2017-18) about the challenges facing science journalists in Eastern Europe. Others are Tom Zeller (2013-14), editor in chief of Undark, on a panel about nonprofit and philanthropic journalism; Tatalović and Maryn McKenna (2013-14), on preserving freelance and staff writers’ independence; Aleszu Bajak (2013-14), on data visualization; and Richard Hudson (1991-92) and Adam Rogers (2002-03), along with several Undark staffers, at a Kavli workshop on science editing led by KSJ Director Deborah Blum.
Rosalia Omungo (2016-17) has been elected to the Kenya Editors’ Guild, the foremost body for senior journalists in Kenya. “The guild hopes to reclaim its rightful place in Kenya’s media landscape,” she writes, “most importantly by pushing for the entrenchment of media freedom.”
The New York Times’ Pam Belluck (2007-08) won a New York Press Club award in science, medicine, and technology feature writing for “Zika’s Legacy: Catastrophic Consequences of a Continuing Crisis.”
April 23, 2018
Ibiba DonPedro (2001-02), an award-winning journalist and activist in Nigeria, has just published four books on the country’s Niger Delta region. The books, she writes, “capture the different facets of the region’s tragic narrative, especially the discord and disruptive impact of the production of crude oil on the lives of the people of the region, as well as the environment” — and decry the “deeply flawed federal structure” that allows privileged groups “access to oil wealth and lifestyles of opulence and waste while the people of Niger Delta communities live in squalor and deprivation.”
“In all this despair and misery, however,” Ibiba continues, “is a message of hope that captures the boundless capacity of the human spirit, of youth, men, and women when they stand firm to create the space within which to reclaim their humanity against soul-destroying odds.”
The books are “Oil In Water,” “Out of a Bleak Landscape,” “Scavengers and Real Avengers of the Niger Delta,” and “Contested Grounds.” They’re available at Patabah Books in Lagos and at the Ikeja and Lagos airports.
Erich Hoyt (1985-86) has made Library Journal’s list of best reference titles of 2017 with his 22nd book, “Encyclopedia of Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises” (Firefly Books). The book grew out of Erich’s 2015 article for Hakai magazine on the revolution in whale and dolphin research since the 1970s.
Erich is founder and co-chair of the IUCN Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force, which works with regional groups to identify habitats for the 130 species of marine mammals, including whales, dolphins, pinnipeds, sirenians, otters, and polar bears. (Its e-atlas, along with downloadable papers and reports, can be found at marinemammalhabitat.org.)
And he continues to direct whale research in Kamchatka and the Commander Islands, in Russia, working with 15 Russian collaborators who started as students in a program he co-founded in 2000. Papers on their pioneering work with Russian killer whales, Baird’s beaked whales, and humpback whales are posted at his ResearchGate site.
After his fellowship, Erich taught writing at MIT as visiting lecturer, and met his future wife, Dr. Sarah Wedden, then on a NATO postdoc at Harvard Medical School. They moved to Scotland in 1989, then — with their four children — to the Dorset coast of England in 2013.
In São Paulo, Brazil, Nira Worcman (1988-89) helps lead an active MIT Sloan club, and nowadays she is spreading the word about the school’s Inclusive Innovation Challenge, which awards more than $1 million to global entrepreneurs using technology to drive economic opportunity for workers. (Registration ends on May 1.)
After her Knight year, Nira did her master’s in the Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program at NYU, and continued to write for Brazilian and American publications, including Technology Review, Popular Science, and Super Interessante. She returned to São Paulo and worked in public relations, then became head of communications at Roche in Latin America and later at Bristol-Myers Squibb. She is an associate director at the Brazilian P.R. agency Art Presse and a senior consultant at Sherlock Communications, an agency specializing in international clients in Brazil and Latin America.
March 9, 2018
Rosalia Omungo (2016-17) has been promoted to managing editor/TV at KBC, Kenya’s national broadcasting system, putting her in charge of special projects, including health, environment, science, and features.
“It is exciting as well as challenging,” she writes from Nairobi, “because of the perception that KBC has been biased towards government. But we are progressing. We already have a project to encourage an in-depth investigative report per month, as well as a weekly talk show on environment and health.” In particular, she’s overseeing coverage focusing on the availability of health care as the national government moves toward universal and affordable coverage. And she is fostering partnerships with institutions and organizations to help train reporters and gain reporting grants.
Rosalia’s tribute to the late Harvard scholar Calestous Juma, a prominent global advocate for sustainable development in struggling countries, appeared on the KBC website in December.
February 8, 2018
“A bunch of new things are happening to me,” writes Yves Sciama (2013-14) from just outside Grenoble, France, adding (with a wink emoji), “Some of them may actually have some influence on our beloved profession — which tends to be very nationally insular.”
On Jan. 29, Yves was elected president of AJSPI, the French science journalists’ association, whose board includes KSJ alumna Chloé Hecketsweiler (2016-17), of Le Monde. He has been instrumental in organizing two important conferences: the 2018 European Conference of Science Journalists in Toulouse, France, and the 2019 World Conference of Science Journalists in Lausanne, Switzerland. (Another board member and instrumental figure in the WCSJ2019 conference is Fabio Turone, also 2016-17.)
Yves encourages fellow alumni to join him at the Toulouse conference, this coming July 8. “The focus of the conference will be on the independence of both science and journalism, and we will talk a lot about conflict of interest and other such issues.” The meeting will include a Kavli workshop on science editing that will include sessions on fact-checking, vetting science stories, and more.
For the world conference in 2019, Yves is a member of the governing board and chair of the all-important program committee. (KSJ’s director, Deborah Blum, had that position for the 2017 conference in San Francisco.) He’s already drafted several Knight fellows to work with him: Iván Carrillo (2016-17), Maryn McKenna (2013-14), and Jane Qiu (2017-18).
“Our times call for a science journalism with a little more teeth,” Yves writes. “I want to push for a more interconnected and investigative vision of our profession, and help colleagues find new tools and ideas to challenge science more.
“But my passion fundamentally remains journalism, and I already look forward to two years from now, when the conferences are over and it will be time at last to head back to my utmost pleasure: reporting.”
“American Eclipse,” by David Baron (1989-90), is a finalist for the PEN/E. O. Wilson Prize for Literary Science Writing. The book, subtitled “A Nation’s Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World,” tells the story of the total solar eclipse that crossed the American West in 1878, attracting many of the era’s great scientists — including Thomas Edison and the Vassar astronomer Maria Mitchell — to the frontier. You can read a chapter David left out of the book in Undark. “American Eclipse” is also an Amazon top science book of 2017.
Maryn McKenna (2013-14) also has an Amazon top science book of 2017: “Big Chicken: The Incredible Story of How Antibiotics Created Modern Agriculture and Changed the Way the World Eats.” You can read an excerpt from that book in Undark.
“Big Chicken” is also one of Smithsonian.com’s 10 best science books of 2017; a ScienceNews favorite science book of 2017; and a favorite food and farming book of 2017on Civil Eats, among other honors. And at the Harvard Book Store on Feb. 27, Maryn will be discussing the book with Nicholas Evans and signing copies. More “Big Chicken”-related events can be found here.
Meera Subramanian (2016-17) has completed four stories for her InsideClimate News series Finding Middle Ground: Conversations Across America. In Georgia, she met fifth-generation peach farmers whose crop failed after a too-warm winter. In West Virginia, she spoke to people who were trying to reconcile the effects of a devastating local flood with what their preachers were telling them about biblical end times. Up in Wisconsin, a father-daughter team of dogsledders had different explanations for the ongoing changes in their weather-dependent sport. And West Texas — a land of oil and gas, cows and cotton — is embracing wind energy and the steady jobs and income it provides. Meera’s series will continue through 2018.
Here’s what alumni are writing: a compendium from Federico Kukso (2015-16).
Marcia Bartusiak (1994-95): “Astronauts’ pre-flight peeing ritual and other marvels of space station life,” The Washington Post.
Richard L. Brandt (1991-92): “How do governments shape the course of innovation?” MIT Spectrum.
Dan Falk (2011-12): “In ‘Life 3.0,’ Max Tegmark Explores a Robotic Utopia — or Dystopia” and “‘River of Consciousness’: Oliver Sacks’ Final Essays on Attention, Memory, and Life,” Undark.
Teresa Firmino (2008-09): “Martin Rees: I am a technological optimist but a political pessimist,” Público (in Portuguese).
Daniela Hirschfeld (2009-10): “Uruguayans who modify the human genome,” El Observador (in Spanish).
Sascha Karberg (2008-09): “CRISPR is not always genetic engineering,” Der Tagesspiegel (in German).
Federico Kukso (2015-16): “Large Millimeter Telescope: The cathedral of Mexican astronomy,” Agencia SINC (in Spanish).
Robin Lloyd (1998-99) and Steve Mirsky (2003-04): “Tech honcho wants innovation for the bottom billion,” Scientific American. Robin is also a regular contributor to Undark.
Steve Nadis (1997-98): “What planets beyond our solar system may harbor life?” MIT Spectrum.
Annalee Newitz (2002-03): “Google raters at Leapforce settle legal complaints over abuse, wages owed,” Ars Technica.
Adam Rogers (2002-03): “How did President Trump do on his physical? It’s complicated,” and many other pieces for Wired.
Valeria Román (2004-05): “Two Argentine biologists create a mini-machine that NASA astronauts now use to study DNA,” Infoba (in Spanish).
Yves Sciama (2013-14): “France brings back a phased-out drug after patients rebel against its replacement,” Science.
Meera Subramanian (2016-17): “Finding Middle Ground: Conversations Across America,” InsideClimate News.
Mark Wolverton (2016-17): “How can we measure damage?” MIT Spectrum. “Dismantling doomsday: Daniel Ellsberg on the risk of nuclear apocalypse,” Undark. “Counting down to the apocalypse: Lisa Vox’s ‘Existential Threats,’” Undark.
January 18, 2018
Jeanne Lenzer (2006-07) has been getting all sorts of attention for her new book “The Danger Within Us: America’s Untested, Unregulated Medical Device Industry and One Man’s Battle to Survive It.” You can hear her on NPR’s “Fresh Air“; read her scary essay “Can Your Hip Replacement Kill You?” in The New York Times; and enjoy “The Case of the Green Hairy Tongue,” a chapter she left out of the book, in Undark.
Two prestigious journalism awards for Iván Carrillo (2016-17), from the National and Mexican Councils for Science and Technology (CONACYT and COMECYT, respectively). The first is for “Axolotl: A God in Danger of Extinction,” in National Geographic Latin America; the piece explored the rapid disappearance of the axolotl salamander from the wetlands around southern Mexico City. A cult favorite of biologists, and historically venerated by the Aztecs, the axolotl is known for its friendly facial features and strange lizard-like legs.
Iván won the COMECYT award for “A Bridge of Life,” in Newsweek en Español, a fascinating and powerful story about an acquaintance who was one of the first recipients of a kidney transplant through a pioneering global exchange program. The story was based on Iván’s KSJ research project — which he also turned into a video documentary, “The Journal of Thirst.”
For his Spanish public TV program “El Cazador de Cerebros” (“The Brain Hunter”), Pere Estupinyà (2007-08) recently scored some big-name interviews: Edward O. Wilson from Harvard and Edward Boyden from the MIT Media Lab. “We’ve English-version interviews with Jennifer Doudna (gene editing), Shinya Yamanaka (iPS stem cells), and Karl Deisseroth (optogenetics) too,” Pere adds.