Why has public trust in science eroded? Why is pop culture littered with faux science ideas — from anti-vaccination fervor to documentaries on mermaids and mega sharks? Why are the debates about global warming and evolution still raging?
We need better science communicators. We need people like Alan Alda and Neil Shubin to increase public understanding of science. Why is this important? Alan Alda, the Academy Award-nominated actor, director, writer and visiting professor at Stony Brook University, has spent the latter part of his life using his skills and profile as a public figure to bridge the communication gap between scientists and the general public. He joins Neil Shubin, bestselling author and PBS host of the documentary series Your Inner Fish to talk with Claudia Dreifus not only about why science matters, but how we urgently need to find more, better ways to communicate.
Neil Shubin is the Robert Bensley Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago and associate dean for academic strategy of the university's Biological Sciences Division. He's also the author of two popular science books — The Universe Within: The Deep History of the Human Body (2013) and the best-selling Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body (2008). Your Inner Fish was named best book of the year by the National Academy of Sciences.
The focus of Shubin's research is the evolution of new organs, especially limbs. He's conducted fieldwork in Greenland, China, Canada, and much of North America and Africa and has discovered some of the earliest mammals, crocodiles, dinosaurs, frogs and salamanders in the fossil record.
One of his most significant discoveries, the 375-million-year-old Tiktaalik roseae fossil, is considered an important transitional form between fish and land animals. The 2006 announcement of the finding received worldwide media coverage and led to Shubin's being named ABC News Person of the Week. He's made many other notable observations regarding the developmental biology of limbs, using his diverse fossil findings to devise hypotheses about the genetic and developmental processes that led to anatomical transformations. He is also committed to sharing the importance of science with the public, and his lab maintains an active presence on Facebook and Twitter.
Shubin earned his Ph.D. in organismic and evolutionary biology at Harvard and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2011.
Claudia Dreifus writes and produces the “Conversation with…” feature that appears in the Tuesday Science Times section of The New York Times.
She is also teaches science communication and journalism to graduate students at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. Ms. Dreifus first began writing for Science Times in 1998. Over the years, she’s published revealing conversations with, among others, E.O. Wilson, Stephen Hawking, Jane Goodall, Frans deWaal, Paul Greengard, Eric Kandel, Mary Claire King and more.
Here’s a link to a collection of her New York Times interviews.
Like many journalists, Claudia Dreifus has spent her life working as a curious generalist. Before becoming a science interviewer, she did cultural and political interviews in The New York Times Sunday Magazine. Over the decades, at different moments, she’s worked as an interviewer for all of the New York City dailies. Her magazine articles and essays have appeared in Smithsonian, Audubon, Scientific American, the Chronicle of Higher Education and the various sections of The New York Times. Ms. Dreifus is the author of six books, including, Scientific Conversations, and Interview which are used as texts in journalism courses worldwide. When the scientific honor society Sigma Xi awarded her an honorary membership, they cited her interviews as “transforming science journalism.” Currently, she is researching a book on the 2016 Presidential election with her husband, the political scientist, Andrew Hacker.
Alan Alda, 7-time Emmy Award–winner, and Academy Award nominee, has had a lifelong interest in science. He hosted Scientific American Frontiers for 11 years on PBS, and is a member of the Board of the World Science Festival, which has drawn more than 1.5 million visitors since its inception. He has won the National Academy of Sciences Public Welfare Medal, the National Science Board’s Public Service Award, the Scientific American Lifetime Achievement Award, among others. He is a Visiting Professor at the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. In June, Random House will publish his new book on relating and communication entitled, If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?