The Science of Magic

April 10, 2011 7:15pm - 8:15pm

Luigi Anzivino

From ancient conjurers to quick-witted con artists to big-ticket Las Vegas illusionists, magicians throughout the ages have been expertly manipulating human attention and perception to dazzle and delight us (or steal our watches). Most of us know that magic isn't "real" so why does it still work? Is the hand truly quicker than the eye? Discover how magic exploits our mind's natural cognitive "shortcuts" and attentional pitfalls to create the illusion of the impossible.

The Scientific Method: How Science Works

April 11, 2011 9:00am - 10:30am

Stephen Jenkins

What is the scientific method? What key issues should we consider when thinking about how science works? Each scientist would probably give a different answer, and these answers would no doubt differ from those of a random sample of nonscientists. Which means my list is idiosyncratic, but I hope it will help you learn how to report science stories.

Scientists ask various kinds of questions, and when you're reporting on a scientist's work it’s important to know the type of question they're considering. There is no recipe for doing science. Instead, science is about using evidence to make and test explanations of nature. There are many different kinds of evidence, no one of which is superior to the rest. Each type of evidence—random or systematic observations, comparisons, experiments, models, syntheses—has strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes a critical observation or experiment provides evidence as conclusive as a smoking gun at a crime scene, but it pays to be skeptical if your interviewee with a new result claims this. More often, different lines of evidence must be weighed to reach a tentative conclusion. For science that has implications for society, decisions can’t wait for absolute certainty. Finally, science works well because it is a social process: if I publish an important result, it will draw critics, so it behooves me to anticipate those criticisms and balance enthusiasm with skepticism about my own work. In this introductory session, I will flesh out some of these ideas and then introduce a case study to illustrate the messy workings of science.

Personalized Medicine for People and the Planet

April 11, 2011 11:00am - 12:45pm

Jasper Rine

We are at the beginning of an amazing period in understanding biology. Within our lifetimes we can expect to have a complete genetics parts list of the majority of all well described plants, animals and microbes; the sequence of our personal genomes, and the ability to surgically edit the genomes of practically any organism in any way. At the same time, biology is clearly in the cross hairs of climate change with global food security hanging in the balance. The history of famine goes hand in hand with the history of revolution, so geopolitical stability will rest, in part, in the hands of biologists. In our discussion, I will talk about the impact that the ability to sequence genomes is having on understanding our individual genetic make ups, and how genetic variation is the "next big thing" in biology. I will then develop a set of ideas about how genetic variation can provide solutions to the serious impact that climate change will have on biology and food security. This will spur discussion of important issues and give us the opportunity to talk about matters ranging from the impact of genes on behavior to the proper role of transgenic plants and animals in the biosphere.

Jasper Rine

Biology: A Tool for Solving the Energy Challenge

April 11, 2011 2:15pm - 3:35pm

Chris Somerville

Much has been discussed about the consequences of continuing reliance on fossil fuels for more than 85 percent of our energy. The projected effects on climate of relentlessly accelerating combustion of fossil fuels are cause for alarm. The use of fossil fuels is obviously unsustainable, but it is hard to replace with existing alternatives that can reach the scale of fossil fuel consumption. As a result, there is an urgent need to explore alternatives. This talk will provide an overview of current research concerning the potential of cellulosic biofuels as an approach to production of sustainable fuels.

Finding the Narrative

April 11, 2011 4:00pm - 6:00pm

David Baron

Scientific topics can be dense and abstract and scientists often provide lackluster interviews, but that doesn’t mean your story has to be dull. Writing a strong radio science story begins with a well-thought-out structure. David Baron, health and science editor for PRI’s The World and former science correspondent for NPR, shares tips on finding the narrative thread that will create a clear and compelling story—even if all you have to work with are ax & trax.

David Baron

Chemistry 101: Revealing the One Simple Truth That Makes Chemistry Easy, Intuitive and Enlightening

April 12, 2011 9:00am - 11:00am

Brent Iverson

Most students find chemistry to be overly difficult and tedious and think it bears no connection to their lives. Understanding the concept of electronegativity and how it relates to the unequal sharing of electrons in chemical bonds turns chemistry into an intuitive science that can be used to explain any number of complex phenomena from why water is a liquid at room temperature to how drugs work. Brent Iverson will reveal these and other simple truths about chemistry and discuss common misconceptions about how modern science works.

Brent Iverson

Learning from Earthquakes and Other Natural Disasters

April 12, 2011 11:30am - 12:30pm

Mary Comerio

When catastrophes like the recent earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand strike, reporters focus on the dramatic damage and the human suffering. But what causes earthquakes, tsunamis and other natural disasters? How can we understand what happened and why? How does it compare to other disasters? How do we estimate the impacts and assess damages? Mary Comerio will discuss the science and technology used in learning from earthquakes and other natural disasters.

Mary Comerio

Stem Cells: The State of the Field

April 12, 2011 2:00pm - 3:30pm

Arnold Kriegstein

Stem cells hold the promise of revealing fundamental information about human development, and could ultimately be used to illuminate and treat a broad range of diseases and disorders from heart disease, Parkinson's disease and diabetes, to birth defects and cancer. The cells could be used to replace damaged tissues. They could be used as vehicles to deliver drugs into the brain, to test drugs in the culture dish, or to create precise models of human disease in human cells.

Already, stem cells from patients with various diseases are being studied in the culture dish, and are being studied as a cause of some cancers. The use of stem cells to cure disease could also cause serious side effects and lead to cancer.

This session will review the state of embryonic and adult stem cell research and where the field is heading. Particular attention will focus on making stem cells from skin and other tissues and whether embryonic stem cells are still needed. It will also put the research in context of the current political climate, providing an overview of the impact of the recent change in federal stem cell policies, and the impact on stem cell research in California of the $3 billion funding initiative that California voters passed under Proposition 71 in 2005.

What Do We Know About the Brain and How Do We Know It?

April 12, 2011 3:50pm - 5:20pm

Russell Fernald

The brain gives rise to the mind through its 100,000 chemical reactions per second, but many of the interesting (and hard!) questions about this process have not yet been answered. For example, where exactly is the mind? I will talk about what we know about how the brain’s specialized cells, the neurons, function and how they are distributed in the brain and peripheral nervous system. Building on this information we will explore why understanding evolution is so important for understanding the brain, how drugs hijack the brain’s intrinsic reward system and how brains change during adulthood. With the public’s growing attention to neuroscience, it is common to overstate what we know and I will talk about why that might be.

Tweaking the Story Structure: Ways of Engaging People and Explaining Complex Ideas

April 12, 2011 5:45pm - 7:15pm

Soren Wheeler

This talk will explore how to use story, sound, and conversation to communicate scientific ideas. Science coverage demands more than just good storytelling and clear communication of an idea or new scientific finding. We will discuss the process of story-finding and interviewing and address audience and story telling problems that are unique to the context of science reporting. While we will explore some of the unique qualities of long-form radio production (and the techniques employed at Radiolab in particular), we will focus on uncovering simple design elements and story structures that you can apply to your own work.

Soren Wheeler


April 12, 2011 7:45pm - 8:45pm

David Baron and Soren Wheeler give feedback on participants' work.

David Baron
Soren Wheeler


April 13, 2011 9:30am - 11:30am

Michael Starbird

Data do not come with meaning. Statistics is a collection of techniques whose basic goal is to extract meaning from data. Two basic challenges are involved: (1) organizing, describing and summarizing a collection of data when we know all the pertinent data, and (2) inferring a picture of the whole data set when all we know is a sample of the data. Statistical analysis has the potential to open our eyes, giving us new insight and refining our view of the world. Statistics also contains potential pitfalls that can distort our view. Ultimately, statistics is a refinement of common sense and common sense needs to be part of any appropriate use of statistics.

The Science Reporter: Lap Dog, Pack Dog or Watch Dog

April 13, 2011 1:30pm - 4:00pm

Sally Lehrman

Does a science reporter primarily explain, expose, or simply interest? What are the traps that lie in wait for even a well-seasoned pro? How does our work influence social perceptions and perhaps even the scientific process itself? Join in an exploration of our role and discuss ways to take your reporting to a deeper level with examples from genetics, biotechnology and other disciplines.

Sally Lehrman

Through the Prism of Human Experience

April 13, 2011 4:30pm - 6:30pm

Mary Beth Kirchner

Complicated concepts come to life when there’s a compelling human story to draw the listener in. That’s the premise of this session and the driving force behind producer Mary Beth Kirchner’s two decades of reporting about neuroscience for radio and television. When the viewer or listener cares about the subject, that presents a “teachable moment” where complicated ideas pop out of the TV or radio and resonate long after in the audience’s thinking.


April 13, 2011 7:00pm - 8:00pm

Mary Beth Kirchner gives feedback on participants' work.

Storytelling Online - Choosing Your Media

April 14, 2011 9:00am - 12:00pm


Today's audiences are expecting more multimedia and online features with their news and feature stories. But what's the best way to fit these added productions into a reporter's busy schedule? How do you choose between video, audio or slideshows? In this session, you'll hear from staff at QUEST, the largest multiple-media project at KQED Public Broadcasting in San Francisco. They'll explain best practices for making web content, from quick web extras to more advanced interactive projects, and show you what tools and software can make it easier as well as how to choose projects that enhance your story online.

Evolution 101

April 14, 2011 1:30pm - 3:00pm

Brent Mishler

This lecture/discussion will focus on both the theoretical structure of evolution and the empirical evidence, ranging from classical comparative anatomy and development to modern genomics. Among the goals: understanding the science of evolutionary biology and addressing the often shaky relationship between scientists and the public.

Brent Mishler

The Science of Climate Change: How Do We Know Human Activities Are Influencing Global Climate?

April 14, 2011 3:30pm - 5:30pm

Benjamin Santer

Human-caused climate change is not a hypothetical future event. It is real, and we are experiencing it in our lifetimes. Despite compelling evidence of human effects on global climate, there is a continuing need for scientists to explain “how we know it’s us.” The first part of this session will summarize the scientific underpinning for the “discernible human influence” conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. It will cover natural and human influences on the climate system, observations of climate change in the atmosphere and oceans, and the "fingerprint" methods scientists have used to study the causes of climate change. This part of the session will show that the climate system is telling us an internally—and physically—consistent story. The message in this story is that observed changes in many different (and independently-measured) aspects of the climate system cannot be explained by natural causes alone.

Studies of the causes of climate change typically rely on computer models of the climate system. Such models are the only tools we have for attempting to help us understand the size (and geographical and seasonal distribution) of the climate changes we are likely to experience over the 21st century. But not all computer models are equally adept at capturing key features of the present-day climate. How do we confront models with reality and evaluate model skill? Should models with better performance in reproducing today’s climate be regarded as more trustworthy predictors of 21st century climate change? Is it easy to identify the “top 10” climate models in the world? How should decision-makers—and scientists interested in studying the impacts of climate change—use and interpret information on the strengths and weaknesses of different climate models? Can we find clever ways of reducing uncertainties in projections of future climate change? Can scientists make informed statements about human contributions to changes in the frequency and/or intensity of extreme events? These are a few of the questions that will be addressed in the second and final part of the session.

Your Pitches, Please!

April 14, 2011 6:00pm - 7:30pm

NPR editor Alison Richards critiques pitches, helping participants see how they can craft better them, whether for a local editor or regional or national show. Submit your pitches in writing no later than noon Tuesday April 12.

Finding Science Information

April 15, 2011 9:00am - 12:00pm

Barry Brown

There is a bewildering amount of science information available on the open Web. This hands-on session will outline a strategy for comprehensive and systematic searches to find the most important sources efficiently. We will focus on freely available resources.

Barry Brown

The Changing World of Scientific Publishing

April 15, 2011 9:00am - 12:00pm

Norma Kobzina

Access to journal literature and other scholarly publication is constantly changing. This session will highlight some of the new approaches within scholarly and scientific communication. We will discuss ways to access material in both peer-reviewed and popular open access journals, and how to identify and evaluate the most accurate and relevant information.

Norma Kobzina

The Search for Life 2.0 in our Solar System and its Implications

April 15, 2011 2:00pm - 3:30pm

Chris McKay

The search for another type of life in the solar system addresses the fundamental question of life in the universe. To determine if life forms we discover represent a second genesis, we must find biological material that would allow us to compare that life to the Earth's phylogenetic tree of life. An organism would be alien if, and only if, it did not link to our tree of life. In our solar system, the "worlds of interest" in our search for life are Mars, Europa, Enceladus, and, for biochemistry based on a liquid other than water, Titan.

If we find evidence for a second genesis of life we will certainly learn from the comparative study of the biochemistry, organismal biology, and ecology of the alien life. The discovery of alien life that is alive or revivable will pose fundamentally new questions in environmental ethics. We should plan our exploration strategy so that it is biologically reversible. In the long term we would do well, ethically and scientifically, to strive to support any alien life discovered as part of an overall commitment to enhancing the richness and diversity of life in the universe.

Chris McKay

The Art of Telling Science Stories

April 15, 2011 4:00pm - 5:30pm

Alison Richards

In this session we will discuss how to turn science into rich, compelling and accessible radio, including how to:

* identify the story
* find the tension
* get the right tape, and
* make it personal.


April 15, 2011 6:00pm - 8:30pm

Alison Richards gives feedback on participants' work.

Talk the Copy

April 16, 2011 9:30am - 12:00pm

Marilyn Pittman

In this session, you will receive a toolbox of tips and techniques for voice tracking. Each participant will receive individual feedback on reading copy to help you sound more conversational, authentic and dynamic on the air. Also included in the session: breathing, projection, prepping the copy, warming up, and tracking techniques. We will also touch on the increasingly used element of “reporter debriefs,” often called “two-ways.”

Covering the Next Big Story

April 16, 2011 1:00pm - 2:00pm

Charles Petit

In this session, we will discuss which science stories should play big in the coming years. We will also review the joys and challenges of the science beat, including some of the reasons science news has lasting appeal no matter the platform, or who the publishers or broadcast organizations might be.