W. Wayt Gibbs
New Horizons in Science program director, CASW
W. Wayt Gibbs is program director of the New Horizons in Science briefings for the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. President of the Northwest Science Writers Association, he is a contributing editor and podcast contributor for Scientific American, where he was a writer and editor from 1992 to 2006. Also a contributing editor for Anthropocene and IEEE Spectrum magazines, he has written for Science, Nature, The Economist, Wired, Discover, NBC News, Associated Press, NOVA and many others. As editorial director at Intellectual Ventures, a tech company outside Seattle, Gibbs works with founder and CEO Nathan Myhrvold on his research and writing projects, which have included the Modernist Cuisine book series and documentaries for PBS, BBC, the History Channel, the Discovery Channel, and Netflix.
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Watch the prerecorded talks for this session beginning on Oct. 12. (Video embargoed until 4:00 p.m. ET 10/19/20.) Then tune in here on Oct. 19 for live Q&A with the speakers. (Whova mobile app users, look for the YouTube link in the session description.)
Three new spacecraft blasted off for Mars this summer. Their arrival in February 2021 will open a new chapter of exploration of the Red Planet and the investigations into its ability to support life past and future, via human missions.
In this session, we'll hear first-hand from scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab and Los Alamos National Lab who worked on the new Mars Perseverance rover mission about how it will gather soil and rock samples for eventual return to Earth, transform carbon dioxide it finds on the surface into breathable oxygen, attempt the first controlled aircraft flights on another planet, and rove around a dry lake bed zapping rocks with lasers to search for biosignatures of ancient Martian microbes.
We'll also get details on Tianwen-1 ("Questions to Heaven"), which is on course to be China's first successful mission to Mars. The spacecraft will deploy an orbiter, lander, and rover to scan the planet for buried deposits of frozen water while also mapping the structure of its interior and ionosphere.
Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates' Hope mission will track winds, weather, and giant duststorms over a full cycle of Martian seasons. This session will prepare us to cover the many Mars stories to come in 2021.
Watch the prerecorded talks for this session beginning on Oct. 13. (Video embargoed until 4:00 p.m. ET 10/20/20.) Then submit your questions for the speakers, and tune in here on Oct. 20 to watch answers from Williamson and Shawn-Fletcher and to hear live from Michelle Ward in Brisbane and Merritt Turetsky in Boulder. (Whova mobile app users, look for the YouTube link in the session description.)
This past summer, nearly 100,000 square kilometers of land went up in flames in the Australian bushfires—a fire event larger than any in the past 10,000 years on that continent. The devastation released some 400 million tons of CO2, killed perhaps a billion animals, and damaged many Aboriginal Australian communities.
Then in June, as temperatures soared into triple digits north of the Arctic Circle, fires swept through the taiga and tundra of Siberia and within a month surpassed the record-setting summer of 2019, raising concerns that already vulnerable peatlands and permafrost could be lost. A continuation of this trend could have dire consequences for Arctic ecosystems and some Indigenous communities, as well as worrisome climate impacts.
In this session, two Aboriginal Australian scientists and a wildlife ecologist who has done extensive surveys of the burned area will present new results from their research on the paleohistoric significance of this year's bushfires, the misguided logging and forest-management practices that fueled the fires, the far-reaching damage the mega-fires wreaked on wildlife habitats, and ways that Aboriginal cultural land-management practices should be brought back to reduce the risk of recurrence.
Then the director of the University of Colorado's Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research will update us on the fire situation in Siberia, Alaska, and Canada and her research on how forest fires are interacting with climate change and Arctic warming, permafrost, peatlands, and taiga and tundra ecology in ways that threaten Alaska Native and First Nations peoples and the ecosystems on which they—and all of us—depend.
Watch the prerecorded talks for this session beginning on Oct. 14. (Video embargoed until 4:00 p.m. ET 10/21/20.) Then tune in here on Oct. 21 for live Q&A with the speakers. (Whova mobile app users, look for the YouTube link in the session description.)
SARS-CoV-2 is blind to race, but the legacy of systemic racism in the U.S. has caused the virus to hit some racial and ethnic groups far harder than others. In July, a UCLA study reported that "Latinos and Blacks in both Los Angeles County and NYC are twice as likely to die of COVID-19 as non-Hispanic whites. Native Hawai’ians or other Pacific Islanders are nearly seven times at risk for becoming infected in Los Angeles, and have nearly five times the death rate of whites." By June, Native residents of New Mexico accounted for about 60% of coronavirus deaths, though they make up less than 9% of the population.
The disproportionate impacts of this pandemic on Black, Latino, and Native Americans, as well as other people of color, throw into sharp relief longstanding racial inequities in American health care, educational and economic opportunity, and political representation. Coronavirus has added urgency to reforms that redress the cumulative effects of systemic racism in how medicine and science are practiced.
In this session, public health experts from each of these communities will use the focusing lens of the pandemic and new results from their own research to highlight the solvable problems that contribute most to these health disparities. They will help us understand how science writers can avoid racial and ethnic framing and tropes that reinforce discriminatory systems. And they will point us to underreported successes in which communities of color have themselves taken innovative steps to combat coronavirus that could serve as a model for the nation.
Watch the prerecorded talks for this session beginning on Oct. 15. (Video embargoed until 4:00 p.m. ET 10/22/20.) Then tune in here on Oct. 22 for live Q&A with the speakers.
We in the mainstream media, stung by unfair tarring with the "fake news" label, are hypersensitive to the growth of actual misinformation online. And it's galling to see our Twitter feeds and the comment streams beneath our stories polluted by bigoted, chauvinistic, and sometimes threatening snark and vitriol. But new research suggests this front-row view to the downsides of free speech may have distorted our perspectives on these problems. Powerful observation biases skew what we as science writers see, compared to the general public.
In this session, researchers who have assembled big data sets to study these questions will present more objective views of the consumption of misinformation by the public and of how people respond to organized hate speech. The results of their quantitative analyses of large-scale, longitudinal studies challenge conventional wisdom about these phenomena.
Two scientists from the Santa Fe Institute who have used AI to classify nearly 200,000 Twitter conversations, spanning four years of activity on political accounts and large news sites in Germany, will share answers to a crucial question: is it better to ignore trolls or to combat them with counter-speech?
Then a data scientist at Penn who previously worked at Yahoo and Microsoft Research will update us on what his team's study of media consumption among large, nationally representative audiences in the U.S. reveals about how often Americans are exposed to truly fake news—and news of all kinds. The problems of ensuring an informed electorate, this research suggests, are quite different from what most of us have assumed.
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