5th Kavli Symposium

The  5th Kavli Symposium on Science Journalism was held in Washington DC, on February 2019 (18-20 February), it was produced by the WFSJ in partnership with the Kavli Foundation (it traditionally takes place every year right after the AAAS meeting).

The 5th Kavli Symposium addressed Science Journalism and Politics. It explored the intricate relationships between science journalism and government decision-making – ranging from health and environmental issues to investment in basic science. It examined if and how science journalism serves to inform decision-making processes and public opinion and whether it can more effectively be a check on how these policies are formulated. The focus was on the relationship between science news and politics, with special attention to the connections between the science desk and the political desk in the newsroom.

That nonpartisan and non-political event and all sessions were designed with the view of stimulating thinking to deliver cutting-edge ideas for the benefit of the field as a whole. The Symposium’s steering committee was:
  • Deborah Blum, Director Knight Science Journalism program, MIT
  • Mariette DiChristina, Editor-in-Chief, Scientific American
  • Robert Lee Hotz, Science Writer, Wall Street Journal
  • Laura Helmuth, Health, Science and Environment Editor, The Washington Post
  • Ivan Oransky, Vice President, Editorial at Medscape, Distinguished Writer In Residence, New York University’s Arthur Carter Journalism Institute
  • Tiffany Lohwater, Chief Communications Officer, AAAS
  • Richard Stone, Senior Science Editor, Tangled Bank Studios
  • Curtis Brainard,  Managing Editor, Scientific American
  • Milica Momcilovic, Science Journalist and Anchor, Radio Television of Serbia
  • Shereen Joseph, Health Policy Consultant, Science Journalist and Communications Specialist



  • Nancy Shute, Editor in Chief, Science News
  • David Malakoff, Deputy News Editor, Science
  • Lauren Morello, Americas Bureau Chief, Nature
  • Josh Fischman, Senior Editor, Scientific American

Policy coverage tends not to be the main focus of science editors. Political coverage is also not what readers expect from their science news outlets. Within this context, how do different science news outlets cover policy and politics? At science news magazines, resources dedicated to policy coverage – investigative and data reporting as well as access to source networks – are scarce. How do science news outlets approach these challenges? How do science news outlets gauge readers interest in their policy coverage? When it comes to hot button policy issues, how do science news magazines decide when and how to compete with coverage from established mainstream news outlets (e.g. the New York Times, The Washington Post, etc.)? Coverage of policy at science magazines generally strive to remain nonpartisan and apolitical. How do these magazines stay grounded in the guiding tenets to remain impartial yet adhere to the evidence?


  • Rick Weiss, Director, SciLine
  • Juliet Eilperin, Senior National Affairs Correspondent, The Washington Post
  • Dan Vergano, Science Correspondent, Buzzfeed News
  • Roland Pease, Science Presenter, BBC World Service

Science news tends not to receive much of a spotlight (comparatively) at mainstream news outlets where leadership is more often promoted from the business or policy desks. Mainstream news outlets often already have policy teams in place. In what ways can the science desk contribute to policy coverage? In what ways can cross desk collaboration be fostered or improved? Science policy coverage can span a wide array of topics from environmental policy and space exploration to the science of politics, including how poling works and how voter opinions are captured as well as how governments regulate science and research. How can science journalists be better implicated in all facets of policy coverage?


  • Milica Momcilovic, Science Journalist and Radio and Television anchor, Serbia
  • Shirley Malcom, Director, Education and Human Resources Programs, AAAS
  • Kei Koizumi, Visiting Scholar in Science Policy, AAAS
  • Laura MacCleery, Policy Director, Center for Science in the Public Interest

The media informs the public but should also be a voice for the public to inform policy makers on what society wants and needs. From a policy making perspective, how much does media coverage influence and guide policy decisions? What are your views on how journalists should contribute to policy making? In theory, science journalists also serve as a bridge between those who would like to influence policy and policy makers. Do policy makers pay attention to science coverage in the media? What role should science journalists play in connecting policy makers and the public? In your experience, are science journalists’ coverage of policy sufficiently objective? Are science journalists missing important stories? Is science journalism currently an effective barrier to strongman politics that may reject available and established evidence?


  • Laura Helmuth, Health, Science and Environment Editor, The Washington Post
  • Max Boykoff, Director, Center for Science and Technology Policy Research
  • Cary Funk, Director of Science and Society Research, Pew Research Center
  • John Cook, RA Professor, Center for Climate Change Communication, George Mason University

First and foremost, journalists serve the public. With that as a guiding mandate, science journalists are looking for ways to better serve their readership. But are science journalists only relegated to the coverage of science alone? Topics – such as immigration for instance – are not issues that science journalist typically tackle. Are science journalists providing the type of coverage that helps foster a society that values evidence-based policy making? Do science journalists adequately inform the public so they understand specific policy issues? Are science journalists effectively framing stories of science and policy? When considering policy, people often take stances based on their own socio-economic and pre-existing belief systems. Compounding the problem, higher education does not appear to correlate to an ability to reassess opinions when faced with alternate facts but rather leads to further entrenchment in existing opinions. So, when covering policy, are the facts enough?


Monday Evening, 18th February 2019

  • 17:00 — Informal Cocktail (Melrose Hotel)
  • 18:30 — DINNER
  • 19:30
    • Welcoming remarks (Christophe Bourillon, Executive Director, WFSJ)
    • Welcoming remarks (Eric Marshall, VP, Prizes and Public Programs, Kavli Foundation)
    • Introduction of participants (self-presentation – 30 secs each)
  • 19:40
    • Evening Keynote (Dan Diamond, Politico) (25 mins)
    • Q&A (20 mins)

Tuesday, 19th February 2019 

  • 07:30 — BREAKFAST
  • 08:10 — Shuttle bus to NAS
  • 08:40
    • Preview of the day ahead
    • Curtis Brainard (Managing Editor, Scientific American)
    • Welcoming Remarks from William Kearney (Executive Director, Office of News and Public Information, NAS)

    • Moderator: Nancy Shute (Editor in Chief, Science News)
    • Speakers on Panel:
      • David Malakoff (Deputy News Editor, Science)
      • Josh Fischman (Senior Editor, Scientific American)
      • Lauren Morello (Americas Bureau Chief, Nature)
    • Q&A (20 mins)

  • 10:00 — COFFEE BREAK

    • Moderator: Rick Weiss (Director, SciLine)
    • Speakers on Panel:
      • Juliet Eilperin (Senior National Affairs Correspondent, The Washington Post)
      • Dan Vergano (Science Correspondent, Buzzfeed News)
      • Roland Pease (Science Presenter, BBC World Service)
    • Q&A (20 mins) 

  • 12:00 — LUNCH BUFFET

    • Moderator: Milica Momcilovic (Science Journalist and Radio and Television anchor)
    • Speakers on Panel:
      • Laura MacCleery (Policy Director, Center for Science in the Public Interest)
      • Shirley Malcom (Director, Education and Human Resources Programs, AAAS)
      • Kei Koizumi (Visiting Scholar in Science Policy, AAAS)
    • Q&A (20 mins)

  • 14:45 — COFFEE BREAK
  • 15:00 — REVIEW of KS4 DATA JOURNALISM PAIRING PROJECT (Brant Houston,  Josh Fischman and Anne-Marie Legault – 20 mins)
  • 15:20 — BREAKOUT SESSION 1 – Group discussion on how science journalism can best serve as check on policy making
  • 17:00 — END OF DAY ONE
  • 17:15 — Shuttlebus to Melrose Hotel
  • 18:00 — DINNER BUFFET

Wednesday, 20th February 2019

  • 07:30 — Hotel check out and BREAKFAST (review goals for breakout session 2)
  • 08:10 — Shuttle bus to NAS
  • 08:40 — RECAP: Summary from previous day’s breakout session (key points) and setting expectations for the next breakout sessions.

    • Moderator: Laura Helmuth (Health, Science and Environment Editor, The Washington Post)
    • Speakers on Panel:
      • Cary Funk (Director of Science and Society Research, Pew Research Center)
      • Max Boykoff (Director, Center for Science and Technology Policy Research)
      • John Cook (RA Professor, Center for Climate Change Communication, George Mason University)
    • Q&A (20 mins)

  • 10:00 — COFFEE BREAK
  • 10:15 — BREAKOUT SESSION 2 – Group discussion on how science journalists can best inform the public on policy issues
  • 11:30 — LUNCH BUFFET
  • 12:30 — PLENARY DISCUSSION (moderated by Curtis Brainard)
  • 13:45 —  Closing Remarks (Shereen Joseph, Program Director)
  • 14:00 — CLOSURE

Accommodations at:

Melrose Georgetown Hotel

2430 Pennsylvania Ave., NW

Washington, DC 20037

Symposium sessions at:

Room NAS 120 at The National Academy of Sciences

2101 Constitution Ave., NW

Washington, DC  20418


The Kavli Foundation 5th Symposium on Science Journalism and Politics in DC. Delegates in front of the Einstein statue at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM).


Aline Vancompernolle (left) and Karel Lopes (right) were the two students invited by the Chief Scientist of Québec

How taking a step back helps best practices

After being trained as a journalist in the very practical sense of the term, studying master’s degree in communication gave me very good surprises. For a start, I was not expecting to be so interested in taking a step back and look at practices. It seemed like entering in a real new world. During the conference in DC, I met very inspiring people. I saw participants who love their job so much that they are ready to think and discuss about their practices to make a difference. It motivates me to continue my research, feeling that later, people could use it to feed their thoughts. The conference helped me review my ideas on fact checking and trust which are at the very core of journalism. The place given to the readers and how to best serve them was also something I appreciated to hear. Regarding my other assignation as a coordinator of the Weight Expert project, I will report to my coworkers about the way science journalists do research online to fact-check and determine who to speak to about the subject they are writing on.

I felt privileged to be a part of that great team and to be able to contribute on a small scale to that great movement engaged to face changes. Finally, I want to thank the Fonds de recherche du Québec and the World Federation of Science Journalism for giving me this great opportunity that I hope will be given to me again in the future. For more information on the Kavli 5th Symposium click here.

— Aline Vancompernolle, student in communication (master) at Laval University

The three obstacles I would have expressed about dealing with the media coverage of climate change

At the 5th Kavli Symposium on Science Journalism and Politics, I was particularly interested in the panel dealing with media coverage of climate change. After a first part where guests presented their expertise on the subject, we were divided into subgroups to exchange about the following questions: how science journalists can better serve the public by helping enlighten their opinions and decisions about political issues or how science journalists can better frame their subject to reach the public. These questions, when related to the subject of climate change, have been part of my theoretical and practical questions for several years.

Struggling with the linguistic barrier (my mother tongue is French), I listened, a little bit frustrated, to what the others had to say. This led me to reflect about the place somewhat hegemonic of the English language in our scientific conversations, but also more broadly in our political, economic, commercial or cultural relations. The legitimacy of English in our daily exchanges is now established as obvious. Although I recognize the reality of understanding each other, it is still relevant to think about the roots and the possible effects of this linguistic domination. A single language, which frames what can be said, how it can be said, who can say it and not the least, who can understand it. Of course, I do not want to fall into a basic Anglophobia, and I realize that this criticism would not be so much of a concern if I could speak English very well. However, this downside has the merit of opening up reflections on how to foster intellectual exchanges with the linguistic diversity that this implies. Indeed, even for millions of non-anglophone academics, journalists, publishers who speak English, it remains the language of the other. Even more disturbing is the number of contributions ignored because they are conducted in languages other than English. Finally, although I understand that the usage of this language is sometimes necessary and I have to improve my skills to understand and speak English, anglophones should also have to understand other languages. At least, passive knowledge would allow a more diverse community to share reflections and to have two ways rather than one-way exchanges.

This could imply that Anglophones learn other languages, but this could also be reflected by the presence of whisperers who can support non-English speakers. At another level, the facilitation of brainstorming sessions should systematically encourage and ensure a certain parity in speaking out. In short, it would be a question of encouraging a culture of mutual linguistic assistance, which is common practice in other settings such as culture and social innovation.

Finally, if I was more confident with my English-speaking skills, this is what I would have expressed to my group:

Part of my master’s degree was analyzing how communication is mobilized to talk about climate change. Communicators can encounter several obstacles when dealing with such a complex subject. I will focus here on three of them, which, if they were known and taken into account by journalists in particular, would improve the effect on the public.

Dramatic communications

In the climate discourse, it has been identified that the three dominant media frames are apocalypse, uncertainty, and high costs (Feinberg and Willer 2011, Schlichting 2013). This communication framework causes a reaction of « laissez-faire », because people feel that they cannot do anything against the scale of the situation (Bérubé, 2010). A thesis supported by Swim et al. (2011) argues that if people do not act on a situation, it is because they feel they have little control over the outcome of their efforts. In this regard, Fleury and Prévot (2017) explain that climate change falls into a category of risks far too important for individuals to act « without outside help, that be it institutional, collective or media » (p.14). Indeed, the reaction of « laissez-faire » is related to the control feeling over climate change, which is related to the perception of proximity to the phenomenon (Lorenzoni et al., 2007). Because climate change is perceived from a distant and elsewhere, the feeling of control over it seems hypothetical (Moser, 2009).

Cartesian communications and disembodied scientific discourse

Human beings are related to nature, not only from a chemical or physical point of view, but also through affective and spiritual dimensions. Yet these dimensions do not have much space in the scientific discourse (Feenberg, 2013). A cartesian communication based on the deficit model is preferred. However, individual and collective awareness also takes place in an emotional and sensitive dimension. The effects of emotion and sensibility are difficult to provoke in the context of traditional scientific communication. Indeed, to achieve its goal, science self-imposes constraints that give it credibility, but which also have expressive limits (Reeves, 2017). Obviously, « for the sake of rigor and precision, the scientific vocabulary lacked affective connotations » (p.45). However, it is sometimes at the level of affective experience that the scientific conception can be assimilated (Feenberg, 2013).

Impalpable communications in time and space

As Stoknes (2014) explains, climate change is often presented to the public in future form. The years shown as 2050 appear as temporally distant. Also, the examples of the consequences refer to places like the Arctic, the glaciers of the Himalayas or El Nino in the Pacific Ocean: atypical and isolated spaces. In addition, the consequences of climate change are relatively abstract, diffuse (Bourg, 2015) and are not always felt in everyday life (Kane, 2016), « compared to other local, tangible and immediate environmental issues such as water pollution, climate change is distant, impalpable and delayed « (ISSC / UNESCO, 2013, p.20). Also, it is possible that citizens perceive changes, but do not make the link with climate change (Bérubé, 2010). Moreover, the human propensity to imagine the atmosphere as a vast and unchanging place in the course of history contrasts with the current scientific discourse. The latter presents the atmosphere as a fragile system whose composition and dynamics have been transformed by human activities (IPCC, 2014). In this regard, Cartea, et al. (2016) present our « sensorial system » (p.12) as failing to represent the evolution of climate change. Indeed, our senses are unable to grasp the subtle variations of the climate that are spread over a long time. Thus, most of the underlying phenomena of climate change, in physical terms, is undetectable by our human body (Meira Cartea and González Gaudiano, 2016). Combined with generational environmental amnesia, climate change is difficult to experiment spontaneously. According to Vandenberghe (2001), risks that goes beyond our perception and our capacity for imagination must be materialized by discourse to become real and perceptible. It is possible here to understand the central role of communication in the process of changing perceptions, behaviors and policies that protect the environment.

— Karel Lopes, student in communication (master) Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM)
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine