A personal talk about what scientists owe the public, why they fall short so often, and how the press can do a better job of telling their story.
Michael Specter has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1998, and has written frequently about AIDS, T.B., and malaria in the developing world, as well as about agricultural biotechnology, avian influenza, the world’s diminishing freshwater resources, synthetic biology and editing DNA with CRISPR technology. His Profile subjects have included Dr. Oz, Peter Singer, Larry Kramer, and Richard Branson, the anti-GMO activist Vandana Shiva, along with Sean (P. Diddy) Combs, Manolo Blahnik, Ingrid Newkirk, the controversial leader of PETA, and Miuccia Prada. Previously, he worked at the New York Times as its senior foreign correspondent, based in Rome; from 1995 to 1998, he served as the paper’s Moscow bureau chief.
Before joining the Times, he served as the Washington Post’s national science reporter and, later, as its New York bureau chief. In 1996, he received an Overseas Press Club citation for his reporting on the war in Chechnya. He has twice received the Global Health Council’s annual Excellence in Media Award: in 2002, for “India’s Plague,” and in 2005, for “The Devastation,” about the ethics of testing H.I.V. vaccines in Africa. His article “Rethinking the Brain” received the 2002 AAAS Science Journalism Award.
He is the author of “Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives,” which, in 2010, received the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry’s Robert P. Balles Annual Prize in Critical Thinking. He received the 2011 WHO reporting award for his article about TB in India, A Deadly Misdiagnosis. His piece “Against the Grain” won a 2015 James Beard Award in the Food and Health category. He is currently on leave from The New Yorker to write a book about the future of editing DNA.