From ScienceWriters: The XX Question session leads to national summit

By Emily Willingham

On June 14 and 15, members of the science writing community will convene at MIT for the Women in Science Writing: Solutions Summit, a continuation of The XX Question plenary session from the ScienceWriters2013 workshops, in Gainesville, Fla. XX panel members Christie Aschwanden, Deborah Blum, Maryn McKenna, Florence Williams, and Emily Willingham are arranging the conference with generous NASW support from an Idea Grant and MIT support from Thomas Levenson and Seth Mnookin, both faculty in MIT’s graduate writing program.

The workshops and training from the conference, which will address issues of diversity, income equality, and sexual harassment in the science writing community, are expected to yield working documents that the community can use to address many of the problems discussed at The XX Question panel. The conference will also involve a presentation of data derived from a survey of NASW members and other writers in science, health, and medicine to identify issues related to diversity, income equality, and sexual harassment. These data will serve as a benchmark of how — and if — things change going forward.

Commenting on what she hopes to see from this conference, XX panelist Blum said, “I’m encouraged to see that our community is not only discussing but putting together a conference so that we may come together in trying to find solutions that strengthen our relationships and the profession as a whole.” Mnookin noted the difficulties that dominated discussion in the last year, and said, “I’m hopeful that we can emerge from the conference with a clearer sense of tangible steps we can take to strengthen our community and its commitment to shared ideas going forward.” And McKenna, observing that she is “inescapably, a female science journalist,” noted that in her 20-plus years in the profession, “it feels as though the position of women in our specialty and the profession has barely budged… so I’m grateful to help stage this conference in hopes of at last moving things forward.”

The conference will feature a plenary and sessions on Saturday and a half-day workshop for developing conference deliverables on Sunday. Attendees will include staff editors and writers, freelancers, and graduate writing program instructors and students, and some travel fellowships will be available for early career writers and graduate students. The Twitter handle for the conference is @SciWriSummit.

NASW member Emily Willingham was a panelist on The XX Question session in 2013, and is an organizer of the Women in Science Writing: Solutions Summit.

Bios: Summit panelists
  • Christie Aschwanden is a health columnist for the Washington Post, a frequent contributor to the New York Times, and a 2013-14 Carter Center Fellow. She blogs about science at Last Word On Nothing, and her work also appears in Discover, Slate, Proto, Consumer Reports, New Scientist, More, Men’s Journal,, Smithsonian _ and _O, the Oprah magazine.

  • Deborah Blum is a Pulitzer-prize winning science writer and a professor of journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She blogs about environmental chemistry for the New York Times (Poison Pen) and Wired (Elemental). She is currently working on her sixth book.

  • Thomas Levenson is an award-winning science writer and film maker whose day job has him professing the craft at MIT and directing the graduate program in science writing there. He is the author of four books, most recently Einstein in Berlin and Newton and the Counterfeiter, and is producer, director, writer, and/or executive producer of more than a dozen feature documentaries, including the PBS NOVA miniseries Origins, hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson.

  • Seth Mnookin teaches in MIT’s Graduate Program of Science Writing. His most recent book is The Panic Virus: The True Story of the Autism-Vaccine Controversy, and he is currently writing about rare genetic diseases. Maryn McKenna is an award-winning journalist and author and a senior fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, at Brandeis University. She blogs for Wired about public health and global health, and is writing her third book, about food, for National Geographic.

  • Kathleen Raven is an investigative healthcare reporter specializing in cancer for BioPharm Insight, a Financial Times Group product, in New York City.

  • Florence Williams is a freelance writer and the author of Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History, winner of the 2012 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in science and technology. A resident of Washington, D.C., she is a 2014 visiting scholar at George Washington University and a contributing editor at Outside Magazine.

  • Emily Willingham is a Forbes contributor. Her writing has appeared online at the New York Times, Slate, Forbes, Discover, Wired, and The Scientist, among others. She is currently writing a book on evidence-based parenting for Perigee Books (Penguin), due sooner than she and her co-author Tara Haelle are willing to contemplate.

Women in Science Writing: Solutions Summit
June 14-15, 2014
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass.
Registration limited
Program details available at This conference made possible by an NASW Idea Grant and MIT graduate writing program financial support.