Panel Discussion Set for February 25: “The Role of the University in an Era of Science Skepticism and ‘Fake News'”

The Center for Communicating Science is honored to present a panel discussion on atopic critical for our time: “The Role of the University in an Era of Science Skepticism and ‘Fake News.'” Featuring panelists from on and off campus and moderated by science communicator Brian Malow, the event will take place at 3 p.m. Sunday, February 25, in the Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre at the Moss Arts Center.

Robin Reed

Robin Reed, our region’s evening news anchor on WDBJ7 and a strong advocate for science education and outreach, will be joined on stage by Sally Morton, dean of the Virginia Tech College of Science, Audra Van Wart, director of education and training at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, and Sylvester Johnson, founding director of the new Center for the Humanities at Virginia Tech.

Audra Van Wart

According to survey data released by the Yale Program on Climate Communication, a majority of respondents acknowledge that climate change is occurring and is harming Americans, but most do not think it will harm them personally. Thirty-one percent of Americans say that they never discuss the issue with friends and family.

Sylvester Johnson

Dealing with climate change and a host of other challenges–mass extinction, food insecurity, increasing inequality in income and wealth–will require researchers, policy makers, voters, educators, and people from all sectors of society to work together. But we live in an era in which we’re flooded with information–and with misinformation. Knowledge can convey power, and power can be used for good or for ill purposes.

What role does the university play in all this? What role does Virginia Tech play in the local, regional, and state communities–and beyond? Please join our panelists and moderator in a conversation about the roles and responsibilities of our institutions of higher education in helping all of us sort through the information overload and make sense of research findings so that we can move forward in solving our pressing problems.

Malow, moderator for the afternoon, has co-hosted programs on The Weather Channel, appeared on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, and been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the journals NatureScience, and Symmetry. He performs as a science comedian (and will perform at VT on February 26) and helps researchers learn to communicate more effectively about their work.

Sally Morton

Morton is an internationally recognized statistician and researcher who specializes in the use of statistics and data science to help patients make better healthcare decisions. She has applied her skills to many projects, including back pain, healthcare quality, homelessness, mental health, and substance abuse. She came to Virginia Tech in 2016 and has previously worked for the University of Pittsburgh, RTI International, and the RAND Corporation Statistics Group. Her PhD in statistics is from Stanford University.

With a doctorate in neurobiology and behavior, Van Wart conducted research in learning and memory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and served as associate scientific editor of the biomedical journal Neuron before taking her position at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, where she plays a lead role in developing graduate programs in the biomedical sciences and coordinates undergraduate research mentoring, postdoctoral, resident, and fellow training, and collaborative training efforts with other universities.

Johnson arrived in Blacksburg in 2017, hired as the founding director of Virginia Tech’s Center for the Humanities and also serving as assistant vice provost for the humanities. With a PhD in contemporary religious thought, Johnson has published books on African American religions, faith and national security, and nineteenth-century American Christianity. His current research interest is the exploration of humanity in the age of intelligent machines.

Reed has been a member of the WDBJ7 news team since 1982, serving as station meteorologist for many years and extending his interest in weather, environmental issues, and math and science education to southwest Virginia and beyond through public and school outreach events and efforts. Last winter, he became the CBS affiliate WDBJ7 6 o’clock anchor.

This event is open to the public free of charge. Following the panel discussion we will take questions from the audience and expect to have a lively discussion with members of the general public.


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