Northern California Science Writers Association

Science and Public Health in the Post-Pandemic Age: A Conversation with Joe DeRisi and Carl Zimmer

  • Thursday, July 15, 2021
  • 6:00 PM - 7:15 PM
  • A Zoom event (PDT)


Registration is closed

In 2017, journalist Carl Zimmer and scientist Joe DeRisi met on stage in San Francisco at the World Conference of Science Journalists for a wide-ranging discussion of how genomic technologies championed by DeRisi were transforming the detection and diagnosis of infectious diseases, including how such technologies might form the basis of a global early-warning system for emerging pandemics.

Now, just four years later, in-person science writing conferences seem like a distant dream, as we try to regain our footing in the wake of a devastating pandemic that spread like wildfire and profoundly reshaped societies on a global scale.
In this virtual event sponsored by the Northern California Science Writers Association (NCSWA), DeRisi and Zimmer meet again, this time to reflect on:

  • What’s known about the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
  • What went right and what went wrong in our response to COVID, both in the United States and around the world.
  • How America’s persistent health inequities and systemic flaws in our public health infrastructure were laid bare by the pandemic, and how we might begin to address them.
  • How a worldwide surveillance network could be put in place to better prepare us for future pandemics, even if some governments create “black holes” of information.
  • Potential scientific and medical "upsides" that may emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, e.g., new ways of doing science, better vaccines for a range of diseases.

Joe DeRisi, a professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco, and co-president of the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, is a pioneer in the use of genomic sequencing to advance diagnosis and epidemiology of infectious and inflammatory diseases, as well as for global surveillance of emerging pathogens. DeRisi is a 2004 MacArthur Fellow, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator from 2005 to 2016, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. His work has recently been featured in The Premonition, Michael Lewis’s bestselling book on the COVID-19 pandemic, and in Jennifer Kahn’s “The Disease Detective,” in the June 3 New York Times Magazine.

Carl Zimmer, a leading science journalist, has written fourteen books and is author of the weekly New York Times column “Matter.” His reporting and writing have garnered a number of awards, including the Stephen Jay Gould Prize, awarded by the Society for the Study of Evolution. His recent book on heredity, She Has Her Mother’s Laugh, was named the best science book of 2018 by The Guardian, and won the 2019 National Academies Communication Award. His latest book is Life’s Edge: The Search for What It Means to Be Alive. Zimmer is a familiar voice on radio programs such as "Radiolab" and an adjunct professor at Yale University. He is, to his knowledge, the only writer after whom both a species of tapeworm and an asteroid have been named.

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