Pulitzer-winning writer to explore the art of science journalism
Ed Yong has won a long list of accolades for his work as a science journalist. In a talk at Virginia Tech on Oct. 19, he will probe the core of what it means to do that work, drawing on his experience writing both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic and exploring the ways science is shaped by culture, social norms, and collective decisions.
The event is part of the Hugh and Ethel Kelly lecture series, which has been bringing Pulitzer Prize winners and Nobel laureates and other distinguished speakers to campus since 2013. Attendees will be asked to wear masks.
Yong is a science staff writer for The Atlantic. He was named “the most important and impactful journalist" of 2020 by Poynter and awarded journalism’s top honor, the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting, for his crucial coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.
Yong’s lecture, “The Art of Science Journalism,” will take place at 2:30 p.m. in the Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre in the Moss Arts Center. Hosted by the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science in partnership with the College of Engineering, the event is free and open to the public, but registration is requested.
Yong will be introduced by another person who provided a pivotal scientific voice in the public dialogue around the pandemic: Linsey Marr, the Charles P. Lunsford Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering. Marr is one of the foremost experts on aerosol disease transmission in the U.S., and Yong drew on her expertise for multiple stories as he traced the course of the pandemic.
Well before SARS-CoV-2 made the leap to humans in Wuhan, China, Yong had warned readers about the risk an infectious disease outbreak represented to the U.S. In an article for The Atlantic in 2018, he warned that chronic underfunding of health care, dangerous supply shortages, and faltering leadership had hobbled the country’s ability to mobilize if an epidemic hit. When COVID-19 broke out in the United States in March 2020, Yong outlined the havoc the pandemic could wreak if it was allowed to spread.
His subsequent stories for The Atlantic chronicled the pandemic as it unfolded. As scientists raced to understand how the virus was transmitted and how it behaved in the body, Yong acted as a narrator and interpreter, faithfully translating the evolving science for the public and elevating the work of experts like Marr. Yong’s writing offered a piercing look into the biology at the heart of the disease and the social and institutional context that was shaping the response to it. He gave an unflinching account of the pandemic’s devastating human consequences and the tragedies that were both predictable and preventable.
In addition to the Pulitzer Prize, Yong has won the George Polk Award for science reporting, the Victor Cohn Prize for medical-science reporting, the Neil and Susan Sheehan Award for investigative journalism, the John P. McGovern Award from the American Medical Writers Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science Kavli Science Journalism Award for in-depth reporting.
Yong is also passionate about other areas in science. He is the author of the best-selling book "I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us," a groundbreaking, informative, and entertaining examination of the relationship between animals and microbes. His second book, "An Immense World," published this summer and a New York Times bestseller, takes readers on a guided tour through the diverse ways animals experience the world through their senses. In addition to The Atlantic, his work has appeared in National Geographic, the New Yorker, Wired, Nature, New Scientist, and Scientific American, among others.
The Hugh and Ethel Kelly Lecture Series is made possible by a fund from the estate of Ethel Kelly, who generously supported Virginia Tech and the College of Engineering in honor of her husband, Hugh. Hugh Kelly earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the university and went on to play key roles in multiple groundbreaking projects over a long career at Bell Laboratories.
To honor Hugh Kelly’s technical accomplishments and the couple’s support of Virginia Tech, the College of Engineering and the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science established the lecture series and renamed the institute's headquarters building Kelly Hall in 2013. The Kellys’ generosity has allowed the institute to host Nobel Prize winning scientists, Pulitzer Prize winning authors, and other visionary leaders and thinkers.