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In Defense of Science

June 4, 2020 @ 4:00 pm - 5:15 pm


Jonathan D. Gertner, Visiting Lecturer in the Humanities Council; McGraw Professor of Writing (Spring 2020)



Peter Brown ’70, Freelance science writer, former editor-in-chief of The Sciences and Natural History magazines  

Pamela Belluck ’85, Staff writer at the New York Times

David Malebranche ’90Associate Professor of Medicine and the Medical Director of Student & Employee Health, Morehouse School of Medicine

Valerie Weiss ’95, Award winning filmmaker and scientist

Rebecca Boehm ’05, Economist, Food and Environment program at Union of Concerned Scientists

Aleka Gürel ’15, Manager, Partnerships at HealthSherpa


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Jonathan D. Gertner
Visiting Lecturer in the Humanities Council; McGraw Professor of Writing (Spring 2020)

Jon Gertner is a veteran journalist, editor, and author. Currently a contributing writer at The New York Times Magazine, he is best known for his work on science, technology, innovation, business, and society. His first book, The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation, was a New York Times bestseller. His new book is The Ice at the End of the World: An Epic Journey into Greenland’s Buried Past and Our Perilous Future.




Peter Brown ’70
Freelance science writer, former editor-in-chief of The Sciences and Natural History magazines  

Peter G. Brown ’70 majored in math at Princeton, writing his thesis under Prof. Charles Fefferman, and minored in The Daily Princetonian, under the watchful eye of “Professor” Larry DuPraz (that’s only partly a joke, folks). Peter earned his Ph.D. from Emory University, writing a dissertation on Wilfrid Sellars’s philosophy of science and language. Philosophical “logic-chopping” proved to be a perfect warmup act for a career in science journalism. After cutting his teeth at Scientific American and Physics Today, he was named editor-in-chief of The Sciences magazine in 1989. When its publisher closed The Sciences, in 2001, he was appointed editor-in-chief of Natural History magazine. Subsequently, he has shared his expertise as an independent editorial and website consultant. As a volunteer, he served as Chair of the Board of Editorial Direction of the Princeton Alumni Weekly, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the American Society of Magazine Editors. Throughout his career, fact-checking, scrubbing ambiguity, seeking clarity, and maintaining editorial integrity have been daily reference points: all as lethal to “fake news” as sunlight is to a virus.

Magazines under Peter’s leadership have won four National Magazine Awards, the most coveted prize in magazine journalism; they were NMA finalists an additional seven times. He is particularly proud that creationists added his name to their enemies list, for his defense of Darwinism and science education. Outside his professional life, Peter shares his love for hiking and choral singing with his wife, Susan. She leaves the caving, figure skating and skiing to him. They live in New York City, but they’re sheltering in place near New Paltz, NY.


Pamela Belluck ’85
Staff Writer at the New York Times

Pam Belluck is an award-winning health and science writer for The New York Times, whose recent honors include a Pulitzer Prize and the Nellie Bly Award for Best Front Page Story. Her recent articles about the coronavirus pandemic have reached millions of readers, including a piece about a man who spent 32 days on a ventilator, barely escaping death, and another about a boy struck with heart failure from a mysterious new inflammatory syndrome.

Belluck is the author of the acclaimed book Island Practice, a true tale about a colorful, contrarian doctor on Nantucket whose patients have included a hermit in a vine igloo, various Kennedys, Jimmy Buffett, and a sheep with a prolapsed uterus. She received a Fulbright Scholarship and a Knight Journalism Fellowship, was selected as a Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University, and served on the TEDMED Editorial Advisory Board and on a journalism advisory committee for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Her work has been chosen for The Best American Science Writing. 

In 2015, her coverage of the Ebola crisis with six other Times staffers won the Pulitzer Prize, an Overseas Press Club award, and an AAAS Kavli Science Journalism award. In 2019, her project about efforts to heal women who have experienced trauma and damage from female genital cutting was given the Nellie Bly Award for Best Front Page Story, as well as a Samuel Lawrence Foundation Award honoring “life-changing efforts in medicine, science, education and the arts around the world.”

Belluck has given talks in many venues, from the National Academy of Sciences to the Galapagos Islands. She is also a jazz flutist.


David Malebranche ’90
Associate Professor of Medicine and the Medical Director of Student & Employee Health, Morehouse School of Medicine

David J. Malebranche, MD, MPH, is a board-certified Internal Medicine physician and public health official with expertise in men’s health, student health, racial inequities in medicine, and LGBT health, as well as the prevention and treatment of HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI). He is currently an Associate Professor of Medicine and the Medical Director of Student & Employee Health at Morehouse School of Medicine. Dr. Malebranche is an experienced qualitative HIV behavioral prevention researcher who has completed several studies on sexual health among Black men of diverse sexualities. 

Dr. Malebranche has published over 50 articles in medical and public health journals such as The Annals of Internal Medicine, The American Journal of Public Health, JAMA, and the Lancet, He is known as a dynamic speaker worldwide and has appeared in documentaries on CNN, ABC News Primetime, TV One, and Black Entertainment Television (BET) for his expertise on HIV in the Black community. Dr. Malebranche served as a member of the President’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) from 2006 – 2008 and was the HIV clinical expert on WebMD from 2010 – 2012. He also appears in the video series #AsktheHIVDoc, which promotes HIV education on prevention and treatment, and Revolutionary Health, a YouTube health series that is part of The Counter Narrative Project, an advocacy organization for Black same gender loving men. In 2015, Dr. Malebranche published his first book, a memoir about his father entitled Standing on His Shoulders. He currently resides in Atlanta, Georgia.


Valerie Weiss ’95
Award winning filmmaker and scientist

Valerie Weiss is an award-winning scientist and filmmaker currently living in Hollywood. Most recently, she was prepping a movie for Netflix in Vancouver when production (and the world) shut down due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.  Valerie embarked on her dual track in science and storytelling when she majored in Molecular Biology and earned a Certificate in Theater and Dance at Princeton University. Unwilling and unable to choose between her two passions, Valerie matriculated at Harvard Medical School where she earned her Ph.D.in Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology and a Masters in Medical Sciences. The directing bug never subsided and Valerie founded The Harvard Dudley Film Program where she honed her filmmaking skills. Two weeks after wrapping her first movie, she successfully defended her thesis in X-ray Crystallography and decided to move to Hollywood. Since making the leap to full-time director, Valerie has participated in the American Film Institute’s Directing Workshop for Women, directed three feature films and was selected as the winner of the Fox Filmmaking Lab, an initiative to find the next female director to helm a major feature franchise. Valerie has directed 20 episodes of television and her work has spanned both streaming and network arenas. She has directed shows like Outer Banks (Netflix, co-created by Princeton alum Jonas Pate), Why Women Kill (CBS All Access), medical shows like Chicago Med (NBC) and The Resident (Fox), Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder for Shondaland (ABC), and the mid-season finale of Prodigal Son (Fox). Her work has been called “daringly light” for the way it embraces controversial topics in an enchanting way and spans the genres of action, thriller, drama, sci-fi and comedy. RogerEbert.com calls her second feature, A Light Beneath Their Feet, “Emotionally raw and uncommonly observant…By turns endearing, unsettling, and ultimately moving, [it] is a triumph of empathetic filmmaking.” Valerie’s third feature, The Archer, premiered at SXSW in 2017 and Filmmaker Magazine called it “an exercise in nail biting suspense that reminds one of early John Carpenter and Kathryn Bigelow.” Additionally, Valerie has a tremendous gift for eliciting moving and authentic performances, likely stemming from her curious point-of-view as a scientist and examines all human behavior without judgement or prejudice. Valerie is a member of the Directors Guild of America and is represented by CAA, Bauman Management and Ziffren Brittenham LLP. Valerie lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Rob Johnson ’92, two daughters and goldendoodle, Murphy. She is disappointed that her 25th Princeton Reunion will be celebrated virtually this year but also grateful to get another crack at it next year in person.


Rebecca Boehm ’05
Economist, Food and Environment program at Union of Concerned Scientists

Rebecca Boehm is an economist with the Food & Environment program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. In her role, she conducts applied economic research to advance the development of a healthier, more sustainable, and equitable food system. Prior to joining UCS, Dr. Boehm was a postdoctoral fellow at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut, with a joint appointment in the UConn Agricultural and Resources Economics Department’s Zwick Center for Food and Resource Policy.

Her research has focused on understanding the implications of food choices for climate mitigation and adaptation, evaluating federal nutrition programs including the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive program, and assessing public health interventions to encourage healthy eating among children. While at UCS, Dr. Boehm has conducted research in partnership with American Oversight to hold the Trump Administration accountable for its attacks on USDA science agencies. Her research has been published in various peer-reviewed journals including Climate, Food Policy, Journal of Nutrition Education Behavior, Advances in Nutrition, and Public Health Nutrition.

Dr. Boehm has a BA in ecology and evolutionary biology from Princeton University, and a MS and PhD from the Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and the Agriculture, Food, and Environment program. She has been quoted in the Chicago Tribune, Vice Munchies, the Washington Post, among other outlets.


Aleka Gürel ’15
Manager, Partnerships at HealthSherpa

Aleka Gürel ’15 majored in history of science at Princeton, and continued her studies at the University of Cambridge, where she completed an M.Phil. in history and philosophy of science. Her research focused on the history of reproductive medicine, culminating in a thesis analyzing changing conceptions of the ideal IUD user in late 20th century Britain. She then spent two years as a research analyst at the UCSF Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health coordinating a study on autonomy in contraceptive decision making. In 2018 she joined HealthSherpa, an ACA-only insurance broker and the leading private channel for ACA Marketplace health coverage enrollment, with over 3 million Americans enrolled since 2014. She now serves as HealthSherpa’s policy lead and manager of employer and nonprofit partnerships. Throughout her academic and educational career she has focused on ensuring people are able to easily and affordably access the care they need, and played a key role in HealthSherpa’s development of a mobile-friendly Medicaid tool that has already helped over 10,000 low income Americans apply for no-cost health coverage. In her spare time, she is a keen cook and baker, an obsession that has only been exacerbated by months of sheltering in place.


June 4, 2020
4:00 pm - 5:15 pm
Event Category:


Princeton University
Princeton, NJ 08540 United States
(609) 258 - 3000