Renowned science journalist joins Emory's Center for the Study of Human Health

Emory Report | March 6, 2019

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Veteran journalist and best-selling writer Maryn McKenna, author of “Big Chicken,” has joined Emory's Center for the Study of Human Health as a senior fellow. On March 28, she will deliver a public talk on how consumer advocacy changed federal policy on antibiotic use on farms. Photo by David Tulis.

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Veteran journalist, best-selling author and TED speaker Maryn McKenna has joined Emory College's Center for the Study of Human Health as a senior fellow for 2019. This new position will allow her to bring her expertise in health narrative and media to enrich the experience of undergraduates in the Center and throughout the College and university.

As part of her new role, McKenna will deliver a public talk on “The Volume of Small Voices: How Parents and Chefs Challenged History and Changed U.S. Antibiotic Policy” 6-7:30 p.m., Thursday, March 28, in PAIS 290. Register to attend here.

Her talk will center on the action taken in January 2017 by the Obama Administration (in one of its last acts in office) that banned growth-promoter antibiotics from U.S. farm use, ending a 40-year stalemate between the federal health agencies and the agricultural and pharmaceutical industries. The European Union had banned this antibiotic use more than a decade earlier, yet in the U.S., researchers and activists had battled the policy for decades with little success. 

The talk will draw from the research McKenna did for her bestselling book “Big Chicken” (National Geographic Books, 2017). The untold story of this change, which is likely to reshape food production in America, is that it was due to consumer activism, a collective effort of many actors from chefs and parents to public schools, and the catering departments of major hospitals, McKenna says.

In addition to “Big Chicken,” McKenna is the author of “Superbug,” about antibiotic resistance in medicine, and “Beating Back the Devil,” for which she embedded with the Epidemic Intelligence Service of the CDC. McKenna also is a columnist for WIRED Magazine and writes for The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, National Geographic, Mother Jones, Smithsonian, The Guardian and Scientific American, among many other publications.

At the Center for the Study of Human Health, McKenna will develop courses and skills workshops on health and science communication, addressing writing, multimedia storytelling and public persuasion. The first two workshops will take place this spring for Human Health students and Graduate Partners in Human Health, including “The Secret Strategies of TED Talks” and another on “Writing the Popular Science Book.”

She plans to develop a speaker series and symposia to bring Atlanta and national experts in health storytelling and communication to the Emory campus. She also is expected to teach a human health course on science writing and communication in Fall 2019.

In addition to her books, McKenna’s work has been anthologized in “The Best Science Writing Online” and “The Best American Science and Nature Writing,” and twice in “The Dirt: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Food and Farming.” Her academic writing has appeared in the Annals of Emergency Medicine and the Bulletin of the History of Medicine.

Until December 2018, she was a senior fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University. She also has served as a Poynter Fellow in Journalism at Yale, a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT, and a Knight Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

She graduated from Georgetown University and holds a masters with highest honors from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Prior to becoming a magazine journalist, McKenna was a reporter at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and earlier at the Boston Herald and Cincinnati Enquirer.