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Shawn Otto
Shawn Otto


Nonfiction Author

Shawn's award-winning book The War on Science is the definitive work on science and its relationship to democracy, and on why science has come under political attacks in recent decades. His earlier work, Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America, won the 2012 Minnesota Book Award. Shawn was also the editor of Writers United for All Families, a 2012 collection of writings on marriage equality. His writing has appeared in numerous publications. His article Antiscience Beliefs Jeopardize U.S. Democracy became the most shared story on Scientific American and was named one of the best commentaries in the United States in 2012. 

Science Advocate

Otto is the cofounder and producer of the US presidential science debates, between Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Gary Johnson, and Jill Stein, and between president Barack Obama and his opponents Senator John McCain and Governor Mitt Romney, which became the largest political initiatives in the history of science. They have since been emulated in several other countries. You can see the 2016 top 20 science, engineering, tech, health, and environmental questions and candidates' answers here, which were widely covered in the US and global media.


Speaker and Commentator

Otto is a speaker to conferences and groups worldwide. He frequently appears on TV and radio on the topics of science, "alternative facts," politics, and democracy, and also teaches masters classes on writing, filmmaking, communication, and science education. Otto has delivered keynotes at the US National Academies, the 2009 Nobel Conference, the 2012 U.S. presidential debates series, and many others. He has been a guest on Talk of the Nation: Science Friday several times, he appeared extensively in the 2015 CBC national Canadian radio documentary series Science Under Siege, which was based on his writing in Fool Me Twice, and has done other media worldwide.


Shawn Lawrence Otto's first novel, Sins Of Our Fathers, was named a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, won the NE Minnesota Book Award, and was listed as one of the "Big Indie Books of Fall 2014."  


Shawn is the screenwriter and coproducer of House of Sand and Fog, starring Ben Kingsley and Jennifer Connelly, which was nominated for three Academy Awards. He has written for some of TV and film's top studios and independent producers, and his screenplays have won several awards.

Political Consultant

Otto is an experienced political consultant with a unique understanding of how to advise candidates in targeting and message to create a campaign story that voters embrace. He has numerous statewide and local wins. 


Writer and blogger

In addition to his books and movies, Otto's work and ideas have appeared on CBC, BBC, ABC and other television and radio worldwide, in Science, Scientific American, Nature Medicine, The Week, Rolling Stone, Issues in Science and Technology, Salon, Huffington Post, Minnpost, New Scientist, and many others.



Shawn has served in an advisory capacity for the US National Academy of Sciences and the Union of Concerned Scientists' Center for Science and Democracy, and has advised journalists mounting science debate initiatives in other countries. He is a past board chair of the Loft Literary Center, America's leading literary center. He has been board chair of numerous other nonprofit organizations. 



Shawn's book The War on Science won the 2017 Minnesota Book Award. Shawn was honored with the National Distinguished Public Service Award of the IEEE-USA (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers - the world's largest professional association for the advancement of technology). His book Sins of Our Fathers was a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize, and won the 2015 NE Minnesota Book Award. His book Fool Me Twice won the 2012 Minnesota Book Award. He was a PEN Center USA finalist for his film House of Sand and Fog, which was nominated for three Academy Awards. He won an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation fellowship for best science screenplay; and a McKnight Fellowship for best screenplay. He has received speaker and volunteer service awards from several organizations.


Design & Building

Otto designed his solar- and wind-powered, geothermal green home, "Breezy," and he and his wife Rebecca built it with their own hands in 1995. It has been featured in national and local publications and toured by more than 10,000 people as an example of green architecture.



Otto is married to former Minnesota State Auditor and 2018 Governor candidate Rebecca Otto, and the couple have one son, Jacob. Shawn was a National Merit Scholar who graduated a year early from high school and attended the University of Minnesota at 16. He is an Eagle Scout and a member of Mensa and Phi Beta Kappa. He graduated Magna Cum Laude from Macalester College, where he also taught while a student.


Shawn Otto grew up in Golden Valley, a small suburb immediately West of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His mother, Lilly, was an immigrant from Berlin, Germany and his father, Allan, a native of Minneapolis. Shawn was the second of four children. His older sister, Suli, was physically and mentally handicapped and Shawn shared in providing her care. He began studying architecture as a pre-teen in order to design homes that could better accommodate her wheelchair and other special needs. Suli died a few days after his fourteenth birthday. His two younger sisters are Simone and Sonia. Simone is a neuroscientist and Sonia works in the insurance industry. Shawn also has two sisters from Allan's second marriage to Carolyn Ludwig: Erika, a professional photographer, and Kristen, a journal editor for a gifted children education organization.


Otto enjoys writing, speaking, meeting new people, scuba diving, snorkeling, adventure travel, cross-country skiing, backpacking, canoe treks in the Boundary Waters, hiking, sailing, snorkeling, great cuisine, a great movie, good conversation, beautiful art, great writing, amazing science, woodworking, designing, building, and family.

Shawn Otto
Shawn Otto
Shawn Otto
Shawn Otto
Shawn Otto
Shawn Otto
Shawn Otto


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