top of page



He blends science and storytelling to entertain, inform, educate and inspire audiences of all sizes, worldwide.

Mr. Otto was invited to present the opening keynote address before members of our Roundtable who serve in senior leadership positions in government, academia, and business – and he did not disappoint! His talk was provocative and compelling in terms of content, and engaging in its delivery. The rapt attention of the crowd is testament to Mr. Otto’s ability to connect with an audience and take them on a journey. Highly recommended.

—Susan Sauer Sloan, US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

Over two hundred students, faculty, and community members were in attendance for Shawn’s talk, making it one of our largest audiences ever. Shawn’s speech was dynamic, engaging, and educational, with many “aha” moments that left people with a much deeper understanding of today’s greatest challenges. It was a wonderful evening, not only for Lone Star College, but for science and democracy.

—Prof. John Barr, Lone Star College-Kingwood, Houston, Texas

Mr. Otto was a huge hit.  His variously funny, sobering, and motivating lecture was frequently interrupted by laughter and applause.  At the end, the audience gave him a standing ovation, a rarity at this conference where the standards are traditionally very high.

—Gwendolyn Freed, Nobel Conference 


Shawn spoke at a plenary luncheon of 600 water engineers, researchers, and professionals. His message on the critical place of science in today's policy debates was very effective, told with humor, irony, and without regard to political party - he reached everyone in the room.

—Deborah Swackhamer, Co-Director, Water Resources Center


Shawn’s energetic plenary resulted in a standing room only crowd…what was most interesting was how faux science seems to be more acceptable to the general public and our elected officials rather than reality.

—Meg Morris, Chair, NY Federation of Solid Waste Associations


Shawn Otto's talk, "The War on Science,"  was at once entertaining and disturbing.  He truly demonstrated the need for us, as educators, to  help our students build the critical skills necessary to become informed decision makers and active citizens to ensure a functional democracy and the freedom it provides. I highly recommend both his book and his presentation to anyone.

—Paula Ferneza, Science Teacher, New York 

Master Teachers Program


  • Truth Initiative, annual meeting keynote, Pelican Hill, Newport Coast, California
  • West Virginia University Health Sciences Center, annual T32 Symposium keynote
  • South Dakota Public Radio, guest, In the Moment with Lori Walsh, How science skepticism is eroding democracy
  • Genome Writers Guild, keynote, Minneapolis
  • Indiana University, Evolution, Ecology, and Behavior seminar series, Bloomington
  • The Big Read, multimedia talk with folk singer/songwriter John Gorka, Stillwater
  • Entomological Society of America, keynote, Washington, DC
  • Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), multiple lectures, U of MN, Minneapolis
  • Bayer AG, keynote, Leverkusen, Germany
  • Science Teachers Assn of New York, keynote, Rochester
  • Climatecast, Minnesota Public Radio 
  • Wisconsin Science Festival & Wisconsin Book Fesitval, Madison
  • University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, keynote, Norman
  • European Conference of Science Journalists, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Les Journées internationales de la culture scientifique, Montreal, Canada
  • World Law Day, keynote, Minneapolis
  • March for Science, speaker, Washington, DC
  • SciTech Now, PBS Television
  • Lake Superior Free Thinkers, keynote, Duluth
  • Lone Star College, keynote, Houston
  • US National Academies, keynote, Washington, DC
  • Leadership Summit, Colorado School of Mines, Golden
  • Studio TV, New York City
  • Rochester Community & Technical College, keynote
  • C-SPAN, George Washington University, Washington, DC
  • Master Teacher Program, keynote, SUNY Buffalo
  • American Association of University Women, Minneapolis
  • TEDx Mahtomedi
  • Los Angeles Festival of Books, Los Angeles
  • Book Lovers' Ball, keynote
  • Dartmouth College, keynote, Hanover
  • MN Writer program, 28th annual keynote, Cambridge
  • World Conference of Science Journalists, Helsinki, Finland
  • Water Resources conference, keynote, St Paul
  • Presidential Surrogate Debate (Moderator), Washington, DC
  • 60th annual Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture, keynote, New York City
  • CONvergence, Bloomington
  • PRI's Living On Earth, Public Radio Int'l
  • US Presidential Debate Series, 2012 keynote, Denver
  • Science Friday, NPR
  • US EPA, keynote, Washington, DC
  • USA Science & Engineering Festival, Washington, DC
  • NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
  • National Caucus of Environmental Legislators, keynote, Chicago
  • American Physical Society, Washington, DC
  • Society of Environmental Journalists, Miami
  • Moving Planet, PRI
  • University of Missouri, keynote, Columbia
  • U.S. National Academies, Washington, DC
  • European Union of Science Journalists Associations, Brussels, Belgium
  • EuroScience Open Forum, Torino, Italy
  • Association of Neuroscience Departments and Programs, Arlington
  • Federation of New York Solid Waste Associations, keynote, Lake George
  • New York Academy of Sciences, New York City
  • Washington Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC
  • Tech Policy Summit, Silicon Valley





The War on Science: "Alternative Facts" and the Threat to Democracy

“Wherever the people are well-informed," Thomas Jefferson wrote, "they can be trusted with their own government.” It was a new idea, a move away from the authoritarian dictatorships of monarchs. But what happens now, when science has become so advanced that it impacts all of life, yet so complex that relatively few people are well-informed? It's a recipe for disaster and the problem is cropping up worldwide at all levels of government, and on both the political right and political left.  Industry PR firms have developed well-established and methods of undermining public trust in science that hurts the bottom line. Celebrities push pseudoscience and see hidden dangers that aren't there.  And journalists argue there is no such thing as objectivity, so they should cover “both sides” even when one side is facts and the other opinions.  We've seen the predicted results in the example of the COVID-19 pandemic — science and engineering have allowed the human population to vastly multiply, putting humans in closer and more frequent contact with wildlife-borne pathogens, and at the same time they've given us extremely fast international travel and a false sense of personal invincibility.  If someone gets sick with an infectious disease like SARS, Ebola, COVID-19, or the next deadly virus, our whole population can become exposed almost before we know it.  Responding to these emerging crises is challenging because the complexity of science makes us vulnerable to misinformation, and the political and economic implications of the knowledge science sometimes uncovers about our inter-connectedness makes it a target of libertarians, authoritarians, and industry.  At the very time we need it most, public trust in government science has been weakened to the point that it can be denied by policymakers in favor of "alternative facts" on topics ranging from climate change to GMO food, from vaccines to public health to environmental regulations.  As the most scientifically-advanced nation, America was well-positioned to enjoy the best outcome in the world during the COVID-19 pandemic.  But policymakers belittled and attacked scientists whose messages they preferred not to hear, and Americans followed their leaders, suffering the worst outcome in the world instead, costing the US dearly in lives lost, in economic destruction, and in global esteem.  In an age of scientific complexity and confusion, exacerbated by the confirmation bias of individualized social media, it is no wonder that we are seeing a worldwide erosion of democracy and a new rise of anti-science authoritarianism.  We have simply got to find a better way.  We will explore the roots of this crisis and what we can do to turn things around before it’s too late.

Climate Truth

Are your audiences confused by the various claims about climate change? Want them to learn what's true and what's not and how to tell the difference? Are you curious about what the solution is? Have some favorite anti-climate talking points you want debunked? This is your talk. Climate change is now said by the US president to be a "hoax" perpetrated by scientists with economic motives. The same was once said about the theory of relativity. “This world is a strange madhouse,” Einstein wrote a friend in 1920. “Currently every coachman and every waiter is debating whether relativity theory is correct. Belief in this matter depends on political party affiliation.”  Shawn explains what we do and don't know, and exposes the major disinformation campaigns used to keep us from grappling with this enormous issue — and lays out the best policy path forward based on all the known evidence.


Journalism and Objectivity

Did you know that most journalists still believe that "there is no such thing as objectivity?" For years Shawn spoke to audiences of reporters, warning them about the rise of "alternative facts", antiscience, and authoritarianism, and how their reporting was, in part, enabling this. And yet we live in a time when the objective information generated by science is have a larger and larger input into nearly every policy decision our governments must make. Shawn tells what he learned on the presidential campaign trail about the modern approach of journalists to objectivity and truth, and how it differs from the approaches of scientists and lawmakers, with humorous but also very serious consequences. We'll explore ways journalism can evolve to fit current and future circumstances and what both journalists and the public can do to help make that happen. Perfect for general audiences and - especially - for journalists.


Teaching Passion for Science in an Anti-Science World

ESPECIALLY FOR EDUCATORS. In an age of increasingly complex science, what is the role of the science educator in creating Jefferson's "well-informed" citizen? How can we reimagine the role in a way that works better for both students and teachers, and what are some strategies for introducing a focus on process back into our curriculum in a time so focused on outcomes? Shawn shows how teaching science civics, using current science-antiscience controversies, and holding classroom "science debates" can offer educators powerful new tools to teach science, and to explore the fundamental questions underlying a good science education: What is real? How do we know things? What is life? How do we make good decisions? How does knowledge differ from opinion? How can you tell if you are being fooled? Teachers will gain new and exciting jumping-off points for lesson plans that will equip non-science-oriented students to be better citizens, and inspire science-oriented students in profound and unforgettable ways, creating the visionary explorers and  innovators of tomorrow.


Mastering Story

Our brains interpret reality by creating stories. Stories are how we organize our history and our daly lives. Science itself is a giant collective narrative of what we have learned and how we've learned it. To communicate as effectively as possible in any setting from a corporate board room to a street corner, mastery of story is essential. This is a master-level talk and/or class on narrative. From films to novels to nonfiction, from TED talks to television to radio, from religion to branding to winning a political campaign to creating the hottest-selling new game, master storytellers use these tools to communicate ideas and emotions in the most meaningful, compelling, powerful, and uniquely fresh ways possible. In this workshop, Shawn will take students or an audience on a mind-bending journey through the understory of creativity and storytelling, from learning how to find, develop and focus an idea, to developing and driving a narrative toward an unsettling and powerful conclusion. This special talk sheds light on the workings behind great writing, and will set listeners' minds ablaze with new inspiration, helping them to tell their own stories as successfully and compellingly as possible.


Drumbeats of the American Dream

A reading from Shawn's literary award-winning crime novel Sins of Our Fathers, coupled with a fascinating and enlightening exploration of the ways federal policy legally denies native people criminal justice and keeps them economically depressed.  We'll explore the bizarre legal maze woven by the early Supreme Court's Marshall trilogy, the 1978 reaffirmation that tribes may not prosecute white people for crimes they commit on a reservation, and the declination rates of non-native prosecutors. We will discuss the shocking ways these policies have made it harder for banks to provide mortgage loans on reservations and for tribes to fund basic government operations, and we'll explore ways that policies could be changed to enable a renaissance of economic growth and hope in America's native nations. 

When Faith Created Science

Shawn will deeply engage your religious audience in exploring the intertwined relationship of science and religion, from Bhagdad's House of Wisdom and the Mu’tazilites, to al-Haytham's development of what we now call the Scientific Method, the fall of science in Islam and its rise in Europe, through the age of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation, through the emergence of modern science from Christianity, through the birth of modern law and concepts of government, and into the current day. As science refines our knowledge, it forces us to refine our values, creating a dynamic tension with religion (and government and law) that can yield new insights into meaning and life.

Master Classes

Shawn provides masters classes and in depth workshops for university film, english, theater, and science education programs, and for NGOs and contractors. Topics include those above, as well as secrets of successful adaptation, structure, character, action, how to enter the film business, the differences between a novel and a screenplay, how to hold a student science debate, and much much more.

Booking and Rates

To inquire about booking a speaking engagement or masters class, please use the form here

bottom of page