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Tuesday, 26 December 2006

Science books of 2006

Another year, another shelf-load of science books. Over on Dan Vergano has his take in The science books of 2006: A bountiful year.

Reading the list, you get the impression that in the USA authors are more adventurous in the subjects they write about. For example, while in the UK we get some fascinating insights into the history of military science, it rarely deals with anything since the Second World War. I certainly can't recall anything here that deals with the current connections between science and the military. Maybe nobody in the UK writes books like this is because the defence world here has abandoned science in its pursuit of better weapons.

As Vergano rightly says "A secret history of modern science could be assembled by looking at the links between military spending and research advances." In the USA they have the beginning s of that history, he says, mentioning "three good books out this year [that] might form chapters in this history". One of these books is by an ABSW member, Nigel Hey, who gave us The Star Wars Enigma: Behind the Scenes of the Cold War Race for Missile Defense.

One way in which the USA looks much like the UK when it comes to science books is the popularity of evolution as a subject. Then again, some of the books Vergano mentions are by Brits. With creationism rearing its head here to, expect this trend to continue.

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Tuesday, 19 December 2006

Twinning and Arab science reporters

When the current issue of The Science Reporter finally arrives – it has been sat at the printers for a couple of weeks – you will find an article on a proposed "twinning" of the ABSW with science writers elsewhere. One idea is that we can support science writers in countries where this is a relatively new profession.

One possible "twin" is the Middle East, where Israeli science writers have had a club for years, but where there was, until now, no association for other countries. This has changed, as we read in the item on SciDev.Net, Arab science reporters get their own association.

The twinning idea will be on the agenda for the AGM in the New Year. All input welcome.

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Wednesday, 13 December 2006

China encourages science communication

With so many companies rushing to do R&D in China, it isn't surprising that the country is clambering on the Public Engagement in Science and Technology bandwagon. SciDev.Net reports that China encourages media to report more on science. The piece says that "the government will encourage publishers to distribute more popular science books in rural areas, with thousands of bookstores and newsstands planned for remote rural areas".

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Brainy writers

They have awarded the prizes for the "Best National Brain Science Writers" that we wrote about earlier. There is a press release from the organisers – the European Dana Alliance for the Brain, the British Neuroscience Association and At-Bristol science centre – over on AlphaGalileo.

Dr Angelica Ronald received the top award in the Researchers Prize category while Dr Rebecca Poole picked up the top title in the General Prize category. They also commended a bright young schoolkid, Flora Devlin, a 6th-form student from Manchester.

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Tuesday, 5 December 2006

Lots of loots for PESTs

The money continues to flood into Public Engagement with Science and Technology (PEST). Research Councils UK (RCUK) has just announced 8 million GBP for new initiative to boost public engagement.

This is for academics, it seems.

"Public engagement encompasses all university and research institute activities that establish and maintain a dialogue with the wider public. The funding will also be used to establish a UK-wide co-ordinating centre to work across the initiative and promote best practice."
Coordination isn't a bad idea, given the number of people engaged in similar activities. But let's hope that there is no heavy hand of central control involved.

With luck these academic PESTs will have a rare flash of humility and will accept that they could use the skills of professional science writers. If so, there could be some opportunities in their for ABSW members.

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Sunday, 3 December 2006

Physics World joins the best books debate

The December 2006 issue of Physics World enters the "best science books" fray. In Simply the best, Martin Griffiths "looks at what distinguishes a great science book from a bad one".

An account on Jon Turney's recent bash at the RI, the article ends up with an invitation to readers, asking them "What is your favourite science book, and why?"

Wednesday, 29 November 2006

EPSRC joins RSS feeding frenzy

Only last week we were talking to the EPSRC's press person in chief, Jane Reck, about RSS feeds. "Soon," she said. Quick as a flash, they have added one for EPSRC Press Releases.

You may have to search for the link. It isn't on the press releases page. Click the above link, or look on their home page.

Saturday, 25 November 2006

Templeton Fellowships in Science & Religion

The deadline for applications for Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellowships in Science & Religion is 15 December. There are details of the fellowships and how to apply here.

Monday, 20 November 2006

More best science books

Science books, as a category, go in and out of favour. At the moment, we seem to be on a high point, with plenty of web sites offering their "best of" lists. This page of Science/Technology Book Reviews describes its list as "a few of the best, most thought-provoking popular science texts to be found. From extraterrestrial life and quantum computing to nanotechnology and artificial intelligence."

Saturday, 18 November 2006

Greatest Science Books?

This time Discover magazine is at the best book game with its pitch for the 25 Greatest Science Books of All-Time. Believe that and you'll believe anything.

And why 25? A real scientist would have picked a prime number.

Monday, 13 November 2006

Journalism Fellowships in Science & Religion

These fellowships have proved controversial in the past, but that's no reason not to pass on the news of this year chance to apply for a Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellowships in Science & Religion. The choice is yours.

"The Fellowships enable journalists to pursue an intensive two-month course of study in issues of science and religion. The programme includes three weeks of seminars at the University of Cambridge in the UK, featuring eminent authorities in the field. Fellows will be paid a stipend and travel expenses to Cambridge. The awards are open to journalists with a minimum of three years’ experience; priority will be given to mid-career and senior journalists. The programme is looking for journalists who show promise of making a significant contribution to the public’s understanding of the complex issues in this field."

Winners of the 2006 AAAS Science Journalism Awards

The AAAS has just announced the winners of its 2006 AAAS Science Journalism Awards.

Sunday, 12 November 2006

African Science Communication Conference

Science communicators in the northern hemisphere can get some summer Sun by going to the African Science Communication Conference in December. ASCC 2006 will happen at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa from 5 - 7 December.

They've just put up their draft programme. This includes a session on journalism, including: Manoj Patairiya, of National Council for Science & Technology Communication, India, on Scientist – Journalist conflict: A barrier to science communication; and Diran Onifade, of the World Federation of Science Journalists, Nigeria, on Professionalising science journalism in Africa.

Friday, 10 November 2006

Naked Scientist wins Science Communication award

As a fan of Naked Scientist, it is good to see that they have won a science communication award. The podders from Silicon Fen have picked up a Science Communication award from the Biosciences Federation (BSF).

Sponsored by Pfizer, the award "recognises research-active bioscientists from UK universities and institutes who make an outstanding and consistent contribution to communicating science to the public".

The £1000 award went to Dr Christopher Smith from the Department of Pathology, University of Cambridge. Somehow, Chris manages to put together this entertaining podcast while also working as a clinical virologist at Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge. In his spare spare time, he also helps the journal Nature in its own podcasting.

Tuesday, 7 November 2006

European Medical Journalists’ Prize 2006

The Bayer Press Server, BAYNEWS, has details of the European Medical Journalists’ Prize 2006. You will be pleased to know that "Scrupulously researched articles dealing with a topic from the worlds of medicine or health care in a critical, comprehensible yet objective manner have an excellent chance of winning the 2006 European Journalists’ Prize."

Bayer HealthCare AG, the sponsor, is working with the Association of German Medical Journalists, but it really is intended to be European. The detailed announcement says that "the European Journalists’ Prize is intended to reflect the significance of medical news reporting both within the borders of Germany and beyond".

The rules (pdf file) say that "Work published during the year in question may be submitted in German or in the language of the country in which it appeared with an English translation. The submitted work must be intended for the public."

The closing date is 31 December. "The prize is endowed with EUR 7,500 and may be split."

NICE work if you can get it

It seems that the pharmaceuticals industry has interesting ways of getting writers to turn up for public hearings.

Over at the Center for Media and Democracy they have an item entitled Drug Company Takes Rap for Burson-Marsteller's Cash Offer to Journalists. This reports that a PR company offered hacks £200 as an inducement to attend a public hearing before the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE), which was considering an appeal against one of its decisions on some drug or another.

It seems that the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (PMCPA), a subset of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, has ruled that the drug company was being naughty. According to their web site, the case deals with "Alleged payment to journalist". The the ruling (a pdf file) suggests that there was a misunderstanding between the drugs maker and its PR company. That didn't wash with the PMCPA.

Monday, 6 November 2006

Junk science on the BBC?

The Register, a quirky tech-heads web site that mars an otherwise good approach with a lazy habit of describing any scientist as a boffin, not to mention other signs of a limited vocabulary, has weighed into the BBC and its science output. The site has provoked a bout of comments from readers along the lines of "they did science better when I was young".

The programme, annoyingly called a program by this English web site, that sparked off the discussion, Null points for BBC Horizon's junk science, was something called "Human v2.0". This prompted Andrew Orlowski to write an item BBC abandons science. His view of Horizon is that "instead of re-examing its approach, the series' producers have taken the bold step of abandoning science altogether".

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Sunday, 5 November 2006

Tony Blair gets science

Just in case you missed it, the Prime Minister of the UK has gone all science on us. The evidence is in the speech Our Nation's Future - Science he delivered last week to "the Royal Society in Oxford".

There was even a sideswipe at the media in there. (Now there's a surprise.) But it wasn't at the science media so much as the rest of the pack who "may demand certainty" that "any new technology is 'absolutely safe'" as the PM put it, before adding that "science cannot provide" that guarantee and "we should not pretend it can".

He even plugged a couple of science books. "We have seen recently some excellent popular books - Steve Jones, Richard Dawkins, Steven Hawking, Bill Bryson, whose A Short History Of Nearly Everything sold over two million copies and which was sent to every secondary school. The BBC and the Open University have some excellent science services." Wonder why he didn't mention any science writers.

Does the Sun spin?

"Award-winning Sun journalist John Perry" will be one of the combatants at an at event at the Science Museum on 9 November.

"The event promises to be a heated discussion into how scientific research becomes news. Questions raised will include: just how accurate is a science story? How did it get there? Why do some stories make the front page while others stay within academic circles? Should the media take a share of the blame for blunders such as the MMR jab?"

While you are there, you can buy copies of Plus Giant Leaps "a collaboration between the Sun and the Science Museum to explain great moments in science in Sun style".

Writing science for tabloids can be a heck of a lot harder than writing for what were once known as "broadsheets," so the book could be an instructive read.

Saturday, 4 November 2006

Press Gazette - UK Journalism News and Journalism Jobs

A piece in UK Press Gazette "British Medical Journal unveils podcast plans" tells us that the venerable quacks bed-time reading is to join the podworld. But not for them some hapless member of staff behind the microphone. "The programmes will feature broadcasters including former Today presenter Sue MacGregor and the BBC's Case Notes presenter, Graham Easton."

Sunday, 29 October 2006

Healthcare Republic delivers press releases

A new web site from Haymarket, Healthcare Republic, covers the medical scene, a small niche in science writing.

Flaks and hacks will both be interested in the announcement that: "Healthcare Republic fast-tracks the latest and best press releases as soon as they are distributed." And the exhortation to "Browse the current releases or submit your own".

Yet another RSS feed to add to that groaning pile.

Friday, 27 October 2006

How to Apply for a PPE Award

They don't say it on the page, but PPE stands for Partnerships for Public Engagement. Go here to read How to Apply for a PPE Award. They might not want to fund hacks in their favoured lifestyle, but you may know someone who needs help in spreading the word about science.

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Thursday, 26 October 2006

Cambridge gets festive

Cambridge, which claims that it "hosts the UK's largest free science festival every year," is looking for things to put on next year.

In 2007, the Festival runs from 14 to 25 March, during National Science and Engineering Week. "The aim is to encourage young people to study science further at school and university; and to engage with the public of all ages on topics of scientific interest and concern."


Saturday, 21 October 2006

The best popular science book

Well, I doubt if Jon Turney would describe it as such, but Jon's admirable campaign to raise the profile of, and the quality of writing in, science books led to an interesting exercise at the Royal Institution.

You will have to read Jon's blog

And the winner is... for the conclusion.

Thursday, 19 October 2006

Bible reading science writer wanted

An interesting item here on the Sciencebase Science Blog, one of the few professional looking blogs from a science writer, Bible reading science writer wanted.

While you are there, check David's list of blogs and podcasts. That man has clearly got too much time on his hands.

Thursday, 5 October 2006

RCUK National Science Week Awards 2007

All eight Research Councils have signed up to fund RCUK National Science Week Awards 2007. Up to £2000 per project. Closing date 20 October 2006.

Tuesday, 3 October 2006

Not much science in the running

The shortlist of Editors of the Year up for the awards from the British Society of Magazine Editors that appears at UK Press Gazette is depressingly thin when it comes to anything with a science angle. Apart from Maureen Rice of Psychologies, who is in the running for the Launch Of The Year category, it is down to Damian Carrington who is shortlisted in the Magazine Website Of The Year Award for If Damian does collect, he will probably have to move to a bigger house to get room for all those awards.

Thursday, 28 September 2006

National Brain Science Writing Prize calls for entries

This press release on AlphaGalileo, BRAINY WRITERS WANTED, brings official details of yet another science writing prize. Probably not one for professional writers though.

Thursday, 21 September 2006

Media savvy scientists

Sense About Science, the lobby group that sets out to protect real science from the barbarian hordes, has put out its VoYS media guide. This one is different in that they did not ask a hack to reveal the secrets of the trade. Instead they put it into the hands of "a team of early career scientists". VoYS stands for Voice of Young Science. They did, though, talk to enough science writers to come up with some juicy quotes.

Amazing Brain Writing Prize

Hot on the heels of the EPSRC's awards for IT writing, here's news of the Amazing Brain Writing Prize. First a word of caution, it means "amazing brain" as opposed to "amazing prize," which is a grand £250. Still, you have to start somewhere.

Coming from the European Dana Alliance for the Brain, and The British Neuroscience Association, the idea is "to find the best brain communicators in the country. We'’re looking for a newspaper style science article of around 650 words on the subject of brain science."

There are two prizes, one open to everyone while the "researchers prize provides an opportunity for those working in brain-research (or related fields) to tell the world about their research".

How about a prize that brings together writing about IT and the brain? After all, the government gave a lot of money to a bunch of researchers to conduct a Foresight study on just this.

Computer Science Writing Competition 2006-07

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has now launched the Computer Science Writing Competition 2006-07 that we trailed earlier. With a bunch of impressive sponsors – the British Computer Society, the Institute of Engineering and Technology and the Royal Academy of Engineering –– there are awards for "everyone, from people who'’ve not had any writing published before to professional science writers".

The deadline for submissions is the end of January 2007, about the same timetable as the ABSW's own annual awards.

Sunday, 17 September 2006

Raymond Baxter dies

The BBC carries the story as TV presenter Raymond Baxter dies. For members of the ABSW, perhaps that should read science enthusiast passes away.

Baxter's Tomorrow's World may be from a different era, but there's a fair bet that for some of us at least his enthusiasm contributed at least in part to the decision to go into science, and perhaps even into science journalism.

Whatever we might think today of Tomorrow's World, especially its insistence on exclusivity for the stuff it covered, no one had come near capturing the same audience for science. They never will in these days of fragmented media.

My own Baxter memory is of an aborted press jaunt to launch, get this, a new razor blade, the original Gillette double-edge blade. With its tradename of Mach 2, it was natural that they would tie the launch to Concorde, then still something of a novelty. Gillette lined up Baxter to MC the event. As luck would have it, they couldn't spare the promised Concorde for the launch, mechanical problems or some such, so it had to happen in one of those ghastly hotels on the perimeter road at Heathrow. Grappling with a recalcitrant AV system, Baxter spent much of the time mercilessly taunting the people who were doubtless throwing a large wad of money in his direction for the event. His comments were along the lines of not being able to organise a piss up in a brewery. Although, as a former Spitfire pilot, he probably used juicier epithets.

Michael Kenward

Thursday, 14 September 2006

Kangaroo court?

There was a paranormal uproar at the BA last week, apparently. Or was there? Ted Nield reports…

Peace reigned at the University of East Anglia. Bunny rabbits hopped in newly mown grass. The lake, undisturbed in the September sunshine, reflected the angles of Sir Denys Lasdun’s famous ziggurats. Meanwhile, deep in the concrete jungle behind them, the British Association Annual Festival of Science was feverishly connecting, engaging and outreaching. From the Broad’s tranquil shore, you would never have known.

But the British public had only 12 hours to wait before quite a different picture would emerge in the pages of The Times, The Daily Telegraph, and The Independent, from which you would think that the shining lake had been a seething morass of angst and bile. Despite all evidence to the contrary, the whole edifice of science was apparently being assaulted and insulted - at the hands of an organisation founded to promote it. Scientists’ screams and moans were drowned only by the occasional sound of breaking glass, as various defenders of scientific rectitude – Lord Winston, Prof. Richard Wiseman, Sir Walter Bodmer, Prof. Peter Atkins and “A Royal Society spokesman” – apparently ripped their heads off in protest and threw them out of the windows. “Uproar at top science forum” thundered the Thunderer. “Festival attacked” screamed the Telegraph. “Scientists angry” asserted the Independent.

Interestingly not one of those allegedly indignant luminaries was anywhere near Norwich at the time. Stranger still, all five managed to utter the identical angry words to all newspapers. How had they done this? Perhaps it was telepathy. Perhaps there was a more rational explanation. What could have moved the grey eminences of science so?

Weird science

As the bunnies hopped, the BA Media Centre organised a press briefing to promote a session taking place later that afternoon entitled Beyond the brain: making science personal. The session’s preamble set the tone:

“Evidence that the effects of the human mind extend beyond the physical brain tend to be dismissed and ridiculed by reductionist science. But just how good is the latest evidence for telepathy, remote cognition and out-of-body experience? Should science accept the first-person perspective... or is it just “new age” woolly thinking?”

The session was due to hear from Dr Peter Fenwick (Scientific and Medical Network) on near-death experiences and Prof. Deborah Delanoy (University of Northampton) on remote cognition. Also present was Dr Rupert Sheldrake (Director, Perrrot-Warwick project on unexplained human abilities, funded by Trinity College, Cambridge) who would present his latest experiments testing the reality of “telephone cognition” – the common experience of receiving calls from people about whom one has just been thinking. The session would be rounded off by a debate, chaired by Quentin Cooper, between the three speakers and the open-minded sceptic, Prof. Chris French (Goldsmith’s College, London).

After listening in respectful silence, the assembled pack posed a few polite questions. Rupert Sheldrake came under closest questioning about the rigour and security of his experiments, which seemed to show a statistically significant indication of telepathic ability among his subject group. But despite the pack’s best efforts, Sheldrake’s methods were not exposed as flawed. Nothing was thrown. All heads remained attached to necks.

French not given

Had one lingered, however, one would have seen the Chair of the Festival Programme Committee Prof. Helen Haste (Bath University) defending the BA’s decision to allow the press conference to proceed in the way it did. Where was the sceptic on the panel? Where was the balance? Why was the BA giving credence to charlatanry? In reply she emphasized the bona fides of all the researchers. Although the work was controversial it had been rigorous and scholarly. French’s presence at the panel discussion later would allow for dissent – though she admitted it was unfortunate that he had not been at the press conference.

“We feel at the BA that we should be open to discussions or debates that are seen as valid by people inside the scientific community, as long as they are addressed in acceptable ways. These seem to be phenomena that are commonly experienced but have not been subjected particularly effectively to scientific investigation. This is a legitimate area of research. I do think it is appropriate at a festival like this to have people who are serious about their approach and scientific methods” she said.

So what, as a science journalist, was one to make of this story? One could quite legitimately write a story saying “scientists uncover evidence of the reality of extra-sensory perception”, which was essentially what Rupert Sheldrake was saying his experiments showed – and many, like Richard Sadler, writing in the Daily Express, did. Julie Wheldon (Daily Mail), took the same approach, but also emphasized scientific criticism and used the drummed-up quote from Prof. Peter Atkins. The Oxford University chemist opined that because there was no reason to suppose telepathy to be “anything more than a charlatan’s fantasy”, researching it was “a complete waste of time”.

Non posse, matey

Yet the BA’s archives are full of discussions of topics regarded by the establishment of the time as little better than witchcraft, but which were later vindicated. The usual reason these ideas were seen, in their time, as voodoo was because no-one (especially physicists) could see how they possibly could work – what is known as the “non posse” argument – denying evidence because of a lack of causative mechanism.

As I found out while researching my forthcoming book Supercontinent – our once and future world (Granta), the BA meeting in Hull in 1923 saw British geologists considering continental drift. According to a report of the meeting in Nature, the main scientific opposition occurred over Alfred Wegener’s (mistaken) idea that the Atlantic had completely opened during the Quaternary. The basic concept of drift itself posed no problems for those present - although in the United States at the time, continental drift theory was universally rejected – even reviled – ostensibly on the basis that no known physics could make it work.

Ironically geophysicists eventually proved the reality of drift – but then, because they themselves had found the clinching evidence, it no longer seemed to matter that they still had very little idea how it actually worked. Physicists had never let the lack of mechanism prevent belief in the Earth’s magnetic field, after all. Physicists were similarly adamant that our planet could not be as old as geologists suspected, because an initially molten Earth would cool to its present condition in a few tens of millions of years. Unfortunately physics hadn’t then heard of radioactivity, whose discovery made a mockery of their assumptions.

Yet at no time did the opposition of the scientific establishment ever hinder the BA discussing these ideas. I was reminded of this when Sheldrake said, at the press briefing, that if his findings about telepathy were vindicated, they would not destroy physics – they would add to it.

Disorder in court

But back to the BA Media Suite. Mark Henderson, whose paper (The Times) devoted most effort and space to scorning the story, told me: “I just didn’t want to be faced with the possibility of having to write a story that said “Experiments suggest telepathy is real”. The BA provided no counter-comment so we went to our contact books. I mean – are we journalists or stenographers?”. Roger Highfield (Daily Telegraph) agreed: “Why was the sceptic allowed to appear later at the session, before say 100 people, but not at the press conference with an audience of millions? That puts you in danger of the sort of coverage it got in the Mail - basically taking the line, with just a little bit of counter-comment tacked on at the end.”

Could Roger not have simply ignored the story, if he disapproved of it so strongly? Apparently not. “The news desk would have been clamouring for a full page – and I’d have written it, gladly, if the research had appeared in Nature or somewhere reputable, but it hadn’t. Scientists don’t take this stuff seriously, so why should we? We have enough crap to wade through as it is. And it’s good to have a little mutiny once in a while, isn’t it?”

Not everyone saw it this way, smelling a controversy being “cooked up”. John von Radowitz (PA) said: “It isn’t our role as journalists to be science’s guardians of virtue or arbiters of good taste. That’s simply not our job. I think what they did was absolutely disgraceful.” This view was echoed by a Times correspondent, Milton Wainwright (Sheffield University) who complained in a letter published later in BA week of “certain self-appointed gatekeepers of science…attempting to halt progress by denying fellow scientists a platform”.

Alok Jha (Guardian), whose 300-word sidebar Telepathy work dismissed as fantasy reported the misgivings of Wiseman and Atkins, who were quoted at length in other broadsheets, but fell short of alleging there had been any “row”. He felt unhappy with other broadsheets’ approach. “I warned the desk what to expect and explained why I was unhappy about it. Luckily they just said “OK – write it short and be sceptical”. They also said: “it sounds like those papers have suffered a sense-of-humour bypass”, which was pretty spot on, I think”.

Not everyone’s desks were so understanding. To the question “how free did you feel to ignore the story?”, answers varied; but everyone I spoke to agreed that any freedom they may have enjoyed was eroded – or removed – by the broadsheets going big. It may well be that their tactic won Sheldrake and co. a lot of coverage they would not otherwise have enjoyed.

Julie Wheldon (Daily Mail), whose piece drew Highfield’s criticism for being too positive, says she would have preferred not to cover the story. She describes the resulting piece, “with a bit of counter-comment tacked on” in Roger’s words, as “the most qualified I have ever written for the Mail, where the general rule is “don’t knock your own story””. Julie also questions the professed outrage at the lack of counter-comment at the briefing. “Isn’t it our job to be the sceptics?” she asks. “And the truth is there was no “row”. In a way, I think, they lied to their readers.”

Dick Ahlstrom (Irish Times), writing in a different market, was able to rise above the whole thing. “I just thought the flimsiness of the evidence hardly justified the conclusions, so I ignored it.” Pallab Ghosh (BBC TV) also deployed the bargepole – though BBC Breakfast, on which he frequently appears, wasn’t able to resist Sheldrake’s claims after all the newspaper coverage. And so I woke up on Thursday to the sight of Bill Turnbull and Kate Silverton interviewing both Sheldrake and French.

Some of the critics were, I hear, surprised by the critical context in which their quotes were put. Roland Jackson, Chief Executive of the BA, was clearly not taking the “row” too much to heart. He told me: 'I was a bit surprised at the tabloid approach taken by some of our more reputable newspapers so I've decided to switch to the Sun. At least they printed a decent telepathy quiz.'

For Helen Haste it provided a juicy new example of media dynamics to include in the science communication course she runs at Bath University. Pallab, too, discovered an unexpected up-side to the whole sorry debacle. “I was initially outraged when I saw that the BA had given a platform for telepathy” he told me. “But once I found out that it had wound up Roger Highfield, I saw that it was a really good idea, and was all for it.”

Monday, 21 August 2006

Computer science writing competition

Look out for a new competition that will be open to "amateur" and professional writers. There's a short note in Connect Issue 43, the newsletter from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

EPSRC will launch the competition in September 2006 in association with the British Computing Society, the Institute of Engineering and Technology and the Royal Academy of Engineering. The idea is "to show people that interesting articles about computer science research can be written".

Sadly, the prizes on offer, top whack £1000, aren't much more than you can get from a publication, and there you don't have to compete with lots of other people. Well, not when you have the commission.

Sunday, 23 July 2006

New ABSW Science Writers' Awards for 2006

The ABSW has a new award for 2006. The BioIndustry Association is sponsoring an award for the "best writing on a healthcare bioscience subject".

The web site also has details of this year's winners.

Tuesday, 20 June 2006

Scientists get advice on how to communicate

The European Commission has come out with a new report that CORDIS News describes as "a 'survival kit' to help scientists communicate their activities to the public more effectively".

The 76-page report 'Communicating Science: A Scientist's Survival Kit', claims that it "provides the essentials for public communication in science and technology for scientists who wish to take this task on in person as well as for those who choose to use the media or professionals".

Unfortunately, the list of "web links" is tilted heavily towards the official view. It is also out of date as it has a link to a report that is no longer available where promised on the web site of Department of Trade and Industry.

Monday, 19 June 2006

EuroStemCell documentary winner

"A film made by scientists working in an EU-funded research programme beat off strong competition from European broadcasters to take top honours at a science media festival in Tromsø, Norway, last week. Scientists from EuroStemCell, a European stem cell research consortium, produced the short documentary "A Stem Cell Story" in collaboration with Edinburgh-based filmmakers."

See the details, with more long sentences, in the announcement on the EU web site: EU research-financed film takes top award at European science media festival.

Sunday, 18 June 2006

NSF Invites Media to Apply to Report From Antarctica on Andrill Paleoclimate Research

The US National Science Foundation (NSF) has put out a press release NSF Invites Media to Apply to Report From Antarctica on Andrill Paleoclimate Research.

The key bit is probably: "Application Deadline: July 15, 2006. U.S. media receive preference in selection.". (Our emphasis.)

Then again, some might balk at this bit: "Medical: Finalists must pass comprehensive physical and dental exams conducted at their own expense by their personal physicians and dentists and subject to screening by the U.S. Antarctic Program. Certain medical conditions may disqualify a candidate from visiting Antarctica, even if initially selected as a media visitor." (Their emphasis.)

Monday, 12 June 2006

Welcome to the ABSW's new unofficial blog

This will be somewhere to pass on details of events and other important news about the ABSW.

It is a way of bringing "RSS" capability to the ABSW.