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Sunday, 23 December 2007

A new editor for Science

It has always been difficult to fathom what the journal Science means by the title "editor". For most of the leading journals, such as Nature and the medical publications, it is a professional journalist with experience on other publications. While Science does have its fair share of these folks, the top job, what they call the editor-in-chief, is usually a leading scientist whose previous experience is in filling the pages of the journals with the results of their research.

The AAAS, owner of Science, or perhaps it should be the other way round, given the journal's importance to the finances of the association, has continued the tradition with the
News Release announcing that the new editor is to be Bruce Alberts.

Alberts's other roles underline the point. He is president emeritus of the US National Academy of Sciences and was chair of the National Research Council between 1993 and 2005. Alberts, whose day job is as professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco, "will become the 18th editor-in-chief of Science since its inception in 1880".

Thursday, 20 December 2007

King departs waving two fingers at the media

The outgoing chief scientific advisor to the Government, Sir David "Dave" King, clearly has not caught the spirit of the season. Not for him a cheery ho ho as he packed up his office and made the final trips in his much touted hybrid vehicle. Instead he slammed into the media for its coverage of scientific issues. The UK Press Gazette sums up the story in its item, Science chief: Press fixation with health risk stories is killing children.

UKPG got in and talked to Sir David on his final days in office. It tells us that Sir David accepts that "scientific reporting has “improved dramatically” in the seven years he has been chief scientist and praised the Mail, Today and others for their regular, reliable reporting. But he warned that “papers are more interested in reporting the risk” the public may face in science stories than “the truth”."

Given the targets in Sir David's sights – as well as praising the Today programme and the Daily Mail he complains about their treatment of GM foods and MMR – it is hard to disagree with him. With very few exceptions, Ben Goldacre in The Guardian for example, you won't find much media criticism of these outlets, or of any other media coverage of science, confirming the old adage that when it comes to the media dog does not eat dog.

Funnily enough, Sir David does not have any complaints about climate change and how the media covers it. Perhaps that is because it is difficult for "climate deniers" to get a hearing.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Science and the media as a hot topic

Some science writers may find it a bit worrying to be the subject of the sort of research that they sometimes have to report. Others might like to chortle at the misconceptions out there. Both camps will find something to confirm their prejudices over at Intute: Health and Life Sciences which has added Science and the media to its series of "Hot Topics".

There are links to interesting documents. They even have a small plug for the ABSW.

Intute, since you asked, is "a free online service providing you with access to the very best Web resources for education and research".

Other hot topics that might be of more long-term interest include "Hospital Superbugs and Infection Control," "Animal diseases: an international perspective," and "Museums and Libraries Online".

Friday, 7 December 2007

Nanotechnology and the media

The Wilson Center started its Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies in 2005, around the time that the media frenzy on the subject started. The project "is dedicated to helping business, governments, and the public anticipate and manage the possible health and environmental implications of nanotechnology".

The centre runs occasional web events. There is a new webcast scheduled for 18th December with the title Nanotechnology and the media: The inside story.

The event plans to investigate, among other questions:

  • Is media coverage of nanotechnology’s potential risks growing?
  • If so, who or what is driving articles in national newspapers and newswires—environmental and consumer organizations, scientists, law makers, or industrial and financial groups?
  • How do broadcast journalists decide to cover a nanotechnology story, especially one about possible risk-benefit tradeoffs?
  • Do radio and television correspondents face special challenges reporting on a technology which most Americans do not know about and which is on a scale invisible to the human eye?
One of the more interesting bits of the event could be the presentation by Professor Sharon Friedman who will present will present her latest results "from tracking seven years of newspaper and wire service reporting of nanotechnology risks in the United States and United Kingdom".

Science in the media goes up the poll

"Television was the most popular (61%) and most trusted (47%) medium for information about science, though there was a preference for traditional (47%), rather than thematic (27%) TV channels." That is how the EU sums up the findings of the latest survey of "attitudes to science in the media".

Check out the Press Releases on Europa. The headline sums it up: "Big differences still exist between Member States in attitudes to science in the media".

The press release marks the European Forum on Science Journalism in Barcelona on 3-4 December. The page also has links to the full survey, along with "Two special surveys of European scientists and media professionals" which are supposed to "identify key issues impacting the coverage of scientific information, and the professional challenges of science journalism across Europe".

Check out the "survey of European media professionals on how European research is presented and covered in and by the media". There is also the European Guide to Science Journalism Training "giving, for the first time, a full picture of training opportunities for science journalists across Europe".

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Is this another new disease?

Every now and then, there is an outbreak of the well known infection of telling journalists how to do their job. The latest flair up comes from The Academy of Medical Sciences which has just put out the report Identifying the environmental causes of disease.

According to the summary, this "sets out five key recommendations and offers guidelines for the wide range of stakeholders involved in generating, communicating and translating research into the environmental causes of disease into policy and practice". The academy set up the study "to address increasing scepticism amongst professionals and members of the public that had arisen when claims from one such study were so soon reversed by those of another".

Given the "public" angle in there, it is no surprise that the document deals with communication. That's why there is a separate section on how to get the message across to hacks. They dress this up as "Guidelines for science or medical writers and journalists".

That is their first mistake, science and medical writers aren't the source of most of the propblems. These happen when such stories fall into the hands of people who are not familiar with how science works.

There is also an interesting section "Communicating the findings from causal research". This makes the important point that when it comes to communication "the prime responsibility lies with the researcher to communicate accurately, clearly and fairly what the study set out to do, how it sought to accomplish its aims and how secure were the findings, as well as the confidence that can be placed on causal conclusions, and the generalisability of the conclusions to the population at large."

They weren't quite devoid of knowledgeable input when they wrote this. Along with lots of eminent professors and scientists there was one Dr Geoff Watts, FMedSci, Freelance Science and Medical Journalist.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Chinese science communicators build a network

With the country graduating more new scientists every year than any other country, Chinese science has always been worth watching. It is especially so now that the country has become the world's manufacturing powerhouse. It won't be long before it makes even bigger waves on the technology front, which is why anyone who can read Chinese will profit from a visit to the China Science Reporting Network.

The network describes itself as "a public welfare network composed of Chinese science media workers, scientists willing to communicate science to the public, and public information officers of science institutes and innovation-based industries".

The CSRN's "manifesto" could easily describe the work of the ABSW. "It is aimed at improving and enriching scientific news reporting; advancing the abilities of scientific journalism; and promoting the exchange between science and health journalists and between journalists, science community and innovation-based industries."

It might be a good port of call for any science writer planning a visit to China. Then again, much like the ABSW, CSRN is, as it says, "a voluntary network without regular office and staff".

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Santa Fe Science Writing Workshop

It looks more like an activity holiday, with campfire folk singing thrown in, but the Santa Fe Science Writing Workshop certainly attract some eminent science hacks. They have now thrown open the doors for applications for next year's bash from 19 to 24 May.

Friday, 16 November 2007

AAAS - Mass Media Fellows

"Increasing public understanding of science and technology is a principal goal of AAAS, so it only makes sense that it recognizes the need for scientists who are well versed in communicating complex ideas to a general audience. Enter the AAAS Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellows program, which has thrived in this endeavor for more than 30 years."

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Twins across the water

The twinning programme created by the World Federation of Science Journalists has begun to bear fruit. Nadia El-Awady, President of Arab Science Journalists Association, has written a note on WFSJ News about a visit to Washington to attend the annual meeting of the US's National Association of Science Writers (NASW). "The visit was supported by a generous US$10,000 grant provided equally by NASW and CASW." That's the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

ABSW member Nigel Hey is a jolly good fellow

The Council of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has elected ABSW member and nonfiction writer Nigel Hey as a Fellow for his "meritorious service in the communication of science through four decades of sustained accomplishment in public affairs, science writing, editing, and publishing".

His latest book, "The Star Wars Enigma," was published in hardback in 2006 by Potomac Books, and in paperback in October 2007.

Each year the AAAS council elects members whose "efforts on behalf of the advancement of science or its applications are scientifically or socially distinguished."

Nigel currently lives in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico. Like most "retired" science writers, he refuses to hang up his typewriters ribbons and now he runs his own business as writer and media consultant.

Friday, 26 October 2007

London's WCSJ web site

It was only while browsing the web site of the World Federation of Science Journalists that we discovered that someone has quietly assembled a site for the 6th World Conference of Science Journalists. It isn't just a marker in the sand either, there is some real detail there of the aspirations for the programme.

We'll have to add a link to the ABSW's various web sites. Then we can ask them to put all link back to use on the page about the ABSW.

Only two years to go before the big event. Start preparing now! Especially if you can sponsor the event in some way.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

EICOS hands-on lab 2008

The European Initiative for Communicators of Science (EICOS) has invited applications for places on next year's Hands-on Laboratory. It takes place from Saturday 17 May 2008 to 24 Saturday 2008 with the opportunity to move on to an Extended Laboratory Assignment for up to two weeks.

More details and a[pplications forms here.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

New contact at ITN

The Cision bulletin, open only to subscribers, tells us that:

Rob White is now Producer and and main contact for press releases for the ITN Science and Health Unit. Rob takes over from Clare Donaldson and his contact email address is

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Ugandan Agenda

Our Uganda twin association, the Ugandan Science Journalists' Association, has developed an agenda for action over the coming year. William Odinga, the Association Chair, would value anyone's comments! He writes:

Dear Twin, these are the ideas we are grappling with (at least to take USJA through the coming year). I am sharing them with anybody who cares to listen:

1. A retreat to develop the USJA constitution: A small group of journalists and scientists, plus a facilitator (a lawyer) should see to the success of this. This should take place in December 2007.

2. A secondary schools science challenge (read "quiz") on TV for January - June, 2008. It will run one hour a week. We have the technical capacity to make it both educative and entertaining. If the show becomes popular, we carry on with it even after June.

3. Four science journalism training workshops per quarter, starting early 2008. We have divided our target group into four regions (Central, North, East and West). Each region will have a workshop per quarter.

4. The Uganda National Conference for Science Communication (the first of its kind) in November 2008. Lessons learned from the 5th World Conference of Science Journalists and Barbie’s book on setting up science journalism associations. If it goes as I wish, this event shall take place every year preceding the WCSJ. During the 2008 conference we shall hold our Annual General Meeting and elect a new executive committee.

5. A science communication workshop for scientists facilitated by experienced science communicationists -- preferably our counterparts from developed countries. Emphasis is to be put on how scientists can enhance their communication skills.

Item No.1 is the most urgent as it establishes the association (recruitment of members depends a lot on that).

Please join us in developing the concepts for the items mentioned above. We have started making local alliances and hopefully they will pay off to a substantial degree.

William Odinga

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

An ice breaking competition for science journalists

Here is a Competition for science journalists with a real prize, "a week aboard an Arctic icebreaker". And that includes "transportation from your home country".

In April 2008, you could join "journalists from all over the world for a week aboard the Canadian research icebreaker Amundsen".

The World Federation of Science Journalists—in collaboration with the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the International Polar Year Circumpolar Flaw Lead Project—announces a competition offering science journalists the chance to win one of three week-long trips aboard the Canadian research icebreaker Amundsen. You will fly all the way to Inuvik (Canada), and hop aboard a Twin Otter aircraft to the famous icebreaker, where you will get first hand experience of global warming where it is unfolding the fastest.

The last time I was in Inuvik, a good 20 years ago, it was like the Wild West with snow. But a very interesting church building. That was back when the oil business was booming. And, boy, did the ice need breaking? The oil rigs were miles out to "sea" beneath many feet of ice, which our plane landed on.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

The solution solution

It is always interesting to see what crops up in the Cision Media Bulletin. It is where I first discovered that Damian Carrington had defected from New Scientist, where he ran the web team, to take up a similar role at the Financial Times.

It isn't often, though, that the newsletter provokes a chuckle. The latest issue has an item that will appeal to anyone who reads Private Eye and appreciates its "Solutions" column.

Environmental Technology Publications Ltd are due to launch a new title in April 2008 which will be titled Pollution Solutions and covers water and waste water equipment, air clean up, consultancy services, soil remediation and waste handling. The contact for the title is Marcus Pattison the Publisher and he can be contacted on 01727 858840 and
As well as raising a smile, it may also offer an outlet for science writers, which is our excuse for passing it on, with all the gory details.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

SciVee, a YouTube for scientists

Yet another attempt to create a "social network" for specialists. This time the idea is to give scientists the opportunity to "upload published papers, as well as a podcast presenting the paper".

We read about SciVee on CORDIS, the EU's news site, which tells us that the people backing the venture include the Public Library of Science (PLoS); the US' National Science Foundation (NSF) and the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC). This probably explains why "authors must have published their paper in an open access journal in order to upload it to SciVee."

The site itself says that "Created for scientists, by scientists, SciVee moves science beyond the printed word and lecture theater taking advantage of the internet as a communication medium where scientists young and old have a place and a voice."

As the note on Cordis points out, it is mostly biological material at the moment. But these are early days.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Naked Scientists in awards race

A press release from the University of Cambridge reports that "The interactive science radio show The Naked Scientists has received two nominations for this year's international Podcast Awards, the electronic equivalent of the BAFTAs."

It isn't clear why they call them BAFTAs rather than Oscars, but that's Cambridge for you.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Deadline looms for AAAS Science Journalism Award

There is time, just, to get entries in for this year's AAAS - Science Journalism Award. "All entries must be postmarked on or before midnight of 1 August 2007."

The web site has PDF files of entry forms and details of what qualifies.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Syngenta's final fling for the ABSW Science Writers' Awards

A good time was had by all who attended the Syngenta ABSW Science Writers' Awards, the last year of the company's sponsorship of the event. Check the web site not just for the details of who picked up this year's prestigious awards, including the new awards for "The best writing on a healthcare bioscience subject." but for pictures of all the schmoozing and boozing.

Want to join the fun? Start filing away stuff for next year's competition. Or you could, if you can afford it, become a sponsor.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

AthenaWeb bids to be the YouTube of science

First set up in 2005, AthenaWeb was recently relaunched as what the notice on AlphaGalileo calls AthenaWeb – Take 2. The announcement describes it as "an all-in-one web-workstation for science communicators to broadcast their films, build contacts, promote their businesses, swap news, blog ideas, publish findings, and work on their programmes and projects from anywhere in Europe, or the world".

The service aims itself at science communicators. AthenaWeb's web site has a top 5 "hit videos as well as an RSS news feed. The list of Science & media events looks like an itinerary for a pretty good tour of Europe, make that the world, they even list the "2007 World Congress of Science and Factual Producers" which happens in November in New York City.

EuroWistdom coming to a screen near you?

EuroWistdom (European Women in Science TV Drama On Message) has handed out a bunch of grants to TV writers to help them to "develop ideas for new TV drama series or feature length TV films on a theme involving contemporary science and technology that also give prominence to women as scientists or engineers".

The announcement of this initiative on AlphaGalileo, Leading Writers Across Europe Take On Science Stories For Television Drama, has details of the projects. There is also a lot more on EuroWistdom at its own web site.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Clear winner of security award

Proving that you don't have to be a computer hack to win an IT industry award, Paul Marks of New Scientist has been named "IT Security Journalist of the Year" in the IT Security journalism awards. BT's announcement of the results said that Paul, Senior Technology Writer on that illustrious magazine, "impressed the judges with the clarity of his writing, the breadth of his coverage, and the depth of his industry knowledge".

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

EUSJA trip to meet Nobel laureates

Does anybody fancy going to Lindau, Germany (Closest airport is Zurich
in Switzerland) for the 57th meeting of noble laureates in Physiology or
Medicine? 50 Laureates will be meeting 500 of the world's most talented
young scientists of tomorrow.
This EUSJA study trip takes place from 1st - 6th of July. You have to
pay your own travel costs, the hotel is paid for and you will receive
100 euros towards any meals that are not provided.

Please let me know if you would like a place ASAP.

Barbie Drillsma
Association of British Science Writers (ABSW)
Wellcome Wolfson Building
165 Queen's Gate
0870 770 3361

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Author finds happiness at the Royal Society

Just in case you missed it, the announcement of this year's winners of the prizes run by the Royal Society, Pursuit of happiness leads to top science book prize.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

AAAS - Science Journalism Award

It is that time again. They have fired the starting pistol for this year's AAAS - Science Journalism Award.

Stuff written 1 July 2006 through 30 June 2007. "All entries must be postmarked on or before midnight of 1 August 2007."

Journalist's Workshop in Nanotechnology

A sprig of Cornell University, the Kavli Institute at Cornell, is running a Journalist's Workshop in Nanotechnology.

"Program highlights include: Primer on nanoscale science; hands-on experiences in nanotechnology labs; one-on-one meetings with faculty and inventors."

It is in the run up to the 30th Anniversary Celebration: The Future of Nanotechnology.

Seems to be an opportunity to get your hands dirty in a small way.

Thursday, 3 May 2007

Tim Radford bangs the drum for science books

The recently retired science editor, and former literary editor, of The Guardian, Tim Radford, continues to merge his enthusiasms for science writing and literature. Queerer than we suppose, Tim's take on science books, accompanied the paper's coverage of this year's prizes.

Lots of nice quotes. "In a good science book, you are likely to read not just something you have never read before but something nobody has written before."

And he even managed to provoke a debate among readers. Perhaps there is life in the science book after all.

Big award for small science mag

The staying power of the Bull. At. Sci. never ceases to amaze. There may be few atomic scientists around, but they hang in there, with a changing agenda that always seem to keep up with what is going on at the ethical edges of science.

Never mind the fact that their "minutes to midnight" doomsday clock is a bit of a PR gimmick. Who wouldn't delight in inventing such a nice "brand name". So it is good to see that Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists wins national award.

The awards comes from American Society of Magazine Editors, a prestigious bunch of folks. And the bulletin had to fight off a diverse bunch of competitors to become the "2007 National Magazine Award for General Excellence (under 100,000 circulation)".

Nice one.

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Beeb puffs books prize

The piece on BBC NEWS, Best popular science books named, has more details of this year's book prizes. With pictures of two of the books' covers and a brief history of the prize.

Sunday, 29 April 2007

Royal Society announces short list

In its press release announcing the Royal Society Prize for Science Books , the Royal Society makes much of the fact that all six authors "are newcomers to the prize's shortlist".

Nice to see at least one ABSW member in there, which is why we are rooting for Henry Nicholls. The judges say of Henry's book, Lonesome George, that it "is a great piece of journalistic writing that makes you think about a wide range of complex issues ".

Saturday, 28 April 2007

Descartes time again

"Nominations are now open for the next European Research Awards, which include the Descartes prizes for trans-national collaborative research, and the Descartes prizes for science communication. The total prize money on offer is EUR 1.7 million. Applications must be received by 17 July."

Check out the details over at the CORDIS: FP7 : News room.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

WCSJ lands on London

That's it, then, the next WCSJ will be in London in 2009. Read all about it on The EUSJA blog and marvel at Pallab Ghosh as he sings "My Way" to a rapt audience.

Friday, 13 April 2007

EUSJA blogs from Mebourne

A team of intrepid explorers from Europe have gone off to see what they can discover in Australia. Over on the EUSJA blog Hanns-J. "Hajo" Neubert promises to provide a blow by blow account of the World Conference of Science Journalists.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Speculations on science and the press

Just in case there are readers of this list who do not also subscribe to Fiona Fox's blog in the hope that she will post another of her always interesting insights into our business, here's a link to her latest essay, On Science and the Media: Why experts need to speculate, without speculating.

As Director of the Science Media Centre, Fiona often ends up trying to pick up the pieces on breaking science stories, in the hope that the SMC can prevent the media from making a complete balls up of it. This can mean cold calling scientists in the hope that they will bring some sanity to the party.

It seems that they don't always see the point of this process. Twenty years is it since Bodmer? And we still have these neanderthals getting all precious.

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Long list brought to book

The Royal Society has announced the books that are on the "longlist" for this year's 2007 General Prize for the year's best science book.

  • A Mind of its Own by Cordelia Fine (Icon Books)
  • Bang! The Complete History of the Universe by Brian May, Patrick Moore and Chris Lintott (Carlton Books)
  • Francis Crick, Discoverer of the Genetic Code by Matt Ridley (Harper Press)
  • Giant Leaps by Jack Challoner and John Perry (Boxtree)
  • Homo Britannicus by Chris Stringer (Penguin Allen Lane)
  • In Search of Memory by Eric R. Kandel (WW Norton & Co)
  • Lonesome George by Henry Nicholls (Macmillan)
  • One in Three by Adam Wishart (Profile Books)
  • Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert (Harper Press)
  • The Goldilocks Enigma by Paul Davies (Penguin Allen Lane)
  • The Rough Guide to Climate Change by Robert Henson (Rough Guides)
  • The Science of Doctor Who by Paul Parsons (Icon Books)
There is a description of each book and its author(s) on the web site.

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Professing science communication

There is a note on Framing Science about a new post in science communication. Headed "Professorship in Science Communication at Free University-Berlin" it says:

"The Free University Berlin has an associate professor opening in Science Communication, as part of their Department of Political and Social Sciences and their Institute of Media and Communication Studies."

Monday, 2 April 2007

A new research council

The Science and Technology Facilities Council quietly opened for business on 1 April. (Maybe it was the date that kept them quiet.) So anyone who tries to visit PPARC or CCLRC arrives at STFC.

Actually, it doesn't quite work like that CCLRC automatically redirects you. PPARC delivers you to a web site that "is being maintained as an archive resource for a transitional period".

One of the problems with web sites is that they can vanish completely. Anyone interested in the history of either organisation should grab what they can while it lasts.

There is a separate page for Press contacts .

Sadly, we could not find an RSS feed. So you will have to get on to their email lists, or monitor the appropriate web pages.

Friday, 30 March 2007

Engineering a better press

It isn't often that events given over to science in the media even mention engineering. That's why this one might be different Journalists and Scientists to Talk About Communication as a Critical Element of Science.

Some of the nation’s leading scientists and science journalists will present their perspectives on the roles of scientists and engineers in popular communication during a symposium April 2 at Arizona State University titled “Essential Dialogues: Why Scientists and Engineers Must Not Speak in Tongues.”
With participants like Charles Petit and Natalie Angier, they have certainly plenty of experience to draw on.

Last chance to win an award

"Acoustical Society of America (ASA) sponsors two annual awards for outstanding science writing one by a professional scientist and one by a journalist. This year's deadline is April 2."

Read all about it here: Science Writing Awards Call for Entries

Monday, 26 March 2007

Science books, the Junior Shortlist

The PR machine rolls into action for "the world's most prestigious awards for science writing". Well, that's what they say. In reality, we are talking about the "Junior Shortlist" for the Royal Society Prizes for Science Books.

The six books shortlisted by the judging panel are:

  • Can you feel the force? by Richard Hammond (Dorling Kindersley)
  • How nearly everything was invented by the Brainwaves, illustrated by Lisa Swerling and Ralph Lazar (Dorling Kindersley)
  • It's true! Space turns you into spaghetti by Heather Catchpole and Vanessa Woods (Allen and Unwin)
  • KFK Natural Disasters by Andrew Langley (Kingfisher Knowledge)
  • My Body Book by Mick Manning and Brita Granström (Franklin Watts)
  • Science Investigations: Electricity by John Farndon (Wayland)
It is now down to "over 100 schools and youth groups" to pick the winner.

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

World Conference of Science Journalist

AlphaGalileo has a brief note on the The 5th World Conference of Science Journalists.

Monday, 19 March 2007

Ever asked a university an embarrassing question?

The UK's Freedom of Information Act has been so successful that the government now wants to curtail it, on the spurious grounds that it costs too much to meet all those awkward requests. Well, the country's universities seem to be happy to proclaim their willingness to spill the beans. Universities UK has even put put a "Media release" boasting Higher education delivering on people's 'right to know'.

It turns out that the load on universities isn't that huge. "Institutions received an average of approximately 3 requests a month, a level similar to that in 2005."

It is nice to read that "Journalists still account for nearly half the number of requests where the identity of the requestor is known". And they seem to be interested mostly in "University management, administration and finance".

Sunday, 18 March 2007

RCUK dispatches science news

As if there wasn't enough news out there already, Research Councils UK has jumped in with another way to eat into your reading time. But RCUK Dispatch might save you time. It consolidates lots of stuff from the Research Councils.

Nice idea. Pity they haven't see fit to provide it as an RSS feed. Doesn't look like you can sign up for an email version either. So you'll have to visit the web site every day, or use a robot like UpdatePatrol to do it for you, to see what's there.

Oh well, nice try.

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Templeton-Fellowship for ABSW member

Ehsan Masood is among the people on the receiving end of the Third annual Templeton-Cambridge Fellowships. "Fellows are provided a $15,000 stipend, a book allowance, and travel expenses."

After a series of seminars by some seriously, er, serious people, including John Barrow, James Lovelock and Lewis Wolpert, "fellows will undertake five weeks of independent study and research into areas of their own specific interest, such as origins of life, neuroscience, the laws of nature, cosmology, genetic engineering, astrobiology, spirituality and health, and Islam and science".

Thursday, 1 March 2007

Do Europeans enjoy science programmes?

The European Commission wants to analyse "public perception of science programmes on European TV and radio stations". It has put out a call for project proposals aimed at "gathering data and providing an analysis on how European citizens perceive the science and research programmes offered to them on TV and radio".

The results of the project could interest those who make these programmes. As the announcement puts it "This call will fund research investigating the ways the general public in Europe perceives, enjoys or dislikes current audiovisual science programmes. Findings will be broken down according to subjects' nationality and socio-economical background, as well as their expectations in this area."

You have until 23 May to put in your bid.

Thursday, 15 February 2007

Creative Science Communication

An event in April "will explore ways to be creative in science communication without misrepresenting the science".

Creative Science Communication "Closely linked to the Edinburgh International Science Festival, the seminar combines workshops, practical exercises, interactive sessions and talks with highlights from the Festival programme to cover the whole spectrum of ways in which science can be made more engaging and involving, and scientists and journalists can improve how they understand and utilise each other."

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Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Winners of the 2006 AAAS Science Journalism Awards

Winners of the 2006 AAAS Science Journalism Awards

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Monday, 12 February 2007

Nominations open for "green book" award

That's an award for books about the environment rather than books printed on recycled paper. The announcement is on Horganism the blog by John Horgan, Director of the Center for Science Writings at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey. Edward O. Wilson, "one of our era’s greatest and most eloquent scientists," received the first Green Book Award for his book The Creation.

It says that "The CSW Green Book Award is an annual prize given to the finest work of science writing that draws attention to issues of environmental responsibility published in the previous year." The entry requirements, or how the thing works, aren't clear. There's an on-line entry form, so there's no harm in plugging your own magnum opus.

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Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Few Brits in the running for Descartes

British researchers make up nearly half of the shortlisted candidates for the category "Professional scientists engaged in science communication to the public" in this year's Descartes prizes from the EU. The announcement of the nominees for the Descartes Prize for Science Communication reveals that the UK doesn't do at all well in the categories for "Communicators at the start of their career" or "Innovative action for science communication".

Perhaps more surprising, given how much we proclaim the BBC as the world's leading TV outlet, the UK is also missing from the shortlist for "Popularising science through audio-visual and electronic media (scientific television or radio documentaries, websites)".

Perhaps there are just too many Eurosceptics around who don't bother to enter this competition. They got "just 80 submissions from across Europe. Even though this is "an increase of 30% over last year" it is hardly a mad rush. Funny, given that "From these 33 nominees, 5 finalists and 5 winners will be selected to share this year's €275,000 prize".

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Monday, 5 February 2007

Facelift at the BMJ

No, not a new medical process, but a report on, about the BMJ's updated web site.

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Saturday, 3 February 2007

Keck Futures: National Academies Communication Awards

At $20,000 a pop, the National Academies Communication Awards must be the most generous on the planet. Sadly, the criteria for eligibility include the statement that entries must "have been published or broadcast in 2006, in the USA and in English". Still, the ABSW has many members who have made it into print on the wrong side of the Atlantic. Whether they can write in "English" as the National Academies define it is another matter.

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Tuesday, 23 January 2007

Another year, another books prize

They don't call them the COPUS awards any more, the annual bunfight to find the best science books of the year outlived the body that first came up with the idea. (Well, it was really Bernard Dixon's idea, stolen by me when I was a member of COPUS.) So now we have the Royal Society Prizes for Science Books.

The Royal Society has just launched this year's competition, the 19th year of what the RS, probably with good cause, calls "the world's most prestigious award for popular science writing".

Doubtless most of the books will cover the usual subjects. Last year's winner, Electric Universe, How Electricity Switched on the Modern World by David Bodanis, was something of a surprise, in not dealing with evolution or black holes.

It will also be interesting to see how many recognised science writers make it on to the short list.

There is a total of of £30,000 on offer, £1000 if you make the short list, £10,000 for the winners in the general and junior categories.

As in previous years, Aventis is sponsoring the awards. But the RS "is presently seeking a new sponsor for the prizes". All offers welcome.

Details of how to enter and a video of the "genesis of the Royal Society’s prizes for science books" are all on a separate area of the RS's web site.

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Monday, 22 January 2007

Scientific publications conference

This is one for members of the ABSW who work on journals. On 15 and 16 February the EU will hold a Scientific publications conference in Brussels "on scientific publication issues".

The goal of the conference is to bring together stakeholders concerned with access, dissemination and preservation issues in connection with scientific publication and data in an effort to provide policy options for scientific publishing under FP7 and in the European Research Area.
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Friday, 12 January 2007

Fellowships for Science Reporters

Chinese reporters are the focus for this year's Fellowships for Science Reporters in Developing Regions. These awards will pay for "six promising journalists from the region to attend and cover the AAAS Annual Meeting in February".

The announcement has some comments on science writing in China from William Chang of the US National Science Foundation's Beijing office who was the independent judge for the selection process. According to Chang, open and unbiased news reporting is on the rise in China, "but there is still great room for further improvement. I feel that all the applicants recognized this, and made their best efforts under the present constraints."

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Thursday, 11 January 2007

IT Security Journalism Awards

The ABSW's ever versatile members can even end up writing about such arcane subjects as IT security. That's why they might want to check out the 2007 BT UK IT Security Journalism Awards.

"BT launched its UK IT Security Journalism Awards to recognise the vital role that security journalism plays in educating the public and businesses about what they can do to help ensure they are as secure as possible, as well as help build a closer relationship between the industry and the media."
The top prize is £2000 for "IT security journalist of the year," with five other £500 cheques on offer. The deadline for submissions is Friday 23 February 2007.

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Tuesday, 9 January 2007

Communicating science

A page on what the EU is up to on Communicating science. Follow the links to land on some useful bits and pieces.

"There is a general lack of understanding of how advances in science and technology affect our lives. Against this background, controversial or sensational reporting on food safety, GMOs, bird flu, global warming or, for example, stem cell research can leave citizens confused and frightened and science misunderstood. This is why scientists are increasingly asked to communicate their work to a wider audience and science communicators and the media to act as the responsible bridge between the scientists and society."

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PBS consults the viewers

Consulting the audience is one thing, but would you let them pick which programme you should air? That is what they seem to be up to at PBS, in the USA. (Public Broadcasting Service is sort of their equivalent to the public service broadcasts we get in Europe, albeit funded by sponsors rather than through 'taxes'.) They have a new science programme in the works and want viewers to help them to pick the format.

As the web site puts it: "Throughout January, PBS will broadcast three new science programs. Only one program will become a regular science series on PBS. We want you to help us decide."

They do not, perhaps wisely, say how much weighting they will give to viewers. They just invite them to visit three mini sites where each broadcast will be there for instant replay.

The first programme goes under the banner of Science Investigators and deals with questions from viewers. The other two, 22nd Century and Wired Science, associated with the magazine of that name, come later.

Maybe they would like some input from the professional broadcasters in the Association of British Science Writers. They will probably have more influence than they would allow over at the BBC, where the idea of voting for a format would probably cause a mass fit of the vapours.

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Monday, 8 January 2007

Another nail in the coffin for expensive journals?

A note has gone out on AlphaGalileo about yet another open access operation. We read in UK PubMed Central launched that "From today scientists will be able to access a vast collection of biomedical research and to submit their own published results for inclusion in a new online resource."

Yet another way for the biomeds to fill the media with their promises of cures tomorrow. Maybe the physical sciences will get their show on the road before too long.

It seems that one of the driving forces behind the show was the Wellcome Trust. The trust has, as in other things, dragged the public sector kicking and screaming into the 21st century, pushing up PhD grants for example, and generally being a force for good while the Research Councils dithered, perhaps because they had to check with their political paymasters before jumping to attention. The trust, being independent with a mere £10 billion or more in the bank, can go its own sweet way.

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Guidelines for scientists

Perish the thought that scientists should talk to the media without some prior thought. They might make fools of themselves. That's one reason why the EU funded the MESSENGER project. This has now come up with a bunch of reports, including "Guidelines for scientists on communicating with the media".

The introduction to the guidelines point out why they think it helps to have this sort of thing:

"While there are numerous examples of how the media have ‘hyped’ science stories and generated unnecessary anxieties in the absence of real empirical evidence, there are equally examples of where scientists have communicated, say, data relating to risks in such a manner that public misunderstandings have been almost inevitable."
MESSENGER's outputs also include "A layperson's guide to decoding science and health stories". What a nerve, giving away all those nasty trade secrets.

There is also a draft of the "Messenger Final Report". (Be warned, this is a big file at 4MB.) At more than 400 pages, it will be a bit of time before we can digest this document, and see if it really is dangerous and subversive stuff.

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Thursday, 4 January 2007

ESA communication activities in 2007

Science writers who stare into space might like to mark in their diaries the dates that appear in the Overview of ESA communication activities in 2007 relevant to the media.

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Wednesday, 3 January 2007

Career opportunities for fact checkers to the stars

A campaign is under way to debunk some of the sillier personality endorsements of wacky science. First we read the item on the BBC web site Stars must 'check science facts', and then there is the article in The Guardian Neutralise radiation and stay off milk: the truth about celebrity health claims.

Unfortunately, the BBC story is thin on juicy bits. The anonymous item offers not one example of a celebrity suffering from scientific foot-in-mouth syndrome. We just get some quotes from some of the usual rent-a-gob mob of scientists and an exhortation from Tracey Brown, director of Sense About Science, urging celebs to call this shadowy outfit before they go public.

It would be much better if they urged the people who passed on this tosh to check it before putting it into their magazines and newspapers. But that would not garner quite as much publicity as going for the celebs.

If you want to read to examples of celebrity tosh, you will have to download the brochure promoting the venture. We like the one from Jo Wood "wife of famous musician" who is quoted as saying "what you put on your skin goes into your bloodstream". She is mouthing off about why she uses organic beauty products.

Sadly, the response is a bit unscientific for us. It quotes Dr Gary Moss, a pharmacologist from the University of Hertfordshire, as saying "Ingredients in cosmetics are normally quite large and cannot get across your skin and into your bloodstream." We think this is a reference to the size of the molecules in all that gunk. He is right, though, when he continues "Your skin feels different when you apply cosmetics because their effect is on the outer surface of the skin."

The Guardian picks up the same story. Unlike the BBC, James Randerson has some of the quotes from the brochure. For example, he includes Madonna's comments on nuclear waste. "I mean, one of the biggest problems that exists right now in the world is nuclear waste ... that's something I've been involved with for a while with a group of scientists - finding a way to neutralise radiation."

The response here is even more suspect. Nick Evans, an environmental radiochemist at Loughborough University tells us that "Radioactivity cannot be 'neutralised', it can only be moved from one place to another until it decays away at its own rate. It comes in many different types: some last for billions of years, others decay away in a few minutes. There are no magical solutions."

Up to a point Lord Copper. By coincidence, we recently read an item on the EU's excellent Cordis web site, German researchers find solution to radioactive waste disposal. This reports that "German physicists ... have come up with a way of speeding up the decay of nuclear waste. The technique involves embedding the waste in metal and cooling it to ultra-low temperatures."

There have been other reports over the years of using accelerators and the like to transmute radioactive isotopes into something safer. Madonna may be talking tosh, but it is unwise to blind her with science that she can easily counter.

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Tuesday, 2 January 2007

Upcoming science books

In what is, unless he has been busy reading proofs, probably one of those "I didn't write the headlines" moments, last Saturday's Guardian says Tim Radford previews the best upcoming science books.

No matter, it is a chance to see what is coming along in the first half of the year, and to line up reviews, especially of books written by ABSW members. We like the bit about what is "probably" book number 102 from the Gribbin word machine.

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Stories that clicked on

Any editor worth the title wants to know what the punters like to read before going on and ignoring their input. So it is worth catching up on's most popular stories of 2006.

Top of the list of "the ones you clicked on the most" was "Imagine Earth without people," and rounding off the list was "Revealed: What mosquitoes hate about humans".

As an aside, it was nice to see that New Scientist chose to list the top 13, thus poking fun at two cherished notions, that numbers can be unlucky, and that you have to draw up silly lists to grab the reader's attention.

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