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Monday, 22 December 2008

WFSJ fights CNN cuts in science writing

The World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ) has posted a letter on its web site complaining about "CNN's shortsighted decision to cut its science, technology and environment unit in one fell swoop".

The letter, Science Journalists mobilized to fight CNN decision, is addressed to CNN. Pallab Ghosh, BBC science correspondent and past chairman of the ABSW, signed the letter on behalf of the WFSJ. Other signatories are from the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing, the US National Association of the Science Writers and the Society of Environmental Journalists.

They say that "It is difficult for us to imagine why CNN, which has earned a justifiably strong reputation for its science journalism in the past, has opted to widen the gap in science coverage rather than strive to fill it." They hold up CNN's action as "an unfortunate symbol of recent widespread cutbacks in specialty science journalism".

"In wielding this ax," the letter says, "your network has lost an experienced and highly regarded group of science journalists at a time when science coverage could not be more important in our national and international discourse." The "the wholesale dismantling of the science unit," decision, they add, " calls into question CNN's commitment to bringing the most informative science news to the general public, including the science-minded younger audience".

The WFSJ's blog item also has several links to other web coverage of the decision.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Recrutiment: Publications Editor and Scientific Writer

The Institute of Cancer Research

Academic Services
Chelsea, London

The Institute of Cancer Research (a College of the University of London) is a world-class cancer research organisation with HEFCE Research Assessment Exercise ratings of international excellence across all of its research programmes. In partnership with The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, we form the largest comprehensive cancer centre in Europe, dedicated to research that extends from epidemiology, genetics and molecular biology, through drug discovery and development, to cancer diagnosis and patient treatment.

The Publications Editor and Scientific Writer will be responsible for the preparation and editing of content for The Institute’s scientific print and online publications. These include The Institute’s Annual Review, Annual Research Report, Postgraduate Prospectus and website. The post-holder will also write and edit content for interactive educational materials aimed at scientists, healthcare professionals and the general public.

You will be a motivated science graduate with experience in science or medical communication, or journalism. In this role, your excellent written and verbal communication will help disseminate the research, clinical and educational activities of The Institute. You will be:

  • Experienced - with proven skills in researching, writing and editing scientific content and an ability to adapt your writing styles for different media and audiences
  • Confident - your excellent communication and negotiation skills will enable you to develop innovative ideas for content, meet with key scientists and clinicians, and help make the science at the forefront of cancer research readily accessible to all
  • Organised – you will be able to organise, prioritise and work under pressure to meet key deadlines
  • Creative - you will have a flair for content design and presentation and a keen eye for detail

The starting salary will be in the range £25,937 to £28,478 p.a. dependant upon skills and experience. This post also benefits from a contributory “final salary” pension scheme and generous leave entitlement.

Informal enquiries about the post can be made to Ms. Natalie Hutton via email at Please DO NOT send your application to Ms. Hutton; CVs, together with the names and addresses of two referees, must be submitted in line with the instructions below.

For further particulars and details of how to apply, please visit our website at: Alternatively you may call our 24 hour recruitment line on 020 7153 5475 quoting reference number C197.

Closing date: 7 January 2009

Interviews to be held: 14 January 2009

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Medical Writer wanted!

Medical Writer (Ref 969)

International Biomaterials Company (Bone repair)
World leader in its market

Our client, formed in 2001, is an orthobiologics company and a world leader in synthetic bone graft technologies. Their mission is to provide surgeons with superior, proprietary, bone graft solutions, helping them to improve clinical outcomes and patient quality of life.

The HQ and manufacturing facility are based in Greater London, England, with the U.S. operations located on the East Coast. Products are being used in Europe, the United States and Australasia for spinal fusions, bone tumor void filling, fractures and joint revision.

On behalf of our client we are now looking for a Medical Writer to be located either in London, UK, or Boston, USA.

Your mission: You who will be required to research and write copy across a broad range of healthcare related written communications (medical, scientific and technical), meeting the needs of relevant customers (internal and external) and working effectively with colleagues and suppliers.

You main responsibilities will include implementing briefs in a constructive and creative manner, setting and meeting high editorial standards and produce relevant, high quality accurate and informative material. You will undertake necessary research and ensure that all materials comply with the relevant legal rules, and internal and external codes of practice.

Where appropriate you will be participating in project teams, providing ad-hoc support to VP Marketing OUS and VP Research and Development. You will be required to keep up to date with matters related to the medical devices industry.

Your profile: We are looking for an effective and confident communicator with a high standard of written English. You will have a life science degree or background and a medical or journalism qualification and ideally project management experience. You are a committed and self-motivated professional with a pharmaceutical background, and experience in the medical devices industry (orthopaedics). You are an ambitious team player who has experience working with KOLs, surgeons and scientific or technical researchers. You pay attention to detail and are computer literate. You must work well in a team and have good time management skills.

This is an exceptional opportunity to join a fast growing company that can lead the orthopeadic sector.

For a confidential, more detailed information exchange, candidates should email their CV with full contact details to Helen Detraz
at quoting Ref: 969

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Science Reporting by Press Release

Cristine Russell, one of the more capable science journalist on either side of the pond, she used to be on the staff of the Washington Post, has an interesting take on the use of press releases in the trade. She has written about this in Science Reporting by Press Release in the Columbia Journalism Review. Cris describes "the degree to which some reporters rely on press releases and public relations offices as sources for stories" as a " dirty little secret of journalism".

Cris's article has details of various examples of the phenomenon. For example, she describes a discussion panel at the National Association of Science Writers where a topic of conversation was a press release, “Living fossils have hot sex,” from the University of Utah. This was picked up by, among others, Reuters, New Scientist and ABC (Australia). The irony, perhaps, is that the author of the release, Lee J. Siegel, has, as Cris puts it, had a "a long science journalism career with The Associated Press and Salt Lake Tribune" before he went to work for the university.

Like any good hack, Cris actually interviewed Lee about the phenomenon. He too expressed concern, complaining that “some news services just rewrite the press releases without interviewing anyone and don’t make clear the story is from a news release”.

The item provoked a thoughtful debate with comments from a number of equally eminent science journalists. One comment that struck home was the puzzlement in one comment about the failure of big media outlets to "link their own stories to the various press releases that their reporters had at hand". After all, it doesn't take much more than a few seconds with Google News to track down such references. Cris does not make this mistake. Her article provides a link to the original Utah press release.

Unfortunately, the excellent discussion does not seem to include any comments from perpetrators of this crime against humanity. Lee does step in to provide some balance, but it would have been nice to see more defence of use of press releases. Surely someone must have a good word to say for them.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Pharmaceutical Researcher/Pharmaceutical Analyst

Location: Offices in Berks, M4 Corridor, but position will require some home based working. Some international travel essential.
Salary: Competitive package

The Company:

Our client is a small but highly successful pharmaceutical business research agency that has built a solid reputation through hard work and dedication. Efficiently serving companies on both sides of the Atlantic and across Europe, they strive to be a consistently creative and proactive organisation. Indeed, it’s this philosophy that’s enabled them to become a UK leader in their industry. Proudly independent and dynamic, they’re now seeking to grow their global research capabilities through expansion in the areas of languages, methodologies and skills.

The Role:

Your contribution will be crucial to the success of our client’s portfolio of customers, as you will actively develop a strong knowledge and understanding of their competitors. This will be achieved via research: primarily online and by telephone. Here, you will deploy outstanding communication skills, as you’ll be interviewing a broad spectrum of people across the world. You will also bring creative flair and innovation to your research, together with a highly organised and tenacious approach. Professional and systematic in your work, you must consistently meet strict deadlines.

What we’re looking for:

The importance of this role means you will have a proven track record in a pharmaceutical, clinical or medical role and ideally have worked in the areas of nephrology, cardiovascular, diabetes, oncology or respiratory. This will be coupled with first-class interviewing and relationship-building abilities and, preferably, previous competitor monitoring experience. Possessing at least one other language, preferably German, French, Spanish and/or Russian, you must also be able to manage several projects simultaneously and know how to handle sensitive information.

To apply:
Please send your full CV and convincing covering letter to

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

ESOF 2012 goes to Dublin

It couldn't happen to a nicer place. From 12–16 July 2012, Dublin will host the 2012 City of Science meeting, which also seems to be known as ESOF2012, the 5th Euroscience Open Forum.

The press release on AlphaGalileo announcing ESOF2012 quotes Dr Gail Cardew, Chair of the ESOF Supervisory Board and Vice President of Euroscience, as saying:

"We were particularly impressed with Dublin's clear vision on opening the event out to the world and the lengths the Dublin Bid Committee went to bring international partners, including industry, on board. The emphasis on maximising the latest communication technologies, allied to the availability of excellent infrastructure for an event of this magnitude was compelling."
It may be a cliché, but it is true all the same, Dublin really is as hospitable a place as legend has it. With any luck, the city may have done something about the dreadful traffic by the time all those science writers and scientists descend on the place.

Those of us in the UK may read the details of the city's case for winning the event and find it brave of Dublin to plan to hold the meeting in a venue that is not due to be finished until 2010. But other countries are a bit better at completing such things on time.

ABSW December briefing The Comedy Research Project

The Top Five Best Things In Science – Ever!

Monday 15th December 2008

The Comedy Research Project
Timandra Harkness and Helen Pilcher

Helen Pilcher has a PhD in Molecular Neurobiology, but you wouldn’t guess that from this show. She and Timandra both performed solo stand up comedy before a chance meeting at the Royal Society resulted in the Comedy Research Project, which aims to prove the hypothesis that science can be funny.

Helen also writes for Nature and other serious publications. Timandra also performs improvised comedy, writes films and is currently developing a science gameshow.

ABSW full/associate £5
Students £2
£10 non members. (Join on the night for £5 discount.)

The Geological Society of London, Piccadilly
(entrance opposite Fortnum & Mason)
Time: 1800 for 1830
Please note time! Latecomers sometimes cannot be admitted owing to lack of after-hours staff!

Ends c. 20.00 for adjournment in direction of a public house.

To reserve a place, e-mail ted.nield"at" now
Places will be held pending receipt of the requisite fee either by cheque or paypal.

Cheques payable to "ABSW" to:
Ted Nield at
The Geological Society, Burlington House, Piccadilly, LONDON W1J 0BG
or paypal to absw"at"

(Please write in the message what it is you're paying for, and email Ted when the deed is done.)

Friday, 21 November 2008

DIY book takes off

Ed Yong, ABSW member, freelance writer and information officer at Cancer Research UK, has done his own thing in publishing a book based on his blog Not Exactly Rocket Science.

Ed says that Not Exactly Rocket Science - the BOOK!!!! "covers a wide range of biological areas – Mexican-waving bees, snow-making bacteria, viruses of viruses, the psychology of voting, the neuroscience of jazz, binge-drinking shrews, the evolution of language, super-sharks, climate-changing beetles and more".

Ed decided to publish the book himself, using Lulu, which was, he says, "ridiculously easy". He is also honest about his reasons: "I'd written all these pieces for my blog and it felt like a straightforward thing to do to compile them into a printed version that would hopefully reach a wider audience of "people wot don't read blogs". Some extra returns for minimal extra effort."

Ed says that Lulu appealed because it "doesn't charge upfront fees so there's no financial risk". He warns that "have to do all the bits yourself (design cover, write blurb, typeset, proofread, compile index, etc.etc.)". Then you just upload the thing.

"The faffy stuff," as Ed puts it, "took longer than I expected but the writing had all been done already. And it was fun."

"Not Exactly Rocket Science" costs a mere £9.99 from Lulu. At least one ABSW member welcomed the book as a chance to ease their shopping for Christmas presents.

Now we just have to see if anyone is willing to review self-published books. Then again, self publishing does mean that the author has to stump up the cost of review copies.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

New Job!

European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), Hinxton/Cambridge, UK:

Web Content Developer (full-time)

The EMBL-EBI's Outreach and Training Team is looking for a web content developer. The primary duties are to:

  • Write and edit information for the EBI's high-level web pages, including and the EBI's training and helpdesk pages with the aim of making the EBI website more accessible to a wide range of users.
  • Create video-based tutorial and help-desk materials, and support others at the EBI who need to produce these materials. This may involve either storyboarding and working with external contractors or the complete production process, depending on previous experience.
  • Investigate ways to exploit electronic technologies, such as podcasting and social networking, to deliver timely and relevant information to EBI users.
  • Contribute to the team's other outreach and training activities, both at the EBI and around the world. This will involve some international travel to conferences and consortium meetings.

    This post requires at least a degree in the molecular life sciences, most probably followed by a PhD or other relevant experience. The ideal candidate will have at least two years’ experience in a multimedia publishing environment and will have excellent writing and editing skills. (S)he will be capable of communicating complex scientific ideas to different target audiences, ranging from scientists to the general public. The Web Content Developer will be skilled at liaising with design and production teams both within and outside the EBI to achieve the desired end product. A good knowledge of MS Office, email and internet applications is required. HTML editing, design skills and familiarity with graphics and web design packages such as Adobe Creative Suite are highly desirable. The ability to work to deadlines and exploit the creativity of design and production teams whilst ensuring that they keep to their brief is essential.

    An initial contract of 3 years will be offered to the successful candidate. This can be renewed, depending on circumstances at the time of review. EMBL is an inclusive, equal opportunity employer offering attractive conditions and benefits appropriate to an international research organisation.

    To apply, please email a cover letter, CV (in English) and contact information of three professional references quoting ref. no. ABSW/08/081/EBI in the subject line, to:

    For further information please visit and

Friday, 31 October 2008

EICOS time again

AlphaGalileo has the details of the EICOS Fellowships 2009.

"EICOS, the ‘European Initiative for Communicators of Science’, again invites journalists into its ‘Hands-on Laboratory’ and to the ‘Extended Laboratory Assignments’.

"The programme is aimed at journalists with a wide range of backgrounds and interests who wish to gather first-hand experience of techniques of molecular biology, to discuss their wider implications for the society with researchers, to gain contacts for future stories, and to meet colleagues from different media and different countries."

Monday, 20 October 2008

Women scientists for interview

The UK Resource Centre for Women in Science Engineering and Technology has produced a list of women scientists who are eager and willing to give media interviews.

The UKRC is promoting the list in the hope that journalists will be enabled thereby to find female commentators on science issues rather than going to the usual hoary old greybeards.

The UKRC list has been modified (following consultation with ABSW) to include useful information about the areas of expertise of the spokespersons in question. This was more than slightly important for them, as well as for us, since the whole idea is apparently to have women scientists commenting on a broad spectrum of scientific issues, not just "women in science".

You can access the list here.

Any questions - please contact Erica Williams, Web and info coordinator, at UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology Listerhills Park of Science and Commerce 40 - 42 Campus Road Bradford BD7 1HR Tel: 01274 433113 Fax: 01274 436471

Ted Nield

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

European Journalists’ Prize 2008 announced

The Bayer Press Server has opened the doors for the 2008 European Journalists’ Prize, organised with the Association of German Medical Journalists (VDMJ) and Bayer HealthCare to "honor good medical reporting" the awards is "endowed with EUR 7,500".

Entries in by 31 January 2009. Good luck!

Starring Science

The VWN-EUSJA trip to Netherlands astronomy centres
Sunday 28 September - Thursday 2

Oct 2008 The Dutch Association of Science Journalists (VWN) hosted this five-day trip, which in retrospect seems to have occupied a month. There were about 30 participants from countries of Western and Eastern Europe; Stuart Clark and I represented Britain.

All the foreign visitors were accommodated in a pleasant canalside hotel in Leiden, a city so Dutch that they have multi-storey cycle racks in the city centre. Participants didn't have to pay a euro during the whole trip, apart from the costs of getting to and from Leiden - and our Eastern European colleagues had half of those paid...

Read the full account of this trip, by Chris Cooper, on

Friday, 10 October 2008

Science communication brought to book

Science journalists and science writers – there is a difference – may be dismayed by the growing trend to "academicise" their humble trades. If you are among the perturbed then you should probably avoid reading Investigating Science Communication in the Information Age – Implications for public engagement and popular media or Practising Science Communication in the Information Age – Theorising Professional Practices.

Both catchily titled books are from Oxford University Press and, at £19.99 each for paperbacks, slightly less through Amazon, will hardly break the bank.

Richard Holliman, Senior Lecturer in Science Communication in the Science Faculty at The Open University, says that the books "support the teaching of an Open University postgraduate distance learning course" Communicating science in the information age.

The books include contributions from ABSW members, with chapters on "Science communication in fiction" by Jon Turney and Martin Redfern on "Speaking to the world: Radio and other audio".

Thursday, 9 October 2008

October ABSW Briefing

Tuesday 21 October 2008

See my blog

Natasha Loder (The Economist) and Charles Arthur (The Guardian) discuss the interaction between mainstream journalism and a reporter's personal Blog.

Cost: Students £2; ABSW full/associate £5. £10 non members. (Join on night for £5 discount.)

Venue: The Geological Society of London, Piccadilly - entrance opposite Fortnum & Mason
Time: 1800 for 1830 Please note time! Latecomers sometimes cannot be admitted owing to lack of after-hours staff!

Ends c. 1930 for adjournment in direction of a public house


To reserve a place (these are limited to 25, of which 4 have gone already) email now. Places will be held pending receipt of the requisite fee either by cheque or paypal.

Cheques payable to "ABSW" to: Ted Nield at The Geological Society, Burlington House, Puccadilly, LONDON W1J 0BG, or paypal to absw"at"

Please write in the message what it is you're paying for, and email Ted when the deed is done.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Feed frenzy at the World Federation

The World Federation of Science Journalists has found time to rework its web site. "This third iteration of our website is designed to give you a better insight at the world of science journalism, and we mean the whole world!"

A part of the redesign is a set of new RSS Feed. As well as a news stream, which everyone should feed as much as possible, there is a new WFSJ blog.

They aren't the easiest feeds to plug into your reader – we had to enter them manually into Google Reader – but you can't have everything. Some of the best organisations also seem to have a hard time with this technology.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Templeton time comes around again

Applications open on 1 October for the 2009 Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellowships in Science and Religion. The deadline is 15 December 2008.

They may be controversial, but, as the scheme's web site shows, some seriously good science writers have been happy to accept a fellowship. After all, the announcement does say that applicants "must demonstrate an interest in the field, originality of thought displayed in previous writings and a superior record of journalistic achievement".

Who can apply? "The fellowships are designed primarily for mid-career and senior journalists, though early career journalists will be considered."

The small print tells us that "Fellows will receive a $15,000 stipend for the two months of the fellowship, together with a book allowance and travel and accommodation expenses in connection with attendance at the two residential seminars to be held at the University of Cambridge, UK."

Friday, 26 September 2008

The ABSW party, Everyman Theatre, Liverpool 8 Sept 2008

Appointment: Editor

Chemistry World

£45,236 - £50,263 p.a.

Chemistry World is the business-to-business magazine for the chemical sciences. Its 65,000 readers include the members of the Royal Society of Chemistry, business executives and leading
scientists around the world, including China, who read its new and highly-successful sister edition, Chemistry World China. Globally, our readers look to the magazine for a unique international perspective on current developments in a fast-changing environment.

We are looking for an experienced, hands-on editor, tasked with further expanding the magazine in print, online and digitally. We want you to share your vision of how best to develop all the magazine’s editions and fully expand the brand in order to engage readers and advertisers.

A successful track record in science publishing along with a chemical science background is essential. You will also need experience of team leadership (with proven experience as a deputy editor or section head), as well as involvement in business management.

We offer a competitive salary together with an attractive benefits package, including 26 days holiday, contributory pension scheme, free life assurance, private healthcare provision and, where appropriate, relocation allowance.

For further information about the RSC, this post and how to apply, please visit quoting reference number 08-40.

Closing date: 16 October 2008.

Agencies need not apply.
We welcome applications from all sectors of the community and value diversity.

Friday, 19 September 2008

The LHC, one week later

Andrew Marr may have packed his bags and moved on to greater things, but some journalists are still watching developments at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Over on they report that the big bang soon fizzled out.

Friday was a bit of a bummer. "A transformer weighing some 30 tonnes developed a short circuit, forcing the team to replace it."

Will anybody bother to show up when the LHC really does start to create the collisions that some headline writers thought might blow up the Universe?

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Vacancy Announcement

ATPS Senior Communications Officer

The African Technology Policy Studies Network (ATPS) is a leading regional network of African scholars and policymakers engaged in research, capacity building and policy advocacy on issues of science and technology for Africa's sustainable development. Its mission is to improve the quality of science and technology policies to eradicate poverty. Working primarily through National Chapters in at least 23 African countries, ATPS supports research, training and related activities on topical and emerging science and technology policy on biotechnology, information and communication technologies, technology transfer, science policy, among others. For more details about ATPS, please visit our website at

ATPS is seeking to recruit a dynamic individual to fill the position of Senior Communications Officer to be based at its secretariat in Nairobi, Kenya. Reporting to the Executive Director, he/she will be responsible for providing leadership to the ATPS Communications and Knowledge Management activities. In liaison with the ATPS Research and Training Team, ensure that outputs form ATPS thematic and non-thematic activities are published in relevant media, and effectively communicated to relevant stakeholders. The post holder will also be responsible for developing and managing the ATPS web-based Knowledge for Development and outreach program to bridge the gaps between science, technology and innovation research, policy and practice in Africa.

  • Major responsibilities will include:

    Manage the ATPS science communication and knowledge management strategy, including the web-based platforms, regional workshops, and other outreach and advocacy events.
    Support the overall ATPS Network’s strategy to bridge the gaps between science and technology and innovation research, policy and practice for African development.
    In liaison with the ATPS Research, Training and Communications Leader, assist ATPS national chapters and researchers to translate relevant ATPS research outputs into various publications including articles in international journals, ATPS publication series, popular articles, book volumes, and publications in the fourth estate.
    Co-ordinate the ATPS public relations activities, including publication of in-house newsletters twice a year, news articles, bibliographies, brochures, program promotions, media outreach, etc.
    Assist with finding funding sources and fundraising activities of the ATPS Secretariat and Regional chapters.
    Assist the ATPS Research, Training and Communications team to organize peer review of ATPS
    Research outputs for publication in ATPS publication series: ATPS Research Paper Series, Working Paper Series, and Technology Policy Brief Series.
    Manage the regular updating of the ATPS website and the ATPS Knowledge for development platform.
    In collaboration with the Communications Team, organize and support media and public awareness and campaigns and special events such as the Scientific Revival Day of Africa.
    Profile stakeholders and target group information and knowledge needs to determine appropriate knowledge sharing and dissemination tools.
    Manage the ATPS public awareness and press/media strategy.
  • Qualifications, skills and abilities

    A doctorate degree ST&I related fields or equivalent experience with formal training in science journalism or communication.
    At least 3 years experience in a science communication environment with progressive responsibilities, including international experience. Candidate will be required to provide sample publications in different media.
    Demonstrated ability to use new technologies for communication and outreach, including web and mltimedia tools, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), etc.
    Demonstrated capacity and ability to fundraise and manage knowledge networks
    Proficiency in French will be a major advantage
    Good analytical skills
    Good interpersonal skills and good team player.
    Ability to work as part of a multi-cultural and multi-disciplinary team.
    Demonstrate ability to deliver on deadlines
    The vacancy is expected to be filled by 30 October 2008. A comparative international salary and benefits ill be offered to the successful applicant. The initial contract period will be for 3 years.
  • Qualified candidates should send a detailed letter of interest and curriculum vitae to , no later than 30th September 2008.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Creationism – a media plot

Contrary to most of the newspaper coverage, Professor Michael Reiss, Director of Education at the Royal Society, does not believe that schools should teach creationism in science classes. The assembled hack pack must be wrong because the Royal Society says so. It has gone as far as to issue a press release pointing out their devious tricks "No change in Society position on creationism".

"Some media reports have misrepresented the views of Professor Michael Reiss," it tells us. That so many hacks got it wrong is a bit of a puzzle.

Maybe it is the language that the good professor used. "I have referred to science teachers discussing creationism as a worldview'; this is not the same as lending it any scientific credibility."

Just what he means by a "worldview" is not clear. Isn't evolution, or the whole of science, a worldview?

Maybe the RS doesn't mean the newspapers that unleashed the story. Over in the Financial Times, Clive Cookson quoted Reiss as saying "“Most scientists and science educators believe science teachers should not discuss creationism in science lessons – I disagree.”

Nothing there to suggest teaching creationism as science. Talking about creationism is a far cry from teaching it.

Maybe the RS meant The Times, which wrote "Creationism should be taught in science classes as a legitimate point of view, according to the Royal Society, putting the august science body on a collision course with the Government."

The Independent went so far as to editorialise on the story, writing "Sir Michael Reiss, the director of education at the Royal Society, voiced concerns that up to a tenth of children in Britain hold 'creationist' beliefs in the origins of the world". Again, nothing to suggest that he wants creationism to have equal time with evolution.

Perhaps the RS should be a bit more specific in its denials, naming names and saying just which of the many interpretations of Reuss's comments caused it to get so hot under its stuffy collar.

Anyone wanting more depth on the prof's views should turn to the Guardian's Science Blog. Here he writes "Just because something lacks scientific support doesn't seem to me a sufficient reason to omit it from a science lesson." Not quite the same as teaching it as science, but all too easily misinterpreted.

Non scientist to edit American Scientist

The magazine American Scientist is one of those hidden gems of science publishing. It quietly gets on with its job while flashier players grab all the limelight. The magazine, published by Sigma Xi, "the international honor society of research scientists and engineers," now has a new editor, David Schoonmaker.

For some reason, in the press release about his appointment, he admits that he is "not a scientist". He has been managing editor of the magazine – the UK uses the same label to describe a different role – for 15 years, so must have soaked up something of the area. And as he says himself, "I have a deep and abiding love for and interest in science. Growing up with a geologist father, I could tell a syncline from an anticline by age six." That's more than you can say for many a scientist turned science writer.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Situation normal in Geneva-super-mare

This year the BA Media Centre is housed in a dismal warren of down-at-heel buildings apparently belonging to the Department of Architecture. It is not, frankly, much of an advertisement. It is a hideous hodgepodge of Georgianesque brick townhouse, 1930s bunker and 1980s glass, a maze of doglegged passages designed to make anyone feel like an experimental rat.

The rats this year are a little depleted, since many science journalists have scurried off (or will shortly scurry off) to Geneva to witness on Wednesday the “turning on” of what one hapless subeditor has already mis-called the “Large Hardon Collider”. For this monument to the political influence gained by physics since their useful service during and after the last World War, is currently being readied for a completely phoney launch event.

Ted Nield finds a science story that gets his attention For on Wednesday the boffins at CERN will turn the machine on. Well, they will run a beam in it. They have done this before. Of course they have. They tested it, they didn’t smell burning and now they are ready to do it “for real” with an audience. But they will not be circulating two beams. No atoms will be smashed, and no bosons will be observed. Nor will a black hole that will eat up the Earth from the inside be created.

Even the lunatic opposition smacks of egregious PR fraud because the injunction, apparently sought by a maverick scientist fearing the end of the world to be nigh, played into the physics lobby’s hands. For no sooner was it out, than our good friends at the Institute of Physics put out a calming statement, designed to induce mass panic the world over. They said they had looked at the LHC very carefully, and come to the conclusion that it was safe and absolutely nothing to worry about. Oh Gawd help us everyone run for the hills. (But not the ones near Geneva.)

Still, here at the BA things are working as usual. The media, as always, have no time at all to stray outside the media centre. The BA Press Office is arranging press conferences to promote those stories they have chosen as being the most interesting from evidence supplied by those speakers who have prepared press papers. This is how the system works. This is how it has always worked and yes, this is the same rant I write every year.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said of the scientists who are supposed to supply the press papers. Many events boast releases that are not online (so therefore of restricted availability) - and which are frankly not much use anyway. This is probably because they were submitted late. But this is nothing.

Today the Festival programme boasts several sessions with almost zero accompanying press papers. This includes one, organised by the great Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory no less - only one of whose authors has submitted a press paper that I can find (Dr Lesley Rickards).

True, not all BA events stand a chance of media coverage and many are designed without any thought for it. Great swathes of the programme are, after all, peopled by robot dog-walkers and chemical volcanoes. Fair enough. But for those with some aspiration to attracting a wider audience, to organise a whole event without any attention to media releases is time and effort wasted and a ship spoiled for a ha’p’orth of tar. When will the message get through that the BA is not mainly about 50 people in a lecture theatre. It’s about the 500,000 people who at least might read the papers, and the millions who instead might be watching the telly. If a provider does not write a press paper, he or she stands absolutely no chance at all of getting a slice of that action. Not one bit.

So here, in Liverpool and Geneva, we are witnessing the two ends of the science PR leviathan, devouring itself before our eyes. On the one hand we have an orchestrated scientific PR non-event in Geneva, which will demand the attention of the global public during the middle part of this week. While here at the BA we have some great British science being explained to small numbers of the converted, in darkened lecture theatres, firmly hidden under a bushel of its own making.

Situation normal, then!

Friday, 5 September 2008

Food to go with the drink at the BA

The annual BA "festival of science" is always a good excuse for science journalists to eat and drink. On the food front, the Food Standards Agency is joining the fun as one of the many organisations rushing to Liverpool to put on a show.

The announcement of the event, Countdown to science festival, tell us that "tickets are being snapped up for the chance to find out all you ever wanted to know about food, as the Agency takes part in the festival for the first time".

Can't make the trip? Never fear "we are webcasting the event. A click of a mouse gives you a chance to hear the talk as it happens, join in the interactive debates and quizzes and get your questions answered."

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Naked Scientist has winning ways with podcast

Anyone who wants to do some homework before attending the ABSW's briefing on podcasts on 17 September might like to do some home work to see what it takes to create an award winning podcast. Check out the Naked Scientists.

Dr Chris Smith, Clinical Lecturer and Specialist Registrar in virology at the University of Cambridge, and, in his spare time, podcaster extraordinaire, has just won the "prestigious," they tell us, Royal Society Kohn award "for his work engaging a diverse audience with science".

The press note on the award, Naked Scientist wins Royal Society award for science communication, tells us that "In recognising that there was a gap in the market for a science programme that would reach a non-scientific audience, Dr Smith pioneered the Naked Scientists radio show while still a graduate student. He now successfully manages to juggle his busy career working as a doctor and researcher with his science communication activities."

It seems that success is not always welcome, by the techies at least. "I blew up a couple of web-servers and was even ejected by a number of web-hosting companies for compromising their networks every time we published a show." You have been warned.

Next ABSW Briefing - medium or just cheap radio?

Date: September 17
Venue: The Geological Society of London, Burlington House
Time: Open 18.00, for 18.30. Close/adjourn to pub: 19.30

Adam Rutherford (Nature Podcast) and Jeremy Webb (New Scientist) speak for and against the utility of podcasts to science magazines.

Why does Nature continue to support its podcast while New Scientist took the decision to close theirs? What makes podcasts different from radio? Should they be judged differently?

Charges and booking

To reserve a place at this event, please email Your place will be held for you for one week and confirmed on receipt of payment. Refunds will not be granted after 10 September.

Briefings all attract a nominal charge. There are special rates for ABSW members and a special Student Rate. Students can pay on the night.

Non-members pay a higher fee, or may join on the night to benefit immediately from the discounted rate.

Members and non-members can pay via a PayPal account, to absw [at] Please write in the comment box that you are paying for a briefing, and please say which.

Otherwise please send a cheque payable to ABSW to:

Dr Ted Nield, The Geological Society of London, Burlington House, Piccadilly, LONDON W1J 0BG

  • Students £2; ABSW full/associate £5.
  • £10 non members. (Join on night for £5 discount.)

See this year's programme of briefings

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Telegraph science writer awards 2008

The report of the Science Writer Awards 2008, The Daily Telegraph’s "21st annual mission to find the future popularisers of science, engineering and technology," is Roger Highfield's swansong in the role of chief cheer leader for the awards. With Highfield, the newspaper's science editor moving on to bigger and better things, it will be interesting to see if the newspaper continues its annual competition for young science writers.

Perhaps it is a sign of the times, and the fact that it is now respectable for young aspiring scientists to write for "ordinary readers," that Imperial College latched on to the fact that one of its students, Erika Cule, picked up the main award for the 20-28 section. (The Telegraph published her essay here.)

The item on the Imperial web site shows that Cule has not allowed the award to go to her head. "Winning the competition has sparked of an interest in science writing. However, I plan to work on my PhD first! After that, who knows?"

Ben Goldacre between soft covers

The man who has spent the past few years dismembering medical quacks in his weekly column in The Guardian, Ben Goldacre, has made it into paperback. While the "Bad Science" title of his new book might provoke some to complain that it should really be "Bad Medicine," there's no doubt that Dr Goldacre, a fellow member of the ABSW, has done a service to medical journalism, even though the fake remedies, and some journalists' willingness to puff them, shows little sign of going away.

Saturday's Guardian has an extract from the book, The media’s MMR hoax. In this, Goldacre excoriates the newspapers that did much to fuel the hysteria around MMR. His line is that it isn't just, or even primarily, Dr Andrew Wakefield who deserves the blame for this descent into scientific lunacy, but the media.

Given the tradition that dog does not eat dog – that journalists do not pick holes in each others stories – we have to rely on Goldacre for this sort of thing. Journalists happily pick holes in stories over a pint, but they won't do it in print.

One area where Goldacre's account may be slightly divorced from reality is his observation that "While stories on GM food, or cloning, stood a good chance of being written by specialist science reporters, with stories on MMR their knowledge was deliberately sidelined, and 80% of the coverage was by generalist reporters." Plenty of the coverage of GM came from hacks with little understanding of the science.

This really just confirms his thesis that science goes out of the window when medical, or even science, stories get into the hands of columnists, pundits and others not versed in how science works.

Another quibble is the reference to "didactic statements from authority figures on either side of the debate". Didactic is the wrong word. Dogmatic maybe.

Still, anyone who takes potshots at The Daily Mail has to be on the right side. It will be interesting to see how many of the publications in Goldacre's sights find room to review his book.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Evolutionary biologist collects EMBO communication award

The European Molecular Biology Organization has announced this year's winner of the EMBO Communication Award.

The 2008 award goes to Axel Meyer "in recognition of his continuous endeavour to convey complex scientific topics to the general public in an accessible and thought-provoking manner". Meyer, Professor of Zoology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Konstanz, collects €5000 and "a handcrafted medal".

The German scientists has written for Die Zeit, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Die Welt "and many others". He has also had his work written up by the likes of the New York Times and USA Today.

EMBO's announcement quotes him as saying “As an evolutionary biologist I feel it is my obligation as well as my personal desire to communicate with the public.” He is also keen to muck in on such topics as intelligent design and creationism which, he says, “demand a forceful and informed response from active scientists in the field of evolutionary biology”.

Friday, 15 August 2008

European Guide to Science Journalism Training

Buried at the bottom of the pages on the European Forum on Science Journalism: Barcelona, 3-4 December 2007 there is a link to the European Guide to Science Journalism Training. This has now reached a second edition.

When you look at this document, ignore the bit on page 141 about "student journalism
bursaries for science communication courses". This is one bit that they did not update. These bursaries sadly lapsed a few years ago when the Wellcome Trust declined to continue funding them.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Reflections on the Finland Millennium Technology Prize 2008

In June Richard Scrase was one of the two ABSW members who travelled to Helsinki as guests of the Millennium Prize Foundation.

The trip to Finland gave me three opportunities that I would recommend to colleagues. Firstly, learning about four disparate technologies was an excellent intellectual excursion. Secondly, seeing how the Finnish Millennium Prize Foundation conducted themselves and their award gave an insight into Finnish culture. In what other country would the president curtail their role to smiling and shaking hands and not make a speech at an international award ceremony ? Thirdly, there was the delight of spending time with a marvellous array of over twenty science journalists - a group of people who really know how to enjoy themselves!

For the full account, visit TSR Online. You have to be an ABSW member to do this.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

25 new members for ABSW

The latest crop of new recruits to the ABSW numbers 25, of whom eight are Student, one Associate and the rest Full members.

Among the new Full Members are Dr Simon Singh, author of Fermat’s Last Theorem, and Ed Yong, of Cancer Research UK and author of the science blog Not Exactly Rocket Science. We also welcome back into ABSW membership Dr Ian Weatherhead, formerly of AstraZenca and Syngenta, who is now Director of UK and R&D Communications for UCB Celltech.

Read more and see the full list at The Science Reporter online. You have to be a member of ABSW to see this – another good reason to join the ABSW today!

Ted Nield, Chair.

Thursday, 31 July 2008

August Briefing on copyright issues

"Copyrights & Responsibilities"

Date: 19 August 2008


The Geological Society of London, Burlington House, Piccadilly W1J 0BG

  • Meet from 1800 at the Society (main entrance, opposite Fortnum's)
  • Briefing - 1830-1930
  • Adjourn to pub (voluntary) - 1930

  • £10 (ABSW full/associate member),
  • £25 (Or join on night to receive £15 discount.)
  • Student - £2.00

The briefing will cover:

Copyright issues for beginners - issues surrounding rights grab, intellectual property and essential copyright law for journalists. Especially valuable for freelances.If you smith words for a living – whether as a freelance or staffer, or as a writer or commissioner – you need to know about intellectual property. This briefing will explain how copyright is the stock-in-trade of the writer, and the opportunities for earning it represents. It will deal with the balance between self-interest and duty that arises from the law of copyright and the associated issues of moral rights, attribution, the increasing problem of rights grab, and the special implications of copying in the digital age. If time and demand permit, it will also stray into simple law for journalists, and dream a bit about ways of improving the contract terms to which freelances have to submit.

The speaker, Mike Harrison

Mike Harrison regards himself as a fraudulent member of the ABSW. Sure, he does write, and has done it for a living, with roles ranging from staff producer/director in BBC television to lonely freelance churning out news and features for radio, magazines and newspapers. And he does have a bit of science, with a Physics BSc and a chunk of career spent developing new ways of teaching the stuff. But the skeleton in his cupboard is the long periods he has spent in management, both in large corporations and in developing small, high-tech businesses – even a stint working inside that most fearsome of business organisations, a management consultancy.


Non members who arrive with their forms (available from fully filled out will receive their £15.00 refund in the form of a reduced membership fee.

Attendance is limited to 25. Spaces will therefore be allocated on a first come, first served basis.

To reserve a place email now.

You will be told if you have secured a space. Students may pay in cash on the night. Others will be asked to send a cheque/make PayPal payment in advance to confirm it.

Places unconfirmed within one week will be offered to others.Cheques made payable to ABSW should be sent to: Dr Ted Nield, c/o the Geological Society of London, Burlington House, Piccadilly, LONDON W1J 0BG.

Or you can use your PayPal account. Please make payments to absw"at" Please indicate in the box which course you are paying for, and don't forget to give your name if your email address does not.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Head of Communication - ESF

The European Science Foundation (ESF) provides a platform for its Member Organisations to advance European research and explore new directions for research at the European level. Established in 1974 as an independent non-governmental organisation, the ESF currently serves 77 Member Organisations, including Research Funding Agencies, Research Performing Organisations and Academies, across 30 countries.


The mission of the position is to provide ESF Member Organisations, the European research community in general, the policymakers, the media and society at large with effective communication and to develop and lead an integrated communication strategy. The Head of Communications will understand and be able to communicate the role of the ESF in the European Research Area. He will deliver ESF communication and engagement strategies as well as identify and explore new avenues for communication to further raise the ESF profile and impact. He will manage a Communications unit providing a range of services to the ESF.

Position Responsibilities

The candidate should demonstrate abilities to:

  • Further develop ESF’s communication within the overall ESF Strategy Plan and its associated Communications Plan ( see;
  • Liaise with the Chief Executive Unit with regard to the development of science policy;
  • Work closely with Science Units and Standing Committees with reference to science coordination activities;
  • Liaise with ESF Member Organisations and external scientific bodies;
  • Represent ESF in external meetings;
  • Take responsibility for the management and achievement of budgets of specific activities in compliance with ESF Financial Rules and Delegated Financial Authority and providing necessary information to Administration and Finance allowing the regular presentation of financial reports;
  • Manage a team of Communications Officers;
  • Communicate to the team a clear vision, strategy and priorities of the ESF and how it affects the objectives of the unit. Motivating the team to seek challenges, reach the strategic objectives and perform in line with, or beyond expectations.

Profile and Competences required

The successful postholder should demonstrate the following competences:
Specific competences:

  • Degree in communications or journalism and a background in science or equivalent experience in science journalism and communication plus in depth knowledge and minimum ten years experience of corporate communication, preferably in an international science-based environment;
  • Good working knowledge of European and national research structures (especially ESF Member Organisations) and institutions, and European and international science policy would be an advantage;
  • Proven experience in writing science stories for a variety of media;
  • Proven creativity in communications strategy and implementation;
  • Proven people management experience within a performance driven organisation;
  • Proven experience with implementing projects within a budgetary and financial framework;
  • High standard of spoken and written English, with a working knowledge of French or another European language being an advantage but not a requirement;
  • Good working knowledge of MS Office systems and of electronic databases;
  • Knowledge of corporate websites and corporate intranet portals (e.g. Content Management System like Typo3).

Inter-personal competences:

  • Action-orientated, responsible and autonomous, creative and willing to take initiatives, and continuously improvement-minded;
  • Leadership and motivational skills;
    Strong inter-personal and excellent communication skills within a multi-national context, including discretion, diplomacy and tolerance;
  • Assertive with capability to guide decision-making procedures and to represent ESF in the scientific and science journalism community;
  • Leadership and staff management skills;
  • Proven organisational skills;
  • Good presentational skills;
  • Transparency in working and a team-orientated work ethic;
  • Commitment to deliver on allocated tasks and respond in a timely manner to deadlines;
  • Positive and constructive attitude;
  • Capable of demonstrating the ESF’s values: Excellence, Openness, Responsiveness, Pan-European approach, Ethical Awareness and Human Values.

Employment conditions

The full time position is offered for a three year term, with the possibility of a prolongation of two years, preferably starting September 2008.

The place of work is Strasbourg and the job will involve a significant amount of travel,
The salary level will be based on experience and qualifications of the successful candidate and will follow ESF terms and conditions and relocation policy.

Please send your application by 18 August 2008 to ESF, Human Resources Unit

1 quai Lezay-Marnésia, BP 90015, F-67080 Strasbourg or to quoting the following reference identifier HOU-COM

Interviews will be held in Strasbourg on 2 September 2008.

Further details at

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

ABSW visit to Milton Park

Nina Morgan recently revived an old ABSW tradition and organised a site visit. Despite a low take-up from her fellow members, she is convinced that site visits still deserve a place in our calendar...

Nina Morgan writes: Back in the 1990s organising site visits were a regular – and very valuable – activity in the ABSW. I can honestly say that the information and contacts I made on the visits the ABSW organised played a large part in launching my career as a freelance science writer. Over the years, these seemed to have died away, but remembering how useful I found them – I decided to make the effort to organise one myself. My target site was Milton Park, near Abingdon in Oxfordshire, which is home to a wide range of science and technology-based companies.

Read Nina's full article in The Science Reporter online. (To access this you need to be an ABSW member).

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Science Communications Officer - Alzheimer’s Research Trust

Starting salary £21-31K plus benefits

A full-time post based at our offices near Cambridge. Duties include writing lay summaries of research for supporters, press and fundraising activity; liaising with scientists; issuing press releases; disseminating research; briefing spokespeople.
· Good degree in life sciences
· Ability to translate complex scientific language for lay people
· Excellent verbal and written communication skills

See for more details and how to apply.

Closing date Thursday 24th July. Queries to Harriet Millward on 01223 843899.

Alzheimer’s Research Trust is the UK’s leading research charity for dementia.
The Stables, Station Rd, Gt Shelford, Cambridge CB22 5LR

Friday, 11 July 2008

Scientists heart journalists?

Thanks to Kat Arney for spotting this interesting take on a recent paper in Science, from a seriously experienced group of researchers who observe the media side of science. It is on the blog Not Exactly Rocket Science.

The blogger looks at the paper and offers "a quick guide to dealing with the media".

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

July's Briefing! Learned Society Magazines, July 16

Dr Mark Peplow (now of Nature Online, late of Chemistry World) and Dr Ted Nield (Geoscientist) will talk about the world of learned society magazines - a great springboard for a writing career. Dr Emily Baldwin (Astronomy Now) will complete the line-up, as a "worked example" of a former student who started her portfolio with LS mags and then got a real job on the strength of it.

This is an event aimed principally at students wishing to become science journalists.

Cost: Students £2; ABSW full/associate £5. £10 non members. (or join on night for £5 discount.) Pay on the night.

Pitch a story!

The event will begin at The Geological Society of London, sponsors of the ABSW Briefings 2008, at 1800 for 1830. The Briefing will run from 1830 to 1930. Those who wish to do so will then adjourn to another venue, where alcoholic beverages are served. (More details of this as they appear.)

Ted Nield will then be available for you to pitch an Earth Science news story to him, suitable for publication in the GeoNews section of Geoscientist. To see worked examples, please visit Geoscientist Online at

Ted will offer advice on pitching a story, and will commission pieces from successful pitchers! The best story submitted will win a fee, at 50p per published word, and will appear in the print version of the magazine. Other stories may also appear in the print version. All stories will appear online, with a byline.

Friday, 27 June 2008

Arab science journalists think local

"We want our journalists to focus more on covering local science and have the skills to cover science from an informed perspective." That quote could have come from just about anywhere outside the USA. In this case it came from Nadia El-Awady of the Arab Science Journalists Association (ASJA) in an item on CRDF Conversations from the US Civilian Research & Development Foundation.

Nadia was talking about a partnership that the ASJA has started with the National Association of Science Writers in the United States. As well as learning a few things from the American science journalists, Nadia also hopes that "American journalists will learn from us a little bit about covering science in the developing world because the context is different".

Dealing with Arab science isn't just about blowing local trumpets. "We think that it’s important to cover local science because it sheds light on the deficiencies as well as the good things that are happening. So we really want to see more coverage of local Arab science happening in science columns and science articles in specialized and popular magazines."

This is easier said than done. Nadia also talks about some of the problems they face. "We have to do a lot of footwork to get the research," she says. "In Egypt, you get information out of ministries and government institutions; sometimes you have to go through a process of getting permission, so deadlines are often hard to keep. It’s often impossible to quote government officials in the article because you might have to take about a week or two to get the permission to actually speak to these people."

Remember this the next time you hear someone moaning about getting to sources.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Editor – Chemistry World

Chemistry World

Chemistry World is the business-to-business magazine for the chemical sciences. Its 65,000 readers include the members of the Royal Society of Chemistry, business executives and leading scientists around the world, including China, who read its new and highly-successful sister edition, Chemistry World China. Globally, our readers look to the magazine for a unique international perspective on current developments in a fast-changing environment.


We are looking for an experienced, hands-on editor, tasked with further expanding the magazine in print, online and digitally. We want you to share your vision of how best to develop all the magazine's editions and fully expand the brand in order to engage readers and advertisers.

A successful track record in science publishing along with a chemical science background is essential. You will also need experience of team leadership (with proven experience as a deputy editor or section head), as well as involvement in business management. Ref: 08-40.

We offer competitive salaries together with an attractive benefits package, including 26 days holiday, contributory pension scheme, free life assurance, private healthcare provision and, where appropriate, relocation allowance.

For further information about the RSC, this post and how to apply, please visit quoting the relevant reference number. Please advise us of your current salary and salary expectation.

Closing date: 21 July 2008.
Agencies need not apply.

We welcome applications from all sectors of the community and value diversity.
Registered Charity Nº 207890

Business Editor – Chemistry World

Chemistry World
Chemistry World is the business-to-business magazine for the chemical sciences. Its 65,000 readers include the members of the Royal Society of Chemistry, business executives and leading scientists around the world, including China, who read its new and highly-successful sister edition, Chemistry World China. Globally, our readers look to the magazine for a unique international perspective on current developments in a fast-changing environment.

Business Editor
As part of the ongoing development, Chemistry World is changing fast and is now expanding its business coverage.

As a result, we're looking for an experienced journalist who's familiar with the chemical or pharmaceutical industry and keen to find a new and high-profile challenge. You'll have the freedom to shape our new business news section and regular business features, ensuring that the publication continues to have a wide reach beyond academia.

We'll expect you to research and commission news and features, plan story concepts and develop ideas for both our magazine and website. But you'll still be someone who enjoys hands-on writing, editing and proofing and will also be happy to generate ideas for images that can be used alongside articles.

All the time, you'll be on the look out for stories - using your contacts, visiting companies, attending conferences and conducting interviews. Communication skills and customer focus are therefore just as important as your knowledge of business and science. Ref: 08-16.

We offer competitive salaries together with an attractive benefits package, including 26 days holiday, contributory pension scheme, free life assurance, private healthcare provision and, where appropriate, relocation allowance.

For further information about the RSC, this post and how to apply, please visit quoting the relevant reference number. Please advise us of your current salary and salary expectation.

Closing date: 21 July 2008.
Agencies need not apply.
We welcome applications from all sectors of the community and value diversity.
Registered Charity Nº 207890

Elsevier joins battle against plagiarism

It is probably a coincidence that the press release Elsevier to contribute 9 million articles to CrossCheck comes hot on the heels of Raj Persaud's unfortunate run in over plagiarism. Crosscheck describes itself as a "new initiative from CrossRef to help the scholarly publishers verify the originality of submitted manuscripts".

In its press release, Elsevier says that it "is now in the process of integrating CrossCheck into its editorial workflows as part of its efforts to support the peer review process and assist the scientific community in all aspects of publishing ethics". A whole raft of other publishing houses have also taken part in the beta stage of CrossRef, including Nature, JAMA, the BMJ and the IEEE.

One of the excuses that Persaud put forward was that the people editing his work had been careless and had "dropped" all his acknowledgements. Clearly, the General Medical Council didn't buy this explanation.

It is unlikely that CrossCheck would have picked up this particular spate of plagiarism. Book editors are not in the same club as the learned journals. And how can editors check articles that are a million miles from the peer reviewed literature?

Anyone who has written the same story for more than one publication – a perfectly acceptable tactic for freelance writers, so long as their editors know what they are up to – knows that you have to work at not plagiarising yourself, let alone other writers. It would be interesting to see if something like CrossCheck can handle that sort of thing.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

2008 book winners announced

There it is, screaming atop the page at the Royal Society, Winners Announced. The puff of white smoke has gone up, and Six Degrees by Mark Lynas (Fourth Estate/Harper Collins) picks up this year's General Prize in the 2008 Royal Society Prizes for Science Books.

The Junior Prize goes to Big Book of Science Things to Make and Do by Rebecca Gilpin and Leonie Pratt, (Usborne).

For some reason, the detailed account of the event is over on Flickr, along with some pictures. (That's where you land if you follow the links in the above.)

The general prize is for a book on climate change. The title of the book that collected the junior prize explains itself.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Honourable mentions

The arrival of the Queens Birthday Honours List always provides a few minutes entertainment. This year's set of gonged individuals is no exception.

A quick search on "science" throws up a bunch of names that will be familiar to at least some ABSW members:

  • Jim Al-Khalili, well known media physicists and Professor of Physics and Professor of Public Engagement in Science, University of Surrey. "For services to Physics."
  • Frances Rosemary (or Fran as she is also known) Balkwill, who has won more than her fair share of awards for the books that started off as an attempt to explain science to her kids, Professor of Cancer Biology, Queen Mary, University of London. "For services to Science Communication to Children".
  • Sheila Scott Anderson-Witty, who used to run communications at the Natural Environment Research Council. "For services to Science."
The list is a bit thin on media folks this year, unless you count tabloids and fashion mags.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Earth Science Communicator post - advertisement


Earth Science Communicator

Up to £25,000 per annum including London Weighting

Mayfair, Central London

The Geological Society of London wishes to recruit a science communication specialist to develop the Society’s media profile through the promotion of its published research and cutting-edge conferences, and to assist in communications activities aimed at parliamentarians and departments of state.

The successful applicant will be responsible to the Society’s External Relations Committee, and will be expected to develop under the guidance of author and science journalist Ted Nield (Editor, Geoscientist) with a view to becoming the Society’s principal media contact in April 2009, subject to satisfactory performance.

The duties of the post holder will include reactive and proactive media relations; drafting responses to Government and other consultations; managing certain of the Society’s international relations (principally with the International Geoscience Programme (IGCP) and the Association of European Geological Societies); drafting speeches for the President and providing administrative assistance to the External Relations Committee. These responsibilities will require some foreign travel, mainly in Europe.

The successful applicant will be a fluent and talented writer, able to assist fellow members of staff as required in the creation of leaflets, brochures and other documents aimed at a general audience - including buying in design and print services, and bringing these documents to publication.

Preferably with a background in the Earth sciences and a postgraduate qualification in science communication or journalism (or equivalent experience), you will be able to demonstrate a strong commitment to the popularisation of science in general and Earth sciences in particular.

Further Information

For further information about the post and how to apply, please click this link to the Society’s Web Site.

Application will be by CV and written exercise, with a covering letter explaining why you think you would be ideally suited to this position. If you have a portfolio of published science writing, please include this also.

  • Closing date for applications: Monday 30 June
  • Interviews will be held on: Thursday 10 July

You will be informed if you have been successful in gaining an interview by the end of Friday 4 July. Unfortunately it is not possible for us to write to all applicants.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Biosciences Federation Science Communication Award 2008

The Biosciences Federation has unleashed this year's Science Communication Award. The idea is to reward "research-active bioscientists from UK universities or institutes who make an outstanding and consistent contribution to communicating science to the public". The deadline for nominations is 24 August 2008.

Aimed at working researchers rather than science writers, the award comes in two flavours, £500 for new researcher and £1500 for established researcher. (That should probably be the other way round, if you consider the need for the cash.) The winners will collect their awards at a Biosciences Federation meeting in London on 12 November 2008 which will also have a Science Communication event.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Help to nurture the next generation on 5 June

The ABSW executive committee is embarking on a new drive to nurture and support aspiring journalists, and is seeking the help of its members.

On Thursday 5 June, the ABSW will be holding a ‘Meet the Science Journalists’ event, aimed at students who are currently taking courses in science journalism or who are contemplating a career as a science journalist.

The event will be held in two parts.

The first part will take place between 6:00 and 6:45 pm in the main lecture theatre at the Geological Society on Piccadilly, London, and will consist of a panel of established science journalists discussing and answering questions about their careers and big breaks in the profession.

The second part will take place between 7:00 and 8:00 pm in the upstairs bar at the Captain’s Cabin (4-7 Norris Street, near Piccadilly Circus), and will involve ‘speed networking’ – for a nominal charge of £1, aspiring journalist will have a 15-minute session with an established journalist to gain a personal ‘careers insight’. There is already a lot of interest from students on courses in and around London, so we need lots of ABSW members and other established journalists to volunteer and form the pool of speed networkers. If you are willing to give your time to this very worthy cause, please contact Bob Ward as soon as possible on

In line with current belt-tightening by the ABSW, there will be a charge for this event; £2 for members and £5 for non-members. One of the aims of the evening is to recruit new student members. Volunteer ‘speed networkers’ will gain free entrance and will be entitled to at least one free drink.

There is already a great deal of interest in the event from student journalists. Carolyn Kelday, the student representative on the ABSW executive committee, has set up a Facebook Group for students who are interested in science journalism (and, hence, who are current or potential members of the ABSW) – it now has 60 members, of whom 35 have so far indicated that they will be attending the event on 5 June. I’m willing to bet we’ll see more than 50 students at the event, so even if you cannot volunteer as a speed networker, please come along to either or both parts, to add to the atmosphere and create a dynamic and positive impression of the ABSW.

For further information, contact Bob Ward on or 07811-320346.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Doing it with style

A perennial issue for any science writer, especially freelance contributors, is which "house style" to adopt. "Style" isn't about fine writing or grammar, but the need to be consistent in what appears in a publication. How do you deal with numbers, for example? Is it "5" or "five"? Neither is wrong, but you cannot chop and change within a publication.

Most larger magazines and newspapers have their own house style. Writers should, then, get their hands on a copy, if possible, and stick with that.

There are times when there is no house style to guide a writer. There can even be projects where the writer has to set the style. This is often the case when you are working for a large organisation – maybe a government department or a research organisation – that is not primarily in the publishing business.

A good place to start on the subject could be the Thoughts on Style from the Institute of Scientific & Technical Communications. As well as offering some sound advice, the ISTC has a pdf file of its own house style. As the institute says, this style guide "demonstrates a minimalist approach to style guidance". It is not a bad place to start to assemble a style guide for other projects.

The ISTC's web also has a page of "Further reading" with links to several other style guides.

Much of this information is relevant to any area of writing. Even the ISTC steers clear of ruling on issues of science and technology. Maybe that is something that the ABSW might like to investigate.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

DTP software at a pocket friendly price

Most experienced science writers know that you need a professional designer to see their work into print. But there are times when you want to get an idea of how something you are working on will turn out. Then there are those freelance jobs that are too small, or the client too mean, to stump up the cost of a designer. Finally, of course, some ABSW members can rightly claim to be professional designers.

For longer than I care to remember, I have used a package called PagePlus for simple DTP. (It also does complicated, but that is where I insists on calling in a professional.) A new press release, Serif Launches PagePlus X3, heralds the arrival of yet another version of this package.

Over the years, I haven't pounded the software to death (see above), but I have used it often enough to know that it is easier to use than most. I particularly liked it when they added PDF output to the repertoire of things that PagePlus can work with.

At one time Microsoft also dabbled in the "bottom end" of the DTP market. But it seems to have given up on that and has upped the price of its DTP package which now comes in at twice the price of PagePlus.

One of the interesting things about PagePlus is that it is "made in the UK". The company that produces it, Serif, has been around since 1986.

Another point in Serif's favour is that the free versions of some of their packages. They will even let you buy older versions. And once you own Serif's stuff, their upgrade deals are attractive. That's just as well because they churn out new versions regularly.

Serif also does software for web design and handling photos. Put these together and you have the makings of a reasonable design package.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Yet another minister fingers the media

It is that time of the year again, the Glyndebourne Festival is underway and the Public Engagement in Science and Technology (PEST) season has started. In the same week when the first Glyndebourne production opened to mixed reviews, we had the annual bash masterminded the BA, the PEST practitioner par excellence. As yet there have been few reviews of this gig.

Such is the stature of the subject these days that the BA can even drag a government minister along to mutter some fine words at its Science Communication Conference. In this case, the speaker was Ian Pearson, Minister of State for Science and Innovation.

In his speech at the Institute of Engineering and Technology, Pearson posed a number of questions in his conclusions. The one most relevant to members of the ABSW was "how can the media provide more accurate and balanced information that helps to improve scientific literacy?"

It seems that there will be yet another consultation paper with words on public engagement. You have been warned.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Count down to WCSJ 2009

The web site for the 6th World Conference of Science Journalists is up and running. So the official countdown can begin until the big day on 29 June next year.

Count the days, read the blog.

Week interactions for science on the Telegraph

The 14 May issue of DWPub JournAlert, the weekly newsletter from Daryl Willcox Publishing, has news of interesting developments over at the Telegraph Media Group. It appears that it "plans to combine coverage of science, sport and religion across The Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph and".

Fortunately for those involved, this means that the science coverage will come together across these outlets, not that the Telegraph plans to combine coverage of science, sport and religion. Science writers are versatile people, but asking them to rush between house of worship, lab and football pitch may be asking too much.

The newsletter says that "Science editor Roger Highfield and science correspondent Richard Gray, who were formerly based at The Daily Telegraph, will now contribute news and features across all three Telegraph titles. They will be assisted by health correspondent Kate Devlin."

Friday, 16 May 2008

What should we do with the WFSJ?

The World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ) wants your views on what it should get up to. Over on WFSJ News its says:

The members of the WFSJ Board are meeting next July. Their priority is to come up with a strategic plan for the Federation that will be presented at the General Assembly, in June 2009, during the 6th World Conference of Science Journalists, in London (UK).
The web site has a page for a survey on the Consultation on the Future of WFSJ.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

News Reporter - Nature

Nature, the world’s leading international journal of science, is looking for a reporter to join its news team in London.

The successful applicant will have an ambitious attitude to digging out the best stories in the world of scientific and medical research, and a proven flair for doing so. Working primarily online, she or he will be able to report on and analyse news developments under tight deadlines, but will also have many opportunities for other forms of journalism, from feature writing to podcasting. All areas of proven expertise will be taken into consideration, with an eye to complementing the particular knowledge base of current staff; at the same time a demonstrated ability to report on complex biomedical stories is a must. Experience in and/or aptitude for editing, audio journalism and the development of interactive web projects will be an advantage.

This position is based in our offices in Crinan Street (near King’s Cross).

To apply please send no more than three clips, your CV and a covering letter, quoting reference number NPG/LON/876, to Geetika Juneja at

All candidates must demonstrate the right to live and work in the UK to be considered for the vacancy.

Closing date: 28th May 2008