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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

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Scientific spin-outs

Invitation to come on an ABSW site visit, 18 June 2008

An invitation to visit the labs of two spin-out companies based in Milton Park near Abingdon.

Milton Park near Abingdon in Oxfordshire is home to a number of successful scientific spin-outs. Two of these, Oxford Catalysts and Oxford Diffraction, are inviting science writers to a visit their labs on Wednesday, 18 June to witness some of the science behind the 'spin', and explore the latest innovations in catalyst development and x-ray diffraction. For those of an entrepreneurial bent, business development directors at both companies will be available and happy to discuss the challenges involved in building up a science-based company.

Milton Park is located 12 miles south of Oxford, just off the Milton Interchange on the A34. The nearest mainline station is Didcot Parkway. The two companies have offered to provide morning coffee, a sandwich lunch, afternoon tea and transport to and from Didcot station for those travelling by train. There is also parking available on site.

For space reasons, the visit will be limited to no more than 10. It's first come, first served. For further information or to reserve your place please contact Nina Morgan, telephone 01608-676530; e-mail:

Oxford Catalysts

Oxford Catalysts (, is a spin-out from the Chemistry Department at Oxford University. The company was founded by Professor Malcolm Green and Dr Tiancun Xiao in October 2004, and its technology draws on almost 20 years of research at the Oxford University's Wolfson Catalysis Centre. Oxford Catalysts works to design speciality catalysts for creating the next generation of clean fuels from both conventional fossil fuels and renewable sources such as biomass. The company has two key platform technologies: a novel class of metal carbide catalysts for applications such as Fischer-Tropsch (FT) and hydrodesulphurisation (HDS); and catalysts to produce steam at temperatures between 100ºC and 800ºC+ instantaneously starting from room temperature. Instant Steam could have important applications in a areas ranging from cleaning and disinfection, to food packaging and green energy in the form of motive power or electricity.

Oxford Catalysts has recently expanded its lab facilities. During the visit scientists working in the company will explain catalyst development, offer tours of its newly expanded labs – which house two new high throughput experimentation (HTE) rigs – and demonstrate the production of Instant Steam.

Oxford Diffraction

Oxford Diffraction ( designs and manufacturers innovative scientific instruments for single crystal X-ray diffraction. Founded in March 2001, Oxford Diffraction was created as a spin out of Oxford Instruments plc following a successful alliance with Kuma Diffraction, a dynamic Polish company based in Wrocław, which was itself spun out from the Polish Academy of Sciences in 1993. Oxford Diffraction has recently been acquired by the US-based company, Varian Inc., a leading worldwide supplier of scientific instruments and vacuum technologies for life sciences and industrial applications.

Oxford Diffraction's instruments are typically employed by academic and industrial scientific research groups working in the disciplines of chemistry, biology, geology and physics, where an understanding of the shape and three dimensional molecular structure of materials is essential. Its products encompass a vast array of diffractometers, X-ray sources and CCD detectors, and include its revolutionary PX Scanner, which is designed specifically to carry out identification and X-ray diffraction analysis of protein crystals in situ within multi-well crystallisation plates.
Scientists at Oxford Diffraction will demonstrate and explain the technology behind the machines, and discuss the theory and practice behind x-ray crystallography along with some of its applications.


  • 10:30 – 10: 45 Arrive at Oxford Catalysts (Oxford Catalysts have offered to provide transport from Didcot station for anyone travelling on the 9:30 or 9:48 train from Paddington (10:12 and 10:33 arrivals)
  • 10: 45- 11:15 The visit begins with coffee at Oxford Catalysts
  • 11:15 – 11:45 Discussion of the science and business rational behind Oxford Catalysts
  • 11:45 – 12:45 Tour of the new labs at Oxford Catalysts, including demonstrations of the new high throughput experimentation rigs and the Instant Steam technology.
  • 12:25 – 13:45 Sandwich lunch at Oxford Catalysts, followed by a short walk to Oxford Diffraction
  • 14:00 – 15:15: Discussion of the science and business rational behind Oxford Diffraction, and demonstrations of its award winning technology.
  • 15:15 – 15:30 Tea at Oxford Diffraction
  • 15:30 Visit ends. Oxford Catalysts will provide transport for anyone wishing to catch the
  • 15:47 or later trains from Didcot.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

MRC recruits science writer

It is surprising that more science writers have not joined the handful who have taken on appointments on the bodies that oversee various research organisations. After all, writers have to spend more time getting to know more of what goes on than many of the people who get grants from Research Councils, for example.

Writers don't even have to sit back and wait for someone to summon them on to these bodies. The RCs even invite people to apply for seats in their council. We don't know if this is how Vivienne Parry, an ABSW member, came to be a new members of the council of the Medical Research Council. But we can think of a number of drawbacks to applying for such a job.

The income, a grand total of £6570 per year can hardly make up for the work that you might have to forego when you have this sort of appointment. There are just too many opportunities for aggrieved outsiders to scream loudly about potential conflicts of interest. Fortunately, Vivienne, who has, among other activities, made some neat radio programmes in recent years, isn't the sort of person to be intimidated by such accusations.

If nothing else, having a "back" on board at a Research Council should help them to improve their media relationships. Some Research Councils, those I have to deal with, seem to take this aspect of their work seriously enough to allocate adequate resources to the work. They end up with small, hard working teams that really do not have the resources it takes to do an effective job.

This year's science books shortlist

The Royal Society has announced the shortlist for this year's Prizes for Science Books. It is good to see that they haven't ignored members of the ABSW. Good luck to Stuart Clark. He is up against powerful opposition, including serial winner Steve Jones and J. Craig Venter, the man who, by threatening to make the whole thing a private affair, accelerated the race to "decode" the human genome.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Has the US lost faith in science?

Those of us of an older generation have always looked at the USA when wanting to see how slavish acceptance of science and everything that it delivers plays out. Now, it seems, those days may be over.

Rick Borchelt director of communications at the Genetics and Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins University, and an old lag in the science communications caper, has, along with Kathy Hudson director of the place, come up with Engaging the Scientific Community With the Public. To pluck one paragraph out of their story:

In a nutshell, an erosion of public trust that began as a trickle of doubt about radiation safety and pesticides has grown to program-threatening uprisings against emerging new technologies, from genetically altered “Frankenfoods” to concern over “grey goo” in nanotechnology.
Apart from that, nothing new here really. But that may not be surprising, given that the UK first put the wheels on the bandwagon that has become the Public Understanding of Science (PUS) (now Public Engagement in Science and Technology).

Friday, 2 May 2008

IUCN Media Awards

Reuters Foundation and IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) have launched the 2008 IUCN Media Awards "for Excellence in Environmental Reporting". The web site has full details and application forms.

"All submissions must have been published between 12 September 2006 and 10 June 2008." You have until 15 June 2008 to enter.