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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.