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Monday, 19 October 2009

The end of this blog

Please note that this blog is no longer being updated as it has now been incorporated into the ABSW's new website. Please check there for the latest news, job postings and everything else.



ABSW Webmanager

Monday, 12 October 2009

ABSW South West at the King Bill

On 16 September, seven of the ABSW's finest minds gathered in a dark pub on King Street in Bristol. Thanks to new funding for regional meetings, drinks were at the expense of the Association. (And thanks to the excellent value offered by the King William, there is still enough in the kitty for another round).

Amid much talk of the recent World Conference of Science Journalists (WCSJ) in London, there was discussion of the identity of the British Science Association and of forming links with Bristol's Festival of Ideas, as well as the next WCSJ in Egypt.

A third meeting is planned before the end of the year. Any members in the region who are not on the South West list can email Hayley Birch at hayleymbirch [a]

Those who attended: Matin Durrani, Carolyn Allen, Liz Kalaugher, Julie Clayton, Jon Turney, James Dacey and Hayley Birch.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

27 October – first of the new ABSW lunches

The first of the new ABSW lunch dates has been fixed for the favourite choice, Tuesday 27th October.

Venue is Doggett's Coat and Badge, overlooking the Thames on Blackfriars Bridge. We will have our own bar, with balcony overlooking the river, from 12 noon to 4 pm. Lunch will be served at 1pm.

I hope that some of those who preferred other dates will still be able to come - we need at least 20 people to make it a success.

I am trying to fix up a speaker but can't say any more until that is confirmed. Whatever happens, it will still be a great chance to meet other science writers and do some networking.

Price for a three-course lunch, to include wine and tea or coffee is a very reasonable £25.

Hurry along to the special webpage to confirm your attendance and pick your menu. To avoid embarrassment on the day, please make a note of your choice!

Not a member the ABSW? Sign up now!

Paul Sutherland

Saturday, 3 October 2009

JOB AD: Communications Strategist Science Writer/Editor

Communications Strategist Science Writer/Editor

Working from home, anywhere in the world. Full-time preferred, but part-time applicants considered.

Green Ink is a leading provider of communication services in support of natural resources research for development. Our clients are organizations dedicated to eradicating poverty and hunger and protecting the environment in the developing world.

We are seeking an experienced communications strategist to develop our new service in this area. Able to design and deliver a package of activities spanning the participatory development of a strategy, training in its implementation and assessment of its impact, you will know how to identify key areas of intervention, from the written word or image to new communications tools and channels. You will be particularly knowledgeable about media outreach and social networking. An outstanding writer yourself, you will be able to lead by example in the development of content that achieves impact. Equipped with a relevant university degree or equivalent, you will already have an impressive record of success, probably in a corporate setting. You must be willing to travel to our clients when necessary.

We are also seeking talented English-language science writers/editors who are able to work independently yet enjoy being part of a team. You will be able to generate outstanding content on science and development issues for the popular and semi-specialist media, in both electronic and hard-copy formats. Besides an attractive portfolio of communication skills and a knowledge of natural resources R&D, you should have commitment, integrity and flair, coupled with the ability to work under pressure. You will be able to lead the planning and execution of complex communication projects, working with other team members to ensure timely product delivery to a high quality standard. A relevant university degree, proven experience, computer literacy, ability to work from home and willingness to travel are essential. Plus points are skills and experience in media outreach and social networking.

Salaries will range from £23,000 to £30,000 according to skills and experience and there is an attractive benefits package. Visit our website at to apply by 30 October 2009.

We are an equal opportunities employer.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Science journalism and libel laws – ABSW annual lecture

This year's ABSW annual lecture, on 15the October, will be a debate about science journalism and the libel laws. The event is being produced in association with City University, to celebrate the launch of City's MA course in Science Journalism.

ABSW members have up to 100 guaranteed places at this event on October 15th, but they must book their places by the end of the month (September 30th). After this, unused places will be released to the public.

Booking is through City University's website, entry is free.

To ensure that you reserve one of the guaranteed places, when you are filling in the booking form please provide the information "I am an ABSW member" in the drop down box which asks "Where did you hear about this event".

Science Fact science journalism and libel law

  • Simon Singh, freelance science journalist and author of Trick or Treatment?

  • Ben Goldacre, columnist, doctor and author of Bad Science

  • John Kampfner, Chief Executive, Index on Censorship

  • Duncan Lamont, libel lawyer and Head of Media & Entertainment at Charles Russell

  • Tracey Brown, Managing Director, Sense About Science

Science journalists Simon Singh and Ben Goldacre have both been sued in the past year for libel. They challenged the scientific method and evidence behind the use of chiropractic treatment for children (Singh) and the role of multivitamins to combat HIV/AIDS in South Africa (Goldacre).

After long court battles, Goldacre won his case, with the financial support of the Guardian, but Singh lost and faces the prospect of mounting an expensive appeal.

Should scientific debate be silenced by the use of English libel laws, thereby keeping the public in the dark? What are the wider implications for journalism and is there a pressing need for reform of the English libel laws?

Thursday October 15 2009 Time:7:00 PM

Oliver Thompson Lecture Theatre, City University London, Northampton Square, London, EC1V 0HB

Google Map

Monday, 17 August 2009

New Scientist seeks science graduates for new blog

Recent graduates looking to expand their science writing skills might be interested in this.

New Scientist is looking for recent science, technology or engineering graduates interested in blogging throughout the year about their experiences of life after University.

They are launching a new area of their website specifically for students in September 2009, and, according to their ad copy. "One of the things we'd like to do is help students understand what life is like after graduation."

We're looking for recent graduates to blog for us throughout the year about their experiences of life after university. You may be entering the world of work, going into further study or taking time out for some other exciting adventure.

If you are a keen blogger, happy to share your experiences about life after graduation to inform and inspire our student audience in exchange for the experience of writing for New Scientist, we'd like to hear from you.

Full details and how to apply can be found on their website.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Job advert: Nuffield Council on Bioethics seeks board member

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics examines the ethical issues raised
by advances in biological and medical research to promote public
understanding and assist policy makers. The Council is seeking
applications for a new Council member for its board with experience in
the media, communications and/or public engagement.

Applications are invited in the form of a brief statement of interest
accompanied by a short curriculum vitae. The closing date for
submissions is 2 October 2009.

Applications and any queries should be sent to Carol Perkins at
cperkins@nuffieldbioethics or please phone 020 7681 9619. Further
information is available at

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Job advert: New Scientist Features Editor

Features Editor - 6 Month Contract

Reference: 000235
Job Function Editorial & Publishing
Location Lacon House, London
Organization Reed Business Information
Job Type Contract
Job Posting 21/07/2009
Recruiter Justine Padfield

Job Description

New Scientist, the world's leading popular science and technology magazine and web site, needs a talented feature editor to join its award winning team. We offer a stimulating environment working with world-class journalists in our central London Offices, and a competitive salary.


  • To find, commission, write and edit compelling feature-length stories about all aspects of science and technology.
  • This is a job for a creative journalist who can commission, edit and write compelling stories to tight deadlines with the motivation and charisma to inspire others.
  • The successful candidate will have a good science degree.
  • A good track record in journalism.
  • Experience in managing writers, and a track record in editing feature length journalism.
RBI General Benefits Package
  • Pension Scheme
  • 29 Days Holiday
  • Paid Charity Days - 2 days per year
  • Life Insurance (4x salary)
  • Save As You Earn Share Scheme (SAYE)
  • Competitive Salaries
The Company:
With a head office in Sutton (a short 20 minute train journey direct from Victoria or Clapham Junction) and offices in Central London, Birmingham, Manchester and East Grinstead, Reed Business Information has a portfolio of award winning web sites and online services along with more than 100 market leading magazines, directories, direct marketing services, industry conferences and awards covering over 18 markets in the UK, Europe, USA and Asia. Reed Business Information has annual sales of £250 million.

Our online strategy focuses on markets with a need for deep, data driven information services, search and online recruitment. Backed by the resources of parent company Reed Elsevier, RBI's UK wide web based services are blazing a trail for specialist information online. Some of the market leading brands at RBI include, and, New Scientist, Estates Gazette, Computer Weekly and Personnel Today.

Please apply via the RBI website with your CV, covering letter and 3 clips (all in ONE document) by Friday 14th August 2009

Alternatively send you application by email to

Monday, 13 July 2009

Yes we cam!

One of the aims of the ABSW for 2009 is to build up a network of regional groups to increase activity for our members based outside of London.

Ben Valsler, a producer for the Naked Scientists, has been posting on the ABSW-L (our electronic mail list) to see if any fellow ABSW members from Cambridge are interested in meeting.

If you're in the area and would like to be involved, get on the Google Groups discussion forum (from where the ABSW-L emails are generated) or email Ben directly (

Members in the environs of Brighton recently enjoyed a lunchtime trip to the pub - get in touch with Michael Kenward if you're interested in any future outings there.

If you're not in Cambridge or Brighton, don't despair - why not start up a group of your own? Email the list to see who's interested (or contact the regional groups co-ordinator) and you could be part of making the ABSW an important, useful and fun association for all members, wherever you're based.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Twitter tips for the timid

Confused by all this Twitter-talk? What the heck is a hashtag? And how do I get started? Wonder no more. Jo Brodie has written this beginners guide.

The basic tips

How to follow a topic or conversation on Twitter without having a Twitter account

1. The easiest method is to go to and type in a relevant keyword (e.g. #wcsj) press enter and see the results. That will look like this.

As new tweets are posted with your keyword you will need to press the refresh button (i.e. reload the page) to see them too.

2. The second easiest method is to go to Monitter or Twitterfall (I prefer this one) and type in a word there and watch the tweets unfurl in real time - i.e. they auto-refresh.

I've found Monitter to slow down my laptop quite a bit, Twitterfall less so.

3. If the topic is very popular (e.g. anything to do with Michael Jackson last week) it will be a 'trending topic' - i.e. in the top ten of popular tags. You can then watch it unfold in real time over at What The Hashtag and there's also the opportunity to ‘harvest’ a transcript of all the tweets to read when convenient.

That looks like this .

The "View transcript" link is below the bar chart which is showing the number of tweets over a number of days.

If it's not trending and not appearing at wthashtag you can add it yourself - but you will need to sign up for an account. The people behind wthashtag helpfully created the #wcsj page for me because I didn't have an account at the time. I'd only learned about it the week before at Sci Comm Conference - there seems to be a very short lag time these days between hearing about a tool and then using it!

3a. What’s a hashtag?

It’s very similar to tagging or keywording (e.g. as used in Flickr to help people find things when searching). The # symbol adds a 'flag' to a word increasing its signal against the noise of every other tweeted word. It also makes it appear as an active link in the search results page at You can search for a word without putting a hash in front of it though, it's not essential for most things.

4. Receive tweets by email

Tweetlater (you need to register) is a free service which will email you the results of a Twitter search for a particular topic - another way of catching up with a lot of tweets on a topic.

N.B. The information in the rest of the post assumes a Twitter account - visit and sign up.


The middling to advanced tips

1. Ten Brutal Twitter tips from David Bradley - useful overview

2. Tweeting in 140 characters, shortening links

Each twitter post of 140 characters is a 'tweet' and the only way to include most web links is to shorten them otherwise they won't fit. Twitter does this automatically but to get the most info in your tweet, as you’re writing it, it's best to pre-shorten your URL so you can see how many spare characters will remain.

URL shortening services include Tinyurl,, and - and let you track the number of times your link is clicked on, which may be useful information.

3. The @ symbol, "@replies"

In front of anyone's name (with no space) does two things (i) turns the name into an active link that can be clicked on taking you to their Twitter profile and (ii) sends a copy of the tweet to them - although they go straight to the person they are also public and others can find them, so do not use @reply for private messages, see DM below (though it's probably best not to use Twitter for private messages).

You can read messages sent to you by clicking on the @jobrodie (your name here) link in the right hand side of the main page, once you have an account.

4. Retweeting someone else's post (RT)

RT (retweet) in front of a post means that you are reposting someone else's Tweet.

Here's one I tweeted earlier...

" RT @JRBtrip RT @TechCrunch Tweetraising: the potential for charities on Twitter "
This means that I'm retweeting @JRBtrip's post, he himself was retweeting @Techcrunch. My retweeting of this, using their @names means that both people will receive a copy of my message - i.e. they'll know that I've retweeted them - and also acknowledges the source.

N.B. There needs to be a space before the @ otherwise the name won't resolve to an active link.

5. Hat tip

Another way to acknowledge someone is to use h/t or ht to acknowledge that they were the originator of an idea, for example - here's me acknowledging that @SciCommConf and @marilyneb told me about the wthashtag (what the hashtag) website. It’s not done that often to be honest, but if you see the phrase that’s what it means.
"Not enough characters left in last tweet to h/t @SciCommConf & @marilyneb for highlighting @wthashtag - #wcsj transcript "
6. Direct Messages (DM or d)

Typing d jobrodie sends a private message to me but it will only work if I am following you (if I'm not following you it would have to be @jobrodie). You can also send direct messages through the Direct Messages link on Twitter.

7. Following posts / conversations in real time with a Twitter account

Tweetdeck is excellent for this, you can download it from

Tweetdeck is a third-party application for accessing Twitter (so instead of accessing it via the Twitter website in a browser, you can read Twitter via a different programme on your computer)

Tweetdeck presents you with basic columns (all the tweets of everyone you're following, a column of tweets sent to you, a column of private messages plus any columns you care to add e.g. a search for #wcsj).

You need to grant Tweetdeck access to your Twitter account for it to work - I've not had any problems with this particular service but have only used it on iPhone.

Some additional suggestions

1. Using Twitter on a mobile phone

Twitter's easy to use on a computer / laptop but there are mobile phone applications such as Twitterfon, Tweetie as well as Tweetdeck (for iPhone) that mean you can read or post tweets (might be a link to a blog post for example) while on the move. Many people at #wcsj were using phones to 'live blog' the conference.

2. A new account needs a bit of time to get going

It takes time to get the hang of Twitter but a little bit longer to build up a network. Lots of people sign up and then can't see the point of it. It's a bit like moving to a new neighbourhood and getting to know the locals - it's something you cultivate.

It really helps if you fill in the bio section, add a link to your website (or blog) and a photo. Then people know who you are.

3. Following people and being followed

Anyone can follow anyone else, unless they've restricted their "Twitter stream" by locking it - in which case you need to request permission to follow them. People are less likely to follow you if there's no information in your bio. In my case I'm likely to block you from following me if I can't see who you are. It's just difficult to engage with people if they're anonymous - and Twitter is meant to be a tool for social networking ;)

You can find people to follow by (a) searching for their name or knowing their Twitter account URL and clicking on the 'Follow' button, (b) by searching for keywords and following the people writing the most interesting posts about them, (c) if you've found someone to follow see who else they are following and who else is following them - some of those people might have similar interests to you.

4. Attention conference organisers

Please choose a hashtag that's simple and brief to type when tweeting from a mobile phone. #wcsj is pretty much perfect - short, letters only (numbers are on another screen on iPhones) and gives you more characters to type a message in - also it's very natural ('organic'!) and reflects what people were using already in referring to the conference. To be honest #scc2009 wouldn't have been my first choice for the sci com conference but it doesn't matter much when you're using a laptop of course.

Many conferences use Twitter to create a bit of a buzz around the event and draw people in, some conferences might want to set ground rules about what sessions can be covered - I expect people may well ignore this but sometimes it mightn't be appropriate to live blog things, I suppose.

5. Blog owners ... and possibly newspaper (online versions) people (?)

If you want to make it easy for people to share a post and you want to maintain some control over the link, pre-shorten the URL for them (create the post, shorten the URL, then amend the page to add in the new URL - I don't know a simpler way) or use a 'Tweet this' button. This makes it easy for people to share info on your website (promote your work) without having to shorten the URL themselves...

Using a link here lets you collect some referral information about where clicks are coming from - and at this point we are at the limits of my URL tracking knowledge.

In David Bradley's post (mentioned above) one of the first things you see on the page is the 'Tweet this' button - if you read the comments you will see I was asking about this sort of thing when the text was originally posted.

Many sites do this very well with a panel of social media sharing buttons including Facebook, Digg etc. etc.

6. If you wanted to refer to the URL of a particular Tweet...

...look at the bit just below the Tweet - the 'time when it was posted', in this case "half a minute ago" gives the URL for that particular tweet.

" TEDchris Mass-collaboration music vid. Beautiful way to nurture your fanbase: (via@ndjbaker) "
half a minute ago from web

7. Twitter can be just a series of RSS feeds

Some content you create yourself by typing it, some can be pushed from another source – e.g. I have an automated feed set up to collect any newly registered clinical trials about diabetes, which is published automatically whenever the database is updated.

Posted on behalf of Jo Brodie

Supreme God-Like Power Can Be Yours

Just to say that as I told the AGM in January, I am not available as Treasurer of ABSW in 2010. Do get in touch if you fancy taking on this interesting and important role.

Monday, 6 July 2009

A call for less science journalism

How could science writing for the public possibly be better? John Rennie, "outgoing" Editor in Chief of Scientific American, must have know that we would raise eyebrows with his comment that one answer to the question might be "maybe there should just be less of it".

He expands on this observation in a Scientific American Podcast, on the "Future of Science Coverage," based on comments he made at the World Conference of Science Journalists in London recently. His line, as reported in the transcript of the podcast, is that "we could all do with a lot fewer of the “what causes/cures cancer this week” story".

Rennie then goes on to dismember the "model of following what defines science news as that 95 percent of the time it is “interesting paper that appears in prestigious journal this week.”" As he says, "we’re all smart enough to know that that has absolutely nothing to do with how science works. That has to do with how publishing works."

The main message from Rennie is that "we have a responsibility as editors to try to rethink what counts as science news".

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Best of the World Conference of Science Journalists 2009

So the World Conference of Science Journalists is over, and what a conference it was. Around 950 science writers, journalists and communicators gathered over three days at London's Westminster Central Hall for debate, discussions, diatribes and, of course, plenty of drink.

With a delightfully packed schedule and the repressing heat of an unusually sunny London week, you'd be forgiven if bits of it passed you by in a bit of a haze.

Thankfully, on the Internet nothing goes unrecorded. So here's a compilation of blogs, tweets and resources by ABSW members to help you to catch up on, or just relive, those heady three days. (This is by no means a comprehensive list, so please feel free to point out further reports and resources in the comments).

A big thanks to Julie Clayton, Sally Robbins and Fiona Fox for organising the fantastic programme.

One of the most engaging aspects of the conference was the way delegates embraced Twitter and the #wcsj hashtag as a means of communicating.

There were 2,526 tweets from 252 contributors over the course of the conference, with an average of 360 tweets per day. This allowed people to hold conversations simultaneously in the real-life sessions and on the web. And with many sessions on at the same time, it proved a great way for delegates to keep in touch with interesting points from the debates they couldn't attend -- not to mention the useful service provided for those journalists who were not able to attend the conference at all.

Ed Yong, the most prolific tweeter at WCSJ, has a good description of the value of Twitter at WCSJ on Not Exactly Rocket Science.

If you'd like to relive the whole thing, you can view a transcript of the entire #wcsj Twitter conversation on (you can also adjust the transcript to just look at particular days only).

And as David Bradley has written, the conference was great for putting faces to the names of people one has met purely through email and Twitter. The digital age indeed.

Not Exactly Rocket Science
As well as live-tweeting from the conference, Ed Yong has written up three four in-depth accounts covering the New Media New Journalism session, the discussion with Nick Davies on Flat Earth News, the hard-to-forget Embargoes debate that was, for many, the highlight of the event, and what exactly science journalism is (cheerleader or watchdog?). These have prompted replies from scientist bloggers Mike the Mad Biologist on embargoes and another by Kim Hannula on Investigative Science Journalism).

Ed was of course also the winner of the ABSW Best Newcomer 2009 award, presented at the Gala reception in front of hundreds of science journalists, one Diplodocus and a statue of Charles Darwin.

Just a Theory
ABSW Executive Committee helper and Imperial SciCom student Jacob Aron was not only a volunteer at the conference, he was blogging the event too!

It was hard to miss SciDev.Net at WCSJ, with development a major strand and many of the delegates (myself included) current or ex-staff or freelancers. SciDev.Net's blog provided great coverage of the conference from the developing country point of view.

They also reported several news stories from the conference, including the success of Cairo in hosting the next WCSJ.

Nature's reporters were reporting from the conference on their In the Field blog.

A fishy beginning
What Climate coverage would David King like to see?
Fraud "endemic to medical publication"
Embargoes debate
Scrutinising big pharma
Swine Flu - don't believe the hype
Achieving global coverage for science – a workshop
London to Cairo

BBC Radio 4 Leading Edge
Geoff Watts, who took part in the Embargoes debate, had a brief audio package on the conference in his Leading Edge programme. You can listen again for the next few days.

Scientific American podcast
John Rennie, former editor of Scientific American, expands on his comments at WCSJ that what we need is less science journalism.

Financial Times Science blog
Clive Cookson's take on the WCSJ and the supposed 'crisis' in science journalism.

Columbia Journalism Review
Two excellent reports, one on the accusation that the National Science Foundation is 'underwriting' science coverage and other models from the 'New Media, New Journalism' session. The other is on the Future of Science Journalism, cherry-picking bits from the 'Blogs, Big Physics and Breaking News,' Science Editors and other sessions.

Lindau Nobel blog
Freelancer Matthew Chalmers writes on science journalism and blogging, following the Blogs, Big Physics and Breaking News session he took part in.

WCSJ News and the Naked Scientists
The official WCSJ news website, while not updated very often, does carry some reviews and short reports of sessions as well as the daily 10 minute podcasts presented by Meera Senthilingam of the Naked Scientists (I've heard longer podcasts of some of the sessions may soon available as well).

You may also have noticed the photographers floating around the place -- which explains this photo gallery of the event.

And for those who disappeared to the booze before the final speeches were over, here's the summary video shown at the end.

Update 5/7/09 22.50 Added Lindau Nobel, Mike the Mad Biologist and Kim Hannula links. Thanks to @BoraZ
Update 6/7/09 22.18 Added links to Columbia Journalism Review (thanks @Simon_Frantz), Scientific American podcast and session summaries on WCSJ news website (thanks @absw).
Update 7/7/09 09.47 Added extra post from Not Exactly Rocket Science.

Monday, 29 June 2009

A few questions on your professional situation

Martin Bauer, Head of the Methodology Institute and Director MSc Social and Public Communication, at the London School of Economics, is using the World Conference of Science Journalists as an opportunity to conduct a survey of science writers.

"We are undertaking a survey on the backgrounds, employment situation and daily practices of science journalists and the future of the profession. Whether you are taking part or not in the events, you are most welcome to tell us your opinion."
Lots of interesting questions in there "on your professional situation, your working practices, and the future of the profession".

Martin promises that "It will take you less than 10 minutes to answer these questions."

Friday, 19 June 2009

New Scientist editorial trainee scheme

The world's best science magazine has opened its doors for the New Scientist editorial trainee scheme.

If you are "a graduate with a good science degree and a burning desire to be a science journalist" then you have until 13 July to make your presence felt.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

ABSW special meeting

ABSW member are invited to a special meeting on Monday 29th June, from 6-7pm at the Dana Centre (165 Queen's Gate, South Kensington). We should like to discuss the future of the ABSW, the revamped newsletter, our new website and the awards. We should welcome ideas for events and activities as well as setting our priorities for the future and talking a bit more about how we hope to operate. We should also like this to take this opportunity to show our appreciation to Ted Nield and Barbie Drillsma for all their work and dedication to the ABSW.

Natasha Loder, science correspondent for The Economist and next chair of the ABSW, and Colin Blakemore, President of the ABSW, will host the discussion. The Studio of the Dana Centre can accommodate up to 100 members. To register for this event, please fill out the form

The first 30 folk to register will also be invited to attend the Media Reception of the World Conference of Science Journalists, being held nearby at the Science Museum, from 7-9pm.

ABSW's How to publish a popular science book

Those attending the World Conference of Science Journalists, are invited to attend the ABSW's How to publish a popular science book on Wednesday 1st July, between 13.30 to 14.30.

From an idea in an author's head, to a book in a reader's hand, there is much about the science book trade that may surprise. This session aims to unlock the mysteries behind writing a book proposal, such as getting an agent, making proposals to editors at publishing houses, how editors have to sell books to their sales/marketing teams, doing deals and getting book buyers interested. The session offers potential authors the chance to ask burning questions of those directly involved in the business in order to shed light on some of the less-well known aspects to the science book trade, such as editing, publicity, and how a book gets reviewed. This
session also hopes to address the question of whether the books that become bestsellers are the best books or those which publishing companies have spent the most money.


* John Gribbin, Author
* Peter Tallack, Agent
* Will Goodlad, Publisher (Penguin)


* Sara Abdulla, Nature

Monday, 8 June 2009

Epilepsy journalism award

Another award for specialist journalism with decidedly scientific leanings. The International Bureau for Epilepsy (IBE) and UCB, "a global leader in the biopharmaceutical industry," are behind the awards for Excellence in Epilepsy Journalism.

"The international award is open to consumer, health and medical journalists from around the world writing for print, broadcast or online media and will celebrate journalism that challenges stereotypes."
The award is for material published or broadcast between 1 July 2008 and 30 June 2009. There are three categories; medical print/online, consumer print/online and Broadcast.

Prizes come in the shape of travel vouchers worth €4000 for each category, with the suggestion that the vouchers "could be used to defray travel costs related to further journalistic research and publications about epilepsy in an international context".

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Max Perutz science writing award 2009

The Medical Research Council has posted details of the Max Perutz science writing award 2009. Open to MRC-funded PhD students, the award, worth £1000, "has attracted more than a thousand entries since it began 12 years ago".

Winner and runners "will be invited to an awards ceremony in central London on 26 August 2009 and will secure a place on a masterclass with professional writers". The judges include Alok Jha, the Guardian’s science and environment correspondent. Entries have to be in by 29 June 2009.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Guild of Health Writers’ Writing Awards 2009

Good writing deserves good rewards!

The Guild of Health Writers invites entries to its prestigious Writing Awards. They will be presented at a gala reception at Chandos House, London on October 13th 2009. The total prize fund is £6000.


  • Winners £700, Runners Up £300
  • Best consumer magazine health feature
  • Best national newspaper health feature
  • Best regional newspaper health feature
  • Best trade and specialist publication feature
  • Best online health contribution
  • Best freelance feature (chosen from categories above)

Closing date for entries June 30th, 2009

For entry form go to

Friday, 22 May 2009

Framing research with the Danish Science Journalists' Association

The Danish Science Journalists' Association is hosting a conference on June 11 and wants you to go along.

From their blurb:

"The rise of new media (blogs) and social media (twitter, has changed the rules of engagement in science communication. New types of media platforms emerge by the minute, print media circulation numbers are dropping and communication takes place in an ever more fragmented digital media reality. Regardless of whether you are a science journalist, a science communicator or a scientist - a new approach towards science communication is emerging.

What impact will this have on you?
At this years' interactive conference the Danish Association of Science Journalists will take a peek into the future by proposing your reality to expert prognoses from our invited national and international speakers:

  • Matthew Nisbet, ph.d., associate professor, School of Communication, American University, Washington
  • Anne Knudsen, Editor-in-chief, Weekendavisen
  • Michael Gross, ph.d., science Writer, England
  • Barbara Ann Halkier, dr. scient, associate professor, Dept. of Life Sciences, University of Copenhagen
  • Jacob Skovgaard-Petersen, professor MSO, Dept of Cross-cultural and regional studies, University of Copenhagen.
We aim to draw the current landscape of science communication, inspire you with new tools to optimize your impact particularly focusing on the concept of 'framing' and we will formulate three focus points for our common challenges in the future of science communication.

The conference takes place on June 11. at the Danish School of Education, Tuborgvej 164, 2400 Copenhagen NV."

If that isn't all perfectly clear, here's some more information on the conference including the programme, registration form and a participants list.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Simon Singh speaks

Unless you've been away or had your head in the sand, you'll most likely have heard that Simon Singh was on the wrong side of a High Court libel verdict a couple of weeks ago. On Monday night some 250+ (possibly as many as 400) people packed into a Holborn pub to show their support and hear what Simon would do next.

The long and the short of it is that, while many were anticipating Simon's decision, he still can't say for certain. While he very much hopes to appeal in the European courts, he and his lawyers remain in discussions, determining whether they have a defensible case or not. He hopes to reach a final decision by 28 May. But he did have this to say (as the New Humanist blog reported):

While mounting an appeal is risky because he may lose, Simon gave three reasons why it is the right option - 1) he might win, 2) he wants his day in court to talk about what the Guardian article actually meant, and 3) most importantly this case is about broader issues that the validity of chiropractic - it is "about the need to be able to write about issues fairly and reasonably without being intimidated". It is something that matters for all journalists, and ties into the wider issues concerning British libel law.
Needless to say, he very much had the support of the crowd and thousands more nationwide and across the interwebs, all of whom are aware that this is about more than just one writer and a single court case.

It was an inspiring evening, with the fabulous attendance matched by a variety of strong speakers, including the comedian and author Dave Gorman, journalist Nick Cohen and Evan Harris MP. One of the most interesting aspects for me was Gorman's admission that he, like many others, knew little of chiropractic and regarded it as just a legitimate form of treatment for back pain. By suing Simon Singh, the British Chiropractic Association has, he said, brought attention to the full range of treatments they offer.

There are already several good accounts of the night in the blogosphere, so I'll point out to a brief selection:

>> New Humanist
>> Dave Gorman's Blog
>> New Scientist blog

The best source for up-to-date information remains the blog of Jack of Kent, the lawyer who has been a staunch supporter of Simon since the beginning.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

ABSW Seminar: Journalism 2.0 - taught by Mike Nagle

ABSW members are invited to attend a training seminar on Tuesday May 26th. Bring along your laptop and be brought up-to-date with some of new methods of working and collaborating using the internet. RSS feeds & readers. Twitter. Pimp your Browser. Collaboration with Google Docs and more. In fact, anything you want - just email Mike your questions beforehand. (Note it isn't intended for broader hardware or software problems with laptops). To take full advantage of this session members need to bring a laptop equipped with working wifi.

The event will be on the Tuesday 26th of May, at Wellcome's meeting rooms on the Euston Road. The event is 6.30pm for 7pm start, and will finish at 8pm, and likely end up in the pub. There is a 2 pound booking fee to secure a place at this event. Light refreshments will be served. This event is likely to be very popular so please book early as numbers will be limited.

To book this event, please complete the form.

Directions to Wellcome.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Say hello to Phrasefinder

I’ll let you into a professional secret, I don’t always think up my own headlines and captions. While "Twin Peaks", the headline to a story about how researchers used twin research to show that genes partly explain why women can't reach orgasm, was all my own sometimes similar inspiration is harder to find. Particularly under pressure of a deadline.
So I started to subscribe to a service called Phrasefinder to help inspire me. It is an online thesaurus but finds phrases rather than single words. You an enter a word related to the subject and using some intelligent searching wizardry it will generate a list of phrases related to the word—many that would be hard to think of straight away. It is a great way of instantly generating a wide variety of options for headlines and captions.
From its sample search on the word “fish”, you would receive many of the obvious phrases such as “Fish out of water”, but also: All at sea; Angle for; Cast a long shadow; Hunky dory; Jail bait; Off the scale; Old trout; Prize catch; Ray of light; Red herring; Whale of a time; Whipper snapper.
Anyway, you don’t have to trust me. Because the ABSW has set up a one-year group subscription for 100 members. If the feedback is good, perhaps it will get renewed or extended. To apply for a subscription to phrasefinder, fill out this form.
Individual subscriptions to this service cost £28
, so anyone using this in their work should find ABSW membership particularly good value. Please note that this offer is not available to lapsed members. However if you are intending to pay your 2009 subscription before May 30th, you may apply for Phrasefinder access indicating this, and you will then have a period of grace in which you can renew your ABSW membership and then receive access details for Phrasefinder.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Euroscience media awards

You have until 30 June 2009 to enter the Euroscience media awards.

The awards are:

  • The Euroscience Stiftung Young Journalists Award
  • The Euroscience Stiftung Lifetime Journalism Award
  • The Johnson and Johnson Award for R&D/Science TV journalism Award
  • The AlphaGalileo Award for Research Public Relations Award
The awards will be €5000 each "apart from the Young Journalist category where the sponsors reserve the right to award one award of €5000 or two awards of €2500".

You have to enter for the TV and media relations awards via the web site.

Job advert: Science Writer wanted

The Education & Outreach Office in the Earth Observatory of Singapore is seeking a skilled writer/editor with experience in translating scientific and technical information into layman’s language for scientific or research organisations.

Preference will be given to candidates with a working knowledge of natural hazards, earth science or environmental science. Some regional travel to research sites will be required. This position will report to the Education & Outreach Director of the EOS.

Duties & Responsibilities:

  • Write and edit inhouse brochures, research updates, press releases and policy briefs that showcase the work of EOS scientists and collaborators
  • Maintain oversight of EOS website to ensure a regular supply of fresh content such as research updates, hazard alerts and other public awareness stories
  • Assign and manage feature articles and educational materials contracted to outside contributors and translators when needed
  • Support EOS scientists in preparing high-quality speeches and presentations for media conferences and other events
  • Manage in house or contract designers and printers for publication of online and print materials


  • Exceptional English writing skills with a minimum of 5-7 years experience as a journalist or science writer
  • Bachelor’s degree or higher from a recognised university, preferably in journalism, communications or English. Degree in other disciplines acceptable with a minimum of 7 years demonstrable experience as a published journalist or writer
  • Proven ability to interact collegially with a team of international scientists and other technical experts, and to translate technical content into compelling stories
  • Ability to meet deadlines and work with a high level of accuracy and attention to detail
    Familiarity with web and print publishing procedures, and Web 2.0 technologies such as RSS feeds, blogs and podcasting
  • Team player with excellent interpersonal skills
  • Suitably qualified candidates are invited to apply by using the prescribed Personal Particulars Form (Administrative and Support positions) obtainable from:

Electronic submission of application is encouraged and can be forwarded to the following address:

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Job Advert - Press Officer, EMBL

Job description:

EMBL is seeking an experienced Press Officer to oversee media relations activities at EMBL. Responsibilities will include:

  • Developing and implementing a strategic plan for media relations activities
  • Coordinating all media activities between international journalists and EMBL
  • Advising EMBL staff in media relations
  • Following scientific discoveries at all EMBL sites and liaising with scientists for gathering information
  • Working with EMBL scientists and management to write, format and distribute press releases about scientific discoveries and other news stories coming out of the lab
  • Writing & editing articles for EMBL's Annual Report
  • Maintaining and updating media database
  • Representing EMBL at international conferences
  • Working closely with EIROforum

    Qualifications and Experience: In addition to a university degree, experience in public relations or communications as well as background in life sciences are required. Applicants should also have excellent written and oral English skills. German or French language abilities would be advantageous. Extensive experience in dealing with journalists and a large international network of media contacts is desirable. As well as being able to work independently, candidates should have strong interpersonal skills and be able to work effectively as a member of the communication team at EMBL.

    Contract: 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.

    Closing date: 17 May 2009

    Web page:

    To apply, please email a cover letter, CV (in English) and contact information of three professional references quoting ref. no. ABSW/09/025 in the subject line, to:

    Personnel, EMBL, Postfach 10.2209, 69012 Heidelberg, Germany.

    Fax: +49 6221 387555 E-mail:

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

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Questions? Email or call 202-326-6716.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

So, farewell then, Sir John Maddox

There were plans to create a message here with links to obituaries of Sir John Maddox, erstwhile editor of Nature, mischief maker and smoker extraordinaire. But there really doesn't seem to be much point given that Henry Gee, sometime colleague of Sir John, is already doing such a fine job. Catch it here, Sir John Maddox (1925-2009) - An Appreciation, a part of Henry's blog on Nature Network.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Science journalism awards: ABSW Best Newcomer 2009

The ABSW would like to invite members to nominate themselves, or colleagues, for a Best Newcomer prize to be awarded later this year at the World Conference of Science.

Rules: There are no age restrictions for this award. But those nominated should have published their first piece of journalism within the last three years. Entrants should be currently working in science and technology journalism, either freelance, full-time or part-time. You may nominate colleagues who are not members of the ABSW. The winner will be whomever gets the most nominations by members.

The voting form can be found here.

Small print: Members may make only one nomination in this competition. If any member sends more than one, only the first will be counted. Nominations will only be accepted from ABSW members in good standing. If you are not up-to-date with your membership dues when the nominations window closes, your vote will not be included.

Please note, in the case of a tie for first place, the final winner will be chosen by the ABSW committee using the supporting information sent in with nominations. Only one piece of supporting work (excluding personal website) may be submitted per nomination.

Nominations close at midnight on May 30th, 2009.

The winner will receive £200 and a certificate, both will be awarded at a Gala Reception at this year's World Conference of Science. To find out more about the World Conference/ABSW Gala reception please visit Queries about this award should be addressed to

New science journalism masters at City

If science journalism is in a crisis, this doesn't seem to be reflected at the country's leading school for journalists which has just announced a new course, a masters, in the subject.

First intake is this year in September. Apparently City looked at the destinations for many of their journalism graduates and identified this course as necessary. They've tweaked a lot of their course content to make it more appropriate to those writing in science, environment, food. It costs about 7.5K.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

2009 ABSW briefings: summary of suggestions

A few weeks ago I posted a note on the ABSW-L on behalf of the Committee, asking for suggestions for what the 2009 ABSW briefings should cover. We're looking to get these underway pretty soon, so now seems a good time to summarise some of the ideas proposed by members:

  • 'Lies, damned lies, and statistics: the importance of getting your maths right when reporting trial data' in light of Ben Goldacre's recent outburst.
  • Risk: what it really means. Evaluating and reporting responsibly on issues involving degrees of risk.
  • Libel. As Pete Wrobel said: "This hardly seems to be touched in the science communication courses, and fewer and fewer journalists seem to feel confident about it."
  • Embargoes
  • Tax: what you can claim on and royalties
  • Tips for freelancers
  • Effective ways of tackling pseudoscience and bad/misleading science reporting in the none specialist media
At least one person also expressed an interest in repeating some of the briefings from last year (Writing a popular science book, A training session on copyright, Pitching and negotiating, Students meet the Editors, Writing for learned society magazines, Podcasts, Blogging).

If you have any further suggestions please post them in the comments below, on the ABSW-L thread or on the ABSW Facebook group discussion thread. There's another committee meeting coming up in a two weeks so get your ideas in please!

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Another take on science in the media

It is always interesting to see how other people view the strange business of science communication. The latest example to come across the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining where Rupal Mehta has written a detailed piece Lost in translation? Science in the media.

Rupal compares science communication with bringing a product to market. Companies would never go about this, she says, "without doing their homework and establishing good links with the rest of the supply chain. Communicating with the media is no different, she explains, "every link in the chain, be it scientists, press officers or journalists, has its role to play. When one element is ‘faulty’ or does not do its job properly, the quality of the output is affected."

The article has plenty of quotes from various players in the process, on such topics as the MMR saga. The blame this one, it seems, "rests squarely at the feet of the media," according to Tom Sheldon, Engineering Press Officer at the Science Media Centre.

There are, though, times when companies have to shoulder the blame. Take coverage of research into fuel-efficient and quieter aircraft engines. No one has written about this, preferring to chew over the local and environmental implications of a new runway at UK’s Heathrow Airport.

Tom Sheldon has tried. "We phone the press officers for the big companies, and are often told there is no-one available, or are issued with a statement. I understand there is a confidentiality issue, but if you don’t put the record straight, then you only have yourselves to blame."

Rupal's view is that good science press officers can act as "the vital third link in the chain" between scientists and the media. "The relationship between the scientist and the press officer is key – ‘bad’ science journalism can sometimes be down to miscommunication between these two elements."

Friday, 10 April 2009

Tips on using the ABSW-L

Many of you already subscribe to ABSW-L, our official mailing list, where the majority of official ABSW announcements are communicated and many members choose to discuss many different topics, from professional queries to general debates about science.

The list is a valuable way to stay in touch with the Association and your fellow members. However, I realise not everyone is aware that the list exists, and some who were previously subscribed left.

Some members may not be aware that there are different ways to access and take part in ABSW-L that don't involve receiving a load of emails into your inbox.

The ABSW-L emails are actually generated from a Google Groups discussion forum. From that website, you can access all the conversations and communiques going on ABSW-L as a web-based forum for you to dip in and out as you like. Conversations are grouped by subject (like in Gmail/Google Mail) making it easy to skim the posts that are relevant to you.

If you prefer to get notices into your email, but don't want to flood your inbox, you can choose to get a single daily digest instead. To be clear the options available in your subscription settings are:

  • No Email (Read messages on the web)
  • Abridged email (Get a summary of new activity each day)
  • Digest email (Get up to 25 new messages bundled into a single email)
  • Email (Each new message is forwarded to your inbox as it arrives)
You can subscribe to the group and access all these features with any email address (not just gmail addresses).

I hope these tips are useful and encourage any members not currently engaged with ABSW-L to at least dip in every now and again.

Thanks to Mike Nagle, on whose email this post is based.

EUSJA study trips to Germany and plug your books in TSR

For anyone that missed it, I'm posting a couple of items Barbie emailed yesterday:

Plug your book in the next issue of The Science Reporter

If you have a book that has come out in 2009 or will be published by the end of June 2009 we'd like to spread the good news in the members' books section of The Science Reporter. Please send an e-mail to sunny [at] with full details (title, author, ISBN, publisher, publication date, price, URL) no later than 21 April.

Study trips to Germany

The end of April is the closing date for applications for members to attend a study trip to the 59th meeting of Nobel Laureates in Lindau, Germany (sadly this clashes with the World Conference, taking place 28 June-3 July).

This is the first of a number of EUSJA study trips coming up. You have to pay your own travel but all accommodation and meals will be provided. The meeting this year is dedicated to chemistry and we have a place for one ABSW member to attend. Please send an application to EUSJA secretary, Viola Egikova - violae [at]; egikova [at] by April 30.

The next study trip, again to Germany, is being organised by the Helmholtz Association looking at energy research. This is a five day trip (13-18 September) beginning in Stuttgart and ending in Berlin.

Full details of this will be featured either in The Science Reporter or on the website but if you are certain you would like to be considered please send an email to Barbie Drillsma - absw [at]

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

New members

Profiles of the latest members to join the ABSW have been posted on the Online TSR. Go here to find out who's new...

Profiles were compiled by Kat Arney, Vice chair, from information provided by members. Two that were too late to make it into the main list were:

Dr Paul Olding (BBC)
Full member

Paul is a director and producer at the BBC, with ten years of experience in making science documentaries. He has worked as producer/director on the BBC's award-winning Horizon strand, and other shows including 'Andrew Marr's Dangerous idea: Life and Death' and 'Earth - the Power of the Planet: Volcanoes'. As well as his extensive experience in the world of TV and film-making, he is a writer whose work has been published in Dive magazine, BBC Wildlife, the Guardian and the Independent. In addition, he is a freelance photographer, and has experience working as a radio presenter, including writing and presenting 'The Frog that Croaked' on BBC Radio 4.

Emma Ross (Freelance communications specialist)
Associate member

Emma is an independent health communications consultant based in London. She specialises in managing media operations for medical sciences conferences, facilitating the release of other medical and public health stories and providing strategic communications advice, including media training.She spent the bulk of her career as a medical correspondent for the Associated Press before a stint as news team leader at the World Health Organisation. Emma has a Master's degree in journalism.

Job Advert: Reporter, Research Fortnight

Research Fortnight, the main newsletter covering UK research policy, and Research Europe, which covers the European Union, is looking for a reporter to join our busy newsdesk in London.

The reporter will join a dedicated team reporting on policies that matter to researchers in the hard sciences and other academic disciplines. They will prepare stories for our daily online bulletins as well as our print newsletters.

This position calls for a background in science, engineering or the social sciences, some knowledge of research and of the UK university system, limitless curiosity and, above all, ambition to succeed in journalism. Fluency in French, German or a Scandinavian language would also be an advantage.

Research Fortnight has been published since 1994 and is the policy bible of the UK research community. Our overseas publications are valued just as highly, and reach hundreds of thousands of subscribers through our website,

The successful applicant will be based at our offices in Hoxton, five minutes from Old Street and Liverpool Street stations, along with 30+ other staff. The starting salary is up to £21,000, subject to review after six months.

How to apply

  • Please send a cover letter, CV and three examples of your work to the editor, Colin Macilwain, at by Tuesday, April 14.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Minimalist Web Browsing

Dozens of pop-up ads covering a desktop.Sometimes reading on the web can be overwhelming, with sidebars packed with animated banner ads, popup offers that repeatedly popup, hidden pop-under boxes, and screaming Flash intros that take an age to complete, even on a broadband connection. Wouldn't it be nice when you're in a hurry to get to the flesh of an article to simply block all the ads, animations, Flash, and scripts? Well, for people who use the Firefox web browser, and a few others, there are ways and means...

First suggested addon to install is NoScript. This program automaticaly blocks scripts, malicious or otherwise and protects you from clickjacking and other nasties. In blocking scripts (other than those you deliberately add to the white list), it also prevents a site from running many of the standard scripts that display popup ads.

Protection aside, the second suggested Firefox addon is AdBlockPlus, which as it name would suggest block ads and more. It's an application that has the advertising industry and those who depend on it for income up in arms. However, I'd suggest that most people aware of its existence and inclined to use it are not generally the sort of people who would click ads in the first place. ABP is fairly customisable, allowing wildcard filtering of whole ad networks across all the sites you visit. it also several free subscription services of regularly updated networks that you can use to automate the filtering process. If you're using Google Chrome browser there's AdSweep and there are techniques for blocking ads in Internet Explorer 8.

If blocking ads brings on a guilty sweat, then there is often a legitimate way to get a clear view of a web article and that is through the "print version" link on a page. Not all websites offer such a link but those that do will usually present you with an ad-free view of the page you're hoping to read. If you cannot quickly see the "print version" link on the page, then you can try Print Hint, which is an add-on that creates a toolbar icon that changes colour if it detects a printer friendly page.

All self-respecting alpha browsers will already have Greasemonkey installed, but if you're still aspiring to that epithet, then you should grab this addon for Firefox. It is not in itself an application, but a framework for adding tweakable applets to Firefox that allow you to control how a web site will look in your browser. The scripts necessary to make Greasemonkey useful are available at

Among those Greasemonkey userscripts you will find tools to remove sponsored links and ads from Google and all its applications (mail, reader, calendar, talk), from Facebook, and to automatically redirect you to the print version of an article on several sites, including Scientific American, Business Week, Globe and Mail, and others.

Do I advocate you using any of these ad blocking applications? Not really, I'll leave that to your conscience, but as science writers, I don't think we're generally the target audience for ads for mass spectrometers or lab technician jobs and moreover are probably among the least likely groups (together with Linux hackers) to actually click through any ad on a site.

Indeed, I suspect that any science writer going ad free in this way will get more out of the article itself and be more likely to cite it in their own follow-up on a topic. Such a citation will not only provide Google link juice (page rank effect) from the writer's own outlet, but also put the other publication into a wider context and provide the kind of validation that advertisers can only dream about when creating their interminably flashy popunders and animated website intros.

Incidentally, you the browser should have full control over how a website looks, but you can switch these various tools on and off or set them to only block ads on specific sites. If you're feeling guilty about depriving the site owners their ad revenue, but still want to read the site "clean" you could have them switched off most of the time and just do an ad block when you need a clear view of a particular page or if you need an uncluttered printout.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Siemens backs competition for young technology journalists

Siemens, the German industry giant, is backing a competition for student journalists. The focus is on "technology journalism," a rarely acknowledged branch of the trade.

In its announcement, Competition for young journalists from northern Germany, Siemens says that the idea behind the venture is "Getting young people interested in technology through journalism".

In April, "young journalists from school newspapers and campus media from Hamburg, Bremen, North Rhine-Westphalia, and Lower Saxony" will turn up at the Hannover Messe, the "the world's leading showcase for industrial technology". There they will report on what they see. A jury of editors and PR officials will judge the submissions.

This is the sixth such competition, with more than 500 participants over the years. Indeed, the press release says that the competition "has become a fixture of the trade fair".

Siemens says that students from all over Germany have entered the technology journalism contest and have shown that "writing about technology is not just for engineers who have a way with words".

The prizes will be awarded in June. The ten best technology journalists will be able to take part in a TV workshop while other prizes include "internships at professional journals as well as books".

Thursday, 2 April 2009

April Fools

April Fools Day has come and gone, and science, being stranger than fiction at times, once again proved a fertile ground for media pranksters.

There's a discussion going on over at the ABSW-L about good April Fools stories past and present. Our Chairman, Ted Nield, tells of a piece he did about the Geological Society honouring the then England cricket Captain Nasser Hussein, who studied geology at Durham. All good fun until a Daily Express sports reporter rang weeks later to say he'd been chasing up the story and trying to get a comment out of a "Dr Avril Foley" of the "University of Limerick"...

Mike Kenward recalls a New Scientist piece about genetically engineered beef, with an added tomato gene to make ketchup redundant. Bernard Dixon remembers another feature they ran about fragments of ancient pottery that had been unearthed showing several young ladies, and parts thereof, engaged in interesting activities.

This year it was a bit hard to tell the fact from fiction on the New Scientist website, with a report on a study of navel fluff, fuel cells for medical implants that feed on human blood and masturbation bringing hay fever relief for men (all of which may well be true. I haven't checked, though the last one comes with references. Pun intended. Sorry :p).

Elsewhere, the Express did a piece on an invisible car, the Telegraph reported that fish could be the solution to our energy crisis, and the Guardian said it was going to publish only on Twitter (a good satire but rather poor as an April Fools prank). And over on Radio 4, the Today programme also had an item on spider monkeys bringing donuts in tribute to an island-bound alpha chimpanzee female, with scientists debating whether primates should now be reclassified as the same species as humans.

What's the best science/technology/medicine-related April Fools you've heard?

Do bloggers need editors?

The debate about the merits of bloggers versus "professional" science writers rattles on. You can read a lot of it in a recent post on something called A Blog Around The Clock, within Seed's ScienceBlogs empire. The piece in question, Defining the Journalism vs. Blogging Debate, with a Science Reporting angle, comes from someone who clearly thinks he has a lot to contribute to the debate. And it really is a lot.

This raises an issue that does not seem to enter into the ruminations of the bloggers. They rattle on about accuracy, timeliness and stuff, but rarely get into things like the choice of a story and practical things like readability and length.

My software tells me that this piece is more than 10,000 words long. That may be a inaccurate, life is too short to read the piece carefully, let alone to count the words.

Which publication would allow a writer to rabbit on at that length? Even in its most ponderous days Scientific American would have seen that as at the upper limit of readability. And on New Scientist, another place where they cover science at greater length than most newspapers, it would have been a crime against humanity.

It is just too easy to write too much when you don't have an editor shouting at you. That is one reason why it is harder to write science for tabloid newspapers than for broadsheets. The editors are less tolerant on the tabloids.

Written by a specialist in "chronobiology (circadian rhythms and photoperiodism), with additional interests in comparative physiology, animal behavior and evolution," this particular item may contain some gems. (The readers who commented seem to think so, but they fall into the usual mould for blogdom "Great post, awesome" sums up the insight available in most responses.) Few readers, though, will have the staying power to mine them all.

An editor would have told our expert to focus on one or two points and to make them clearly and concisely. The editor would also have asked who the audience might be.

Unlike bloggers, profesional writers see little point in writing for their own consumption. Ideally, they want to reach people who would normally avoid the subject. You don't do that by writing too much.

A paradox here is that the web is supposed to be a very different medium: writers have to "screen at a time" reading. This guy witters on for screen after screen.

Maybe there is a point to Twitter after all.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Advancement of science lives on

The British Association for the Advancement of Science may be a thing of the past, they changed the name to British Science Association, but the advancement word lives on. This is thanks to the Royal Society, which has just set up a new centre for the advancement of science.

The RS has bought Chicheley Hall, a country pile, sorry, "historic stately home," where "scientists from all over the UK and the world will be able to meet to discuss and develop their work". The RS's new pad is two miles east of Newport Pagnell, not far from idyllic Milton Keynes.

Unless the RS decides to get into the business, the place will lose its role in the weddings market, but it will reclaim its status as a place where more important things happen. Wikipedia tells us that during the Second World War the Special Operations Executive used the place as its Special Training School No. 46. (More recently, it also stood in for Bletchley Park in a TV programme.)

The money for the new venture comes from the Kavli Foundation, those nice people who are funding the AAAS's awards for science writers. The foundation will also use Chicheley Hall as its European home.

The place cost £6.5 million, knocked down from an asking price of £9 million in 2007, and will open in 2010, the 350th Anniversary of the Royal Society.

Monday, 30 March 2009

New book by ABSW member Mark Henderson

Mark Henderson's first book is being published on Thursday April 2. It's called 50 Genetics Ideas You Really Need To Know, and is published by Quercus. It's a broad introduction to basic concepts and issues in genetics, written very much with a lay audience in mind. The "50 Ideas" series already includes similar titles on physics, maths etc.

If you're interested, it's available for pre-order from Amazon at -and it should be in the bookshops from Thursday!

Mark is Science Editor of The Times Newspaper

Friday, 27 March 2009

Lessons from cold fusion's 20th birthday

It is surely no coincidence that yet another group of researchers is reporting signs of "cold fusion" 20 years after the first storm in a test tube. The fact that the subject is in the news again adds extra interest to the account of how the journalist who first broke the story came to do so.

In a piece on the FT's science blob, A sad anniversary for cold fusion, Clive Cookson, the paper's science editor, tells how the story landed in his lap.

He was visiting his father who, like Martin Fleischmann, one the duo that "invented" cold fusion, was a chemistry professor at Southampton University. "I happened to answer the phone before dinner," says Clive. Fleischmann was on the other end. "He told me at once that he was in America, and he did not want to talk to my father but to me – in confidence."

Fleischmann then filled Clive in on the story and asked for advice on how to deal with the media. Clive cautioned Fleischmann against a press conference that the University of Utah wanted to hold to tell the world about the breakthrough. "I advised him to resist the university’s pressure to hold a press conference, if he possibly could – while being aware that such sensational news might leak out."

The university ignored this. So Fleischmann offered Clive enough details to write a piece.

At first the idea was for the FT to run something after the press conference. It was only later that it occured to Clive "that there wouldn’t be an FT on Friday. Unlike American papers – or indeed most British papers - we never publish on Good Friday."

He persuaded Fleischmann to let the FT run ahead of the pack on the grounds that "cool, calm coverage in the FT would help to set the tone for the press conference later that day". The rest is history.

Clive offers some interesting lessons from the saga. One might upset scientists greatly.

"Although everyone agrees that it really is best for research not to be released in the mass media before it has appeared in a peer-reviewed journal, the media will have no compunction about reporting sensational findings that have not been peer reviewed, so long as the scientists in question come from reputable institutions and have respectable research backgrounds, as Professors Fleischmann and Pons did."
Journalists will see this as blindingly obvious. It is not our job to peer review science.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

New dawn breaks over Dana

Ted Nield, Chair, ABSW reports on last night’s Committee meeting

Last night your Executive Committee met at the sign of the squashed blueberry – otherwise known as the headquarters of our friends the “British Science Association” (yes, yes, you know who they are) at the Dana Centre. At a previous meeting the Committee decided the Chair should communicate the highlights of its evening conflabs using the new tools of communication now at our demand - and so this is it.

The first piece of news is that I am going. (No, nothing to do with having to write these reports.) With great pleasure, I announced to the Committee that Natasha Loder (of The Economist) had agreed to take on the role of Chair. Moreover, we have agreed on an “orderly handover” during the World Conference of Science Journalists this summer - to which of course you must all come (Click the ad to the right and register NOW!). Natasha will then stand for election along with the rest of the Committee in the usual way at the 2010 AGM.

I am particularly delighted to have been able to find someone so young, able and energetic to take on this role. Natasha and I have served together on the committee before, and she has recently re-joined us as World Conference Liaison Officer. Handing over to her early at the World Conference will not only allow me to avoid remaining in post for an unconstitutionally long period; it will allow her to use the momentum of that great event to give impetus to an agenda for change – change that the Association must adopt if it is to survive in this rapidly shifting world of science communication. Natasha will be consulting widely with your newly reinvigorated Committee about what form those changes should take; but you can take it from me that she does not want for ideas, nor the commitment to see them through.

I was also able to introduce yet another new member of the Committee, Ian Adamson. Ian is a mathematics Masters student from Kings College, and as a staunch supporter of last year’s Briefing sessions, has agreed to take over from me as their organiser for 2009. The Committee welcomed him and decided to begin a consultation with you all about what topics might be covered in the coming year. Committee member Mun-Keat Looi has already initiated this discussion on our lists. Part of what we wish to achieve in the future is greater regionality, so Committee member Chrissie Giles has agreed to take on the role as Regional Groups Coordinator on the Committee.

The Royal College of Surgeons in Lincolns Inn Fields has generously offered to host the briefings next year, replacing an identical sponsorship deal that we enjoyed last year from the Geological Society of London. We are very grateful to them for the free use of their rooms, and to the RCS’s Jane Hughes, whose initiative this was.

Free briefings

The Committee also accepted my proposal that in the coming session Briefings should be free. We introduced charges at a time when the Association’s finances were at a very low ebb indeed, and we couldn’t afford for any of our activities to be on the wrong side of the balance sheet. Now, thanks to you for paying your dues (and for sterling work by Jacob Aron in combing through our membership database and writing to those who had forgotten or paid the wrong amount) the time has come to relax this condition in order to welcome more colleagues to these excellent networking events. As Committee member Wendy Grossman said “The best thing the ABSW can offer its members is each other”.

So for that reason, non-members will still be charged (or asked to join!).

Awards 2009

The Committee accepted a proposal (from Natasha Loder and Committee member Sunny Bains) to offer a measure of membership involvement in one of the two ABSW Awards that will be on offer this year. Members will be aware that we were unable once again to raise sponsorship for our long-standing awards, and it seems increasingly likely that in the future we shall have to run them quite differently from the way we did them in the past. However, to keep the brand alive, this summer at the World Conference we shall be offering two awards only – a Lifetime Achievement Award (which is in the gift of the Committee) and a Best Newcomer Award, which will be open to online nominations. Watch out for further instructions soon from Natasha and Sunny.

Golden shower

We discussed much besides, and many people were thanked for their continuing work; but these are not the minutes! However, for those eagerly awaiting it, I should report that progress on the design and implementation of the Association’s new website (being developed by Committee member Mike Nagle) has now resumed. There was a slight hold-up when Mike’s brand new laptop “went for a swim” (in lager, apparently – and not Mike’s either) and had to be dried out.

One last thing. Since I became Chair, leading your Committee’s efforts to save and raise money and to put the Association’s accounts onto a more professional basis, has been your Treasurer, Martin Ince. Like me, he has also announced his intention to step down this year. (Actually, constitutionally I didn’t have a choice; but treasurers can go on forever, because it’s so difficult to find them.) If you are not frightened by figures and can hold your nerve in a crisis, Martin would like to hear from you.

Ted Nield

Monday, 23 March 2009

$2 million for AAAS Science Journalism Awards

One of the world's oldest awards for science journalism is now worth $2 million. Not that all the cash goes to a single winner, it is an endowment to fund the scheme into the future.

The announcement from the AAAS, made some time ago but just sent out on the association's monthly newsletter, says that the "Kavli Foundation has provided a $2 million endowment that will ensure the future of the prestigious Science Journalism Awards program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science".

The original backer, the engineering company Westinghouse, funded the "Westinghouse Awards" for nearly 50 years. From 2010, the name changes to the AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Award.

In 2000 Fred Kavli, "a prominent California business leader and noted philanthropist" set up the foundation which "is currently actively involved in establishing major research institutes at leading universities and institutions in the United States, Europe and Asia".

The foundation's activities include a series of science journalism bootcamps, "administered by the Knight Science Journalism Fellowship program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology". This year's event, from 15 - 18 June, will be on nanotechnology.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Job Advert: Science Writer wanted by Health Research Board of Ireland

FROM: Health Research Board of Ireland
DATE: 16 March 2009
JOB REFERENCE: A Picture of Health 2009


The Health Research Board is seeking the support of a science writer to assist in the production of the 2009 edition of its annual publication ‘A Picture of Health’.

First published in 2003, the publication describes, in non-technical language, the latest developments in health research in Ireland supported by the HRB. Its purpose is to communicate the outcomes of HRB-funded research in lay terms to key stakeholder groups, such as budget holders and policy-makers, in a way that highlights the relevance, value and potential impact of this research on people’s health, the delivery of health services and the formulation of health policy. (Please also note that based on a review of the 2009 edition the HRB may provide the option of extending the contract of the successful writer for the 2010 publication subject to agreement of terms and conditions).



  • Science writing services for an approx 50-page lay publication entitled ‘A Picture of Health 2009’. The material will comprise research summaries arising from the portfolio of HRB-funded research selected by HRB personnel.
  • The format of the 2009 publication is envisaged to comprise approx 20 stories of 400 words in length, and 12 ‘in brief’ summaries of approx 100 words in length.
  • The successful writer will be required to liaise with the research community in order to understand and develop the source material for the publication
  • The successful writer will also be required to write short summaries of a selection of the stories for the purpose of the HRB press release relating to the publication

Key Deliverables:

  • A project initiation meeting with HRB personnel in HRB offices, Dublin to agree the final content plan for the publication
  • Conduct of telephone (or email) interviews with 20 researchers to gain additional insight around context of research and findings
  • Production of 20 research stories of 400 word length, 12 brief communications of 100 words in length, and six short summaries of the most newsworthy stories at 100 words length for the HRB press release by the end of June 2009*
  • Editing and proof-reading of drafts of the publication leading to the final published report

* Please note that the final content plan for the 2009 publication and final deadline for submission of material may be subject to amendment – however quotations should be based on this provisional plan, while the impact on costs of any amendments may be negotiated at contract stage

Proposals should include the following information:

  • The name of the person providing a quotation and details relating to track record, ability and experience (please submit one sample of your work that you would consider to be your best example of relevant writing material)
  • A proposal as to how the requirements and key deliverables will be met
  • An outline of the timescale for delivering on the project
  • An estimate of the costs involved in the project (including editing and proof reading), including VAT

Relevant Information

  • As a general guide, based on previous productions of this publication, the cost of this job is expected to be in the region of €9,000 - €13,000. Please access the 2003-2008 ‘Picture of Health’ publications on the HRB website (to request a hard copy email

Evaluation criteria

  • Quotations for the above project will be evaluated on the following criteria:
  • Demonstrated ability to write about scientific matter in a clear, concise, easy-to-understand style suitable for a non-specialist audience
  • Track record and experience of producing material of a similar nature
  • Quality of the proposal to meet the key requirements and deliverables
  • Ability to meet the deadline for completion
  • Cost and value for money of the proposal

    Deadline for quotation:

Please submit your quotation by email to by 5.00pm on Friday 27 March 2009

Terms and conditions

The HRB is not bound to accept the lowest priced or any proposal. Acceptance by the HRB of a proposal will be subject to the negotiation of a contract. The contract will be awarded based on a fixed price. All travel, subsistence and other expenses related to the project are deemed to be part of the fixed price.

Invoices are to be issued at the satisfactory completion of each stage of the contract as agreed at the outset. Payment will be on foot of appropriate documentation (including an up-to date tax clearance certificate) and invoices, and will be paid in accordance with the terms of the European Communities (Late Payment in Commercial Transactions Regulations), 2002.

The successful applicant/s will report progress on the project at regular intervals to the project manager in the HRB.

All enquiries and correspondence relating to this call for proposals should be addressed to Brendan Curran, Evaluation Manager: e or t +353 (01) 2345 137

HRB Background Information

The Health Research Board (HRB) is the lead agency in Ireland supporting and funding health research. Our aim is to improve people’s health through research. With an annual budget of approximately €50 million from the Department of Health and Children and current commitments worth almost €200 million, we support a broad range of health research in Ireland that we hope will improve the delivery of patient care and the health of the population. Our funding is focused on building people’s research capability, providing relevant equipment and infrastructure and supporting research programmes in a wide variety of areas. Our research programmes range from tackling cancer or heart disease to examining the impact of socio-economic factors on people’s health, from creating an electronic patient record to improve care for people with a chronic disease, to identifying genes that are common among people with a particular disease.