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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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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.