Summer School


New Year’s Day saw the most radical update of libel laws in England and Wales for many years. Hailed by charity Sense about Science as a ‘new dawn for libel law’, writers and journalists hope that the Defamation Act will protect their freedom of speech and combat the growing issue of libel tourism.

Under the new legislation claimants must demonstrate that they have suffered ‘serious harm’ before suing, making it harder for the powerful to stifle their critics. The Act also specifically protects academic and scientific publications.

Issues concerning antiquated UK libel laws were brought to the notice of the science writing community when Simon Singh’s damning – but justified - article about chiropractic for The Guardian prompted the British Chiropractic Association to sue. The subsequent lengthy legal battle became a cause célèbre, kick-starting the Libel Reform Campaign.

Journalist Ben Goldacre has been victim to a similar libel accusation by vitamin-pill manufacturer Matthias Rath, resulting in legal costs in excess of £500,000.

The Libel Reform Campaign sought to highlight UK libel laws ‘designed to serve the rich and powerful’, and to persuade politicians to bring about ‘long overdue’ reformations.

Now, it is hoped that the experiences of Singh and Goldacre will not be repeated. Singh described the new Defamation Act as “a great tribute to grassroots activism and all the individuals and groups that lobbied for free speech and against the chilling effect of libel”.

However, Northern Ireland is yet to follow suit and only parts of the Act apply to Scotland, creating a potential loophole for libel tourism.

The date of the ABSW AGM will be Thursday 27th March 2014.   Of course further reminders and details will follow but for those who like to forward plan then you can put this date in the diary.   It will be an evening meeting in London, venue tbc.   The AGM is a key meeting at which the members of the Board are elected and the President reports on the year's activities along with presentation of the accounts and a report from the ABSW auditors.

For more on the governance of the ABSW see the Memorandum, Articles and Standing Orders of the Association.


ABSW member Robin McKie won Science and Technology Journalist of the Year at this week's British Journalism Awards

The judges said: “He goes for the biggest subjects and makes technical issues compelling with his approachable style of writing. They were particularly impressed by his piece on controversial GM crop Golden Rice which it is claimed could save millions for blindness.”

The Awards now in their second year, are run by the Press Gazette, lead sponsor is Santander.

We are sad to hear that David Dickson (1949 - 2013), ABSW committee member and founding director of, has passed away very suddenly.

David's vision and editorial leadership has led to becoming the leading provider of news and analysis focused on science and technology developments in the developing world.

He will also be remembered for his focus on helping many young journalists develop and grow over the years.

Before founding, David also worked for Nature, New Scientist and Science as both correspondent and editor.

He was also awarded a lifetime achievement award by the ABSW in 2012.

As an active ABSW committee member, we want to pay tribute to him again for his work, guidance and direction given to many of us over many years. He will be sadly missed.

Many tributes to David have been paid here, on Twitter and the ABSW's list. We've collected a few of these together for posterity. themselves sum up feeling right now: "David will be missed by his friends and colleagues alike, but his legacy will live on".

We concur completely.

Here are some of the comments we have received:

Natasha Loder (ex-ABSW Chair):

I just want to say how grateful I am to have known David Dickson who was a strong force for good in our world. His was a brilliant creation, and he was always driven to nurture and grow new talent--in his later years this extended to young science writers from around the globe.

 Wendy Barnaby (ex-ABSW Chair)

I’m shocked by this news.  David was an excellent guy who contributed to science journalism in many different areas, and who probably did more than anyone else to foster it in developing countries.

Clive Cookson

What a shock. I’ve known David for almost the whole of my career in science journalism, from our time together on the Times Higher Education Supplement onwards.  David was a superb analyst of science policy. After great work for Nature, Science and New Scientist, his creation of SciDev.Net was his crowning glory. I know from talking to David at the recent World Science Journalists Conference in Helsinki how much he was looking forward to the next phase of his career. So sad…

BBC2’s Newsnight has abolished the role of Science Editor held by the long-serving, award-winning science journalist Susan Watts. This is part of a series of changes to the programme being executed by Newsnight editor Ian Katz.

Watts joined Newsnight in 1995 and has covered many key stories in the programme’s history, most notably the BSE crisis, coverage of which won Newsnight a BAFTA award.

Watts tweeted that the decision to close her post was “disappointing, professionally and personally.”

The ABSW Awards sponsor on why they support good science writing:

by Seema Kumar, Vice President, Enterprise Innovation and Global Health Communication, Johnson & Johnson

It’s simple: We need good science communicators as much as we need good science.  Without reliable information—the explanation of fact, the exposure of challenges—science and the solutions it brings us could not exist.  Productive inquiry would run dry.  Frontiers would ebb.

Our company depends on people who can communicate hard science in lucid language, from the laboratory bench right through to those who engage directly with doctors.  We depend on them to get the science right, to check sources, interpret and clarify.  Their counsel helps guide our behaviour: promoting sound policies and sparking new discoveries.  They bring ideas to life, inspire innovation and collaboration and encourage engagement with Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine in a world that demands educated, informed decision makers.  We, Johnson & Johnson and the public, could not effectively govern ourselves or make progress for the benefit of the doctors, nurses, patients and customers we serve otherwise.

When Dr. Paul Janssen, our pharmaceutical company’s namesake, was alive and still heading our research and development operations, he would make a daily circuit around the labs asking each researcher his celebrated catch-phrase-cum-call to action, “What’s new?”  Connecting ideas (in his head) and people (in his labs), Dr. Paul became one of the most productive medical innovators and drug discoverers of the 20th century, helping to develop over 80 new medicines—and, in so doing, helping to save or improve the lives of countless people across the globe.  More than anything else it was Dr. Paul’s powerful curiosity, robust intellect, and disregard for traditional boundaries that built the business that today proudly bears his name.  Anything that fosters the qualities he exemplified ought to be promoted.

That’s why we are supporters of the World Conference of Science Journalists and the Association of British Science Writers Awards.  It’s why we attend the American Association for the Advancement of Science Congress annually and maintain relationships with journalists and bloggers, in the interest of being open and transparent.  It’s why we participate in the Euroscience Media Committee and host a science journalism internship program, to prop early career science reporters on their feet.  We recognize this isn’t just about pharmaceuticals, devices, or consumer products.  It’s about science—humankind’s best bet in the pursuit of truth, knowledge and good health.  It is impossible to overstate the importance of accurate, evidence-based, trustworthy data grounded in reproducible experiments.  Good science writing conveys that.

Misinformation, on the other hand, can be crippling.  In DNA, a molecule particularly important to our industry (not to mention, to life itself), mutations on the level of a single base pairout of three billion can have grave repercussions.  It can affect a patient’s response to a drug, or how a pathogen interacts with the body.   Similarly even minor errors in science communications can also have grave repercussions, not the very least of it is a misinformed public and society.

The world needs more effective science communicators just as much as it needs more pioneering scientists.  Dr. Paul, the visionary whom we were fortunate enough to have lead us, was a rare blend of both.  His spirit still imbues us.  We are not afraid to share ideas.  To rise to new challenges.  To collaborate, innovate and go beyond.  Ultimately, our sponsorship of good science communication extends Dr. Paul’s legacy—reframing his rallying call “What’s new?” into an informed public discourse for our betterment.  We do it because it’s simply the right thing to do.

About Johnson & Johnson

Caring for the world, one person at a time…inspires and unites the people of Johnson & Johnson. We embrace research and science -- bringing innovative ideas, products and services to advance the health and well-being of people. Our approximately 128,000 employees at more than 275 Johnson & Johnson operating companies work with partners in health care to touch the lives of over a billion people every day, throughout the world. For more information about Johnson & Johnson visit:


Stories about efforts to prevent the Asian carp from invading the Great Lakes, about evolutionary stress on endangered pupfish in the Mojave Desert, and about the use of "crowdsourcing" to solve tough biological problems are among the winners of the 2013 AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Awards.

The awards, administered by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) since their inception in 1945, go to professional journalists for distinguished reporting for a general audience. TheKavli Foundation provided a generous endowment in 2009 that ensures the future of the awards program.

For the full story and list of winners see


Association of British Science Writers – Winners Announced for 2013 Journalism Awards

At an Awards Ceremony held last night (Thu 20th June) in London, the winners of this years’ ABSW Science Writers’ Awards for Britain and Ireland supported by Janssen Research and Development were announced.

Addressing the guests and those on the shortlists Connie St Louis, President of the ABSW and Programme Director, MA Science Journalism, City University, London announced future developments for the Awards: 'I am delighted to be able to announce that our five year agreement with Janssen Research and Development has been extended for a further year, leaving the Awards secure until at least 2015.  In the next round of Awards there will be three new Awards.   Thanks to the support of the Institute of Physics and IOP Publishing Ltd. we will be introducing the IOP Student Science Publication Award. The Award will recognise and reward student editorial teams who produce a regular popular science publication ie: newspaper or magazine, either in print or online.   There are now many such publications being produced by students in Britain and Ireland and it is really important that the ABSW recognises and supports these initiatives as they provide a great training ground for the science journalists of tomorrow.  I am also delighted to announce the introduction of a student blog award, which has been made possible through the support of Simon Singh and Good Thinking Foundation.   Recognition of student bloggers is another really important way the ABSW can encourage the next generation of science writers.   The ABSW will match the student award by introducing a science blog award for more established bloggers that will recognise the key role that science blogs now play in bringing science writing to a wide audience. These awards will build upon the first ever UK Science Blog Prizes made in 2012 by Good Thinking Foundation.'

Commenting on the judging process for 2013, Connie St Louis said: ‘This year there was an extremely strong field of entries in most categories, most notably in features.  This was hard work for the panel of judges, but a clear indication that British and Irish science writers continue to produce outstanding work.’  

However, there were exceptions, within the news category there was a disappointingly low number of entries and the judges felt that many of those entering had not entered their best work from 2012.   The judges felt the work entered did not truly reflect the excellence in science news journalism in the UK and decided that they would make a ‘judges award for news’ in 2013.  The judges therefore nominated the work they felt was outstanding from 2012 and these nominations were considered alongside those entered. 

Commenting on this decision Connie St Louis said: ‘I will be talking to science news journalists to see how best to move forward with this category to make it easier for journalists to enter their very best work, so that our news award truly reflects the work of the UK’s talented and experienced science news journalists’.  

The investigative journalism category received a disappointingly low number of entries and as was the case in 2012 the judges decided one entry stood head and shoulders above the rest, with the other entries not meeting their basic criteria for an investigation.  There was therefore no shortlist for this category, just one winner (see below).  Explaining this decision Connie St Louis said. ‘We are well on the way to developing an ABSW investigative science journalism fellowship to support investigative journalism in science and hope to make this open to candidates in the very near future.’  

ABSW Science Writers’ Awards for Britain and Ireland 2013 Winners/Runners up

Judges award for news

Joint winners

Geoff Brumfiel. Fukushima’s doses tallied. Nature. 23/5/12


Ian Sample. Higgs boson: it's unofficial! Cern scientists discover missing particle. Guardian. 4/7/12

Runners up

Declan Butler.Flu surveillance lacking. Nature. 28/3/12

Nick Collins.Carpark skeleton will be confirmed as Richard III. Telegraph. 15/12/12

Best feature


Kerri Smith. The Ground Breaker. Nature. 6/9/12

Runners up

Catherine de Lange. My Two Minds. New Scientist. 5/5/12

Leigh Phillips. Armed Resistance. Nature. 30/8/12

Best scripted/edited television programme or online video


Panorama: The Mind Reader, unlocking my voice. BBC 1. 13/11/12

Team entry:Eleanor Plowden (assistant producer), Alison Priestley (producer), Frank Simmonds (deputy editor, Panorama), Fergus Walsh (reporter)

Runners up

The Enemy Within: 50 years of fighting cancer. Available on Vimeo. 4/12/12

Team entry: Vivienne Parry (writer and presenter), Richard Critchlow (Dependable Productions, producer), Kat Arney (research)

Voyager: To the Final Frontier. A BBC Scotland production for BBC 4. 24/10/13

Team entry: Mark Hedgecoe (executive producer), Yvonne Innes (production co-ordinator), Chris Riley (producer/director), Gary Scott (editor)

The Royal Society Radio Prize - A prize for the best scripted/edited radio programme or podcast


Digital Human. A BBC Scotland Production for BBC Radio 4. 30/4/12

Team entry:Kate Bissell (producer), Dr Aleks Krotoski (presenter), Victoria McArthur (producer), Peter McManus (producer)

Runners up

Dear Professor Hawking. A Sweet Talk Productions Programme for BBC Radio 4. 2/1/12

Team entry: Julian Mayers (producer), Peter Nichols (director), Nick Romero (sound designer)

Transit of Venus: Frontiers. BBC Radio 4. 30/5/12

Individual entry: Marek Kukula

Best investigative journalism


Anil Ananthaswamy. Do No Harm. 14/11/12

NB:  Due to the standard of entries in 2013 the judges decided not to produce a shortlist but just to award a winner there are therefore no runners up

Richard Gregory award for best newcomer


Adam Smith

Runners up

Will Douglas Heaven

Penny Sarchet

The NUJ Stephen White award for best communication of science in a non science context


Frank Close. Sun Block. Prospect Magazine.13/12/12

Runners Up

GM’s New Generation: A Countryfile Investigation. BBC 1 TV.  15/7/13

Team entry: Dom Carveley (director), Matthew Gull (producer), Tom Heap (presenter), Helen Shields (researcher)

Michelle Martin. Earworms. BBC Radio 4. 22/10/12

Lifetime Achievement in Science Journalism


Dick Ahlstrom, Science Editor, The Irish Times (Ahlstrom could not be at the Awards and spoke through a pre recorded video)

The ABSW Science Writers’ Awards for Britain and Ireland 2013 attracted nearly 120 entries.  An independent panel of science journalists chaired by the President of the ABSW Connie St Louis, judged the entries based on originality, appeal to a broad audience, novelty of subject matter, likely impact, style, content, entertainment, balance and depth of reporting. The awards are sponsored by Janssen Research and Development. 

Award winners received a certificate and a small cash prize and enter the ABSW hall of fame that includes previous Award winners Sir David Attenborough, Sir John Maddox (Nature), and Judith Hann (BBC Tomorrow’s World).

Full details of the rules and regulations for the awards and a full list of judges can be found at

About the Institute of Physics –

The Institute of Physics is a leading scientific society. We are a charitable organisation with a worldwide membership of more than 50,000, working together to advance physics education, research and application.

About IOP Publishing –

IOP Publishing is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Institute of Physics and provides a range of journals, magazines, websites and services that enable researchers and research organisations to reach the widest possible audience for their research.



Many reports have recorded how the shutdown of the United States Government has affected science journalism. So, what actually happened? How did it become such a problem? And why was science affected anyway?

There has been ongoing dispute between the Republicans and the Democrats over finance budgets. This is not a new thing - but the political parties usually resolve matters by debate and cunning. If they cannot agree or pass funding quotas for the following financial year, the term ‘shutdown’ is used. On this occasion, at the brunt of the arguments, President Obama’s healthcare plans to build a similar system to the NHS ignited panic and decisions were not made in time. Chaos ensued.

The White House budget office issued orders for government workers to remain at home, unpaid. Employees of national parks, museums, federal buildings and science laboratories were all sent away.

By the 10th October fears had spread and government funded science programmes were paused. Projects, including those in the Antarctic, ceased. Reports were apprehensive that Antarctic monitoring would be damaged considerably and the researchers were left rooting for ideas. Back-up plans after back-up plans were revised and rethought. Science began to suffer and research programmes were paused or even aborted. But it was not just the primary researchers having trouble.

Writers attempting to reach federal researchers for stories had trouble. There were difficulties along the journalism chain as manuscript reviews slowed down and writers were less available to write. Many science journalistsare dependent on federal websites. They reported that fact-checking became more difficult as federal census websites were shut down - information became more difficult to find and verify. Many reporters and researchers found reoccurring blocks as they desperately tried to find content from government websites. After all, how do you know the reliability of data if not from a reliable, official site?Then, of course, how can you review data that is no longer available?

The shutdown affected all aspects of scientific journalism. The shutdown of NASA and its website for example, included the furlough of near 90% of its work force and researchers in biological fields that could not get access to museum specimens. Here the impacts on science were most pronounced.

News reporters claimed “the government’s science, technology and health arms will be taking the biggest hits”. In a lot of ways the lack of funding that most units rely on really did damage the progress of these fields. Science journalism relies on information sourced from official databases or from research programmes that are most often funded by the government. Without them, there is very little to report and science communications begin to collapse. Journals and editorials suffered during the shutdown. The long duration and timing of the funding gap triggered delays in writing and then the review process, which may have had a knock on effect for the subsequent publications.

It is amazing how much American science relies on government funding. From primary collection and database collation, to the publication of journals: the American shutdown affected science communications a lot more than was expected. Now that the shutdown has finished, the scientific community should prepare for prospective financial issues and hopefully this won’t be such a problem in the future.

ABSW Calendar

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