Summer School


TV people now have a new source of free footage. BASF, "the world’s leading chemical company," as it calls itself, unveiled a new TV service in October 2007.

A press release gives more details of what is on offer, BASF launches new service for TV journalists.

It is a part of BASF's growing media presence. It all starts with a dedicated media portal. As well as the TV material, there are photos, podcasts and RSS news feeds.

The first two TV offerings are on catalysts and coatings. You have to register to get at the material. Not having any need for this material, we haven't tried it.
The Wilson Center started its Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies in 2005, around the time that the media frenzy on the subject started. The project "is dedicated to helping business, governments, and the public anticipate and manage the possible health and environmental implications of nanotechnology".

The centre runs occasional web events. There is a new webcast scheduled for 18th December with the title Nanotechnology and the media: The inside story.

The event plans to investigate, among other questions:
  • Is media coverage of nanotechnology’s potential risks growing?
  • If so, who or what is driving articles in national newspapers and newswires—environmental and consumer organizations, scientists, law makers, or industrial and financial groups?
  • How do broadcast journalists decide to cover a nanotechnology story, especially one about possible risk-benefit tradeoffs?
  • Do radio and television correspondents face special challenges reporting on a technology which most Americans do not know about and which is on a scale invisible to the human eye?
One of the more interesting bits of the event could be the presentation by Professor Sharon Friedman who will present will present her latest results "from tracking seven years of newspaper and wire service reporting of nanotechnology risks in the United States and United Kingdom".
The Guardian has run a short obituary of Anthony Michaelis, who died in October. Paradoxically, Michaelis, who rumour had it travelled with his own hard hat, was known to most fellow science hacks as Tony. Why paradoxically? Because, as the Guardian's obituarist so accurately puts it "He was a scientist in the 19th-century understanding of that term". Very proper. But fun with it.
"Television was the most popular (61%) and most trusted (47%) medium for information about science, though there was a preference for traditional (47%), rather than thematic (27%) TV channels." That is how the EU sums up the findings of the latest survey of "attitudes to science in the media".

Check out the Press Releases on Europa. The headline sums it up: "Big differences still exist between Member States in attitudes to science in the media".

The press release marks the European Forum on Science Journalism in Barcelona on 3-4 December. The page also has links to the full survey, along with "Two special surveys of European scientists and media professionals" which are supposed to "identify key issues impacting the coverage of scientific information, and the professional challenges of science journalism across Europe".

Check out the "survey of European media professionals on how European research is presented and covered in and by the media". There is also the European Guide to Science Journalism Training "giving, for the first time, a full picture of training opportunities for science journalists across Europe".

It has always been difficult to fathom what the journal Science means by the title "editor". For most of the leading journals, such as Nature and the medical publications, it is a professional journalist with experience on other publications. While Science does have its fair share of these folks, the top job, what they call the editor-in-chief, is usually a leading scientist whose previous experience is in filling the pages of the journals with the results of their research.

The AAAS, owner of Science, or perhaps it should be the other way round, given the journal's importance to the finances of the association, has continued the tradition with the News Release announcing that the new editor is to be Bruce Alberts.

Alberts's other roles underline the point. He is president emeritus of the US National Academy of Sciences and was chair of the National Research Council between 1993 and 2005. Alberts, whose day job is as professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco, "will become the 18th editor-in-chief of Science since its inception in 1880".

Every now and then, there is an outbreak of the well known infection of telling journalists how to do their job. The latest flair up comes from The Academy of Medical Sciences which has just put out the report Identifying the environmental causes of disease.

According to the summary, this "sets out five key recommendations and offers guidelines for the wide range of stakeholders involved in generating, communicating and translating research into the environmental causes of disease into policy and practice". The academy set up the study "to address increasing scepticism amongst professionals and members of the public that had arisen when claims from one such study were so soon reversed by those of another".

Given the "public" angle in there, it is no surprise that the document deals with communication. That's why there is a separate section on how to get the message across to hacks. They dress this up as "Guidelines for science or medical writers and journalists".

That is their first mistake, science and medical writers aren't the source of most of the propblems. These happen when such stories fall into the hands of people who are not familiar with how science works.

There is also an interesting section "Communicating the findings from causal research". This makes the important point that when it comes to communication "the prime responsibility lies with the researcher to communicate accurately, clearly and fairly what the study set out to do, how it sought to accomplish its aims and how secure were the findings, as well as the confidence that can be placed on causal conclusions, and the generalisability of the conclusions to the population at large."

They weren't quite devoid of knowledgeable input when they wrote this. Along with lots of eminent professors and scientists there was one Dr Geoff Watts, FMedSci, Freelance Science and Medical Journalist.
The outgoing chief scientific advisor to the Government, Sir David "Dave" King, clearly has not caught the spirit of the season. Not for him a cheery ho ho as he packed up his office and made the final trips in his much touted hybrid vehicle. Instead he slammed into the media for its coverage of scientific issues. The UK Press Gazette sums up the story in its item, Science chief: Press fixation with health risk stories is killing children.

UKPG got in and talked to Sir David on his final days in office. It tells us that Sir David accepts that "scientific reporting has “improved dramatically” in the seven years he has been chief scientist and praised the Mail, Today and others for their regular, reliable reporting. But he warned that “papers are more interested in reporting the risk” the public may face in science stories than “the truth”."

Given the targets in Sir David's sights – as well as praising the Today programme and the Daily Mail he complains about their treatment of GM foods and MMR – it is hard to disagree with him. With very few exceptions, Ben Goldacre in The Guardian for example, you won't find much media criticism of these outlets, or of any other media coverage of science, confirming the old adage that when it comes to the media dog does not eat dog.

Funnily enough, Sir David does not have any complaints about climate change and how the media covers it. Perhaps that is because it is difficult for "climate deniers" to get a hearing.
With the country graduating more new scientists every year than any other country, Chinese science has always been worth watching. It is especially so now that the country has become the world's manufacturing powerhouse. It won't be long before it makes even bigger waves on the technology front, which is why anyone who can read Chinese will profit from a visit to the China Science Reporting Network.

The network describes itself as "a public welfare network composed of Chinese science media workers, scientists willing to communicate science to the public, and public information officers of science institutes and innovation-based industries".

The CSRN's "manifesto" could easily describe the work of the ABSW. "It is aimed at improving and enriching scientific news reporting; advancing the abilities of scientific journalism; and promoting the exchange between science and health journalists and between journalists, science community and innovation-based industries."

It might be a good port of call for any science writer planning a visit to China. Then again, much like the ABSW, CSRN is, as it says, "a voluntary network without regular office and staff".
Some science writers may find it a bit worrying to be the subject of the sort of research that they sometimes have to report. Others might like to chortle at the misconceptions out there. Both camps will find something to confirm their prejudices over at Intute: Health and Life Sciences which has added Science and the media to its series of "Hot Topics".

There are links to interesting documents. They even have a small plug for the ABSW.

Intute, since you asked, is "a free online service providing you with access to the very best Web resources for education and research".

Other hot topics that might be of more long-term interest include "Hospital Superbugs and Infection Control," "Animal diseases: an international perspective," and "Museums and Libraries Online".

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