Committee to administer Louise Behan Reporting Grants

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WFSJ has established a committee to determine the terms of reference for the Louise Behan reporting grant, an award named after a late Canadian benefactor who left funds in her will to support science journalists in low-income countries to report on stories of importance to that country or region. Louise, a graduate of Ottawa’s Carleton University School of Journalism, worked for the International Development Research Centre, which has been a key partner in WFSJ projects such as the peer-to-peer mentoring project SjCOOP and the 4th WCSJ in Montreal in 2004.

WFSJ plans to augment the funding provided by Louise’s estate to create a sustainable endowment for cash awards that support the reporting activities of recipients in their own countries. The terms of those awards will be determined by a panel that has just been named and the WFSJ Web site will feature an invitation to eligible applicants to apply before the end of the year. The panel includes these members:

Lancelot Soumelong Ehode

International Development Research Centre | Regional Office for Central and West Africa 

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Lancelot has been working in Communication, Stakeholder Engagement and Research as a Communication Specialist in West and Central Africa.

He holds a Diplôme d’études approfondies in Political Science from the University Gaston Berger of Saint-Louis in Senegal and has broad experience in media relations and communication strategies with NGOs and research organizations. He has also contributed to studies and reports in the field of migration, gender and resilience in the context of climate change.

His role as IDRC’s Regional Advisor in Communication and Media Relations for the West and Central Africa region allows him to combine his passion for research and communications. As part of the panel administering the Louise Behan Grant, Lancelot welcomes the opportunity to support the incredible work of journalists in the field of science and international development, particularly in Africa where access to evidence and data can contribute to the achievement of sustainable development goals.

Angela Posada Swafford

Freelance Writer, Bogatá, Colombia

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Angela has been a writer and editor since the 1980s, becoming a freelancer in the 1990s

During that time she been writing from the field about space, astronomy and astrophysics, Antarctica and the Arctic, the deep oceans, earth sciences, environment, physical oceanography, genetics, health, paleontology, botany, rainforests, biodiversity, climate change, biosafety, health and exploration. This work has taken her from the geographic South Pole and the Arctic Circle in Alaska to Hawaii’s Mauna Kea volcano, from Newfoundland’s tundra to Zimbabwe’s hippo pools, from 3,000 feet at the bottom of the Caribbean, to 15,000 feet high in Chile’s Cerro Paranal, home of the biggest telescope in the world.

Angela has a degree in Modern Languages from Universidad de Los Andes, Bogotá, Colombia and a Masters in Journalism from The University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, USA. She is a 2000-2001 fellow — and the first Hispanic — from the Knight Science Journalism Fellowship at MIT and Harvard, which enables mid-career journalists to immerse themselves in science studies and get acquainted with some of the sources who are shaping science today.

Mohammed Yahia

Executive editor in the Middle East for Nature Research in the Middle East, part of Springer Nature

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After receiving his bachelor degree in pharmacology, Mohammed spent a couple of years working in community pharmacies to large pharma companies before he ended up in science journalism and has never looked back since.

A decade ago he became the launch editor of Nature Middle East, an online portal that focuses on science and science-related news from the Arab world. He now works with the editorial teams of all publications in the Middle East and Africa, including Nature Arabic Edition and For Science, the Arabic version of Scientific American. He is also editorially responsible for several custom publications produced in the region.

Prior to joining Springer Nature, Mohammed was the Middle East and North Africa region coordinator for SciDev.Net and has written for several different publications around the world, including Nature, IDRC, CancerWorld, The Daily Star Egypt and SNF’s Horizons. Mohammed is also the past president of the World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ) and has been the vice president of the Arab Science Journalists Association for the past four years. 

1. WFSJ Names Interim Executive Director and New Treasurer

The Board of Directors of the World Federation of Science Journalists is pleased to announce the appointment of Tim Lougheed as Interim Executive Director. Based in Ontario, Canada, he began his career with the Sault Star and the Windsor Star, subsequently working as a science writer for Queen’s University in Kingston. He has been a freelance science, technology, and medicine writer since 1991, producing articles that have appeared in Canadian GeographicUniversity AffairsCanadian Medical Association JournalNew ScientistEnsiaNautilusEnvironmental Health Perspectives, among others, as well as Canadian Chemical News, which he has edited for the past four years. 

Lougheed has also been a member of the Canadian Science Writers’ Association for more than 30 years, serving three terms as its president, most notably during the challenging constitution transition that transformed this organization into the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada in 2016. He has also been involved with the World Federation of Science Journalists for the past two decades, initially as an organizer of the 2004 World Conference of Science Journalists in Montreal and for the past three years as the organization’s treasurer, a Board position from which he is stepping down to assume his new duties.

That post is being filled by Sharon Oosthoek, a Toronto-based freelancer with more than 20 years’ experience writing for daily newspapers, magazines, online news services, and non-governmental organizations. Her work has appeared in New ScientistCanadian GeographicMaclean’sThe Globe and Mail, cbc.ca, and Chemical & Engineering News. She is also contributing writer with Detroit Public Television’s Great Lakes bureau, Great Lakes Now, and Science News for Students. Sharon is an alumnae of the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources, has served as a board member of the Society of Environmental Journalists, and is a member of the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada. She has won various journalism awards, most recently a 2019 American Academy for the Advancement of Science Kavli Science Journalism Award for children’s science writing.

WFSJ Book Talk – Neutron Stars: The Quest to Understand the Zombies of the Cosmos with Katia Moskvitch

WHEN: Thursday, Oct 29, at 2pm London / 10am EDT (US) / 7:30pm New Delhi

REGISTRATION: https://forms.gle/B1wnAF9Z3tvGbV1S8

Enigmatic objects, neutron stars are spinning cores of dead stars. There’s still so much we don’t know about them. But what we do know is mind-blowing. I’ve written a book on neutron stars, aimed at a general audience, high school pupils and university students. The book is different from other books on this topic. In fact, I believe that this is the first popular science book ever written that is not merely on pulsars but on neutron stars in general, uniting astrophysics, particle physics, nuclear physics, astronomy and cosmology. 

I cover the science in a language suitable for a lay audience and describe a very broad variety of fields connected to neutron star research. The book is fast-paced, with engaging, easy to understand quotes from many amazing researchers I interviewed. For example, one chapter deals with planets orbiting dead stars – their discovery and how a planet might even exist around a neutron star. Another chapter talks about the debate on whether the odd signals we’ve registered coming from our Galactic center are from hidden pulsars we can’t see with our current technology or from dark matter. I talk about the 2017 neutron star merger and the detection of gravitational waves, the race to discover the optical counterpart and solving the mystery of formation gold and platinum. Yet another chapter talks about the inside of a neutron star. I describe what we think is likely to happen as we move towards the inner core. I talk about superfluids and the research done on Earth with helium, the neutron ‘soup’ and a possible quark inner core. 

Throughout the book, I also explain the basics. I explain how pulsars emit radio waves as they spin, how we can detect them, what are millisecond pulsars and what are magnetars, how a neutron star could become a black hole, how and why radio pulsars occasionally glitch, and more. Finally, I discuss the recent discovery of fast radio bursts, brief pulses that astronomers are still struggling to explain but that may well be generated by neutron stars. 

Katia Moskvitch is a science writer and an astrophysicist. In the past, she worked as a reporter and editor at WIRED, Nature, BBC and contributed to Scientific American, the Economist, Science and other publications. She loves space and our quest to unlock the mysteries of the Universe. Her latest book, “Neutron Stars: The Quest to Understand the Zombies of the Cosmos” has had stellar reviews, including by a Nobel laureate Joe Taylor. 

WFSJ announces member fee amnesty

Organizations like ours have faced an unprecedented array of challenges this year, which have in many cases caused serious financial hardship. For just this reason, the Board of Directors voted today to declare a fee amnesty for all of its existing members over the next year. It is our sincere hope that this measure will provide some relief and assistance when it is needed most.

As for the challenges that WFSJ itself has faced during the course of 2020, the WFSJ Board of Directors also voted to move the date of its next Annual General Meeting to March 15, 2021. This step was taken after careful consideration of the need to implement human resource and infrastructure changes that will be critical to serving a broad array of members and partners.

This publicly accessible, virtual event will review WFSJ’s finances during 2019 and 2020, as well as offering details about the next major conference, to be held in Medellin, Colombia in 2022. The presentation will also outline other aspects of WFSJ’s business plan and strategy for 2021 and beyond. Board members will be available to respond to comments, questions, and suggestions from the audience.

All interested members are welcome to attend and we look forward to their participation.

Changes at the World Federation of Science Journalists

WFSJ, like so many organizations that have been challenged by the unprecedented events of 2020, has undergone a close examination of its values, its mandate, and above all its approach to serving a broad constituency of members and partners.

After careful deliberation and review, the WFSJ Board of Directors is taking a number of steps to become more agile and responsive to the needs of these constituents. Among the first of the changes to be made in the next few weeks is in the area of human resources, which will ensure that we have the appropriate skill set and necessary financial resources to meet the needs of a rapidly changing world.

For this reason, the Board has arrived at an amicable parting of ways with our current Executive Director, Christophe Bourillon-Girard. We thank Christophe for his service and wish him the best in his future endeavours.His departure is part of an internal reorganization that will improve the services we provide, including a much more interactive Web presence and a variety of activities leading up to our next international conference taking place in Medellin, Colombia. We are looking forward to presenting details to all interested parties soon, including an open forum where Board members can respond directly to any questions that arise. Our goal is to use the remainder of 2020 to set the stage for a very exciting 2021, and we look forward to welcoming all of those who will join us on this journey.

WFSJ and WHO launched a series of webinars to support science journalism in times of pandemic

The World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ) and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) corporate communications team at WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, have launched a joint project for a series of webinars to support science journalism globally. The goal of the webinars is to provide a platform for conversations between WFSJ members and WHO senior scientists.

Via the webinars, WHO’s technical expertise will be explained and made available to science journalists to facilitate their work and to provide opportunities for direct exchange with WHO leaders and experts. Engaging with and listening to science journalists will also help WHO adapt its communications and knowledge-transfer practices to meet the challenges and needs of science journalism in times of pandemic.  

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

“Science journalists are key to disseminating the latest scientific news,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, during the launch of the webinar series. He emphasized WHO’s commitment to working with science journalists around the world and announced the partnership with the WFSJ.

The first webinar, held on 25 June 2020, focused on the difficulties that rapidly changing and emerging scientific evidence (in the midst of a pandemic) poses for science journalism. The webinar was attended by more than 100 science journalists and writers and delivered in the six official UN languages plus Portuguese. Registered participants came from 37 countries and a diverse range of media: broadcast (national and international), TV, radio, online media, national science communication associations, research portals, news agencies, mainstream national newspapers, specialized scientific magazines, blog platforms (columnists and bloggers), experts from national health and/or medical authorities, and from not-for-profit entities.

The speakers were Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme; Sylvie Briand, director of WHO’s Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness department; and Maria Van Kerkhove, COVID-19 technical lead at the WHO Health Emergencies Programme.

Behind the scenes at the webinar held on 25 July 2020.

The second webinar was held on 29 July 2020. The topic dealt with mental health and noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) in times of pandemic: how the science is evolving and what we can learn. The speakers were Dévora Kestel, director of the WHO Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse; Bente Mikkelsen, director of the Department of NCDs at WHO; and Cherian Varghese, WHO’s coordinator for the Management of NCDs. Two hundred twenty science journalists from 38 countries signed up for the webinar.

The first webinar was co-moderated by Vera Novais, science journalist and board member of the Portuguese science communication association SciComPt. The second webinar was co-moderated by Valeria Román, science journalist and WFSJ’s project coordinator.

For more information: WHO Supports Science Journalism in Times of Pandemic.

Invisible science: why are Latin American science stories absent in European and US media outlets?

This story was originally published at The Open Notebook and is part of TON’s Diverse Voices in Science Journalism series, supported by Science Sandbox and made possible through a partnership with the National Association of Science Writers Diversity Committee. The author is Federico Kukso, he is an Argentinian independent science journalist. He writes for Tangible (Mexico), Agencia Sinc (Spain), and La Nación (Argentina), he is a member of the WFSJ among others. Find him on Twitter @fedkukso.

In the 21st century, science has been mostly a global activity. Consider, for example, international collaborations such as the Human Cell Atlas, which connects researchers from all over the world to learn more about the thousands of different cell types in the human body; or the 17,500 researchers from 70 countries that collaborate at CERN in search of fundamental particles of matter; or the ALMA astronomical complex in Chile, with participants from 22 countries. However, most of the science published in specialized journals is authored by researchers from the developed world. Among the top 100 scientific institutions cited by NatureINDEX 2019, a ranking of the centers that dominated research in natural sciences during 2018, there isn’t a single university or center from Latin America.

The same occurs in the global ecosystem of science news. There are regions of the planet that are completely absent in the coverage of most of the international and English-speaking outlets. A clear example was the epidemic outbreak of Zika fever. In Latin America, stories on this topic began to appear in local media in April 2015, almost eight months before the virus arrived in the United States and coverage of the topic began in U.S. media, using as sources mostly U.S. specialists. Something similar occurs when reporting paleontological discoveries in Patagonia: If an investigation involves American and Argentinian scientists, testimonies and even the contributions of the South American researchers are usually omitted, as I exposed in an article published in Undark in 2016.

Recently, I carried out a conversation via WhatsApp with six science editors and reporters from the region, to discuss biases and journalistic dynamics outside and within the countries of the so-called Global South, and what could be done to reverse the situation.

The editors who participated in this conversation were:

The other reporters:

  • Valeria Román, science journalist from Argentina who writes for Infobae, SciDev.Net, Tangible, and Forbes, among others.
  • Ángela Posada Swafford, a Colombian science journalist based in Miami who has written for National GeographicAstronomy,  WiredNew Scientist, The Boston Globe, and the Miami Herald, among others.

Federico: Why is there a lack of stories about Latin American scientists in international English-language outlets such as The Guardian, The New York Times, New Scientist, Wired, Nature, Science, Scientific American, Popular Science, and so on?

Valeria: One factor is geographical proximity: News is reported mostly on what happens within the country of the publication, or in its area of greatest reach.

Daniela: It also has to do with readers. The region is not of much interest for the English-speaking audience, perhaps because [the audience] does not know a lot about Latin America. This is when one of the famous criteria of newsworthiness in journalism comes into play: It’s not newsworthy if you don’t understand it or it’s not relevant to you.

Federico: And when something is published about research in the region, it’s usually done from a paternalistic perspective. Many times, instead of requesting an article from a local science journalist, the story is assigned to a journalist who does not know the subtle internal cultural differences of each country. Mexico is not the same as Argentina, Chile, or Bolivia. You end up noticing many mistakes.

Pablo: That happens often. However, it is difficult to demand visibility [for Latin American science] when, for example, in Colombia the media has been unable to cover local science adequately. It is possible that poor visibility has some Eurocentrism or other nationalist bias, but before considering those explanations, I would attribute it to a problem of local management, to a weakness of our own institutions.

Valeria: There is an interesting case: Argentina developed the SAOCOM 1A satellite. It is the first of its kind, and made in a developing country. The international media outlets didn’t cover the news about this new satellite. When it was launched from the United States in October 2018, several English-speaking media focused on the SpaceX rocket that took it into space, which was made in a developed country, and didn’t even mention the work of the Argentinian researchers.

Ángela: Many researchers in developing countries feel trapped in a vicious circle because of the barriers that are imposed on publishing their research. Third-world scientists are not cited enough. This is like a catch-22. There are structural obstacles and subtle prejudices that prevent researchers from poor countries from sharing their discoveries with the industrial world. And this invisibility is not only bad for those countries, it can also deprive the industrialized world from critical knowledge. According to Richard Horton, former editor of The Lancet: “The only way to understand the Ebola process and its effects is to publish the work of local researchers.” It is vital that third-world researchers communicate their science to each other. Which also does not seem to happen in Latin America.

Pablo: In addition, there is the investment factor: The money that all of Colombia invests in science is approximately the same amount as the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine  invests. It would be naive to think that the science of our countries is at the same pace as the U.S. It is true that some groups achieve the highest quality level, but the production volume is much smaller.

This story is part of the Diverse Voices series, which aims to examine the experiences, expertise, and perspectives of science journalists from communities that are underrepresented in science journalism. The series is a partnership between The Open Notebook and the National Association of Science Writers’ Diversity Committee, and is supported by Science Sandbox, an initiative of the Simons Foundation. Read other stories in the Diverse Voices series here.

Federico: Do you perceive that many English-speaking media outlets prioritize where a scientific discovery was made over the relevance of the discovery?

Iván: The big outlets tell stories about developing countries or third-world countries when it’s about tragedy, violence, crisis, poverty, a coup…. That is the reductionist image that enriches and reinforces stereotypes.

Federico: And they end up reproducing common images: Argentina as a land of gauchos, meat, and tango; Colombia as a country of coffee, “narcos,” and music; Brazil as the land of the Amazon, soccer, and carnival.

Valeria: It also occurs quite frequently that if a study is the result of a collaboration between scientists from developed and developing countries, journalists from the international media have a bias in identifying and making the co-authors visible. This means that co-authors from developed countries are cited in the news coverage, but the ones from developing countries aren’t. The institutions of developing countries that contributed funds to the research aren’t mentioned either.

Read more at The Open Notebook (English version) for the Spanish version click here

Videos and photos of some of the WCSJ2019 sessions are now available

This year at the World Conference of Science Journalists (WCSJ2019) in Lausanne, the sessions, workshops, and luncheons were video recorded and are now available to view on YouTube.

Throughout WCSJ2019, photographers took hundreds of pictures of the sessions, networking and social events, workshops, and the exhibition. The WCSJ2019 is happy to share these photographic memories of the conference with you. For the album, click here.

If you want to discover what the WCSJ2019 Fellows thought about the conference, click here.

Grants provided to WFSJ members to attend the World Science Forum Budapest

Dear colleagues,

A number of grants are being provided to WFSJ members to attend the World Science Forum (Budapest, 20-23 November 2019), as follows :

  • 10 accommodation packages: They include hotel from 20-24 November, registration and media accreditation for the event as well as catering onsite.
  • 3 full travel grants for European-based journalists:  They include economy air-fare from a European airport, hotel from 20-24 November, registration and media accreditation for the event as well as catering onsite.
  • 2 full travel grants for journalists based outside Europe: They include economy air-fare from an airport outside Europe, hotel from 20-24 November, registration and media accreditation for the event as well as catering onsite.

Journalists receiving one of the above grants will be expected to attend the daily media briefings and cover the event through at least one article (print/electronic) or a broadcast.

This year’s World Science will address “Science, Ethics and Responsibility”. Speakers will discuss the most pressing issues related to the impacts of the new technological revolution on human life.  The Forum is a good opportunity for Journalists to meet scientists, policy-makers, members of Society as well as industry and NGO representatives. 

The World Science Forum ( https://worldscienceforum.org/ ) is co-organised by:

  • UNESCO
  • The International Science Council (ISC)
  • The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
  • The InterAcademy Partnership (IAP)
  • The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS)
  • The European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC)
  • The Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA).

Should you wish to apply for one of the above grants, please send an email headed «WFSJ/Budapest World Science Forum Competition» to cbourillon@wfsj.org , no later than Monday 7 October 2019, with the following:

  1. A copy of your CV.
  2. Do indicate which Grant you are applying for.
  3. Include a brief letter highlighting your interest in attending the WSF. Your application should include yourname, media, country, the name of your national member association, your e-mail address, your mobile telephone number.

Applications will be reviewed between 8-11 October 2019 by a committee with representatives from the WFSJ Office and from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

Why do scientists still think we are stupid?

Written by Pallab Ghosh, Science Correspondent for the BBC News and Honorary President of the Association of British Science Writers.

The claim by the team at UCL about the habitability of a distant planet, K2-18b drew fierce criticism from rival astronomers over Twitter.  They claim that it is too hot, too great a pressure and too poisonous to support life. And they say that it’s us science journalists and press officers to blame for the way they allege has been misreported.

It was reported as “potentially habitable” by all mainstream media because that is what the UCL team said several times and are continuing to say in response to the criticisms. 

The lead author, the respected astronomer Prof Giovanna Tinetti told me in direct response to the criticisms:

‘’K2-18b cannot be classified as a mini-Neptune,” (as many critics were suggesting on Twitter. “It is more likely to be a planet with an interior of rock and ices. These types of planets, [are] sometimes called ‘ocean planets’.”

“Now, whether this planet really has an ocean at the surface or rock, we cannot tell with current observations, but having water in the atmosphere is a good start.”

She also asserted that habitability was a more complex issue than finding another Earth.

“The Earth really stands out in our own Solar System. It has oxygen, water and ozone. But if we find all that around a planet around a distant star we have to be cautious about saying that it supports life,” she said.

“This is why we need to understand not just a handful of planets in the galaxy but hundreds of them. And what we hope is that the habitable planets will stand out, that we will see a big difference between the planets that are habitable and the ones that are not.”

Many of the critics have blamed science journalists or the press officers who wrote the press release with a GIF of people bashing their heads with their hands in exasperation.

And there were plenty of suggestions in the Twitterstorm that science journalists had misunderstood or misrepresented what the UCL team had said.

But we have not misreported, we are not stupid and nor are we deliberately hyping things up to make our stories more interesting. Nor are the excellent people in the press office, who have accurately represented the view of their researchers.

As responsible science journalists  — which most of us are  — our job is to report what credible authors say as well as what is in their paper published in a respected peer reviewed journal. 

We also have to reflect the critical views of the community to the research- which we have done and also going back to the UCL team to ask them what they think about the points being raised.

One source who wished not to be named told me “if there are concerns about the composition of the planet and discussions about what constitutes ‘habitability’, it is best discussed in a scientific forum such as through papers and conferences and not mudslinging on Twitter.”

Astronomers hitting their heads with their hands about the state of science reporting is an easy reaction but possibly not the right reaction.

Perhaps a little more respect all round might be in order.