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.

International call for projects in medical journalism

Description

The Leenaards Foundation, a philanthropic foundation based in Lausanne (Switzerland), has launch an international journalism competition on the theme of personalized health, also known as precision medicine. Personalized health results from the convergence of different phenomena: the acceleration of genome sequencing, the development of Big Data about health, and the improvement of analytical algorithms. 

This call for projects is part of the SantéPerSo initiative which gives citizens the opportunity to better understand this change through information and discussion projects.

Participants are invited to propose an original journalistic treatment of an aspect of personalized health, in french or english. The format must be multimedia, including at least two different media supports, for example text and video, or podcast and infographic.

Prizes

The three winning entries will receive cash prizes to enable the winners to carry out their projects:

  • First prize: 8,000 Swiss francs ( around 8,170 US Dollars)
  • Second prize: 4,000 Swiss francs ( around 4,085 US Dollars)
  • Third prize: 3,000 Swiss francs ( around 3,063 US Dollars)

Deadline

Participants can submit their projects until the 16th of September 2019 at midnight.

Registration

For more information, participation terms and registration click here.

Science Talks with the ACAMH about Suicide Prevention and Awareness

Considering that the World Suicide Prevention Day will be on Tuesday September 10, Science Talks with the Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health (ACAMH), the media interested in learning more about Suicide Prevention and Awareness to inform their reporting should attend. Participants will walk away with a deeper understanding of:

  • The prevalence and significance of suicidal and self-harm behaviour in young people.
  • Key risk factors for suicide and self-harm behaviour.
  • Diverse evidence-based and evidence-informed suicide preventive interventions.
  • How journalists can best report on suicide/self-harm to strengthen suicide prevention. 

The speakers will be Dr. Joan Asarnow and Dr. Dennis Ougrin. The webinar will include time for questions and answers. For more information or registration.

NOTE: Science Talks webinars are recorded for on-demand viewing.

Strategy meeting on the WFSJ/Kavli future projects

The WFSJ is organising a strategy meeting on the WFSJ/Kavli future projects to be held in Lausanne on Wednesday 3 July from 12:30-14:30h.

We would like to sample a wide range of opinions of active science journalists from around the world on the needs and challenges they are facing that could be discussed in future WFSJ/Kavli science journalism symposia.

If you are attending the WCSJ19 and would like to attend the brainstorming meeting, please apply to attend (spaces are limited) and fill in this survey. We will select a small number of participants based on the content of their survey replies.

  1. What do you think worked well in previous Kavli symposia?
  2. What do you think didn’t work well in previous Kavli symposia?
  3. How would you like to see future Kavli symposia improve?
  4. What are the key challenges facing science journalists today?
  5. Name one thing that would improve the quality of science in the media?
  6. What are the other topics or issues you think the Kavli symposia should tackle in the future?
  7. What are the main limitations or restrictions to work as a science journalist in your country?
  8. How would you rank the following as potential future topics for Kavli symposia (Ranking: Not Interesting, Interesting, Very Interesting):
    • Investigating science: reporting on research misconduct and exposing bad science Investigating science: reporting on research misconduct and exposing bad scienceGoing beyond daily news and single-paper stories: the challenge of ‘long news’ that matter and science reporting for the deep future
    • Media and scientific freedoms in a world or corporate control and science PR
    • Citizen journalism, crowdsourced science, and democratization of science journalism: challenges and opportunities of audience-driven reporting and co-production of knowledge
    • The business of science: reporting on private-sector research and commercialization of science
    • Reinventing media channels for science stories: the latest developments in technologies and platforms for quality science journalism, especially for freelancers
    • Reporting on policy and dealing with censorship: How state power and political structures shape the world of science and technology

Please send your responses to Mićo Tatalović at mico_tatalovic@hotmail.com

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