14 winners of the WCSJ2019 Media Competition announced, to go to WCSJ2022 in Medellin

 The organisers of the 2019 World Conference of Science Journalists, WCSJ2019 have announced the fourteen winners of a competition to find the best scientific journalism stemming from the conference. Ten winners each receive a Bertarelli Foundation Media Grant to attend the next WCSJ in Medellin, Colombia, in 2022. Four additional winners, coming from French-speaking countries, receive a similar grant in the framework of the WCSJ2019 efforts to support science journalism in the “Francophonie”. 

WCSJ2019 was held in Lausanne from 1-5 July 2019 and organised by the science journalists’ associations of Switzerland, ASJS, France, AJSPI, and Italy, SWIM, with the support of the World Federation of Science Journalists, WFSJ. The conference attracted over 1300 science journalists, writers and communicators from 83 countries. To build on this success, and to secure continuity through to the next WCSJ in Medellin, one of WCSJ2019’s main supporters, the Bertarelli Foundation, generously agreed to fund the Media Competition, which was proposed by the WCSJ2019 organisers. 

The competition was open to all WCSJ2019 participants whose main area of activity is science journalism. Entrants were asked to send in up to two articles or media contributions they had produced based on a topic or an idea originating at the conference whether from a conference session, a field trip, a lunch@lab gathering, an exhibit, or indeed anything inspired by WCSJ2019. By the deadline of 31 December 2019, the organisers had received 51 entries, from 31 participants. Entries were evaluated by a jury according to predetermined criteria to assess aspects including, amongst others, their originality, style, journalistic method, quality and format. The jury was composed of Hélène Le Meur (science journalist, Programme committee member responsible for Keynote speakers), James Gillies (science communicator at CERN and 

co-head of the WCSJ2019 Communication team), Christine d’Anna-Huber (Secretary General of the Swiss Association of Science Journalism, Executive director of the WCSJ2019 Organising committee) and Olivier Dessibourg (President 2012-2019 of the Swiss Association of Science Journalism and Chairman of the Board of the WCSJ2019 Organising committee). 

Five prizes consisting a full grant to attend WCSJ2022, covering travel, hotel nights, conference fee, and a per diem, were originally foreseen. Thanks to a positive balance at the end of the WCSJ2019, the organisers are now happy to announce that there will 10 winners of this Bertarelli Foundation Media Grant. 

Their name (in alphabetical order) and their contributions are: • DE VRIEZE Jop, “Reflections of a science journalist: is an overview study just an opinion?” 

• IRWIN Aisling, “The Everything Mapper” 

• LACHOWSKI Caroline, “Comment développer le journalisme scientifique en Afrique?” 

• PALMER Jane, “The chemists policing Earth’s atmosphere for rogue pollution” 

• PONCHNER Debbie, “Trans Ovaries and the Privilege of Growing Old” 

• POWELL Kendall, “What electronic games can teach us” 

• POZNIAK Helena, “Refugees and technology: on a journey of self-discovery” 

• ROMAN Valeria, “Transgender in Latin America: Unfolded from Otherness” 

• SHETTY Disha, “65% Indians Exposed To Heatwaves” 

• SIMON Laurent, “On a passé la semaine dans un endroit formidable” 

Since one of the strands of WCSJ2019 was to promote quality science journalism in the French-speaking world – la Francophonie (document in French) – a further four grants are being made to French-speaking journalists. Their names and contributions are, in alphabetical order: 

The WCSJ2019 Organising committee and the Bertarelli Foundation warmly congratulate the winners of this competition and thank all the participants for their submissions. 

The WCSJ2019, which brought science journalists, acclaimed scientists, along with high-level decision-makers, politicians and policy makers to Lausanne, attracted worldwide media coverage. Many of the sessions were recorded on video and are freely available. The Organising Committee produced a full Final report, published in January 2020, describing the event. 

La Federación Mundial de periodistas científicos (WFSJ) lanza el sitio web de su próxima conferencia: www.wcsj.org

La pandemia de COVID-19 probablemente interrumpió la mayoría de tus planes de viaje para 2020. Pero a medida que el año llega a su fin, la WFSJ comparte su optimismo para el futuro al lanzar el sitio web oficial de su próxima gran conferencia, que se llevará a cabo en Medellín, Colombia. ¡La WCSJ regresa al hemisferio sur!

Este evento tendrá lugar del 28 de marzo al 3 de abril de 2022, y esperamos sinceramente ver a viejos y nuevos amigos en esta emocionante sede.

“Cada Conferencia Mundial de Periodistas Científicos es un motivo de celebración”, dice Milica Momcilovic, presidenta de la WFSJ. “Pero esta promete ser especialmente alegre. Tenemos muchas ganas de conectarnos en línea y en persona con periodistas científicos de todo el mundo. ¡Nos vemos en Colombia 2022!”.

Por favor visita el sitio web, que crecerá regularmente a lo largo de 2021 con las contribuciones de nuestra comunidad y sus socios.

Web site launch marks WFSJ’s return to the southern hemisphere

The COVID-19 pandemic likely disrupted most of your travel plans for 2020. But as the year draws to a close, the WFSJ shares its optimism for the future by launching the official website for its next major conference:www.wcsj.org.

This event is to take place from March 28 to April 3, 2022 in Medellin, Colombia, and we sincerely look forward to seeing friends old and new at this exciting venue.

“Every World Conference of Science Journalists is a cause for celebration,” says Milica Momcilovic, president of the WFSJ. But this one promises to be especially joyous. We look forward to connecting online and in person with science journalists from around the world. See you in Colombia 2022! “.

Please visit the website, which will grow regularly throughout 2021 with contributions from our community and its partners.

WFSJ welcomes the Society of Environmental Journalists

The World Federation of Science Journalists is very pleased to welcome the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) as the organization’s 67th member association, the third to join our ranks in 2020. In a Board of Directors meeting held on December 15, members unanimously and quickly approved the SEJ application.

“This was an easy decision that we were delighted to make,” said WFSJ President Milica Momcilovic. “SEJ marks the gold standard for science journalism. It will be extremely satisfying to serve as a forum for their members to share ideas and insights with their colleagues from around the world.”

SEJ President Sadie Babits was also pleased.

“We are honored to join the World Federation of Science Journalists, which brings together tens of thousands of science journalists to advance, promote, and improve science journalism,” she said. “Covering our shared global environment is too big a task for any one organization, so we are excited to connect with our fellow environmental journalists across the planet to exchange ideas, stories, and resources. We look forward to working together to tell the world’s most important stories.” 

SEJ, which was originally incorporated in 1990, now has some 1,600 members, mostly based in the United States and Canada. All professional members must meet the organization’s strict qualifications, which prohibit public relations or lobbying (students are exempted). This focus on professional science journalists and faculty reflect SEJ’s stated mission to strengthen the quality, reach and viability of journalism across all media to advance public understanding of environmental issues.

The organization offers its own distinctive blend of educational programs and services, primarily for professional journalists, educators and students. These activities include annual and regional conferences, tours, meet-ups and training events; the Freedom of Information Task Force; SEJ Awards for Reporting on the Environment; story grants through the Fund for Environmental Journalism; members-only listservs for peer-to-peer support; a popular mentoring program; and, of course, a lively membership network of journalists and academics.

The World Congress of Science and Factual Producers: we should finally retire the term ‘fake news’

The year 2020 was a challenging one for science journalists across the world. They followed not only the spread of the novel coronavirus, but also an epidemic of half-truths, lies, conspiracy theories, and questionable statements made by world leaders.

Unintentional misinformation and intentional disinformation were often difficult to combat. Many of us spent time thinking about doing our jobs better and conveying scientific truth to a public that needed it more than ever.

The World Federation of Science Journalists organized a panel at the World Congress of Science & Factual Producers (WCSFJ), a must-attend event that took place online from December 8 to 10. Keynote speakers included Dr. Anthony Fauci, Bill Gates, Luisa Neubauer, and more.

Andrada Fiscutean, a member of the WFSJ Board of Directors, and WFSJ President Milica Momcilovic, developed a panel to discuss the problem of misinformation and COVID-19. Entitled “Science Denial, Alternate Facts, and the Pandemic”, the event featured Pakinam Amer (Egypt), Anubha Bhonsle (India), and Thiago Medaglia (Brazil), and was moderated by Milica Momčilović (Serbia), the president of the World Federation of Science Journalists.

Hosted by Momcilovic, the panel address how COVID-19 narratives often exploited existing biases and divisions in our society, along with vulnerable groups who were the ones who suffered the most. They talked about what journalists can do to ethically inform an audience. And they also suggested retiring the term “fake news” because the information that’s neither accurate nor truthful is not news. 

Thiago Medaglia, the founder of Ambiental Media in Brazil, an initiative that transforms scientific content into compelling and innovative journalism, pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic showed, once again, that science denial can be a political strategy. Disinformation serves a political agenda — it starts at a high level, and then it is often spread forward by well-meaning members of the public. 

Thiago said that knowledge is not the only thing that can be produced — so is ignorance. During the pandemic, state leaders across the world often created doubt deliberately. This tactic is not new: it was also used by climate change deniers, as well as by those who supported the tobacco industry. Thiago quoted from an internal Tobacco Memo: “Doubt is our product.”

Anubha Bhonsle, an independent journalist and author from India who now runs the new media platform NewsWorthy, said that journalists should be transparent about the process of investigating and writing stories. They should mention their biases and the things they don’t know about the topics they cover. 

Anubha emphasized the fact that journalists shouldn’t hold on to mistakes just because it took a lot of time to make them. She also suggested that journalists operating on online platforms such as Instagram or Twitter could also use arts to create a closer relationship with their audience and balance hard news with more hopeful content.

Pakinam Amer, a science journalist and podcast producer from Egypt, currently a research affiliate at MIT, highlighted the fact false information can often be more pervasive and more “viral” than truth. She said that people tend to believe things that align with their beliefs and their political leanings.

Pakinam was part of an MIT team that created a “deepfake” video of Richard Nixon, ‘In the Event of the Moon Disaster,’ that was meant to show how technology can be used to create things that never happened. The team used artificial intelligence to stage a speech that former US President Richard Nixon never delivered. The statement was written in case the Apollo 11 mission had gone wrong, and the astronauts had died. Creating the Richard Nixon speech clip took hundreds of hours, but the cost of producing deepfake videos could drop in the future, as technology advances, Pakinam said.

At the end of the session, the panelists offered some practical solutions everyone could apply. One would be to check if the source is legitimate. Pakinam also suggested educating people into taking a deep breath before pressing share, analyzing information with a critical eye. She also pointed out that rather than tackling each rumor independently, it would be more beneficial to go to the roots of misinformation.

The COVID-19 pandemic, the panelists agreed, has often been distracting us from covering other big stories, such as climate change or social media platforms’ transparency issues. Journalists, the panelists said, should keep an eye on those stories too.

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.

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.