If it’s 2009, this must be London

WCSJ 2009Well, here we are at last.

It’s exactly 806 days (yes, I’ve counted them) since a high-powered but slightly nervous team put an ultimately successful bid to the board of the World Federation of Science Journalists to host their biennial conference in London in 2009.

The occasion was the fifth such conference, which opened on the following day (17 April 2007) in Melbourne, Australia. But the initial incentive for the bid was sparked by the success of the previous conference, which had taken place in Montreal, Canada, in October 2004.

Having initially been sceptical that a world federation of anything could be effective at much more than allocating radio frequencies and similarly bureaucratic tasks, a small delegation led by Pallab Ghosh, then president of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), came away impressed.

The Montreal meeting was an unanticipated success, attracting some 620 delegates — including about 300 science journalists from 58 countries. It had also made a profit, which was shared between the World Federation and two Canadian science journalist associations.

So when it came to bidding for this year’s World Conference of Science Journalists, the cash-strapped ABSW took little convincing to put its weight behind an application that eventually won out over a rival bid from Trieste, Italy.

The ABSW’s confidence looks as if it will be rewarded. Two months ago, the conference organisers were fretting about a failure to attract enough registrants, even contemplating moving to a smaller venue.

Yesterday they were able to announce that, as in Montreal, targets had been met, with more than 800 registered to attend. Indeed they are now having to turn down new applications for registration.

All of which augurs well for a lively conference, which opens tomorrow with a plenary session on “New media, new journalism?”

Given the strong support that SciDev.Net is delighted to have provided for the conference planning — including the suggestion of including a “development stream” in the schedule — our interests will be in there from the start.

Indeed, the description for the session opens by declaring: “There is no question that the Internet has dramatically changed the way news is gathered and disseminated.”

The apparent popularity of the London meeting also means that bidding for the next World Conference, due to take place in 2011, is fierce. Cairo, Helsinki, Kampala and Nairobi have all indicated an interest.

Cairo’s bid, backed by the newly formed Arab Science Journalists Association, is said to be the current favourite. The result will be known by the end of the week.

I’ve made some comments on some of the issues that will face participants attending WCSJ2009 in an editorial on the SciDev.Net website, “Beware scientific fundamentalism“.

You can also see on our website an article by IPCC chair R. K. Pachauri, written exclusively for us as a curtain-raiser to the plenary session in which he is participating on Thursday. He calls on journalists to maintain focus on the scientific rationale for action — rather than the politics — in their coverage of climate change. See “How the media is creating a climate for change“.

David Dickson, SciDev.Net