London Calling Science Journalists: and they are there!

Speech by Pallab Ghosh,
President of the World Federation of Science Journalists,
delivered on 30th June 2009, at the Opening at Tea Party of the
6th World Conference of Science Journalists, London, United Kingdom

Fellow Science Journalists

As they used to say once on BBC radio: This is London Calling!

On behalf of the Association of British Science Writers and the World Federation of Science Journalists may I extend a warm welcome to the World Conference of Science Journalists.

Pallab MI’m especially grateful to have Britain’s Science Minister, Lord Drayson here to address us. And for the Support of the Department for Business Innovation and Skills – who are sponsoring this traditional English Tea Party.

It’s wonderful to have your endorsement.

Minister, Fellow Science Journalists.

Those who’ve organised the conference have a vision! We believe that good science journalism can change the world for the better.

When I first started as a young reporter, science journalists were the geeks of the newsroom. On national newspapers we were given the lighter “fun” stories to do to provide light relief to the serious coverage of politics and foreign affairs. I think that’s now changed.

In many parts of the world science journalists now cover more grown up stories: climate change, stem cell research and swine flu. As well as covering the science we also cover the policy through the prism of the science.

Perhaps, most importantly, it’s us specialists that have the confidence and background knowledge to test the scientific information we are given. As we know, everyone has an agenda – and it’s our job to scrutinize and challenge the narrative emerging from governments, corporations and scientific institutions. No one else is able to do this.

Science is a force for good but it can only realise this potential if we do our jobs well.

This coming together of the tribes of science journalism marks an important moment. The conversations we have, the talks we listen to and the questions we ask will become part of the on-going dialogue that will define us as science journalists.

It’s this culture of science journalism that we will be developing together over the next few days. The value of such a culture is that it empowers us all. It enables us to have our own perspective on the scientific developments that are changing and challenging our societies and not merely trotting out what revered scientists, feared news editors and dare I say, dynamic science ministers tell us to say!

I am delighted to say that the UK has taken a lead role in the development of the World Federation of Science Journalists.

This is the latest and best conference organised by the Federation. Thanks to the generous support of our sponsors – not least by UK government – we have been able to bring over journalists from developing and emerging countries.

They’ll be learning new skills from free workshops we’ve arranged. It was this aspect – to help less advantaged colleagues - that was my primary reason to get involved with the Federation.

I hope you’ll see while you are here, Minister, some excited faces – all thrilled to be here – and grateful for the opportunity to be at talks that will inform their journalism. And your department has been hugely supportive in this.

And I would like to thank all our sponsors, especially those who believed in us early on – even when we ourselves had our doubts about whether we could pull this off.

Specifically Nature, The Royal Society and The Wellcome Trust and the board of the World Federation gave us the early support we needed to make this conference possible.

I also thank our lead sponsor the UK’s Department for International Development and our group of major sponsors: Johnson & Johnson, the Qatar Foundation, the British Council-Darwin Now, the European School of Oncology, the Joint Research Centre and the Directorate General Research of the European Commission, and the Research Councils UK.

I thought that London would be a good place to host the conference because we have fantastic institutions, we have fantastic scientists, we have fantastic science magazines, newspapers, on-line, TV and radio output. And of course we have fantastic people – you guys!

Two and a half years ago when I was talking to friends at the Association of British Science Writers I said: “Imagine people from Nature, New Scientist, the BBC, Science, the national press, the Science Media Centre, The Royal Society, the Wellcome Trust, UK government – all working together.

What an amazing show we could put on for the World.

And here we are.

Minister you are justifiably proud of the UK’s scientists – but may I also commend to you the UK’s community of science journalists and communicators.

They’ve worked tirelessly in their own time to put this conference together - which I know will do so much good. They and this conference are a great advertisement for this country!

But this is not a parochial affair. What we’ve done here is part of a growing body of work by science journalist associations affiliated to the World Federation of Science Journalists.

We now have 40 associations working together to raise the standards of science journalism.

The World Federation’s mentoring scheme – which has been supported by the UK’s Department for International Development, along with Canada and Sweden, has been able to train journalists in Africa and the Middle East – many of whom we’ve bought over to the conference. We’ve also produced on-line courses and training materials in six languages.

As a result there are more and more science journalists in developing and emerging countries – writing about international issues – such as Climate Change and HIV/AIDS from a local perspective. Our grassroots work is leading directly to jobs and more column inches and airtime for Science Journalism in those countries.

We’ve done this with the support of our member associations – in Europe, North and South America, Asia and Africa – and many of you are gathered here.

If only other international bodies could work as effectively and as harmoniously in this way!

We’ve realised that by coming together we can make a real difference.

Together we are raising the standard of science journalism across the world!

Enjoy the conference and together let’s shape the future of science journalism