The In&Out of the Lab conference in Thessaloniki set the tone for the perspective role of science journalism in Europe: to engage in the public dialogue between research and the public, to act as the watchdog in scientific and technological controversies, and to run high-quality trainings to better the overall performance of sci-tec journs. If they want to survive they need to leave conventional tracks and think out of the box. (1)
Back to the roots! Around Thessaloniki, Aristotle started 2500 years ago his critical and scientific thinking which shaped the occident. This was the cradle for the invention of cutting edge technology. As exhibited by the city’s Science Center, the Hellenistic culture created the first steam engine. At Greek’s first science journalism conference, speakers reminded the citizens of the city’s and country’s legacy and its unique mentors.
Today not only Greece, the entire continent is in the state of crisis. Science and technology very seldom serve the needs of the people. They have been captured by economic powers and are submitted to what seems to be the only truth of our days: the dogma of growth. Sci-tec journalists could find the exit out of the dead-end street.
With this in mind Alahiotis Stamatis, emeritus professor of genetics, University of Patras assessed quite critically the state of bioethics and and so called progress in the field of Genetically Modified Organism, GMOs. He charged that many research results cannot be accessed by independent scientists. Thus journalists are fed basically with the PR materials of the companies. (2)
The conference had been organized by the School of Journalism of the Aristotle University in close collaboration of CERN and Science View, a union of journalists, writers and communicators of science. Its goal was to promote the critical understanding of science in the public sphere. One of the sponsors of In & out of the Lab was EUSJA. In a training for some 50 students the European Science Journalists emphasized the necessity of interactive and participative teaching methods.
Molecules and how they bond were demonstrated in a line-up made up of participants. The take home message: write lively with live examples about complex stuff, create stories which really relate to the public, and, above all, do question the results of investigations. Run, for example, a SWOT analysis, asking for the strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats of research projects and its applications.
At the conference, many journalists presented quests for more critical reporting, among them Vasiliki Mihopoulou. Last summer her TV station ERT suddenly discontinued service and out of the blue went dark. “Our job is to inform our audience in an enjoyable and effective way”, Vasiliki demanded. This includes to “put science news in perspective and live up to watchdog journalism“, she concluded, for example analyse controversial issues.
Her colleague Koster Deligianis looked into the question whether science journalism has become a victim of its own fascination. He criticized that science reporting is often too positive, especially in the Greek reality. “Positive results give people in crisis hope for a better future”, Koster explained, such as robots will help to facilitate our lifes. Besides, “churnalism” prevails in Greece, “produce as much as you can, without analysis”, the journalist remarked.
As a guest and commentator Science View member Petros Arguriou attended the conference. In reference to his book “Pulp Med. Why Doctors Will Give You Only Half-Truths” (3) he tries in his reporting to detect “the other side of the coin”. Health is such a complex field, that medical doctors are neither gods nor dictators, who hand down the remedies to his patient, but rather “empower him to make his own choices over health and disease”, Petros writes in his book. This all, according to him, leads to “fruitful public health dialogues”.
Tim Radford, science correspondent of the Guardian, offered with plenty of British humour one suggestion. Scientific papers as a rule are so complicated, many times so meaningless that they are only read by the author’s mothers. Since people usually only care for sex and crime, but not science, they need to be seduced – with genious story telling. In “1001 night” journalists find many striking examples, said Tim.
In the EUSJA keynote, Honorary Secretary Wolfgang C. Goede picked up on these reflections and tried to condense them to a central action plan with nine “commandments”.
regular trainings in all essential fields and skills of the profession throughout the continent with the goal to provide the CRITICAL understanding of science INCLUDING technology with an emphasis on HU(man&woman)Tech;
PARTNERSHIPS with universities in Europe and beyond which offer curricula for communication, journalism and science journalism such as the Aristotle University;
broad-based COOPERATION with leading European scientific and technological organizations;
more journalistic study trips with more SCHOLARSHIPS, especially for beginners and newcomers, to research labs in Europe which could also offer trainings and provide networking opportunities;
close COLLABORATION with the science relevant branches of the European Union;
a highly visible POLE POSITION in the new EU Horizon 2020 program, an initiative to strengthen European research across national borders with the backing of the society;
strategic ALLIANCES with all science and technology relevant sections of society including science communicators and PI officers;
biennial European Science Journalism CONFERENCES in conjunction with the European Science Open Forum ESOF;
and above all, financial INDEPENDENCE and TRANSPARENCE, high journalistic ETHICS and INTEGRITY, in line with the Final Statement of the World Conference of Science Journalists Helsinki 2013, and, moreover, the strive to become, like political journalism, the SOCIETAL 4th POWER, apart from the executive, legislative and judicial power.
1 Overview -> http://inoutlab.web.auth.gr/eng
2 Abstracts of presentations ->http://inoutlab.web.auth.gr/eng/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/InOutLab-Abstracts-GRENG.pdf
3 http://www.ayni-books.com/books/pulp-med, http://hellasashell.wordpress.com/
EUSJA Keynote Address In & out of the Lab
Science and technology in the public sphere
International Scientific Conference
School of Journalism & Mass Communication, Aristotle University
14-15 March 2014, Thessaloniki City Hall