First Worldwide Science Debate On Science

Novelty at a world conference of science journalists. Participants debated about scientific issues. How they enjoyed it! High time for another debate: with stakeholders. Because people want more: become co-deciders about science. Could that […]

Debate: more facts needed (c) Goede

Debate: more facts needed (c) Goede

Novelty at a world conference of science journalists. Participants debated about scientific issues. How they enjoyed it! High time for another debate: with stakeholders. Because people want more: become co-deciders about science. Could that also help women against sexism, get equal opportunities? Report on the 2nd day of WCSJ 2015 Seoul.

Talk of the day was a debate about the question: more journalism, less science in science journalism? It was co-produced and moderated by the German science writer Kai Kupferschmidt. The format is an impressive example for more experimental engagements. It broke up the prevailing top-down panel style and brought life and action into the conference, made participants to actors.

Rules for the debate (c) Goede

Rules for the debate (c) Goede

The format started with two opponents taking the floor. Andrew Jack, Financial Times London, explained that data giants in Silicon Valley had demonstrated how much power and influence over every day life technology had won, without having been effectively questioned by science journalists. Money and power and their impacts on society needed to be checked by journalism.

Lack of scientific fact: people turn to astrology

Topics of debate (c) Goede

Topics of debate (c) Goede

The French Emilie Martin, Ciel et Espace, countered. First the facts and science, which are increasingly falling short, then the societal context, she said. Then the moderator opened the debate, following the rules of the British House of Representatives. Two fractions, each behind a red line, presenting arguments on a motion, pro and con, and trying to win the other side to vote for their interpretation.

Federico Kukso, science journalist from Argentina, for example took the pro science stance. “Don’t become blind”, he warned. Because facts remain too meager, Kukso said people don’t get the picture anymore and start to believe in astrology. This has become bestselling  news in his country. In the course of the discussion, some people changed sides.

1 corridor, 2 groups: pros & cons (c) Goede

1 corridor, 2 groups: pros & cons (c) Goede

Do journalists hype infectious deseases?

Other issues were debated such as the new MERS epidemic in Korea. Many people go out into the public only with face masks. Seven people died so far. A press conference in the morning tried to provide more information. Do journalists create a hype and cause insecurity?

Many issues can be tackled in a playful and educational manner. As to remember: EUSJA led a year ago a debate during ESOF 2014 Copenhagen on nanotechnology. It had pushed further the Seoul concept–no game, but real–involved the stakeholders and closed the debate with a highly recognized resolution1.

Women’s fight against sexism

Sexism in science journalism (c) Goede

Sexism in science journalism (c) Goede

Surprisingly, may be understandably: The topic sexism, presented in a typical panel style, did not draw too many people. Female discrimination is a well-established fact. Organizer and presenter Deborah Blum explained that the session wanted to provide a global view. Many of the figures are known, yet tend to get forgotten.

In the US, 70 percent of women in science journalism are coming up through the regular educational system, however only 35 percent of the media coverage is provided by women. “We don’t want to complain, we want to give you the facts”, explained Deborah. “We would like to be recognized and get more visibility.”

Domination of men (c) Goede

Domination of men (c) Goede

More cooperation, win trust!

Her co-panelists sustained these findings. Rosalia Omungo, Kenia, proposed as a solution “to cut out a niche and create one’s own passion”.  Valeria Roman, Argentina, drew up for Latin America a slightly better picture, especially in health journalism. Mariko Takahashi, Japan, regretted a large gender gap in her country. It ranks 104 of 142 countries. While in the media on the average 35 percent of the positions are taken by women, in Japan it’s only 15.2 percent, opposed to France with 45.5 percent, for example.

Younger Japanese vs. old grey men (c) Goede

Younger Japanese vs. old grey men (c) Goede

As to solutions Mariko demanded: avoid useless battles, enter cooperative relations, win trust (see below). Connie St. Louis, UK, added to the catalogue and demanded clear policy against harassment in media outlets and more coverage on violations by women themselves. Also SciDev has developed a guide2, but an overall strategy against sexism in science journalism does not exist so far.

Rules for women (c) Goede

Rules for women (c) Goede

 

Free citizens, free research

A clear path of action was defined for another topic which shakes up the ivory towers. The session Citizen Science and Journalism, co-produced by Sascha Karberg, elevates lay people to researchers. When regular people, pursuing their hobbies provide more facts and figures about wild life and rare species they do research work. Aletta Bonn, Helmholtz Center, an outstanding German research institution contributed by skype interesting details. That by 2020 citizens shall become co-designers of research.

Helmholtz Ctr. advocates co-design (c) Goede

Helmholtz Ctr. advocates co-design (c) Goede

Good timing of the session. Coincidentally and in addition, in Berlin and Munich there will be press conferences these days featuring a new book which picks up the the topic and widens the frame. Professor Peter Finke’s “Free Citizens. Free Research” makes taxpayers and consumers to co-deciders.3

1 http://www.eusja.org/kopenhagen-declaration
2 http://www.scidev.net/global/gender/practical-guide/gender-science-reporting-women-men.html
3 http://www.oekom.de/nc/buecher/gesamtprogramm/buch/freie-buerger-freie-forschung.html

WCSJ 2015 Seoul Programm https://www.wcsj2015.or.kr:447/wcsj2015/main/main.php

 

 

 

About Wolfgang C. Goede

Wolfgang C. Goede is a science journalist based in Munich, Germany. He is a board member of the German Association of Science Writers TELI.