Green Nuke Power? Arsenic Rice! Fit for seduction?

The 9th World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul has started. Read about 1st day highlights: weird history of arsenic, nuclear power wants to go green, pitch the editors slam, hot […]

Opening with an ice sculpture (c) Goede

Opening with an ice sculpture (c) Goede

The 9th World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul has started. Read about 1st day highlights: weird history of arsenic, nuclear power wants to go green, pitch the editors slam, hot contest between Copenhagen and San Francisco to become WCSJ 2017 venue.

About Bloodless Killing, Pain and Suffering

Some participants in the past grumbled that the world conference had produced no take-home stories. Not this time, folks. In a kick-off lecture, Deborah Blum laid out the intriguing history of arsenic. Who ever knew: That Napoleon’s killer most likely was wall paper, in a beautiful green colour which stemmed from arsenic?  That Mary Ann Cotton killed 21 people with arsenic oat meal. All the trouble researchers went through to track the substance? Its career as a pesticide–and why we have to watch out for arsenic rice?

Arsenic as a treatment (c)

Arsenic as a treatment (c) Goede

In the auditorium next door, a Nobel laureate reasoned about creativity in science. “It is full of pain and suffering” he said, if answers to questions cannot be found. Sounds familiar to sci journos chasing a meaningful story. Deborah presented an invitation full of facts and surprises. Now it’s up to you, dear colleague, to create your own narrative!

19th Century Dinosaur-Tech

Green Energy Resource (Goede)

New Green Energy Source (c) Goede

The session “Nuclear Technology Adding Green on Earth” drew a couple of hundred conference visitors. Ian Hore-Lacy, Senior Research Analyst of the World Nuclear Association, foresaw a renaissance of nuclear power, being the world’s “only carbon free energy resource”. No word however, as my neighbor mumbled about the not resolved waste storage problem. Byung Joo Min, Ph.D. in nuclear physics, member and scientific expert of the Korean National Assembly and moderator of the session raised other questions though. For example that developed nations after they have reached a Gross Domestic Product of 30 000 US $ per person don’t have increasing energy needs.

Chernobyl Fukushima rebel (c) Goede

Chernobyl Fukushima rebel (c) Goede

And that the grid and power lines of a central plant are environmentally not outright sustainable. In fact, don’t they remind of the power plant design, dinosaur-type of the 19th century? Nowadays de-centralization is requested. Small is sustainable. The engineer and Fukushima critic Fumio Arakawa, author of the paper “The Future of Success in Nuclear Power Engineering”1, enfant terrible and “Japanese Don Quijote”, as he calls himself put his thumb down.

Pitch the Editors Slam With Elevator Talks?

Prominent names (c) Goede

Prominent names (c) Goede

The session “meet the science editors” was the journalistic highlight of the day. The format has been developed by former WFSJ Executive Director Jean-Marc Fleury. Young journalists presented abstracts of prospective stories to a panel of editors of outstanding journals. Whether wild life conservation in Africa, how obese poor people live up to better nutrition standards or by which means a disaster area after an earthquake reinvents itself, many answers raised the same questions: Where is the science, who are the people involved, how to spice up the story and create more tension,  in other words: Where is the meat, young colleague?

Surprise: Also publications like “Nature” are looking nowadays for stories which can be “intellectual food for the dinner table”! As a rule for all media, pitches need to be short and precise, six to eight short paragraphs, they must grab the editor in the very first sentence, and as the New York Times blogging editor remarked: “Why not add a suitable youtube video?”

WE LEARNED! Also and especially editors want and need to be seduced, just like any reader or media user.

"Where is the meat?" (c) Goede

“Where is the meat?” (c) Goede

Fun Exercise for EUSJA Study Trips?

Notable: Many written abstracts lacked headlines, paragraphs, rhythm and flow, did not pin down the who, what, how, why, left open the spin of the story. Comment of one of the session visitors: “A slam must be more exciting, so why not ask the pitchers for an improvised elevator speech in 30 seconds?” Additional food for thought and brain neurons: Why not include pitch the editors exercises in EUSJA study trips, perhaps after the tour at a night-time drink at the hotel. Would be fun, could help participants to sell their stories in the aftermath and quintessentially: More useful than karaoke!

COPENHAGEN: Innovative media concept & visions

Copenhagen pitch (c) Goede

Copenhagen 2017 pitch (c) Goede

And now the battle of the day, the bidding for the 2017 world conference venue2. Two parties entered the contest which will be decided by Thursday with the results made public at the General Assembly with the member organizations and delegates. The Danish started with a presentation of Copenhagen’s ambassador in Seoul who introduced his country as one of the world’s most innovative, also in science and technology. The Danish delegation promised a top-class event at the Danish Broadcast Concert Hall, amidst Scandinavian life style and nature, with a new media forum which would broadcast directly from the conference.

Danish Delegation with flags (c) Goede

Danish Delegation with flags (c) Goede

As the leader of the delegation, Jens Degett outlined: major sponsors of ESOF, Europe’s largest science conference, stood behind the proposal. With a substantial contribution of the European Commission 1.2 million Euros could be expected for the budget, with surpluses flowing into the World Federation treasury. Jens and his colleagues are shooting for a “visionary working conference”, which also would address the crisis in science journalism and possible solutions.

SAN FRANCISCO: 1200 people target

San Francisco pitch (c) Goede

San Francisco 2017 pitch (c) Goede

Highly convincing also the US American delegation, led by Ron Winslow. Powerful: The event would be organized by a continental coalition including Canadian and Latin American science journalists’ associations which had signed supporting papers. Only the fact that CASW and NASW were having their annual meetings in San Francisco would produce a couple of hundred attendees. Altogether California’s Bay Area could draw even more people than the London world conference, may be 1200 persons. The delegation pointed out the proximity of a number of renowned universities, research facilities as well as Silicon Valley. On the other side, independent and critical science journalism would be promoted. A budget of about one million US dollars would be raised.

US American delegation with scarfs (c) Goede

US American delegation with scarfs (c) Goede

Questions of the audience revolved around tough US immigration laws for Arabic visitors, for the Northamericans and the Danish alike how to attract new faces and fresh blood.

Please stay tuned for WCSJ 2015 Korea further reports and next event’s venue!

WCSJ 2015 Seoul Program
http://www.wcsj2015.or.kr/wcsj2015/program/program.php
1 http://www.eusja.org/europes-energy-future-flaws-hopes-challenges-in-science-journalism/
2 http://www.wfsj.org/news/news.php?id=467

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.