Past meets future. Science between rock, women, hippy power. Report 1st European Conference for Sci Journs ECSJ

ECSJ organizer Jens Degett
ECSJ organizer Jens Degett

It was about time for such a conference, said moderator Quentin Cooper. The past met the future and opened science journalism new ways. The BBC journalist led through the very first European Conference for Science Journalists (ECSJ) on June 22, 2014. It was organized by the Danish Science Journalists’ Association DV and the European Science Journalists EUSJA. The event was sponsored by The Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, the Ministry of Higher Education and Science and the Otto Monsted Foundation.

In her introduction, Ulla Margrethe Wewer, dean of the health faculty of the University of Copenhagen, described science and science journalism as a “love affair, not easy though, with two different languages”. But with married couples there is no routine either. Bridging science and science journalism “is a life long effort across two different culture”, she told the 200 attendees of ECSJ.

European Science Journalists' Strategy
European Science Journalists’ Strategy

Jens Degett, DV president and main ECSJ organizer made a pledge for high standards in science journalism and warned that “informed ignorance is dangerous”. “Through a jungle of information science journalists have to find a way”, he told  the audience about the challenges of science journalism and: “Balance is not the solution” – which makes it even more difficult to report correctly on this topic, also given the fact that there is little pure science, but lots of different interests and conflict involved, as other speakers pointed out. Democracy requires “an informed public”, Degett reaffirmed.

Journalists' Presidents: Chul Joong Kim, World Federation, Satu Lipponen, European Union
Journalists’ Presidents: Chul Joong Kim, World Federation, Satu Lipponen, European Union

EUSJA president Satu Lipponen reported on the strategy day -> “We have to make more noise for our profession”, she urged the science journalists. The Finn does not want to be remembered as the head of a dying breed. The strategy process to reinvent and strengthen European Science Journalism will touch on many aspects of the profession such as develop new business models, promote better trainings, set up new membership rules, as tossed up by the participants of the strategy day on the ESOF Carlsberg site. The overall direction is, as displayed by the 2,5 meter high roll-up poster at Lipponen’s side: Changing. Critical. Together.

“Try again, fail again, fail better” is the motto of two German science journalists who have ventured out to new models. Once employed by the renowned Financial Times Germany, Georg Dahm and Denis Dilba decided to set up “Substanz”, an only online science magazine, initially financed with 37 000 Euros raised with Krautfunding. The founders belong to a new generation, “digital natives”: “Print was yesterday, now we are in digital times which need to be fully developed”, the team said. “We don’t want to enter the rat race about the lastest news”, Dahm pointed out: There has been tons of news about new cancer treatments, “so why the …. do we still die off cancer?”, he asked.

German Innovators Dahm & Dilba
German Innovators Dahm & Dilba

He described their operation as a “rock band on tour”, full of passion and reality. “We want to show science like it is, not clean labs, but full of action with the scientists in their cargo jeans and hairy legs”, Dahm said. The emphasis is on telling a unique story with unique elements, providing new layers of information and implementing a new choreography of text, pictures and design. ->

While Joost van Kasteren, head of the Dutch Science Journalists, reminded participants that good science journalism is a valuable “public good” and a pillar of democracy his Danish colleague Mette Dahlgaard demonstrated how this is being realized with her newspaper “Berlingske”. The publication has a team of investigative reporters who could prove that a breast cancer treatment was falsified. Her recommendations for related efforts:

* Get all the documents (under the Freedom of Information Act)
* ask politicians for help
* meet your source face to face
* ask the social communities and facebook for support,

Investigative watchdog over democracy
Investigative watchdog over democracy

Curtis Brainard, Scientific American added examples from the United States about the “prevailing secrecy in corporate and governmental institutions” and despite of some success stories “access to information under the Obama administration has gotten worse”, he regretted.

Another presentation touched on the gender question. How fair are women represented in science and science reporting? Ingrid Wünning Tschol, Bosch Foundation presented a new date base and platform which helps to find excellent female researchers -> as a consequence about complains that women were not represented on the ESOF board.

Anita Frank Goth from KVINFO put Denmark under the magnifying glass and detected many gender flaws. In 2014, the media is still governed by men. They hold 80 percent of the positions. Expertise comes with age, said Goth, but: Women over 50 years have in Denmark a severe problem. They make up only 23 percent of the experts which go on TV screen on various scientific issues. “Shut up and stay beautiful”, the KVINFO spokesperson summed up the gender situation in Denmark, broadly hailed as a liberal, participative country with equal opportunities. ->

Inclusion of women in Denmark -- work in progress
Inclusion of women in Denmark — work in progress

The 1st European Conference for Science Journalists ended with a reward ceremony. Jens Degett applauded Jacome Armas for a new format on science journalism which reaches the young people. Officially it’s called “science and cocktails”, more commonly “hippy science”.

Armas explained why people between 20 and 40 are not interested in science. They had bad experience, “school sucks”, he explained. That’s why they want to party. All you need is to “deconstruct” the scheme, he said, integrate science into the party scene, discos, theatres. Christiania, Kopenhagen’s former hippy commune, provides innovative lecture platforms for scientists from all over the world: 50 events in 4,5 years, he reported, with audiences up to 450 people.

Science & Cocktail (and beer) -- successor of  Café Scientifique
Science & Cocktail (and beer) — successor of Café Scientifique

The boring “café scientifique” is out, Armas proclaimed: Science and Cocktails is the new way to go! ->




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