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The Role of Science Journalists

World Science Forum | 10 November 2005

Wilson da Silva, centre, with the board of the World Federation of Science Journalists
Wilson da Silva, centre, with the board of the World Federation of Science Journalists

The following are opening remarks to a special session on science journalism at the 2005 World Science Forum in Budapest, Hungary, held at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, by the president of the World Federation of Science Journalists and editor of COSMOS.

WE LIVE IN A WORLD when science is extraordinarily powerful; when technology is bringing dramatic changes to the daily lives of millions around the world; but also a time when science is often as much a commercial enterprise as it is conducted for the greater public good.

At such a time, the role of science journalists has never been more important. We may as individuals be fascinated by science, but we are not its captives; nor are we cheerleaders for scientists. We are sober analysts of the value of science and technology to society: we describe it, detail its promise and warn of its dangers.

Science journalists are an essential glue in a civil society: modern societies are utterly dependent on science and technology, and rely on it to function. But citizens, policy-makers and administrators often do not have the time nor the expertise to fully appreciate its complexity and its implications.

This is a function science journalists serve: we analyse developments in science, explain their importance and signpost their dangers. But we are more than educators and storytellers. We also guardians of the public trust, and question science, its operations and its ethics.

As we must. For ultimately, while we science journalists may be enamoured and fascinated by science, and many of us may have backgrounds in science, we tell the story of science and technology on behalf of the public. Our ultimate loyalty is to our audience.

Science is a global activity. The stories that science journalists report on often involve global themes, global concerns and global issues.

Science journalists can learn from each other's experiences. That's why the World Federation of Science Journalists has been born: to create an international network where common experiences can be shared, where those issues that concern civil society – as well as science journalists – can be debated, and where the professional development of science journalism can be advanced.

The Federation is an association of associations. It has 26 member associations representing 58 countries. It has global concerns and global ambitions, from journalist exchanges and workshops to training programmes and mentoring projects. A priority objective is to develop networking opportunities for science journalists, particularly in developing countries.

The Federation seeks to further science journalism as a bridge between science, scientists and the public. Our goals are to improve the quality of science reporting, promote standards and support science and technology journalists worldwide as key players in civil society.

To date, the Federation has already led to the creation of the African Federation of Science Journalists and the Arab Association of Science Journalists. We have secured aid funding to the tune of US$1 million for a number of coordinated projects for science journalists in the developing world, and hope to announce further successes in the near future.

We have a diverse board and committees, with representation from Australia, Canada, Colombia, Egypt, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Nigeria, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. And while we are a young organisation, we have large ambitions.

The panels to follow have been arranged by the Federation, and we are pleased to be able to bring you an insight into the issues facing science journalists around the world: both in the practise of their craft, and in how they deal with the overarching themes of knowledge, ethics and responsibility in the modern world.


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