Tackling the real crisis in science communication

By Nick Ishmael Perkins

, by Science and Development Network (SciDev.Net)

The shortage of credible and diverse voices in science undermines the capacity of journalists to respond to development challenges.

When reviewing the agenda of the first Africa Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation, which took place in Nairobi, Kenya, this week, I was reminded of my initiation at SciDev.Net.

The team has a tradition of taking new staff for lunch and asking them personal, offbeat questions. I was at the centre of one such initiation recently, when I was asked to share a quotation that often inspires me.

At the time I was overwhelmed with choice. But in the weeks since I joined the team, I have returned to the question often, as this is a time when the science and development community could do with some inspiration.

Take the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), which should be a renewed push towards sustainable development. Many are anxious that it will fail — and that with the planet at a critical state, the time for failure may already have passed.

The science media sector also needs inspiration, beset as it has been with its own crises. Few professions have been as acutely affected by the Internet as journalism. Established publishing houses have had to restructure, editorially and operationally, to stay afloat. And science, like coverage of international affairs, has often been a casualty.

Meanwhile, the public and researchers complain of inadequate training for journalists. And there are few examples of innovative technology being used for dialogue among scientists, communications professionals and lay audiences — certainly fewer compared with the arts and ’culture’ industries.

Still, the point of inspiration is to energise us with visions of what is possible, and there are some promising trends for the media sector. Notably, there are signs of increased demand for science journalism.

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