Meet the Falling Walls Science Fellows 2015

Every year, the Falling Walls Foundation calls for journalists to apply for a fellowship to attend the Falling Walls events in Berlin. This year, more than 260 journalists from all over the world applied and 7 experienced journalists from 5 different continents were finally selected to head to Berlin in November:

Collage

Ashraf Amin from Cairo has been working as a science journalist for over 17 years. He is the Head of the Science and Health department of Al-Ahram, one of the leading newspapers in Egypt.

Núria Jar is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. Currently she writes for Scientific American in Spanish; El País, Muy Interesante and SINC Agency. She also runs a weekly radio section on science.

Wang Yue is a science journalist working for the biggest news agency in China where he focuses on internet topics and technology products.

Folashade Adebayo is a journalist with Punch, the most widely read newspaper in Nigeria. The award-winning journalist covers science, health and education stories beats.

Daniel A. Gross from Boston, USA, is a freelance writer and radio producer. His writing has appeared in Smithsonian Magazine, Newsweek, and TheAtlantic.com; his radio stories have aired on the BBC World Service and PRI’s Studio 360.

Erwida Maulia Subiakno from Indonesia is a news editor and senior writer for the English news portal thejakartaglobe.com. Apart from doing regular editing work, she has been writing extensively on environment and science topics.

Carlos Henrique Fioravanti is special editor at Pesquisa, a leading science magazine in Brazil, and has written for The Lancet since 2012.

Before meeting them personally in Berlin, we were curious about the role of science in their countries and which walls, they think, will have to fall next in science and society. Read here their answers:

What role do science and science communication play in your country?

Ashraf: Science is quite important in my country (Egypt), though there are not enough channels to promote evidence based science or good science stories and one of the main reasons for that is the lack of funding and the lack of stakeholders who could lobby for science policies.

Folashade: My country (Nigeria) is politically-driven, so science and science communication have had to fight for attention. There are many Nigerians making inventions and innovations but the products are still stuck on the laboratory shelves. Nigeria has dozens of research institutes but we are yet to be able to take the lead in proffering solutions to some of the tropical diseases such as sickle cell (which primarily targets people of African descent), the West African strain of HIV, poliomyelitis and even the Ebola Virus Disease. So, I would say, the influence of science in Nigeria is at the peak at the moment.

Carlos Henrique: There is not a consensus on the role of science journalists in Brazil. Most of them say that their role is just to show and describe scientific achievements. I have improved my view since I started writing on science and environment, in 1985. Currently, I think that science journalists should not always act as intermediate, but should try to be a mediator, interpreting information, beyond scientific papers.

Daniel: The products of science are all around us in the United States — in the chemical makeup of our food, the materials in our mobile devices, the particulates swirling through the air we breathe. But I’d argue that there’s a mismatch between the science we hear about in the news, and the science that shapes our lives. We hear every day about foods that supposedly fight cancer. Sometimes blockbuster stories about big discoveries in physics make headlines, too. Yet we rarely hear about scientists who develop new diagnostic methods that make us healthier, or new materials that facilitate new advances in engineering and computing. We rarely hear about the sociology of science, or stories about the connections between the history of science and the present. One of the ways journalists can fill these gaps is through human stories that not only tell us about science, but show us how science affects our lives.

Núria: Science communication in Spain is far behind of other countries, such as the United States and United Kingdom. But every day there are more journalists who are doing a very good and interesting job in science journalism.

Erwida: Science should lay the foundations for Indonesia’s development plans and policies across various sectors — especially now that global warming and climate change demand more than ever that our country, like the rest of the world, choose a sustainable path for development. This means every decision making, every policy made by the government should be science- or evidence-based. Science communication will help educate our decision makers and the public in general on many science issues – thus hopefully contribute to better, more evidence-based policy-making processes in the country.

Yue: China is the largest developing country in the world, where science and technology are seen as No. 1 productive forces. Science and technology play crucial roles in the construction of the nation and the live of its residents so that both the government and citizens attach great importance to its development.

In your opinion, which are the walls that will have to fall in science and society within the next five years?

Folashade: I would say the next wall to fall in science is HIV/AIDS. More than 30 years after the disease was diagnosed, it is becoming more obvious that the end of the scourge is nearer than ever before. A functional cure for the German patient, Timothy Ray Brown and a couple of other patients is one of the first lights in the horizon. The miracle of Truvada and the discovery of a protein which can stop the virus from further replicating in the human system are also big leaps indicative that a cure is in sight.

Ashraf: I think there are many walls that should fall in the coming years especially in the developing world like pseudoscience stories that are in some countries more endorsed due to the lack of public understanding of science. A second topic that I would suggest are the walls that are currently present in the Middle East in /and between the countries.

Carlos Henrique: The great wall is silence. Dialogue and communication among universities, research centres, companies and government should be improved, in search of a common goal. Unlike Germany, the US and the UK, in Brazil universities and research centres live apart from companies and governmental offices, hardly exposing their work to them and rarely helping to solve urgent social or medical problems, such as a recent dengue outbreak. Ethics is another great issue and should be thought before scientific achievements – who and how will use them? – instead of being thought later, as usual. The recent debate on gene editing suggest that ethics should be a part, not a complement, of science.

Daniel: I’m keeping a close watch on the ways scientific discoveries can improve global health, which often requires technologies that aren’t radically new, but simply technologies that are radically simplified and inexpensive. Similarly, I hope that technology companies — which so often design narrow digital tools for the developed world — can widen their focus to address global problems. We can download apps for every social network or bank — but there aren’t any good apps for sending remittances across the world. We need a shift in values and interests to help us deploy the immense scientific talent that already exists.

Núria: Society needs to be informed about new discoveries in science, because many of them address ethical questions that have to be answered.

Erwida: Given the urgency of issues surrounding global warming and climate change, I believe that the walls that will have to fall within the next five years are those surrounding the development of renewable energy and other green technologies, as well as research and innovations that will help people in many different parts of the world mitigate impacts of climate change — including on health, welfare and human interactions (conflicts fuelled by climate change come to mind).

Yue: Under the pressure of new scientific discoveries and technology the price barrier caused by technological monopoly is gradually torn down and will eventually disappear completely. People, no matter if rich or poor, all have the right to enjoy the common wealth brought by scientific progress. When scientific and technological achievements are fully shared by all human beings, people of different nations, cultures and religions, and will no longer be restricted, wars will gradually decrease until they disappear completely.