Meet the 10 winners of the Falling Walls Science Fellowship for Journalists

10 journalists from all over the world have been selected to travel to Falling Walls 2016. We are happy to introduce them to you.

Read the full bios and the entire interview on our website.

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Ahmed Ateyya is an Egyptian journalist and documentary filmmaker. He is the winner of the 2011 Arab Press Award for special reporting. He works as the deputy managing editor of elwatannews.com.

Smriti Daniel is a freelance journalist based in Sri Lanka. Her work has appeared in Al Jazeera, The Sunday Times, Scroll and The Hindu among many other publications. Her science writing has focused on the intersections of health, innovation, technology and development.

Alastair Gee has written for newyorker.com, The New York Times, The Guardian, The Economist and other publications. He is the Monocle correspondent in San Francisco, where he is based. 

Eunice Kilonzo is a Kenyan health print journalist at Daily Nation newspaper where she writes on health concerns such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, health financing as well as health research among other issues.

Andrew Mambondiyani is a journalist based in Zimbabwe with special interest in climate change, health and agriculture. His work has been published by BBC, Thomson Reuters Foundation, IPS, Opendemorcay.net, Scidev.net, and Mongabay.com among others.

Emily Mullin is the associate editor for biomedicine at MIT Technology Review, based in Washington, D.C. Her writing has also appeared in Forbes, The Washington Post, Scientific American, Smithsonian Magazine, The Atlantic and Pacific Standard.

Senne Starckx is a freelance science journalist, writing for general media in Flanders, The Netherlands and internationally. He also writes for several specialist journals.

Lucas Viano works as a journalist for the newspaper La Voz del Interior in Córdoba, where he writes about science and environment. Since 2014, he has been writing for the Spanish website of Scientific American.

Swagata Yadavar is a health journalist from Mumbai, India. She has worked in a national magazine, THE WEEK, and is currently working as a Principal Correspondent with IndiaSpend, the country’s first data journalism initiative.

Duanduan Yuan is a reporter from Southern Weekly focusing on health and medical news. This newspaper (also known as China’s New York Times) is China’s most popular national weekly investigative newspaper, with a circulation of 1.6 million.

 

1. Why did you choose to become a science journalist?

Alastair:
Writing about science is a way to connect with a place that moves me. I began my journalism career in Moscow, where the natural world seemed embattled. My apartment was on the eighth floor of a concrete tower in the middle of a sprawling concrete city, and nothing seemed to grow for months on end under a blanket of snow. But when I moved to California, one of my first features took me into the immense southern deserts. Recently I did a piece on an isolated and austerely beautiful lake near the Oregon border, and then headed down to the forests of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Of all my beats, reporting on science, and more particularly the environment, gives me the best excuse to get out into these enrapturing landscapes and tell their story.

Eunice:
I have always been fascinated by how the body works, like how the heart pumps blood, how babies develop in the womb and how drugs work as well as the impact of the environment on human development. This drew me into wanting to understand more on these not just for my writing as a science journalist but because of the innate desire to know.

Emily:
I became a science journalist on accident. I initially wanted to be a political journalist, but I found that writing about the human aspect of science and medicine was much more rewarding. My first journalism job was at a business newspaper in Baltimore, Maryland, a city notorious for its high-crime rate but also famous for world-renowned research institutions like Johns Hopkins University. I wrote stories about access to health insurance and followed a high-profile case of a local cardiologist accused of implanting unnecessary heart stents in patients. Those early stories made me aware of the vast health inequalities that exist in the United States and elsewhere, as well as the many challenges of translating and delivering promising biomedical research to patients who desperately need it.

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

Smriti:
I am based in Sri Lanka, where one of the longest-running civil conflicts in Asia came to an end in 2009. Now post-war Sri Lanka is making some crucial choices about its future and it needs science to help ensure development is sustainable and equitable. 

This island needs affordable and accessible new technologies to buffer its large agricultural sector against climate change, to bolster the growth of new industries and fuel innovation. Sri Lanka is one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots, and so the choices about how energy is produced and how the environment is protected are critical. Sri Lanka offers its citizens free healthcare, but budgets, infrastructure and qualified personnel remain challenges.

In a country where the dates of Presidential elections have been decided by astrologers, there are pressing issues about how scientific principles and research are understood and reported – clearly, improved science communication is crucial.    

Ahmed:
The public funding for scientific research is insignificant. Except for individual efforts by few journalists, there is no solid tradition of science journalism in Egypt.

However, a growing number of young Egyptian science and technology entrepreneurs are attracting the attention of the general public. Thus, science coverage is becoming more relevant.  

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

Andrew:
Negative traditional beliefs/cultures (ie female genital mutilation, marrying off young girls to older men, beliefs that raping a virgin or an albino cares HIV etc) are some of the walls which have to fall within the next five years for the development of my country.

Swagata:
I think the next few years will be important for breakthroughs found by collaborative international efforts like the Human Genome Project, the Human Brain Project and the exciting prospects of CRISPR-CAS9. Walls to fall would be improved diagnosis and treatment options for most diseases. The walls I strongly wish to fall are inequitable access to healthcare and preventable deaths of the world’s poorest. Only when everyone gets a fair chance in seeking right to health, can societies grow and flourish.

4. What are the biggest threats/obstacles to good science journalism and how could we tackle them?

Senne:
Science journalism is actually a weird thing, as the goal of both science and journalism is – in some sense – to find and lay bare the truth. In principal, journalists don’t need to approach scientists or researchers as critically as they do with politicians – as most research is peer-reviewed. However, the ideal world is not our daily world, so we always need to be cautious when a scientist – even if he has an incredible reputation – says something. Nevertheless, we also have to watch out that we don’t lapse into the ‘hear the other side’ practice which is a cornerstone of the standard journalistic guidebook. I believe this can be a threat, as it can lead to the apparent acceptance by the scientific world of bogus crap like homeopathy or creationism.

Lucas:
Today, journalism is facing major threats (Internet, social networks, etc.) that may end with the idea that media can be a good deal. This situation affects all fields of journalism equally and in particular those dedicated to scientific news because, at least in my country, it is the least consolidated area of a mass media and can be the first to disappear.

In turn, the major challenge of science journalism is to stop posting so much news that emphasize the fascination of scientific research on people and start questioning whether scientists, managers of science and other actors are doing their work the way they should. It is the first task that any journalist must do, but in science it is not done because of the lack of tools that journalists have to act as watchdog.

The way to solve this problem is to improve the training of journalists and that more professionals get engaged with this activity in mass media. Thus there will be more eyes and they would be better trained to do critical journalism.

Duanduan:
The prejudice and distrust of journalists in China. There are many situations where the government and scientists don’t want to be interviewed or to communicate with the public, especially with regard to controversial topics.

People have often held a cynical view of media outputs since, for many years, the Chinese government has maintained tight restrictions on the country’s media and internet usage.

What we could do is to foster further communication and education for both, our government and the public. And journalists themselves should keep pace with scientific changes and acquire more professional knowledge in order to better understand them first.

Read more on our website: http://www.falling-walls.com/fellowships/fellows-2016

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