10 science journalists won a trip to Berlin to attend the Falling Walls programme. They come from different regions and backgrounds but all share a passion for science.
We had the pleasure to ask them a few questions about themselves and science journalism. You can read the entire interviews and learn more about the winners on our website.
Science journalist since 2000, Martin de Ambrosio was a staff member of the Argentinean national newspapers Página 12 and Perfil. Since 2013, he has been working as a freelancer.
Jing Jiang is a science journalist at Science and Technology Daily, a Chinese mainstream media outlet distributed nation-wide and overseas, the world’s only daily newspaper focusing on science and technology news.
Jacob Koshy is Deputy Science Editor with The Hindu, one of India’s oldest newspapers. He writes on matters related to technology, the environment, research and especially the challenges of doing science in India.
Lucas Laursen is a journalist covering how people use science, markets and serendipity to test new ideas, with a special interest in the developing world. He writes for Scientific American, IEEE Spectrum, Sapiens, Rethink and many other magazines.
Science journalist since 2015, Afy Malungu Bobyondo is currently a freelance editor with www.infocongo.org, a news platform focusing on the impacts of climate change.
Elizabeth Merab is an award-winning health and science reporter at the Daily Nation newspaper in Nairobi, Kenya with experience spanning over four years in development, science and health journalism.
Marielba Núñez is a Venezuelan science journalist. She was a reporter and editor of the life, science and health section of Caracas newspaper El Nacional, and currently contributes to its in-depth journalism pages.
Esther Paniagua is a science journalist working for the main newspapers in Spain – El País and El Mundo – as well as its Sunday magazines. She also contributes to National Geographic and Muy Interesante magazines and other media outlets.
Sonali Prasad is a science and environment reporter shuttling between New York and New Delhi. Previously, a Google News Lab Fellow in 2016, she is currently on a Pulitzer Traveling Fellowship.
Mohamed Elsonbaty Ramadan is a freelance science journalist and Science Communication Development Officer at the American University in Cairo. Mohamed has published articles in Scientific American, MIT Technology Review, and SciDev.Net and many more.
1. Why did you choose to become a science journalist?
Jacob: I was trained to be an electrical engineer but along the way discovered that communicating and writing about the infinite variety of humanity – especially in a country such as India – promised to be more exciting than thinking up clever ways to talk to machines via code. Science happened to me because of two incredible popular science books: John Gribbins’ Deep Simplicity and Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. In general, journalism breeds cynicism but few branches of journalism, other than science, allow you to combine a love for language and keeping track of how knowledge is changing everyday.
Mohammed: I still remember the first time I learnt about “Science Journalism” when participating in the FameLab science communication competition in 2010. The FameLab experience made me discover that communicating science to the public, especially through writing, is my real passion. Therefore, after obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in Pharmaceutical Sciences in 2011, I decided to shift my career to science journalism and communication.
2. What role do science and science communication play in your country?
Afy: Discussing the role of science and science communication in a developing country such as mine is a challenge and may seem to be a minor issue given the political, economic and social context.
Actually, science and science communication in my country are used to enable policy-makers to decide objectively and in the interest of the entire Congolese community. Thus, the availability of scientific data dictates the development of science communication, as it is the case in the environment sector where several studies are conducted because of the role of DRC forests in capturing the world’s carbon stock.
On the other hand, we can notice that there is not yet a strong dynamic to make science and science communication at the level of comprehension for the general public.
Lucas: In my two countries, the US and Spain, it’s hard to understate how much science underpins the economies and quality of life–the same goes for pretty much all rich countries.
As for science communication, there are many threads: researchers asking institutions to fund their work, companies trying to persuade the government to authorize research on, say, an experimental medicine, and all kinds of science institutions clamouring to the rest of us about how important their work is. There’s also basic education in schools, universities, and museums that seeks to teach some version of the scientific consensus. Journalists can try to help citizens understand all the other threads of science communication.
3. What are the main challenges of science journalism in your country?
Martin: There is a growing impression that journalism is in a crisis, or evolving into another direction (not quite clear what or where it is now, and where it will be). Social networks and different ways of consuming news changed the way they are seen and produced.
Having in mind that changing environment, science journalism yet needs to be seen as essential, indispensable. It is clear that journalists are needed to report on economics, politics, sports; but this is not always the case for science.
The science journalism expertise is most of the time not very well valued, but when science issues get to the front page they are vital, decisive, and editors look for them. Obviously, another issue is adequate remuneration for this knowledge.
Jing: There is a wide gap between scientists’ achievements and journalists’ reporting. Many science journalists have no background in science and technology and lack the necessary knowledge of the subjects they cover, resulting in inaccurate reporting. Meanwhile, scientists are reluctant to engage with the public and have limited capacities to communicate their achievements. All these reasons contribute to the widening of this gap and it is urgent and necessary to narrow and eventually close this gap.
4. Where do you see the big societal transformations in the future? What scientific research/discovery will change our world?
Marielba: I believe that the big transformations are taking place because of digital interconnection and migration. Different forms of expression, new languages, new ways of conceiving citizenship and participation are emerging. We will still have to overcome physical boundaries and face the challenges as a single species and a diverse global community. There are emerging technologies that will definitely change our lives in the years to come, but if I have to mention some, I would choose genome editing and artificial intelligence. Both make us wonder what a human being really is, where our limits are, and confront us with difficult ethical questions.
Elizabeth: Today, Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) and gene editing is one of the largely talked about scientific research especially in the medical field. Since the landmark US study by scientists at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland which for the first time successfully edited out a genetic mutation that could cause heart disease, there have been talks about the successes of gene editing to prevent inherited diseases from being passed on from one generation to the next. To me, this is the next big thing.
5. What book, movie or song has radically changed your perspective? And why?
Esther: If I had to choose one film it would be ‘What the Bleep Do We Know!?’, a documentary (or better said “mockumentary”) that tries to justify pseudoscientific theories with a metaphysical message by mixing quantum physics with spirituality in a sort of ‘quantum mysticism’. The fact that many people in my surroundings appeared (and still appear) to believe the theories exposed in the mockumentary and its significant success generated a strong need to fight against misinformation, charlatanism and pseudoscience.
Sonali: There are two documentaries that have guided the narratives in my work:
Particle Fever – This documentary tells of the search for the Higgs Boson. Making a film on particle physics is as complex as it can get, yet this film at its very core is about the emotional journey of the scientists behind the experiment, the people who have devoted their lives to the discovery of the ‘God Particle’.
The Secret Life Of Chaos – This documentary erases the insignificant line between science and art. A visual masterpiece, this film is a crash course on the chaos theory. The documentary describes how order emerges from chaos, what it means for science, and how it can not only explain the shapes of nature, but also the origin of life itself.
I have a long list in books, but my current favourite is the The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, a fascinating read about ‘wood wide web’.