Science journalism urged to be more locally relevant

Presenters at a session of the 10th meeting of the PCST (Public communication of science and technology) urged science journalism in the developing countries to be more locally relevant and use local cultures to fuel the communicative effects of the science news.

Luisa Massarani, SciDev.Net’s Latin America coordinator, reveals in her study tracing science and technology (S&T) reporting in 12 major Latin American newspapers in 2006 that 7 of the 12 have more than 40 per cent of science news about situations in the developed world.

Massarani had done a similar research two years before on local media’s science news sources and found quite similar situation. “Most newspapers remain the same trend [in getting more science news sources from the developed world].”

Marina Joubert from Southern Science, South Africa, revealed similar situation in the science reporting in her country. She cited a study on March 2008 to show that among the science news stories by Cape Time, a leading South African newspaper, 51 per cent are news about other countries, primarily the developed world researches.

“The larger amount of international science news makes readers think science is irrelevant to their life, especially among those strapped in extreme poverty,” Joubert says.

Besides, Massarani also found that among Latin American science news, there is a low critical attitude toward the information sources, mainly those from the so-called First World. Also, there are high percentages of stories replicated from news agencies, without a concern of putting in the context and double check the information.

Joubert admits that in the current situation, it is difficult for the developing world to establish enough science news sources to feed local media, but there are ways to make science journalism in these countries to be more locally relevant.

“The comments of local scientists and members of the audiences on the applications of the newest scientific discoveries originated from the developed world will help shorten the distance between science and local readers,” she told SciDev.Net.

Joubert added that local cultural resources should also be used to make science news read by more local residents. For example, traditional healing is popular in many developing countries. “Some of them might wrong, but telling the readers how science prove this conclusion, or how scientists are researching traditional healing, could be an effective way to spread scientific knowledge among people familiar with this form of indigenous knowledge,” she says.

Separately, Larry Sanger, founder of Wikipedia and Editor-in-Chief of the Citizendium, told the plenary meeting of PCST conference on Tuesday that although the required multidisciplinary collaborative work for science communication, especially to engage scientists, is very difficult, the Wiki model – allowing scientists to define and introduce researches in their own motif online – could be helpful because this could utilized the very wiliness of scientists to show off their researches.

Jia Hepeng, China coordinator, SciDev.Net

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