Where has “the world” gone?

The WCSJ flag

The WCSJ flag

It was only Tuesday — the first day of the conference proper — and already there were murmurings that the World Conference of Science Journalists was missing the ‘world’.

In the ‘Great talent, but are they credible?’ session yesterday Alok Jha, science and environment correspondent for the United Kingdom’s Guardian newspaper, gave tips on how to make sure that, as journalists, we’re not taken in by the fraudulent claims of publicity-hungry charlatans.

His pointers included making sure you always read the scientific paper, speaking to trusted scientists in the same field for independent comment and asking the right questions to seek out the credible from the fraudsters. All laudable techniques which we should surely practice — and not outside the grasp of most science journalists in the West.

But Diran Onifade from the Nigerian Television Authority brought us back to down to Earth.

“Ignorance in the media also drives [fraudulent claims]. The journalists don’t know the right questions to ask. When a scientist comes along and says ‘I have discovered this’ do we have journalists around who understand the process of scientific discovery? Do we have journalists around who know research works?” he asked.

“That is key. Until that begins to happen in a lot of developing countries we are going to be having cranks making all kinds of claims. Capacity, capacity, capacity will be the issue in the developing world.”

That a delegate stood up in the questions session to thank Onifade for reminding us of the challenges faced by journalists in the developing world suggests that there is an appetite at the WCSJ for such global perspectives.

Is this appetite being sated? Other sessions yesterday, from a press briefing about global attitudes to evolution that was stubbornly UK-centric to a plenary session where philanthropists were almost stumped when questioned about how billionaires could support research in the developing world, suggested not.

Katherine Nightingale, SciDev.Net

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