Has science journalism become a global force for change? A few years ago, any science journalist who made such a claim would be rapidly dismissed as immodest at best, messianic at worst. But any participant in the opening session of the WCSJ this morning might be forgiven for thinking: “perhaps”.
Three factors come to mind. The first is the size of the conference itself. With more than 700 registrants from over 90 countries – according to conference co-director Nadia El-Awady from Egypt – the meeting must surely be the biggest such event to have been held by any branch of the journalist profession.
The second is that fact that what brought these individuals together is not so much self interest as a common commitment to make science accessible to non-specialists, whether members of the community or top policymakers. And a belief that better access is essential if science is to fulfil its potential to improve human life, particularly in the developing world.
Finally the unanticipated background to the conference – namely the political reform movements sweeping through the Middle East, which have led to the meeting being relocated from Cairo to Doha – has its own message, that transparent government is equally essential.
Here science journalism also has a key role to play, not only in providing information about what can now be achieved, but also in shining light on the pressures that can either prevent this happening or lead to the misuse of the products of science for political purposes.
To claim that science journalism can itself change the world would indeed be delusionary. But no-one can go home from Doha without believing that it is an essential tool for achieving that goal. And that itself will be a significant achievement.