The news was flashed across the Arab world on the website of a well-known news organization: sperm had been created from the bones of a woman’s brain, eliminating men from the process of reproduction.
But Bothina Osama, SciDev.Net‘s Middle East and North Africa editor, who was at the time an editor with IslamOnline, knew there was something wrong, and she soon worked out what had happened.
The journalist who wrote the story had seen a press release in which the English language term ‘bone marrow’, which refers to the tissue at the centre of the bone that produces new blood cells, had been correctly translated into its Arabic version ‘bone brain’.
From there it was a simple step, for a journalist who knew nothing about the science, to draw his rather exotic conclusion.
“I have suffered as a science editor for more than 10 years from bad translatons,” she told a session on reporting science in the non-English-speaking world. “Much of this problem is due to the weak scientific background of the science journalist. ”
This, along with the difficulty that science is mostly published in English, created the lethal combination.
This raises the question of how much of a scientific background someone who practices science journalism should have.
In my opinion, a journalist can write about science without having studied it at university but a scientifically educated editor needs to be around to catch any mistakes.
Hazem Badr, SciDev.Net contributor, Egypt