Journalists urged to educate public on harmful impacts of science

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Maina Waruru
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net


The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) will release a report next month on the Global Chemicals Outlook project, detailing the impact of harmful chemicals on human health.

The report will be looking at the “massive” health and environmental impact that farm chemicals including pesticides and fertilizers have had on human health. There will be a special emphasis on developing countries, including Africa.

UNEP’s public communications officer Bryan Coll said the report, which will be made public on 4 September, will seek to capture the effect that chemicals such as lead and mercury are having on the planet. He added that it will also focus on actions which could help to minimise the impact.

Fertilising a field in north Africa. Photo credit: 10b travelling, flickr

Each year, billions of dollars are spent in managing the effects of chemicals on the planet. “The report will highlight the fact that by the year 2020, the effect of these chemicals on human health will reach US$90 billion,” Coll told the audience.

He told the ASJC that journalists must play their role in educating the public on how harmful scientific practices impact on public welfare.

“Proper packaging of science news stories will compel editors to use the stories and eventually we may see science news making headlines,” he said, observing that the perennial complaint that many African editors lack science coverage was slowly going away.

While little science news makes it on to the front page in Africa, Coll said there was a light at the end of the tunnel as news organisations are slowly but steadily making progress.

William Odinga, head of the Uganda Science Journalism Assocation, suggested that the prominence of science affairs was inevitable. He noted that science makes headlines when major public health issues arise, such as the recent outbreak of Ebola disease in Uganda.

Science writers ought to be better trained and go beyond mere reporting by being able to expose scientific malpractices such as exaggeration by experts, said Joseph Rugut, deputy head of Kenya’s National Council for Science and Technology.

This blog post is part of our Africa Science Journalists Conference 2012 blog, which takes place 20-23 August in Nakuru, Kenya. To read news and analysis on science journalism please visit our website.

One Response to Journalists urged to educate public on harmful impacts of science

  1. Kallen says:

    “Science writers ought to be better trained and go beyond mere reporting by being able to expose scientific malpractices such as exaggeration by experts…”

    This is a huge problem, especially given the state of the industry.

    I believe that specialization is one way to encourage better science reporting (http://biojournalism.com/2012/08/should-journalists-specialize/) but the reality is that it can be difficult to encourage, in any part of the world.

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