If the Science Media Centre were to close down tomorrow the most important lesson I would have learned in my six years in science media relations is that science specialist reporters are our greatest ally. Quite simply when science reporters cover science stories, the stories are better. I do believe that science is a special case and needs specialist reporting. And I do believe that bad science reporting costs lives.
It's because I think science reporters are a special case that I think we need a special conference for science journalism. Those of you who know me will know I'm a conference sceptic and tend to think that too many people sit in conferences discussing science communication rather than actually doing it, but that scepticism went out the window when I attended the World Conference of Science Journalists in Melbourne, 2007. Being in the company of 600 science journalists from 50 countries was an amazing experience. I knew this conference was different when I slipped into the first session late to hear contributions from the floor from the editor of Scientific American, the editor of Nature, the science editor of the Toronto Star and head of science at the South African Broadcasting Corporation.
As Chair of the Programme Committee for the World Conference of Science Journalists 2009, I was in despair a year ago because we were sitting looking at a blank page where the programme should be. Now I'm in despair for a different reason, because we have such a wonderful programme that the big dilemma is which sessions I can actually go to and tragically which ones I'll have to miss.
On day one there is Jia Hepeng's session on Reporting science in countries with restraints which clashes with Ehsan Masood's session on Reporting creationism, which in turn clashes with my session with Nick Davies, the author of Flat Earth News and creator of the term 'churnalism'.
Then on Wednesday there is the choice between Tim Radford in conversation with Bob May, or Martin Moore's session on Whether science journalism and science PR have become too close for comfort, and I can't go to either because I'm speaking at a session with my fellow Directors of Science Media Centres in New Zealand, Australia and Canada on How science in the media looks entirely different in different countries.
I am really proud of the programme. Pallab Ghosh, President of the World Federation of Science Journalists, has been on our case the whole time to make it edgy and provocative, and he is not disappointed. Put it like this there are likely to be lots of rows and debates that will spill out into the coffee breaks and parties. This conference will generate a very real debate about very real topical controversies in science journalism.
Now all we need is the audience, so please tell everyone, let’s create even more of a buzz, WCSJ2009 is the place to be for everyone who cares about science journalism!”