Science communication standards low in SE Europe

April 29, 2012, Sunday/ 15:27:00

A lack of forthright reporting of facts in science communication and a lack of interest toward science on the part of editors constitute important factors that can potentially hurt readers' democratic right to scientific information in most Southeastern European countries, participants in a panel organized by UNESCO have said.

A number of media professionals from Southeastern Europe discussed the role of the media in their countries in communicating science and technology to the general public at a panel discussion organized by UNESCO on April 19 as part of the 12th International Public Communication of Science and Technology Conference (PCST 2012) in Florence.

The PCST 2012 event, which brought together a large number of scientists, academics and science journalists from around the globe, started on April 18 with an opening ceremony in Florence's Palazzo Vecchio, where a number of prominent speakers delivered opening speeches on science communication.

Toss Gascoigne, head of the PCST network, noted in his opening remarks: “Most decisions we make today are based on science. If we are serious about giving a real voice to the people, we have to be serious about science communication.”

Mario Scalet, head of Science at the UNESCO Venice office, highlighted the need for training science journalists, during his opening remarks in the ceremony.

The director of Italy's National Institute of Astrophysics (INAF), Filippo Mannucci, emphasized the same concern for relaying scientific knowledge to the public to enable them to make democratic choices, asserting, “Scientific information is crucial for political choices.” People in Southeastern European countries might be at a disadvantage compared to the residents of Western European nations, according to reports from the region, which were discussed by a UNESCO panel during the conference.

Julianna Photopoulos, a participant from Greece, noted that science communication was a newly developing field in her country. The communication of science in Greece mostly occurs through the efforts of civil society groups, such as Science Cafes set up by the British Council, but more government effort is needed, she noted.

Other speakers on the panel, including Tatjana Stojceska of Macedonia, who is the editor of Macedonian Radio And Television's science program, and Maria Grigorova Tcherneva, the producer of a science program for television in Bulgaria that was recently given an award, pointed out the lack of science journalists in their countries.

Journalists Barış Altıntaş of Turkey and Mico Tatalovic of Croatia highlighted the need for more honesty in science journalism, particularly in the mass media, as a large number of news stories in the media seem to include hidden advertising for herbal or alternative medicinal products, whose effects are poorly researched. Other participants also agreed that a similar situation existed in their countries, in an opinion exchange after the panel discussion.

Other speakers included Milena Milunovic from the Montenegro Ministry of Science and Ljubica Urosevic, the editor-in-chief of Serbia's TV-Metropolis.

Most speakers noted that the quality of science reporting tends to be significantly below the standards of science reporting in most Western newspapers and television, and newspaper editors are often not interested in giving priority to science-related news items.

UNESCO is seeking to create a network of science journalists in the region. The panel at PCST2012 was the first step in that direction. The organization also has a science journal titled “A World of Science,” which is currently distributed as a quarterly newsletter although it was published in a print edition until 2012. Journal Editor Susan Schneegans, who also participated on the UNESCO panel, expressed her organization's firm belief in the universality of science and the crucial role it can play for sustainable development.

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