European Science Writers Junior Award, 16. Juli 2006
Thank you very much. I say that on behalf of the other two laureates, too.
We three feel very honored.
Most importantly, it is a very nice encouragement for our work.
And science journalists really need support.
At least in Germany, the country, I can speek for best, science journalists are still a tiny little species. They are living quite lonely in a niche of the newspaper's ecosystem, without much attention from the really important journalists: those in politics, business and sports.
I'd even go further:
Good science journalists have many enemies.
These can be divided into three groups.
FIRST, there are, of course, the bad science journalists. They write awkward things and bring shame to the community. But it's quite obvious that they cannot be friends of the good science journalists. I don't really have to tell you that.
However, There are also other, very influential enemies.
So, the SECOND group of enemies, that's the important journalists I have already mentioned: those in politics, business and sports. On the one hand they know that science is important and that the readers like it. But on the other hand they don't really care about science. Quite often our bosses and many colleagues from the other departments call us science editors, who frequently have a Ph. D. in something, "Frau Doktor" or "Herr Doktor".
So, they want to be funny. But it is striking that there are, of course, many other editors in other departments, who also have a doctorate - in law for example or in economics. But only science journalists are referred to as doctors. I think, calling us science people like this, is probably a mixture of feeling a distance and being a bit frightened from the strange and complicated scientific world. Science is still regarded as something exotic, something many people have avoided at school; and from then on they did not want to have anything to do with it again. Some of them are even proud of it.
In Germany there is a famous book called "Education" (Bildung) which lists everything the author thinks people should know. But he just writes about ancient myths and literature. Natural sciences are totally neglected - and that's very different for example in the United States. The different way Americans regard science, is also reflected in the press. In the US you find very often science stories on the covers of the newspapers. Here in Europe, that is still a rarity. We only get to be on the front in case of really horrifying new climate data if some guy in Korea seems to have cloned a human embryo.
The THIRD group of enemies of good science journalism are - sorry to say that - the scientists.
The relationship between scientists and science journalists is a special one, and it's very different, for example, from the relationship between politicians and political journalists. The latter love each other, because they don't have to tell the other group how important they are. But that's different with scientists and science journalists.
"How could this happen to you?", scientists sometimes ask me, when I tell them that I worked in cancer research and did my Ph. D. in immunology before I started my career at the newspaper. And they really feel sorry for me.
So, maybe you think, scientists are happy that someone reports on them. However, that is not always true. Many scientists expect science journalists to write an enthusiastic story about their new findings, and they are disappointed, when the story comes out different. "You have also called somebody else?", some scientists asks. And they mean - "my competitor at Vienna University?"
They don't accept that a good journalist always has to hear different minds and ideas about one topic. But what would you think about a political journalist who has interviewed US president Bush and afterwards literally writes down what Mr. President said - without citing the opposition or giving some contxt from critical groups? With science journalists it's the same: It's not their job to praise a scientists's data or tell the public how much he has worked to obtain them.
So, you see, on our way to a more analytical, sceptical science journalism we still need support. And we are very happy that we find encouragement here today and in general in the work of the Euroscience Foundation.
Dr. Christina Berndt