News and Events

The ABSW was saddened to hear of the death of long standing member Andrew Veitch.

Tim Radford, another long standing member of the Association, has written an obituary for the Guardian which we thought members might like to read:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/sep/23/andrew-veitch-obituary

 

As part of its ongoing work to encourage investigative science journalism, the ABSW awarded four journalism fellowships to fund attendance at this year's Centre for Investigative (CIJ) Journalism Summer Conference.  ABSW member Wendy Grossman reports back.

For the 1970s generation investigative journalism has an identity problem. That is, many people tend to associate it with exposing fraud, pinpointing corruption, and bringing down governments and rich people. ABSW members therefore might logically ask, what does that have to do with science?

One of the most detailed - and to me, most useful - tutorials at this year's mid-July summer school run by the Centre for Investigative Journalism (www.tcij.org) extended across four sessions in which longtime journalists Luuk Sengers and Mark Lee Hunter (www.storybasedinquiry.com) methodically worked their way through the stages of building and researching a story: hypothesis, timeline, scenes, sources, and fieldwork. Especially helpfully, Hunter explained how he organises and keeps track of the material he collects. The example they chose to illustrate their work? The possibility that toxic chemicals were leaking out of plastic pipes into drinking water. Doesn't that sound like science? (Their process for developing that particular story is written up in their short book The Hidden Scenario: Plotting and Outlining Investigative Stories, which you can acquire from the CIJ website. From their own website you can download, for free, The Global Investigative Journalism Casebook and Story-Based Inquiry: A Manual for Investigative Journalists.))

Other classes included numerous tutorials on various technical tools for data journalism: Excel; Access; R and RStudio; OpenRefine (taught by Jonathan Stoneman, who appeared at the 2015 ABSW summer school); graph databases; and even some bits of Python coding. For case studies the data journalists used to show the potential, one, presented by a journalist working for Greenpeace, studied the allocation of fish quotas in the UK, finding that only three companies own ost of the UK's fish.

Other speakers included veteran reporter James B. Steele; Frederik Obermaier and Bastian Obermeyer, who led the extensive Panama Papers investigations; Hajo Seppelt, the journalist who broke the Russian doping story; Duncan Campbell on computer forensics; and many others. Some workshops focused on getting the best out of a particular service, such as Companies House, which has opened up free access to its data, and offshore finance. Finally, the former policeman Neil Smith discussed using open source - that is, public - data sources; his website (www.uk-osint.net) is full of valuable links.

Probably many people's image of investigative journalists is confrontational, ferreting out secrets by asking people questions they don't want to answer. While that's true, what became clear at this event is the vital role of documents in establishing the truth of what's happening. You are, as Steele, Hunter, and Sengers all said, in a much stronger position if you can go to the source you've identified, show them the documentary evidence and say, "This is what happened, right?" instead of "What happened?"

To do that kind of work, as many speakers said, contacts and interviews are still important, but even more so is an appetite for finding and absorbing detailed documentary information; all sorts of treasure troves are kept that hardly anyone eever looks at and whose keepers are thrilled when someone expresses a genuine interest.

The ABSW has been trying to encourage encourage interest in investigative journalism, first by offering a grant to aid members who need time and resources to tackle specific projects, and second, by offering scholarships to this year's CIJ summer school as a good place to pick up skills, resources, and ideas. Often, when all we see is the results of a lengthy investigation, it all looks simple, which is probably why so many people think such work is about finding the right contacts and nosing out secrets. The value in CIJ's sessions is that enormously experienced people are willing to show their work - the how - so that others may continue and extend it.

So far, the number of meembers applying for either has been disappointing. Yet, as I hope the above has shown, although you may never be the person who's approached with a giant data dump like the journalists who worked on the Panama Papers, investigative skills are ones that ought to be valuable to every science journalist. Developing a hypothesis, breaking it down into facts that can be tested, then reassembling the pieces into a piece of truth - isn't that what both scientists and science journalists do?

Good investigative journalism - even good investigative *science* journalism - is being done in all sorts of places outside the traditional media, from NGOs to tiny cooperatively funded start-ups such as the Bristol Cable and Scotland's The Ferret, both of which presented their progress at this year's event. These are skills that, as veteran investigative reporter James B. Steele says, will always be valued.

 

It’s now almost six months since the death of Mike Hanlon, a superb science journalist and friend to many of us.

As you may know, Mike had all but given up science journalism to pursue Jurassica. This project will recreate, in a disused Dorset quarry, the lost world of the Jurassic. The scheme is backed by David Attenborough, the local community and has received some local and national funding. I am one of the trustees.

A few days after Mike’s death, the trustees decided to continue the project. A decision we made with our heads as much as our hearts. It is an incredible vision, which I have been privileged to have been involved with since Mike pitched it to me in a Greenwich pub.

Over the last six months, Jurassica has moved forward to a key stage and we are ready to start preparing the planning application. With this and major fundraising under preparation, Jurassica needs to keep its core team going to the end of the year.

To help raise the £55,000 needed to get the project to this key stage, we have set up a memorial fund in Mike’s memory. This enables people to make smaller donations than we are otherwise seeking.

As we all know, Mike's fascination with the prehistoric came from his childhood, discovering fossils on the Dorset coast. The trustees plan to set up educational visits for youngsters to the Isle of Portland so that they can be similarly enthused and inspired. Once we have secured the core team and planning permission, we intend to start work on establishing this. Donations to the fund will then be invested in these future generations of prehistory enthusiasts.

If you would like to contribute to Jurassica’s Michael Hanlon Memorial Fund, please go to:

http://jurassica.org/more-info/

Do get in touch if you have any queries.

Thanks

Richard Hollingham
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

And the winners are…..

European Science Writer of the Year 2016

Winner: Spanish Science Writer of the Year, Michele Catanzaro, a freelance science journalist nominated by Asociacion Española de Comunicacion Cientifica, AECC (Spanish Association of Scientific Communication) & Associació Catalana de Comunicació Científica - ACCC (Catalan Association for Science Communication, Spain)

The judges said: We were impressed by the quality and depth of the investigative work carried out by Michele either on his own or when leading a team of other journalists. Michele showed great judgement in finding others to complement his journalistic skills and knowledge in order to carry these investigations.

Highly Commended: French Science Writer of the Year, Stéphane Foucart, a Journalist for the daily French newspaper Le Monde nominated by Association des journalistes scientifiques de la presse d'information

The judges said: Stephane should be applauded for holding the scientific establishment to account in his work for Le Monde.

Other Country nominees (each nominee becomes science writer of the year in their nominating country)

Austrian Science Writer of the Year – Elisabeth Schneyder, freelance, nominated by the Austrian Association of Education and Science Journalists

Danish Science Writer of the Year – Jens Ramskov, Journalist at Ingeniøren, nominated by the Danish Science Journalists Association

Dutch Science Writer of the Year – Aliette Jonkers, freelance, nominated by VWN, the Dutch national association for science journalism and communication

Estonian Science Writer of the Year – Arko Olesk, freelance, nominated by the Estonian Association of Science Journalists

Greek Science Writer of the Year – Spiros Kitsinelis, science communicator, nominated by Science View (Greece)

Irish Science Writer of the Year – Claire O’Connell, freelance, nominated by the Irish Science & Technology Journalists' Association (ISTJA)

Serbian Science Writer of the Year – Slobodan Bubnjevic, Editor-in-chief, ELEMENTI, nominated by Mreza Naucnih Novinara, Serbia (The Science Journalist Network)

UK Science Writer of the Year – Steve Connor, freelance (former science editor the Independent), nominated by the Association of British Science Writers

ABSW Science Writers’ Awards for Britain and Ireland 2016 – shortlists in all categories (links to winning pieces are provided where available)

Best feature

Natasha Loder, The age of the red pen: It is now easy to edit the genomes of plants, animals and humans, published in the Economist, 22/08/2015

The judges said: So well written, a definitive and superb piece on a very technical subject that explores aspects of this story that are both encouraging and worrying at the same time.  

Best news item

Michael Le Page, Earth now halfway to warming limit, published in New Scientist, 01/08/2015

The judges said: A new twist on a story that needs to keep hitting the headlines.

Best scripted/edited television programme or online video

Joint Winners

Team entry: BBC Science Series Editor: Steve Crabtree. Series Producer: Paul King. Producer and Director: Peter Leonard. Researcher: Claudia Woolston.  Horizon - OCD: A monster in my mind. First broadcast BBC Two 26/08/2015

The judges said: A compelling combination of human interest with hard science. Or at least as hard as we have – and that was perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of this – showing how little we know.

Team entry: Director: Thom Hoffman. Producer: Lizzie Crouch. Animator: Patrick Koduah. Animator: Victor Opeyokun. Malaria: How can changing the built environment reduce cases? First broadcast Health Check on BBC World News TV 11/05/2015

The judges said: Saying something really important, really well to a broad audience.

The Royal Society Radio Prize (NB: A prize for the best scripted/edited radio programme or podcast, supported by The Royal Society):

Team: Writer and presenter: James Piercy. Producer: Toby Murcott. My Head. Pier Production for BBC Radio 4 and World Service. First broadcast 06/05/20

The judges said: A brilliant original idea, delicately handled, blending accurate science with heart-rending human interest, top notch.

Best investigative journalism

Team entry: Maria Cheng & Raphael Satter. Botching Ebola, published by Associated Press, 20/03/2015

The judges said: The depth of investigation was impressive and this is an issue that has implications on a global scale

The NUJ Stephen White Award for best communication and reporting of science in a non science context.   This Award is made in memory of Stephen White a highly influential science communicator who sadly died in 2010.   The Award is possible due to a donation from Stephen’s widow Elizabeth.

Jennie Agg. Inside the metabolism room published in the Good Health section, Daily Mail 29/12/2015

The judges said: An extremely well targeted piece that tackles widely held beliefs to a very broad audience.

Best newcomer

Faye Kirkland, Freelance

The judges said: A real self starter with impressive investigative work reaching a large audience.

Best student science blog

Sophie McManus, University of Cambridge. Women in Science - A Call to Arms. Biodetectives 09/03/2015

The judges said: A bold subject for a young writer, written with humour and packed full of evidence

Dr Katharine Giles Science blog award. In memory of Dr Katharine Giles, NERC Research Fellow and Lecturer at the Centre for Polar Observation and Measurement (CPOM) at UCL.

Alex Bellos, Alex Bellos's Adventures in Numberland, The Guardian

The judges said: Reveals amazement in a few tight sentences, drawing you in even if you sometimes get lost along the way.

The IOP student science publication award supported by IOP Publishing and the Institute of Physics

Winner

TheGIST- The Glasgow Insight into Science and Technology, University of Glasgow/University of Strathclyde

The judges said: A magazine that knows its audience, great mix of articles, in an accessible style.

Runner-up

The Young Scientists Journal, Herts and Essex High School

Lifetime Achievement Award 2016

Winner: Deborah Cohen, Editor BBC Radio Science Unit

Deborah Cohen and Georgina Ferry, ABSW Awards Ceremony

Introductory speech to Deborah Cohen given by Georgina Ferry at the ABSW Science Writers' Awards Ceremony

Sallie’s asked me to do this introduction so cryptically that you don’t guess who it is until I get to the end. This is uniquely difficult in the case of tonight’s winner but I’ll have a go.

I guess most of you like me have had portfolio careers, starting out in magazines or newspapers and then meandering through radio, TV or web content, veering off into corporate communications or settling down to a book or two.

But tonight’s winner found a niche early on and has stayed there ever since.

This person has produced a body of work of an extent and quality that I can’t imagine anyone else could match; has made engaging, accessible and challenging content without losing the trust of the scientific community; has trained a generation of successors to meet the same exacting standards; and has kept a clear vision for the place of science in a constantly evolving media landscape.

It’s the nature of our winner’s chosen occupation that its practitioners never become celebrities. Even their largest employer’s own website often doesn’t credit their work, and then it’s in print too small to read.

You’ve probably guessed that I’m talking about a radio producer. Tonight’s winner joined the BBC in 1979 as researcher in the Radio Science Unit, in short order became producer, senior producer. Since 1990, this person has been Science Editor for BBC Radio and subsequently took on the World Service science programmes as well. The literally thousands of programmes this producer has overseen run from the late lamented Science Now to the hugely popular Life Scientific and Infinite Monkey Cage.

I personally owe her a huge debt as she taught me everything I know about scripting and presenting for radio. With her ‘ear’ and her judgement, the programmes we made together have been the most enjoyable collaborations of my working life.

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in giving a richly-deserved moment in the limelight to the winner of the 2016 ABSW Lifetime Achievement award – Deborah Cohen.

 

                                                                                              

Earlier this year the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters wrote to the ABSW to offer a travel scholarship to a British science journalist to visit Oslo for the Abel Prize.   After calling for applications to from our members, ABSW member Tim Revell was selected and awarded the scholarship.

Tim had a great experience, made many new contacts, and whilst in Oslo produced a radio piece for the Naked Scientists, which was broadcast on BBC 5Live, Talk Radio Europe, and on RN in Australia, NZ, and South Africa, as well as being downloadable as a podcast here:
http://www.thenakedscientists.com/HTML/interviews/interview/1001867/

Here is Tim's report:

On 24th May Sir Andrew Wiles was awarded the Abel Prize for "his stunning proof of Fermat's Last Theorem”, and thanks to a scholarship from the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, I was able to attend the ceremony.

The story begins 350 years ago, when French mathematician Pierre de Fermat was working through his favourite maths book. He came across a problem that made him start to thinking about square numbers and how to split them up. For example, 25 is a square number because it is 5 × 5. But 25 can also be split up into to two smaller square numbers, 16, which is 4 squared, and 9 which is 3 squared, that when added together give back 25.

52 = 42 + 32

Carrying on this thought, Fermat wondered if cube numbers could be split into two cubes, or fourth powers split into two other fourth powers, but he could never find an example. Instead he declared that for any power higher than squares this type of number split was impossible.

Fermat’s Last Theorem
zn ≠ yn + xn, for n ≥ 3

But then Fermat died. His proof was never found and over the years proved pretty difficult to reconstruct. It took over three centuries and thousands of different attempts, but in 1994 after working in complete solitude for seven years, Wiles was able to finally prove the theorem.

Since then Wiles has become probably the world’s most famous (living) mathematician. He’s won all sorts of prizes for his work and now he has an Abel prize, along with a £500k cheque, for his trophy cabinet as well.

Sir Andrew Wiles' story has been a source of inspiration for many mathematicians including myself and so getting the opportunity to meet him at the ceremony was a boyhood dream fulfilled. Whilst in Oslo I was able to interview Wiles for a Naked Scientists radio piece, which you can listen to here: http://www.thenakedscientists.com/HTML/interviews/interview/1001867/

For further opportunities for ABSW members do ensure you sign up to ABSW-L (our google group - email discussion group) as this is the first place that we announce jobs/scholarships and other opportunities to our members.

 

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