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:
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.
A new online platform that changes the way in-depth articles are produced has recently been launched called Contributoria.com. Here, its editor Sarah Hartley explains how science writers could benefit from the new development which is being backed by the Guardian Media Group.
Already dubbed the love child of Medium and Kickstarter, the new platform Contributoria.com is looking to change the way long form pieces of journalism are produced by using the particular qualities digital technologies have allowed for.
Put simply it allows members of the site to back pieces of work that have been proposed via the online site - in effect taking the role of commissioning editors out to the crowd, putting decision making into the hands of a community of people who care about the topics.
In a recent interview with Gigaom [http://gigaom.com/2014/01/08/contributorias-founders-talk-about-why-they-are-building-an-open-community-for-crowdfunding-journalism/ ], co-founder Matt McAlister explained how the initiative had evolved.
“We’re trying to put some transparency around the journalism process — the core premise being around collaboration with your peers, with other writers — and the mechanisms and the processes that journalists operate by. We wanted to create a platform that just sort of opened that up, so any number of people in the community could participate in it openly.”
The team behind the platform has a varied experience in digital publishing going back over many years. I’m an active multimedia journalist and blogger and previously worked for more than a decade at the Guardian Media Group in a variety of senior editorial posts. There’s also:
Matt McAlister who develops new businesses at Guardian Media Group. He has been involved in various aspects of the digital publishing ecosystem since 1994 - leading digital arms of print businesses, building platform services at large media companies and creating new digital businesses.
Developer Dan Catt, helped to build Flickr in the early years of Web2.0 and later returned from San Francisco to work at the Guardian to take a sideways look at the data behind the news. He now splits his time between working with data, studying the news and trying to get back to his struggling artist roots.
Together we work with a team of freelance designers and developers and will be continuing to evolve and enhance the platform over the coming months in response to the feedback we get from our members.
The Contributoria.com platform works in a three step process, over three months, to allow for in-depth research and interviews to be carried out by the writers:
Journalists and specialist writers are sometimes wary of working through their ideas in public but the Contributoria.com platform is built in such a way that allows for collaboration with other members who have invested in the production of the article.
There are currently 24 articles being funded (at a cost of more than £7.5k) and worked on by the writers and members which will be published online in an issue, a bit like a magazine, in March. (You can get an idea of the activity here [http://www.contributoria.com/issue/next_issue but the drafts are currently only viewable to members involved in the production.)
Included in the next issue are articles about solar power, biofuels and a look at transcending the Anthropocene in science.
The authors getting involved to date have mostly been professional journalists and published authors and, while the topics proposed by writers will no doubt be as diverse and varied as the writers themselves as the platform matures, it already seems that the long-form nature of the medium does lend itself to specialist areas such as science.
So will you join us? We’re giving our members the tools to support the journalism they really want to read, a way to reward the producers of content who are creating what they want to see out there in the world.
New Year’s Day saw the most radical update of libel laws in England and Wales for many years. Hailed by charity Sense about Science as a ‘new dawn for libel law’, writers and journalists hope that the Defamation Act will protect their freedom of speech and combat the growing issue of libel tourism.
Under the new legislation claimants must demonstrate that they have suffered ‘serious harm’ before suing, making it harder for the powerful to stifle their critics. The Act also specifically protects academic and scientific publications.
Issues concerning antiquated UK libel laws were brought to the notice of the science writing community when Simon Singh’s damning – but justified - article about chiropractic for The Guardian prompted the British Chiropractic Association to sue. The subsequent lengthy legal battle became a cause célèbre, kick-starting the Libel Reform Campaign.
Journalist Ben Goldacre has been victim to a similar libel accusation by vitamin-pill manufacturer Matthias Rath, resulting in legal costs in excess of £500,000.
The Libel Reform Campaign sought to highlight UK libel laws ‘designed to serve the rich and powerful’, and to persuade politicians to bring about ‘long overdue’ reformations.
Now, it is hoped that the experiences of Singh and Goldacre will not be repeated. Singh described the new Defamation Act as “a great tribute to grassroots activism and all the individuals and groups that lobbied for free speech and against the chilling effect of libel”.
However, Northern Ireland is yet to follow suit and only parts of the Act apply to Scotland, creating a potential loophole for libel tourism.
ABSW member Robin McKie won Science and Technology Journalist of the Year at this week's British Journalism Awards.
The judges said: “He goes for the biggest subjects and makes technical issues compelling with his approachable style of writing. They were particularly impressed by his piece on controversial GM crop Golden Rice which it is claimed could save millions for blindness.”
The Awards now in their second year, are run by the Press Gazette, lead sponsor is Santander.
BBC2’s Newsnight has abolished the role of Science Editor held by the long-serving, award-winning science journalist Susan Watts. This is part of a series of changes to the programme being executed by Newsnight editor Ian Katz.
Watts joined Newsnight in 1995 and has covered many key stories in the programme’s history, most notably the BSE crisis, coverage of which won Newsnight a BAFTA award.
Watts tweeted that the decision to close her post was “disappointing, professionally and personally.”
Stories about efforts to prevent the Asian carp from invading the Great Lakes, about evolutionary stress on endangered pupfish in the Mojave Desert, and about the use of "crowdsourcing" to solve tough biological problems are among the winners of the 2013 AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Awards.
The awards, administered by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) since their inception in 1945, go to professional journalists for distinguished reporting for a general audience. TheKavli Foundation provided a generous endowment in 2009 that ensures the future of the awards program.
For the full story and list of winners see http://www.aaas.org/news/releases/2013/1106_sja-winners.shtml
Many reports have recorded how the shutdown of the United States Government has affected science journalism. So, what actually happened? How did it become such a problem? And why was science affected anyway?
There has been ongoing dispute between the Republicans and the Democrats over finance budgets. This is not a new thing - but the political parties usually resolve matters by debate and cunning. If they cannot agree or pass funding quotas for the following financial year, the term ‘shutdown’ is used. On this occasion, at the brunt of the arguments, President Obama’s healthcare plans to build a similar system to the NHS ignited panic and decisions were not made in time. Chaos ensued.
The White House budget office issued orders for government workers to remain at home, unpaid. Employees of national parks, museums, federal buildings and science laboratories were all sent away.
By the 10th October fears had spread and government funded science programmes were paused. Projects, including those in the Antarctic, ceased. Reports were apprehensive that Antarctic monitoring would be damaged considerably and the researchers were left rooting for ideas. Back-up plans after back-up plans were revised and rethought. Science began to suffer and research programmes were paused or even aborted. But it was not just the primary researchers having trouble.
Writers attempting to reach federal researchers for stories had trouble. There were difficulties along the journalism chain as manuscript reviews slowed down and writers were less available to write. Many science journalistsare dependent on federal websites. They reported that fact-checking became more difficult as federal census websites were shut down - information became more difficult to find and verify. Many reporters and researchers found reoccurring blocks as they desperately tried to find content from government websites. After all, how do you know the reliability of data if not from a reliable, official site?Then, of course, how can you review data that is no longer available?
The shutdown affected all aspects of scientific journalism. The shutdown of NASA and its website for example, included the furlough of near 90% of its work force and researchers in biological fields that could not get access to museum specimens. Here the impacts on science were most pronounced.
News reporters claimed “the government’s science, technology and health arms will be taking the biggest hits”. In a lot of ways the lack of funding that most units rely on really did damage the progress of these fields. Science journalism relies on information sourced from official databases or from research programmes that are most often funded by the government. Without them, there is very little to report and science communications begin to collapse. Journals and editorials suffered during the shutdown. The long duration and timing of the funding gap triggered delays in writing and then the review process, which may have had a knock on effect for the subsequent publications.
It is amazing how much American science relies on government funding. From primary collection and database collation, to the publication of journals: the American shutdown affected science communications a lot more than was expected. Now that the shutdown has finished, the scientific community should prepare for prospective financial issues and hopefully this won’t be such a problem in the future.