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Report by Aisling Irwin - ABSW member and EUSJA grant recipient

Earlier this month, courtesy of an EUSJA grant, I zipped over to Berlin to attend the Falling Walls 2017 conference. Though it seems unheard of in Britain, it has prestige elsewhere. Scientific luminaries from around the world jet in to address an audience of high-calibre delegates (who have paid a high-calibre fee to hear them). Mindful of the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, the speakers predict the next “wall that will fall” as a result of their spectacular progress in subjects ranging from Artificial Intelligence to diagnosis of disease.

Newsflash: Deadline extended to 22 November 2017

The ABSW is reviewing the way it works and the benefits it provides to members. As part of this review, we want to hear your views, experiences, grievances, etc. You’ve got a chance to shape the future of this association and how it works, and, by extension, affect a big part of the UK science journalism community.

The ABSW held this panel discussion on Thursday 2 November 2017 in London.

Find out more...

To view the full Facebook live video you will need to be an ABSW member and a member of the ABSW's members only Facebook Group.

Event descriptor:

Truth is in the spotlight -- there’s much debate about how to find it and whether it still carries weight in our society. Media covering UK and US politics have lamented how truth is being sacrificed to misinformation, myth, spin or outright lies. During the US pre-election period, publishers from the Guardian to the New York Times to NPR pushed their fact-checking services. The need to tackle fake news then captured the attention of major social media players like Facebook.

At October's World Conference of Science Journalists held in San Francisco, Pallab Ghosh reported on the coverage of gene editing:

I sometimes joke that I’ve been a science journalist so long that I covered the extinction of the dinosaurs!

Although it’s not been quite that long – I have seen a thing or two in my time and so I’d like to offer a brief historical perspective as well as some observations on how gene editing is being reported in the UK.

So on that first

This is the website of the UK’s bestselling tabloid newspaper – The Sun.

GENE GENIE Embryos edited to remove killer mutation like the one that nearly killed Fabrice Muamba in world first — and it could save MILLIONS

Fabrice Muamba is a young English ex-soccer player who suffered a cardiac arrest during a televised match between Bolton and Tottenham Hotspur. He recovered despite his heart having stopped for 78 minutes. 

It’s from August 4 and you can see it reports on the work of Dr Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health and Science University and colleagues on the removal of a gene from an early stage human embryo associated with a rare heart condition.

Researchers sometimes wonder if they should, or even could, start broadcasting or writing about science. Is it possible to take leave of the lab and become a science communicator?

This was the question uppermost in the minds of science postdocs at Queen’s this month when they gathered to hear what a panel of experienced science journalists had to say about what they do and how they had first entered the field.

The workshop, organised jointly by the Irish Science and Technology Journalists’ Association (ISTJA) and the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW) and hosted by the Centre for Experimental Medicine at Queen’s, had an impressive line up of writers and broadcasters, all ready to share their knowledge and give the postdocs tips on how to carve out a niche in the highly competitive world of communications.

All ABSW members have now been sent this message from ABSW Chair Mico Tatalovic:

Dear colleagues,

I am writing to let you know about an exciting initiative through which you can help shape the future of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW) – and science journalism in the UK more widely.

The ABSW board has decided to carry out an independent strategic review of our association to see how we can improve what we do. Specifically, we want to see how we can improve what we offer to you, our members, and to make sure that our governance structures and funding streams are following best practices and are in line with ensuring the long-term sustainability of the ABSW.

As part of this review, we will be carrying out a survey of our members to see what you think of the ABSW. For example, what works and doesn’t work for you, which activities you take part in, and which activities you’d like to see in future. We want you to have a say in how the association moves forward. You can expect to get the short survey over the next few weeks, and we hope you can share your thoughts and feelings about the ABSW, and advise us on where we can improve.

ABSW Regional Group Contacts:

The ABSW is developing a system for individuals to make contact with other ABSW members in their region/location.  The idea is to create regional groups that meet informally for networking and to discuss issues related to science journalism/writing.

If you live in any of the regions below do get in touch with the contact given so they can add you to their contacts list and invite you to any networking events organised locally:

Bristol:  Andy Extance on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Cambridgeshire: Emma Stoye on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Manchester: Edwin Colyer on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Norfolk/Suffolk: Martin Ince on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Oxfordshire: Richard Scrase on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Sussex (Brighton): Louise Coghlin on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

If you would like to volunteer to be a regional contact then do get in touch with the ABSW as we are hoping to build this infomal network to cover other regions/locations in the UK: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


How to set up local groups: The Bristol science book group by Board member Andy Extance

The ABSW board has been discussing regional activities, and has become aware of the existence of a couple of loosely affiliated book groups. That’s mostly because I’m a member of one, based in Bristol. This is our story – you may want to copy it, or write in (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) and share the story of your own group on the ABSW site.

Legend has it that the Bristol science book group originated after a discussion between our founder, Jon Turney, and another ABSW member who has never actually come to our group. We’ve been running since 2010, after Jon solicited for interest on the ABSW list. Since then membership has waxed and waned as people have become aware of it through informal channels. 

Andy Extance reports back on the ABSW Media Law training and asks for your thoughts on further training for ABSW members:

The ABSW media law training course had 12 attendees on Monday (25 September 2017) from an interesting cross-section of our membership - as far afield as York and Exeter (me), and with backgrounds ranging from staffers whose publications recognised the value group bargaining can provide to freelancers topping up their knowledge. Among many interesting points, two stuck out for me: 

A libel case verdict this month involving a French aerospace engineer seems to have put the UK libel law back to as bad as it was before it was changed in 2013. The case sees the judge's verdict on the new test for 'serious harm' that was added in the reformed Defamation Act say that libel claimants need not actually prove that any serious harm was caused. See more at the Press Gazette.

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