Award-winning author Adam Hochschild and Prof. Anton Harber at the 2008 Narrative Journalism Conference
The presentations from the 2008 Reporting Science conference are now available for download.
All files are in pdf format. Right click on each link for options to save.
Climate Change: Science, risk and uncertainty – telling the South African story
Leonie Joubert, science writer & Prof Coleen Vogel, School of Geography, Archaeology & Environmental Studies, Univ. of the Witwatersrand (5,382kb)
The following text has been sourced from Derek Hanekom’s speaking notes. His actual presentation may have varied.
Opening remarks by the deputy minister of science and technology, the honourable Derek Hanekom, at the frayintermedia 2nd annual Reporting Science conference, Craighall, on 10 November 2008.
Members of the media
Representatives of Government and the Science Community
Distinguished Guests and Delegates
Firstly, allow me to express my appreciation to frayintermedia for organising such an important and well-coordinated conference. The nature of government work means that we do not always have the opportunity to interact and have unmediated engagement with the media, except perhaps when we have to respond to questions raised about our efforts. I am therefore very grateful to share this time with you. I see that the Department of Science and Technology is well represented here, judging from the familiar faces.
Access to knowledge divides us
For hundreds of years it was generally accepted that knowledge belonged to everyone. In the fourth century BC ordinary citizens were able to listen to Plato. During the Napoleonic Wars, when all other exchanges were banned, scientists freely crossed the English Channel to speak at one another’s academies. In the 20th century, the driving engine of innovation became war and the secretive machinery set up to serve military agendas still dominates our innovation processes today.
As we move further into the 21st century, the world is becoming more sharply divided into those with easy access to knowledge and those will little or no access. If, as Francis Bacon said, knowledge is power, this means that there is a growing chasm between those with power and those without. In 2000, Pierre Pettigrew, Canadian Minister for International Trade at the time said that “in the new economy…. victims are not only exploited, they’re excluded. You may be in a situation where you are not needed to create… wealth. This phenomenon of exclusion is far more radical than the phenomenon of exploitation.”
This was said eight years ago. Yet today, every 15 minutes, about 400 children – the same number used by Forbes for its list of the world’s richest people – still die from malnutrition-related diseases. They are also dying from a lack of knowledge. They knowledge to save almost all of them exists, yet for various reasons it does not get through to their communities — at least not in forms the communities can access, afford or use.
Without knowledge things will get worse
Sixteen million hectares of natural forests vanish each year as poor people struggle to feed themselves and multinationals exploit what is left. Three quarters of the world’s fisheries are fully or over-exploited. One third of the world’s farmlands are degraded. Almost three billion people will experience severe water scarcity by 2025. This is due partly to human greed, but also to a large extent to a lack of knowledge of how to farm, fish or use water sustainability. Without knowledge things will get worse – tens of millions more will lost their livelihoods and global instability will skyrocket with conflict over scarce resources.
The number of refugees has doubled in the past and all told, close to 50 million people are currently displaced from their homes and livelihoods. What will the world be like when there are 100 million refugees? Of 120 conflicts worldwide since the Cold War ended in the 1990s, two-thirds were driven or triggered by shortages of food, land and water – crises which for the most part, could have been averted through the application of modern scientific knowledge.
Let us consider science and its relation to disease: Today in Africa alone, millions of HIV-positive people are dying because they do not have access to patented antiretroviral. Every year, about two million people die for want of low-cost antimalarials. These facts prompt questions about the morality of the global innovation system: Who owns it and who does it serve?
A few hundred million of the world’s richest citizens enjoy the fruits of modern science and technology, while more than five billion are denied them or simply unable to access them. They are becoming bitter and resentful. Many are trying to solve the problem by fleeing to the richer countries in a rising tide that neither gunboats nor prison camps can forestall. Once this situation was regarded as largely due to the unequal distribution of wealth, and it was assumed that money could fix it. However, the problem is more profound.
Bring science and society closer together
What it all boils down to, ladies and gentlemen, is our failure to share knowledge with all that this implies – food, water security, health empowerment, sustainability, jobs and sound government. The explosion of knowledge is taking place in the advanced centres of the world and the failure to share this knowledge is tilting the balance of well-being ever more radically towards a priviledged few and away from the vast majority. History shows that such an imbalance is likely to provoke a violent reaction.
The lack of access to knowledge is also increasingly building suspicion of modern science and technology. US Physics professor Juan Roederer speaks of “an alarming erosion of public trust” in science, which is causing many societies and politicians to suspect the motives of the research community, to set in place measures to scrutinise it and even to limit its scope and freedoms. The “crisis of trust” in modern science was also highlighted in the UK House of Lords’ Third Report on Science and Technology which recorded that the British public had great interest but little trust in science. Many communities and groups are starting to protest their exclusion from the scientific and innovation process. While grateful for the lifesaving and life-enhancing benefits of science, ordinary people in western democracies are trying to resist the relentless onward thrust of knowledge and technology, often retreating into superstition and pseudoscience. There is a general questioning, in almost all societies of the morality, ethics, practices, motives, ownership and control of modern science. Conspiracy theories grow in popularity and a general mistrust is threatening to obstruct the progress of science and technology and the many benefits they are able to bring us.
We cannot allow this to continue. The challenge is therefore to bring science and society closer together, to build a “knowledge democracy” in which the community is informed about science and technology and becomes an active participant in decisions to adopt or apply it. We need to replace the outmoded culture of scientific aloofness and superiority with one of openness and consultation. Scientists must come to recognise that people’s values, beliefs traditions and feelings – rooted in millions of years of human evolutionary experience in identifying and avoiding risks – are critical to the successful uptake of scientific knowledge.
Science needs to accept that “scientific knowledge” should not be separated from or elevated above “lay knowledge” which is a necessary element of the innovation process. If lay people are not brought on board the support of society for technological advancement cannot be taken for granted
Knowledge is free but not freely available
Facilitating the “democratisation of science” is the key role of the science communicator. An international seminar on science and society hosted by the British Council last year, proposed that citizens be made active partners and participants in the innovation process and that efforts to promote science, encourage dialogue and transparency, responsibility and accountability, the independence of research and the negotiation of appropriate technological trajectories.
This applies not only to developed democracies, but to the developing world where people urgently need the power of knowledge to improve their quality of life and the sustainability of their resources and to take control of their own destinies. Much of the knowledge they need is free and yet it is not freely available.
The democratisation of science will ease people’s deeply embedded fears of change and allay concerns about the loss of control or failure of ethical standards. Such democratisation is desirable not merely from a social viewpoint, but also from a scientific one. The ideas and perspectives that non-scientific people and communities can bring to science can contribute to the wider acceptance, adoption and commercialisation of science.
If communities could become partners in the science and innovation processes, instead of remaining uninformed recipients or even opponents of research and technology, we would have a true “knowledge society”. We need dedicated science communicators to make this happen, to bridge the gap between the specialists and the public and help to build a nation that knows and understands enough about science to take its place comfortably in the global knowledge economy. This is the thought I’d like to leave you with.
The Deputy Minister for the Department of Science and Technology, Mr Derek Hanekom, will open the Reporting Science Conference, taking place on 10-11 November 2008 in Johannesburg.
Bob Scholes a leader of the ecosystem processes and dynamics research group, and a Fellow of the CSIR will be the keynote speaker at the second Reporting Science Conference which will host a number of local experts in the fields of Nanotechnology, Climate Change, Alternative Energy, Food Security and Astronomy and Space Science.
Science reporting is a research-intensive skill that sets journalists apart and has unlimited potential in the world of news.
The conference will strive to equip journalists and science communicators with information and skills to analyse and make sense of available scientific information allowing them to report on and communicate from a knowledgeable basis.
A cocktail function will take place at the Observatory on Monday 10th with a finger supper and Ubom Industrial Theatre performance. Transport will be provided from the conference venue to the Observatory for all delegates.
For the latest conference programme, click here.
Date: 10 & 11 November 2008
Venue: HackleBrooke Estate, Craighall Park, Johannesburg
Cost: R 1938 (incl VAT)
For more information contact Debby Kramer on 011 341 0767 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The updated programme for the 2008 Reporting Science Conference is now available for download.
This year’s line-up of speakers promises to deliver a diverse and unique learning experience.
Right click here to save the programme.
The official Cocktail Function for the 2008 Reporting Science conference will be sponsored by the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA) and will be held on Day 1 at the Johannesburg Observatory, 15A Gill Str, Observatory, Johannesburg and it promises to be both informative and interactive.
The Cocktail Programme is as follows:
17:30 Official Welcome and Drinks
17:45 Live Performance “Meltdown” by Ubom!
18:30 Keynote address and dinner
The following exhibitions will be available for viewing throughout the evening:
SA Science Lens and
In honour of the International Year of Astronomy you will be treated to a very close view of the exquisite Johannesburg sky.
Spaces are filling up fast, book early.
SAASTA is a business unit of the NRF
The Reporting Science Conference, 10th – 11th November 2008, will take place at the Hackle Brooke Estate in Craighall, Johannesburg. This year the conference, which will include plenary sessions and small group workshops, will focus on:
- Climate Change
- Alternative Energy
- Food Security
- Astronomy and Space Science.
We invite journalists, editors, television and radio presenters and producers, sub-editors, and journalism students who wish to better interpret science information for their audience and science communicators needing to understand how to package stories that interest media.
10th -11th NOVEMBER 2008
Science reporting is a research-intensive skill that sets journalists apart and is a niche which has unlimited potential in the world of news. But, with a shortage of well informed and trained science journalists, many important science stories are going untold.
Scientists and journalists, it seems, are speaking different languages.
Equipping journalists with effective reporting skills on science will be the focus of frayintermedia’s second Reporting Science Conference.
Themed Making Science Headlines this year’s conference will focus on climate change, alternative energy sources, food security and nanotechnology.
Said organiser Debby Kramer: “Science stories seemingly go untold because of a shortage of well informed and trained science journalists. This conference aims to change that by empowering science reporters with knowledge by giving them access to some of South Africa’s elite scientists both locally and abroad – it is about giving reporters the opportunity to make science headlines.”
Taking place on 10 and 11 November at the Hacklebrooke Estate in Johannesburg, the conference offers reporters the unique opportunity to network with scientists and experts on a variety of topics, whilst improving their skills.
Also on the agenda this year is a trip to a local observatory where the night sky will be viewed.
For more information on the conference contact Debby Kramer on 011 – 341 0767 or on email@example.com