More than 600 journalists descend upon Melbourne


Is current media reporting about climate change sound or bunk? How was the Korean stem cell fraud uncovered? How strong is political interference in science? Should peer reviewed journals play a role in breaking news? How will new media affect the role of science journalists? Will wealthy nations support science journalism in developing countries?
These were some of the questions asked at the 5th World Conference of Science Journalists, held in Melbourne, Australia. An initiative of the World Federation of Science Journalists and the Australian Science Communicators, it gathered more than 600 journalists, press officers and science communicators from around the world to discuss the big issues facing science journalism.

Participants included science editors from the Economist, Financial Times, the editors-in-chief of Nature and Scientific American, senior reporters from BBC TV and some 50 journalists from developing and emerging countries. Journalists were engaged to pick story ideas about Australian amazing wildlife, ecology management and indigenous knowledge. National federations of journalists were invited to twin with sister associations from emerging and developing countries, where journalists need mentoring to improve science reporting at home. 

The opening ceremony was animated by two energetic science TV program presenters at the ABC, Australia’s public broadcaster. Among others, they introduced the Minister of Innovation and aboriginal speakers. “Science tries to explain what our ancestors already knew, that is to say how human family fits in the natural world”, said the indigenous delegates, stressing the mutual benefit between science and indigenous knowledge.

Conference highlights included three major activities among sessions and workshops. First, there were science sessions on topics such as climate change, emerging diseases, quantum computing, coral reefs, bush fires and water management, polar science, and the re-emergence of the nuclear debate. Second, organisers set up sessions on hot issues such as dealing with scientific fraud, biasing of information and the challenges of reporting from within and outside emerging economies. Journalists from China and Zambia reckon there was pressure on science reporters to deliver the official government line, to the detriment of public interest. Also, Australian communicators designed workshops about reporting on clinical trials, dealing with public perception risk, in-depth analysis of peer review, editing and creating journalism associations.

Associations member of the Federation voted the bid for the next conference location, which will be held in the United Kingdom in 2009. In the meanwhile, the organisers have created a blog with reports on every session at

J. Pasotti