Science journalists are always happy to be reporting science, and are supposed to be good at communicating science. But are we as diligent when it comes to investigating science? Perhaps we should not be quite as professionally cynical as political journalists, but neither should we aspire to be enlisted as science’s influencers.
This year’s ECSJ-conference is located in the historical building where superconductivity was discovered by Dutch physicist Heike Kamerlingh Onnes in 1911. His laboratory is considered to be the first large research institute in the modern sense of the word. Since then, science as an institution has grown exponentially, and has become a force in modern society that no one can ignore. Consequently, science gets lots of funding, lots of exposure, and is ascribed a lot of authority – most of it well deserved, no doubt.
But science journalists should not limit themselves to reporting the successes of science as promulgated by science communicaton departments. At all levels of the scientific enterprise, be it individual publications, institutes or entire research programmes, they should question what they see or hear. Is peer-review as reliable as it purportedly has ever been? Is science immune to group think? To what extent is science recruited as a scapegoat for political agendas? Does society actually need this?
The conference will host several renowned speakers who take a critical look at these aspects of the scientific enterprise, and be a stage for discussion. We don’t expect you to sit back and listen, but to stand up and engage. None of which will detract from our common truth that science is a force for good in our society and an essential part of our future.
But in a time when ‘just follow the science’ has become a matter of fierce political debate, conspiracy theories and even riots in the streets, science journalism needs to rethink its position in the complex force field between following and investigating science.
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