Dear young and early-career science journalists,
Science journalism is hard. No question about it. Reading papers in obscure journals at two in the morning, camped in front of the laptop with a mug of stale coffee for company; deciphering the relevant information from countless figures and tables; interpreting the statistics into spellbound flawless sentences. And for you, the junior journo, it’s an even harder task. What with all the pitiless rejection emails, constant dead-ends and minimal fees? More than enough for any newbie to be discouraged.
In those hard times, you may start wondering why you ever chose to be a science journalist. Surely, it would have been much easier to just get a “regular” job. At the very least, it would have paid the bills and you wouldn’t have to run to your parents every month asking for rent money.
But there is a silver lining. Actually, the silver lining is the reason why you should not throw that pen (or god forbid, that laptop) away. A science journalist is a superhero who has the power to save the world without costumes or violence. This is not an overstatement.
You will agree, I am sure, that people generally think that science has the obligation of fostering human welfare and the power to improve our standard of living. And by science, people usually mean scientists. Some might argue that scientists have other motives, etcetera, etcetera but most will agree that scientists spearhead scientific progress. They research cures for diseases, develop technology that makes life easier, tackle issues such as climate change... Indeed, in the eyes of most, scientists have huge responsibilities—responsibilities which they will not be able to cater for without the support of the people, the non-scientists. And this is where science journalists, like yourselves, come in.
Science is but a contributory factor in the fulfilment of its own obligations. For scientists to drive scientific progress to its full potential, they need sincere political will, adequate funding resources and society’s best brains. These are the responsibilities of the policy makers, the general public and the communicators. The scientists do, the non-scientists provide, the science journalists unite. It is a common pursuit.
As a science journalist, one of your major ambitions must be to promulgate science: its aims, its methods, its implications, its limitations and its wonders. You are the necessary link between the scientists and the public. By inculcating a culture of science to non-scientists, you cultivate a science-conscious community: one that will support scientists and scientific progress.
Today, especially, your role is of paramount importance. Mankind is faced with a minefield of challenges. We need to address disorders such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, infectious diseases and mental illnesses. In addition, climate change and ecological catastrophes also need attention. We will not be able to succeed unless we are all united under a common pursuit. This, right here, is the role you must play with fervent diligence and enthusiasm. You are a communicator. You are a uniter.
Science journalism might be hard. It might suck your soul out of you at times. But it is a humble and important profession. If you find yourself staring at a blank screen in the early hours of the morning, take a deep breath and know that the words you will spring out have the power to change the world for the better.
A grateful member of the public.
nature.com’s Soapbox Science blog is currently running a series of guest posts in which scientists, enthusiasts, communicators, events organizers, policy makers, teachers and writers share how and why they engage with the public. The series, aptly titled “Reaching Out” (#reachingoutsci on Twitter) gives good insight into how different members of the science community are reaching out in an attempt to unite the community. The series may prove to be a great source of motivation.