The Sciences

'Science Needs More Space in Mainstream Media'

"It is an irony that while our scientists can detect traces of methane on distant Mars, closer home we see people getting asphyxiated in manholes."

Mysore: Science journalists and communicators have a vital role to play in connecting science with society, and in inculcating scientific temper among the people. This was emphasised by experts attending a symposium on science journalism and communication here on August 14.

“It is an irony that while our scientists can detect traces of methane on distant Mars, closer home we see people getting asphyxiated in manholes,” said veteran science journalist Nagesh Hegde while inaugurating the symposium at the Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI). “It is the role of science communicators to point out such dichotomies [and ensure] solutions for day-to-day problems of people could be developed and benefits of research [made accessible to] everyone.”

Science journalists and science communicators should bridge the gap between scientists and policymakers, he added.

R. Subramanian, a senior scientist who presided over the inauguration, pointed out the efforts by CSIR-CFTRI to reach out to the people. “Ahara Vijnana was the first ever specialised science magazine in any Indian language and was published way back in 1955. Moving with the times, the institute is now producing [a podcast named] ThaliTales,” he said.

The symposium was an effort to reach out to science journalists and science communicators in Karnataka, and was jointly organised by Vigyan Prasar (which publishes India Science Wire), New Delhi, and CSIR-CFTRI. Researchers, students and faculty of science and journalism took part in the discussions.

Elaborating on the efforts of Vigyan Prasar to promote research of Indian scientists, Dinesh C. Sharma, its managing editor, delineated the shortcomings of science journalism in India. D.R. Mohan Raj, a media consultant and former professor of mass communication and journalism, said that science communication has to be the result of a partnership between scientists, communicators and the citizen.

The use of Indian languages is critical in partnering with the public for effective science communication. “Mere translation from English to Indian languages is not science communication,” Piyush Pandey, former director of the Nehru Planetarium, Mumbai, said while highlighting the efforts of science communication in Hindi.

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For T.G. Srinidhi of ejnana, a Kannada webzine on science and technology, the difficulty was not in the use of language or the media but in scaling up, and for which he said “collaboration between different agencies is the need of the hour.” Kollegala Sharma, who produces ThaliTales, said journalists need to create content in Indian languages for the future, when fast paced developments in technology such as artificial intelligence could create a greater digital divide.

Raviprakash, a senior reporter at Prajavani, spoke about his experiences in accessing and editing science writing for a newspaper. Mahinn Ali Khan, communications manager at the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bengaluru, described the institute’s experience in communicating science to non-experts through their science-art and ‘Out of Lab’ interactions.

Panellists in a discussion on science journalism in India highlighted the shrinking space for science and technology in the mainstream media. The discussion was chaired by Usha Rani, media consultant and former professor at the University of Mysore. S. Kumar, of Tech Kannada, felt that senior editors need to be sensitive to science coverage. Amshi Prasanna Kumar said poor reportage of science was generally because journalists lacked necessary skills for science reporting, and that they need to visit labs like CSIR-CFTRI and understand the research process for effective and efficient reporting.  Unless one understands the science well, communicating in regional languages will be difficult.

Over 120 participants, from Mysore, Bengaluru, Tumkur, Chamarajanagar and Mangalore, attended the symposium.

This article was originally published by India Science Wire.