New Democrat (Monrovia)

13 February 2013

Liberia: Thawing the Myth About Reporting Science & Technology for Liberian Journalists

opinion

Been keen on media reporting for 40 years and practicing journalism for three and half decades reveal how Liberian journalists have continued to report on many issues except science and technology which have long been recognized as subjects of public interest by the media in the industrialized countries.

Nevertheless, these subjects gradually began to arouse interest in the developing countries in the past 30 years or so.

In thawing the myth about writing on these subjects, one does not have to be a scientist to be a science journalist. However, a good knowledge of science is an advantage.

These subjects should be of interest to the Liberian media because they have drastically continued to change the world and how people live since the 20th century.

These subjects touch the life of every human being daily for better or for worse, and are growing and becoming more complex.

Moreover, the impact of science and technology on people, their environment and way of life is growing ceaselessly, while imbalances in their use within and between nations are growing.

As human progress depends on science and technology, we can safely advise that if Liberia, yea Africa is to develop and catch up with the rest of the world, acquiring and using science and technology is imperative.

But because information on science and technology is not available as other types of information, the subject is still a mystery to most people.

Of course, this is so because scientists tend to live in exclusion and many of them do not appreciate the need for the general public to understand their activities.

Meantime, many journalists lack the courage to break through the barrier that stands between scientist and the rest of society.

This situation must change if society is take full advantage of the fruits of scientific research.

Government and the general public must be kept informed of developments in science and technology that can be used to enhance the quality of life of Liberians and speed up the social and economic development nationally.

The media must recognize that scientists are not in the habit of sharing their knowledge and findings with the general public, neither is the public equipped to find out for itself what it needs to know about developments in science and technology.

Therefore, the need to bridge the critical information gap between scientists and the public led to the emergence, decades ago, of a new area of specialization in journalism-- science and technology reporting--a technical and highly specialized field that is more demanding than general reporting which is commonplace here.

Scientists, who initiate and conduct research, understand and can explain and interpret research results, form a major source for science and technology reporting.

Interview inventors some of whom are engineers, technologists or scientists, while others never had formal science education. But they all use talent and ingenuity to create new machines and methods and can talk about their inventions, and explain how they got their ideas, how they put the machine together, how it works and what it can do.

Visit scientific research institutions like CARI in Suakoko, which has been in existence for decades, but most people hardly know what goes on behind their walls--the results of hundreds of research on pests, animal husbandry, new rice and cassava yields disease resistant plants, impact of the environment on humans and biodiversity.

Avid reporters need to keenly follow conferences, seminars and symposia where scientists exclusively discuss research projects--methods, problems and results.

Though scientists speak in their own jargon, journalists, exerting a little bit of extra effort, can learn to understand them and reap abundant new and useful information.

Scientific publications and science magazines, ministries of education, health, science and technology or national planning also possess a wealth of information for reporters on science and technology.

Scientists publish the results of their work in scientific journals, usually meant for the benefit of fellow scientists. These publications, found in university libraries, are the most valuable source of up to date information on developments in the various areas of science.

But the journalist may require a scientist to translate some of the jargon into day-to-day language.

Because government ministries determine the area of national need and priority in science and technology, set goals and draw up programs for their attainment, and supervise the activities of the research institutes, they are sources of basic information and ideas and thus a good sharing starting point for science and technology reporting.

Hospitals and industries, being main consumers of the results of scientific and technological research, are also useful because there these results can be seen being put to practical use to appreciate their social and economic relevance.

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