After attending the 2016 edition of the School, Pakinam Amer (Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Nature Middle East), sent this testimony for publication on this website
I can’t tell you enough how delighted and honored I am to have been chosen as a fellow for that last round of courses and lectures at the International School of Science Journalism, Erice. I have already recommended it to two of my best writers here at Nature Middle East; one based in Cairo, and the other in London. And although a veteran journalist myself, with a 13 years’ worth of reporting and editing experience under my belt, this was a rich resource for me having delved into the deep end of science journalism only three years earlier.
From networking, exciting debates and even a mock-up of the pitching process to learning about fundamental, and very pressing, science issues (in both the research and policy realms), we’ve been swept away from one exciting enterprise to another. And all this against the thoroughly fascinating, historical backdrop that is Erice with its heritage of churches and monasteries, the plethora of cozy restaurants and eateries, and its leafy mountains – up in the clouds, quite literally.
The kind of conference that Erice provides is quite unique, and I’m happy that a resource like this exists for us science journalists, in a field that is quickly gaining awareness and momentum; a field where expertise is still budding in many areas of the world; and a field that may very well change how we, the public and policy makers view science and engage with it.
In a way, science journalists and communicators are the first and last frontiers in this war – or let me rephrase – relentless quest for awareness of the science field. There are a lot of misunderstandings, a lot of inaccuracies and misconceptions and to push back against this, and create a new, healthier science culture and discourse, we need every tool in our arsenal – and I believe an international initiative like Erice’s school is one of those.
This is not just about getting a group of scientists, journalists and dreamers together for ephemeral discussions or a meditation on theory; it’s a very real and practical discourse and, somewhat, a call to action.
One of the encounters I have made during Erice 2016 was with a young journalist from Columbia, Helena Cortese. Her words to me about how Erice’s science course this year “has changed [her] life” still ring in my ear. For such strong words, she quickly (and naturally) followed up with “I know this sounds unbelievable” – perhaps in an attempt to quell any skepticism she might have thought I harbored. I didn’t. I know, especially at the dawn of any career, how much these encounters can set precedents, shape impressions and make a difference. Miss Cortese went on to explain that in a country where science journalism is a mere afterthought (and her country shares this feature with mine), having the encounters she had, hearing from science communities across the West, East and Middle East filled her with ideas and gave her the push she needed to pursue this path, and perhaps even pioneer.
In Erice, she also learned for the first time how to make a proper pitch to a science magazine, and after returning home, she even e-mailed me one so I can review it for her and I’m on it. (the magic of networking – it’s better than Google, sometimes).
Only a few days after the conference, another fellow, Oded Carmeli from Israel, pitched two stories to the New Scientist and got the go-ahead – that came in the heels of said exercise in successful pitches at Erice, with a New Scientist editor as one of the moderators.
Like Miss Cortese, and Mr. Carmeli, I became more seasoned with not just other publications but how other cultures look at science and move around (sometimes jump over) obstacles. Some of the lectures tickled my appetite for some natural science topics I was previously slightly unfamiliar with.
In short, this is an experience that certainly added to me, and many of those who were present, and I can only hope it continues as it does to offer solid apprenticeship (and solid ground for those who need it) and some light along the way.
Deputy Editor-in-Chief, Nature Middle East
Nature Research Group