Tuesday, October 31, 2006

30th October recap

Thank you to everyone who managed to come along on Monday, and a warm welcome to our new members!

At the meeting we continued our discussion of contemporary science journalism, in particular the recent reporting of climate change research and the Government's Stern Report, and the media phenomenon of the Darwin Online website launch.

We also began our study of Crowther's writings, in particular his claim to have 'invented' science journalism in his autobiography Fifty Years With Science. We explored how he had come to a career in science writing, his choice of topics, his liking for short sentences, and his habits of name-dropping! We compared his project briefly to contemporaneous developments in America, something we are keen to pursue in future sessions, and would welcome any suggestions for readings.

If you have any questions or ideas, or would like to be able to post to this blog, you should be able to email me by clicking on my name below.

Hope to see you next time,


Friday, October 27, 2006

Next week...

...we will continue our discussion of contemporary science journalism, looking in more detail at specific examples - so please bring along a few articles!

We also hope to begin our exploration of J. G. Crowther: copies of the following texts are now available in the Science and Literature Reading Group box file in the Whipple Library; originals can be found in the Cambridge University Library. If you're short of time, then concentrate on the short autobiographical chapter (we'll discuss the rest in November).

-Chapter four of Crowther's autobiography, Fifty Years with Science (1970), '1927-1928: Inventing Science Journalism'.

-The DNB article on Crowther by Jane Gregory, available here.

-Chapter one of The Progress of Science (1934), 'The Cavendish Laboratory'.

-Chapter two of Science Unfolds the Future (1955), 'Beyond the Earth'.

-Chapter twenty two of Soviet Science (1935), 'The Lenin Academy of Agricultural Science'.

We look forward to seeing you at Darwin College at 7.30pm!

Katy and Melanie

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

16th October recap

Thanks to everyone who came along to last night's well-attended meeting - apologies for the rather crowded room! I hope you found the discussion stimulating and interesting, and will be able to join us in a fortnight for our next seminar, when we'll probably be getting down to some more 'literary' stuff as we focus on the journalism of J.G. Crowther.

For those who couldn't attend, Katy introduced the session by drawing out several features of our featured Government report:

-Calling for a 'cultural 'sea-change' in UK science, towards 'open and positive communication with the media'
-The news/science writing relationship (the former with a quite different set of values) - e.g. the naval gun, nuclear waste
-'Science is only part of the story' - interwoven with other concerns (ethical, political, economic, consumer interets, etc.)

She then identified some possible discussion points for the rest of the session:

-Coverage of GM 1999 as context
-Shift from PUS to PEST
-How different constituencies use terms like 'science', 'society', 'values'
-Differences between print media/other media
-Historical perspectives on the Turney quote - science and news 'a poor fit'
-Historical perspectives on risk perception issue
-RAS argument - horoscopes and other 'unorthodox' material 'tends to weaken in the public mind the validity of the rational approach to problems'
-Can journalists really be 'trained' to handle science in a different way if larger forces within the media industry define their handling of stories? E.g. confrontation format and circulation competition
-What is the status/efficacy of RS, COPUS in relation to science/society?
-Tension between regulation of how facts are used/principle of free speech
-Structures of power in relation to distinction between 'the majority view' and 'quixotic minorities'
-Analogy between scientists and other professional groups, e.g. politicians, actors
-Rhetoric of war in relation to contemporary media as a problematic context for other professionals, e.g. 'take the war into the enemy's camp' (scientist turns journalist)
-Gender issues in the report

Other topics that proved fascinating points for debate included:

-Authority of science/scientists
-Processes of scientific method - how and if represented in journalism
-Scientific versus journalistic objectivity
-Images of science and scientists - both fictional and 'real-life'
-Uncertainty of scientific knowledge
-The disciplinary boundaries of science and medicine - are their journalistic traditions and conventions separate or conflated?
-Dialogue within scientific communities; between 'the public' and scientists; as a model for scientific journalism
-Science itself as a social construct and irretrievably tied to political, ethical, economic, etc. factors, versus (at least the image of) an isolated, disinterested profession which shouldn't have to answer for ethical consequences - why does this idea seem so important?
-Audience - how to respond to articles? Intended to stimulate further thought/responses? Or to accept facts? Should articles be 'dumbed up' or 'down'?
-Prescriptions for how to write science journalism - balanced voices; particular narratives; 'eloquence is no substitute for expertise'. Should there just be one model for how this is to be done?
-The pluralities of current science journalism genres, both in print and on tv, radio, and the internet (not reflected in the report)

Hopefully we'll be coming back to address some of these questions in future weeks.

P.S. The text for the New York Times report on 'OJ's Blood and the Big Bang' can be found online here (with Daniel's thanks to Peter Lipton for drawing his attention to the article): if anyone has other particularly relevant, interesting, or entertaining examples then do let me know and I'll add them to the blog.

Monday, October 09, 2006

BSLS Conference

The Second Conference of the British Society for Literature and Science

Proposals for 20-minute papers are invited for the second annual conference of the British Society for Literature and Science. The conference will be held at the Birmingham and Midlands Institute in central Birmingham, hosted by the University of Central England, from 29-31 March 2007. Plenary speakers include Sally Shuttleworth, Robert Crawford and Jenny Uglow.

Papers may address topics in the interactions of literature and science in any period and any languages. Presenters need not be based in UK institutions.

We also invite panel proposals for three papers of 20 minutes or four papers of 15 minutes; members of the panel should be drawn from more than one institution.

Please send an abstract of no more than 400 words and a 100-word biographical note (or in the case of a panel, abstracts and notes for each speaker) to bsls_at_englit.arts.gla.ac.uk, by 30 November 2006. Please send abstracts in the body of messages; do not use attachments.

Alternatively, abstracts and proposals maybe posted to Dr Stuart Robertson, School of English, University of Central England, Perry Barr, Birmingham B42 2SU, UK.

Please address any queries to Dr Stuart Robertson at the email or postal address above.