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By a roundabout way–is there any other?–I was led to thinking that we ought to institute prizes for newspapers presenting science. I am emphasising newspapers: while there are some prizes for science writers, there seem to be few, if any for the newspapers. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s start at the beginning.

Peter recently praised some science writing.

That got me thinking about the local paper, the Otago Daily Times or ODT.

Regular (short) columns include ‘Chemistry Matters’ (on Saturday), ‘Museum Pieces’†, and ‘Ask a Scientist’. (I may be missing some as I don’t get the paper every day.)

Interestingly, these are all written by scientists. So scientists in this little corner of the world do write, which I guess fulfils my earlier protest,  at least locally.

Then there’s the features and other articles. There are a decent number of non-fiction book reviews, too, including some written by a (retired) science professor. Even the obits have a decent share of science-related memorials.

People from other cities might protest that we’re a university town and that it’s to be expected here. After the town does host the oldest university in the country, the ODT does have an ‘On campus’ section on their on-line paper, which includes local science news, and the university also host the country’s only Science Communication degree course. But surely larger circulation newspapers have the means to carry a competitive amount of science content?

This got me thinking that we need a prize for newspapers carrying science articles. One for the best. One for the shoddiest.

The best could be based on the number of regular columns devoted to science-related issues, features and accuracy. Anything else?

The worst should be given some suitably negative name and hurled at the paper with the most blatantly erroneous or misleading articles. Splat. Mud in their faces, or other brown smelly matter if your tastes extend to that. The wooden spoon award, basically, but we wouldn’t want to fall foul of the anti-smacking debate. I have a feeling that the Ben Goldacre’s of the world, would love to select this. (Count me in.)

Let the editors compete.

This is important. I want to see the editors compete. They’ll need a good supply of articles, but most of the focus raising the science writing publishing is on the writers, with very little on the editors. Let’s put the editors in the frame too.

(And the publishing houses, but let’s call it the editors for now, rightly or wrongly.)

In fact, lets see all the Science Media Centres around the world do this for their country, with the awards supported by their bloggers and the readers of their blogs.

Readers are welcome to suggest a name for a “Shonky Science” prize.



Note: I hope I have this column name right; I can’t find an example to confirm it. (My papers go out for recycling…)

PS: The reason I’m leaving technology out, is that I think it’s better covered already and in any event “geek” magasines of various shades are on the shelves by the dozen. The Qantus Media Awards recognise the best ‘Information & Communications Technology’ section in a newspaper, for example.

PPS: If anyone knows of any existing “best newspaper, science” awards in this part of the world (New Zealand), or for that matter anywhere else, let me know. It’s possible that these are “hidden” in the journalism awards; I didn’t see any on an admittedly sleepy search. On that note, I’m off for the night…

PPPS: Other science journalism posts in Code for life:

Note to science communicators–alleles, not “disease genes”

Three kinds of knowledge about science journalism

Science journalism–critical analysis not debate

Sidebar scientists

Scientists can’t write?

Book review: Victorian Popularizers of Science