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Experiments with Science News

I had started thinking about science news in 1988 when I was confronted with the job of being a Course Director for a Post Graduate Diploma in Science Journalism, Jamia Millia Islamia. What constitutes science News? How is it gathered? How is it disseminated? How does it differ from other news reporting?

There was a PTI Science News Service at that time headed by Jayaram. After talking to him, I realised that there was more to it. My own feeling was that there is a better method for gathering news about scientific advances.

My approach at that time started with scanning Current Contents brought out by ISI. No, not the extremist group, but the Institute of Scientific Information. Identifying interesting titles of papers, getting papers through inter-library loan and then constructing a write up – this completed the methodology that I devised.

I tried teaching the methodology to the students. But it was too difficult for them. They could not read and understand scientific papers. A B.Sc degree did not provide that ability. So I failed.

When I started producing Turning Point in the ’90s, I looked at the issue again. Though it was a popular science magazine, I thought I could bring in some newsy angle to some of the stories. So I went to INSDOC where they had an information service which they called CAPS – Contents, Abstracts, Papers Service. So I subscribed to it. I selected 400 journals, to the utter amazement of the marketing person there. No scientist would ever do that.

I would scan through the contents of 400 journals every week. Though I requested for quite a few abstracts and some papers, nothing much came out of it. Only two stories out of more than a hundred were influenced by the then current research. My team helping in the production of Turning Point did not understand abstracts or papers and had no clue what I was doing.

So when I got back to the issue of news writing, I made sure that I had people who could read scientific papers. And they were trained to write. Two batches from the Workshops on Science Writing held in Pune. About 30 people. Can I get them to write science news?

And the answer is a resounding yes. The protocol has changed. I don’t look at Current Contents any more. Who needs it when you have access to the Web of Science? A column titled Science This Week was launched in Sakaal Times, as an experiment. And it has consistently been brought out for 6 weeks now. It contains news of science done by scientists in Pune. Only Pune Science.

Take a look at the column:


And now we have started two pages of science news in Current Science. Science Last Fortnight 25 March is a glimpse into Indian Science between two issues of Current Science.

Please take a look. And tell me what you think.

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