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Workshop on Science Writing

20 June, Current Science, Bangalore.

The workshop on Writing Science took off yesterday in the Publication Block of Current Science. Prof P Balaram inaugurated the workshop. He gave a brief history of Current Science, a journal initiated by Sir C V Raman. Many other science journals were launched later, but some of them have stopped. Current Science continues and will soon be reaching hundred years of its existence. He said that punctuality in publication on the 10th and 25th, without a break, has been a remarkable achievement of the journal.

Drawing from his experience of writing editorials for Current Science, he said that in order to keep to the schedule of the 10th and 25th of each month, he had to keep to his commitment in spite of illnesses and domestic disasters. This made him appreciate newspaper editorial staff that brings out a paper on an everyday basis. Though one may criticise the language or find spelling mistakes or even misreporting in newspapers, the quality of keeping to deadlines is truly admirable, he said.

He reminded the participants of the importance of reading. Reading precedes writing. Science writers need to read widely and go beyond known pastures and comfort zones. He suggested titles of books that had inspired and informed him. Talking to people who work in diverse fields helps us understand the intricacies of even the most obscure scientific topics.

He explained that the first part of the journal targets general readers, providing news, correspondence, opinion pieces, etc. while the last part is made up of obituaries, book reviews and so on. The middle part of the journal targets readers from narrow disciplines. While the research papers go through a rigorous  peer review process, the decisions about the sections that target all readers from diverse disciplines are made by the editors.

Replying to a question from a participant, he said that the journal has a bias towards subjects that are specific to India, as our national geological and biological diversity is not very important to other international journals. But fields such as bioinformatics, nanotechnology etc., which do not have India-centric content, can be published in any international journal.

Later, in another session of the workshop, Prof Rohini Godbole talked about women in science. She looked back on her career as researcher in High Energy Particle Physics and was grateful that she did not have to face much gender discrimination. Yet, as she was invited to forums that dealt with women in science, she became aware of the problems. She spelled out the issues and suggested solutions, some which needed to be tackled by science writers, some that needed lobbying and advocacy. Cultural mindsets and stereotypes need to be addressed by writers, but the task takes time. Lobbying and advocacy for changes in rules and policies such that they become gender neutral may take less time, but effort is needed. In spite of child bearing and bearing the bigger burden of rearing children, women can be good scientists too. So the break in scientific activity that creates age barriers later in entering into scientific research later needs to be looked into. 

She pointed out that while universities and colleges have a better sex ratio, research institutions have a wider gap. She suggested that a minor tweaking of the rule – to take the number of years worked as a scientist rather than age – might help in women PhD holders to enter scientific research career. Providing creches in research institutions and hiring both husband and wife in the same institution if both are scientists are steps that can be taken. 

In my role as trainer, I made participants aware of the number of fruitless hours spent in English classes. Without decent mastery over the language, output suffers. School and college academic life has a scattering of many subjects but fails to make connections between subjects apparent.  It leaves no time for students to immerse themselves in any specific area, raise relevant questions and inquire on their own. 

The five and half day workshop is so designed to overcome the limitations of the traditional system. It demands immersion in science writing to the exclusion of all other personal and academic issues. Theory and practical work are interconnected and are treated as such, in the workshop. Workshop means work. And the work is to write reports on the most recent scientific advances made in India. 

 

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