Sub-Saharan Africa

  • Is there scientific research outside the UK and US?

    Xolani Gwala

"We know nothing about research happening outside the US and UK. When you look at science coverage you get a sense that the world consists of [only] the UK and the US."  That was the opening salvo by the moderator, Vibeke Hjortlund, at a session discussing science reporting in the so called ‘neglected regions.’ 

This statement raises a number of questions:  is there much science activity anyway, happening outside the US and the UK? Are there platforms, staffed with requisite skills, outside these areas, capable of disseminating information on the subject?

What about audiences and what they want? Do they care about geographical origins of science and scientific results?

Like everything else, there is no single answer to any of these questions. The reasons for lack of coverage of scientific activities from other parts of the world other than the United States and the United Kingdom are different and varied.  I asked Diran Onifade, Editor In Chief:, about whether there is much scientific activity in Africa to write home about? His answer is an emphatic yes!

"Our scientists go to work every day and for as long as they are busy - we need to report it." Part of the problem, he says, is that we need to keep discussing what constitutes science reporting.  “There is research into tropical science in Nigeria, Square Kilometer Array in South Africa, clinical trials for HIV/ AIDS…examples of scientific stories emanating from Africa are endless,"

Incidentally, I don't agree with Bernard Appiah, a Ghanaian freelance journalist who presented at the session who seems to suggest that most of scientists in Africa ask: who gave you my number?  The impression is that our scientists do not co-operate with the media. My personal experience working as a journalist in South Africa for almost twenty years is that scientists, like all other professionals, want their stories told, you just need to know how to approach them.

This brings me to the next point of discussion. Is it possible that lack of reporting on scientific activities in Africa is linked to a lack of science reporting skills?

I posed this question again to Onifade. And he says while we need to develop a wider pool of science journalist, it's not true that there are no journalists to report at the moment.  "Science journalism is journalism and not science. So as long as you have properly trained journalists, you should have more capable people to report science. And we have a lot of those across the continent"

He is against what he refers to as the parachuting foreign journalists into the continent, who have no context, no knowledge of the local dynamics.

One of the suggestions finding grip at the conference is that initiatives to raise the profile of science reporting in these 'neglected regions’, is to regionalised the coverage.

Instead of countries being inward-looking in their approach, we need a co-ordinated approach. This seems to be working for ScienceNordic, for example.  According to Nina Kristiansen, chief editor of ScienceNordic, the regional approach has seen an increase in hits and their site now gets up to 160 thousand visits a month. "We want to conquer the world with science stories."

I'm thinking it is about the 'neglected regions’ flooding the rest with their stories as well.  After all it's a global world and it is imperative that the one part of the world must know what the other is doing.

Xolani Gwala, Wellcome Trust funded intern