• SciDev.Net’s most influential stories in 2014

    Nick Ishmael Perkins

Science is having a moment. Science has been in the headlines this year in ways we have not seen for some time. Whether it is the health scares of Ebola and ineffectual antibiotics or the comet landing of the Philae mission, it seems the world’s media have barely managed a week without needing a scientist.

Even in global development, the opportunities for scientific evidence and technological innovation seem to be burning brighter than for some time. More African governments have met their target to commit one per cent of their GDP (gross domestic product) to research and development than at any other time since the African Union’s creation. The debate about the successors to the Millennium Development Goals means civil society organisations around the world are talking about data science and earth systems.

In 2014, SciDev.Net tried to reflect and help contribute to this moment. Below are ten stories that we think best capture the contribution that science is making to mainstream development.

Some of the stories were particularly popular with readers, some of them were popular with other media outlets, some became part of an interesting story of change and one or two were selected because of the impact they have had on science journalism in the global South.

Of course, every story we publish has the potential for impact and influence. Every year, we have dozens of cases where an article is referenced at policy meetings, is shared by programme managers and shapes national election agendas. But what we have below are those that showed the most potential to effect change. 


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The problems with the arguments against GM crops
This opinion piece by Margaret Karembu got to the heart of what SciDev.Net hoped to achieve with the introduction of online debates on the site. As one of a series of articles trailing our debate ‘What’s wrong with GM?’ it set out an argument underpinned by evidence and managed to exercise our readers. It became one of our most applauded articles on social media for the year. 

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Indigenous mountain farmers unite on climate change 
Good news on climate change is hard to come by. This is about as close as you will get. It describes an initiative about empowerment, common sense and potatoes. It was hugely republished by other media outlets, proving that everyone loves a ‘feel hope’ story. 


How rats become heroes in Africa
When SciDev.Net broke the story of the success of giant rats in landmine removal in Mozambique, everyone wanted a bit of it. Our story was republished on front pages and home pages around the world. This was one of our first image galleries and, in bringing the story to life, it captured the curiosity of many a reader. 

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Q&A: Jeffrey Sachs on why the SDGs are big on science
All of our Q&A interviews are exclusives. This piece was so widely circulated that I once sat in a meeting with a major foundation where they started speculating about where it originally came from. Owning the knowledge is not our concern, what is more interesting is the way that Sachs describes science’s impact on policy. 

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Big data for development: Facts and figures
The data revolution is a sprawling topic that, if we are conscientious, covers mobile operators, spying, accountable government and household surveys as a minimum. SciDev.Net’s Spotlight on the issue started with the basics though, explaining the key definitions as well as why it became part of the deliberations on the next set of global development goals after 2015 in the first place. Contributors to the Spotlight attribute the rise in their personal profiles to this collection of articles.


Solving saltwater contamination in Bangladesh
This audio slideshow is a classic example of solutions-focused journalism. It was one of the most shared stories on the site and on social media platforms. It was also crucial in shaping the way SciDev.Net would evolve its multimedia content over the year. 

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How to record and produce audio slideshows
The Practical guides aim to build science communication capacity for researchers and journalists. These resources continue to appeal to such groups long after they have been published, reflecting the dearth of materials to support science journalism training. This particular guide outperformed most of our more traditional editorial output throughout the year. 

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Interest grows in unusual Egyptian method of mosquito control
Mosquitoes were big news this year: from the advance of malaria to more temperate climates, to the continued rise of dengue and the spread of the Chikungunya virus in the Americas, all of our regional editors were interested in a mosquito story. This piece gave a global platform to innovative research in the global South, demonstrating why the Middle East and North Africa edition, only a year after its launch in Arabic, has delivered our second largest regional audience. 


Should hydropower truly be described as renewable?
This editorial asks an awkward question at a time when investment in hydropower is on the increase across the global South. It was the second most ‘favourited’ article across social media over the year.


Explore the global landscape of female researchers
In 2014, SciDev.Net moved into data journalism. This interactive package explores one of the more vexing and enduring issues across science disciplines around the world: where are the women? For those working on gender equity in science, it made visible the invisible, galvanising commitment to change — this includes the SciDev.Net editorial team who have built gender awareness into their commissioning guidelines. 

Honorable mentions


Africa’s hydropower future
Within a week of being published, this interactive data package had become one of the five most viewed pieces on the website for the year.

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Gender equality should be part of basic science training
As an editor, you dream of publishing material like this: urgent, relevant and widely shared. Research funders and regional associations have taken an interest in this piece. Time will tell if this is only talk. But for now at least, they are talking. 

Nick Perkins is the director of SciDev.Net. @Nick_Ishmael