President editorial: Award for science journalism more relevant than ever

Thursday 8 June 2017

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Five years ago I wrote about the dismantling of journalism. Several big Swedish newspapers had dropped their science desks and cut coverage of science and technology news.

Without much hullabaloo or protest, science was largely removed from the columns in broadsheet print media. Dagens Nyheter was the only nationwide newspaper with its own science desk, albeit a pared down one. Public service outlets were the only hope. Both SR (Swedish public radio) and SVT (Swedish public television) had and still have a desk covering science and technology with news, in-depth reporting and investigative journalism. And the science journal Forskning & Framsteg is still doing a good job of popularising science.

This is what I wrote at the end of 2012: “Two separate studies in the USA show that around six out of every ten Americans do not believe in the theory of evolution. What opinions are created in the sort of society where superstition comes before objectivity? When facts are disregarded, what sort of political decisions are made? The only antidote to pseudoscience is scientific facts and objectivity. I am deeply concerned. And I’m more concerned about the lack of a scientific basis in journalism than about scientific journalism itself, even if the two are indirectly linked.”

A gloomy prediction. Now, five years on, I am witnessing a situation that for the most part is even worse than I feared. With Donald Trump in the White House we have an American president who is a climate change sceptic and who questions established science and research in a whole range are areas. I am deeply concerned.

“March for Science” is a clear indication of how worried many researchers are by the trend that threatens the use of scientific facts as a basis for decision-making. The event was initiated in the USA but marches took place in 500 cities all around the world on 22 April. Scientists and the public joined forces and demonstrated on streets and squares to draw attention to the importance of science and fact-based knowledge. A unique occasion to step out of the lab and lecture hall to promote “Science not Silence.”

In a world of alternative facts, fake news and fact resistance I feel that IVA’s award for scientific journalism – the Hans Bergström Award – is more relevant than ever. This is the third consecutive year for the award. The recipient this year is PM Nilsson, political editor of the Dagens industri newspaper. He is receiving the award because, as the jury of which I am Chairman puts it, he has “actively contributed to broadening the spheres of ideas and opinions. His writing is characterised by an open and curious quest for facts, an independent perspective and a strong belief in the importance of technology and entrepreneurship for the future.”

I am happy to report that there is great interest in the award and many nominations were received. The award comes at the right time because it recognises and rewards a scientific approach as journalistic excellence.

Our recipients – DN blogger, Anders Bolling, investigative SVT journalist Bosse Lindqvist and PM Nilsson – are certainly three very different types of journalists, but all of them are driven by integrity, curiosity, a desire to question and challenge and a passion for searching for facts and the truth.

Let me conclude by quoting the wise motto of the recen