Journalist to Scientists: Help Us Help You

Sep 21, 2017
Heidi Singer

The future of basic science funding and how science journalism can support it was top of mind at the Department of Biochemistry’s 2017 George Connell Lecture-Dinner, featuring The Globe and Mail’s science writer, Ivan Semeniuk.

The recent report, authored by former U of T President David Naylor, advocating an increase and reorganization in federal funding for fundamental science research, is “a potentially transformative moment,” said Professor Justin Nodwell, chair of the Department of Biochemistry.  Cuts to basic science funding, and the opportunity presented by the Naylor report, means that “science journalism is more important than ever,” said Nodwell, who introduced Semeniuk at a gala dinner at the Faculty Club. “I think the more we can educate the average Canadian about what it is we do, the better. We can do it ourselves, but we also need help.”

But in order to help the public to understand the importance of basic science to human health, Semeniuk said, scientists must support journalists in a time of massive change and turmoil for the press. In 1950s, there were 102 newspapers delivered to every 100 Canadian households, he pointed out. Within the next decade, there will probably be no print newspapers left – the traditional newspaper will disappear.

Today, Google and other powerful content delivery platforms dwarf newspapers in ad revenues -- but search engines and aggregators don’t employ science reporters. And although the value of basic science to human health is enormous, Semeniuk said, the role of research is often invisible to the public – a tough sell without skilled, and well-informed journalists to write about it.

“We need to sponsor ways that independent science journalism can find its way to audiences even when capacity is diminished,” Semeniuk told 45 researchers and supporters of the Department of Biochemistry at the Sept. 20 lecture. With the increasing strength of the not-for-profit and philanthropic sector in Canada, universities could create internships, fellowships and other educational opportunities for dedicated journalists interested in telling the stories of basic science.

This was the 26th year of the George Connell Lectureship — a tribute to the esteemed biochemistry professor and former U of T president, who made countless contributions to science, both as a researcher and as an administrator. Professor Connell died in 2015; members of his family, including wife Sheila and daughter Meg, attended the dinner. Earlier in the day, Dr. Wolfgang Baumeister from the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry, spoke about an area of emerging interest to researchers in the Department of Biochemistry : cryo-electron microscopy, a very powerful technique for elucidating the structure of large molecular entities.

Mar 22 RSI Information Night
Other | 3:00pm–5:00pm
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Conference | 7:30am–3:00pm
Apr 3 The Future of Exercise is Medicine
Reception | 5:00pm–8:00pm
9 – 13
Clinical and Experimental Radiobiology Course
Course | 8:30am–5:00pm
Apr 9 Synesthesia: U of T's Annual Art Show
Other | 9:00am–5:00pm
Apr 10 Bringing a Sociological Lens to Health Professions Education Research
Workshop/Seminar | 9:00am–12:00pm


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