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Vol. XXVI, 3rd Quarter
July –September 2008

Science communicators make the headline
Join DOST’s 50 Men and Women of Science

science communicatorsThey often chase headline news materials. Last Sept. 26, they were the news.

Four journalists who dedicated themselves to reporting science and technology related developments with methodical persistence and flair were honored by the Department of Science and Technology last Sept. 26 at the Manila Hotel. The journalists-a broadcaster, two veteran columnists, and an investigative reporter-joined the ranks of DOST’s 50 Men and Women of Science as part of the celebration of DOST’s 50th anniversary.

“Journalists are, at heart, story tellers,” says Juan Mercado, a columnist of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and its sister publication, the Cebu Daily News, and writes syndicated column for Sun-Star Cebu, Bohol Chronicle, and other community papers.

Journalists like him do not really choose to write about S&T, but are given beats to cover, he said. But “in coverage, the reporter discovers a science or technology aspect. He ferrets out its significance and relevance-both for editors who are media’s gatekeepers and policy makers-to reach citizens,” he explains.

Such ability to draw what’s important and relevant and tell them in simple language, among other things, earned for Mercado the appreciation of the science community.  

Meanwhile, Angelo Palmones, host of DZMM’s science-oriented program “Bago Yan, Ah!”, says that “science encompasses other fields of advocacy, especially on the environment.” He explains that the more he understands science, the more he appreciates it, which makes it easier to communicate his messages.

Queena Lee-Chua argues that “In today’s world, knowledge of S&T is indispensable”.  A noted columnist, book author, and professor who delivers her advocacy in multi-media platforms such as print, radio, television, Internet, and even via texting, Dr. Lee-Chua believes that “for our country to advance substantially, people need to be literate and numerate in S&T.”

Posthumous recognition went to Jose Burgos, who produced multi-awarded reports on science and agriculture. His columns in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Today, and Business Star focused on agriculture and environment. He also wrote science-related articles as a special correspondent while serving as president/publisher and editor-in-chief of the Journal Group of Publications. His program “Sa Kabukiran” over DZMM was awarded “Most Outstanding Agriculture Program” in 1996.

Communication and science culture
Lee-Chua is convinced that communication can significantly help in developing a science culture in the country. “By making S&T down-to-earth, less abstract, and more ‘real life,’ good science communication can help bring about a true science culture in the country,” she said.

Mercado, meanwhile, echoed Philippine communication guru Crispin Maslog who said that science is necessary for national development, and journalists “are the bridge between scientists and the people.”

Palmones believes that applying science in reporting will not only make the reporter competent and his report credible but will also help in ensuring that justice is achieved, as in police cases.

Mercado see it the same way, saying the science beat stands as a “welcome exception in Philippine media today” because other beats “are still fossilized hand-me-downs, from previous generations.” But he clarifies that in whatever beat, whether science, politics, ecology, or ethnic conflicts, it is the journalist’s ability to see the significance and relevance that separates the seasoned ones from the “kids”.

Among the 50 Men and Women of Science
So how do they feel being recognized as among DOST’s 50 Men and Women of Science?

Mercado doesn’t consider it a personal recognition, but a recognition of the vision of the papers he writes for, particularly in “giving editorial elbow room to write for readers nationwide on implications of science on their lives.” That it came in the “twilight of his journalistic career,” he thinks future recognition may be better given to younger journalists who show promise. “Those kids need a boost,” he says.

In Lee-Chua’s case, the recognition adds up to the long list of S&T-related and other awards she has so far received. But she feels honored and is grateful to DOST for the recognition.

On the other hand, Palmones says the recognition challenges him to live up to the expectations of the jurors and S&T stakeholders. “But I do believe there are more qualified communicators who deserve this recognition,” he said.

Advice to younger communicators
To the hopefuls who dream of making a break in S&T communication, Mercado gives a thumb rule: “Read, read, read. Then, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.”

Palmones is convinced that science communication is important to all sectors in a developing economy, and believes that science journalists will always be relevant and essential. “But to become more effective and competent, there is one strict requirement. It is called passion”.

Lee-Chua explains it is important to first “know your stuff.” This means reading up on science to become familiar with the basics of agriculture, chemistry, physics, health, medicine, etc.  “Find ways to make your stories interesting,” and suggests that S&T journalists should use devices such as metaphors and stories, and to learn how to use data like statistics. Above all, “write with passion!”

The recognition of 50 Men and Women of Science is a tribute to the people who excelled in various fields and contributed to the development of S&T in the country over the last 50 years.