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Simplifying science for African development

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By Timothy Akintola

Science writers seek methods to enhance public understanding of science.

The system of science journalism Africa has met numerous criticisms over the years. Evidently, there has been a clamor for a needed systemic reform that will encompass the public understanding of science, so as to help in producing quality individuals that would compete in the global scene and prompt a continental development. There is however, the need for a platform that improves the public’s understanding by collaborations between the media, institutions, scientists, and general public for a driven policy implementation in science development in Africa.

Science writers and researchers have however encouraged African countries to find new suitable measures that will help to enhance the public’s understanding of science as a poignant factor for the development of the African continent. This was brought up at a webinar, “Beyond Said: Basics of Reporting in the Context of Scientific Research”, which was organized by the Development Communications (DEVCOMS) Network. During this event, both panelists and participants immensely emphasized that there was a need for media organizations and journalists to further improve the nexus that exists between scientists and the general public.

The webinar creates link between scientific research institutes and media.

According to them, this enhanced nexus is posed to help the continent with tackling the major discrepancies in their policy implementations at important moments, such as the continent’s response to imminent epidemics, as well as other health related emergencies. The Africa Science Journalism Webinar was targeted towards creating a linking bridge between scientific research institutes and the media, for enhanced reporting and public understanding among African countries. Paul Adepoju, a freelance science writer and community manager at the International Centre for Journalists noted that as a continent, we must be a lot more prepared with responses to epidemics, and the dissemination of fact-based information to the public.

On encouraging journalists to widen their knowledges on science and be open-minded towards tacitly making use of the available resources, Adepoju asserted that there was a big possibility for science stories to also front pages and top headlines, if these stories are relatable to the general public. Also. a Facilitator from SciDev.Net, Ms Jackie Okpara-Fatoye noted that science journalism has always been a specialized field, a poignant aspect of journalism that must take center stage in the African journalism. She further admitted that while science stories are not the most thrilling in the journalism space, it sure has a huge impact on our ecosystem, regarding science journalism as solution journalism.

There is a need to build journalists that will correctly report science.

Former Vice-President of World Federation of Science Journalists and Publisher of Africa Science, Technology and Innovation, Diran Onifade explained the webinar to be a continuation of the implementation of findings from a study conducted by the Development Communications Network, in partnership with AfricaSTI, as well as partners from three different African countries. Diran noted that this project was duly funded by the National Research Foundation (NRF COVID-19: Strategic Media Engagement for Public Understanding of Scientific Research, – Infectious Diseases).

Diran Onifade further noted that there was a need for the African continent to build a mass of journalists that are self-aware and can correctly report science. He admitted that most African communities are faced with numerous issues that require immense scientific attention, such as Climate Change, Food Security, electric power problems, Insecurity and many others, noting that rather than just going along with whatever every situation brings, it is important that journalists use their agenda settings and media organizations to stimulate the continent, research-wide.

The African continent needs an all-encompassing approach to thrive.

The founder of DevsComs Network, Akin Jimoh also commented that the theme of the webinar was made necessary by the research that illustrated the incoherence in science journalism evident in poor collaborations and numerous media houses. He further asserted that the African continent at large needs an all-encompassing approach to thrive. He sited that though countries like South Africa already enacted this approach, the continent at large must do more. Professor Adebayo Fayoyin, a former regional adviser for the United Nations Population Funds also noted that the webinar was an added value to public response towards emerging infectious diseases and pandemics, as well as a paradigm shift that would immensely enhance behavioral change processes.

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