When I first started reporting on science, one of my main goals was to show the side of South Africa that I saw: one in which intelligent and talented men and women of all races and backgrounds were using science to address the country’s problems or to understand the universe, sometimes both.
That hasn’t changed, but it now has a new dimension: we need to introduce science into the national debate, otherwise we cede the space to lobbyists or political interests – whether it is fracking, nuclear technologies, or whether homosexuality is “unAfrican” (the Academy of Sciences of South Africa’s consensus report says it isn’t).
If scientists – and academics more broadly – do not contribute what they know, then important decisions will be taken without evidence, without the input of the experts in these fields.
But to do that, as well as share a facet of South Africa that many people within its borders and without do not see, scientists need to be able to communicate their science in a way that is accessible and understandable.
That is what Science Voices is all about: teaching postgraduate scientists around the country how to communicate their science and their stories.
Science Voices: The Best Post–graduate Science Writing is in its second year, and you are holding in your hands a supplement of 19 articles which range from post-harvest technologies used on Limpopo’s indigenous bananas to how the secrets of black holes could generate electricity.
In our selection, we tried to include a diversity of universities and subjects – both to spread the training and to give readers a taster of some of the amazing and relevant science happening in the country.
These master’s and doctoral candidates gave of their time and expertise, eager to learn a new skill. Writing science for a popular audience is a skill, and something that most students are not taught.
The point of Science Voices wasn’t to receive the entries and then rewrite them. If I’d done that, the postgraduates would have had their work published, but they wouldn’t have learnt anything.
Instead, it was a process of to-ing and fro-ing: the student would write, I would edit, ask questions, encourage them to write
in a narrative style and send it back to them for revision. In some instances this cycle happened five or six times.
What made this year of Science Voices different from last year’s was the level of co-ordination at university level. We had an increase in the number of institutions participating, with many organising a mini-Science Voices inhouse and pre-selecting and coaching the candidates their institutions put forward. This is great: the more training that postgraduates have to write about their research, the better.
Many people were instrumental in the continued success of this project: Angela Quintal and Moshoeshoe Monare for supporting me; Terance Winson and his advertising team for finding the advertising to make it viable; Lebo Mautloa for the beautiful cover; Paul Botes for the photos; Ben Kelly for his negotiation skills; Ansie Vicente and her science background for the indispensable second set of eyes and “evil edit”; SciDev.Net for their initial science communication course offered to Science Voices candidates; and to all the postgraduate students who entered.
These 19 scientists are a credit to South Africa’s education system: intelligent, hardworking people who are passionate about what they do and excited to bring new knowledge into the world.
Thank you. Without you, this project wouldn’t have been possible.