Science writing in Arab nations

The NASW Annual meeting in Spokane was honored to have members of the Arab Science Journalists Association as guests, and they presented a fascinating view of writing about science in another culture.

Founded in 2006, the Arab Science Journalists Association already has 79 members in 15 states, said Nadia El-Awady, the first president of the Association. She is a freelance journalist based in Egypt and former managing science editor of IslamOnline.net.

El-Awady noted the diverse cultures that exist in the 22 countries that make up the Arab world, and the contrasts between large cities such as Damascus and Cairo and more rural areas. Overall, the region has a 60 percent literacy rate, with large variations between and even within countries.

According to audience surveys, the top five science topics of interest in the Arab world are: science miracles in the Qur'an; computers; space; HIV; andglobal warming, with very little interest in stem cells and evolution.

Another significant difference is the lack of public information officers in the region, El-Awady said. While there are 184 Arab universities and 126 specialized research centers, she said that Arab science journalists find it extremely difficult to get information on current research, even when the facilities are nearby.

Partly because of that, many science stories that appear in print come from translated wire copy. In 2004 there were 15 popular science magazines published for the Arab market, she said, but 15 appear irregularly.

One of the successes has been the licensed Arab edition of PC Magazine, published since 1994, said Fida Al Jundi, vice president of the Arab Science Journalists Association, who is based in United Arab Emirates.

Al Jundi writes a column for PC Magazine, and said that Internet access in the region varies from 10 percent to 90 percent by country. He said the magazine has played an important role in guiding consumers who have few other sources of reliable tech information.

Abdelhakeem Mahmoud, a freelance journalist based in Yemen and head of the science and education department at Aden TV, added that there is a growing awareness of environmental issues in the region.

Some scientific issues come to readers in ways that people in America can hardly imagine. Zeinab Ghosn is science editor of the As-Safir daily newspaper, and she said that after the 2006 war in Lebanon her paper ran a series of articles about the unusual damage caused by high-tech Israeli weapons.

The talk was organized and moderated by Deborah Blum, professor of journalism, University of Wisconsin-Madison; and NASW's liaison with international science writing groups.

Kevin Begos is a contributing writer and podcast host for CR Magazine and contributes to Scientific American's "60-Second Science Podcast." He's won awards from Investigative Reporters and Editors, Associated Press Managing Editors and Washington Monthly for his print reporting and is a contributor to A Field Guide for Science Writers. He is based in Apalachicola, Fla.

Oct. 29, 2007

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