Daryl Ilbury

A troubling week for South African science journalism

In Eish!, Fools, Science on December 8, 2012 at 11:39 am
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Batman was shocked with the ignorance amongst the youth of the basic principles of science

It has taken a rather troubling, I’d venture to say ‘bizarre’, week in the media to shake me from my blogging passivity. The week has captured, quite succinctly, two components of the dire condition under which science journalism in this country finds itself.

In the past week, the following has happened:

  1. Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga announced at the release of the annual national assessment results that the average score in maths for Grade 9 learners (approx 14 years of age) is 13%. No, that’s not a typo, that really is thirteen percent;
  2. The Times Media Public Editor Joe Latakgomo published his opinion that it should be the press’s responsibility to remove from their pages the personal ads from people masquerading as doctors and who offer (to a very willing and receptive consumer) a combined portfolio of services normally including penis enlargement, cleaning dirty money, fixing broken marriages, and winning the lottery;
  3. The Business Day, South Africa’s leading financial daily newspaper, announced that it was shelving its weekly Health News supplement (for which I am a regular contributor), quoting budget cuts; and,
  4. The Sunday Tribune announced it was shelving all input from external writers for its Sunday Magazine supplement (in which I have a regular column writing on psychology), also quoting budget cuts.

The following is clear: on the one hand we have a desperate need for the media to help create a learning environment for South African youth and to educate adults about the dangers of pseudoscience; and on the other hand the mainstream media is stifling the science journalism needed to do just that.

On the plus side, it all segues very nicely into a piece of mine that will appear in the 21 December edition of Mail & Guardian: an adaptation of the main project I wrote for my Masters, entitled ‘The Quest of Prometheus: the state of science journalism in South Africa’. I will provide a link to it on my website on the 22nd December.

Read it. Unless of course you’re going to hide under the duvet because you believe the world will end on 21 December; in which case, like Robin, you deserve a serious smack around the head.

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