Nobel prize-winners, authors and editors aplenty attended the annual Scientists meet the Media party in the Royal Society last night, marking the 26th anniversary of the very first gathering in the Science Museum to foster mutual understanding between the inhabitants of Fleet Street and Britain’s laboratories.
Leading figures from media and science gathered for champagne and canapes in the world’s oldest scientific academy at the annual event with the Science Museum, supported by Wired UK, and sponsored by Johnson & Johnson Innovation.
During the speeches, Nobelist Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society, said: ‘Science increasingly permeates all of our lives and all of our societies’ and so ‘the public should share in the fascination of science and the amazing discoveries that continue to be made’.
Referring to articles about intelligent animals – Wikie the ‘talking’ killer whale who can mimic human words, and a sheep who can recognise celebrities such as Barack Obama – Sir Venki commented that although this ‘may seem frivolous’, it does provide insights into how brains works and diseases that affect the brain.
He thanked the journalists responsible for bringing these scientific stories to the public: ‘We scientists are funded largely by public funds and it is our duty to talk about our work to the broadest possible audience. And you, our media colleagues, are an essential part of this transfer of information.’
Greg Williams, Editor-in-chief, Wired, said: ‘it is important for scientists and journalists to share a curiosity about the world, to understand it and explain it. It is good for us to collaborate in sharing knowledge for the greater good.’
After a series of scientific jokes, Williams ended with an evocative appeal to everyone present: it is ‘important that we tell stories about science’s boundless frontier’.
Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs, Science Museum Group, stood in for Ian Blatchford, who was in Edinburgh for the latest stop in the tour of Tim Peake’s Soyuz spacecraft.
Highfield said that: ‘In the world of museums, we can use a more powerful and ancient language to connect with our 5.5 million people than just words alone. We use objects and archives.
‘We have seven million or so, and nothing can better convey the white-knuckle dangers of space travel than Tim Peake’s burnt little capsule.
Or the sophistication of space science than the 8-metre-tall engineering model of BepiColombo, which will be launched later this year on its seven-year mission to Mercury and was unveiled today in the Science Museum.’
Guests then heard from Seema Kumar, Vice President of Innovation, Global Health and Policy Communication at Johnson & Johnson Innovation.
The event which followed the annual ‘Oscars for science journalism’, organised by the Association of British Science Writers, ABSW, included their most prestigious award.
The lifetime achievement award went to the late Steve Connor, represented at the gathering by his widow Ines. Steve Connor had a distinguished record of investigative reporting – focusing recently on the intersecting fields of biology and medical research, such as gene editing – for the Independent and i, but also for The Sunday Times and The Daily Telegraph, where he was recruited by Roger Highfield from New Scientist.
In his introduction to the posthumous award, former Guardian Science Editor Tim Radford said: ‘Steve Connor was helpful and considerate to colleagues, and scrupulously honest and fair. He was always the realist, always the moralist, always a good colleague, but above all always the good reporter.’
Among the distinguished figures present were: Sir Michael Berry, winner of the Ig Nobel prize for frog levitation and Bristol University mathematical physicist; Chris and Uta Frith, leading figures in neuroscience and psychology; Sir David Spiegelhalter, Cambridge University statistician; rapper and comedian Alex Lathbridge; Wired’s Joao Medeiros; Emma Kohring and Frederick Wittock of Johnson & Johnson Innovation; Lord Rees, Astronomer Royal; Raymond Dwek, Dame Fran Ashcroft and Sir John Krebs of Oxford University; and Sir Philip Campbell, formerly editor in chief of Nature.
Leading science and mathematics authors were present including: Alex Bellos; Gaia Vince; Adam Rutherford; Jo Marchant; Phil Ball; Raj Persaud; and Angela Saini, as well as TV presenters Helen Czerski; Hannah Fry; Jen Gupta; Kevin Fong, along with the former BBC Tomorrow’s World presenters, Viv Parry and Carmen Nasse; Andrew Cohen and Deborah Cohen of BBC Studios and the BBC radio science unit; and Alok Jha, former ITN reporter who now works for Wellcome.