Global Impacts of Journalism and Nature’s Opinion

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In early 2020, scorching temperatures and prolonged droughts were fueling bushfires across Australia. The fires ultimately killed around 400 people and over a billion animals – and prompted fire specialist David Bowman and his colleagues to write an article in Nature urging the Australian government to establish a national forest fire monitoring agency. Compiling comprehensive data on the magnitude and consequences of fires, they argued, was key to managing future fires and building resilience to climate change.

The article had an impact. Bowman, of the University of Tasmania, Hobart, found he was widely shared by federal groups concerned with the wildfires, including the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment. In July 2021, the Australian Research Data Commons, which supports research infrastructure, announced funding of AU $ 5 million (US $ 3.6 million) for national forest fire data. “I can’t claim that the article only changed the policy, but it certainly really helped kick-start a major initiative,” Bowman said.

Like Bowman’s play, some Natureopinions and journalism articles end up influencing politics, research paths or the careers of researchers. Our editors documented this impact on the “real world” in a collaborative project with London-based data science company Altmetric and funded by Google’s Digital News Innovation Fund. We publish a series of reports on what we found.

In it, we present five examples, spanning five continents, of articles that have influenced research. This global impact is important to us, as we strive to cover and represent research worldwide and to present a diversity of researchers. The articles highlight how journalism and opinion can make real change – and therefore stress the responsibility of editors to carefully and fairly consider who and what we cover.

Uruguay: “They are starting to remember that there are women”

For 30 years, chemist María Fernanda Cerdá worked at the University of the Republic in Montevideo, Uruguay, where she uses plant pigments to build inexpensive solar cells. But several changes came after Nature presented her work and experience as a female chemist in a male dominated field.

When Cerdá submitted grants for previous research projects, funding agencies repeatedly turned her down, she says. Sometimes they told him that a male colleague was the mastermind behind the proposals – something the colleague himself never claimed. “The comment was always, ‘Yes, maybe she is a very good mother, maybe she is a good person to stay at home,” Cerdá said. She changed her research area for something her colleague did not study – to no avail. “Every time I get a no, I say OK, I’ll try anyway,” she said with a laugh. “Because it’s me. “

After the Nature story, Cerdá received a wave of messages from other female scientists of her generation in Uruguay who had felt lonely and were delighted to hear about someone like them. “You can read happiness,” Cerdá said. “Many women from my country – we work and we are invisible. She has also been invited to sit on doctoral defense committees and contacted by potential collaborators in Spain and India who have discovered her research through history. “It’s like I exist now,” she said.

One of those who read the article was Michael Grätzel, an electrochemist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, who first designed the type of low-cost solar cell that Cerdá builds. Grätzel knew Cerdá – she had visited her lab to learn a protocol – but reading the article prompted her to donate for her research. Grätzel wrote to Nature that he was “deeply moved by the Nature history ”and called Cerda’s research efforts“ heroic ”.

Cerdá plans to use the funds to build a larger solar panel and test if it can charge a power bank, which she hasn’t had the money to do for two years. It has also been featured on television, radio and print media in Uruguay. “Until last year, the science of my country had the face of a man,” she said. “Now they may be starting to remember that there are women.”

Zimbabwe: open doors in biotechnology

Like Cerda, Brighton Samatanga has seen a resurgence of interest in his work after being the subject of a short profile. Samatanga had left a professorship in Leipzig, Germany, to return home to Zimbabwe in March 2021 and open the country’s first private research institute, the Biotech Institute in Harare. Samatanga intends the institute to research antibiotic resistance, use CRISPR to make crops more resistant to pests and diseases, and develop diagnostic tests for SARS-CoV-2, HIV and tuberculosis.

After the article appeared in May 2021, Samatanga was featured in the media, including The herald, Zimbabwe’s largest newspaper; TimesLIVE, a leading South African news site; and German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. This has led to potential collaborations with government departments in Zimbabwe and with the University of Zimbabwe. This helped the institute gain equipment and employees, and generated “significant interest from German investors,” says Samatanga. “It opened doors for us and put us on the map. “

United States: stalkers expelled

In 2019, the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) changed its bylaws to allow members to be kicked out for misconduct, including harassment. Ejecting a limb would be important, as it would take away the prestige and influence that NAS membership confers.

Sixteen months later, Nature reported that no one had been kicked out and no one had filed a complaint, even though the SIN included members who were the subject of public reports of harassment. These include astronomer Geoffrey Marcy, who resigned from the University of California at Berkeley in 2015, and evolutionary geneticist Francisco Ayala, who left the University of California at Irvine in 2018 – in both cases. after investigations revealed they had sexually harassed women. .

François-Xavier Coudert, chemist at the CNRS in Paris, replied to Naturenews from by Critically tweet about NAS politics. NAS President Marcia McNutt responded on Twitter: “You and the others feel strongly @fxcoudert. I’m waiting for you to file a complaint. McNutt cannot file one, as she serves as an arbitrator if the complaint is appealed.

After this exchange, Coudert filed complaints against four NAS members, including Marcy and Ayala. The other two were Inder Verma, a biologist who resigned from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., In 2018 after allegations of sexual harassment, which he denies; and Sergio Verdú, an electrical engineer who was fired from Princeton University, New Jersey, in 2018 after investigations revealed he sexually harassed a graduate student and violated a policy banning consensual relations with students.

At least two other scientists have also filed complaints after Nature published the report. The NAS revoked Marcy’s membership in May 2021 because Nature reported in a follow-up article, and Ayala’s in June 2021. “At least three other cases are pending,” McNutt wrote to Nature in September 2021.

Southeast Asia: Building Open Science

In November 2020, psychologist Sandersan Onie wrote an article in which he described a vision for building strong open science in Asia, Latin America and Africa – a vision that would address common challenges in these regions. . These included a lack of funding and government policies that push for quantity of publications over quality.

The article sparked a chain of events for Onie, an Indonesian postdoctoral researcher working at the Black Dog Institute in Sydney, Australia. Onie is currently in talks with the World Health Organization and the United Nations cultural organization, UNESCO, for collaboration. It is hosting a virtual conference, Advancing Science in Southeast Asia, in October 2021. The conference is designed to be accessible, with a registration fee of US $ 2 and subtitles in 7 major Southeast Asian languages . “This event is the realization of the principles described in the Commentary, in which open science is not only explicitly discussed, but integrated throughout the scientific process,” says Onie. He is discussing the organization of a similar conference with a group in Latin America.

Indonesian Higher Education Director General Ir Nizam asked Onie to write the country’s first policy brief on how to encourage open science in higher education, for example by counting it in assessments performance and accurately assessing the quality of open access journals.

Onie also found that the conversations and connections sparked by the articulation of his vision helped him integrate open science into his own research, developing Indonesia’s first national suicide prevention strategy. He was able to lead large focus groups to explore what suicide prevention data should be collected and made available to people in various fields, including education, technology, local government, and religious leadership. Writing her article “allowed me to do a job that I could only dream of doing before,” said Onie.


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