Science journalists learn of scientific renaissance at Doha conference

Last week, over 700 science journalists from around the world made their way to Doha, Qatar, for the World Conference of Science Journalists. This meeting takes place every two years, and is the largest gathering of science writers in the world. Established in the early 1990s, this is the first time that a Middle Eastern country has hosted the conference, and it was quite an eye opener.


American-Egyptian Nobel Prize winner Ahmed Zewail delivers a keynote address at the World Conference of Science Journalists.

Firstly, the large number of participants shows clearly that reports of the demise of science journalism seem to have been widely exaggerated. But it’s not only the number or participants that’s impressive: it’s also where they came from. Thanks in part to grants from the Qatar Foundation, 90 countries were represented with around 50% of participants coming from the developing world.

One real eye-opener was the state of science in the Middle East. Originally scheduled to be hosted in Cairo, the conference moved to Doha as a result of the Arab Spring, and the changes in the Arab world played a large part in the proceedings. Among the keynote speakers was the American-Egyptian Nobel Prize winner Ahmed Zewail, who pointed out that one of the first actions of the new Egyptian government was the creation of a new science city outside Cairo – a message that resonated in Doha since the conference was held in Qatar’s own education city. There was much talk of renaissance, gentle reminders to those of us from the west that while Europe was going through some dark ages, the Arab world was making huge advances in science: advances that tend to get glossed over in western text books. There was recognition too that although the Middle East has much to be proud of in its scientific heritage, the region cannot live in the scientific past.

In establishing the Qatar foundation and setting itself the goal of becoming a modern knowledge-based economy by 2030, the Qatari government has recognised the value of science and education. In turn, by enabling the WCSJ to move from Egypt to Doha under difficult circumstances, the Qatar Foundation recognised the value of good science communication. Dr. Mohammed Fathy Saoud, President of the Qatar Foundation, summed it up very nicely. “It is part of our mandate at Qatar Foundation, and as scientists the world over, to make science available and accessible to the people in our communities,” he said. “Science, technology and medical research are not sustainable if we cannot make the humanitarian and social connection.” The 700 journalists and science communicators assembled in Doha last week would all concur.

by James Gillies