World Federation of Science Journalists

Iranian science editor takes on Farsi version of WFSJ online science journalism course

June 30, 2010

Pouria Nazemi is an amateur astronomer in Tehran, and he’s been at it for 16 years.

He’s also science editor for Jam-e-Jam, Tehran’s largest newspaper, and he’s agreed to translate the World Federation of Science Journalism’s online reporting course from English into Farsi, the language of Iran. When it’s finished, Nazemi’s version will be the eighth language on the site.

In his spare time he teaches at the Nature and Night Sky Institute and the Zaferaniye Educational Observatory (among other astronomy centres) before returning to his home office. It’s a busy place – he translates books on science and journalism, he blogs, he reads about science, and he writes for Nojum (“Persian Astronomy”) Magazine where he’s a member of its editorial board.

Farsi translator Pouria Nazemi ready to go to air on Iran's Night Sky TV show
“It all keeps me awake many nights until the dawn of the next day,” he says.

He’s been running the science desk at Jam-e-Jam since 2006 and explains that his newspaper’s name means “Cup of Jamshid,” a bowl or cup belonging to Persia’s first king: “According to legends, Jamshid saw all the news of the world in this magical cup.”

The translation of the WFSJ course comes none too soon, he says, because, “Scientific awareness is growing in Iran. Because Iran’s younger generation found itself “faced with modern science, and adapted to it” after the 1979 revolution, “the scientific method became familiar to people,” and the reporting had to catch up.

He says there has been particular interest in engineering, in chemistry, and in medical research. As to his own avocation, “astronomy and amateur astronomy are growing very fast.”

Nazemi is no stranger to translation. He has produced a Farsi version of Mathematics: a Very Short Introduction by Timothy Gowers, one of Oxford University Press’s series of “Short Introductions.” A reviewer for the mathematics magazine +Plus calls the book “a rigorous and challenging description, by one of the greatest pure mathematicians alive.” Nazemi’s university degree is in pure mathematics, so he fell into this translation naturally.

He is also translating A Field Guide for Science Writers into Farsi. It’s an official publication of the U.S. National Association of Science Writers, co-edited by the WFSJ board member Deborah Blum.

Bridging the gap between English and Farsi is more than just working with words, Nazemi says; it involves “cultural adaptation” as well.

“I must add some tips; take into account problems that we face here.”

Such as? Well, Iranian research centres and some scientists (like their counterparts everywhere) “would like articles to just reflect their point of view. But in Iran, we must try to explain that we are observers and reporters,” he says, not part of their team.

“Another problem goes back to the science journalists themselves. Because we don’t have academic training here, many people who entered this job … sometimes just report anything they are told,” without doing their own checking. “And so they let unreal science news go to press.

“So pseudoscience is growing in our society. This is one of the reasons I am going to translate the WFSJ course.”

Nazemi is not alone in his concerns. He says because of the growing interest in science (coupled with growing Internet access), Iranian research organizations have conducted workshops on science journalism.

Along with two colleagues he taught at an Iranian Space Agency workshop which focused on online writing about science, providing examples of online science writing, and outlining principles of science writing and analyzing the profile of web audiences.

Online version of the newspaper Jam-e-Jam
As well as organizing and editing stories for his newspaper’s science section, his own writing has been honoured. At the 2007 Iran National Press Festival, he shared the prize for best science writing with a story titled “The new Pope and his challenges with modern science.”

“It was written few days after the Vatican named Cardinal Ratzinger as the new Pope. I provided a short history of the Vatican and science, and the relationship between Pope John Paul II and science. I also talked about the new Pope’s view of science and challenges that maybe arise between the Catholic Church and science.”

Science journalism in Iran has a vigorous though sometimes rocky track record, stretching back to the country’s first newspaper in the 19th century, which had science stories from its first issue onward.
In more recent history, after the 1979 revolution Danestaniha magazine was launched and reached a circulation of 140,000 monthly even during the harsh eight years of war with Iraq. Then it went under, was bought out, and relaunched last year. Other Iranian magazines about science are Daneshmand (“Scientist”), Mashin, an automotive magazine, Inventor, as well as Nojum, which has been publishing for 20 years.

“So science and talking about science is always alive in the Iranian media, but looking at it as ‘science journalism’ is new for us,” Nazemi says.

He expects his translation of the WFSJ course will take “a few months,” as he juggles astronomy teaching, editing for Jam-e-Jam and writing for an astronomy show on Iranian TV.