World Federation of Science Journalists

Colombian university converts online reporting course into a book


June 9, 2011

The front cover has those two cartoon figures in a desert landscape familiar to anyone who’s looked into the online reporting course on the World Federation of Science Journalists’ website. One asks, ¿Qué haces? The other, seated by a fire, answers, “Esperando una idea para una historia.”

Divulgar la ciencia
Book cover
“What are you doing?”

“Hoping for a story idea.”

So starts another Ibero-American conversion into printed book form of the WFSJ’s online tool. This one, in Spanish, is Divulgar la ciencia: Curso de periodismo científica (Popularizing Science: a course in science journalism), a production of the editorial department of Colombia’s Universidad de Antioquia.

A Portuguese-language version of the course was previously published in 2009 by Museu da Vida-Casa de Oswaldo Cruz in Rio de Janeiro as a teaching tool for its one-year course in science communication.

Silvia Garcia, part of the Colombian editorial team at Antioquia, says the course book came about because she and her colleagues “realized that in our country the popularization of science was practically non-existent, because there is no orientation in our university system toward communicating science to the public. Nor does it train professional publicists. So we decided to start a series of publications to do this.”

The Ibero-American world really took hold of the course. The translation into Spanish was accomplished by Mexican journalist Horacio Salazar, and adapted for Colombian use by Lisbeth Fog, the SciDev.net correspondent there; “this was before we took an interest in the book,” Garcia says.

The Colombian book was adapted from the online Spanish version of the course translated out of the original English by Mexican journalist Horacio Salazar. The conversion from online to print was handled by Lisbeth Fog, the SciDev.net correspondent in Colombia. This happened after the editorial department at Antioquia found out about the course, “and of its publication [in book form] in Brazil, an edition which got much applause,” Garcia says.

“We got really excited about publishing this in our country, as the first volume in our series, so we contacted WFSJ, specifically Jean-Marc Fleury, who very generously authorized our publication.”

The mission – popularization of science where none existed before – comes through in the special preface Fog wrote for the Colombian book version. It’s title is “The challenge: to educate the public through science journalism.”

The technical specifications of the book for copyright registration, emphasize this theme as well: “It is increasingly clear that scientists, to fulfil their true purpose, require publicity for their work, understood as the set of actions that allow the average reader to know and understand what happens in science, technology and research, and can thus participate in the process of production, circulation, appropriation and use of knowledge.

“However, despite its importance, the dissemination of science is not yet a profession in the countries of Latin America, including Colombia, and usually those who disseminate science must work more from intuition and empiricism. This is the situation which justifies the publication.”

It’s aimed at teachers, students and working journalists, but also “provides guidance to writers worried about how to popularize ideas in their respective disciplines,” according to the book’s official goals.

The price – 26,000 pesos, about 15 U.S. dollars – aims for revenues calculated to cover only the production costs to the university. The Brazilian version is free for libraries and stakeholders at the Rio de Janiero museum.

Luisa Massarini, the SciDev.net correspondent in Brazil, says she was “not exactly an editor” for the Portuguese version, but “organized” the book as a printed publication after the museum decided to use the online course. Portuguese “was actually the first language that has a printed version … I reviewed it both in terms of language and of ‘technical’ terms of science journalism,” Massarini says.

It includes the same chapters as the online course, and “some adaptation for the local
reality and some examples of mass media in Portuguese,” she says.


Visit the online course page