The Arab world needs science bloggers to counter spin in the mainstream media, says Rayna Stamboliyska. So why are they so hard to find?
Cross-posted from House of Wisdom, a blog from Nature Middle East
When I started browsing the web for science blogs from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, I didn’t think it would be such an adventure. And for a quest, it was one.
I thus started entering keywords in the search engine. The outcome was disappointing: one or two blogs in English popped up. I thought it is because I was only searching in English, but French and Arabic searches did not harbour significantly more results. When I asked friends to point me out my wrongdoing, they just laughed and the comment invariably was: “Dear, spare your efforts, there is no such thing like science blogging in the region.”
The blogging culture in the Arab world thus seems to mainly touch opinionated people with a say in politics and economy. There is nothing wrong with this. I’ll spare you a lecture on the importance of social media for changing the society we live in, this has been thoroughly discussed elsewhere. Loads of bits and ink have also been spilled to demonstrate the importance of science blogging. Given the paucity of science blogs in the Arab World, I guess a reminder is more than useful.
Why write about science? Reason #1: scientists get to speak directly to the public. Reason #2: lay scientists or enthusiasts engage and keep up to date with developments in various scientific fields. Reason #3: open discussions on research topics are promoted among peers.
This sounds great, motivating and all that. There is, however, a recurrent feature pointing its nose from this shortlist: scientists should initiate and nurture this dynamics, ideally complemented by active science writers and journalists.
If you are reading this piece, it means you are aware that science is an emerging field in the Arab world. Funding is far from sufficient to secure comfortable or even basal equipment for research. Moreover, political influence in science making and communication is a fundamental characteristics in the region. Doctoral degrees are, however, greatly appreciated in all MENA countries. Additionally, journalism and mass communication are a frequently taught discipline. But science and journalism do not really mingle, after all.
If you browse the websites of major universities in the Arab countries, you realize that they are rarely updated. Even if they are so, press releases about endeavours and achievements seldom land on journalists’ desks. Very often, the few science-related articles one stumbles upon in a newspaper are just a translation from foreign sources. This clearly gives the bitter taste of “nothing happens in our part of the world.” Even such admirable initiatives as publishing 50,000 PhD theses online and using the platform as a networking hub finally fail: the dedicated website does not exist at all.
Rayna Stamboliyska is finalizing a PhD in Genetics and Bioinformatics. She is a science blogger at SciLogs.com’s Beyond the Lab, which looks at emerging ways of doing science. She also blogs at Australian Science and is an editor at Bioinfo-fr.net. In addition, Rayna writes for Global Voices Advocacy, FutureChallenges.org and Jadaliyya. Despite what you might think, she is very much a human being. She tweets as @MaliciaRogue.