HCIAS Blogcast: Michele Catanzaro on Science Journalism

Welcome back to the HCIAS Blogcast! This is a series of posts on the HCIAS blog where we summarize some of the key points from our most recent podcast episode. This week, HCIAS Publications editor Dr. Héctor Álvarez Mella interviews Dr. Michele Catanzaro, a well known science journalist and professor at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. With publications spanning prestigious national and international outlets such as the journal Nature and El Periódico in Spain, Dr. Catanzaro’s writing has garnered widespread recognition, including accolades such as the Premio International del Rey de España, the European Science Writer of the Year Award, and the BBVA Innovadata Award.

Michele Catanzaro (Image credit: HITS)

The interview begins with a biographical question, focusing on Dr. Catanzaro’s reasons for pursuing a career in journalism after completing a PhD in Physics. He explains that in his academic journey, he has always straddled the line between the exact sciences and humanities/social sciences. Unlike many physicists, he was not primarily drawn to the subject because of an interest in its substantive content, but rather because of its capacity to create models that explain complicated processes in the real world. The subject of his doctoral thesis, complex networks, is a good example of how these models can prove enormously useful, as they were employed during the COVID-19 pandemic to explain and predict the spread of the virus. During his studies Dr. Catanzaro began to collaborate with journalists on projects and over time this side of his work took on more and more importance until after graduating he decided he would like to pursue a career in science journalism.

For Dr. Catanzaro, science journalism is much more than simply writing about the latest scientific breakthroughs. His work has always had a heavy component of investigative reporting. As an example, he discusses the case of Óscar Sánchez, a Spanish citizen who was wrongly convicted of drugs smuggling in Italy and sentenced to 12 years in prison. The basis for this conviction was a phonetic analysis of his voice which was compared with a recording of the drug trafficker, however, on closer analysis it was revealed that there were serious scientific errors with the forensic linguistics used in the case. After a year, a team of investigators, including Dr. Catanzaro, were able to prove his innocence. This was a classic case illustrating the importance of science journalism, in that it had obvious and important implications in the real world, but also required the capacity to engage with abstract scientific theory to unpick what had gone wrong.

Another important branch of science journalism is reporting focussed on the practical realities of the processes through which scientific knowledge is generated. In this context, Dr. Catanzaro mentions a recent publication of his in the journal Science about ‘citation cartels’. Along with his collaborators, he discovered a number of researchers were engaged in questionable behaviors, like working with predatory journals, all seemingly with the intent to manipulate the quantity of citations they received and thereby increase their standing (and by extention the ranking of the University at which they worked) on scientific indexing services.

As the coordinator of the PerCientEx (Periodismo Científico de Excelencia) project—dedicated to promoting excellence in science journalism and combating misinformation— Dr. Catanzaro advocates for fostering a robust ecosystem of high-quality information and journalism. Recognizing the lack of professional connections between journalists in the Ibero-American sphere, he emphasizes the need to establish a network for Spanish-speaking journalists and curate a comprehensive database of exemplary journalism in Spanish.

In a rapidly evolving landscape marked by the proliferation of social media influencers and alternative voices in science communication, Dr. Catanzaro acknowledges that in some senses a more open information ecosystem is a positive step, however, he voices concerns over the diminishing space for independent journalism and the challenges posed by faltering traditional business models. He stresses that independent science journalism characterized by thorough investigation and critical inquiry still is, and will always remain, vital.

This HCIAS Blogcast has been just a short recap of a wide-ranging and thought-provoking discussion. If you would like to learn more about our guest and his work, you can listen to the whole episode here.

If you would like to know more about Dr. Catanzaro’s work you can find out more here.

OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
HCIAS Blog (March 26, 2024). HCIAS Blogcast: Michele Catanzaro on Science Journalism. HCIAS Blog. Retrieved July 25, 2024 from https://doi.org/10.58079/w467

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