Christina Scott, champion of science journalism across Africa, died this week.
It is with sadness and regret that we have learnt of the untimely death of Christina Scott, a long-standing champion of science journalism across the African continent, and SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa news editor from 2007 to 2009.
Christina, who died in a car accident in South Africa, was well known for her work as science correspondent for the South African Broadcasting Corporation and, more recently, as host of a widely-followed weekly radio programme, Science Matters.
The title of the latter summed up two of her passionate beliefs: that science has a critical role to play in Africa's development, and that science journalists, through their ability to communicate the importance of science to both policymakers and, in particular, the general public, have an important role in helping this to happen.
Given these twin commitments, it is not surprising that she became one of SciDev.Net’s most enthusiastic contributors – and supporters – soon after we were founded in 2001,contributing news stories from 2003 and later taking on the task of commissioning and editing our news from across the region.
She was a demanding editor, refusing to accept badly-researched articles or rewritten press releases. She was also an inspiration to many. As one of our current contributor's comments show: "She taught me about the existence of science journalism, and how to go about it".
One of Christina's most memorable moments was an address to the final plenary of the World Conference of Science Journalists in Melbourne, Australia, in 2007, on the topic 'Reporting Science in Emerging Economies'.
As she walked up to the podium, the lights went out, at which point she lit and held up a cigarette lighter. This, she explained to her audience, represented the situation facing many science journalists in the developing world, dealing with frequent power outages, low literacy levels and a lack of government support.
She will be badly missed. And science journalism in Africa will be the poorer.
Marina Joubert ( South Africa )
1 November 2011
Thank you, David, for painting this vivid picture of Christina. She always reminded us - by example - of the importance of "props" to make talks more memorable, create compelling photos and make science more exciting.
A few months ago I invited her to facilitate a science cafe at a conference on near infrared spectroscopy. Only Christina could make such a technical topic - along with a few very serious scientists - loads of fun. And she showed up with pink, green and yellow streaks in her hair - "to match the topic we were going to discuss", she said!
Even though she was not South African by birth and grew up in Canada (to the best of my knowledge), she loved this country and she was passionate about taking science to Africa and Africa's people.
T V Padma ( India )
1 November 2011
I will begin where David ended - the unforgettable Melbourne session.
One of her best remembered quotes in the session, where she was my co-panelist, was that science journalists in many developing countries were like extremophile microbes, genetically programmed to thrive
under harsh conditions.
What she meant was in many developing countries, access to scientific institutes and to scientists, journals, or documents is not easy. Many do not get regular press releases from most universities and institutes,
or email alerts from domestic journals. They are not sometimes a welcome species, and yet manage to survive.
I met Chris first at a WCSJ in Montreal, before I joined the SDN family. I met her last at a WCSJ in Doha, when she was no longer with the SDN family. But it did not matter as we hugged each other.
At the 2011 WCSJ in Doha, she told me she was to take part in a session on 'dragons and the den' with journalists as the dragons, questioning a panel of scientists trying to communicate research findings (in their characteristic way) to the public. I joked that she made a perfect dragon and she agreed.
Chris was a brilliant science journalist, with incisive razor-sharp questions, and scintillating wit. She was full life, a bundle of endless energy, passionate about science journalism, and a fountain of humorous anecdotes about scientists and journalists.
The tributes are pouring in from friends, colleagues and mentees who credit her with transforming the face of science journalism in Africa.
Last week, she enjoyed Diwali (festival of lights) in Cape Town, and even put ‘mehendi’ (a traditional decorative art) on her hands. Chris promised me in Doha that she would organize a session on Bollywood and science in the next WCSJ, and rope me in as a panelist to discuss, rather demonstrate with a Bollywood jig, the topic.
That is how I will remember Chris - jokes and twinkling eyes. We will all miss her. May her soul rest in peace.
Munyaradzi Makoni ( Zimbabwe )
1 November 2011
Christina, I wish there was a proper way to say goodbye. I guess there is, never was. We worked together on Saturday afternoon. I did not turn up on Sunday as promised. You teased me about it. I feebly fobbed it off in my last email to you. I thought we would finish off the unfinished work on Monday. Sadly Monday came only to see you going away. Not just the occasional trip to yoga classes but for good. I was shocked. The circumstances made it even worse.
You were such a work alcoholic, a stickler for detail and small intellectual dynamite. To put it simply you were talented as a journalist. You had this amazing ability to draw people to you, to make strangers chuckle amongst themselves. I admired your spirit. You went to great lengths to make sure anybody who deserved publicity got it, especially the little known and never heard of Africa’s science researchers. The simplicity you toned down their jargon made it wholesome.
Science for you determined many things in your life. The drawings on your coffee mugs. The imagery on your t-shirts. The stickers on your small yellow car that we loved to call ‘Mama’s Taxi’. The ornaments in your house. It was all there. It was science through and through. I learnt a lot of science writing from you. I was one of the lucky few who had you telling them behind their backs to do things the right way. I guess I was one of your successful experiments in transforming ordinary journalists to tune their passion for science. I give you all the tribute. You left too soon the ‘Queen of Google’ and left our hearts are sore. Sad we won’t have the occasional chart about Jane Eyre. My heart goes Ben, Ali and Nozi your children. Still no-one can tell me why this had to happen? I am shattered.
May peace be yours in your final resting place.
Munyaradzi Makoni is a science journalist based in Cape Town. He writes for SciDev.Net, Research Africa and University World News.
Rivonala Razafison ( Africa Review (www.africareview.com) | Madagascar )
2 November 2011
Your friend and science journalist in Antananarivo looses a big friend as many others across the world do. I'll never forget you Christina. Au revoir!
Imelda Abano ( Philippines )
3 November 2011
Thanks, David for such a perfect tribute to Chris.
I will never forget her genuine friendship. She is such a brilliant mentor to all science journalists...a person I really admired.
Chris and I met at WCSJ in Melbourne where she was my roommate. I still remember what she told me at that time to "always think big and make a difference even if you are a small lady." That thought stick into my mind and I guess that made me, Chris and TV Padma closer to each other (because the three of us are small in size.)
Sadness enveloped me when I heard the news that she is now gone. But I will be strong because of her words of wisdom, which I am sure all her journalist friends will cherish.
Goodbye for now Chris. A great mentor and friend. You will be missed dearly.
kl ( United Kingdom )
3 November 2011
I am deeply saddened by this news.... my condolences go out to her family and friends. Christina's contribution to science communication was really commendable and I am sure she will be remembered as someone who did her utmost to make a difference!
Mun-Keat Looi ( SciDev.Net | United Kingdom )
5 November 2011
I was fortunate enough to work closely with Christina while she was SDN Regional Coordinator and I the News Editor. I'll never forget our morning Skype chats - she'd never fail to perk me up with her jokes and fierce dedication to quality. She always thought people - both the journalists and ourselves - could do better. It's just one of the many things I learnt from her. She will be sorely missed.
King Collence Chisita ( Afghanistan )
6 November 2011
I am deeply saddened by the untimely death of Christine. We met in 2009 at the Africa Science Communication Conference and in 2011 in South Africa at the World Science Conference. Christine was so kind and candid. May her soul rest in peace.
Nalaka Gunawardene ( Sri Lanka )
10 November 2011
Christina was passionate, articulate and had a clear vision of how science, technology and innovation could make a difference to millions of people in Africa, Asia and Latin America. She made science fun. She was also great fun to work with.
We first met at WCSJ 2007 in Melbourne, where she and I were part of a memorable plenary session on 'Reporting Science in Emerging Economies'. It was Christina’s idea to dim the meeting hall lights as we started. As David Dickson has written, she then lit a cigarette lighter – to show how science journalists in the developing world struggled daily with power outages, poor literacy, unsympathetic editors and uncaring governments.
Christina excelled in communicating science through print, web and broadcast media. She also had a fine sense of theatrical performance to engage a live audience. She knew how to shook and hook them. She had no time or patience for political correctness or glib euphemisms. I learnt much by being in her audience, or sharing a platform with her.
Once, during a panel discussing HIV/AIDS, she asked her audience how many were aged over 50 years. A few hands went up. “In South African terms, chances are you’re already dead,” she declared.
She didn’t have comforting words for those below 35 either: “You’re probably infected with HIV, and don’t know it yet — and go around giving it to others!”
That’s how she summed up the stark realities of South Africa, which has one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world. She then personalized, with a wish was that her daughter, then 15, would get through college without contracting HIV.
Christina Scott was a supernova who shone bright and fiery. As Mike Shanahan, whose tweet broke the sad news of Christina’s hasty departure, wrote: there is one star less in Africa.
But her trail would continue to blaze for a long time.
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