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[CHICAGO] Science journalism is thriving in parts of the developing world while coming under severe pressure in some developed countries, an international gathering of science journalists heard.

In Africa and the Middle East, journalists are reporting a greater demand for stories about science from both the public and newspaper editors.

But in the United States, the number of science journalists on the staff of newspapers has dropped sharply and some respected outlets have axed their science departments.

"We seem to be regarded as the luxury item," Pallab Ghosh, president of the World Federation of Science Journalists, told the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Chicago, United States, last week (13 February).

He was speaking at a session held to discuss the crisis science journalists believe they are facing in the United States and other developed countries, which will be discussed in depth at the sixth World Conference of Science Journalists in London in June. The US television network CNN recently closed its entire environmental, science and technology unit and the Boston Globe's once distinguished science section is gradually being eliminated, over a period of a year.

The number of dedicated science sections in newspapers fell from about 95 to 34 between 1989 and 2005, according to the US National Association of Science Writers.

In contrast, speakers from Africa, the Middle East and Latin America were optimistic about a surge of interest in science and science journalism in their countries.

"The loss in this part of the world is more or less a gain in our own part of the world," said Akin Jimoh, programme director of the Development Communications Network in Lagos, Nigeria. "Science journalism is growing [in Africa]. Associations of science journalists are being formed in quite a number of countries. They have organised conferences in their countries to influence science policy."

An informal survey of 40 African and Arab science journalists completed earlier this month (6 February) found that many perceived an increase in space allocated to science stories in the last five years, said Nadia El-Awady, past president of the Arab Science Journalists Association.

Journalists reported a growing interest in science and an increasing desire from editors to publish science articles. Paradoxically, efforts by the developed world to train and mentor developing world journalists have paid off, many said.

Other reasons cited were a new interest on behalf of media organisations in promoting science as a means of development and more international attention on issues such as global warming.

Themes such as using science for development and engaging the media in scientific research will be discussed at the African Science Communication Conference which starts today (18 February) in Gauteng, South Africa.