Science Journalism in the Public Interest



Debbie Ponchner,  editor of Scientific American Español, hails from Costa Rica, where she got her start as a staff reporter at a newspaper called La Nación. “Before the fellowship I was already writing about health and genetics,” she said.  Although most of her stories ran in the health and features sections, Ponchner covered early genome sequencing and discoveries made by scientists from Costa Rica.

Her Knight Fellowship enabled her to broaden her scientific background especially in chemistry and physics. Living in Cambridge allowed her to work with scientists and observe their scientific process firsthand. What surprised her most was how long some scientific research takes. “There’s still some stuff that was just getting started when I was there 10 years ago that is only just now getting published,” she said.

In short, Ponchner said her year of learning about science at KSJ was  “more than I expected.”

After the fellowship, Ponchner returned to La Nación and founded its first-ever science section, which is still running today. Running the science section entailed a lot of training fellow editors and reporters to report on scientific tops. One of the people she trained is currently running the section today. After a few years, Ponchner was promoted to managing editor of La Nación, which meant more responsibilities and much less time reporting on science.

When she heard that Scientific American was starting a new Spanish-language vertical, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to get back into covering science.  SciAm Español just celebrated its one-year anniversary and is still growing.  They have  incorporated both translations of Scientific American articles and original Spanish-language reporting on science in Latin America.  Ponchner says the availability of high-quality science reporting in Spanish and other languages is crucial, because English so thoroughly dominates the scientific papers. “English is the language of science internationally,” she said. “But there are a lot of people who are interested in science but don’t speak English. There are also a lot of scientists, who speak English because if you’re a scientist, you *have* to speak English, but feel more comfortable reading about science in Spanish.”