Science Journalism in the Public Interest



Hepeng Jia has big plans for the future. He entered into his Knight Fellowship year with an impressive number of credits at both Chinese media outlets and international science magazines like Nature and, he says, graduated with a deeper understanding of science policy and its effects on science communication. “Knight offered a lot of autonomy of imagination and a wideness of vision,” he said. His fellowship year also sparked a big decision: Jia is currently completing a PhD in Science Communication at Cornell.  He plans to return to China and set up a professional science journalism graduate program, in the vein of MIT’s  Graduate Program in Science Writing or NYU’s Science, Health, & Environmental Reporting Program.

China claims the second largest scientific research economy in the world. Its spending on scientific research is second only to the United States and it’s growing. However, Jia says, China has very few trained science journalists. “There’s already a good deal of science and technology writing, but most of it is still based on propaganda,” he explained. One of the problems, he adds, is thatChina’s education system separates students into science and humanities tracks earlier than the U.S. system does; because most Chinese journalists come from the humanities track, there aren’t very many who know how to incorporate critical perspectives and social context when they report on scientific research.

“In China, there are not sufficient communication channels to link up science and the general public,”  Jia said. “We need public engagement, public involvement, and much more public scientific expertise.”  He is already in contact with a couple of different Chinese universities that might be interested in hosting Jia’s proposed program. He’s focusing on research universities because he hopes to set up the program so that students can explore scientific and technological topics in the way that the way Knight Fellows do. He hopes also to continuing to collaborating with KSJ fellows and alumni as he builds his new venture.