I'm in Washington DC for the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual conference. It reminds me a bit of the Indian Annual Science Congress. It's open to everyone, every topic under the sun is covered, and there's a general party spirit facilitated by merry scientists with their fun science-themed accessories, and those of us who are usually the nerds of the newsrooms briefly finding ourselves amongst fellow nerds. I've been honoured to also pick up the AAAS Kavli Journalism Award for best radio programme, with my producer Rami Tzabar (picture above is of me in the top right with some of the other winners, including my hugely talented friend Amanda Gefter). Many, many thanks to the Kavli Foundation and the judges.
Being here amongst so many hardworking science journalists has also reminded me how important it is that science journalism is valued by society. We get easily distracted by the whizz-bang discoveries of big research teams, as evidenced by the gravitational waves announcement this week. But underneath the landmark research, science is a policy-setting, politically powerful and socially important beast, with the capacity to do harm as well as good. Science journalists are the only real line of defence that society has between itself and this beast. Bad science, bias and badly interpreted research are far more common than you might think, and scientists themselves (in my humble opinion) are often slow to own up to their failings. Some of the most arrogant people I have ever met have been academics, and if you went to university, you'll probably feel the same.
Since I'm knee-deep in research for my new book on women, I've been boring friends and colleagues here about it, and it has stunned me how many have shocking stories to tell about sexism and racism they have seen in science. One veteran radio presenter told me last evening that the basic fact is that lots of men hate women, and the scientific establishment includes some of the most hateful. It's this that keeps me writing. That's not to say that science isn't a wonderful thing, and the best way to understand the universe. Only that it is also human. And so long as it is human, the world will need journalists to help keep it in check.