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These are the science topics we have discussed most in 2023

Every week, the Science Media Centre Spain team reads hundreds of headlines and news alerts for potential news to cover. Our specialty is to generate useful content on science topics that ignite public debate; therefore, we take great care in the selection of stories and spend a good proportion of our time debating what we should and should not give. To end the year, we wanted to tell you part of our intrahistory.

21/12/2023 - 12:26 CET
 
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Some of the topics we have covered this year have had an impact on regional, national and international press. We continue!

Laura Chaparro 

This has undoubtedly been the year of AI: almost every week we have covered some research on this topic. Beyond AI, I would highlight the agreements reached at international summits. The most recent one is from the COP28 in Dubai, but I would especially emphasize the Oceans Treaty, which took more than fifteen years to come to fruition. At SMC Spain, we are a small editorial team and do not have (at the moment) special correspondents, so following these agreements from a distance, with the time difference, especially during weekends, nights, and/or holidays, tests your love for the profession. 

Eternal thanks to Guillermo Ortuño and Carlos García-Soto for following the negotiations of the Oceans Treaty from New York and letting me know around five in the morning on Sunday, March 5, when the agreement was reached: "Let me know, I'll be with one eye open," I kept telling them in emails. I opened my eye, and there were their emails <3. These reactions have become some of the most read in 2023, and they were covered by many media outlets, so the dark circles on Sunday were worth it. 

And I take this opportunity to thank all the sources that respond to us and dedicate their time, even on weekends or at night when there is breaking news. Urgent matters for journalists, as is logical, are not actually an 'emergency' for them or their research work, but they understand our profession and respond wonderfully to us. Thanks to that speed and the support of the global SMC network—which shares our reactions with journalists in the UK, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, and Africa—we are increasingly achieving more media impacts and reaching international audiences. 

Tania Rabesandratana 

I love that SMC Spain addresses social issues, particularly those affecting childhood and family, such as screen use, school rhythms, or postpartum health. And I enjoy debates with colleagues about scientific current events, from obviously media-covered major studies to more discreet ones. 

Between one quick reaction to an individual study and another, I appreciate the more leisurely times to delve into in-depth topics. I also appreciate the time that researchers take to explain trends in their disciplines to me. As journalists, we need to go beyond individual studies; we observe how new fields of research emerge and solidify, analyze how controversies spread, and seek to understand how —gradually— consensuses emerge. 

For example, when the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) significantly reduced its recommendations for the tolerable daily intake of bisphenol A, we took the time to review the evidence to understand the risks of this substance to human health and how it is evaluated at the European level. I was also surprised to discover the very structured functioning of international geological institutions and how they were shaken by the debate on the Anthropocene as a possible geological epoch. Just a few weeks ago, we published a guide to understand scientific misconduct, trying to go a step further to explain the roots of media cases of fraud. 

Pampa García Molina 

In every editorial office, there are internal phrases that are repeated over and over—half-jokingly, half-seriously. In the SMC, for a little over a year and a half now, I think the most repeated ones so far are something like: "stop microbiome" and "enough of ChatGPT." On these two topics, we receive a flood of press releases every week that we must scrutinize to select which ones we should address and not miss anything important. 

My favorite part of the SMC job is constantly keeping an eye on the news and choosing, as a team, which science stories deserve coverage on our part, either because they are important and should be on the agenda or because we think they might be misunderstood or exaggerated. I really like it when we say, "it's a quirky study, but the press release has a great headline that will be in the media, so just because of that, we have to cover it." Or when we smell the hype from afar and that's why we go straight for it, like the room-temperature superconductors that livened up our July and momentarily took us out of the heatwaves.

I like that we discuss topics to death. That Laura bets on covering the Nobels even though some team members—completely wrong—don't see it clearly; or that she defends Physics topics tooth and nail while Sergio mutters "li qui ni istí vivi ni mi intirisi" (what is not alive does not interest me). That Jesus enlightens us to refine the selection as much as possible every time there's cancer, Alzheimer's, or Parkinson's—which is all the time—or that Tania insists on looking with special interest at research related to childhood and women's health. I really like that, when we start preparing a resource or a 'what we know', we delve so deeply into research that in the end, the result is almost a report, a byline-free report.  

Precisely, the most viewed on our website in 2023 is one of those resources, How to communicate the risks of scientific articles in an understandable way, written by Mari Carmen Climént, a journalist who is part of our advisory committee. Many colleagues from the media write to congratulate us on these timeless slow-cooked resources, as much as to thank us for quick reactions to any last-minute alerts. 

In short, aside from working with such an intelligent, stimulating, and feisty team, what I like the most is that journalists give us the best compliment we could wish for: "You are very useful." 

Sergio Ferrer 

It seems unbelievable that this year we published reactions about the end of the mandatory use of masks in public transport in Spain or that the WHO declared the end of the international emergency of COVID-19, as if all of this were a distant dream today. Days before the announcement, I remember joking via email with some of those sources we have been bothering for years, whose patience has sometimes seemed infinite: "I'm writing to invite you to participate in what we hope will be the last reaction related to the COVID-19 pandemic," I wrote then. 

Much more exciting has been dealing throughout this year with what would end up becoming one of the breakthroughs of 2023: obesity drugs (technical name: GLP-1 analogs). Although they have been used for almost two decades in patients with diabetes, their use in the fight against obesity is very promising (and my colleagues know that I rarely say something like that). However, obesity is an epidemic with a clear socioeconomic component: that's why we decided to organize an informative session earlier this year explaining the operation and potential of these drugs, but also contextualizing the scourge of obesity and emphasizing the need for political and structural solutions that go beyond. 

My colleagues tease me because I don't like almost anything (which is becoming more true every day). Perhaps due to my biological background, the topics that interest me the most are those related to living things, while the great discoveries of astrophysics leave me somewhat indifferent. This year, the most tiresome topic by excellence has been that of AI: because of the hype and sensationalism generated around it and because, as always happens with the Gartner hype cycle, science journalists are now dealing with years of dealing with a flood of studies promising to replace doctors and meteorologists with algorithms. That's why the meme I've sent the most this year is this:  

AI meme

 

Jesús Méndez González 

It seems that one of the topics that has been widely read this year at SMC is the one we prepared about the school day, discussing the evidence for and against each of its forms. Maybe because I experience it at home, but I really enjoyed talking to knowledgeable people and searching for the literature that had studied it. These topics are interesting not only for their social relevance but also for examining what studies say and don't say, what they measure and leave out, how they are interpreted, and how they appear (sometimes in very different ways) in the media. 
 
I also enjoyed hosting and preparing other meetings we had, like the one about cancer vaccines. While not reaching Sergio's extremes, I suppose I am also more drawn to what is alive or what can enter someone alive. There were many reactions that I enjoyed preparing, either because of the topic or because of the opinions and analyses of those who sent them. The team says I don't like asking for reactions about Parkinson's, but I think it's been a coincidence. I'll think about it these days. 

Some tongues at SMC also say that I don't like searching for photos or italicizing magazine titles. I admit that. But I'm starting to like it. 

What I do find harder are the texts and messages that end with a "we continue." I'm writing this half-sick, so I'm going to have to stop now. 

But we continue. 

We continue. 

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