Journalist and science writer since 1995, Vasiliki Michopoulou was a staff member of the Hellenic Broadcasting corporation (ERT). She currently works as a freelancer for greek and foreign printed and digital media (like Kathimerini, ETHNOS, To Vima, Naftemporiki, Chemistry World, Cancer World, Euroscientist, etc), she also teaches science journalism at the university, while giving workshops on science communication for young scientists. She holds a PhD in International relations with a “Stavros Niarchos Foundation scholarship”, MA on Policy Management and International Politics and a Biology degree. Vasiliki was recently awarded as the “Greek Woman Journalist of the year 2018” and nominated for the European Science Writer of the Year Award 2017. Her book on 40 top scientists over the world: “The Bright Minds have no Homeland” was unique in popularizing science in Greece, while her second entitled: “Ingenious adventures” on Nobel Laureates is in press. She is an expert on Media Advocacy.
1. Why did you choose to become a science journalist?
As I was finishing my biology degree, I realized that I was better at writing than at DNA sequencing. In fact I didn’t choose to become a science journalist and I started writing about anything seemed impressive and worthmentioning to me, science and technology included. Some years ago I applied for a School in Science Journalism in Erice, Sicily and by the end of that school I had already decided to focus on science. During my career I realized that working with scientists and spreading the scientific information to the public is the most satisfying job for me and duty at the same time. A duty which became a passion to inform people about science and its complexity.
2. What role do science and science communication play in your country?
Science has never been a top priority for Greece in the past several decades. The Greek scientific community has thus traditionally remained a rather detached and even obsure part of affairs for national politics. There is a prevalent mentality in the scientific community that scientists are just a small and relatively powerless minority that would be utterly ineffective, when it comes to applying pressure for policy changes and more substantial support for research. On the other hand Greek society lacks of respect for science and evidence-based thinking due to prevailing religious and political ideologies, which are basically belief systems that rely on arguments instead of facts. For several decades, science fields like evolution biology or astronomy are undervalued in the existing education system leaving a major part of the population exposed to scientific illiteracy, medieval superstition, conspiracy theories, and know-it-all mentality. In addition, most scientists in Greece are dedicated to their personal careers and not to social issues and to the enlightenment of the lay people. And here comes the science communication which is still at early stages but hopefully promising and growing.
3. What are the main challenges of science journalism in your country?
Science journalism could support scientific research and keep the public and the decision makers well informed, which can be regarded as the cognitive process resulting in the selection of a belief or a course of action among several alternative possibilities. Every decision making process produces a final choice that may or may not prompt action which is exactly what the politicians avoid. That’s why I think that science journalism and communication are absolutely necessary in Greece, especially in the “fake news“era, although there are significant problems like the lack of well educated and trained science journalists which makes the gap between sciencentists and journalists deeper and the lack of space for science and technology news in most of the Greek media outlets, the public ones included. Science journalism could help us “Falling the wall”between science and society.
4. Where do you see the big societal transformations in the future? What scientific research/discovery will change our world?
No one can predict what research breakthrough will be the next science”revolution”. In fact there is no prediction in science. But I am fascinated by the capabilities of CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat), a revolutionary technique of precisely segmenting and modifying DNA, whether it belongs to a human, animal, or bacteria. So, I am convinced that we will see a great development taking place in genetics. Space exploration and environmental research are fields with perspective. I see an important societal transformation due to the Artificial Intelligence’s implementation, while climate crisis will keep us alert.
5. What book, movie or song has radically changed your perspective? And why?
There are a lot of them but I will choose a recent film. I was very moved by “The First Man”, the 2018 biopic about Neil Armstrong. I couldn’t imagine the strangeness and sublimity of the moments before and after the “giant leap” which opened the way of space exploration to humanity. The film changed my point of view towards life and made me realize that we should follow our dreams with passion even if we fail. The journey itself is the challenge, the joy and the success even if its hard and painful.