“Science Journalism: Global Developments, Iran’s History, and Why It Matters”

A brief review of Science journalism and its development in Iran

If you ask five science journalists or researchers in this field about the definition of this profession, you will get more than five different answers. However, there are some essential elements about which there is a consensus. Science journalism, in its professional structure, is a subset of the journalism profession, inheriting its professional characteristics and dealing broadly with the subject of science. In other words, the main topic of stories in this field is the world of science.

Over the past several decades, our perceptions and practices of journalism have changed, as have our views on science, its importance, and its sociological complexity. We are dealing with a dynamic world called the world of science on the one hand and a historical profession and activity that grows and changes daily on the other. This dynamic nature of science journalism keeps us on our toes, constantly learning and adapting to new tools and societal changes.

The challenge of defining basic concepts

Defining a few concepts is important before proceeding with this story. First, in an age where anyone can call themselves a journalist by writing (producing) or even not writing a story in a medium, we must specify what journalism means in this text.

Journalism has various styles, methods, and traditions. Despite differing interpretations and perspectives, each style and method has its own rules and methodologies.

Professional journalism—at least as defined in this text—is a set of techniques and principles used to produce a story that fundamentally relies on reality and facts. Even when narrating a personal viewpoint or someone’s story, professional journalism verifies the details of its claims and narratives. Furthermore, what we mean by professional journalism is a method in which the writer’s most important commitment is to their audience.

Regardless of the story’s publication platform and whether the person works formally in a media outlet, freelances, writes a simple blog, uses social networks to disseminate their message, or creates podcasts and videos, they adhere to a structure of review, editing, fact-checking, and the principles established in that style of journalism as much as possible.

This structure may be a specialized department in a large organization or a single individual handling all these aspects as a blogger.

This point highlights one of the main differences between journalism and what is now known as content production. In journalism—at least in the interpretation intended in this text—the audience can be assured that the story before them has been carefully considered from its inception to its publication, its data has been reviewed as much as possible, and it has been placed in its appropriate context. In other words, the text or content has passed through filters, not just to attract more clicks or views. As science journalists, we are uniquely responsible for verifying and fact-checking scientific information, ensuring its accuracy and reliability for our audience.

This differentiates journalism from the broader circle of science communication, distinguishing it from activities like the public relations of scientific and technical centers or even science promotion. While science communication focuses on disseminating scientific information to the public, science journalism goes beyond that, aiming to critically analyze and report on scientific issues, discoveries, and controversies.

The second point that needs clarification is the word ‘science.’ When discussing science journalism today, which science are we referring to? This is particularly important for a country like Iran, with its rich history and extensive background, where different interpretations of the word ‘science’ exist. As a translation of the word ‘Science,’ science is a modern and new term referring to a specific method of studying, understanding, and answering questions about the world around us. The word ‘scientist’ is a newly coined term that has not existed for centuries. In Iran, science journalism is also influenced by cultural and historical factors, such as the country’s long tradition of scholarship and its recent focus on scientific and technological advancements.

Therefore, when we encounter words like ‘science’ (Elm/Danesh) and ‘scientist’ (Daneshmand) in Persian, we must remember that this word in this context differs from what, for example, Hafez meant when he referred to the ‘scholar’ in his poetry. We are talking about a group of people specialized in a specific field of science. Just as a plumber, a carpenter, or a poet has expertise in their field, a scientist in the modern sense is a specialist in the empirical sciences (with a slight concession to mathematics and technology and interdisciplinary fields) working with a specific method that characterizes such activities. In science journalism, it is important to use clear and accurate language to ensure that scientific concepts are accessible to the general public and to avoid misinterpretation or misunderstanding.

Therefore, not everything we place under the umbrella of general knowledge, science in its old sense, or various branches of academic methods that extend beyond modern science and mathematics necessarily falls under this definition. Similarly, presenting the practical features of a technological product (like what product introduction media do) does not fall under the realm of science journalism.

This seemingly simple point is one of the fundamental challenges in Iran’s journalism world. You may have encountered a situation where someone is introduced as a scientist, and they might respond out of politeness, feeling that people are trying to elevate their status out of respect. Individuals may emphasize or avoid using titles like scholar, researcher, or professor. These titles have specific definitions in the world of science. Being a professor or a researcher has a specific job definition; being a professor does not mean someone is above a university lecturer. The word itself is meaningless in Persian, and if used, it must be clarified what exactly is meant by it. Being a scientist, a professor, or a researcher are not terms of praise; they refer to specific jobs. Just as in journalism, titles like writer, editor, or editor-in-chief refer to particular roles.

Ignoring this issue leads to serious misunderstandings when journalists interact with players in the field of science. One problem is that if we are unaware of this distinction, we transfer the historical meaning of ‘scholar’ to a professional scientist. When interviewing a university professor or someone specializing in analyzing black hole radiation, we might think we are sitting before a ‘wise elder’ from whom we should quietly absorb knowledge; as Rumi said, “When you come to our place, silence is our habit … because from our conversation, the smell of dust arises.” In Iran, science journalists often face the challenge of balancing respect for the expertise of scientists with the need to question their findings and interpretations critically.

Moreover, basic science journalism questions like “What is the basis of your claim?” “Where did you get funding for your research?” “Do you have any conflicts of interest?” or “Why are your data not accurate enough?”—are perceived as disrespectful. However, these questions are not meant to challenge the expert’s social standing but to ensure the integrity and accuracy of the reported information. Science journalists are responsible for evaluating scientific claims critically and reporting them accurately and objectively, even if it means questioning the views of experts.

The conversation between a scientist and a journalist is not one between a disciple and a master or a student and a teacher but a dialogue between two specialists in two different fields, just as the conversation between a professional journalist and a professional farmer is a dialogue between two experts.

Of course, this point should never be interpreted as a recommendation for rudeness and disrespect in dialogue. Unfortunately, we sometimes see pseudo-journalists trying to produce a ‘challenging interview,’ tearing down the boundaries of politeness to the point where they act like interrogators. They usually only stand up to those not worried about their power and reaction. At the same time, they remain silent and flattering in front of powerful individuals they should be questioning.


Like other journalism fields, science journalism has undergone many transformations over time. Various classifications of science journalism models have been made, for example, focusing on the primary purpose of science journalism in engaging with the audience: whether the writer’s primary goal is to transfer knowledge and information to the audience or to engage the audience with content. For example, refer to the article “Four Models in Science Journalism” by David Secko, Elise Amed, and others.

One of the most significant turning points in contemporary science journalism, which is also extremely important for us in Iran, occurred when the ‘deficit model’ belief transitioned. This model, which extended beyond the realm of science media and was held by many scientists and enthusiasts of scientific development, stated that the problem with scientific development was that ordinary people were unaware of scientific findings and data, resulting in a gap between scientists and the general public, often leading to disbelief or even opposition to science. The solution this sociological view of science recommended was that scientists and science media should act as one-way transmitters of scientific findings to the general public. If this happened, the public would also grow scientifically in thinking due to being informed of scientific information and knowledge.

This view, which for many years flowed in many schools of science journalism and, in a way, was the central thinking behind a movement called science promotion, considered scientific development only possible through the transfer of data and findings to the audience. In this model, scientists rightfully sit in their ivory towers, improving the world, and if we have any questions or objections, it is due to our ignorance of science and their findings. Therefore, science media should act as this class’s spokesperson and communication tool, transferring their findings to the general public.

This view forgot that science is a field with human actors, who, like any other human actor in any field, are influenced by biases, beliefs, personal interests, competition, jealousy, and fabrications, and the media should also hold them accountable. Furthermore, this model assumed that the gap in science and scientific thinking in society was merely due to a knowledge gap. This model forgot that society’s people live in a complex world influenced by cultural, political, economic, social, religious, and historical factors and their living conditions and interactions.

Numerous studies have shown the inefficacy of this method, and today, such a model is not used in professional media. This marks the main difference between science promotion and science journalism. While science promotion and similar activities are a significant and essential part of the science communication process and play an important role in scientific development, they do not necessarily fall under the definition of science journalism as considered in this text. The goal of science promotion is to celebrate, appreciate, popularize, and highlight the merits and importance of science to people. In this activity, the science promoter acts like a joyous messenger, depicting a significant image of human explorations to others who are not directly involved or less familiar with it, similar to a tourist who aims to introduce the beauty of a country or region by bringing news, pictures, and videos, showing its beauty and having no obligation to depict its ugliness, dangers, and injustices.

Science journalists, however, in addition to reporting news and stories from the world of science, which, unlike some promotional methods, involve less exaggeration, myth-making, and science advertising and are more based on data, facts, and contexts, simultaneously address the limitations of science. They see science as a human enterprise, seek potential infiltrations and corruptions, understand and critique the structure, and, like any journalist, try to shine a light on dark places.

As Deborah Blum, Pulitzer Prize winner and director of the Knight Science Journalism program at MIT, says, “We, science journalists, are not cheerleaders for science and scientists. We are storytellers who narrate the story of science with all its details, complexities, and scrutiny for the audience.” (You can watch the author’s conversation with Deborah Blum in this video.)

The most important stories in science today are not only about advances but also about critically examining the mechanisms of science, paying attention to the backgrounds of the discussion, and, most importantly, an understanding of science and how it works. This prevents the creation of an illusion of sanctifying science, defining it as a gradual, step-by-step process with errors and uncertainties and the ability to correct itself.

Science Journalism in Iran

The history of science journalism in Iran can be traced back to the early days of journalism in Iran. In newspapers like Vaghaye Etefaghieh and later Dolat-e Eliyeh Iran, scientific reports, news about scientific development, and discoveries related to science can be observed. Reports on Iranian students sent abroad, comet appearances, meteorite falls, solar eclipses, or phenomena like the transit of Venus can be found. In 1876, Mohammad Hassan Etemad Al-Saltaneh published the Iran Scientific Journal, the first journal in Iran to report on scientific development stories.

However, this science coverage should be distinct from the modern meaning of science journalism. The inception of modern journalism in Iran also influenced the beginning of science journalism in Iran.

A look at the formation of journalism in Iran can help understand the Iranian journalism school of thought.

On the one hand, we had government or state newspapers, where reports from the ‘Kingdom of Iran,’ court news, and praise occasionally accompany news from around the country. In the scientific section, sometimes attractive news could be seen (like the fall of a meteorite or a group of researchers’ memorable observation trip to Iran) or reports on the education of Iranian students abroad, usually with some exaggerations.

However, independent newspapers also began to be published gradually. The prominent feature of these newspapers, which can be traced to this day, is their advisory and sermon-like nature. Reviewing most of these newspapers—whether government or independent—you rarely find a story that can be described as a realistic report on a subject or news coverage. Almost every news story is accompanied by an attempt to implant a specific viewpoint in the reader’s mind. Most prominent Iranian journalists are known for their notes, opinions, and sermons in various media, and it is rare to find a journalist known for professional reporting, news coverage, and analysis in the early days of Iranian journalism.

Of course, this is neither inherently positive nor negative; it is just a historical observation.

The events before and during the Constitutional Revolution intensified these sermons and the presentation of solutions by journalists to solve the country’s problems. Here, science was discussed more than just reporting events. Part of the body of Iranian intellectuals and journalists, noticing Iran’s chaotic situation, compared it with Western countries and saw the solution in moving from tradition towards modernity. One of the main manifestations of this modernization and progress was the scientific and technological advancements visible in the West.

This is one of the key points where a belief similar to what was later called the deficit model took root in Iran and persists in parts of the science media structure today. Some of us saw the difference between Iran and Western countries then. We aimed to reform the situation towards that seemingly brighter future, and naturally, one of its principal manifestations, namely society’s scientific and technological aspects. We may have thought the problem was merely due to that technology and science manifestation. In other words, some of us should have realized that apart from the historical currents that played a role in the scientific revolution in Europe, society and its changes created the conditions for the growth of science and technology. Thus, in the media, we either exaggerated the manifestations of civilization, expressed regret about the general ignorance of the Iranian people or tried to ‘educate’ the audience through sermons and tracts, parts of which were published in the media of that time.

Even today, we can see traces of this advisory thinking in the media. When a modern newspaper dedicates its front page and main headline on a busy news day to the editor’s note, it likely means that its audience is eager and waiting to ‘understand the presence’ and use the journalist’s recommendations.

However, science journalism in Iran witnessed severe changes in the following years. During the years after the Islamic Revolution (1979), when Iran was entangled in economic, political, and social problems of war, magazines like Daanestaniha, Daaneshmand, Etela’at Elmi, and several other science and technology magazines in Iran were among the best-selling publications. Programs like Mosabeghe Elmi (science competition) on television had a broad audience. Gradually, magazines like Daaneshmand and Najom and notable field magazines published for the general audience tried to incorporate the principles of modern science journalism into the media. Among these were the transition from mere translation to translation/authorship, reporting, and referencing first-hand sources instead of multiple secondary sources. In the radio and television, a new generation of program producers began producing scientific programs, bringing accuracy and professional principles to the media. The Safarianpour brothers on IRIB-Channel 4 and Mohsen Shadmehri on the Khorasan provincial TV network were among those who redefined the legacy of figures like Esmail Mirfakhraei with new experiences and standards.

Of course, after several years, the golden age of science journalism in Iran began to decline again. Scientific programs on IRIB were removed at the directors’ discretion, magazines like Daanestaniha and Daaneshmand or the science department of Jam-e-Jam newspaper were either eliminated or distanced so much from their essence that no trace of those efforts can be seen in them anymore.

However, there was more to the story for science media in Iran. A new generation of science journalists, more familiar and skilled in this profession, emerged, not only taking advantage of every opportunity possible within Iran’s structure to showcase the capabilities of science journalism but also thanks to the digital revolution and the emergence of internet platforms, from blogs, podcasts, and videocasts to live online programs. Today, not only is the Persian science media market more vibrant than ever, but it also can present different perspectives on a story, free from the restrictive official structures of IRIB and some newspapers associated with a specific ideology.

Of course, this space, by necessity of its public nature, appears chaotic, and you can find commercial content alongside professional content. Still, gradually, with increased media literacy, we, the audience, will have more precise choices.

Why It Matters Today

Science journalism is more critical today than at any other time in the history of the press and the history of science. This statement is not because the writer is engaged in this profession but because I believe in this profession for this reason.

Today, thanks to science and the scientific method, we have a more precise understanding of some of its parts. This knowledge has made us aware of our challenges, from global warming, water scarcity, environmental crises, artificial intelligence, air pollution, earthquakes, network security, and access to internet flow and information to space programs and nuclear energy. These are just a few significant topics directly or indirectly related to science and technology that affect our lives.

Meanwhile, science has never been under such attack as today in contemporary history. From the efforts of ideological, political, social, and philosophical ideologies to change the concept of science to pseudo-science and superstition trying to capture science to movements attempting to create a new ideological school in the name of science, all threaten the essence and application of science. For the first time, scientists and doctors are not only attacked by financial institutions and commercial structures but also systematically intimidated and threatened by political groups and their supporters.

These attacks in today’s polarized world are not one-sided. All political and intellectual spectrums refer to science only when the result matches their opinion; otherwise, under conservatism or progressivism, they do not hesitate to attack science.

However, in this period, science (not the individuals engaged in science, not the structure and policy of science, but the method that, with an understanding of its limitations, provides a specific and evaluable method and error checking for understanding parts of the world) is our most important tool for facing the fantastic world we live in.

Science journalism, which not only reflects events in the world of science but also does not remain silent about corruption in the science institution, respects the audience, and believes in the audience’s right to know as a citizen’s right in these times, can help the audience make informed choices, hold the science institution accountable, and simultaneously reveal abuses of it.

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