After journalism training on the Luton Evening Post, Cookson became science correspondent of the Times Higher Education Supplement in London and then spent four years in Washington as American Editor of THES. He returned to London in 1981 as technology correspondent of The Times and moved to BBC Radio as science correspondent in 1983. He joined the Financial Times as technology editor in 1987 and has been Science Editor of the FT since 1991.
On science journalism
According to Cookson:
- At the FT the policy of our editor – all FT editors in my memory – has been that if it’s a science-based issue, the voice of scientists is paramount. If the vast majority of scientists are saying one thing, well, you should reflect that opinion, even if there’s a small number of scientists saying something different. Obviously on climate change there are some scientists, even a few who know quite a lot about climatology, who challenge the orthodoxy. But when the vast majority of scientists say one thing, we follow them. Likewise on the safety of genetically modified foods and other issues.
On the issue of climate change:
- on the issue of climate change, climate sceptics regard the BBC as being very much against them, very much the voice of scientific orthodoxy. Whereas from the point of view of most scientists, the BBC gives too much weight to the skeptics. The BBC is particularly exposed, and on this sort of debate it just can’t win. I rather sympathise with them on this. Yes, they give probably too much voice to very minority views, but in their position they have to really.
On the question 'What is the role of science journalism in the 21st century?'
- science journalism is the medium by which scientists communicate with the general public. So looking at it from the scientist’s point of view, even with the latest technology, very few scientists can get through to very many people. For most scientists, if they want the world to know about their research – and more and more of them do – then science journalists are the best medium, the best means of communication. And you can look at it from the other way around, from the point of view of the general interested reader or viewer or listener. Then you would like to find out about what’s going on through science journalism because the average person is not going to read Nature or Science or any other primary journal, so you’re going to have to use a secondary or tertiary source. For most people, that’s going to be science journalism and the mass media.
According to Cookson:
- Wide-ranging public consultation by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority showed that many people who initially found the idea of hybrid embryos repugnant changed their minds once they were told what the research actually involved... There has been a remarkable turnaround in public opinion over the issue since last winter, when the government proposed banning the creation of hybrid embryos in its forthcoming human tissue and embryos bill and the HFEA placed the King's and Newcastle applications on ice.
- Julian Hitchcock, senior life sciences lawyer at Mills & Reeve, said: "The government's original proposals were based on a public consultation which researchers tended to leave to their employing organisations, while a largely uninformed public was simply (and improbably) asked, 'whether the law should permit the creation of human-animal or chimera embryos'. This complacency and failure to engage with the public led the government to its proposed ban."
- Opinion started to change when scientists, realising belatedly what was at stake, started campaigning on the issue.In particular they persuaded the House of Commons Science Committee to hold an inquiry, which came out unanimously in favour of regulated research using hybrid embryos.
The government then reversed its position, saying that new human tissues and embryos bill, which parliament will debate in the autumn, would permit the creation of human-animal embryos in some circumstances.
- "The thoroughness of the HFEA's consultation, which differed from the government's in providing an explanation of the work involved, has reached a very different - and welcome - result which augurs well for stem cell research and enterprise," said Mr Hitchcock. "It will hopefully persuade the Chief Medical Officer (Sir Liam Donaldson), who has previously voiced doubts about chimera/hybrid research, that the public truly is on board."
- "The HFEA consultation on public attitudes to human-animal embryos shows that when the public feel they understand the science and can see which diseases the researchers are trying to tackle, support swings strongly in favour of allowing research. Over 60 per cent of those in favour of embryo research were also in favour of the HFEA licensing the creation of human/animal embryos."
Science Media Centre
Cookson has been on the board of the Science Media Centre since 2002 and joined the advisory committee on its creation in 2012. Cookson has mentioned the SMC eleven times in his reporting over the years. The first of these was more than a year before the SMC opened in March 2002, by which stage he had not been appointed to the board of the SMC. It stated:
- Scientists, fed up with failing to get their message across to the public, are to set up an independent science communications centre in London. To avoid possible accusations of bias, this new voice of science will de-rive financial support from a wide range of organisations - but not from the government.
Between September 2002 and November 2009 Cookson wrote ten other pieces which either mention or quote the SMC. He did not disclose in any of them that he was a member of the board of the organisation.
- Cookson was listed as a speaker at CORDIA, the biotechnology convention. Ann Mettler, Founding Partner of the Lisbon Council, was listed as chair for the debate, on October 11 2005. 'Other panel members will include Dr Johan Vanhemelrijck (Secretary General of EuropaBio), Sir Tom McKillop (CEO of AstraZeneca).'
- Cookson spoke on 'Bioscience in the media' at The Best Practice In Communications seminar on Monday 15 January 2007 organised by the BioIndustry Association
- Voice of Young Science/Sense About Science WARRIORS AGAINST CLAPTRAP Are myth busters the new generation of civic scientists? ESOF 2010 Annual Meeting Room 3 Lingotto Conference and Exhibition Centre Turin, Italy 15:45 – 17:00 pm Monday, 5th July 2010
- 1991 - present Science editor, Financial Times
- 1987 - 1991 technology editor, Financial Times
- 1983 - 1987 BBC Science correspondent
- 1981 - 1983 technology correspondent The Times
- 1977 - 1981 American Editor of THES
- 1974 - 1977 Luton Evening Post, then Science correspondent, THES
- member 'Science Policy Advisory Group', Royal Society since at least November 2009
- Science Media Centre member of the board (2002-2012), then of the advisory committee (2012- )
- Benat Gurrutxaga-Lerma and Nina Kearsey Reporting Science in Financial Times Interview with Clive Cookson, Felix, Thursday February 9, 2012
Talks and presentations
- Clive Cookson Communicating science Keynote talk at EurOCEAN 2004, 11 May 2004
- Clive Cookson Science in the media, State of Säo Paulo Research Foundation 16 April 2012.
- email: clive DOT cookson AT ft DOT com
- Twitter: @clivecookson
- Biovision Clive Cookson Science Editor, Financial Times, accessed 15 August 2013
- Benat Gurrutxaga-Lerma and Nina Kearsey Reporting Science in Financial Times Felix, Thursday February 9, 2012
- Clive Cookson 'Scientific lobby wins backing for human-animal hybrid embryos', Financial Times (London, England) September 5, 2007 Wednesday London Edition 1; Pg. 3
- Data from search of "clive cookson" and "science media centre" in the Financial times on the Nexis UK database Saturday, August 17, 2013 11:46:35
- Clive Cookson 'New independent media centre aims to give scientists a voice' Financial Times (London,England) January 30, 2001 Tuesday London Edition 2, Pg. 8.
- In reverse order:
- 1. Embryo debate Financial Times (London, England), November 11, 2009 Wednesday, MORE COMMENT ONLINE; Pg. 10, 298 words
- 2. Genetic revolution Financial Times (London, England), May 8, 2009 Friday, MORE COMMENT ONLINE; Pg. 10, 446 words
- 3. Scientific lobby wins backing for human-animal hybrid embryos Financial Times (London, England), September 5, 2007 Wednesday, NATIONAL NEWS; Pg. 3, 597 words, By CLIVE COOKSON
- 4. Scientists launch public campaign on animal tests MEDICAL RESEARCH Financial Times (London, England), June 3, 2006 Saturday, NATIONAL NEWS; Pg. 5, 393 words, By CLIVE COOKSON
- 5. Openness grows over animal research FT SURVEY OF UNIVERSITIES Financial Times (London, England), October 20, 2005 Thursday, NATIONAL NEWS; Pg. 3, 947 words, By CLIVE COOKSON and ROBYN SCOTT
- 6. Most adults may be deficient in vitamin D, scientists warn Financial Times (London, England), September 17, 2004 Friday, NATIONAL NEWS; Pg. 5, 430 words, By CLIVE COOKSON
- 7. Leading scientists condemn 'cowboy cloners' MEDICAL RESEARCH: Financial Times (London, England), January 21, 2004 Wednesday, NATIONAL NEWS; Pg. 5, 506 words, By CLIVE COOKSON
- 8. Japanese offer to get Britain's rail network back on track Financial Times (London,England) , December 11, 2002 Wednesday, NATIONAL NEWS ; Pg. 3 , 330 words, By CLIVE COOKSON
- 9. Need to know Science Financial Times (London,England), December 9, 2002 Monday, NATIONAL NEWS; Pg. 5, 866 words, By CLIVE COOKSON
- 10. Scientists prepare to experiment with public opinion: The world of science believes that it must become the listening profession if it is to gain popularity. Clive Cookson explains Financial Times (London,England) , September 17, 2002 Tuesday, NATIONAL NEWS ; Pg. 6 , 650 words, By CLIVE COOKSON
- Six Months to Save Lisbon Business Wire June 13, 2005 Monday 5:09 PM GMT.
- Bioscience group to stage seminar PR Week, January 12, 2007, Pg. 12
- Royal Society Science Policy Advisory Group, retrieved from the Internet Archive of 16 january 2013, accessed 15 august 2013
- Royal Society About the Science Policy Centre, retrieved from the Internet Archive of 20 November 2009, accessed 20 august 2013