Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Psychology of The Revolts

Mohammed Yahia raised an important point on twitter a while ago:
I can't get over the feeling that for many people Tahrir has become an evening outing. I wonder how many here are revolutionaries?
Well, you should be expecting me now to say that Yahia is a counter-revolutionist and he knows nothing about Tahrir nor those people who scarifies their lives for the country. Right? On contrary, I totally agree with Yahia yet totally disagree with him on the same time.

First of all, I am not a psychologist, sociologist, or any other -ist, however I believe that we as humans have way more things in common than we can imagine, and that's why most of the time you can tell how people think by seeing how you yourself think in the first place. Hence, I asked myself, why do I go to Tahrir?

For sure I go there for a cause, I demonstrated in the 28th of January and the days that followed for a cause, and to make my voice heard. Yet, I cannot say this is the only reason. It might be one of many reasons, it might be the main reason, but still it is not the only one. In fact, I think we go to Tahrir and revolt for the exact same reasons we blog, tweet, or do any social activities online.

We blog for a cause, but also we blog for the ego-factor. Don't we like it when people share, comment or Facebook-like our blog posts? Why do people in demonstrations hold creative banners, shouldn't non-creative yet descriptive banners do the same job? Why do those people with creative banners smile when cameras follows them and their banners? I am not sure if the sense of pride is a part of this ego-factor or not, but it is common both in blogging and revolting too. It's not like I'm saying that people demonstrate to show off, but there is that sense of pride you have when seeing yourself participating in making a difference.

We tweet for a cause, but also we tweet to network. And so it is the case with going to Tahrir. We socialize there too. We meet people, we are social human beings and this is how we work, we love to meet and communicate with people. Throughout our lives we love networking.

Anyway, the question here, do those reasons make us less honourable? Do they make our revolution less ideal? Here comes the part where I disagree with Yahia. For me those reasons make us and our revolution more human. We are humans, and we shouldn't be ashamed of our human nature. On contrary, we can make use of them to defend our causes even better. It's totally human that the same people who sacrifice their lives in Tahrir square are those who sing, camp, play video games, socialize and love to be seen there. And sometimes love to be featured on CNN while they are there.

Mohammed Yahia added a comment below, it'd be nice if you can read it too.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Science Journalism Workshop

Last Sunday I attended a workshop about Science Journalism. It was organized by the Embassy of the United States in Egypt, and I'd like to share a summary of the workshop and the stuff I learned there with you here.

What Makes a Good Science Story

Curtis Brainard (@CBrainard) who is a Science Editot for the Columbia Journalism Review started his presentation by saying that Science is one of the four pillars of human civilization. It's said here that economy, politics , moral tradition, and the arts & sciences (and the dissemination of them) are the four pillars of what we call civilization. He then said when school children are asked to put how they see science on paper, they usually draw a Professor-Calculus-like character inside a lab with his coat and glasses. Which is something that has to change, and science should be seen as a part of our daily lives and not to be just locked down inside labs. But he then wondered, why space-travel and cosmology is one of the most popular sciences among American children despite the fact that it doesn't really have significant effect on people's lives. He then continued, may be because they are inspiring and extend out limits of what's possible and reachable.

He then tried to summarized the most covered topics when it comes to science journalism:
  • Health: It's said that people think about their personal health and wealth the most. So if we put money and financial news aside, we are left with subjects related to health, nutrition and fitness as ones of the most important subjects to readers.
  • Environment: Then comes environmental news as they too have big effect on people's lives and sometimes their future.
  • General Sciences: And in the third rank comes other scientific subjects, which are sometimes more challenging to be covered especially when they are not so related to people's lives
Then came the question, what are the possible angles in order to cover one of the above stories:
  • Pure Scientific: You can just put your story in a pure scientific form.
  • Life and Health: You can also relate the science in there to people's health and lives in general.
  • Business: You can focus on the business behind the science, and who will make money out of it and how.
  • Art: Or you can relate the science to art. Which is one of the most challenging yet interesting ways to present your stories. Like those stories that try to discuss the scientific facts behind science fiction films, or other films like Harry Potter. I also think some infographics might be part of this.
Mr. Brainard ended his presentation by saying that science is all about how to make our lives more "efficient", and how to make more with less. And he added that good science stories are not about trees, planet earth, or experiments in labs. They are and will always be about people and how science affect the lives of those people, and experiments on environmental change sometimes are more important to measure how people see the risk instead of measuring only temperature changes.

Science Story Ideas

Chris Mooney (@ChrisMooney_), the author of "Unscientific America" and the "Republican War on Science" gave another presentation where he said that Science Stories are very Political ones by nature, since science changes people's lives and most of the time such change generate resistance to it. He referred to the case where scientific theories such as evolution contradicted with religious beliefs, and those who are against the use of vaccines and relate it to autism. So many Science Stories can be in fact Stories about Science and the related politics, such as research budgets, and rules that makes scientific research results available to public and patents, etc. He also spoke about the importance of blogs and new media, as new source, and how the idea of rivalry between old and new media should be changed.

Deborah Blum (@deborahblum), a Pulitzer-prize winning science writer, also wondered in her presentation, in nations where science education is not working well, is it really science journalists role to educate people and act as as second educators to cover holes lefts by schools? She also spoke about the importance of Investigative Journalism, and for a non-journalist like myself I was glad that she described the term Investigative Journalism in more details as "that type of journalism that is meant to give voice to the powerless and cover issues that governments and corporations try to keep secret".

Ms. Blum also listed some websites that are useful to science journalists:
The Anatomy of Science News Stories

David Dobbs (@David_Dobbs), a features-writer specialised in behavioural and psychological science spoke about his own work-flow when writing a new story. He started by saying that he normally writes features (articles with about 5k words). He then summarized three important features that have to exist in good features or stories:
  • Compelling and interesting new idea.
  • Wonderful researcher, i.e. someone who can speak for hours beautifully and jargon-free on his subject of research that he is passionate about.
  • Subject: A story that glues the idea and the research and makes an interesting example of it or tell the history of the research in an interesting and/or detective puzzle-solving way.
He then moved to the main structure of magazine features in general:
  • Opening: It starts with a theme, or somebody talking
  • Background: Mixture of history of the subject and some needed context to put people in the mood. For example why such research was needed, what problems did people face earlier, etc.
  • The Story: This occupies the majority of the article.
  • Close: It's helpful to end with an action.
The above sections should be only in the writers mind, and there should be no or just blurred separations between them on paper.

Few more links:
Chris Mooney wrote a quick wrap of the workshop and their trip to Egypt, "Four Days in Cairo"
Beryl Lieff Benderly (LinkedIn) also participated in the workshop but it's my bad as I didn't take proper note of what she said.
And finally, here is an article about writing feature stories.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Notes from Greece

I arrived to Athens on Thursday, June 30th. I decided to go visit their Tahrir Square (aka Syntagma Square). The moment I arrived to the metro station beneath the square, I felt how similar it is to Tahrir Square. A girl was collecting the used metro tickets from people in order to not throw them on the ground. Doesn't this remind you of Tahrir Square, and the feeling of patriotism people used to have there!? People then told me they have witnessed in the previous night one of the most brutal police crackdown in their entire lives, and tear gas was used excessively then.

Tear-Gas Bomb

I found them hanging the tear bombs in the square as a proof of what happened. I photographed bombs made in Brazil, yet I was told that there were bombs made in USA and Israel as well. Some areas of the metro station were burnt, and I knew that
they were having a field hospital in there, and it was attacked by tear gas too. A friend of mine has been to both Tahrir Square and Syntagme, and she told me the tear gas in Syntagma was much worse than the one used in Tahrir. May be because ours were expired.

Hot Dogs in Syntagma

This all happened after the Greeks started a 48-hours general strike due to the harsh austerity measures demanded in return for EU and IMF rescue loans. According to The Guardia the austerity package would raise taxes on minimum wage earners and other Greeks in addition to earlier cuts that have driven unemployment past 16%


The protesters are as creative as the Egyptians with their drawings, and banners. And every day at midnight - before the last metro departs from the square - they hold voting on the ideas being discussed that day in their open assemble held in the square.
The people in Syntagma and the spirit there are just wonderful.


Meanwhile ships of the Flotilla carrying food and medical supplies heading to Gaza arrived to Greece. The Israelis are doing whatever they can do to stop those ships. Ships docking both in Ireland and Greece were sabotaged, and it's so obvious that the Israelis are behind this. I really don't know how they never give a shit about people's lives! People on flotilla said that they face unusually more complex routines whenever they go to finish any papers.
Some other have speculations that their mobile phones are tapped and there might be Mosad spies on board.

Justice in Palestine

Israel is spreading rumours that the ships carry weapons, this might be both to give themselves excuse to kill people on board later on, and to make their own soldiers more violent and eager to attack them cold blooded.

Israel is also putting a lot of pressure on countries to stop the flotilla. The Turks might withdraw, especially as they are busy with problems on their Syrian borders, and later on the minister of police in Greece order to stop Canadian vessels from leaving Greek to Gaza. It's the same minister responsible for the crack down on Syntagma by the way.

Related stories:
YNet News: Greece asks Israel for teargas grenades
Lopez to Gaza: Detained in Greece, Freed by Syntagma
Greece: We Gave Birth to Democracy, and We Killed It!
Twitter: Latest updates from #Flotilla2 hashtag
Not Gr33nData: From Cairo to Athens