In memory of Honorary Doctor Åke Spross (1952-2023)

2023-11-14

Few, if any, have been so central in spreading our Faculty's research to the world as Åke Spross, long-time science journalist at Upsala Nya Tidning. With integrity and professionalism, he gained solid trust among both readers and researchers, and was in 2011 appointed Honorary Doctor of Medicine at our University. In memory of a true standard-bearer of science, we are republishing an interview with Åke Spross, conducted as he had just received news of his honorary doctorate.

Åke Spross (1952-2023)
Åke Spross (1952-2023)

After reporting about research for 30 years, Upsala Nya Tidning's science journalist Åke Spross receives an honorary doctorate at the Faculty of Medicine. But don't let your guard down, honorary doctor Spross has no plans to abandon the hard questions.

Appointing a journalist an honorary doctorate can be controversial. When Karin Bojs, head of Dagens Nyheter's science editorial department, received the hat at Stockholm University in 2008, a principled discussion sparked about the conditions for objective review. Now the time has come for Uppsala and Åke Spross, who after 30 years as a medical reporter at Upsala Nya Tidning has been appointed an honorary doctorate at the University's Faculty of Medicine.

“Since the title does not entail any formal obligations, the question actually feels a bit ridiculous. In that case, the fact that I, like most journalists, work for a partly advertising-financed newspaper can be seen as a much bigger problem,” objects the honorary doctor to be.

In the faculty's nomination, it emphasizes the fact that "in a field where the interests of researchers and pharmaceutical companies can be difficult to manage, Åke Spross has always demonstrated integrity and an excellent ability to objectively portray various events within medical research".

“I like that thing about integrity. As a reporter, I observe and report on events without taking a stand. The reader must be able to trust that the journalist reports correctly and I will continue to ask my amateur critical questions,” promises Åke Spross.

Three decades as the first medicine reporter at the city's only local newspaper has indeed resulted in quite a few headlines. One of the first times our journalist let himself be talked about as a young hard-hitting reporter occurred already in the early 80s when Wasa launched a fiber crisp bread which – according to an advertisement in Läkartidningen – was claimed to have a number of positive health effects. Åke Spross took the ad to the Swedish Medical Products Agency, which in turn immediately issued a letter about "illegal drug sales", whereupon production was stopped.

“Only to start again the next day after the Swedish Medical Products Agency had classified it as a natural remedy. But the incident is in any case said to have gained importance for the continued discussion surrounding rules for health claims regarding food,” recalls Åke Spross.

He also states that it is in many ways a privilege to be a reporter, especially a science reporter.

“Thanks to my job, I have been able to meet several researchers whose ground-breaking discoveries will forever be inscribed in the history of science. And when I ask them my sometimes rather stupid questions, I am still met with more respect and patience than I received from my own children during our discussions when they were teenagers.”

Of course, it is not part of everyday reporter life that headline material appears in the form of advertisements. Many hours are spent researching PubMed and similar databases. Considerably fewer are devoted to tips from researchers.

“Unfortunately, there are seldom more than a couple of tips a week. Since I am responsible for the science pages and initiate most of the articles myself, I wish there were significantly more. In particular, researchers in the humanities and social sciences could get in touch a little more often.”

And, dear researchers of humanities and social sciences, it is not too late for improvement. At 59, our new honorary doctor expects to spend many more years in front of the keyboard, and never forget: Every day is a new newspaper.

Text: Magnus Alsne, photo: Mikael Wallerstedt (first published in 2011)

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Last modified: 2022-11-08