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Standing up for science

Dr Emily So, Julia Wilson, Dr Stephen Keevil and Professor Robert Dorey

18 July 2012

Sense About Science is a charity that equips people to make sense of science and evidence. It works with scientists and civic groups to share the tools of scientific reasoning and responds to the misrepresentation of science and evidence on contentious issues (including chemicals, GM, weather and climate and health testing). It also helps patient groups, parliamentarians, professional associations, lifestyle media, community groups, medical charities, local authorities, journalists, teachers and others with a constituency and makes sure they have access to good science and evidence.

Voice of Young Science (VoYS) is a programme that encourages early career researchers to take an active role in public debates about science. As part of the programme Standing up for Science, media workshops are held where participants discuss concerns about speaking to the public and confront misconceptions about how the media works. The most recent was hosted by SCI in London on 25 May 2012. It was attended by an enthusiastic group of PhD students and post docs from a wide range of scientific backgrounds.

It opened with scientists sharing their experiences on talking to the media. Panellist Dr Emily So commented: 'It's a luxury, as a scientist, that you are able to tell people the facts, and that you shouldn't feel compelled to comment on something that is beyond what you know.' The participants shared experiences of when they'd had difficulty communicating the message of their research, and heard advice from scientists on how to deal with the media. The journalist panellists explained what they're looking for in a story, and how scientists can help by putting things in context and giving insights into how they work.

In the third session, attendees had the opportunity to voice their concerns which included not having enough time to get involved in public debate, or not having the authority to talk about their research. They heard from VoYS member Jamie McClelland on his experiences standing up for science, and its senior press officer Colin Smith on how to use an in-house press office to get your message out to the public.

Participants were inspired to get involved in public debate, communicate their research to a wider audience and join the VoYS network. VoYS has over 800 early career researchers (PhD, post-doc or equivalent in first job) who stand up for science in public debates and take on myth-busting and evidence-hunting projects. They have become a force to be reckoned with, standing up for science and demanding answers to questions that typically go unasked. Motivated by the desire to respond to bad science, they really relish being able to make a difference in society so early on in their careers - from debunking detox products to getting statements condemning homeopathy for serious diseases from directors at the WHO.

In reaction to feedback at the VoYS workshops, Sense About Science have published Peer Review: The Nuts and Bolts as a part of its Standing up for Science series. The link to the PDF version of the guide is below. Hard copies are also available at Belgrave Square.

  • The picture shows panellists Dr Emily So, Julia Wilson, Dr Stephen Keevil and Professor Robert Dorey.

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