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The 2015 John Maddox Prize winners

Prof Edzard Ernst and Prof Susan Jebb

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AllTrials launched in the US with 50 supporting organisations

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Annual Lecture 2015: The Ugly Truth

by Tracey Brown, director of Sense About Science

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Ask for Evidence

in policy, advertising, media and more ...

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The vets are coming!

Last month I become an Ambassador for the Ask for Evidence campaign. I must have been mentioning the campaign around the office a fair bit as my colleagues suggested it would be a good idea for me to give them an Ask for Evidence talk at one of our regular meetings.

Working in the Centre for Evidence-based Veterinary Medicine (CEVM) it might seem that the presentation would be preaching to the converted (the CEVM has its own online resource for veterinary surgeons to find, and ask for, the evidence behind clinical questions). However, the Ask for Evidence campaign sparked an interest because of its huge reach and relevance to so many walks of life. People have asked about the evidence for, among other things, MET police claims on cracking down on scooter racing, a mobile phone app to prevent unwanted pregnancies, and even underpants to protect against electromagnetic radiation

All of the CEVM team are researchers with a clinical veterinary or animal science background, therefore our evidence related focus is often somewhat narrow. Armed with tea and cake I gave the team a run through of the work that Sense About Science and the Voice of Young Science Network have done as well as how people can get involved in asking for evidence. By the end of the talk, and the lively discussion that followed, there were already lots of ideas for claims we were going to ‘ask’ about. Keep your eyes peeled - the vets are getting involved!

This blog was written by Imogen Richens, Ask for Evidence Ambassador.

The Times 10th October 2015

To The Editor, The Times

For publication

Re Charity cast doubt on sugar deaths but failed to reveal Coca-Cola link, The Times 10th October 2015, p4

Sense About Science is concerned with accurate portrayal of evidence. Coca Cola gave us two donations to our annual fund three and four years ago, one of thousands of donations and not repeated since we closed general company donations in 2013. We are sorry to see Alexi Mostrous over-reach his investigation into Coca Cola and say that they have funded our charity to respond to stories about their products. Some people may not realize that many companies donate to many charities. This doesn’t mean they get something for it. In fact charity rules forbid that. Sense About Science is fortunate among our sector that in the last few years donations from members of the public have replaced company donations. However, in his effort to prove that something had been paid for with this earlier donation, Mostrous ignored material on our website criticizing a Coca Cola product and the many responses to news issues we’ve carried from dietitians who advocate reduction of fizzy drink consumption. Instead he alleges we… 

… questioned whether children get sugar rushes. In fact he means by this that we retweeted a Guardian article about the research.

… stated that a no-sugar diet could have adverse health consequences. The only thing he could be referring to is a response from a biochemist to the ‘no-sugar diet’ fad. It said this would mean no fruit and vegetables, which would have health consequences.

… said that sugar does not cause cancer. In fact we retweeted a Cancer Research UK article saying it doesn’t, and drew it to the attention of a company CEO who had made this claim in the Metro.

… criticized research linking fizzy drink consumption to violent behaviour in teenagers. We did the opposite. We carried a comment from a professor of clinical psychology that headlines stating ‘Five fizzy drinks make teenagers more likely to carry a gun’ were wrong and the research didn’t find this. It didn’t criticize the research, it cited the authors.

… criticized research linking sugary drinks to 184,000 deaths. The headlines were ‘fizzy drinks kill 180,000 a year’. NHS Choices pointed out that the research covered all sweetened drinks, and we carried four sentences from a professor of nutrition stating a more precise figure for the increased risk of type II diabetes from measuring actual sugar intake. 

Wow! In all my years of looking at media portrayal of evidence I have never encountered so much misrepresentation, exaggeration and innuendo in a few short sentences.

It is completely right that journalists should explore whether industry funding of research and donations to charities like ours has produced bias. But sadly Mostrous fails to do that through thorough investigation. Instead he lazily suggests that funding = bias without producing any evidence to prove it. That is smear not journalism. I could right now list all the Times advertisers and find hundreds of news articles that are positive about those companies. That would be a cheap move that would not prove anything about the editorial independence of Times journalists.

As Mostrous acknowledged, we published the Coca Cola donation in our funding list, which is accessible from every page on our website, including those he refers to and including those accessed via Twitter, and a donation stays on our website for at least two years after it is given. We are in the forefront of openness about donations and funding. Few, including The Times, would match us on that openness. Mostrous proposed to us in correspondence that we should also have declared donations in our retweets of the Guardian and Cancer Research UK articles. I find it hard to look at that suggestion seriously. In fact, the lack of seriousness in the whole piece about us undermines the very real meaning of conflict of interest. The more noise that is created with these kinds of constructed stories, where no evidence of inaccuracy or bias is demonstrated, the more genuine issues of conflict, such as data fabrication in papers and concealing research findings, get drowned out, while people rest back thinking job done. 

In the end charities like Sense About Science have to demonstrate our independence through our transparency and integrity. And journalists have to prove our lack of independence with more than conjecture and guilt by association.

Tracey Brown


Sense About Science 

Peer Review 101

Peer Review Week

Peer Review is a process where other scientific experts check research papers for validity, significance and originality. Whether research has been peer reviewed is also an important consideration for policy makers, reporters and the public when weighing up research claims and debates about science.

                                           Peer Review Workshops

But early career researchers (ECRs) tell us that it can be hard to know where to begin when they first start reviewing. This is why we run workshops to support ECRs in finding out how peer review works, the challenges for peer review, and how to get involved. Many publishers and organisations are now also offering webinars and resources to give reviewers some key pointers. There are plenty of resources out there including our own publication written by and for ECRs, Peer Review: The Nuts and Bolts, and Wiley’s reviewer resource centre.

                                 The peer review process

To help the public make sense of science stories in the news, we have produced a guide called I don’t know what to believe. It explains how scientists present and judge research and how you can ask questions about the status of the scientific information presented to you. In the guide we encourage researchers to share the question "Is it peer reviewed?" with the public. It's a great first question to ask to assess scientific claims in the media.  

And as part of the Peer Review Week celebrations Wiley has summarised their top 10 tips for peer review in a 3 minute animation - we hope you enjoy it!


Peer Review Week ran from 28 September to 2nd October. Follow the discussion on Twitter: #peerrevwk15

Peer review matters!

Peer review week

Understanding peer review and asking about the status of claims is important to society because it helps people make decisions. Which is why we’re involved in Peer Review Week 2015, a virtual event to celebrate the fundamental role of peer review in maintaining scientific quality. 

From Monday September 28 to Friday October 2 we will be sharing articles and blog posts about peer review, resources for reviewers, views from our Voice of Young Science network of early career researchers, and a webinar on trust and transparency in peer review as part of the inaugural Peer Review Week. Check back here for more and follow on Twitter with #peerrevwk15!

Peer Review Week grew out of informal conversations between ORCID, ScienceOpen, and Wiley. Each organisation has a different perspective on peer review, and has been working independently to better support its role in scholarly communications. We joined the week to ensure the wider benefits of peer review – as a quality mark and tool for making sense of science claims – are shared with the public. We have our own peer review programme which is kindly supported by Biomed Central, Elsevier, F1000, Glasgow Caledonian University, Portland Press, PRE-Val, SAGE, Taylor & Francis, and Wiley.

We are pleased that several organisations are getting involved, and we will be sharing their activity during the week here, including Elsevier who will feature articles in Elsevier Connect and Author’s Update and promote the week on social media.

Victoria Murphy, Programme Manager of Sense About Science: "Peer review is an essential arbiter of scientific quality, and asking 'Is it peer reviewed?' helps people to query the status of science and research reported in the media. So during this inaugural Peer Review Week, we want to share that question as widely as possible. Raising awareness of the value of peer review – as we have done in collaboration with Elsevier when we developed one of the largest ever international surveys of authors and reviewers, the Peer Review Survey 2009, and with our guide for early career researchers, Peer review the nuts and bolts – is vital for maintaining quality in science."

Philip Carpenter, Executive Vice President, Research at Wiley, one of the partners of our peer review programme, said: “At Wiley we believe that peer review is the foundation for safeguarding the quality and integrity of scientific and scholarly research. Peer Review Week and our partnership with ORCID, Sense About Science and Science Open allow us to highlight the crucial role that peer review plays in protecting trust in scholarly communication.”

“Researchers spend a substantial amount of time reading and reviewing, but are rarely acknowledged for this important contribution to the community,” says Laure Haak, Executive Director of ORCID. “ORCID is pleased to be part of peer review week and the effort to increase recognition for review activities.”

And ScienceOpen’s CEO, Stephanie Dawson explains that: “Our goal is to help re-build trust in the peer review process by making it entirely transparent. We facilitate Post-Publication Peer Review from named individual experts to nearly 10 million open access articles and toll stubs currently available on the platform. We’re delighted to participate in this inaugural Peer Review Week.” 

Peer Review Week 2015 will run from Monday September 28 to Friday October 2, and will include a series of blog posts and interviews, a social media campaign, webinars, and more.  Follow Peer Review Week 2015 activities on Twitter #peerrevwk15

VoYS member Roganie Govender blogged about "5 reasons why peer review matters" for Elsevier's Reviewes' Update, and on Elsevier Connect Julia Wilson, Development Director of Sense About Science, asks "So does the public finally ‘get’ peer review?"

 Read about peer review around the world, and a discussion about peer review with some of the organisations involved in Peer Review week on Wiley Exchanges.

SAGE has posted a discussion about peer review with Emily Jesper, Asssistant Director at Sense About Science.

John Maddox Prize - Guest post by Dr Thelma Lovick

Dr Thelma Lovick, who nominated John Maddox Prize winner Profesor David Nutt in 2013, writes about the Prize.

I forget how I heard about the John Maddox Prize. Probably an e-mail arrived one day and I was sufficiently intrigued to click on a link leading to the webpage explaining what the Prize was for. What I do remember is that, having read the criteria for the Prize, I knew immediately who the winner should be. David Nutt ticked all the boxes.

David Nutt was catapulted into the public eye in 2009 when he was publicly sacked from his position as Chairman of the Government’s Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD). His misdemeanor had been to publish a rational, evidence-based report on the safety of recreational drugs, which did not fit with Government policy.

The resulting media storm led to him being pilloried in the sensationalist tabloid press. Miles of column and web-based inches appeared. Lesser individuals might have crumbled, but not David. The “humiliation” spurred him to fight back. He now gives freely of his time to provide the public with the information it needs to make informed decisions about drugs based on facts, rather than preconceived ideas about drug use based on moral and political opinions or social acceptability. Few are prepared to put their heads above the parapet in this manner; it has been no mean undertaking. David Nutt’s scientific integrity and courage in addressing misleading information about scientific or medical issues in the face of hefty opposition are to be applauded.

I was thrilled when he won the prize. I am also thrilled that such a prize exists. I hope that the award of this prize to David Nutt will inspire others to stand up for their own science. “The strongest man is he who stands alone” (Ibsen, Enemy of the People).

Nominations for the 2015 John Maddox Prize for standing up for science are now open and close on 20 August 2015.

Read Prof David Nutt's post about winning the Maddox Prize.