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Nominations for the Maddox Prize for Standing up for Science

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Missing Evidence

An inquiry into the delayed publication of government-comissioned research

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'The Ugly Truth'

by Tracey Brown, director of Sense About Science

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Measuring government transparency

New framework rates use of evidence

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Euro Science Open Forum in Turin

I've just come back from ESOF 2010 in Turin. We held two sessions, one responding to the latest results of our Peer review survey and the other on mythbusting and evidence hunting. They both went very well, we packed out the rooms and it really showed what a hunger there is internationally for these discussions. I met scientists, journalists and organisations from around the world and have developed my ideas about holding an international standing up for science congress in London.

In the 'What's up with Peer review?' session our panel got the audience thinking about some of the controversies and issues surrounding the peer review process such as bias, fraud and shutting out of new ideas (you can watch the session here). Panellist Philip Campbell (editor in chief of Nature) was surprised that very few academics pass on reviews to their post-docs. He felt that post-docs should be closer to the field and they also need the experience for training - something that was confirmed when Tracey asked the audience if anyone had received reviewer training and only a couple of hands went up.

 

The public understanding of peer review and its use as a tool to weigh up scientific claims was debated - some of the audience felt that peer review is too complex for the scientific community to get their heads around, let alone the public. I thought Tracey made an important point that it may not be perfect but can act as a benchmark to distinguish between science and opinion and we have had many requests since for our I Don't Know What to Believe guide. One request was from Thandi Mgwebi from the National Research Council in South Africa. It was great to speak with her about heading to South Africa in December to hold one of our VoYS Standing up for Science media workshops at a post-doc forum.

Over 180 people came to 'Warriors Against Claptrap: Are myth-busters the new generation of civic-scientists?' (you can watch the session here). It was good to hear Daniella Muallem a member of VoYS describing her motivation to make a difference in society and stand up for science. I often give talks about VoYS but it's so different to hear about it from a member's perspective. Professor Sergio Della Sala, a neuroscientist who's done a lot of work exposing myths about brain training, gave an entertaining talk where he raised examples of claptrap and the importance of evidence in an original way. He even had members of the audience whistling the tune to Popeye the sailor man!

 

We had such a positive response from the audience in this session with people from different countries coming up to us afterwards wanting to know how they can start similar schemes where they are. Chinese journalist, Albert Yuan who writes for Life Week said that they have very similar scientific misconceptions and 'claptrap' in China - particularly with things like detox and GMOs.

It was great to be in Italy and the ESOF social events were in some amazing venues including a castle and the tallest building of Turin! I left on Tuesday with my head buzzing with thoughts from so many conversations and think we've got an exciting time ahead with setting up work abroad. I am already looking forward to taking part in the next ESOF 2012 in Dublin!