Sense about Science ? equipping people to make sense of science and evidence
On Friday 8th April 2016, Sense About Science ran a Standing up for Science media workshop at the University of Manchester. We were joined by 40 early career researchers from diverse backgrounds and institutions.
The workshop kicked off with a panel of scientists presenting their experiences (both good and bad) of speaking to the media and the public about their research. Matthew Cobb recounted recent examples of speaking on BBC R4's Today programme and shared tips of how to make the most of media opportunities, eg writing down all key information to ensure the message you want to share gets across clearly and simply. He and Susanne Shultz both advocated being proactive about getting your story out there. Susanne noted that getting her name known in the media has led to many more opportunities, and she advised making the most of all of these. Mark Lorch described the benefit and impact of blogging and how to be creative when talking about science, for example his article on The Conversation: What does Spider-Man eat for breakfast? An engaged discussion followed with questions around how to communicate uncertainty and the process of science, tips for how to prepare for media experiences and the role of the press office in helping scientists share their research with the public.
Participants then split into groups to discuss what is good about the way the media report science, and what is bad. This fed into a lively second panel session, where participants put criticisms and questions directly to two journalists. Vic Gill, science journalist at the BBC, shared the pressures that journalists face each day and her process of picking a story and making it consumable. Her key advice, "You have to practice! Do public talks, get involved with science festivals and speak to local media." Akshat Rathi, the science and health reporter at Quartz, emphasised the importance of scientists being available: "If you're available, there's less chance journalists will get it wrong." He outlined how scientists can and should help journalists to tell science stories in a way that people can understand.
In a second session of group work, participants considered the obstacles that early career researchers face in standing up for science. They put their concerns to the final panel, who offered advice and tips about how these can be overcome. Jamie Brown, media relations officer at the University of Manchester, explained how press offices can support researchers to talk about their research, and urged researchers to get in touch in plenty of time when they have something to share. He outlined the importance of researchers doing so and the benefits it can have on society as well as on their research. Chris Peters, scientific liaison at Sense About Science talked about the Ask for Evidence campaign, and how scientists and members of the public alike should be able to request evidence for the claims they come across in order to hold to account those who are making decisions on our behalf. He also shared examples of campaigns that the VoYS network has run and how these VoYS members were able to make a real difference. Hayley Gorton, a VoYS member and researcher at the University of Manchester, described how a year ago she had been in the audience at a VoYS workshop, and noted the increasing number of initiatives she has been involved in since, including Pint of Science, Famelab, speaking at conferences and being an active RPS member. She encouraged all ECRs to make the time to get involved now and advised that the more you do, the more opportunities will follow.
More photos from the day are available on Facebook.
If you want to attend a future workshop, or are part of an organisation that would like to partner a Standing up for Science event, please email Joanne at jthomas[at]senseaboutscience.org.
Blogs and commentary by participants:
Caroline Wood, a member of the Society for Experimental Biology and a PhD student at the University of Sheffield, researches parasitic weeds that infect food crops. When she is not in the lab, she enjoys writing about science, blogging, painting (badly) and getting lost in the Peak District. Caroline wrote about the workshop on her personal blog.
With thanks to all our workshop partners:
Association for Clinical Biochemistry and Laboratory Medicine
The British Institute of Radiology
The Francis Crick Institute
Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine
Medical Research Council
Royal Meteorological Society
Royal Pharmaceutical Society
Society for Applied Microbiology
Society for Experimental Biology
University of Glasgow
University of Leeds
University of Manchester
University of Reading
University of St Andrews
University of Stirling
University of Warwick
Top tip 1: Ask for Evidence. If you’re being sold a product or asked to believe a claim then you deserve to know whether it’s based on evidence – or imagination.
Top tip 2: Detox. It’s a marketing myth – our body does it without pricey potions and detox diets.
Top tip 3: Superfood. There is no such thing, just foods that are high in some nutrients.
Top tip 4: Cleansing. You shouldn’t be trying to cleanse anything other than your skin or hair.
Top tip 5: If it sounds too good to be true… it probably is.