Sense about Science ? equipping people to make sense of science and evidence
On Friday 24th June 2016, we ran a Standing up for Science workshop hosted by the University of Warwick. We were joined by fantastic panellists and 40 enthusiastic early career researchers (ECRs) representing different organisations and fields for a day of dynamic discussion.
The workshop opened with a panel of scientists sharing their experiences of talking to the media about their research. Professor Franco Cappuccio showed headlines and articles covering his research, to demonstrate how important it is that researchers are aware of how the media works and the different agendas journalists might be working to. He gave tips on how to prepare for these and also spoke about why he sees it as his responsibility as a scientist to engage with the media and the public, and urged the audience to do the same. Dr Deirdre Hollingsworth shared her insights from working with journalists and recommended to the ECRs that they should keep the message simple, ensure their language isn’t too casual and involve their institution’s press office for advice, tips and guidance. She also noted that because of her statistics background, she quickly learnt why it’s so important to know the boundaries of your research and what you can and can’t say about uncertainties in models. Professor Andrew Easton echoed Franco’s advice about being aware of media agendas – while not sinister or malicious in any way – they differ from researchers' agendas and can change very quickly. He recommended to be very careful in how you express information about your research and to be clear about the emphasis you want to make.
Over the lunch break, participants discussed the positives and negatives of the way the media cover science. These thoughtful group discussions fed into the second session of the day, where attendees had the opportunity to put their questions and concerns directly to a panel of journalists. David Derbyshire shared the day-to-day experience of working at the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph; the deadlines, pressures and short time available to write stories means scientists need to respond quickly when journalists get in touch. He urged that scientists get involved as it’s “never been more important that the public have a grasp of science”. David Gregory-Kumar from BBC spoke about how he chooses stories – what he’s looking for and how to make it engaging. He gave advice on how to give a good interview and emphasised that ECRs should be proactive about approaching journalists when they have a story to share. Anna McKie concluded the panel by outlining the role of her publication, Research Fortnight and what she looks for from scientists when writing a story. She shared how she finds stories and how to pitch it to the right audience. An engaging discussion followed with questions around how to know when research is news, if an ECR is ‘expert enough’ and the issue of false balance and unrepresentative conflict.
The final session of the day was the nuts and bolts to standing up for science. Participants shared their thoughts on what obstacles ECRs face when doing so, including a lack of confidence and time, and knowing how to find suitable platforms to get experience. The three panellists were able to provide hints and tips about how to overcome these obstacles. Tom Frew, Senior Press and Communications Manager at the University of Warwick explained the role of press offices and how they can support ECRs to share their research. Chris Peters from Sense about Science spoke about the Ask for Evidence campaign, and how ECRs can and should get involved in this campaign to hold organisations to account for the claims they make. He emphasised that this can be done even during busy stints in the lab. Leah Fitzsimmons, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Birmingham then spoke about being a VoYS member and how she has personally overcome these obstacles to stand up for science in a great number of different ways. She noted that “opportunities breed other opportunities” – the more you do, the more you can do. Although Leah admitted she sometimes struggles to fit in the public engagement activities she’s part of, she feels that “it’s my responsibility to do so, and it makes me a better scientist.”
The clear message of this session was not to wait until later in your career to stand up for science, but to get involved in active debates about science now.
You can see more photos from the day 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.
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.