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14/07/2014

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Tales from the water cooler: September 2009

Barrie Cadshaw reveals what’s been going on in the public engagement with science community

Much of the talk around the watercooler of late has been around issues to do with science and its relationship with the media. 

Positive story

When Fiona Fox from the Science Media Centre unveiled a hot-off-the-press Academy of Medical Sciences Booklet entitled Hype, Hope and Hybrids, examining science policy and media perspectives of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, she was absolutely effervescent in her enthusiasm. The story became a massively positive one about science and the media, and helped strike a balance with the negativity often cited around MMR or GM foods.  

Spat

However, science and the media were not such happy bedfellows in the public spat between Steve Conner, and Ben Goldacre, GP and writer, following a run-in at the World Conference of Science Journalists in London. 

Ben organized a free pub event as an alternative to what he implied was an overpriced Conference, during which he felt journalists ‘might not adequately address some of the key problems in their profession, which has deteriorated to the point where they present a serious danger to public health.’  This comment was picked up by Steve Connor, Science Editor of the Independent. In a piece in the newspaper’s Science Notebook, he said: ‘lofty medics should stick to their day job’ – and so ensued a flurry of tweeting on the topic.

Not only Russia

In his address to the annual Science Communication conference, Robert Winston commented on issues to do with the governance of science when he made the pointed, and uncontested, remark that ‘science is not about improving the wealth of the UK, it’s about improving lives.  Science driven by commerce is highly dangerous.  Don’t think it’s just Stalinist Russia that abused science. We’ve done it too.’ 

Launching careers

In the same session, Kathy Sykes was also visibly surprised to hear that she should be grateful to former BBC journalist Sue Nelson for launching her TV career.  It was Sue who had recommended Kathy as an ideal participant in BBC’s Rough Science series.  Although nothing would have given her greater pleasure, Sue felt she couldn’t claim responsibility for launching Robert Winston’s media career!

Career change

Talking about former BBC science correspondents, we hear that one of the national network’s most long standing – Christine McGourty – has left the BBC.  Pondering her departure, a BBC source wonders whether BBC News, having overspent on wars (or more likely Glastonbury coverage), decided to save money by reducing numbers of specialist science and environment reporters. Being science correspondent to news is often a frustrating life, as news editors' priorities often lie elsewhere; so perhaps Christine was glad to take a better opportunity. We wish her well in her newly-created job in the energy sector, doing communications across the whole industry.  Her new title is Director of External Affairs the Business Council for Sustainable Energy.

Singh unheard

Many of you will have heard that science writer Simon Singh is appealing against the British Chiropractors Society’s intention to sue him for libel after he questioned their claims about cures for various ailments.  Despite the amount of time and personal expense Simon has spent in his campaign to maintain free speech for scientists and writers, sources reveal that when he spoke at the World Conference of Science Journalists, his voice was barely audible over the din that the delegates were making as they networked furiously during the event.  Simon should not take this personally however, as delegates vigorously ‘networked’ throughout all of the speeches. 

To support Simon Singh and the Keep Libel Laws out of Science campaign log on to http://www.senseaboutscience.org.uk/index.php/site/project/333/

Be in touch if you hear any tales at the water cooler that you’d like us to include in the next issue of People & Science.

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Barrie Cadshaw
Barrie Cadshaw is at the British Science Association
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