People & Science

A publication of the British Science Association

23/04/2014

Show me content for... +

Show me content for...
Events
Resources
Volunteers
Teachers
Professional development
Families & teenagers (aged 12+)
Families (children aged 12 & under)

Donate

register

Register with us and you can....

  • Sign up to our free e-communications
  • Become a member of the Association
  • Create your own web account, & post comments
  • Be part of British Science Festival
  • Save your favourite items

Register

Keep up to date with the latest news from the British Science Assocation. Sign up to our RSS feeds and take us with you when you are on the move.

You are here

Shorts: September 2010

More information, please

A survey has found a majority of Europeans want more information about scientific developments. 

26,671 people aged 15 or over across 32 European countries responded to the 2010 Eurobarometer survey on science and technology.  Altogether, 79 per cent of them said that they were interested in scientific and technological developments, but 57 per cent agreed that scientists do not put enough effort into informing the public about new developments.

So what?

A survey has found a majority of Europeans want more information about scientific developments. 

26,671 people aged 15 or over across 32 European countries responded to the 2010 Eurobarometer survey on science and technology.  Altogether, 79 per cent of them said that they were interested in scientific and technological developments, but 57 per cent agreed that scientists do not put enough effort into informing the public about new developments.

So what?

Brian Johnson is the independent chair of the recent synthetic biology public dialogue, initiated by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.[1]  ‘It matters hugely [that people feel uninformed]… because when something controversial pops up there’s a wide range of organisations, each with their own agendas, that can have a field day because of people’s ignorance...  They can tell people whatever they like and people will believe it,’ he told People & Science.

More effort from scientists?

Paul Benneworth was commissioned by the government’s Science for All group to review the evidence base surrounding the value of public engagement by scientists. `There’s already a

huge amount of `informing the public’ work that goes on in science,’ he told P&S. `[A survey has shown] 45 per cent of scientists working in universities engaged with the public in the previous 12 months, in terms of [for example] giving a public lecture, giving an interview to a newspaper, [or] doing work with a community group.’

Johnson is unimpressed. `Scientists need to put much more effort into establishing proper public dialogue between their institutions and labs and the lay public out there,’ he says.  ‘It is unwise to make assumptions about the relevance of your work, the public interest in your work and perhaps dangerous to make assumptions about what the societal and ethical issues might be.’

A more active public

Benneworth blames systems that exclude the public from decision-making. ‘If you look, for example, at the land use planning system, a huge amount of effort has been taken to exclude the public from decision making so that a few elite actors can take decisions,’ he told P&S.

Johnson says: ‘At the moment… there are very few research institutions that have an interactive part of their website where interested members of the public can talk to researchers about what they do and give their views on what is being done. I would like to see that kind of capacity built into the way in which institutions run.’

1 D Battachary, J Pascall Calitz and A Hunter (TNS-BMRB, 2010). Synthetic Biology Dialogue: BBSRC/EPSRC/Sciencewise-ERC.

All change at the Food Standards Agency

Following speculation about the future of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), the government has announced that it will focus on its core remit of food safety policy and enforcement.  The Department of Health assumes responsibility for nutrition policy, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for non-safety-related food labelling and food composition policies inEnglandonly.  The FSA retains its current responsibility for nutrition and labelling policy inScotland,WalesandNorthern Ireland.

Following speculation about the future of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), the government has announced that it will focus on its core remit of food safety policy and enforcement.  The Department of Health assumes responsibility for nutrition policy, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for non-safety-related food labelling and food composition policies inEnglandonly.  The FSA retains its current responsibility for nutrition and labelling policy inScotland,WalesandNorthern Ireland.

The old FSA went out amidst controversy after Professor Brian Wynne, the Vice-chair of a group advising it on public dialogue on genetically modified (GM) food, resigned. He said that the planned dialogue was ‘more likely to increase public mistrust than confidence about [food] policy.'

However, it seemed likely that the consultation itself would go ahead. Following the resignation, Minister of State for Universities and Science David Willetts told People & Science that he was ‘discussing … with colleagues because I do think we need some kind of exercise like that.’

Pro-GM bias?

Brian Wynne, fromLancasterUniversity, an acknowledged expert on the relations between expert and public knowledge in science, cited diverse concerns with the planned dialogue, including a pro-GM institutional culture in the FSA. `[Jeff Rooker, Chair of the FSA] said that “the public is anti-science”,' he wrote. `We only have to add [Rooker's] related convictions... that the GM issue is `a scientific issue' and that FSA policy is determined only by sound science, for a pro-GM policy stance to be seen implicitly in FSA's deep institutional culture,' he continued.

‘No dialogue’

Wynne also expressed fears that the `dialogue' process would serve only to extract the public's views: `Dialogue requires two parties. Despite my request, [government officials] have basically declined to present themselves as dialogue partners.  If it’s going to be the normal kind of social science research on attitudes... then don't call that a dialogue!'

Food Standards Agency response

Jeff Rooker has since stated: `Neither I nor the Agency believe that the British public are “anti-science”... It is, however, my personal view that there remains an anti-science and technology culture in the media and public life.' He continued, `While natural science underpins our food safety assessments, other factors including social and economic factors are also very relevant. The social sciences are particularly important…[and] a key part of the picture when we are considering issues in relation to GM food.'

838
11517
Stop at the lights
The European Parliament has voted to require the en...
more
839
11517
New science centre
A new Science Discovery Centre is being developed a...
more
840
11517
Science Books longlist
The Royal Society has announced the longlist for it...
more
841
11517
Journalist competition
The STEM partnership is running a student journalis...
more
842
11517
Commons and Lords
Andrew Miller MP has been elected the new chair of...
more
843
11517
Follow that story!
The Guardian announced it is trialling a `story tra...
more
844
11517
British Science Association award lectures
Five outstanding young communicators have been aske...
more
845
11517
Awarding biomedical engagement
The Wellcome Trust is inviting proposals by 12 Octo...
more
Dr Joanna Carpenter
Dr Joanna Carpenter is the Shorts Editor
Join the debate...
Log in or register to post comments