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.
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.  ‘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.
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.’
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.
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.'
The European Parliament has voted to require the energy, sugar, salt and fat content of food products to be labelled, but against mandatory `traffic light’ labels indicating how healthy those amounts are. `[There will be] further discussions… before the Food Information Regulation is finalized,’ according to the UK Food Standards Agency.
A new Science Discovery Centre is being developed at the Jodrell Bank Observatory in Manchester, thanks to £3.1million from development funds and £600,000 from the University of Manchester. It aims to inspire young scientists and showcase cutting-edge research ‘as it happens’. You can check the latest developments at www.jb.man.ac.uk/visitorcentre 
The Royal Society has announced the longlist for its Science Books prize. Maggie Philbin, Chair of the judges, said: `There were some fascinating books in this year’s entries..[this is] a wonderful, diverse longlist.' The winner of the £10,000 prize will be announced on 21 October.
The STEM partnership is running a student journalist competition, open to all students aged 11-22 in full-time education. Written, audio or film reports should be submitted by 4pm on 6 October for the chance to win an iPod or Flickr camcorder. More information is available at www.emstempartnership.org.uk/Students/Student+Journalists/Competition/ 
Andrew Miller MP has been elected the new chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee. `I would like to see the Committee focussing its attention on... improving public understanding of some of the challenging scientific issues facing us today,' he said. The equivalent Lords’ committee is chaired by Lord Krebs.
The Guardian announced it is trialling a `story tracker' for selected science stories. Readers are encouraged to provide details when they see specified news items in other outlets, so that coverage can be compared and contrasted. See Alok Jha’s introduction to the concept http://tiny.cc/gpa6k  and the story trackers themselves at http://tiny.cc/jq3a1 .
Five outstanding young communicators have been asked to present Award Lectures at the British Science Festival. They are: Nick Lee (Can marketers control your mind?); Jessica Grahn (Music, movement and the brain); Mark Young (Are we overautomating our lives?); Sarah Bell (Watering thirsty cities); and Suzie Sheehy (the Big Bang dilemma).
The Wellcome Trust is inviting proposals by 12 October for creative projects that engage people with developments in biomedical science. They must either stimulate interest examine impacts of research or encourage new ways of thinking. Projects must be on the topic GREY MATTERS: Brain, Mind & Culture. See http://tiny.cc/c9id6  for details.