The 2012 British Science Festival is upon us, with its characteristic mixture of the erudite, the accessible and the eccentric.
Our cover story is by John Krebs , who will deliver his Presidential Address at the Festival. He asks how far psychological research can inform government policies encouraging us to do the right thing: eat the right food, drink within government guidelines, exercise according to official advice, save for our pensions and reduce our environmental footprints. From the different speeds at which we process information, to the biases in our thinking, our susceptibility to marketing and being nudged into desirable habits, behavioural science offers many useful insights. Just how much it can replace government action is the question.
Government sets frameworks, and we consider some of the issues in the framework it has agreed for open access to publicly-funded research. In the spat , Clare Matterson and Graham Taylor argue about what it will mean for the public. And Joanna Carpenter reports on public demand for openness and its implications for public trust in science in shorts .
We reflect too on the lessons of this summer’s protest against the GM wheat trial at Rothamsted. Darren Hughes  describes the researchers’ engagement and reports their determination to keep it transparent and interactive. Michael Brooks  looks at the larger picture, and suggests that the scientists should recognize that GM does not have broad public support. Tracey Brown  excoriates what she sees as offical ‘sniping’ over engagement on the issue, and extols the discussions people wanted to have, messy and all as they were.
Tracey Brown  points to some of the divides in the science communication community. Indeed, Steve Cross argues that it is not a community at all. Different groups within it, he says, have different agendas: ‘Shell employ people to explain science; so do Greenpeace.’ Ken Skeldon  finds that, although there were many good things at the Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF) in Dublin, there was not enough differentiation between the various participants to allow for focused discussion yielding new ideas.
For those attending the British Science Festival, the trek has been to Aberdeen. Engagement Moroccan-style  involves an annual trek for a week, not to some welcoming university city, but through the desert and mountains of eastern Morocco.
El Hassan Talbi describes the hike undertaken by about 50 Moroccan and French scientists, students, musicians, artists, poets, journalists, who walk up to 20km a day, camping near villages and interacting with local people on a range of scientific and cultural issues.