By Professor Jo Verran, Professor of microbiology at Manchester Metropolitan University.


At the Science Communication Conference, sessions on how to create engaging and entertaining written content are always incredibly popular. But a vital lesson for all budding science communicators is that to be a great writer, it’s not enough to just write; you have to read widely and critically.

That’s why this year at the Conference, we’re running a special session of Bad Bugs Book Club, for delegates to get together and have a critical discussion about a piece of fiction that deals in scientific themes. Professor Jo Verran tells us more about the history of the book club, and the choice of book – ‘Nemesis’ by Philip Roth.

The Bad Bugs Book Club began six years ago. We are a group of scientists and non-scientists who read and discuss novels where infectious disease forms part of the plot. We meet about six times a year, usually in a pub. We have now read over 30 books – some excellent and some not so good. We consider the impact of science in the storyline, its value in raising awareness of issues around infectious disease with different audiences, and also how good a read the book was! We post our discussions and reading guides on our website.

This year, the Science Communication Conference, we will host a Book Club meeting to give delegates an opportunity to see what we do, during the lunchtime on Friday 19 June. The book we have chosen is ‘Nemesis’ by Philip Roth, Pulitzer Prize Winner. It is 1944, and as the long, hot summer beings, a Newark community braces itself for the yearly outbreak of polio. There is no vaccine and the mode of transmission is yet to be identified – it was a very frightening time. The novel follows Bucky, an honourable and kindly young gym teacher, in dealing with the threat to his young charges, and managing the fears and grief of their parents. The book is beautifully written, the story is fascinating, and provides plenty of opportunity to discuss the epidemiology and prevention of polio, a disease which remains of concern in parts of the world, and which had significant global impact in the twentieth century.

If you’re attending the Conference, we’d love for you to come along to the session. In preparation, please read the book and be prepared to discuss! You’ll have a chance to let us know if you’ve read the book and you are planning on attending in the weeks before the Conference. This taster will last 45 minutes, but our sessions normally run for about 90 minutes. We hope this will give everyone a taste of the Bad Bugs Book Club, and maybe inspire delegates to start their own.

If you’re not able to attend the Conference, but want to share your thoughts on ‘Nemesis’, then tweet about it using the Conference hashtag #scicomm2015 – no spoilers please!