By Katherine Mathieson, Chief Executive of the British Science Association

Each year, supporters of the British Science Association (BSA) are invited to nominate individuals to be considered as Honorary Fellows. These are people who embody the BSA’s vision and mission, supporting the organisation’s goal of putting science at the heart of culture and society.

This could be in a variety of ways, such as: bringing science to the public in a clear and engaging way; challenging the stereotypes of what a scientist looks like; and furthering the inclusion and diversity of science in society. Previous Honorary Fellows of the Association have included Sir David Attenborough, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon, Dr Helen Sharman, Professor Alice Roberts, Sir Paul Nurse and Wayne McGregor, for example.

This year, the BSA’s Council (our Board of Trustees) has taken a decision to focus this accolade – the highest honour the Association can confer on an individual – on people playing a leading role in the COVID-19 pandemic.

For those of us in the science communication sector, this is a once in a generation situation where public engagement with science directly and visibly affects everyone’s daily life. There is a greater appreciation among policymakers and businesses about the importance and urgency of improving public engagement with science.

Over the last three months, we have seen increased visibility of science’s role in our everyday lives in the context of public health. All of us have had conversations with loved ones and friends about the impact that the virus is having on us, and many people are more engaged in science and public health than we were before. 

We are also seeing long-standing issues in science and society thrown into sharp relief, such as the disproportionately severe effects on minority ethnic groups, lower trust in science-based messaging among historically under-served groups, the distrust caused by changes in the ‘facts’, and the spread of misinformation among unverified sources of information.

For many families and communities, this frightening pandemic has been a source of tragedy, hardship and distress.

And that is why we have decided to use our annual Honorary Fellowships this year to celebrate people who are making an outstanding contribution to public engagement and science communication in the context of the coronavirus crisis.

  • Who has been getting the balance right between transparency (about risk and uncertainty, of communicating rapidly evolving evidence) and tone-deafness (to the public’s concerns about their way of life, mental health, family and friends)?
  • Who has been advocating for communities traditionally missing from the national conversation about science and public health?
  • Who has been listening to and speaking for young people (a recent survey by the BSA found that 14-to-19-year-olds feel excluded from the national conversation)?

If you would like to nominate someone you can do so using this short online form.

Nominations will close at 10am on Monday 8 June, and will be considered by the BSA’s Honorary Fellowships committee (a sub committee of Council) towards the end of June. The individuals selected to receive an Honorary Fellowship will be announced in the summer.