The British Science Association (BSA) has today revealed its cohort of Honorary Fellows for 2020.

Accepting the prestigious accolade this year are:  

  • Professor Faith Osier, Professor of Malaria Immunology at Oxford University;
  • Mona Chalabi, data journalist and writer;
  • Professor Devi Sridhar, Professor & Chair of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh and author; and
  • Dr Xand van Tulleken, medical doctor, TV presenter and broadcaster

Each year, partners, colleagues and supporters of the BSA are invited to nominate individuals to be considered as Honorary Fellows. These are people who embody the BSA’s vision and mission, making an outstanding contribution to promoting science and public engagement, as well as supporting the organisation’s goal of putting science at the heart of culture and society. Previous Honorary Fellows have included Sir David Attenborough, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon, Dr Helen Sharman, Professor Alice Roberts, Sir Paul Nurse and Wayne McGregor.

This year, our annual Honorary Fellowships are focused on celebrating people who are making an outstanding contribution to public engagement and science communication in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic – thus, dubbed the ‘COVID-19 edition’.

Katherine Mathieson, Chief Executive of the British Science Association, said:

“On behalf of the staff and trustees of the British Science Association, I would like to congratulate Faith, Mona, Devi and Xand on this honour. Each of them has done huge amounts to bring complex ideas and issues, related to the pandemic and its impact, to wider audiences. I look forward to working with them in the months ahead as we look to reimagine what public engagement and involving more under-represented communities in health, science, research and innovation, looks like, in the wake of COVID-19.

“Without wishing to minimise the impact of the pandemic – which, for many families has been a source of tragedy, hardship and distress – for those of us in science engagement, it is a once in a generation situation where public engagement with science directly and visibly affects everyone’s daily life.

“We are seeing long-standing issues 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. On the up-side, there is a greater appreciation among policymakers and businesses about the importance and urgency of improving public engagement with science.

“Over the last six 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.”

Faith Osier said:

“Thank you to the BSA for this Award. In these unprecedented times, communication between scientists across disciplines, and between scientists and the general public, has flourished – and therefore the need for the work of organisations like the BSA, has never been more timely or important.

“The BSA’s focus on highlighting missing voices and prioritising under-represented audiences is something I’m passionate about. In my role as President of the International Union of Immunological Societies, I’ve sought to highlight spokespeople that cross disciplines and geographic boundaries as well as reflect our rich diversity with regard to gender, race and age. It is important that we use this moment – when the world’s attention is more attuned to science – to reshape the stereotype of who can be a scientist, show our vulnerabilities, and boost collaboration.”

Mona Chalabi said:

“I am so grateful to have received this honour, and to do so in the company of Faith, Devi and Xand. The BSA’s work to enable more people to engage with science, overcoming the often negative and narrow experiences of school science, and to see it as part of their everyday life - that work resonates so deeply with my passion for encouraging people to have a more positive relationship with statistics.

“Creating data journalism about COVID-19 has felt different; I don't have to work so hard to convince people that statistics matter, the public is seeing the importance of data every day. People are learning about methodologies and bell curves and logarithmic scales because they’re no longer inclined to look away from the screen when they see those words. That means there are also huge opportunities to learn and for people to change their (usually negative!) relationship with numbers. But there is still so much work to do, especially in countering misinformation. I am looking forward to working with the BSA on our shared goals in the months and years to come.”

Devi Shridhar said:

“I am delighted to accept this honour, and it is great to see the British Science Association acknowledging the important role that scientists and communicators have had in engaging the public and translating complex concepts into clear information on COVID-19.

“I hope that the current crisis does not inflict lasting damage on public’s relationship with science, and look forward to supporting the BSA’s thought leadership work with stakeholders in exploring how to rebuild trust in governments and institutions and reimagining public engagement post-COVID-19.”

Xand van Tulleken said:

“I would like to extend my gratitude to the British Science Association for this incredible honour. During the past few months, we have all become profoundly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Science and the rapidly changing public policy created in response isn’t just felt by everyone but is enacted by everyone; a great deal is at stake from our every move. This deep involvement has turned many of us into epidemiologists almost overnight, but a great deal is at stake if some sections of our community are left out, unheard or frustrated by the failure to reach and engage them.

“Through my work, I try to reach a broad range of audiences, and in particular I’ve tried to engage young people – who, as the BSA’s research has found, have been feeling overlooked by the national conversation around the pandemic. I’m thrilled to be an Honorary Fellow of an organisation that also champions this work.”

Prof. Faith Osier is Visiting Professor of Malaria Immunology at Oxford University and holds the prestigious Sofja Kovalevskaja Award. She is a former Huxley Summit speaker, President of the International Union of Immunological Societies (the union for professionals working on coronavirus) and a 2018 TED Fellow.

Mona Chalabi is a data journalist and writer, and currently Guardian’s US Data Editor. She has been active in print and on social media translating COVID-19 data for public and journalist audiences, including the pandemic’s disproportionate effects on poor communities and to illustrate the scale of the loss of life from coronavirus in the US.

Prof. Devi Sridhar is Professor & Chair of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh and author; she writes occasional columns for the Guardian. Her interests include health governance, financing, policy and inequalities in healthcare. On COVID19, she’s been outspoken on the need to keep social distancing measures in place and the importance of test & trace and face coverings.

Xand van Tulleken is a medical doctor, TV presenter and broadcaster. He has been doing high-quality, high profile communication on COVID-19 in particular for young people through outlets such as Newsround, as well as documenting his own experience of the condition in a programme with his brother, Dr Chris Van Tulleken, for BBC One.

You can view the full list of BSA honorary fellows here