Tired of bad science? Here’s how you can make a difference!

Tired of bad science? Here’s how you can make a difference!
Liv Nathan
University of Edinburgh guest blog post.

Several Univeristy of Edinburgh students were given coveted places on Sense About Science’s recent science media workshop. Sense About Science is a charity devoted to unravelling the mysticism surrounding scientific claims in the press.

Should scientists be trying to get their stories covered in Cosmopolitan or Pick Me Up? During a recent media workshop organised by Sense About Science, BBC reporter Eleanor Bradford pointed out this neglected field. After all, fashion and celebrity gossip magazines have a much higher readership than any single blog post or even your average British newspaper, the more traditional turf for mainstream science reporting.

The workshop began with a stirring debate on the role of a scientist in the world of media, from Professor Brian Cox to the Italian earthquake scandal. Of the panel, Dr Eleanor Gilroy shared horror stories from her work in a GM research institute, whilst Professor Miles Padgett encouraged interaction with the media. Meanwhile, Professor Sergio Della Sala was playing the devil’s advocate, and arguing that we should keep our noses out of an area which we don’t understand. Still, his was the minority view: with so much pseudoscience and misunderstanding coming from science coverage it was the general feeling that researchers and journalists alike have a responsibility to get involved with unifying the disparate fields of science and media.

With this rousing conclusion, we got the chance to speak to some of these journalists ourselves, from publications as diverse as The Scotsman and the Daily Mail. Accusations flew as the science-savvy audience grilled these unlucky souls on the ins-and-outs of science reporting. It quickly became clear that the trend wasn’t to have journalists trained in science, so best-covered research has someone behind it making it digestible and clear.

The day and particularly the final session really hit home how we can make a difference: taking action!

So if you see some bad science, some fudging of the facts or misleading statistics, do something about it. Give the newspaper switchboard a ring and ask to speak to the editor of the science section or the journalist who wrote the article. Many of them are open to constructive criticism and will welcome an expert contact – which as a scientist, you’re fully qualified to be.

And if you want to see more science stories in the mainstream media? Well, you could certainly send an email to that journalist you just made friends with. Newspapers will sell stories that the public want to hear – and you are part of the public too! Speak to your institution’s press office, they’ll be able to give you training or experience, and increase your confidence dealing with the press. And join the Voice of Young Science network – a group of like-minded early career researchers who’ve got several anti-pseudoscience campaigns under their belts.

Or perhaps you should give Cosmo a call.

Liv Nathan is an MSc student at the University of Edinburgh, studying at the vet school. When she’s not debating ethics or chatting up journalists, she writes for EUSci, the university’s science magazine, and learns about animal behaviour and welfare.

The next Standing up for Science media workshop to be held in Scotland will be at the University of Glasgow in November 2013. Workshops run 4 times a year. For full details visit http://www.senseaboutscience.org/voys.html