A while ago I became aware of the charity Sense About Science, through their work on the Libel Reform Campaign and have been following their work closely since. they work really hard to educate the public on science and the use of evidence as well as campaigning to industry and the world of politics; put simply there need to be more people like this championing the use of scientific data and drawing attention to its misuse.
As a charity Sense About Science was born in 2002 tapping into a nerve of the scientific community which felt there was a need to defend science, its communication and the right of free speech when backed up with scientific evidence. The charity have done some great work over the years on homoeopathy and evidence based medicine, claims surrounding evidence and a wide variety of other issues as well as ensuring that the defamation act passed in 2013. In their day to day work Sense about Science also monitor media outlets for the misrepresentation and miscommunication of science and provide an invaluable platform for scientists to refute what journalists may have said.
I was lucky enough to get a place on a media workshop as part of Voice of young science,one wing of the charity’s work. The workshop explored the relationship between primary researchers and the media with panels form both scientific and journalistic professions. The contrast between these two sessions was really fascinating and the emphasis on Q&A lead to interesting discussion between what are our obligations and opportunities as researchers and how these are different to the priorities of journalists.
One thing that stood out for me personally was the impression of a fundamental conflict between the training we receive as scientists, where importance is given to the nuances and technicalities of our work and the training journalists have where there is editorial desire to make broad definite statements. It certainly made me aware of how careful you must be to sell your science confidently but accurately and ensure that it is enough of a story to be picked up by the media.
It was great also to talk to other researchers form other fields and try to describe your work to people from such alien disciplines. This is something universities (well mine at least) try and train for but you always end up speaking to people in your faculty so you don’t appreciate how niche your research truly is to the outside world.
The workshop was really useful and it was great to meet some of the VOYS/SAS team afterwards for a drink, informal meetings like that are always a great way to ask real questions which people don’t want to do in front of the group !
I would definitely say you should apply to these workshops whatever your plans are. Personally I am not sure if I want to stay in science but if you’re planning on it, this workshop is a great guide of how to get your research more attention. If you’re not sure about Postdoctoral Research its great place to get an idea of the processes and opportunities available away form the bench working in the media or scientific communication to ensure accuracy and well reported.
I would also recommend having a read of the campaigns Sense About Science are up to. In particular The AllTrials Campaign which is aiming for greater transparency on pharmaceutical trial data, something which is important to all of us and has been excellently argued by Goldacre in Bad Pharma.