Was at a great event last night – a debate between Science Minister Lord Drayson and Ben Goldacre, of Bad Science fame, at the Royal Institution. The Times Higher carried it as a webcast and it should be online for a while. It was great for several reasons:
Firstly, it was about the quality of science reporting, an issues I’ve had an interest in since 2004 and which was an important part of my Eisenhower Fellowship. I think both made some good valid points and both didn’t. The problem was that they were talking about apples and oranges. The debate came about as a result of comments that Lord Drayson made about British science reporting being the best in the world, which Ben Goldacre challenged him on. But when the minister starts by saying “I’m of course talking about specialist science reporting” that does kind of change the remit of the debate, because Ben’s point about the problems of reporting science issues is that it isn’t always the science people doing it. There was a very (ahem) spirited defence from Fiona Fox of the Science Media Centre at the Royal Institution, and the audience certainly had some distinguished science writers there (I spotted Clive Cookson of the FT and Simon Singh was pointed out at one point). But that isn’t really where the problem (such as it is) lies.
The second fascinating issue was that this was the first truly social media event I have ever been at. The challenge to hold the debate was issued over Twitter. I, like others, heard about it through Ben’s twitter feed, and tickets sold out in 90 minutes (“the science equivalent of a Take That concert” according to Simon Mayo who was really good in the chair). So many people were tweeting about it that it (#scidebate) trended as a twitter topic (leading to a deluge of spammy tweets!).
The third issue for me was for most of the debate, you could have taken the word science, replaced it with Europe and the arguments would have been the same. But would we ever sell the tickets in 90 minutes?!
Anyway, if you are in anyway interested in science reporting, or social media as a communication tool, I recommend looking more closely at the event.