Tag Archives: science communciation

Ben

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.

It’s oh so quiet…shh…shh

Sorry I’ve been off air for a few days. Crazy days…

The weekend saw the move into the new house. Well, I already live there, but I had to move rooms and the new guy arrived and Rob and Amanda left, so it was all go. My brother arrived in the middle of it alland I met him and his friends in the evening. So a nice, but knackering day and I slept like a baby. Sunday was very low-key, which was more than made up for by Monday!

We have a really busy week, with several big stories coming out, including the drive to reduce the price of text roaming that will be announced today. We’ve been answering questions, setting up interviews and so on. It’s good to have announcements like this, which prove that we’re not all about arguing over institutional issues – mostly what we’re about is getting on with using our combined strength as a single market to benefit consumers.

Another story that cropped (hoho) up today was about tobacco and the agricultural subsidies that go to it while at the same time we are spending money on combatting smoking. It’s an irony that is not lost on the Commission, which is why we have pushed through proposals to stop the subsidies from 2010. Of course they can’t just be stopped one day, as it’s about livelihoods, and they need time to adjust their farming to a different crop. But from 2010 there will be no EU budget support for tobacco growing, in spite of attempts by some in the European Parliament to extend that deadline.

I had a really interesting meeting yesterday with a woman who does communication for a variety of EU research projects. It was nice to have that link back to my old subject, which still tugs at my heartstrings, and also to hear about how the projects are working with each other to address their communication needs. She works in the field of health and nutrition, so really relevant to today’s world and something that can really resonate. I was speaking to a health journalist a few days ago  and she said that when a press release comes from the European Commission about scientific results, they are more likely to take it seriously, as it demonstrates an objectivity (ie not funded by food or pharma companies).

One of the funny sides of this job is being a “diplomat” in your own country. No, don’t worry, I don’t get diplomatic immunity or anything like that, but I am part of a community here in London, with invites to the embassies, working with them on initiatives, taking part in cultural events. It’s a really nice side to the job, and makes it feel less like I’ve “come back” to London, and more like I’m in a different place to last time.