Horizon – Science Under Attack: a science communication response

The BBC Horizon programme, ‘Science Under Attack‘, which was shown on Monday 24 January 2011, has attracted much interest and comment. I refer to the blogs of  Andrea Sella, Michael Brooks and  James Delingpole for interesting and contrasting views and discussion.

There is no doubt that scientists face challenges in communicating their subject to the public, but I felt that the programme didn’t acknowledge all the hard work that is being done by organisations such as the British Science Association in this area. As someone who is heavily involved in the annual Festival of Science, I can confirm climate change is a topic that is frequently covered in our sessions, and often the subject of debates and discussions at the festival. Maybe there is a message here, that we need to become more visible and increase our impact!

For topics like climate change, I feel that there is a need to provide a ‘half-way house’ between the peer reviewed scientific literature, which may be inaccessible to the public, and articles that appear in the press (which often (sadly) have little scientific basis, and ignore the ‘consensus’ view that Paul Nurse mentioned, and which Andrea Sella covers in his blog).  Such material could explain the scientific view on topics in an accessible and jargon-free manner, rather like the presentations at the science festival. Maybe we should return to producing something like the ‘Proceedings of the British Association for the Advancement of Science’, earlier editions of which are now being digitised. I have heard excellent presentations on the science of climate change, and if a way could be found to make them available and accessible to all, it would be an important step forward!

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