Sense About Science and Peer Review

Added by Michael Jubb on 03 June 2007 19:13

One of the most interesting presentations at the Wiley-Blackwell executive seminar last Friday was one from Tracey Brown, the Director of Sense About Science, an independent charitable trust promoting good science and evidence in public debates. It seeks to do this by promoting respect for evidence and by urging scientists to engage actively with a wide range of groups, particularly when debates are controversial or difficult.

Sense About Science works with scientists to:

  • respond to inaccuracies in public claims about science, medicine, and technology
  • promote the benefits of scientific research to the public
  • help those who need expert help contact scientists about issues of importance
  • brief non-specialists on scientific developments and practices

It does invaluable work by responding to the misrepresentation in the press and other media of science and scientific evidence on issues that matter to society, from scares about plastic bottles, fluoride and the MMR vaccine to controversies about genetic modification, stem cell research and radiation.

The subject of the presentation was the work that SAS has done to make opinion formers and the public in general more aware of how the results of research are communicated to other researchers after going through a process of peer review.

The leaflet I Don’t Know What to Believe encourages people to ask the question ‘Is it peer reviewed?’ whenever they see or hear a science story reported in the press or other media. The guide was written with input from patients, pharmacists and medical practitioners, among others, and seeks to let the public in on the arbiter of scientific quality: the peer review process.

As Tracey put it very forcefully on Friday, there is an important and generally untold story that the public does not often hear about the how peer review constitutes a massive global collaboration to provide a system of quality assurance through critical scrutiny, superior to any checklist approach. Peer review has its problems, of course, but it?s the best system we have, and there is a job to do in explaining it to the public and to opinion formers.

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