The S&T Select Committee has just published its latest report, concerning science communication and (public) engagement. AsSIST-UK submitted evidence to the report during its deliberations.
The main conclusions of the Report are:
- ‘The Government must not deliberately conflate scientific considerations with political, financial or legal matters when making policy decisions, and the Cabinet Office ‘Green Book’ on public consultations must make it clearer how scientific evidence is considered independently of wider matters.
- Media organisations must take greater care to avoid ‘false balance’, where opposing scientific views are presented with apparent equal weight even if the overwhelming majority of scientific evidence is weighted on one side. The Committee found this has been particularly evident in reporting around climate change.
- The Committee takes a dim view of the practice or organisations issuing embargoed press releases prior to the availability of fully peer reviewed journal reports, as this is impeding journalist’s ability to carry out proper fact checking or to challenge the claims made.
- The Government must ensure a more robust redress mechanism in cases where scientific evidence is mis-reported by the media, which is lacking in the current Leveson reforms.
- Two key programmes to promote public dialogue and engagement in policy making, Sciencewise and the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement should be extended including through adequate funding in the Government’s Industrial Strategy.’
These recommendations reflect a traditional view of scientific evidence as robust and asocial/apolitical. Clearly, evidential claims need to examined on the basis of the assumptions they make and how these are communicated to diverse audiences, but we know too that a socially robust science evidentiary is one that acknowledges uncertainties and the value-positions on which it is based.