Conferences
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Panel sessions

  1. Research and decision making - The science policy-interface
  2. A good news story from science? - Researchers facing the media
  3. Taking a stance or calming the waters – challenging established science
  4. 'Citizen science' and new social media
  5. Is it robust knowledge or make believe? - Evidence, uncertainty and the role of values
  6. New directions: how can we circle the square?

 

1 Research and decision making - The science policy-interface

Chair: Professor Patricia Thomson, School of Education, University of Nottingham

Pat Thomson is Director of the Centre for Research in Arts, Creativity and Literacy (CRACL). She is the current Director of the Centre for Advanced Studies which serves the faculties of Arts and Social Sciences. Pat is known for her interdisciplinary engagement with questions of creative and socially just educational learning and change. She authors the blog patter.

Dr Daniele Fanelli, Visiting Professor, School of Library and Information Sciences (EBES), University of Montreal

Dr Daniele Fanelli trained as an evolutionary biologist at the University of Florence and University of Copenhagen, and also worked as a science writer before specializing in the study of scientific misconduct, bias and related issues. Fanelli’s work and opinions on research integrity are frequently cited in the popular press, and he is involved at various levels with international conferences and initiatives. He is member of the Research Ethics and Bioethics Advisory Committee of Italy’s CNR, and has worked at the University of Edinburgh, University of Leuven, London School of Economics.

"Transparency is the fundamental expression of scientific integrity in research, communication, and policy-making. Transparency should be promoted and ensured at all levels, together with the awareness that all research fields, despite their methodological diversity, should be held to similar standards of evidence. The most pressing challenges faced by modern societies emerge from a complex interaction of physical, biological, ecological, technological, psychological, economic and sociological factors. Scientists’ ability to study these factors – let alone their interconnections - varies enormously across individual research questions. Rather than being minimized, limitations of existing evidence should be openly embraced, acknowledged, studied and communicated."

Professor Sheila Jasanoff, Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Harvard Kennedy School

Sheila Jasanoff’s longstanding research interests center on the interactions of law, science, and politics in democratic societies. She is particularly concerned with the construction of public reason in various cultural contexts, and with the role of science and technology in globalization. Specific areas of work include science and the courts; environmental regulation and risk management; comparative public policy; social studies of science and technology; and science and technology policy.

"Quality control in science for policy traditionally relied on the linearity-autonomy model, which presumes that policy-relevant science should stand apart from politics and that the integrity of science should be assured before values enter the decision making process. A large body of research indicates that it is neither possible nor desirable for science to remain completely insulated from policy goals and objectives. Accordingly, I propose instead the virtuous reason model, which recognizes that scientific practices should conform in certain respects to wider social norms, especially in the treatment of uncertainty and ignorance. I will sketch how the virtuous reason model has affected science for policy in Britain, Germany, and the United States and suggest that cross-cultural comparisons can lead nations to develop more thoughtful approaches to ensuring the integrity of regulatory science."

Dr Beth Taylor, Chair of the UK National Committee for the International Year of Light 2015

Until April 2014, Beth Taylor was Director of Communications and International Relations at the Institute of Physics (IOP), responsible for media relations, public affairs, science outreach activities and the Institute’s web presence. She also led the Institute’s international activities, including the physics for development programme which supports physics education and training in the developing world. Beth is a vice chair and director of the UK National Commission for UNESCO, with particular responsibility for the natural sciences portfolio. She was a founding director of Caithness Horizons, a visitor centre and community facility in Thurso.

"The science-policy interface involves traffic in two directions. In one, scientific research provides evidence which can and should influence decisions across the whole spectrum of government policy. As an example, difficult decisions on the management of radioactive wastes illustrate the issues involved in interpreting technical information for policy makers and the public. In the other, the research community depends on – and attempts to influence – government policy on science, in particular decisions on funding and direction of programmes. Campaigning for research funding, based on economic evidence, has been relatively successful under the present government, though concerns remain about specific investment decisions."

Dr Chris Tyler, Director of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST)

Chris Tyler joined POST in 2012 having spent the previous two years as Executive Director at the Centre for Science and Policy, Cambridge University. Prior to that, Chris was a science adviser to the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee and also worked at Sense About Science. Chris has a degree in Anthropology from the University of Durham, a PhD in Biological Anthropology from the University of Cambridge and sits on the Board of the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE).

"The science-policy interface is littered with seemingly contradictory realities: on the one hand it is described by researchers as more complicated than most people think, and by practitioners as less complicated; policy decisions are made with too much information, and with incomplete information; science advice must be given in a way that is clear and simple for laypersons, but without losing the complexities and uncertainties that typify science. ‘Science advice’ is an evolving specialism, which needs to develop a firmer grasp of what it is, why and for whom it exists, and how it can be improved."

 

2 A good news story from science? - Researchers facing the media

Chair: Professor Laurie Cohen, Nottingham University Business School

Laurie Cohen is Professor of Organisational Behaviour and her research focuses on women's career transitions and careers in emerging forms of organization. She has also been involved in a series of studies on perceptions and enactment of management in professional organizations.

Professor David Colquhoun, FRS, Honorary Fellow, University College London

David Colquhoun is a British pharmacologist at UCL. He has contributed to the general theory of receptor and synaptic mechanisms of single ion channel function in the development of drugs. He was made a fellow of the Royal Society in 1985 and an honorary fellow of UCL in 2004. He runs the website and blog DC's Improbable Science, which is critical of pseudoscience, particularly alternative medicine, and corporisation of science. It won the Good Thinking UK Science Blog Price 2012.
 
"Journalists are often accused of reporting science inaccurately. But in fact most inaccuracies and hype are present in press releases from university PR departments, and from journals. Both have been approved by authors, so authors must take the blame." 

Professor Dame Athene Margaret Donald, DBE, FRS, Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge

Athene Donald is Professor of Experimental Physics and her research is in the general field of soft matter and physics at the interface of biology. She has chaired many committees within Cambridge and beyond and has served on University Council (2009-14) and as the University Gender Equality Champion (2010-14). As well as various prizes from the IOP and Royal Society, she won the 2009 L'Oreal/Unesco Laureate for Europe award. She was appointed DBE in the 2010 Birthday Honours for services to Physics. She also regularly contributes to The Guardian, especially relating to women in science.
 
"Too much hype spoils a story and editorial sub-titles can completely change the meaning. Finding a balance between making a story sound good and retaining control and accuracy is a real challenge. It is one of the key reasons that seems to hold many scientists back from engaging with the media. There are too many situations where the media feels the only way a story can be pitched is if it is 'funny' (finding the equation required to cook a perfect egg sort of thing), going to save humanity, or showing that scientists are mad. None of these represent good science."

Dr Felicity Mellor, Senior Lecturer in Science Communication Studies, Imperial College London

Felicity Mellor’s research focuses on the ideological dimensions of public science, especially media representations of the physical sciences. She carried out the content analysis for the BBC Trust’s review of the impartiality of science output and she is currently leading an AHRC-funded project on the ‘silences of science’.

"The media culture of science is highly dependent on public relations. A number of studies have shown that science journalism is dominated by ‘churnalism’ – the practice of basing news reports on press releases with little original input from the journalist. Scientists can attempt to have ‘impact’ by acquiring a media profile, and university and journal press offices are increasingly adept at securing media coverage to raise their profiles. I will suggest that rather than creating an informed citizenry, this science PR is a form of noise that silences democratic discussions about science, evidence and expertise." 

Dr Jon Turney, science writer and author

Jon Turney has been a science writer, editor and reviewer since the early 1980s. His articles and reviews have appeared in Times Higher Education, The Guardian, New Scientist, Green Futures and elsewhere. From 1993-2003 he taught at the Department of Science and Technology Studies at UCL. His books include Frankenstein's Footsteps (1998), which won the BMA Award for popular medical book of the year, Lovelock and Gaia (2005) and The Rough Guide to the Future (2010), which was shortlisted for the Royal Society's science book prize.

"I’m looking back at science, media and policy viewed from various angles over thirty years. Some things have changed a lot, some not so much. The “essential tension” between science and media abides, even as media are transformed. That’s partly because science is a process, while news fixates on events - an old observation that remains valid. It may also be because scientists lean toward progressive narratives: they expect things they care about, like relations between science, policy and media, to be susceptible to improvement over time. And they tend to hew to rational models of policy making. Good for them? Discuss."

 

3 Taking a stance or calming the waters – challenging established science

Chair: Dr Mike Clifford, School of Mechanical Engineering, University of Nottingham.

One of Mike Clifford’s main research interests is Appropriate Technology and he has sourced suggestions for engineering from many developing countries. These projects have solved practical problems and have provided sources of income generation for deprived communities across the globe and raised the awareness of the role engineering can play in changing communities for the better. Mike is passionate about lecturing and is well known for his unusual ways of making his lectures more interesting for students including getting dressed in costumes.

Dominic Dyer, Chief Executive of the Badger Trust

Dominic Dyer is currently CEO of the Badger Trust and Senior Policy Advisor at Care for the Wild International a leading wildlife protection and conservation charity. Dominic is also a member the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons Veterinary Nurses Council. He is a Fellow of the British American Project and the Royal Society of Arts Business & Manufacturing. Dominic undertakes regular broadcasts on TV and radio and contributes to press articles and journals on a wide range wildlife protection farming, food production, conservation and foreign policy issues. Previously, he worked in the UK Ministry of Agriculture between 1987 to 2000 and the Food and Drink Federation in 2000 where he played a key role in developing a number of new industry groups in the organic, soya food, vegetarian and functional food sectors. He was Chief Executive of the Crop Protection Association between 2008 -2012 and played a key role in raising awareness of the importance of plant science to the future of farming and food production on a UK and International basis.

"The dangers of short term political and economic objectives undermining long term science based policy. // The political pressures government scientific advisers come under to deliver policy objectives for their political masters. // The difficulty of debating a complex scientific issues in the sound bite media. // The failure of put a clear value on wildlife in relation to animal health and disease control strategies. // The need to separate wildlife protection policy development from industry interests."

Professor Roger Pielke Jr, Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, University of Colorado Boulder

Roger Pielke is Professor in the Environmental Studies Program at Boulder and a Fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES). Roger's research focuses on science, innovation and politics and he has co-autored books such as The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics and most recently The Climate Fix: What Scientists and Politicians Won't Tell you About Global Warming. He has been awarded the Public Service Award of the Geological Society of America and also received the Eduard Brückner Prize in Munich, Germany in 2006 for outstanding achievement in interdisciplinary climate research.

"All public engagement by scientists and other experts is inherently political. As such experts concerned with the impacts or effectiveness of their engagement might think carefully about what role they wish to play in the process. I'll briefly discuss different possible roles of the expert, illustrated by a few examples taken from my own recent experiences"

Dr Jane A. Smith, writer and researcher

Jane A. Smith works on ethical aspects of the use of laboratory animals for a range of organisations, including industry, academia, government and animal welfare – and has been involved with The Boyd Group since 1993, as organiser and writer. Before going freelance, she was employed at the Institute of Medical Ethics in London and then Birmingham University’s Medical School. Her own views are in the middle ground, informed by regular visits to laboratories and participation in local ethical review bodies. She has been specialist adviser for two House of Lords' enquiries, and is a tutor for the OU’s MSc in Science and Society.

"The Boyd Group is a forum for dialogue on the use of laboratory animals, founded in 1992. It aims to bring together as wide a range of perspectives and expertise as possible, to clarify topics of current concern, learn from one another, and ‘move thinking on’. A particular goal is to replace the rhetoric that is sometimes employed on public platforms with careful argument – but not to take the heat out of the debate, rather to use the heat to generate light. My brief presentation will explore some of the pros and cons of this challenging approach." 

Professor Stephen Turner, Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy, University of South Florida

Stephen Turner has written extensively on the history of the patronage of science and on expertise and democracy, including such books as Liberal Democracy 3.0: Civil Society in an Age of Experts and most recently The Politics of Expertise. He was the first chair of his university’s research misconduct committee, and has written on this topic as well.

"Issues about process– the mechanisms of producing consensus, the role of peer review, and the influence of funding sources and mechanisms– are both opaque to commentators and potential sources of controversy, especially when the science itself is not easily understood. This poses a dilemma: to what extent should public discussion and the press focus on dirty linen and conflicts of interest that may be irrelevant to the validity of the science, even though this may be the best story and most comprehensible part of the issue? These issues often can’t be ignored: people with inside knowledge often post blog comments, creating a disjunct with the press coverage."

 

4 'Citizen science' and new social media

Chair: Professor Sarah Sharples, School of Mechanical, Materials and Manufacturing Engineering, University of Nottingham

Sarah Sharples is a Professor of Human Factors and Head of the Human Factors Research Group. Her work in transport human factors, includes projects on understanding how people use smartphones during journeys and movement, technologies to support journey sharing, new technologies in rail automation and control and human performance in air traffic control. She is also a CI in the Horizon Digital Economy Research hub and Training Programme Manager of the Horizon Doctoral Training Centre.

Professor Suzi Jarvis, School of Physics, University College Dublin and Director of the Innovation Academy

Suzi Jarvis took up the Chair of Biophysics in the Conway Institute of Biomolecular and Biomedical Research at University College Dublin in 2007. Recently her serendipitous discovery of patentable protein structures in a broad range of natural adhesives has opened up the potential for the biomimetic production of new biomedical adhesives. Suzi was appointed as Founding Director of the Innovation Academy, UCD in 2010 and has been instrumental in driving the Academy’s development to date. From 2002 to 2007 she was one of the founding Principal Investigators of the Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructure and Nanodevices (CRANN); a joint venture with multi-national partner Intel at Trinity College Dublin. Prior to that, she worked at the Joint Research Centre for Atom Technology; a Government Research Lab in Tsukuba, Japan, working in the area of nanotechnology. Towards the end of her time in Japan she was actively involved in the policy changes and restructuring which occurred across the science and technology sector primarily through her connections with the Science and Technology Office of the British Embassy.

"Students entering university today have greater access to information, more platforms to share information and more ability to reach a global network of similarly minded people than many of their educators could ever have contemplated when they entered university themselves. In this new environment of ubiquitous and freely available information it is an expectation of all scientists, especially those that are publicly funded, that we can articulate and share the relevance and potential impact of our research. But how can we prepare the next generation of scientists to best utilize and extract value from new social media? And how can we communicate the uncertainty, ambiguity and contradiction often present in cutting edge research to a society often expecting clarity, certainty and immediacy of impact from its research base?"

Neil Lancastle, School of Management, University of Leicester & 'rethinking economics'

Neil has been helping out at 'rethinking economics' since their June 2013 London conference, and was part of the 'international student letter' project that was published simultaneously in 8 languages. He has an MBA in technology management, and teaches finance and accounting seminars at the University of Leicester where he is a 4th Year PhD student. His research project investigates the 'carry trade' as a counterfactual to theories of economics and finance. His methods include interviews, simulations, statistical analysis and stock-flow consistent modelling.

Dr Sylvia McLain, Research Fellow in Biochemistry, University of Oxford

Sylvia McLain is an EPSRC research fellow in Biochemistry and a College Lecturer at St. Peter's College at the University of Oxford. She has a PhD in Physical Inorganic Chemistry, an MSc in Science Education and a BSc in Zoology all from the University of Tennessee in the US. Her research group at Oxford focuses on understanding how water interacts with drugs, lipids and peptides on an atomic scale in solution to give rise to life itself. She also blogs for Occam's Typewriter and the Guardian about science and the philosophy of science.

"Citizen science can be essential to some avenues of research, especially, for example, in ecological studies and environmental impact studies. However, the role that non-professional scientists could play in many avenues of research is less than clear. Social media could be a unique opportunity for professional and non-professional scientists to interact in meaningful way toward scientific discovery. Yet still being 'scientifically literate' does not seem to be a component of being 'well-read' in our culture but rather still seems segregated to the few. Can social media and citizen science help to change this culture?" 

Dr Warren Pearce, Research Fellow, Institute for Science and Society, University of Nottingham

Warren is a Research Fellow on University of Nottingham's Making Science Public programme, researching public debates about climate change in the UK, with a focus on those who are critical of dominant views. He will provide insights from this research for Panel 4, in particular recently published work on Twitter conversations about the IPCC. Warren is also editor of a new issue of Evidence and Policy about the meanings of evidence within public policy, building on previous research about climate policy implementation. He is a contributor to The Guardian, and is Managing Editor of the Making Science Public blog.

"I will provide insights from recently published research in PLOS-ONE on Twitter conversations about the 2013 IPCC report on the physical science basis of climate change. In particular I highlight the topics that were linked to the report, who took part in Twitter conversations, and the differences in those conversations between countries. These findings are placed in the wider context of how science is interpreted and reinterpreted in the public sphere."

 

5 Is it robust knowledge or make believe? - Evidence, uncertainty and the role of values

Chair: Professor Reiner Grundmann, Chair of Science and Technology Studies, University of Nottingham

Reiner Grundmann’s recent research focuses on the discourse of climate change, using a comparative approach across nations. He has published several papers on the Kyoto Process and the IPCC and is a co-author of The Hartwell Paper. He has recently published two books relevant to the conference topic, Experts: The Knowledge and Power of Expertise (Routledge 2011, with Nico Stehr) and The Power of Scientific Knowledge: From Research to Public Policy (with Nico Stehr, Cambridge University Press, 2012). He is co-director of the Leverhulme Trust research programme ‘Sustaining urban habitats: an interdisciplinary approach’.

Dr Angela Cassidy, Department of History, King’s College London

Angela Cassidy is a research academic working across the sociology and history of the life and human sciences. She has a particular interest in how scientific knowledge is constructed, communicated and acted upon during public scientific controversies, and has studied this process in debates over popular evolutionary psychology, food risk, animal health and wildlife management. She is currently a Wellcome Trust Research Fellow in the Department of History, King's College London, where she is investigating the late 20th century history of the UK bovine TB problem.

"The ongoing UK controversy over culling wild badgers to manage bovine TB in domestic cattle has highlighted profoundly contrasting understandings of how human-animal relations should be, and of the importance and purpose of rural environments. Public and policy debates have turned upon multiple expectations and interpretations of 'the evidence', while unknowns and uncertainties have been pushed to the margins. The public image of Science as value-free, authoritative and finalised knowledge has contributed to the extension and polarisation of this controversy, but is also exposing the limitations of this idea. Can thinking about reframing bTB help us think about reframing science and evidence?"

Dr Tim Johnson, Academic Fellow in the Department of Actuarial Mathematics and Statistics, Heriot-Watt University

Following an undergraduate degree in physics, Tim Johnson worked in oil exploration becoming interested in problems of decision making under uncertainty, and embarked on a path that led him to be the RCUK Academic Fellow in Financial Mathematics during the financial crisis. In this role, Dr Johnson became conscious of the ambiguous role of mathematics in finance, particularly criticisms from the regulators that mathematics was used as much to obscure as to enlighten. 

"Mathematical probability emerged in the sixteenth and seventeenth century through the analysis of commercial contracts in an Aristotelian ethical framework. This approach became obscured by one that was developed in the context of casinos, particularly after Laplace. A domain where traces of the original conception of probability remain is in contemporary financial mathematics, which has to deal with problems of radical uncertainty. Reflecting on the role of mathematical probability in finance could inform how science approaches radical uncertainty in general, in particular it suggests a pragmatic meaning, rather than truth bearing meaning, to mathematics."

Dr Stuart Parkinson, Executive Director of Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR)

SGR is a UK-based organisation of about 900 natural scientists, social scientists, engineers and others concerned about the use and misuse of science and technology. Dr Parkinson has degrees in physics, engineering and environmental science. His early career experience on military engineering projects raised serious ethical concerns, and he consequently moved into environmental research and then onto science and technology policy analysis. He has been SGR’s Director since 2003, co-ordinating research and advocacy work on range of issues, in particular, military and corporate influence on science and technology.

"The quality of scientific evidence can be strongly influenced by powerful vested interests involved in research. Research quality can and is damaged by factors such as: sponsorship bias; commercial confidentiality restrictions; and undeclared conflicts of interest. The communication of scientific evidence can also be damaged by similar factors, and vested interests can exploit uncertainty to argue for favourable policies or actions. Particular problems have been documented related to, for example, the involvement of the pharmaceutical, fossil fuel and arms corporations. Given these concerns, a critical overarching issue is the role of values. Integrity among researchers and funders is important in trying to discover the most robust scientific evidence. Meanwhile broader social values become important in determining which research agendas are the most beneficial for the public interest."

 

6 New directions: how can we circle the square?

Chair: Professor Brigitte Nerlich, Professor of Science, Language, and Society at the Institute for Science and Society, University of Nottingham

Brigitte's research focuses on the cultural and political contexts in which metaphors and other framing devices are used in the public, policy and scientific debates about emerging technologies, emerging diseases, as well as climate change. She is director of a Leverhulme Trust funded research programme “Making Science Public: Challenges and Opportunities”.

Dr Jason Blackstock, Acting Head of Department for Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy at UCL (UCL STEaPP)

Jason Blackstock is a leading international scholar and policy adviser on the interface between science and international public policy. His work includes a focus on the science and governance of climate change, including projects on geoengineering, short-lived climate forcers and sustainable energy transitions.

"Throughout the last year, UCL’s new Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy (STEaPP) has been exploring the knowledge, skills and institutional frameworks that can enable individuals to contribute most effectively to the generation of robust public policy under complex conditions. In this panel, we will discuss some of the key issues and questions that have emerged in our work (e.g. challenges of policy and technical literacy in different communities, and the role of evidence within public decision making) and outline the approach STEaPP has taken in building an educational strategy that directly tackles some of the challenges in making complex technology-dependent policy that better serves society."

Professor Reiner Grundmann, Chair of Science and Technology Studies, University of Nottingham

Reiner Grundmann’s main research interest is the relation between knowledge and decision making. In recent years he has been studying the public discourse on climate change where the role of scientific experts, lay audiences, decision makers and the mass media are crucially important. As various actors frame the issue in different ways, their use of language needs to be understood. He also researches the social, political, and cultural dimensions of climate change. This includes the ethics of climate research (as exemplified in 'climategate'), the dilemmas of scientists between advocacy and honest brokering, the role of Sociology in the climate change debate, and the relevance of STS for all of this.

"What are the mutual expectations of researchers, journalists, campaigners and policy makers? What issues are likely to influence their interaction? The questions suggest that I will not make a call for 'better
understanding' of all parties involved but start with a description of reality. Unrealistic expectations are often the basis for frustrating misunderstandings. I will limit myself to doing two things: (1) to display the possible types of expectations; (2) to develop some hypotheses. These are: scientists want to 'communicate science'; journalists want to 'find a good news story'; campaigners want to 'voice concern and get support';
and policy makers want to 'position themselves and find evidence for their goals'. The preceding discussions at the conference will make it possible to evaluate these hypotheses and to highlight some constellations that may be common, or problematic.

Professor Philip Moriarty, School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Nottingham

Philip Moriarty is a Professor of Physics and an Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Fellow at the University of Nottingham. He has a keen interest in outreach activities and both science and higher education funding policy. In addition to participating in a number of research council-funded public engagement projects (including Giants of the Infinitesimal), and his membership of the Steering Committee of the Council for the Defence of British Universities, he has interacted with national and international media (including The Independent, The Guardian, and The Economist) on these issues. He is also a regular contributor to Nottingham's Sixty Symbols YouTube project.

Dr Kate Roach, writer and researcher

Kate Roach began her career in science television production, science website production and as a science writer. She has been published by the BBC, BBC Wildlife, Channel 4, The Guardian blog, The New Scientist, BBC Knowledge and various blogs. After completing her PhD on the cultural history of science she has built a portfolio career. She draws down knowledge from the academy in her capacity as researcher, facilitator and teacher in the third and public sectors. Meanwhile she continues to write and is currently working on a popular book, 'People's Science - A Counter-History of Knowing.' She is also a great believer in the value of fiction in exploring the thorny issues thrown up at the interface of science and policies of state.

 

 

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