Archive by category | Public and media

Education needed more than regulation for genetic testing

With sequencing costs dropping, it is likely that direct-to-consumer genetic services will soon include affordable whole-genome sequencing. Consumers who have familiarized themselves with the limitations of these data will be better equipped for the 3 gigabases of information that may soon come their way, according to the Editorial in the November issue of Nature Methods (6, 783; 2009). What is the right approach for direct-to-consumer genetic tests, asks the Editorial, given concerns about analytical validity, accuracy, clinical validity, clinical usefulness, helpfulness to consumers, and that the genetic variants tested for are actually associated with increased disease risk? Different countries are handling these issues in different regulatory and legislative ways, but the Editorial argues that a restrictive approach is not helpful, particularly given the huge range of genetic conditions and possible ‘tests’.  Read more

Scientists should resist the temptation to hype their results

According to an Editorial in today’s Nature ( 461, 1174; 2009 – free to read online), “the temptation for scientists and their institutions to spin their research to the media, or to go publicity-mongering, is always there. And — as illustrated by the excessive public-relations campaign surrounding “Ida”, a fossil presented as a missing link in human evolution (see Nature 459, 484; 2009 and Nature 461, 1040; 2009) — too many in the media will buy into the initial hype. Such behaviour is corrosive to the process of scholarly scientific communication. Research institutions must not allow it to become the norm.”  … Read more

The Nature Autumn ’09 Debate – Science in Cinema

From the prescient visions of space travel in 2001: A Space Odyssey, through to the apocalyptic warnings presented in The Day After Tomorrow, science fiction cinema has examined many of the theoretical possibilities and consequences of science and technology. But just how plausibly does the genre interpret such possibilities and how accurately can it predict what the future holds? Have the futuristic celluloid visions of film-makers inspired scientists to fulfil some of these visions? And are movies the best way of promoting environmental awareness to contemporary societies? Join a lively debate organized by the weekly science journal, Nature.  Read more

Being communicative but careful with the media

Bad journalism is best met not with red-faced indignation, but with good journalism. The truth is the best revenge. So concludes an Editorial in the current issue of Nature (461, 848; 2009) about an email campaign to a US climate scientist who backed out of participating in a documentary when he realized that the film-makers had not been clear with him about their intentions. Occasionally, scientists have been hoodwinked by the media, but these are rare events compared with the vast majority of programmes and other media articles. From the Editorial:  … Read more

NSMB on payoffs of engaging with the public

In its October Editorial, Nature Structural & Molecular Biology (16, 1003; 2009) asks researchers if they know how it feels to have 2,500 pairs of eyes watch them work. “Imagine the crowd staring intensely at you as you set up a PCR, admiring your smooth pipetting action and wondering what on earth is so fascinating about the DNA sequence you have in front of you. Hold on, they don’t have to just wonder, they can buzz on the intercom to ask you what you’re doing. That is the daily experience of hundreds of scientists who work at the Natural History Museum in London.  Read more

Essential reading for Copenhagen at Nature Reports Climate Change

At the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen this December, talk will turn to scientific, political and economic issues with a global reach and a long history — not easy to pick up from the daily news. Nature Reports Climate Change asked select experts on climate change what books we should be reading ahead of the big event. See Nature Reports Climate Change for the selections made my Mike Hulme, Tony Juniper, Mark Lynas, Oliver Morton, Ron Oxburgh, Rajendra K. Pachauri, Roger Pielke, Jr, Andrew Revkin and Joseph Romm, which range from popular scientific accounts to technical reports; and from explaining the controversies to passionate accounts of solutions. Some quotations from the recommendations:  … Read more

Nature Debate on science and the financial crisis

The next Nature Debate is on 21 September at King’s Place, London, and marries together ideas scientific and pecuniary. The 1980s saw the rise of the ‘rocket scientists’ of finance – as engineers, mathematicians and physicists rejected careers in science and technology and instead opted to work for banks. What part did they play in the financial crisis? And what is the future of science in finance? Join leading experts from science and banking as they debate whether the crisis was the result of bankers and regulators failing to grasp complicated, expert knowledge; and whether scientific knowledge – in particular fields such as complex systems, ecological economics and human behaviour – could help to ensure that economies are better understood and better regulated.  Read more

Taking it on trust in Nature Physics

Public trust in science is vital. But how do we ensure trust without imposing authority? An Editorial in the September issue of Nature Physics (5, 613; 2009) asks “where does evidence stop and trust in authority begin? Televisions, computers and other technological wonders are proof enough to convince most people of the validity of the physical principles on which they are based. But what of global warming, evolution and other issues in which science and politics or beliefs collide? Whom is the public to believe?”  … Read more

NSMB on the US public’s attitude to science research

The Editorial in the August issue of Nature Structural & Molecular Biology (16, 797; 2009) highlights a Pew/AAAS survey revealing striking differences between the public’s and scientists’ views of US scientific achievement and its societal benefits. According to the Editorial, this conclusion reinforces the fact that more must be done to effectively communicate with, educate and engage the public.  Read more