Friday, April 22, 2011

Making Sense of Science in the News

Check out these recent headlines from the New York Times:

March 28, 2011-By ABIGAIL ZUGER, M.D.

March 30, 2011 - By JAMES KANTER

April 4, 2011 - By PAUL KRUGMAN - Opinion


Sometimes, reading the newspaper is an angst-inducing experience.  I start worrying about epidemics, radiation, climate change and genetically modified crops.  I wonder, in the wake of a natural disaster, would our food supply be safe?  Is my friend acting in her family’s best interest or putting the whole community at risk when she refuses to vaccinate her children?  Am I going to get sick from sleeping with my cell phone too close to my head?  Confusion ensues.

These concerns range from the legitimate to the ludicrous, and they’re all based on things I’ve seen in the media.  Sorting out the truth is frustrating for scientists and non-scientists alike.  Luckily, there are things that researchers, journalists, and readers can do to better understand one another.  Sense about Science, a UK-based charitable trust, is running a  couple of seminars at the science festival that will give people some basic tools to better understand what they read in the paper.

“What’s Up with Peer Review?”
May 3, 11:00 am-12:30 pm, Followed by a buffet lunch.
The Broad Institute, 7 Cambridge Center.

Before a paper is published in a scientific journal, it goes through a process called peer review, which gives other experts in the same field a chance to look at the research and results and comment on them before the article goes to press.  Peer review is an important part of the publication process, but it’s far from perfect.  Scientists often debate whether peer review illuminates new ideas, or shuts them down. 

And of course, the system is corruptible, as anyone who remembers last year’s Climate Gate scandals already knows.  Peer review can be abused.  But could we work to develop a system that detects plagiarism, bias, and fraud?

Come join the discussion about how peer review affects research, policy, and the public.

The panel will include:
Leonor Sierra, Sense about Science
Dr. Emilie Marcus, editor in chief of Cell Press
Karen Weintraub, freelance health and science journalist.
Dr. Natalie Kuldell, professor of biological engineering at MIT.

Organizer Julia Wilson hopes that everyone interested in science will attend, especially members of the general public.  You’ll gain some insight into how the scientific process works, and hopefully be better equipped to evaluate the studies you read about in the news.

“Standing up for Science”
May 3, 3:30-5:00 pm, Followed by a reception.
The Broad Institute, 7 Cambridge Center.

Are you a scientist?  What do you do when you see factual errors or misused statistics in your local newspaper?  How do you react when a journalist calls asking for information?

Why does it even matter if the public has good access to science news?  Can newspapers and magazines be both factual and entertaining at the same time?

Come listen to a discussion on science-related controversies in the news and leave with some useful tips on how to interact with the media.

The speakers for this event are:

Leonor Sierra, Sense About Science
Karen Weintraub, freelance health and science journalist
Dr. Chris Reddy, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Morgan Thompson, Science in the News

Both sessions are free to attend, but space is limited!  Please register by emailing Julia Wilson: by Friday, April 29th.

For more information, check out the Sense about Science website. 

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