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Helping the public make sense of scientific research

If someone stopped you on the street and asked for a definition of the scientific peer review process, would you be able to answer without Googling it on your cell phone? For those that answered no, don't worry - you're not alone. According to the London-based charitable trust Sense about Science, few Americans have a clear understanding of the quality-control system used to vet new scientific discoveries.

For the past decade, Sense and Science has been working to educate the members of the public in the U.K. about the importance of an evidence-based approach to scientific and technological developments. Now the group is expanding its efforts to the United States and recruiting young scientists to spread the message. Scientific American reports:

In February 13, for example, Sense about Science launched a U.S. campaign called Ask for Evidence to prompt people to question scientific-sounding information. Leaders from the organization held a “boot camp“ at the MIT Museum in Cambridge, Mass., where men and women in its Voice of Young Science USA program planned ways to spread the campaign nationwide. They also decided to target several specific topics: dietary supplements, gun control policy and fracking for natural gas, as well as changing weather patterns, so-called superfoods, vaccinations, alternative medicine and radiation. The program encourages early career researchers to play an active role in public debates about science.


A week before the launch at MIT, Sense about Science released the American version of a guide already used in Britain, called I Don’t Know What to Believe: Making Sense of Science Stories. The guide explains how scientists present and judge information, including peer review. In its release, the group said that many British groups use the U.K. version to help them convey information clearly to the public, including health workers, librarians, public-health officials, policy-makers, technology companies, safety bodies, popular writers, educators, parenting groups and local governments.

Previously: Alan Alda on communicating science. Yes, M*A*S*H’s Hawkeye Pierce, A conversation about the importance of conveying complex scientific concepts to broad audiences, Studies reveal that what studies reveal can be wrong and An introduction to the peer-review process
Photo by US Army Africa

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