The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has published their report on science communication and engagement on Wednesday of this week. The NCCPE submitted evidence and NCCPE director Paul Manners was invited to act as a witness to the committee.
The report calls for new measures to ensure clearer consideration of scientific evidence in policy making, and greater backing for public dialogue and engagement with science. It also calls for the work of the NCCPE to be extended.
The following recommendations are 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.
- 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 of 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.
- Two key programmes to promote public dialogue and engagement in policy making, Sciencewise and the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement, should be extended including through adequate funding in the Government’s Industrial Strategy.
- 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.
We were encouraged to see the acknowledgement made of the critical, ongoing importance of engagement with the public, and that the committee recognised the usefulness of science capital as a tool for planning and focussing engagement activity. We were pleased also to see recognition of the role of the NCCPE and the associated efforts across higher education to deepen the quality and impact of university engagement.
We look forward to the government response, which we hope will flesh out in more detail how it intends to extend its support for public engagement with research. The necessary brevity of the published report omits much of the detail of how the NCCPE is funded, and of the wider landscape of university public engagement. In particular, we would like to see recognition of the imperative of investing in culture change in higher education, to ensure high quality public engagement is embedded in the professional culture of science. This is a vital route to ensuring more effective public dialogue and involvement, and will contribute to the aspiration to see significantly improved reporting of science in the media.
The NCCPE submitted three pieces of evidence:
- A response to the consultation questions
- A response to the consultation on behalf of the National Forum for Public Engagement with STEM (for which we act as the Secretariat)
- After the hearing, we were invited to submit further evidence of what constitutes evidence of successful public engagement