Review of the Week

Trust me, I’m a scientist

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.b3658 (Published 9 September 2009)
Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b3658

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  1. David Colquhoun, professor of pharmacology, University College London
  1. d.colquhoun{at}ucl.ac.uk

    The biggest problem in science communication is the public’s lack of trust in the scientific establishment, argues David Colquhoun. The solution, he says, is for scientists to bypass the PR people and take up blogging

    Unscientific America sounds like a fascinating topic, not least because the book is a follow-up to Mooney’s The Republican War on Science. It is written entirely from a US perspective (the United States, apparently unaided, sequenced the genome and invented the internet). It is reported that 46% of Americans believe that the earth is less than 10 000 years old. That’s certainly cause for alarm, and Mooney and Kirshenbaum are certainly alarmed. They think that the public needs to be educated in science. They identify the obvious problems—evolution, climate change, and quackery—and ask what can be done. The problem is that they propose no good solutions and some bad ones. The aims are worthy, but sometimes the book reads like an overlong and somewhat condescending whine about why science and scientists are not sufficiently appreciated.

    I simply don’t think it’s true that the public is not interested in science, nor that people can’t understand it at a level that is sufficient to be useful. It’s true that they have been let down badly by some sections of the media. Think particularly of the great …

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