Observations Medicine and the Media

What next for public understanding of research?

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c6862 (Published 01 December 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c6862
  1. Geoff Watts, freelance journalist, London
  1. geoff{at}scileg.freeserve.co.uk

That researchers must explain their work to taxpayers is now largely taken for granted, writes Geoff Watts, 25 years after a Royal Society report recommended this. But extensions of the principle enjoy more controversy

“Don’t write for the New Scientist before you get your fellowship of the Royal Society. If you do you won’t get it at all.” In an age of near incontinent communication about anything and everything it’s difficult to recall that this antiquated piece of advice to junior scientists once had foundation. It reflected a view, widely held in the scientific and medical establishment, that talking to the media was not the thing to do. Discourse on such matters was best between professionals. One of the developments that helped sweep away this fusty, inward looking attitude was the Bodmer report of 1985.

The subject of a 25th anniversary seminar held at the London School of Economics last week, the geneticist Walter Bodmer’s influential report on the public understanding of science was commissioned by the Royal Society (http://royalsociety.org/Public-Understanding-of-Science/). Its core message was to …

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