Get Up, Stand Up for Science!

Written by Dr Supatra Marsh, BBSRC Policy Fellow at the Society of Biology, founder of Art Neuro, and member of the Voice of Young Science network.

sense about scienceSense About Science is a charity that works to ensure science is reported accurately in the media. They hold many workshops including the ‘Standing up for Science’ media workshop for early career scientists that I was lucky enough to attend.

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about science reporting in the media? The MMR scandal? All the things that supposedly cause or protect you from cancer? If I were to ask my fellow scientists this question I’m sure I would get a whole range of examples about how science has been misrepresented in the media.

At the ‘Standing up for Science’ media workshop we heard from three scientists who were very experienced in media engagement. To my surprise the whole panel were fighting the journalists’ corner and had a lot of good things to say about science reporting. We heard from Professor Malcolm Sperrin who talked positively about his engagement with the media. He explained that journalists do not intentionally want to get things wrong; they need, and want, to talk to scientists but if they cannot then that is when bad science reporting occurs. Scientists need to get better at engaging with journalists if we want to see science reported accurately in the media.

Journalists also had a chance to have their say. Deborah Cohen, Editor of the BBC radio Science Unit painted a picture of what it is like to be a journalist. They work to extremely short deadlines and have to compete for column space with other areas (such as the dreaded showbiz section!). We need to remember that a significant section of the media is primarily there to entertain the public and we must to be aware that the journalist’s top priority is to get a good story and it is the scientist’s job to make sure that story contains the relevant science evidence. Communication can also be a problem – scientists tend to use very specialised language. Deborah gave a good piece of advice when she said to always try to explain your science so that a 6 year old could understand it!

Sense about Science is currently running a campaign called #AskForEvidence. It is an easy way for everyone to make a difference and aims to challenge dubious seemingly science-associated claims on products. For example did you know M&S were selling what they called MRSA-resistant PJs?! Thankfully they aren’t any more (not that they ever were…) and that is all down to one person asking for evidence.

One of the most important things I took away from the workshop was that it is the responsibility of the scientist to make sure science is reported accurately in the media and that it is based on evidence. There is no use just complaining about bad science reporting to friends and colleagues; instead it is essential that we take action and stand up for science!

Sense About Science will be running more ‘Standing up for Science’ media workshops soon where you can lean more about joining the Voice of Young Science (VoYS) network.
In the meantime you can watch a film about their latest workshop.

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Society of Biology visits Party Conferences

Dr Laura Bellingan FSB is Director of Science Policy at the Society of Biology.

PARTY CONFERENCEThis evening, the Society of Biology will host their Biology Week Reception at the House of Commons. This follows the Society’s experts’ participation in panel discussions, arranged by the Science Council, at the three main political party conferences this season.

Labour Party Conference

Dr Curtis Dobson, Director of the Medical Device Biology group and Enterprise Coordinator at University of Manchester, brought his first-hand experience of building a successful biotech business on the foundation of his basic neurobiology. Read more »

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Chemistry Nobel Winners are Asset to Biology

Amanda Hardy AMSB is schools and colleges officer at the Society of Biology. She writes about this year’s Nobel Prize for Chemistry, and its impact on biology.

Photograph: Stefan W Hell/Division of Optical Nanoscopy/German Cancer Research Center

Photograph: Stefan W Hell/Division of Optical Nanoscopy/German Cancer Research Center

The 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded jointly to Eric Betzig, Stefan W. Hell and William E. Moerner “for the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy”. All three scientists trained as physicists. Through their work at the interface of physics with chemistry, they have created a microscope which enables living processes to be followed in ‘nanoscopic’ detail. (A nanometre is one thousand-millionth of a metre.)

Previously it was thought that light microscopes had reached the limits of resolution with smaller objects being impossible to study in this way.  It was assumed objects could only be seen if they were at least the same size as the wavelength of light used to illuminate them. This is important as molecules are too small to be seen using normal visible light, even large biological molecules such as proteins had to be studied by other methods. Proteins and the constituents of cells can be studied in great detail using scanning electron microscopy, this uses electrons to ‘illuminate’ the sample and creates black and white images with intricate detail now familiar to people from electron micrographs of viruses and bacteria occasionally published in the media. Read more »

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Malaria control drains financial and human resources

Professor Robert Sinden is head of malaria cell biology at The Jenner Institute, University of Oxford. He will be speaking at the Biology Week Debate: ‘Malaria eradication – Can we do it? Should we do it?’ at the Royal Institution on Thursday 16th October.

sindenTogether with HIV and tuberculosis, malaria imposes one of the highest health burdens on mankind. We must keep eradication as the key driver of our research.

There are an estimated 25 species of malaria parasites described in primates. Around five of these species can infect humans, and all of these species are transmitted by 30-40 mosquito species. The majority of human disease and deaths are caused by just two species P.falciparum and P.vivax.

In the 19th century half the world’s population were at risk of malaria and 1:10 died of the infection. In the 20th century, technologies targeting the mosquito vectors, such as housing improvements, bed nets, and insecticides e.g. DDT, along with anti-parasitic drugs such as chloroquine, have reduced global malaria deaths outside of Africa by ~99%.

There are concerns surrounding the emergence of drug and insecticide resistance or avoidance that affects both the parasite and vector (e.g mosquitos). Currently there are significant advances in the discovery of new targets for chemical and biological attack and these new methods could lead to the eradication of these two important parasite species if applied rationally. Read more »

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Practical skills set job candidates apart at AstraZeneca

Donna Watkin is the Global Graduate Programme Manager at AstraZeneca, where she is responsible for the recruitment of biology graduates.donna

At AstraZeneca we recruit from a broad range of chemical and biological disciplines – we look for much more than whether job candidates have a relevant degree title. In order to be successful in our organisation it is critical that graduates have the appropriate practical skills to be successful in industry and this is a big challenge for us in terms of recruitment.

Our IMED Graduate Programme has recently been developed and we have a large number and range of placements at any one time. This two year graduate programme allows new recruits to join with no specific job focus, as we encourage young scientists to explore different areas before deciding which path they should pursue. Read more »

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How green is your routine?

Ahead of the Natural Capital Initiative summit Valuing our Life Support Systems in London this November, Jules Pretty FSB, Professor of Environment and Society at the University of Essex, explores the links between our health and the environment.

prettyPhysical activity improves both mental and physical health, yet annually inactivity results in 1.9 million deaths worldwide annually, roughly 1 in 25 of all deaths.

Individual energy expenditure has fallen dramatically over the past half-century. Inactivity increases the likelihood of obesity, and is a key risk factor in many chronic diseases of later life. Individuals who do not engage in regular physical activity have a 20-30% increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD): in the UK, CVD accounts for 39% of all deaths (193,000 per year). The World Health Organisation estimates that 80% of all CVD deaths are preventable.

The term green exercise was coined to indicate the synergistic well-being benefits arising from activity in green places. We have shown that a “dose of nature” has a positive effect on mental health for a wide range of activities (e.g. walking, angling, cycling, gardening), for all age groups, for every habitat (with additional benefits from the presence of water), and for the already healthy and the mentally-ill. Forest bathing (walking) in Japan reduces blood pressure and salivary cortisol, with greater benefits for the elderly and those already with high blood pressure and other stress markers. Read more »

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Eradicating malaria: the evolution problem

TonyHolderDr Tony Holder is Head of the Division of Parasitology at the MRC-National Institute for Medical Research, and has worked on malaria for nearly 35 years. He will be speaking at the Biology Week Debate: ‘Malaria eradication – Can we do it? Should we do it?’ at the Royal Institution on Thursday 16th October.

There are many ways to try and combat malaria, and passionate arguments still rage around the pros and cons of targeting the mosquitoes that spread the malaria parasite, providing widespread and rapid access to drugs to treat the disease, or developing vaccines.

Better housing and environmental improvements would also contribute to improving the lot of millions living in some of the poorest parts of the world where malaria is endemic. Indeed many of the arguments around control, as well as elimination and eventual eradication of malaria have a large political and economic component and will be shaped by human resourcefulness and frailty.

Malaria eradication requires a shift beyond efforts to control the disease. However we don’t currently have an effective vaccine, and the development of parasite resistance to antimalarial drugs and of mosquito resistance to insecticides will challenge both control programmes and further elimination efforts. Read more »

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How do degrees accredited by the Society of Biology benefit students?

aysha1Dr Aysha Divan is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Biological Sciences, University of Leeds.  She is currently Director of Taught Graduate Student Education and has extensive experience in programme portfolio development, particularly at Masters level.  Dr Divan is a panel member for the Society of Biology accreditation scheme.

Graduates face increasing challenges trying to break into the crowded employment market. Employers are now looking for a wealth of skills and experiences that applicants can offer the company and these are the key markers that can set them apart from the next candidate. While developing the Degree Accreditation Programme, the Society of Biology worked with employers to find out exactly what skills they are looking for from graduates. All degree programmes accredited by the Society of Biology include a significant period of practical work experience, which ensures that students are workplace ready and will integrate well into their new role. Read more »

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So you want to be an ecologist?

Sasha DodsworthSasha Dodsworth is an ecologist with The Ecology Consultancy. Sasha has over 7 years experience developing and implementing mitigation measures for a range of protected species including reptiles, great crested newts, badgers, bats and riparian mammals. Sasha will be speaking about ecology and consultancy careers at our Life Sciences Careers Conference at the Royal Veterinary College on 22nd October 2014.

I have been an ecological consultant for nearly 8 years now and 90% of the time I love my job, though I will admit when it’s below 00C and I’m watching someone dig a hole I do give serious consideration to having a mid-life crisis, getting myself a tailored suit and living out the rest of my days in an office, hoarding stationary. That aside if you’re looking at this then you must be giving a passing thought to becoming an ecologist! I’d like to give you an idea what it’s like, and some tips on how to get into my line of work. Read more »

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Rosalind Franklin: heroine of the double helix

Jess Devonport, external communications executive at NICE, celebrates the achievements of Rosalind Franklin and her place in our poll of the top ten biologists who’ve changed the world.

Photograph by C Luts

Photograph by C Luts

“We wish to discuss a structure for the salt of Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA).” James Watson and Frances Crick wrote, “This structure has novel features which are of considerable biological interest.”

This seminal understatement now underpins all work in molecular biology for the last 60 years. The discovery of the structure DNA, the self-copying double helical molecule that enables the genetic code to be inherited from one generation to the next, and Rosalind Franklin’s contribution to it is now a familiar story.

In her mid-teens, Rosalind had already decided that she wanted to pursue a career in the sciences, however, her father was not supportive of her choice, believing that higher education was not suited to women, and recognising the difficulties his daughter might encounter in such a career. Read more »

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