UK SMC celebrates 10th birthday

The UK Science Media Centre was the first of its kind when it was established in 2002. Now, 10 years later, its important role in bringing science and the media together is undisputed.

To celebrate its 10th anniversary, the UK SMC has launched a swish new website featuring all non-embargoed releases and briefings. And in an anniversary blog post Fiona Fox, Director of the UK SMC, reflects on the last 10 years.

An excerpt (read in full here):

A lesson from the last 10 years: ‘take courage’

When a House of Lords Inquiry on science recommended  a new initiative to sit on the ‘front line’ between science and the media ten years ago, the terminology  reflected the mood of a scientific community left battered by successive media  furores over BSE, GM crops and MMR.

Back then scientists blamed the media for undermining public trust in science, the collapse of a safe and effective vaccination campaign and the public rejection of promising new technologies. Journalists turned the blame back on scientists, scoffing at these crusty academics who emerged from their ivory towers expecting the media to educate the British public in science.

Yet ten years on I found myself giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry praising the UK’s science journalists and suggesting that a dysfunctional relationship had turned into something more positive.

One of the best examples of the dramatic change in the scientific community can be seen in the new approach of GM scientists.  In 2000 when tabloid headlines screamed out that Mutant Crops Kill and carried front page graphics of a pro GM Tony Blair as Frankenstein, the majority of plant scientists ran in the opposite direction.  Bewildered by the media hysteria these mild mannered researchers left the airwaves and front pages to the media savvy campaigners and watched helplessly as the public and policy makers turned against this technology.  The message that scientists had to engage proactively with these media storms was learned the hard way. But learned it was.

Ten years on look, at the confident and effective response by the scientists at Rothamsted Research to the public call by anti-GM activists to destroy their new GM field trial.  The researchers published an open letter to the activists, uploaded a passionate YouTube video and attracted 1000s of people, many suspicious of GM, to sign a petition in favour of allowing the experiment to proceed.  Just this  week we saw plant scientists  racing to the media to expose a series of flaws in a new study showing  health effects in rats fed with GM foods within half an hour of publication – leading many journalists to abandon the story.  Compare that to similar claims by Arpad Pusztai 10 years ago that dominated the headlines for months before a learned committee of the Royal Society published the damning critique that finally discredited the claims.

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