Science and spin

From the BA website
By James Clarke
The Harbour Master Pub played host to an informal science debate on ‘Science promise vs science reality’, as part of the Festival’s Science in the City programme.

The debate centred on the issue of what the public expects of science, in particular biotechnology, and whether promises given to the public can be fulfilled.

As the sociable crowd settled into their seats with drinks in hand on the top floor of the pub, Professor John Bryant, of Exeter University, began the session by declaring spin as the essence of science promise.

Drawing on the controversy surrounding stem cell research, he suggested that the different ways in which research can be presented to the public, or the spin it is given, results in promises being made to society that science may not be able to deliver.

Professor Bryant continued by suggesting that scientific discoveries were not given such promise in the past, and spin in science seems to be a new trend in the biotechnology industry. He concluded: ‘Something has changed and I wonder what it is?’

For the next fifteen minutes, the twenty-strong crowd discussed the promise and reality of science while sharing a drink and a bite to eat. To fuel this discussion, each table was given a platter of food.

After Professor Bryant had visited each table to help the discussions, the debate was opened to the room for people to air their views. In between the intermittent shrieks of the after-work drinkers downstairs, the BA Festival goers discussed, in a more temperate manner, the role finance plays in publicising research.

They concluded that spin is largely based on attempts to gain funding.

It became apparent, however, that the issues were not quite so simple. Audience members pointed out that society is now demanding more from its scientists, leading to pressure to present their work with accompanying spin.

Neasan O’Neil of the Alchemists Café said the issues discussed had been more technical than the usual Café Scientifiques they have organised in similar Dublin pubs over the past year. The audience would have been able to continue discussing for at least another drink, and it was unfortunate that the question session ended with many issues still left untouched.

The event was organised by the Society for Experimental Biology and the Alchemists Café.

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