Thursday, October 16, 2008

“I don’t know what to believe…” - Making Sense of Science Stories

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“Is it peer reviewed?” is what Sense About Science is encouraging everyone to ask about science stories. Our short guide, written with input from patients, pharmacists and medical practitioners, among others, lets the public in on the arbiter of scientific quality: the peer review process.
Download the guide (pdf)
Order a copy
During the development of the guide we held workshops for people on the front line of dealing with public concerns, such as doctors and patient groups, and found that they are frustrated by the damage and public anxiety that result from the promotion of poor or unpublished science. Time is increasingly spent trying correct misleading claims found by members of the public on the Internet and elsewhere.

“I don’t know what to believe...” aims to change this by making more sectors of society familiar with what they should ask about research that worries or interests them. It equips people to inquire whether research has passed the scrutiny of other scientists and is considered valid, significant and original.

The guide is being distributed through a campaign involving healthcare providers, Internet sites, helplines and local bodies, based on the ways that people pursue their concerns and interest in particular scientific developments.

Comments on the guide

A guide to help patients

“Rarely a week passes without a ‘miracle heart drug’ or ‘heart scare’ headline appearing in the national media. This can sometimes offer false hope or be very frightening for vulnerable heart patients. We welcome resources like this leaflet, which can help people to read between the lines of newspaper print.”
Jane Shepley, British Heart Foundation
“Whenever there is a story about Alzheimer’s disease in the news the Alzheimer’s Society’s helpline receives calls from people concerned about what they have read. We support anything that helps the general public to understand the health messages they see everyday and encourages people to question the headlines that they read in the popular press. As there is currently no cure for dementia it is disconcerting and disturbing for people with dementia and their families when the results of research are overplayed in the media.” Joe Crosbie, Alzheimer’s Society

A valuable aid for pharmacists

“Pharmacists are often consulted for their knowledge about medicines and diseases. In their daily work, they often have concerned people asking them about health issues and the latest “miracle cures” featured in the media. This leaflet is a really valuable tool to help pharmacists set these claims into context and explain the role of sound science in making advances in health care.”
John Clements, Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Scientists should be more open about peer review
“Peer review is fundamental to scientific and scholarly communication. But it is also its best-kept secret: outside the scientific community, very few people know what it means or how it works. Sense About Science’s initiative is important because, for the first time, it will help the public to understand the unique character of the scientific process, to ask the right questions of scientists and to engage them with confidence.”
Michael Mabe, Elsevier

Peer review can help the public decide which scientific stories to take seriously

“Sense About Science’s leaflet, ‘I don’t know what to believe …’, will go a long way towards helping the public understand how scientific research is evaluated, and the important role peer review plays in this. By increasing awareness of peer review it will help people decide which scientific stories to take seriously and which to view with caution. When confronted with contradictory or far-reaching claims that may impact their own lives, they will know the questions they need to ask to sift out what is fact from what is just opinion or speculation.”
Dr Irene Hames, Managing Editor of The Plant Journal and author of Peer Review and Manuscript Management in Scientific Journals

A helpful guide for communicating about medical research

“The MRC is pleased to support this guide which is an interesting and useful addition to communicating about medical research.”
Elizabeth Mitchell, MRC

Click here for more comments on the guide and about peer review in general.

Responses to the guide are welcome.

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