Science So What? So Everything. Freedom of Information request and blog comment

We have previously posted some criticisms of aspects of the Science So What? So Everything? campaign. Elliot from the campaign has now responded to our guest post on Science: So What and science communication. We are grateful to him for getting back to us. However, we do have a number of concerns about his comment.

Firstly, as Elliot acknowledges (and is good enough to apologise for) this comment has taken some time to arrive: the post was made over two months ago. Blogs tend to move rather quickly – I can sympathise with the difficulties that government departments have in engaging with media that work like this, but it is necessary to find a way to respond more quickly. Elliot’s explanations of some of the problems, though, are useful and worth flagging up:

Whilst government is well set up for prompt responses to phone calls, letters and emails, blogs and social media are an area in which we are all still catching up. Moreover, it’s worth remembering that government isn’t just the civil service acting on its own initiative – in order to find answers to some of the points raised, we need to check with stakeholders and officials from a wide range of backgrounds.

As such – at present – there just aren’t any “official” methods for responding to blog posts, especially in areas where commenting on policy is required. In this instance, I decided to try and find answers and responses on a personal basis rather than wait for these processes to be fully realised (which they will, in time – everyone is aware of the importance of getting social media right, and I think people would be surprised at the appetite for channels that offer better communication with the public at large).

Other parts of Elliot’s comment, though, are more problematic. Elliot argues that

Re: consultation – The Science and Society Consultation invited input from all interested individuals and organisations on a range of issues including public engagement. As it was “Science & Society,” social science institutions were directly consulted too, notably the Social Research Association and the Academy of Social Sciences. As Lord Drayson stated in his letter to Research Fortnight (19 November 2008), on just this point, DIUS will be involving in the broadest range of stakeholders possible in the subsequent development and implementation of the strategy.

However, the post Elliot is commenting on directly discusses this consultation. The objection is not a lack of consultation, but the way that some of the responses were handled. As pointed out in the post:

Worryingly the whole of 25 years of academic PUS research seems to be put into no more than one paragraph

We look forward to Science: So What‘s response to this important point.

More worryingly, Elliot goes on to argue that

part of the idea of this campaign is to reach a wider audience than the science community can sometimes reach themselves. Whilst we have a duty to consult with the science community and stakeholders, the goal here is to reach beyond. The SSW campaign we are running is not really about talking to scientists – it’s about trying to encourage new ones and promoting better public understanding / valuing of science practictioners. As a result, what suits those people may not always suit the community.

Firstly, we are not quite clear who Elliot means by “the science community”: we would welcome some clarification as to which groups are felt to be reaching narrower sectors of the public than the Science: So What campaign. We would also be fascinated to see the Science: So What research which demonstrates the limitations in these groups’ approaches, and which shows that Science: So What is reaching diverse audiences successfully. It would be interesting to see whether Science: So What are making these conclusions based on established Public Understanding of Science research, or have carried out original work on their own.

With regret, I should also mention that – in order to find out more about Science: So What – we submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS): the government department where this campaign is based. Disappointingly – although I have tried to chase this up a number of times by e-mail and phone – this request is now overdue. This is a shame: FOIA requests are a great way to communicate with government bodies (go on – try it), and I would have hoped that Science: So What could have shown their commitment to openness and good communications by offering a prompt response. We will be blogging about Science: So What again next week – hopefully we will have some useful information from our FOIA request by then, in order to help us to engage more effectively with the campaign’s work.

It has also been rather hard to get hold of DIUS and Science: So What – when I called the number on DIUS’s contact us page last week, this actually put me through to another Department (after I pointed out this problem, I am delighted to see it now appears to be fixed). Despite multiple e-mails and (relatively long) phone calls, I have still not been able to get a response. Elliot mentions the need for a

clear route for communication

This is something that DIUS and Science: So What might like to consider.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Science So What? So Everything. Freedom of Information request and blog comment

  1. UPDATE: we now have a response to our FOIA request. We will blog this as soon as time allows.

  2. Pingback: Science: So What Is Recruiting a Dialogue Manager « Holford Watch: Patrick Holford, nutritionism and bad science

  3. Pingback: Dr Petra Boynton I Blog I Science, so what are seeking a science communicator

  4. Pingback: BIS and Science: So What’s definition of “rigorous and credible” research « Holford Watch: Patrick Holford, nutritionism and bad science

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