Science So What? So disappointing

We have previously blogged about some of the problems with the government’s Science So What? So Everything campaign, and were pleased to see plans to revise the campaign in response to some of the criticisms. The site has now relaunched and – while it looks rather slicker and functions better in many ways – a number of aspects of the site remain disappointing. Lord Drayson has asked for feedback on the site, and 2020 Science have raised some interesting questions. This therefore seems a good time to look at the new site.

I have a number of concerns about the site: including accessibility, some poor quality content, and poor use of social media.  I will discuss some specific issues here, to illustrate some of the broader problems with the site:

  • Accessibility remains suboptimal (although concerns about the accessibility of design from Kindred Agency – which set up the site – were raised some time ago).  ‘alt’ tags on images – very important for those using screen readers – are not as helpful as they might be: for example, an image of a newstand discussing gonorrhoea on the home page is alt tagged “As luck would have it”.  This does not tell me what is pictured (and, personally, I would view gonorrhoea as rather unlucky).
  • Some articles commit errors common in poor mainstream media science coverage (despite previous criticisms of the veracity of the site).  For example, see the article “Lose weight with a lie-in?”  This article does not do a particularly good job of contextualising laboratory findings in terms of ‘real world’ implications.  The article abstract (I can’t access the full text) concludes that the article’s “findings suggest that insomnia patients have a dysregulation in energy balance that may play a role in explaining prospective weight gain in this population.”  This is a long way from the type of causal relationship that Science So What implies is found even in typical populations when it argues that “a good night’s rest be included alongside moderate exercise and a balanced diet as the key to maintaining a healthy weight”.   I would also note that – while this article links to the journal in question – it does not link to the correct abstract.  Especially if Science So What is aiming at non-experts, they should not expect them to search a journal in order to dig out the correct article.
  • The ‘Careers in science’ section is poor.  It begins by pointing out that many science graduates go to work in other areas, then discussing teaching, and finally points out opportunities in the NHS.  Many science graduates also continue to work in science: some discussion of this – and links to organisations such as WISE which do interesting work around science careers – would have been appropriate.
  • Some articles are rather light on science.  For example, it was great to get Liam Tancock to talk to Science So What: there is lots of fascinating science around sports, diet, physiology etc. and – given that Liam is working towards a BSc himself – lots of opportunity to discuss this.  However, it seems as if Science So What were almost afraid to discuss science in the interview.  What is covered is strikingly basic: for example, it is odd that they fail to consider how a professional athlete’s diet may differ from a typical healthy diet, and why.
  • The social media aspects of the campaign are poor (despite problems with this previously being flagged up).  There are comments boxes on the bottom of Science So What pages, but nothing much seems to happen with them.  There is a Twitter feed, but this largely gets just tweets headlines of science-related news stories.  Worryingly, there seems to be a lack of quality control on the Twitter content: for example, tweeting a Daily Mail piece on a Medical Hypotheses article as the “truth about why we kiss” seems somewhat over-trusting.  Social media can be invaluable.  However, if Science So What cannot fund the time and resources to do this well (and doing this well is time-consuming) there is nothing wrong with a good-quality static site.

There is certainly good content on the Science So What site – for example “The botfly in her head” is an striking video, though I would suggest waiting till after lunch to watch it – but, as a whole, I feel that it is rather a missed opportunity. So many opportunities, but so disappointing.

COI declaration: I previously applied for some paid work with Science So What, but was not offered any work. I have held off about posting on the relaunched site for some time: as a result of this, and also to be sure to give the relaunched site time to find its feet. However, given current developments, I think it is now appropriate to discuss the site.



Filed under science degrees, Science: So What?

5 responses to “Science So What? So disappointing

  1. Alex

    On accessibility, they have been making strides: the last revamp of ScienceSoWhat included a commitment to text alternatives to audio content. This has mostly been in the form of transcripts rather than subtitles on videos to this point, but it is something.

    • Thanks – I should have made explicit that accessibility is one area where things have been improving. Depressing that – on a government project – they are still getting even some basic aspects of accessibility wrong, though.

  2. Thanks for the comments Jon, which I genuinely appreciate.

    We’re listening to the issues you, Andrew and others have raised and are working with the team delivering the campaign to see what we can do to respond to the criticisms. As you say, there’s a great opportunity here, and we certainly don’t want to miss it either.

  3. 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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