1. Patients launch $1.27 million crowdfunding campaign for ME/CFS gut microbiome study.
    Check out the website, Facebook and Twitter. Join in donate and spread the word!
New Exercise Study Brings Both Illumination and Questions
Simon McGrath looks at new objective evidence of abnormal response to exercise in ME/CFS patients, and the questions that researchers are still trying to answer ...
Discuss the article on the Forums.

Science Media Centre: "more than public relations"

Discussion in 'General ME/CFS News' started by oceanblue, Apr 4, 2012.

  1. oceanblue

    oceanblue Senior Member

    Messages:
    1,174
    Likes:
    343
    UK
    From Nature, 5 April 2012:

    By Fiona Fox

    As chief executive of London's Science Media Centre, I find the prospect of a similar centre in the United States more exciting than Colin Macilwain seems to (Nature 483, 247; 2012). A network of science media centres (SMCs) is already flourishing in Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, with Denmark soon to join the list. This model works and, given the calibre of the people involved in the US move, I am confident that they will be able to meet any challenges head-on.

    The SMC model is popular with journalists because it bucks public-relations protocol. None of us promotes our brand name or any institutional message, we are just as happy to kill stories as to create them, and we embrace difficult and controversial issues. This special mix is likely to be as popular with US journalists as it is with those in the other countries.

    Science journalists use quotes from SMCs and/or treat them as a source of background information. If US science journalists are less likely to use quotes, as Macilwain implies, then a US SMC would simply operate differently. However, a scarcity of specialist science journalists may force a US SMC to operate more like the Australian centre, which tends to work with general news reporters.

    SMCs around the world will have to adapt to different cultures, in which attitudes to acceptable funding sources may vary. But what really matters is that SMCs should be independent of those funders, whether they be from industry, government, the media or the scientific community.
    ------

    I'm not sure they are quite as objectively neutral as Fiona Fox implies.
  2. Esther12

    Esther12 Senior Member

    Messages:
    5,174
    Likes:
    5,157
    Just because she was a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party, manipulated views about the Rwandan genocide to suit her own ideological commitments, and was part of the Living Marxism clique who saw public views of science as a vital area of political interest is no reason whatsoever to question her neutrality.

    Look at the range of views that they had discussing the results from PACE! If it wasn't for their expert analysis, some reporters could have come away with the impression that 'back to normal' meant something similar to 'recovery', and that CBT/GET were much more effective than they had been shown to be.
    Tito, busybee, Mark and 2 others like this.
  3. Bob

    Bob

    Messages:
    7,949
    Likes:
    9,868
    England, UK
    Judging the actions of the Science Media Centre (SMC) in relation to the PACE Trial, I think the whole set-up of the SMC is undemocratic. Having just one 'authoritative' source of information, for journalists to source their info, seems a bit too similar to the situation in China. Even though journalists are free to use any source of information, they inevitably take the easy option and regurgitate what's pumped out of the SMC. I think that the SMC was set up, basically, in order to bi-pass controversial scientific voices, such as Wakefield. This set-up might be convenient for the establishment, but I think it's slightly undemocratic, and is probably not beneficial for society or science in the long term.

    The PACE Trial demonstrated that the scientists whose voices are heard at the SMC have a tendency towards group-think, all having the same establishment view.

    None of them challenged the PACE Trial, and CBT/GET were persistently misreported as being "effective" treatments etc etc etc.
  4. Mark

    Mark Acting CEO

    Messages:
    4,512
    Likes:
    1,929
    Sofa, UK
    That's right Esther: Fox's outspoken Marxist and anti-environmentalist pedigree reassures us of her integrity, if anything; she's about as reasonable, fair, well-balanced and neutral as they come. And her lack of a scientific education makes her an ideal and obvious choice to run a body like this; that just further adds to her objectivity and neutrality when deciding which scientists the UK press should be informed by.

    SMC advisor Wessely is another one with no particular axe to grind - a middle-of-the-road, uncontroversial figure who can be trusted by all sides to fairly represent the diverse views in his field of expertise. And he has a full head of hair to boot...

    (Incidentally, the list of scientists representing each area of science, which used to be on the SMC site, and which included Wessely, seems to have disappeared. Any clues on what happened to that list, and whether this implies a change in SMC structure, would be of interest).

    There's always something really cynical in the words of Fox and her ilk...there's this really careful construction of the wording and a sinister sense in which those apparently very reasonable words appear to also be transparent dishonesty but are actually, technically, accurate - but in a way that just makes you even more concerned once you think about them carefully...

    Technically probably true, in that their agenda is not tied to specific brands or institutions; rather, they promote the broad interests of multiple brands and institutions, and they are dominated by an ill-defined and unaccountable group with a radical agenda that is well documented, extremist, and represents only a small subset of scientific opinion. This group is ideologically committed to publicly denying any harmful effects of scientific and technological progress, and before they gained this position of power, people like Fox stated those aims explicitly. So...the sentence above is true, sounds impressive, but hides the real point.

    Ain't that the truth? They just love killing stories that are inconvenient for their agenda. And 'creating' stories too. Is that a good thing?

    True again, they love to get involved in controversial issues. And they love to tell the press what they should think about those issues. Isn't that their whole purpose?

    As always, the text is technically accurate, innocent-looking to those with superficial understanding of the issues, and sinister in its subtext to those who understand where they are coming from.

    I would love to hope that the US won't go for this model, and that if they do, they won't let it be dominated by a partial and one-sided group of lobbyists. I guess that implies that there's a point at which those with other views should get involved and press for diversity in the range of views represented. If it's going to exist, abandoning it to the extremists and totalitarians would be dangerous.

    Perhaps, if such an organisation were constituted in such a way that reasonable diversity is guaranteed, assuring that all releases are bound to communicate fairly any opposing views within the scientific community, and required to give such views some air-time to describe their side of the story rather than telling the press which side is right and why, then maybe such a body could play a useful role in helping out journalists who are understandably struggling to get to grips with complex scientific controversies. But I suppose it would be naive to hope that all this is heading in that direction.
  5. alex3619

    alex3619 Senior Member

    Messages:
    7,017
    Likes:
    10,788
    Logan, Queensland, Australia
    It seems to me that this is just begging for a counter-group, another institute being run and advised by a wide variety of independent scientists or scientists of otherwise good reputation. Science Advisory Organization might do as a name, or Scientific Consulting Group maybe, but getting it up and running is not our concern, although we might like to make suggestions like this to any media savvy scientists we know. The world (not just any one country) really needs independent science advice, its mostly factional and agenda driven from what I can see. Bye, Alex
    allyb likes this.
  6. Snow Leopard

    Snow Leopard Senior Member

    Messages:
    2,261
    Likes:
    1,658
    Australia
    We resort to science to bypass arguments from authority. What then is the purpose of an authoritarian "media centre"?

    Who will watch the watchers?
    Valentijn, ggingues, Sean and 3 others like this.
  7. Mark

    Mark Acting CEO

    Messages:
    4,512
    Likes:
    1,929
    Sofa, UK
    Beautifully and succinctly put. Sums up the nature of the wider crisis in science, for me. Definitions of truth by scientific priesthoods don't seem to have much to do with the aims of science to be distinct from systems of religion and authoritarian control.

    Open access, freedom of information, and radical new open publication review systems - new and logical open-source online systems in place of journals - are the only ways I can see to resolve this crisis. Compared with those trends, the concept of a centralised, truth-defining SMC seems like a desperate retrograde step, an attempt to dam the tide of the scientific method and control its energy in the interests of the powerful, rather than to promote a truly scientific approach.
    Enid, Valentijn and Jarod like this.
  8. alex3619

    alex3619 Senior Member

    Messages:
    7,017
    Likes:
    10,788
    Logan, Queensland, Australia
    Hi Snow Leopard, it appears very few are watching them. We do because we can see how much spin some of their press releases are.

    Their is no good way to counter authority. In government we have overwatch and multiple agencies. We also have enquiries and other legal processes. Government responsibilities are broken up into different branches.

    One of my recommendatiions that I hope to develop in my book is to deliberately decentralize institutions involved in Evidence Based Medicine, and in particular make them independent of government influence.

    The reason why I suggested a competing group, with a wide diversity of scientists, was an attempt to counter exactly this issue. Authorities make thing simple when they get it right. They create monumental problems when they get it wrong. The SMC only advises and provides information. I doubt they would be considered to have any liability for the harm and misuse of that information. This makes them unaccountable and hence dangerous. I doubt even laws and regulations governing publications like newspapers would hold with them. Does anyone from the UK have a better grasp of legal and regulatory implications?

    Bye, Alex

    In reply to Mark, I agree with all your suggestoins. Politics is about power. Science has power these days, so has been a target for political abuse. If we, as a civilization, cannot find a way to counter and balance this then the future of science looks bleak indeed.

    One big change that is happening occasionally but not often enough is that scientists need to get political to counter the misuse. This is hard because science tends to attract personality types who are not attracted to politics. It is further complicated by scientists being employed mostly by institutions that are entrenched in the politics, or corporations that have their own agenda.

    Bye, Alex
    Enid, Valentijn and Mark like this.
  9. Mark

    Mark Acting CEO

    Messages:
    4,512
    Likes:
    1,929
    Sofa, UK
    The SMC Doing Its Job on Honeybees, 2010

    Now here's a thing that just occurred to me: What does the SMC have to tell the press about the declining honeybee population? I can only find one search result, from June 2010 - they seem to be silent on the latest findings, surprise surprise - and what a surprise to hear their take on it...

    So what were they saying less than 2 years ago? Basically:

    they are vulnerable to threats including pests, diseases and environmental change, all of which have increased over the last five to ten years.

    So: climate change, more pests (?) and more diseases (?) - in their summary of their press briefing, that was the reason...

    And what can we do about it, in the SMC's view? Well...the above abstract is all I have to go on at present, but more pesticides would seem logical for one, to deal with all those new pests. Investigation of what that 10M was spent on seems like it would be interesting...I guess I'm sticking my neck out and gambling that the focus wasn't on investigating the causes of the honeybee decline, but on creating evidence to justify other agribusiness projects and related agendas - the focus on "concern about our ability to feed a growing population set to reach 9 billion" rather suggests that agribusiness may have been their focus - but maybe the abstract is misleading and they were talking about funding these very same successful pesticide studies...I'm not betting on it though...

    Of course, it was obvious long before all this that the most likely explanation for the catastrophic decline in the honeybee population was new pesticides and not weird new global plagues, and plenty of people said so - no doubt they were roundly criticised for their unscientific assertions. I saw a good TV program about all this years ago, presenting possible explanations for the mystery, and even then the evidence available made it pretty obvious that new pesticides were the overwhelmingly most likely explanation.

    And it has now been shown, pretty much beyond reasonable doubt I would say, that this is indeed the case, and the specific pesticide responsible was introduced about 10 years ago:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/new-pesticides-linked-to-bee-population-collapse-7601198.html

    This surely should not have been so difficult to confirm as it has turned out to be, but all the previous studies were done in lab environments whereas the specific effect involved - affecting navigation systems - only takes effect in the wild. So the truth of the matter was almost successfully 'disproved'. It will be most interesting to see whether the fight against these new findings now continues, and to observe who now disputes the pesticide findings.

    So what price the SMC's explanations of scientific questions to the media? Only 2 years ago (which apparently was around about the time this 'new' research was actually completed, I heard it took 2 years to get it published, but that's unconfirmed), the SMC were promoting - or perhaps I should use their own language: "creating" - the story that rising climate change, more new diseases, and more new pests, specifically in the last decade, were responsible for the honeybee decline. Was this theory based on robust science? Or supposition?

    Time perhaps for someone to investigate whether there are any connections between the organisers and presenters of the SMC's press briefing, the SMC's funding organisations, and the creators, manufacturers, distributors and shareholders of the pesticide industry. Time to scrutinise the scientists and regulators who passed this stuff as safe. Any hidden conflicts of interest there I wonder? Anything more here than the obvious and inevitable bias of scientists investigating a crisis tending not to focus on the possibility that other scientists created the cause of the crisis and their regulators said their creation was safe?

    Now that's what good journalists should be doing in relation to science and the SMC: scrutinising it properly. Investigating it. But ah...the British media...that's a whole other story...and a search on how well our "Guardians" looked into all this issue n recent years will have to wait...

    Who will watch the watchers? If we the people don't, who will?
    Enid likes this.
  10. Jarod

    Jarod Senior Member

    Messages:
    737
    Likes:
    394
    planet earth
    Nice one!

    I now clearly realize they are trying to put me in a box. What am I going to personally do about it? Sure others will do what works for them.

    I guess my solution is to be self sufficient as possible. Maybe I can work on getting/staying out of their way....
  11. Mark

    Mark Acting CEO

    Messages:
    4,512
    Likes:
    1,929
    Sofa, UK
    The top 6 pesticide manufacturers all fund the Science Media Centre.

    This may perhaps have helped assure the SMC's objectivity in briefing the UK press on this matter.

    The following pesticide manufacturers are listed as funders of the Science Media Centre:

    Bayer plc
    Monsanto
    Novartis
    Syngenta

    The following pesticide manufacturers are listed as former funders of the SMC:

    Dow Chemical Company
    Du Pont
    BASF

    http://www.sciencemediacentre.org/pages/about/funding.htm

    These 7 companies include the world's 6 largest pesticide manufacturers.

    http://www.gmwatch.org/latest-listing/1-test/10560-the-worlds-top-10-pesticide-firms-who-owns-nature

    http://www.pestnetwork.com/manufacturers/manuf.html

    As Fox rightly says, none of them at the SMC promote a particular brand name - they are backed by, and they back, all of them. When Fox says "what really matters is that SMCs should be independent of those funders, whether they be from industry, government, the media or the scientific community" she is right, of course - but her text does not claim that the SMC is independent of such influence...she seems to stop short of inviting us to believe that.

    The flaw in the SMC's comment on their funding list - "To preserve our independence, funding has been sought from a wide variety of sources." - should be obvious.
    ahimsa, Jarod, Sean and 1 other person like this.
  12. SilverbladeTE

    SilverbladeTE Senior Member

    Messages:
    2,079
    Likes:
    1,582
    Somewhere near Glasgow, Scotland
    Some of that lot were also involved in the "Great Global Warming Swindle" so-called "documentary"
    which was a load of complete bullcrap, they'd nastily edited out folk interviewed to change what they'd actually said, etc

    These people are FANTATICS, zealots, or worse.
    "Technology Uber Alles"
    Which is every bit as dangerous as pscyhotic religious whackjobs with suicide bomb vests, or maniacal despots with armies
    actually, it's more dangerous, we may make ourselves extinct with out insane actions (see nuclear issues, But I think GM crops, vaccines and some others are actually far worse, potentially. having such fanatics as well as criminally corrupt frauds/secretive bullcrap limit honest investigation exposes our species to self-destruction via long term consequences of our arrogance)
    This does not mean I am some moronic Luddite
    It means I am far too aware of the actual damn risks that any form of power/knowledge presents, and I depsise and fear those who refuse to treat such with cuation and respect.

    Research out recently supports the view that CO2 increase was behind much of the warming of the last Ice Age's end
    That was truly catastrophic back then
    Today though, that gets in way of many greedy or zealot scumbags' demands for more welath, more power, more tech...ugh

    Little story
    Some place in Russia, to this day, they designed their nuclear reactors to produce polutonium for bombs, can't be changed it's way they are and folk need the electric power of course
    So, there's a very long tunnel drilled through the mountains
    And every so often, a fellow deposits another batch of plutonium, sufficient for a nuclear bomb, each spaced out 10 metres or so from the next
    there's about 1.5 Kilometres worth of bombs there...and more every so often...since the Soviet Union doesn't exist to take them away to make weapons, they pile up
    get rid of one problem...make another

    Point being folk get into blind ruts, spirals of self deluision with potential for appalling consequences.
    (UK has 100 tons of plutonium stored at Sellafield, by way, so this is not a mere Russian problem, and the toxicity and effects in an accident of that pile of horror..ugh)

    the SMC bozos are the "go to guys!" for today's bullcrap, alway sbeen such all way back to Ceasar's day
    Julius Ceasar didn't have the ability to trigger methane clathrates to break down across the globe, engineer bioweapons, or glass every major planet to the bedrock
  13. Jarod

    Jarod Senior Member

    Messages:
    737
    Likes:
    394
    planet earth
    LoL. :balloons:

    Good morning Esther. Good morning everybody.
  14. Esther12

    Esther12 Senior Member

    Messages:
    5,174
    Likes:
    5,157
    Afternoon there.
  15. Merry

    Merry Senior Member

    Messages:
    1,357
    Likes:
    607
    Columbus, Ohio, USA
    So are environmental organizations, consumer groups, ME advocates, media watchdogs, etc., campaigning to curtail the influence of the Science Media Centre? Any group out there?
  16. Esther12

    Esther12 Senior Member

    Messages:
    5,174
    Likes:
    5,157
    The SMC does do some good... largely because science reporting in this country is so appallingly bad that it's hard to make it any worse.

    On environmental issues, these are much more of a hot topic, so I doubt that the SMC could manage media responses in the way that they do for CFS even if they wanted to. The SMC's role in the misrepresentation of the results from PACE was pretty laughable, but I expect that they would not behave in such a way with issues that are widely thought to be important.

    A discussion about the SMC amongst CFS patients is likely to focus more upon it's problems than elsewhere, and could give the impression of it being a more transparently bad idea than it really is.
  17. Merry

    Merry Senior Member

    Messages:
    1,357
    Likes:
    607
    Columbus, Ohio, USA
    Thanks, Esther. Fiona Fox really annoys me, and I don't like her chirping how great it would be if science media centres were set up in the US.
  18. Mark

    Mark Acting CEO

    Messages:
    4,512
    Likes:
    1,929
    Sofa, UK
    I think I have clearly demonstrated above in the posts regarding honeybees and pesticides that they do so, even if they are not able to manipulate the media in such an extreme way as they do for ME/CFS.

    They have very similar interests and agendas in those areas; the weight of public interest and knowledge limits the extent to which they can distort the media agenda, but the direction from which they distort it is the same.

    I agree that their manipulation of us is probably more flagrant than elsewhere, but that may not be the case; after all, we only know about how outrageous it is because this is a subject we understand in more depth than other areas. Anti-pesticide campaigners and other environmentalists probably understand the flagrancy of their bias in those areas much better. Indeed, nearly all of the information I have found on this subject comes from the anti-GM campaigners, and those campaigners are well aware of the role of the SMC in supporting industrial interests against human and environmental interests.

    Merry asked:
    Crucial question. I think there are lots of disparate groups who have concerns and who are trying to do so, but we are not part of a federation of such groups and I think the way forward has to be to join up with others with similar concerns, and built a network of opposition. Organisations like the SMC can attack disparate single interests and their size and power means that only when those disparate interests recognise the connections and join together to fight the concerns can they hope to challenge them seriously.

    I was glancing again at one of Martin J Walker's books the other day, and skipped to the conclusions. I recommend the short section on "A Brief Suggestion for Action" on p154 here:
    http://www.scribd.com/doc/8401751/Cultural-Dwarfs-and-Junk-Journalism-Dr-Ben-Goldacre-Quackbusting-and-Corporate-Science

    I think that points clearly to the way that these forces can be effectively challenged. Unfortunately one must accept that campaigning for change needs to happen locally and in the real world, not virtually (though the virtual world can be used to mobilise and organise those actions). If anybody has any information about such networks that may be in the process of construction, I'd be most interested, but I guess your local environmental groups would be the best place to start. Sadly, it's obviously very difficult for us to get active in the real rather than the virtual worlds, but there are probably still things we can all do to make such connections locally.
    Snow Leopard likes this.
  19. Esther12

    Esther12 Senior Member

    Messages:
    5,174
    Likes:
    5,157
    Hi Mark. I've got to admit that I lost track of the bee problem and what was causing it, although thought that you still made some interesting points. I don't think that the honeybee story is the equivalent of something like global warming, but I should have been clearer - lots of environmental concerns fail to attract much attention or concern. I was trying to distinguish between 'little story about disliked patient group' vs 'big story about something that will affect us all', and phrased it poorly.

    Yeah - it's important to be aware of the first point. It's very easy to slip into instinctively trusting those who present themselves as experts in areas where one lacks independent knowledge, and only recognise what a distorted view of the world in being presented in the narrow areas where independent reading has been done. It's so much work to be well informed about something, and we so like to believe that we understand the world around us better than we do - it's constantly tempting to trust any appealing narrative from someone claiming to be an expert.

    Post-PACE I'm finding Chomsky's views about manufactured consent and the media much more convincing. I've been radicalised!

    (edit: I sound too radicalised there! A sceptical faith in the claims of experts is often a necessary part of life, it's just important to keep reminding oneself that most of these beliefs should be treated as tentative assumptions rather than known facts).

    re GM-crops: There does seem to be plenty of anti-GM spin too though. I don't think that it makes sense to be universally 'anti-GM', but I do think that it's important to ensure that those producing GM crops do so under regulations that ensures that they bear the burden of any potential risks related to their products, as well as being able to collect the profits. Those risks may be as tiny as the producers claim, but that should mean that insurance costs would be very low for them... if they can prove they case to insurers and the financial markets (the same arguments can be made about nuclear power imo).

    I get the impression that a lot of the arguments around GM crops are really culturally and emotionally driven, and I'm hoping to be able to hide behind the invisible hand of the market in order to avoid doing much reading upon it.
  20. Mark

    Mark Acting CEO

    Messages:
    4,512
    Likes:
    1,929
    Sofa, UK
    I probably should have emphasised the recent research more, this is breaking news in the past week and I thought most people had probably seen it on TV. The whole phenomenon of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and the dramatically declining honeybee population was caused by the introduction of new nicotinoid-based pesticides about 10 years ago (which currently cover at least a third of the UK's agricultural land if I recall correctly). These pesticides interfere with the bees' ability to navigate, they get lost and don't return to the hive; the hive collapses. It's that simple. The rest of the theories were basically incorrect guesses.

    Now, the above is still not conclusively and universally accepted, but the latest 2 pieces of research reported this week are pretty close to conclusive. There were always multiple strains of evidence pointing in this direction. You may recall that loads of people have started bee-keeping from home in cities in recent years, ever since it was observed that the bees don't suffer CCDs in cities. The global and local geographical distribution of the phenomenon was always consistent with a pesticide cause. There was good scientific grounds for suspicion about the interference with navigation, both on the basis of observed phenomena on the ground and on the nature of the chemicals concerned. And the sudden and dramatic incidence of the CCD phenomenon suggested a modern change in the environment rather than some new disease.

    The long and the short of it is this: the pesticides were always the most likely explanation, and yet they were the one that received the least attention and had the highest burden of proof and the greatest opposition.

    Everyone was casting around and looking for alternative explanations, from climate change to the evolution of the varroa mite to newly-evolved diseases and new kinds of pests. Everything possible was done to try to find some other explanation and some other solution. Lots of research was done which seemed to show that the pesticides didn't harm the bees, and this was all bunk because it was done in lab environments and therefore specifically failed to test the hypothesis of an effect on navigation which was the real explanation.

    And this concerted effort to find another, non-pesticide explanation, solution, or way to cover up the reality, was supported by the SMC, who just 2 years ago presented to the media on the subject and listed every possible explanation under the sun except pesticides as their explanation of the reasons for the problem, and outlined 10m of research which the abstract implies is aimed at agribusiness solutions. They would have GM'd all the bees to survive the effects of the pesticides, if they could do so before the pesticide cause was proven, and then nobody need ever know or worry about what caused the problem in the first place - and they may very well still push in that direction.

    The pesticides causing all this have still not been banned and are still in use - that battle continues...

    By the way, it appears the the British Beekeeping Association is no longer funded by pesticide manufacturers, and bowed to pressure to refuse the cash and stop endorsing bee-killing products, about 18 months ago:
    http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_round_up/685620/british_beekeepers_association_to_stop_endorsing_beekilling_pesticides.html

See more popular forum discussions.

Share This Page