• 23 FEB 16
    • 0

    The UK’s Science Media Centre model of science communication: An uncensored history


    Early in the research for my PhD thesis, The Procrustean Approach: Setting Exposure Standards for Telecommunications Frequency Electromagnetic Fields (2010), I examined the UK”s Science Media Centre (SMC) as an example of how science can be manipulated by a supposedly scientific organisation with a hidden agenda to support vested interests.

    As this was not directly relevant to my thesis topic: RF standard setting, the resulting paper was not used in the thesis. However, I became interested in revisiting the topic when the Australian Science Media Centre (AusSMC) published on their scimex website expert criticisms on a recent Catalyst program “Wi-Fried” , which included statements (in part) from the following organisations:

    1) The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety agency (ARPANSA):

    It is the assessment of ARPANSA” that there is no established scientific evidence that the use of mobile phones or Wi Fi devices cause any health effects.

    2) The Australian Centre for Electromagnetic Bioeffects Research (ACEBR:)

    “there is no substantiated evidence that the low levels of radiofrequency emissions encountered by mobile telecommunications can cause any harm.

    As both these claims run counter to my thesis findings and do not agree with my understanding of the science, I thought now was an opportune time to re-examine the issue. I was even more interested to see that on the current AusSMC website, the industry trade group, the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) is listed as one of a number of Supporters. Both the above statements are in line with AMTA policy. It is also stated on the AusSMC/simex website that “The Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association is a supporter of the AusSMC, providing 0.6 per cent of our sponsorship budget”.

    In addition to this, the AusSMC has a direct connection with the UK”s SMC as clearly stated on the AusSMC website:

    The Centre is based on the UK”s acclaimed Science Media Centre (SMC), an initiative of Baroness Susan Greenfield from the University of Oxford. The AusSMC was inspired by the Baroness during her period as an Adelaide Thinker in Residence in 2004.

    It is necessary to point out, however that the AusSMC has a wide range of diverse supporters, including universities and corporates. In many areas the AusSMC does an admirable job in providing excellent sources of expert scientific advice “” and in this role they play an important part in science communication with their science advisory panel.

    However, when it comes to contentious issues, in this case the possible hazards from telecommunications technology, there may be a conflict of interest between giving impartial scientific advice and the opinions of vested interests that help fund the organisation and therefore have an influential voice in directing who gives scientific advice under the AusSMC banner.

    Considering AusSMC”s close association with their British counterparts, their funding structure, and the SMC”s claim that there are now “over twenty Science Media Centres around the world “” either in operation or being established” all working under a “unified charter” , the following paper, although written 10 years ago, gives an important historical perspective to the founding and promotion of the Science Media Centre model globally, all based on the British model. It also raises serious concerns over the impartiality of the SMC model in science communication when tendering expert advice on contentious issues when vested interests are part of the SMC structure.

    And so, with no apologies, here is my 2006 uncensored history of the SMC model of science communication.

    Don Maisch

    Read the full paper here


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