Tag Archives: SH804

An afternoon at the Museums

At the moment the course is covering Science museums and discovery centres, which is interesting but there appears to be lots to read, so yesterday I took a break from reading about them and drove down to see a couple myself in Manchester

The Manchester Museum.

A traditional museum in the centre of Manchester with plenty of artefacts in glass cases.  The collections were an odd mix of Egyptology and natural history.  The natural history section was generally quite stereotypical with big skeletons of a sperm whale, an elephant and i believe there is a dinosaur there somewhere although I couldn’t find it.  What I wasn’t expecting was some of the glass cabinets to contain live animals (snakes, frogs, lizards).  I was impressed.  No interactive displays as far as I could see, but there were plenty of areas for kids to draw things and be creative.  It seemed quite busy on this wet Sunday afternoon.  There were plenty of kids who seemed really interested in what was behind the glass cases.  As well as the famillys there were quite a few people in their  20s/30s walking around enjoying the place.  There was a Darwin exhibition on which I found quite disappointing.  A relatively small room tucked away behind the gift shop with walls full of images and text about Darwin, and a few small artifacts, mostly replicas although there was a pocket sextant there which he apparently used. Throughout the museum were guides weareing t-shirts that said ‘ask me’.    The museum was free to enter with opportunities to part with your cash at the cafe and gift shop.
Museum of science and industry

On the other side of the city centre is the Museum of science and industry.  This is a massive museum spread over four or five buildings .  There was even a steam train that would take you between buildings for a small fee. It has a large focus on industry, energy and transport and how they linked to the history of Manchester.  There were quite a few presentations going on including a demonstration of steam power and a demonstration of how cotton gets made.  Many of the exhibits were massive engines and pieces of machinery from the industrial age.  There were also a number of ‘interactive’ and multimedia displays.  I also spotted a couple of kiosks which allowed visitors  to have a go on specific websites such as Tryscience.org.  There was a visiting exhibition on Da Vinci, which is the only part I had to pay for.  At the reception for this area i noticed you could buy a brochure or rent an audio guide.  The group behind me were disappointed the guides were only available in English.  The display included large wals of images and texts as well as several reproductions of the devices he designed.  Each item had a symbol attached indicating whether it was a ‘hands on’ or hands off ‘display.   The museum didn’t seem as busy as the Manchester museum , but this could be because it was spread over a far larger area. Although the majority of the museum was free there seemed to be quite a few opportunities for visitors to o part with their cash including £5 for car parking (£2.50 in the pub car park over the road) the Da Vinci exhibition (£7) the steam train (only £1) a hydraulic action ride (about £5) and of course the gift shop.

General Reflections
I was suppressed that young children seemed to be really interested in the ‘old fashioned’ Manchester museum, I guess it goes to show don’t underestimate the power of glass cases, im sure the live animals helped.  I was impressed with the live demonstrations in MOSI which were more proactive than the ‘Ask Me’ assistants of the Manchester Museum. Both museums reminded me why i was never too keen on science museums as a child.  These types of museums, understandably, always portray science as history, and as a child i was never keen on history.  They gave the impression that science was something that happened a long time ago.   To be fair to MOSI they did have a display of scientific discoverys over the last 100 years or so, but this wasn’t enough for me.


Scientific controversy – The banning of mephedrone

Issue: The banning of the drug mephedrone (also known as Miaow Miaow)

1.      What scientific claims are made about this issue?

In March of this year the British Home Secretary announced that Mephedrone would be classified as a Class B drug (Home Office, 2010) following recommendations from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD)(2010).  This decision led to a number of scientists resigning from the ACMD (Doward, 2010) including Eric Carlin whose resignation letter claims the decisions made were ‘ unduly based on media and political pressure’(Carlin, 2010).  This media pressure included a campaign by The Sun newspaper (Hartley, 2010).  The Lancet (2010) claim that the report was still in its draft stage, included little evidence on the effects of the drug and was still being discussed by the ACMD when presented to the Home Secretary.

2.      What means of communication were used in your example?

Press release on the website of the home office
Home Office (2010) ‘Home Secretary bans Mephedrone’ homeoffice.gov.uk [Online] Available from: http://drugs.homeoffice.gov.uk/news-events/latest-news/home-secretary-bans-mephedrone (Accessed: 25 April 2010)

News Report
Doward, J. (2010) ‘Mephedrone row grows as seventh member of drugs panel quits’ Guardian Online 4 April [Online] Available from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/apr/04/eric-carlin-mephedrone-classification (Accessed: 25 April 2010)

Blog Post of Eric Carlin including his letter of resignation
Carlin, E. (2010) ‘My ACMD resignation letter to the Home Secretary’ Eric Carlin’s blog [Online] Available from: http://ericcarlin.wordpress.com/2010/04/02/my-acmd-resignation-letter-to-the-home-secretary/ (Accessed: 25 April 2010)

Report by the ACMD

ACMD (2010) Consideration of the Cathinones [Online] Available from: http://drugs.homeoffice.gov.uk/publication-search/acmd/acmd-cathinodes-report-2010?view=Binary (Accessed: 25 April 2010)

Editorial Comment
The Lancet (2010) ‘A collapse in integrity of scientific advice in the UK’ The Lancet [Online] Available from: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(10)60556-9/fulltext (Accessed: 25 April 2010)

Hartley, C. (2010) ‘Two-week race to ban meow meow’ The Sun 30 March [Online] Available from: http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/2913013/Two-week-race-to-ban-killer-drug-meow-meow.html (Accessed: 25 April 2010)

3.      Do you consider this scientific controversy to have been resolved?

This controversy has not been resolved as there still appears to be a lack of evidence on the effects of this drug.  This incident also highlights an ongoing issue of the Government making decisions based on media pressure rather than the advice of scientists.

Notes from Moving forwards or in circles? Science communication and scientific governance in an age of innovation

Notes from Moving forwards or in circles? Science communication and scientific governance in an age of innovation

I thought this was an interesting chapter as it highlighted the pro’s and cons of various models of communication which I will try to summarise;

The Deficit Model

The public has a deficit of science information which is filled by the science community who decide what the public should know

Example; BSE and the governments campaign of reassurance

Pro’s; Its easy, if it works then public understanding and opinion should be easy to control/manage/manipulate.  It acknowledges the authority of the scientists.

Cons; Leads to a lack of trust

Two way communication model (if there is an official name for this model then I have missed it)

An open two way communication between the publics (many and overlapping) and the sciences.

Involve public discussion & debate in the early stages of development

Can be difficult when the many do not understand or know of the basic facts (eg nanotechnology)

Involve public discussion & debate in the later stages.

Greater clarification of terms and choices

The article also cites the Phillips report (Phillips, Lord, Bridgeman, J. and Ferguson-Smith, M. (2000). The BSE Inquiry: the Report. HMSO, London.) into the BSE inquiry adn its following points which the article claims have become central to science communication;

• Trust can only be generated by openness.

• Openness requires recognition of uncertainty, where it exists.

• The public should be trusted to respond rationally to openness.

• Scientific investigation of risk should be open and transparent.

• The advice and reasoning of advisory committees should be made public.

I wonder if the recent case of the East Anglia scientists who withheld information disproves the suggestion that these points have become central to science communication, or does the fact that this lack of openness has come to light and been exposed prove the point that these points are now true and anyone trying to conduct science communication by the old deficit model will be exposed?

Solving the DNA Structure

I have just watched 3 video clips entitled ‘solving the DNA Structure’ which are made up of extracts of the 1974 Horizon programme ‘Race for the Double Helix’ and clips from Life Story (1987) which dramatises the story of the discovery of the double helix.

The metaphor of a race towards solving the problem of the dna structure which is used throughout these clips reflects the metaphor used by Derbyshire’s article ‘War veteran fights ex-hippie over book of life’ which discusses the process of genome mapping.  I would say that this metaphor of a race is a useful one.  The nature of science means that the same, or similar scientific discoveries are made around the same time by different scientists. This race metaphor is repeated throughout scientific reporting;

The Race for Habitable Worlds and Life in the Universe

The race for the first heart transplant.

Race quickens for the first human clone – Elsevier

The Race to Build the Atomic Bomb

I guess the importance of this for the scientists depends on the personalities of the scientists involved, and what drives them.  The selfless pursuit of science or the financial and reputational rewards that go with being the first.

In their article published in Nature (1953) Watson and Crick manage to convay an impressive amount of information in just over a single page.  They introduce the piece, they explain why they dispute existing theories, they propose their theory is some detail alongside their reasoning’s, they propose further work to support their finding and make reference to the importance of their findings.  They also identify and thank those who have supported them.   In contrast the section from Watsons (1968) book The Double Helix, includes a personal narrative of the thought process identifying how he came to the conclusion that DNA was a template to RNA and in turn protein structure and why he felt it was so important to determine the DNA structure.

‘Is the scientific paper a fraud?’

.In the article ‘Is the scientific paper a fraud?’ (1999), Sir Peter Medawar criticizes the traditional structure of scientific papers, claiming the introduction, previous work, methods, results and discussion is misleading as it does not accurately represent the thought processes which the scientist goes through in order to decide which experiments they chose to catty out and why. The clinical formulae of the these published papers do not capture the motivation of scientists who Sir Peter describes “adventures of the mind”.  He also criticises the introduction and previous work sections as describing the general field of work and grudgingly, or not, acknowledging the work of others that have led “ dimly groped towards the fundamental truths that you are now about to expound”.

I personally disagree with the article. There are many types of media which can be used to describe the excitement and emotion of new scientific discovery’s, but I believe an article in a scientific journal should be cold and clinical listing the methods, results and conclusion in a  without such emotion.  The scientific facts and data are the story, not the scientist.  And I think the introduction and previous work should give the reader an understanding of why the scientific investigation was carried out

Public displays of exciting science

The clip from the BBC2 documentary “windscale :Britains Biggest Nuclear Disaster” shows how atomic science was viewed as a mysterious but wonderful persuite and the scientists given titles such as Boffins, the atom men, the atomics and Britain’s atom age heroes.

The 2008 TED talk by “Rock-star physicist” Brian Cox also portrays the science as an exciting and wonderful pursuit but unlike the first clip, the TED video tries to remove the mystery of science by trying to explain, in as much detail as possible what they are doing.

Do these examples accurately represent science?

I think this a complicated question.  I don’t doubt that the scientists in both clips are genuinely excited and optimistic about their work, along with their colleges working in exciting cutting edge science, but this does not represent all science and all scientists in the same way that those involved with designing and maintaining formulae one winning sports cars do not represent all mechanics.  In the same way that scientists should be aware that there are many different types of ‘publics’ there should also be an awareness of the many different types of sciences and scientists.

playing the media game?

In an article entitled Finding and projecting the voice of science and engineering , Bob Ward highlights how the media are more concerned about being impartial than accurate on scientific issues such as global warming.  This can lead to theories which are not believed by the majority of the scientific community being given significant coverage within mainstream media.  He goes on to say that any disagreements within the scientific community which around these issues are exaggerated by the ‘sceptics’ to discredit the generally held consensus.

Bob suggests scientists play the media game by getting involved in public debates and employing a number of media savvy methods including;

·         Using key phrases or sound bites

·         Making use of friendly journalists

·         Responding rapidly to events

·         Rebutting the opposition

.         Mounting media campaigns

I agree with some of this to some extent.  I believe a rapid response to events can be important and opportunities should be taken to address the opponents.  I also believe that Bob misses out on some of the key issues and some of his comments could lead to counterproductive actions.

It might seem obvious to some but the article doesn’t explain why pubic opinion is so important.  In a paper on the IPCC website entitled “The role of the IPCC and Key elements of the IPCC assessment process” there are several references to policy makers and governments but no reference to the public .  This could suggest that they do not believe that they do not have a role in communicating with the public or being part of public debate.  This view was recently reinforced by  Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the IPCC who refused to apologise for misleading information which was included within an IPCC report as he felt that would be a populist thing to do;

“I don’t do too many populist things, that’s why I’m so unpopular with a certain section of society,” he said.

The suggestion of focusing on friendly journalists and the implied suggestion of downplaying any disagreements within the scientific community could be seen as a motive for scientists to abuse the peer review process and boycott media outlets that provide a voice to critics.  These allegations were recently made against scientists involved in climate change research.

For me the main point that has come out of the recent climategate scandal is that scientists should be completely open, honest and transparent about their work, including anything which contradicts their main findings.  If they do not then they will probably be found out by the media and they will discredit themselves and their work.