Drayson/Goldacre debate: Can the press pass the test of scientific merit?

September 10, 2009

When Times Higher Education reported the Science Minister's argument that UK science journalists were the "best in the world", many of our readers took exception.

They did not agree with Lord Drayson's claim, made at the World Conference of Science Journalists in July, that most coverage of science by the media was now balanced, accurate and engaging.

Through Times Higher Education's website and through the social-networking site Twitter, a robust debate ensued. "Drayson is either an idiot or getting backhanders from papers to spew out this rubbish," wrote one angry reader. "The way the press generally misreport science (and there are a few, but sadly too few exceptions), is a scandal and an outrage."

Another implored: "Someone organise a meeting between Lord Drayson and Ben Goldacre, quickly! (Science writer) Goldacre must be credited with drawing a wide audience's attention to precisely how wrong Drayson is."

Times Higher Education was happy to oblige. After some discussion via Twitter (Lord Drayson and Dr Goldacre are both enthusiastic users) - the two will meet head to head in public to air their views at a debate at the Royal Institution on 16 September at 7pm, in partnership with Times Higher Education.

Lord Drayson believes that science journalists deserve plaudits for their work, transmitting the "wow factor" of science accurately and responsibly. Ben Goldacre, a doctor, newspaper columnist and author of Bad Science, claims that the press undermines science by misleading the public about what constitutes evidence, how it is gathered and what scientists actually do.

While all 400 tickets to the free debate were snapped up immediately, the debate will be broadcast live at www.timeshighereducation.co.uk, a video will be available on the website after the event and ten tickets can be won through an exclusive competition (see below).

zoe.corbyn@tsleducation.com

'WHO'S RIGHT? ONLY ONE WAY TO FIND OUT ... FIGHT': HOW THE DEBATE CAME ABOUT, VIA TWITTER

TimesHigherEd - "The media is full of idiots who are utterly incapable of anything more than copying and pasting from press releases" (debate at:) http://bit.ly/Uk492

BenGoldacre - @lorddrayson I see you thought the lessons of MMR had been learnt, this is clearly not the case ...

TimesHigherEd - @bengoldacre Talking to Drayson's people about a debate ... Would love to have you in ... Watch this space ...

BenGoldacre - love to, recorded for web? Or in print also? Emailed your (excellent btw) Zoe Corbyn a moment ago about same thing

LordDrayson - RT@matodd: @bengoldacre who's right on science journalism. Only one way to find out ... fight! ... Game on :-)

LordDrayson - @bengoldacre Re: our forthcoming debate, I'm in training already. Just read your book as a warm up.

  • To win a ticket to the debate, tell us via Twitter, in no more than 140 characters, your view on the state of UK science journalism. The best of the Tweets, which must include the tag @timeshighered and be received by 9am on Monday 14 September, will receive a free ticket.

www.twitter.com/TimesHigherEd

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