'The media are "aggressive in taking a biased view towards science"'

December 23, 2005

Sir John Krebs promises something 'zippy' when he delivers this year's Royal Institution Christmas lectures

"Communicating science has always been incredibly important to me," said Sir John Krebs, who will this year deliver the Royal Institution Christmas lectures on Five.

Sir John, principal of Jesus College, Oxford, has spent much of his career translating complex science for non-scientific consumption.

Never was this ability to communicate more important than during his time as chairman of the Food Standards Agency which he helped set up in 2000 after a series of food scares in the 1990s.

"A huge part of my role as food policy commissioner was finding ways to communicate government policy based on scientific evidence," he said. "With people's worries about genetically modified foods or pesticides, it is so important to be clear what the evidence is and always to acknowledge uncertainty in science."

Sir John said that the toughest part of any job involving the communication of science was dealing with the media, which he has found to be "extremely aggressive in taking a biased view towards science". He added: "There are classic examples, such as MMR (the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine), when you had one lone sceptical voice that got undue coverage in a press that likes to create a 'heroes and villains' situation."

Clearer understanding of science would calm public fears, Sir John said.

He believes teaching methods should change to save youngsters from becoming switched off science. He said: "Some scientists slip very easily into the jargon - we really need to develop metaphors to represent complex processes in a simple way."

Sir John says of the Christmas lectures: "We have to keep the lectures lively and entertaining, zippy and engaging."

Christmas lectures, 7.15pm, December 26-30, Five.

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