Archive for the ‘Science policy’ Category
Bad science is everywhere. Whether this is homeopaths claiming to be able to cure cancer, universities teaching “alternative” medicine alongside rigorous medical and science degrees, celebrities making misleading claims in the public sphere or even individuals and companies using England’s outdated libel laws to suppress legitimate scientific debate and discovery. While some of this is countered by the admirable work of people such as Ben Goldacre, David Colquhoun and Simon Singh, everyone needs to get involved by tackling misleading science wherever it manifests.
Sense About Science is a charitable trust that equips people to make sense of scientific and medical claims in public discussion. With a database of over 5,000 scientists, from Nobel prize winners to postdocs and PhD students, they work in partnership with scientific bodies, research publishers, policy makers, the public and the media, to change public discussions about science and evidence. Through their award-winning public campaigns and publications, they share the tools of scientific thinking and scrutiny with everyone.
This week, Sense About Science are launching a new campaign to tackle misleading science claims more systematically: the Report Dodgy Science appeal. The aim of this appeal is to encourage people to highlight misleading claim and to take up more situations where the evidence is missing — whether because of distortion, political pressure, or vested interests intimidating people who try to put forward evidence. Sense About Science can then help people who contact them to take things up themselves, providing advice, encouragement and assistance from the specialist databas, as well as using your reports to identify problems that need action from them.
But this costs money. They urgently need the help of supporters to raise an initial fund of £8,000 by 22nd July to get this campaign ready alongside the new website launch. If you feel passionately about how science is reported in the media, the importance of independent scientific advice in the government or how free scientific debate is hindered by the current libel laws, please donate anything you can to this important campaign.
It is free to join Sense About Science (@senseaboutsci), as well as their Voice of Young Science (@voiceofyoungsci) programme, which encourages early-career researchers to play an active role in public debates about science.
Election of representatives to the British Science Association General Committee 2011/2012 is now open.
The General Committee is the principal strategic advisory body of the British Science Association and consists of members of Council, as well as elected members from the three Constituencies: Sections, Members and Branches. Members of the General Committee normally serve a three year term, and can stand for re-election once.
There are ten candidates for the four (available) elected places on the General Committee for 2011/2012, with myself being one of them! I have been nominated by the South Wales Branch and this is my candidate statement:
Dr Tom Crick is a Lecturer in Computer Science at UWIC in Cardiff, having previously completed his PhD and post-doctoral research at the University of Bath. He is the leader in Wales of Computing at School (CAS), a membership association supported by BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, to promote and support the teaching of computer science and other computing disciplines in UK schools. He sits on the National Assembly for Wales Cross-Party Group on Science and Technology and has been involved with the British Science Association (through the South Wales Branch) and wider science communication and public engagement activities for a number of years. He is one of the ten 2011 British Science Association Media Fellows, working with BBC Wales.
I feel that my experience of a wide range of science communication and public engagement activities, from national events to local school initiatives, gives me a strong foundation in which to support the aims and objectives of the British Science Association. Furthermore, I have experience of sitting on national committees: I currently sit on BCS Council, the strategic advisory body of BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, as well as the Education Committee of the BCS Academy of Computing, the learned society dedicated to advancing computing as an academic discipline. I am confident that these current roles would support any General Committee role. I am passionate about promoting science communication and engagement on computing and technology themes, so I am hopeful that the Association could further support these aims; perhaps by creating a dedicated Computing Sciences (or similarly named) Section to better engage with the area and interested parties.
I have been invited to speak at Science and the Assembly 2011, an annual event organised by the Royal Society of Chemistry, designed to develop closer links between the scientific community in Wales, the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Assembly Government.
I’m one of six invited speakers from across academia and industry, as well as the WAG Chief Scientific Advisor, Professor John Harries, on themes heralded by the International Year of Chemistry. However, I will be subverting the theme somewhat by discussing the importance of Computing to Wales, highlighting how it underpins modern scientific research and where it sits within the STEM agenda:
Computing: Enabling a Digital Wales
The strategic importance of the provision of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects, as well as their contribution to the Welsh and wider UK economy has been frequently discussed, but there appears to be a fundamental misunderstanding with where Computing and related disciplines sit within the STEM portfolio. It should be regarded as the quintessential STEM subject, involving scientific enquiry, engineering design and mathematical foundations, as well as embodying deeper computational thinking, problem-solving and analytical skills.
In December 2010, the Welsh Assembly Government outlined a framework for Delivering a Digital Wales, a wide-ranging strategy to reflect the importance digital technologies now play in our lives, touching upon virtually every strand of public and private sector activity. Hence, being able to innovate with technology will be a crucial part of the future economic strength of Wales. And therein lies the importance and relevance of Computing education: it is imperative that there is a clear strategy for Computing in Wales that distinguishes it from “digital literacy”, recognising it as a core discipline that underpins modern scientific research.
This is a well-timed event considering the recent Assembly elections, so I hope there is a strong turnout from both newly elected Assembly Members and policymakers.
The seventh annual Science and the Assembly takes place in Cardiff Bay on Tuesday 24th May 2011 at the Pierhead Building and the Senedd; registration is online.
The Science Communication Conference is the largest in the UK, addressing the key issues facing science communicators and bringing together people involved in public engagement. This tends to be a diverse group of people from a wide range of backgrounds, including science centres, charities, universities, press offices and policy-makers.
This year’s theme is online engagement: exploring innovative uses of online media to engage the public with science, including discussions about podcasting, gaming, virtual worlds and citizen science, as well as an interactive social media workshop. Some of the speakers include Simon Singh discussing libel reform, Tim Radform on his career and experience as former science editor of The Guardian, as well as a panel session with Robert Winston and Kathy Sykes discussing their perspectives on the future of public engagement.
I am looking forward to meeting (in real life!) a number of science communicators who I regularly interact with on Twitter, as well as blogging throughout the conference. As an academic, I’ve found social media an immensely valuable resource for my research, though especially in supporting my science communication and public engagement activities. The relevance of this year’s theme is clear, highlighting how pervasive and powerful online media can be; I’m also very keen to hear Simon Singh discuss the latest proposed reforms to the libel laws in the UK.
A few weeks ago I was invited to write a blog post for the Campaign for Science & Engineering (CaSE), discussing science policy issues relating to the impending devolved elections in Wales. Since I now have my own blog, I thought I would repost it here and keep an eye on any science policy developments over the next month or so in the lead up to the elections on 5th May:
Computing: Enabling a Digital Wales?
In December 2010, the Welsh Assembly Government outlined a framework for Delivering a Digital Wales, a wide-ranging strategy to reflect the importance digital technologies now play in our lives, touching virtually every strand of public and private sector activity. The WAG Economic Renewal Programme further reinforced the importance of ICT/Digital Economy as one of the six priority sectors for economic renewal.
Deputy Minister for Science, Innovation and Skills, Lesley Griffiths said at the Digital Wales launch:
The growth of our economy and the well-being of our citizens are now inexorably linked to advances in technology. We must be prepared to respond quickly to new opportunities and challenges that rapid technological change will continue to bring.
While substantial inroads in developing the infrastructure for a digital economy in Wales have been made, there is still a long way to go. A third of the adult population in Wales do not use the Internet, less than 40% of Welsh SMEs actually sell online and one in six Welsh employers consider the IT skills of their employees insufficient.
Large-scale ICT infrastructure improvements, including the roll-out of superfast broadband across parts of Wales, the funding of High Performance Computing Wales and even Improving Care through ICT for Health in Wales, have created a strong platform to support the proposed Digital Wales plan, but what about the strategic development of the required technically-skilled workforce? Emphasis has been placed on broadening and deepening the skills base in Wales, but is this being done in the right areas?
The strategic importance of the provision of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects and careers and their contribution to the UK economy has been frequently discussed, but there appears to be a fundamental misunderstanding with where Computing and related disciplines sit within the STEM portfolio. Furthermore, there are a number of questions about how Computing is taught in schools across the UK; in essence, it isn’t. As in England, most schools in Wales teach ICT (Information & Communication Technology) rather than Computing. Unfortunately, ICT invariably consists solely of teaching how to use office productivity software such as word processors and spreadsheets. This is creating a generation of technology consumers (the “PowerPoint generation”), who do not have any deep comprehension of the technologies they are using beyond a superficial application-focused understanding. Futhermore, it is disengaging students who mistakenly believe that this is what Computing as a discipline (or potential career) is actually about.
A part of the Digital Wales agenda is focused on equipping people to become digital citizens; one facet of this is educating children so that by the time they become adults they are capable of making a valuable contribution to the digital society and economy. And therein lies the importance and relevance of Computing education; schools should equip every child with the basic understanding of how computers work and with the technological capabilities to take part in a knowledge-based society and economy. By spectacularly failing to do this, there is a serious problem.
Part of this is perhaps to do with terminology: Computing is not just about computers (as per Edsger W. Dijkstra’s famous quote: “Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes.”); it embodies deeper computational thinking, problem-solving and analytical skills. In some ways, it is the quintessential STEM subject, involving scientific enquiry, engineering design and mathematical foundations.
The importance of the creative industries in Wales (including recent funding for West Wales and the Valleys) demonstrates that being able to innovate with technology is a crucial part of the future economic strength of Wales. Not having the skilled workforce or graduates to supply this future demand would be disastrous. However, there are a number of recently announced initiatives that are addressing this lack of strategic focus on Computing education and training.
The announcement in February 2011 of £6m funding over three years for the Technocamps project was a huge step forward; it aims to encourage young people in Wales to follow in the footsteps of successful technologists and entrepreneurs by inspiring them to study Computing-based topics underpinning and aligned with the STEM subjects. Over 2,600 pupils from across the Convergence area of Wales will get the chance to develop their technical skills and gain an insight into the wide range of Computing-related careers open to them.
Technocamps is further supported by the announcement in October 2010 of 13m investment over five years for Software Alliance Wales (SAW), which will boost the growth and competitiveness of the strategically important digital technology sector. One priority of SAW is to increase higher-level ICT skills across all business and industry sectors. Complementary funding was also announced in 2010 for the National Science Academy and STEM Cymru to ensure Wales has a continuous pipeline of people graduating from colleges and universities with the appropriate qualifications and skills.
But there is still significant work to be done; Computing at School (CAS), a membership association formally supported by BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, is actively working in Wales in partnership with the Technocamps project to support and promote the teaching of Computing in Wales and stimulate curriculum change. The widely reported Royal Society review into Computing in Schools, along with its importance and implications for the economic and scientific strength of the UK, is due in November 2011. A national debate on subjects in Wales announced in February 2011 by Leighton Andrews, Deputy Minister for Children, Education and Lifelong Learning, to discuss the future of A-level and vocational subjects in Wales, will hopefully recognise the importance of Computing in supporting future economic growth and enabling a Digital Wales. In England, the Department of Education review of the National Curriculum has restarted a similar debate; Scotland has already included Computing as part of its Curriculum of Excellence. It would be extraordinary if Wales did not do the same.
(A related article has been written by Dr Bill Mitchell, Director of the BCS Academy of Computing, the learned society dedicated to advancing computing as an academic discipline: The Collapse of Computing Education in English Schools)