Code of Practice on Science and Health Communication

From SourceWatch
Jump to navigation Jump to search

During 2001, a detailed Code of Practice on Science and Health Communication was launched jointly by the Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC) and the Royal Institution, to address concerns about the ways in which some issues are covered in the media, unjustified 'scare stories' as well as those "which offer false hopes to the seriously ill". It claimed to be in response to the call for such a code by the Select Committee on Science and Technology.

The code is aimed not only at journalists but also at scientists. A draft of the code recommended journalists to consult only with 'expert contacts', a secret directory of which will be provided only to "registered journalists with bona fide credentials". It discouraged scientists from disclosing unpublished results even at professional scientific meetings, thus breaking with a time-honoured tradition of open communication among scientists.

Although the general impression the Code attempts to convey is that of wishing to prevent both 'scare stories' and 'hype', it has been accused of promoting the mainstream, establishment view and at the same time to suppressing minority, dissenting voices. [1]

Although the SIRC labels the guidelines as "fully debated in the House of Lords" [2], this is slightly misleading. In fact, is has been praised fulsomely by Dick Taverne in response to a complaint by Lord Jenkin that "it was only this Wednesday that I learned to my considerable surprise that an initiative was taken last year by a body of which I had not previously heard called the Social Issues Research Centre in Oxford. In consultation, so it is said, with the Royal Institution, the Royal Society and several medical bodies, it has drawn up another set of guidelines which this time has been endorsed by the Press Complaints Commission." [3]