Code of Practice / Guidelines on Science and Health Communication.
Prepared by the Social Issues Research Centre in partnership with the Royal Institution – Sept 2000
The impetus for the development of these guidelines has come from concern expressed within the health and science communities regarding the ways in which some issues are covered in the media. Specific concern is evident, for example, among GPs and others in the medical profession regarding the negative impact of what are viewed as unjustified 'scare stories' and those which offer false hopes to the seriously ill. The Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology has also recently noted that: "It is right that scientists should warn of possible health hazards but they must accept that such influence needs to be wielded with the utmost responsibility."
The Social Issues Research Centre and the Royal Institution of Great Britain have brought together a Forum of distinguished scientists, GPs, medical specialists and representatives of the media to establish a set of guidelines which recognise fully the right of journalists in all media sectors to comment and editorialise with complete freedom. At the same time, however, there is an overriding obligation on journalists to distinguish clearly between fact and conjecture in all cases.
We also recognise that scientists themselves have an equal obligation to ensure that they present their findings to the public in an accurate and responsible way. For this reason a separate set of guidelines is being prepared for scientists, research departments and professional bodies, in consultation with the leading Institutions and Societies.
No guidelines will ever be 'perfect' in the sense that they cover all eventualities and eliminate all types of misrepresentation, even when followed to the letter. For this reason the SIRC / RI Forum will consider amendments and additions to the guidelines from time to time in the light of on-going consultation with members of the media and the science communities. Through this process of open and non-confrontational exchange we very much hope to achieve not only more balanced and accurate reporting of health and science issues but also much improved working relationships between scientists and the media.