Code of Practice / Guidelines on Science and Health Communication.
Prepared by the Social Issues Research Centre in partnership with the Royal Institution – Sept 2000
Comments on the SIRC/RI Guidelines:
Lord Wakeham – Chairman, Press Complaints Commission: "Central to the newspaper and magazine Code of Practice is the issue of accuracy in reporting. Under that Code, publications must take care to be accurate – and also ensure they differentiate clearly between comment, conjecture and fact. The publication today of SIRC's Guidelines underlines the importance of those rules in regard to reporting of scientific and medical stories. I therefore welcome them as a constructive and positive contribution in this crucial area. I would also urge those who are directly involved in these matters who are aware of inaccuracies in newspapers to ensure they complain about them. The Press Complaints Commission will always be happy to try and resolve complaints made to us".
Peter Bell – former Head of BBC News Programmes: "Health really matters to people. News of an advance in medical science, or a health scare, can touch the lives of thousands – and it is vital the information made available to them is accurate and trustworthy. In producing the SIRC/RI Guidelines, doctors and scientists have pooled their expertise and experience with media professionals in search of a consensus on how the public interest might best be served. The result is a constructive and thoughtful document worthy of serious consideration by all concerned with the business of keeping the public properly informed."
Professor Susan Greenfield, CBE – Director, Royal Institution: "I'm delighted to be part of the group of scientists formulating guidelines on science and health communication. As an academic scientist who, nonetheless, is working increasingly with the media, I am acutely aware of the different agendas of each side. It is vital that more dialogue develops before another crisis breaks. Also, as Director of the Royal Institution, I welcome the publication of the suggested guidelines on health & science communication, given I am currently developing a forum for scientists, the media, and the public. Such guidelines will be invaluable as a discussion topic but, more importantly, as a framework for good practice."
Dr David Haslam, Royal College of General Practitioners: "General Practitioners will enthusiastically welcome these Guidelines. As front-line doctors who have to deal with both the scare stories and the apparent wonder cures, often on the very day that the news first breaks, they understand the very real problems that over-enthusiastic reporting can cause for patients, and the potential disasters that can occur when frightened patients abandon proven therapies."
Professor Sir John Krebs – Chairman, Food Standards Agency: "I am very pleased to have played a role in the SIRC / RI Forum and fully support these sound and sensible guidelines on the reporting of science and health matters. As Chair of the Food Standards Agency I feel that people in our society should have access to accurate and balanced information about food safety and nutrition in order to make sensible decisions about what they eat. Media stories which simply generate 'food scares' without any scientific basis, or which champion 'miracle' foods in the absence of sound evidence, serve only to damage this process and leave consumers confused. I very much hope that with these Guidelines, and with increasing dialogue between scientists and the media, we will reduce the distortions and sensationalism which so often are associated with stories about what we should or should not eat."
Professor Sheila McLean – Director, Institute of Law and Ethics in Medicine, Glasgow University: "I welcome the publication of the SIRC/RI Guidelines, and believe that they carefully balance freedom of the press with the interests of the community in receiving accurate and valuable scientific information, enabling the public to engage with science in a robust and rational manner."
Mr Henry Marsh – Consultant Neurosurgeon, Atkinson Morley's Hospital: "Every week I see patients with malignant tumours whose hopes have been cruelly and falsely raised by over-optimistic reports in the media of new treatments. The SIRC/RI Guidelines will reduce much unnecessary suffering by encouraging a more sensitive and responsible approach, both by the doctors and scientists involved in experimental work and also by the journalists reporting it."
Lord Dick Taverne, QC – author, journalist and politician: "These Guidelines should prove very helpful. Misleading reports of scientific developments are commonplace. Whether the reason is the naivety of scientists dealing with the press, or journalists' concern with a good story rather than a balanced review of evidence, unjustified fears or hopes are raised among the public, often with seriously harmful consequences. In some cases, important developments which can improve health or benefit society are held back. We urgently need a better public understanding of science and of risk."
Barry Jackson – President, Royal College of Surgeons. "I encourage the flow of information between journalists, health practitioners and scientists, and am a great believer in openness. The Royal College of Surgeons fully endorses the publication of these guidelines which are fair and balanced and the result of sensible collaboration. Responsible reporting of medical stories is in the best interests of patients and their families and of the public generally."
Dr Jack Tinker, Royal Society of Medicine: "The SIRC/RI Guidelines are very helpful and comprehensive. I look forward to continuing the dialogue."