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Update 2015: excellent summary of the controversies on this subject at MosaicScience
Last night I was lucky to be at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society for the annual Sense About Science reception.
I am a member of Voice of Young Science, which is a network set up and supported by SAS that allows young scientists to get involved with pro-science activism. Through this group, we are able to participate in public-facing discourse about science and challenge common misconceptions. This takes the form of supporting campaigns (such as Libel Reform) and contributing to publications. For example, I picked up a copy of Peer Review: the nuts and bolts last night because I joined discussions about its content and aims. Anyone young scientists who’d like to, definitely sign up!
Many of us London-based VOYS members went along last night to show our support for SAS and the RPS, and to find out who won the first John Maddox Prize for Standing up for Science. Sir John Maddox was a long-term editor of Nature and helped expand Sense About Science as a charity, supporting and encouraging its work, as well as helping to establish programmes like VOYS.
Two prizes were awarded this year:
Many of us are aware that China is plagued by superstition and dangerous “traditional” cures in the medical field, which costs many lives needlessly. Shi-min Fang has worked tirelessly to expose clinics that take advantage of people by selling unproven treatments, and to help the public understand the importance of evidence. He is a freelance journalist and has endured threats to his life and physical assaults because of his work. His acceptance video was moving, including:
I consider this award as an acknowledgment of our efforts from the international science community and I deeply appreciate it
Here’s some more on his homepage. Shi-min is clearly deserving of the prize given the scale of what he has undertaken and what he has suffered through standing up for his principles, and for scientific evidence, trying to help others and improve healthcare in his country. Edit: here’s an interview with him on New Scientist about exposing fraud in Chinese research.
Professor Simon Wessely
Professor Wessely has worked for many years on ME (chronic fatigue syndrome) and Gulf War syndrome. ME has been a disease surrounded by controversy, with some people disparaging sufferers as “fakers”, and some patients completely reluctant to consider the condition as anything like a mental health disorder, preferring to insist it is due to an as-yet-undiscovered virus, for example. While those such as Professor Wessely try to help patients through research, and have indeed challenged the misconceptions surrounding ME sufferers, they are also targeted by people who are angry that they are not doing the “right kind of research”.
Wessely has, as a result, been the target of threats and campaigns to discredit him and his colleagues. Wessely acknowledged these colleagues with his acceptance:
I have been helped and sustained by the support of so many other wonderful clinicians and scientists who work in the same field and have had similar experiences to me over the years, any one of whom would have been equally worthy of this honour
See here for a discussion of some of the early work on these conditions, and here for an interview with Wessely from 2006 that goes over the whole story. Edit: following lengthy discussion below and some posts elsewhere about the prize, the Independent has an article on the controversy, too.
All in all it was a lovely evening with many friendly faces and some inspiring words from people doing fantastic things for science. Then some fun times in the pub! Perfect, really. Some video of the winners here, New Scientist also has a piece about the event, and here’s Nature’s editorial.
Keep an eye on Sense About Science‘s activities and do get involved!