Back in July, I received an email from a lovely woman named Jaclyn, asking me to take part in a campaign called the “What I See” Project. According to the press release, WISP, as we shall call it from now on, is ‘a global online platform that recognizes and amplifies women’s voices. Through each person’s unique and honest answer to the universal question “what do you see when you look in the mirror?”, women from all over the world can be empowered by relating to each other’s words.’ For the launch of the campaign, Jaclyn aimed to get 100 bloggers, including me, and 18 uber-successful ambassadors to talk about how they see themselves, in the hope of inspiring many more women to do the same. My first thought was ‘Empowered? Seriously? Are we successful businesswomen here, or are we the Spice Girls?’. My second was ‘Well this sounds like a very nice idea, and I’ll definitely do it because she’s promised that it will bring some more traffic to my blog, but I don’t see how a big group hug is going to help women overcome life’s prejudices’.
Now, I understand that making the above paragraph public is tantamount to admitting that what I see when I look in the mirror is a cynical, sarcastic cow – which probably isn’t too far from the truth – but bear with me, reader.
The UK government ploughs £4.6 billion a year into science and research programmes. Currently, decisions about how this money is spent are left largely up to the scientific community themselves, with the government determining how much of the budget is allocated to different sectors of science. Government funds are apportioned to 7 research councils, and panels of experts from the council examine all requests for funding in detail before awarding grants – a process called peer review. The principle that scientific experts are the best positioned to decide which projects deserve cash – the so called ‘Haldane principle’ – has been at the cornerstone of scientific policy for decades. However, the peer review process often happens behind closed doors, with little discussion with the public about how funding should be directed. In recent times, with many controversial scientific breakthroughs hitting the headlines, there are increasing calls for the public to be more involved in the decision making process. So, how much say should the public have in what science is conducted using their hard-earned taxpayer pounds? And how is public engagement with science changing?
The papers love a scare story, this much we know. Every week a different food is denounced as cancer-causing, and we are instructed to avoid it like the plague for the sake of preserving the health of ourselves and our children. The data behind this kind of story is often quite wishy washy. In fact, some papers go so far as to report that the very same things that cause cancer can also protect us against it (here’s a comprehensive list of the every day objects, chemicals and foods that one particular newspaper claims will cause or prevent cancer, or both. And here it is in musical form).