The hidden side of clinical trials

Watch the AllTrials TEDx talk on YouTube

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Evidence matters to the public

Join us on 1st November at Parliament to make the case

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Plant Science Panel

Insecticides, biofuels, GMOs …

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'The Ugly Truth'

by Tracey Brown, director of Sense About Science

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Nick Ross

Sense About Science: Now We Are Ten

Nick Ross

Perhaps four developments above all have made humans dominant. Two came from evolving biology: the opposable thumb providing us with peerless dexterity; and language giving us unparalleled abilities to communicate and thus collaborate. The other two advances were discovered: cooking which brought us unprecedented efficiency in obtaining nourishment from food and so liberated us from old dependencies; and science which provided an incomparable logical framework on which to build knowledge. It is the sceptical protocols of science, challenging assumptions and regarding knowledge as provisional, that eventually led to the age of enlightenment and to humanity’s astonishing rush of progress in the last three hundred years.

Yet two mixed blessings in our nature have often disadvantaged us. One is our intrinsic violence which serves us so well when we are under threat and has helped us prevail over other species but which has also proved needlessly destructive and hurtful. The other is our tendency to leap to conclusions which is so useful for fight or flight but leads to animism, superstition and illogicality.

Sense About Science occupies the space where illogicality and science collide. It seeks to ensure that our ability for cool rationality prevails over our love of anecdote and our instincts for intuitive judgements. It tries to moderate between those two remarkable abilities of our brains, to form fast and firm decisions out of uncertainty and to be sceptical and cautious, ready to jettison beliefs in the face of disappointing evidence.

Where there is misunderstanding let there be evidence; where there are false assertions let there be the real facts in response; where there is tradition and complacency let there be challenge; where there are health scares let there be reasoning; where there is policy based on ideology let there be evaluation; wherever policymakers, opinion leaders, teachers, students or voters have a hunger for the best and balanced state of knowledge let Sense About Science point them in the right direction.

All of which is a slightly pompous and long-winded way of saying that Sense About Science is an invaluable ginger group, pricking pretentious certainties we might cling to, making us think more soundly and reach more reasonable judgements. That’s not a bad mission and it has done more on a charity shoestring in its first decade than all previous more official and better-funded  campaigns to improve understanding of science. But it is not just a blessing for science; it is a boon for good judgement by us all, and it richly deserves all our support.