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October 20, 2010

Three reasons not to kill the messenger

by Fiona Fox

Press officers in research councils, arms-length bodies and universities are rushed off their feet today ensuring that the voices of their vice chancellors, scientists and CEOs are heard above the din around the CSR.

We now hear the great news that the government has spared research from the worst of the axe, but will those who have valiantly spoken on behalf of the whole of science be so lucky?

The alarm bells rang for me when one government-funded research body suggested some months ago they may have to cancel a press briefing at the Science Media Centre. This was after emails sent by BIS appeared to impose wide-ranging restrictions on promotional and marketing activities until after the CSR. As with pre-election purdah, the rules were possibly over-interpreted by cautious managers. But separately, one press officer told me: “Our staff and communications budgets have been frozen at exactly the time when it was important for us to be more visible.”

To those eyeing up the budgets of the media relations departments I would say the following:

Continue reading "Three reasons not to kill the messenger" »

September 28, 2010

Welcome to spin city

by Fiona Fox

The bonfire of the quangos is a backward step for freedom of information.

Glancing down the list of quangos on the at-risk register I remembered the outcry in the US a few years back when John Bolton, newly appointed US ambassador to the UN said: "The Secretariat building in New York has 38 stories. If it lost ten stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference." In Francis Maude’s 12-page list of 180+ public bodies there are so many ‘unknown unknowns’ you have to wonder whether society will trundle on just as well without them.

Or that’s what I thought until around page-seven. Here were names of bodies I have worked with: like the Human Genetics Commission, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, The Food Standards Agency (which will survive but with bits like nutrition chopped off), the Health Protection Agency, the Human Tissue Authority.

Let me first say that my concerns about losing these bodies is perhaps different from those expressed by their champions. Claims that the HFEA  and HTA have won over scientists and clinicians do not match my experience. Most researchers I meet believe they are heavily over- regulated and most IVF clinicians argue they should be trusted to make decisions with their patients on a case-by-case basis.

Continue reading "Welcome to spin city" »

Fiona Fox

Fiona Fox

Fiona Fox is Director of the Science Media Centre, an independent press office working to promote the voices and views from the scientific community to the news media when science is in the headlines.