Science reporting is often accused of being ‘sexed up’ or ‘dumbed down’ in an attempt to engage the masses. But is the science being lost in the retelling? Do intelligent non-scientists feel patronised by our attempts? Worse still, are we trying so hard to include everyone with flashy headlines and sound-bites, that the truth is lost?

Science communication is a growing industry. In 2009, The Times launched its new science magazine Eureka, saying that "many readers crave a better understanding of how science can transform our lives and our planet"; demand for information has resulted in an increasing number of scientists writing popular science books; and debunking pseudoscience is becoming a popular hobby. Furthermore, the multimedia revolution has given everyone the ability to share their opinions on major scientific issues – the blogosphere is full of enthusiastic contributors. And increasingly people rely on the internet to inform themselves on issues such as health and the environment. Very few people outside of academia go directly to the published scientific literature.

However, Professor Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society, warns that "searches on the internet do not differentiate between thoroughly researched evidence and unsourced, uncorroborated assertion." (This was part of a recent BBC documentary called ‘Science Under Attack’. It is available in iPlayer until 15th March and is highly recommended.) When faced with such a proliferation of information, how can a non-scientist know what to believe?

Journalists often jump to the scandals or rewrite what they find online with barely a nod at the bulk of peer-reviewed research on a topic. As a result, a disproportionate number of the headlines are concerned with controversial views, held by a minority of scientists. Ben Goldacre, full-time doctor and a columnist for the Guardian, explains in his book Bad Science that "for an experimental result to be newsworthy it must be new, unexpected and change what we previously thought", in other words, "a single lone piece of information which contradicts a large amount of pre-existing experimental evidence".

But the methodical, evidence-based nature of science is seldom conducive to the ‘breakthrough’ ethos of the media; paradigm shifts are rare in science. School teaches people that experiments can be fitted into a lesson or two, whereas research may involve months or years of data collection to develop and confirm a theory. Goldacre suggests one potential solution: to focus on science stories as ‘features’ rather than ‘news’. This isn’t to suggest that science isn’t newsworthy, just that science is usually best presented after careful consideration of the original research.

From climate change to vaccine safety, science underpins decisions made by governments and individuals alike. Professor Nurse argues that these issues are "far too important to be left to the polemicists and commentators in the media; scientists have to be there too". Goldacre proposes that we need fewer writers and more editors: fewer poorly informed hacks asserting their own agenda and more people encouraging professional scientists to share their research.


BlueSci, the University of Cambridge's science magazine, aims to publish high-quality science writing on a termly basis. We also produce short films and have further content on our website at Not-Sci, our weekly blog with Varsity, attempts to dismantle various pseudoscientific claims. If you’re interested in becoming involved in BlueSci, please contact