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Science Media Centre

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The Science Media Centre (SMC) is an "independent" media briefing centre for scientific issues in the UK, conceived and hosted by the Royal Institution starting in 2002, and enjoying close links with the British government. It is now based at the Wellcome Trust.[1] Its stated position is that it is not neutral, but "unashamedly pro-science."[2] Although it initially promised to "provide an anti-GM scientist and a pro-GM scientist, a pro-legalisation of cannabis scientist and an anti-, etc, etc."[2] its record since then has shown otherwise. Connie St. Louis, the director of the Science Journalism MA program at City University London and president of the Association of British Science Writers, wrote in Columbia Journalism Review that SMC "has cast biased press briefings such as one on GMOs, funded by Monsanto and invited unwitting and time-starved journalists. The results have been catastrophic. The quality of science reporting and the integrity of information available to the public have both suffered, distorting the ability of the public to make decisions about risk. The result is a diet of unbalanced cheerleading and the production of science information as entertainment."[3]

After SMC was founded in the UK, sister bodies all operating under a "unified charter"[4] were formed in other countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Japan.[5] SMC claims that there are "over twenty Science Media Centers around the world -- either in operation or being established,"[6] including the SMC of the United States, which is under development as of February 2014,[7] and scheduled to launch in about 2016, according to a Nature profile.[4]

In December 2013, the Education Media Centre was launched, modeled on the Science Media Centre but purportedly "independent."[8][9]

Controversies

A July 2013 profile in Nature explained the controversial nature of SMC's efforts:

"Perhaps the biggest criticism of Fox and the SMC is that they push science too aggressively -- acting more as a PR agency than as a source of accurate science information. In December 2006, for example, the UK government indicated that it planned to ban scientists from creating hybrid embryos containing cells from humans and other animals. A public consultation had found unease with the research, and early media coverage tended to focus on the ethical concerns, quoting critics such as members of the Catholic clergy.
"Researchers, funders and scientific societies organized a campaign to change the government's mind. The SMC coordinated the media outreach, hosting five briefings at which scientists played down ethical qualms and said that hybrid embryos were a valuable research tool that might lead to disease treatments.
"The resulting media coverage reflected those views, according to an analysis of the campaign's effectiveness commissioned by the SMC and other campaign supporters. More than 60 percent of the sources in stories written by science and health reporters -- the ones targeted by the SMC -- supported the research, and only one-quarter of sources opposed to it. By contrast, journalists who had not been targeted by the SMC spoke to fewer supportive scientists and more opponents. The SMC was 'largely responsible for turning the tide of coverage on human–animal hybrid embryos,' says Andy Williams, a media researcher at the University of Cardiff, UK, who carried out the analysis. (The eventual bill would allow hybrid-embryo research.) But Williams now worries that the SMC efforts led reporters to give too much deference to scientists, and that it stifled debate. 'It was a strategic triumph in media relations,' he says."[4]

In January 2014, Independent Science News reported, "Imagine if the New York Times or NBC published, under appropriately scathing headlines, a full and detailed analysis of how GMO corporations perennially manipulate the scientific literature? . . . It is for just this reason that BASF, Coca-Cola, Merck, L'Oreal, Monsanto, Syngenta, Smith & Nephew, the Nuclear Industry Association and their competitors now support coordinated attempts to manage scientific news coverage in the form of the UK's Science Media Centre. And now, having decided that this method of information control is effective, or maybe that the threat from the internet is sufficiently serious, they are adding some international offshoots."[10]

SMC "Spearheads Attack" on Séralini Study

In September 2012, Prof. Gilles-Eric Séralini and a team of researchers at the University of Caen in France published a study finding serious health problems -- tumors and liver and kidney damage -- in rats fed diets of Monsanto Roundup Ready corn and rats fed low doses of Roundup itself.[11]

The study was front-page news in France, but according to the UK's SpinWatch, there was far less coverage in the English-speaking world, and what coverage there was was negative, filled with "ready-made quotes from scientists savaging the study" that had been "spoon-fed" to news outlets by SMC.[12][13] The New York Times even referred to one of the SMC's "experts" in its coverage.[14]

According to Times Higher Education, SMC's Fiona Fox claimed credit for "several television news programmes" reporterdly having "rejected the story after reading the quotes."[15]

Monsanto appears to have assisted with the dissemination of these quotes.[16]

Business magazine Forbes published six attack pieces on the Séralini study in the ten days following its release, according to SpinWatch, with the first two pieces drawing extensively from SMC quotes.[12] Finally, a September 25 Forbes article by pro-GMO campaigner Henry I. Miller of the Hoover Institution and American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) advisor and fellow unabashed GMO cheerleader Bruce M. Chassy headlined with the claim that the study was "fraudulent" and went on to accuse Séralini not just of "gross scientific misconduct" but also of having "a long and sordid history" of "activism."[17][12]

A subsequent open letter by a group of prominent scientists and academics with expertise on GMOs noted, "Reporting of the Séralini paper in arguably the most prestigious segments of the science media: Science, the New York Times, New Scientist, and the Washington Post uniformly failed to 'balance' criticism of the research, with even minimal coverage of support for the Seralini paper (Carmen, 2012; Enserink, 2012; MacKenzie, 2012; Pollack, 2012). Nevertheless, less well-resourced media outlets, such as the UK Daily Mail appeared to have no trouble finding a positive scientific opinion on the same study (Poulter, 2012)."[18] Moreover, the letter pointed out:

"[T]he use of common methodologies was portrayed as indicative of shoddy science when used by Seralini et al. (2012) but not when used by industry. . . For example, Tom Sanders of Kings College, London was quoted as saying: 'This strain of rat is very prone to mammary tumors particularly when food intake is not restricted' (Hirschler and Kelland, 2012 ). He failed to point out, or was unaware, that most industry feeding studies have used Sprague-Dawley rats (e.g. Hammond et al., 1996, 2004, 2006; MacKenzie et al., 2007). In these and other industry studies (e.g. Malley et al. 2007), feed intake was unrestricted. Sanders' comments are important because they were widely quoted and because they were part of an orchestrated response to the Seralini study by the Science Media Centre of the British Royal Institution. The Science Media Centre has a long history of quelling GMO controversies and its funders include numerous companies that produce GMOs and pesticides."[18]

A 2013 review of the Séralini study (in the context of criticism) by scientists at the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER) also found "critical double standards in the evaluation of feeding studies submitted as proof of safety for regulatory approval" to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).[19] The attack on the study spearheaded by SMC was also pronounced to be "off base" by Dr. Michael Hansen of Consumers Union in testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on Food Labeling in September 2013.[20]

For more about the Séralini study, please see the related SourceWatch article on the corn variety tested, NK603.

SMC Headed by Rwanda Genocide Apologist

SMC's director is Fiona Fox, a contributor to Living Marxism (which closed in March 2000 following a libel lawsuit brought by British news agency ITN) and an apologist for the 1994 mass slaughter of Tutsi and moderate Hutu by the Hutu majority in Rwanda. Under the pseudonym Fiona Foster, she wrote a 1995 article arguing that "this was not a pre-planned genocide of one tribe by another" (Living Marxism/the LM Group also denied Serbian war crimes).[21][22] SMC and the related Institute of Ideas (headed by Fiona Fox's sister Claire Fox) and Spiked Online (both of which also have ties to the LM Group) all push genetically modified organisms (GMOs).[23]

Rebutting BBC Drama "Fields of Gold"

SMC briefly and inadvertently became part of the news during 2002, following its involvement in rebuttals of the BBC GM-skeptical drama "Fields of Gold." According to Nature, "Fox got hold of an advance copy, invited leading scientists to a viewing -- complete with free popcorn -- and sent their reviews to reporters. 'Then the shit hit the fan,' Fox says. Robert May, then president of the Royal Society, called the film 'an error-strewn piece of propaganda' and some newspapers echoed his and other scientists' criticism. The film's two writers, one of whom was Alan Rusbridger, editor of newspaper The Guardian, hit back, accusing the SMC of being a pro-GM mouthpiece for the companies that fund it."[4]

History

SMC's roots were in the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology Third Report Science and Society, 2000, which declared: "The culture of the United Kingdom science needs a sea-change in favour of open and positive communication with the media. This will require training and resources; above all it will require leadership."[24]

The consultation report that preceded the setting up of the SMC declared, "There is a widespread belief that the UK's post-war love affair with science has been replaced by an emerging anti-science mood which both fears the rapid development of science and is losing faith in the ability of science to solve society's problems."[2]

Baroness Susan Greenfield, who was Director of the Royal Institution from 1998 until she was laid off in 2010,[25] led the process of creating the SMC, calling herself the "midwife" of the organization.[2]

The consultation interviewed a number of prominent, unbiased scientists and journalists, but also a number of people with clear bias, such as Tony Gilland of the Institute of Ideas, David Sainsbury, Lord Taverne, Vivian Moses (Chair of CropGen), Andrew Gay of Huntingdon Life Sciences, and Peter Marsh of the Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC).[2]

Personnel

Board of Trustees

Advisory Committee

Staff

  • Fiona Fox, Chief Executive
  • Helen Jamison, Deputy Director
  • Tom Sheldon, Senior Press Officer
  • Edward Sykes, Head of Mental Health & Neuroscience
  • Selina Hawkins, Development and Operations Manager
  • Fiona Lethbridge, Press Officer
  • Robin Bisson, Science Information Officer
  • Alice Kay, Press Office Assistant

Funding

Some of SMC's current and former funders (most of which are individually capped at 5% of SMC's revenues, with some notable exceptions such as Wellcome Trust) include:

(Funders current as of August 2013 are listed here.)

Contacts

UK

Science Media Centre
215 Euston Road, London, NW1 2BE
England, UK
Phone: +44 (0)20 7611 8300
Email: smc@sciencemediacentre.org
Web: http://www.sciencemediacentre.org/
Twitter: @SMC_London

Australia

Postal address:
Australian Science Media Centre
PO Box 237
Rundle Mall SA 5000
Australia

Street address:
Australian Science Media Centre
C/- The Science Exchange
55 Exchange Place
Adelaide SA 5000
Australia

Phone: +61 8 7120 8666
Fax: (08) 8231 7333
Email: info@smc.og.au
Web: http://www.smc.org.au/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AusSMC
Twitter: @AusSMC

Canada

SMC Canada
1867 St. Laurent Blvd.
PO Box 9724, Station T
Ottawa, ON K1G 5A3
Canada

Phone: (613) 249-8209
Fax: (613) 990-3654
Email: penny.park@sciencemedia.ca
Web: http://www.sciencemediacentre.ca/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Science-Media-Centre-of-Canada/226887137370540
Twitter: @SMCCanada

Japan

Note: The Science Media Centre Japan was a three-year research and development project funded by Japan's Research Institute of Science and Technology for Society in 2009 and officially launched in November 2010.[26] It has no more recent website updates than December 2012[27] and no more recent tweets than January 2013.[28]

SMC Japan
Contact: http://smc-japan.org/eng/contact
Web: http://smc-japan.org/
Twitter: @smcjapan_eng

New Zealand

SMC New Zealand
11 Turnbull St, Thorndon, Wellington
New Zealand

Mailing address:
PO Box 598
Wellington, 6140
New Zealand

Phone: (04) 499 5476
Mobile contacts:
Peter Griffin – 021 859 365
Email: smc@sciencemediacentre.co.nz Web: http://www.sciencemediacentre.co.nz/
Twitter: @smcnz

United States

Science Media Center of the United States (under development)
Web: http://www.sciencemediacenter.org/usa/
Contact: Julia A. Moore
Phone: 202-277-1415
Email: mooreblaney@gmail.com
Email: info@sciencemediacenter.org

Articles and Resources

Related SourceWatch Articles

External Articles and Resources

References

  1. Science Media Center of the United States, About, organizational website, accessed February 2014.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Science Media Centre, Consultation Report, organizational report, March 2002.
  3. Fiona Fox and Connie St. Louis, Science media centers & the press, part 1, Columbia Journalism Review, June 17, 2013.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Ewen Callaway, Science Media: Centre of Attention, Nature, July 10, 2013.
  5. Science Media Centre, International SMCs, organizational website, accessed February 2014.
  6. Science Media Center of the United States, SMCs, organizational website, accessed February 2014.
  7. Science Media Center of the United States, Building the Science Media Center of the United States, organizational website, accessed February 2014
  8. Fiona Fox, Science Media Centre, When Science Meets Education, organizational blog, December 16, 2013.
  9. Education Media Centre, What Is EMC, organizational website, accessed February 2014.
  10. Jonathan Latham, BioScience Resource Project, Fakethrough! GMOs and the Capitulation of Science Journalism, Independent Science News, January 7, 2014.
  11. Gilles-Eric Séralini, Emilie Clair, Robin Mesnage, Steeve Gress, Nicolas Defarge, Manuela Malatesta, Didier Hennequin, Joël Spiroux de Vendômois, "Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize," Food and Chemical Toxicology, Available online September 19, 2012.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Jonathan Matthews, Smelling a Corporate Rat, SpinWatch, December 11, 2012.
  13. Science Media Centre, expert reaction to GM maize and tumours in rats, organizational press release, September 19, 2012.
  14. Andrew Pollack, Foes of Modified Corn Find Support in a Study, New York Times, September 19, 2012.
  15. Paul Jump, Research intelligence - Shock troops check 'poor' GM study, Times Higher Education, October 4, 2012.
  16. Corporate Europe Observatory, Study on Monsanto's GM maize intensifies concerns about EFSA's reliability – Monsanto strikes back with PR offensive, organizational article, September 21, 2012.
  17. Henry I. Miller and Bruce Chassy, Scientists Smell A Rat In Fraudulent Genetic Engineering Study, Forbes, September 25, 2012.
  18. 18.0 18.1 Susan Bardocz, Ann Clark (University of Guelph), Stanley Ewen (Consultant Histopathologist, Grampian University Hospital), Michael Hansen (Consumers Union), Jack Heinemann (University of Canterbury), Jonathan Latham (The Bioscience Resource Project), Arpad Pusztai, David Schubert (The Salk Institute), and Allison Wilson (The Bioscience Resource Project), Seralini and Science: an Open Letter, open letter published by Independent Science News, among other publications, October 2, 2012.
  19. Hartmut Meyer and Angelika Hilbeck, Rat feeding studies with genetically modified maize - a comparative evaluation of applied methods and risk assessment standards, Environmental Sciences Europe, 2013, 25:33.
  20. Michael Hansen, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, Consumers Union, Testimony on SB 1666, Genetically Engineered Food Labeling Act, Before the Senate Subcommittee on Food Labeling, U.S. Senate subcommittee testimony, September 17, 2013.
  21. Fiona Foster, Massacring the Truth in Rwanda, Living Marxism (Issue 85), December 1995, archived by the WayBack Machine March 8, 2000.
  22. Chris McGreal, Genocide? What Genocide?, The Guardian, March 20, 2000.
  23. Norfolk Genetic Information Network, SCIENCE MEDIA CENTRE DIRECTOR IS LIVING MARXISM GENOCIDE APOLOGIST, June 21, 2002.
  24. UK House of Lords, Science and Technology - Third Report, government committee report, February 23, 2000.
  25. Martin Robbins, [http://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2010/jan/11/susan-greenfield-sacking-royal-institution Susan Greenfield sacking: Now the Royal Institution can focus on science], The Guardian, January 11, 2010.
  26. SMC Japan, About Us, organizational website, accessed February 2014.
  27. SMC Japan, Home, organizational website, accessed February 2014.
  28. SMC Japan, @SMCJapan_Eng, organizational Twitter handle, accessed February 2014.