Social Issues Research Centre

From SourceWatch
Jump to: navigation, search

This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.

The Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC) is a UK-based think tank arm of the public relations firm MCM Research

SIRC claims to be "an independent, non-profit organisation founded to conduct research on social and lifestyle issues, monitor and assess global sociocultural trends and provide new insights on human behaviour and social relations".

Its primary act as an organisation has been the formulation of a Code of Practice on Science and Health Communication. In this, the SIRC has worked closely with the British goverment, the Royal Society, and the Royal Institute.

The SIRC also produces and circulates literature criticising the environmentalist agenda (mainly GM, junk food), and alcohol-related topics (see sponsors, below).

It provides funding for Sense about Science.

Staff

Advisory Panel

Background

According to its website, "SIRC aims to provide a balanced, calm and thoughtful perspective on social issues, promoting open and rational debates based on evidence rather than ideology". [1]

"The work of SIRC is guided by an Advisory Board consisting of eminent scientists and consultants in a variety of disciplines. SIRC also provides a channel of communication for a wider forum of scientists engaged in research in related areas", it states .

SIRC and the Code of Practice on Science and Health Communication

The SIRC has played a central role in advising the government on the development of a "Code of Practice on Science and Health Communication" for communication science issues to the media, which has been criticised for promoting mainstream views and suppressing dissenting voices.

In May 1999, a House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology in its report Scientific Advisory System: Genetically Modified Foods recommended "media coverage of scientific matters should be governed by a Code of Practice, which stipulates that scientific stories should be factually accurate. Breaches of the Code of Practice should be referred to the Press Complaints Commission."

The two groups appointed to develop the code of practice were the Royal Institution of Great Britain in London and the Social Issues Research Centre, in Oxford.

Such a code is necessary, SIRC suggests, because of the public's "riskfactorphobia," a term it has coined to describe a condition of excessive sensitivity to health concerns related to genetically engineered foods and foodborne illnesses. SIRC has also published popular reports in the British press about the pleasures of pub-hopping.

SIRC's inspiration for the development of media reporting guidelines seems to have been drawn from the establishment of a joint advisory group by the International Food Information Council Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health to establish guidelines on the reporting of food and nutrition information. [2]

According to SIRC, journalists were too sceptical of reporting commercially funded studies. "Some media reports concern work which has been paid for by commercial interests. The food industry, for example, invests large sums of money each year on research concerning the nutritional and safety aspects of its products. Similarly, much reported research is funded by charitable, 'independent' or government organisations. It is often tempting to dismiss what comes from the former as mere commercial propaganda and trustingly accept the conclusions of the latter because of its 'well-meaning' intent. But that would be a mistake. While industry-funded research may be seen as having vested interests, that which is funded by a range of single-issues organisations often has similarly clear agendas. The same, critical appraisal should be applied to all," SIRC wrote. Certainly, the SIRC itself saw no problem in producing a report on the benefits of HRT for a group funded by the pharmaceutical industry, without indicating the funding sources (see "Jubilee Report", below).

A second set of guidelines were developed by the Royal Society and endorsed by the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology in its March 2000 report on Science and Society.

In November 2001, the two sets of guidelines were merged to produce the Code of Practice on Science and Health Communication which was endorsed by the Press Complaints Commission. Subsequently, a new charity called The Health and Science Communication Trust was established, which SIRC's website explains, will organise seminars which in part "will aim to give journalists a better understanding of the potentially harmful effects of inaccurate or unbalanced reporting of health and science issues".

On its website SIRC states that funding for its work on the reporting guidelines "is provided by sponsors who share SIRC's basic interest in promoting better understanding of health and social issues. SIRC maintains complete freedom to conduct and publish research in pursuit of these aims, and does not promote the products, brands or commercial interests of sponsors". However it does not disclose who has funding the project but explained that it is "seeking funding for the support measures". These measure are "the development of resources for journalists such as an independent expert-contacts database, and a series of workshops bringing together doctors, scientists and journalists to discuss ways of improving communication on health and science issues'. [http://www.sirc.org/release.html

MCM Research

According the the SIRC, MCM Research is a "sister organisation".

MCM Research claims to apply "social science" to solving the problems of its clients, which includes major companies in the food, liquor and restaurant industries.

"Do your PR initiatives sometimes look too much like PR initiatives?" asked MCM's website in a straightforward boast of its ability to deceive the public. "MCM conducts social/psychological research on the positive aspects of your business," the website continued. "The results do not read like PR literature, or like market research data. Our reports are credible, interesting and entertaining in their own right. This is why they capture the imagination of the media and your customers." [ADD REFERENCE]

However, writing in the British Medical Journal, Annabel Ferriman queried the role of SIRC given its overlap with MCM Research. "Both organisations are based at 28 St Clements, Oxford, and both have social anthropologist Kate Fox and psychologist Dr Peter Marsh as directors, and Joe McCann as a research and training manager," Ferriman wrote.

Asked by Ferriman whether they considered there was a conflict of interest given the overlap of the two organisations, Fox disagreed: "No, I don't think so. The kinds of work we have done at MCM have been fairly worthy things like designing management training programmes to reduce violence in pubs. They are fairly uncontroversial." [3]

Jubilee Report

While SIRC was busy developing guidelines for reporting potentially controversial science issues, they were also undertaking work for a group established in 2000 called HRT Aware. Jocalyn Clark, writing in the British Medical Journal, HRT Aware hired the London-based PR company, RED consultancy to promote the benefits of hormone replacement therapy.

"What is not so well known is that HRT Aware was an industry group comprised of oestrogen product manufacturers Janssen-Cilag, Wyeth, Solvay, Servier, Organon, and Novo Nordisk," she wrote. [4].

"HRT Aware also commissioned the Social Issues Research Centre to produce a Jubilee Report (named to coincide with the Queen's Jubilee celebrations), which last month won a Communiqué award from the magazine Pharmaceutical Marketing in the public relations and medical education category. SIRC's research linked the improved lives of modern day postmenopausal women to HRT. It introduced a new elite group of 50+ women, dubbed the "HRHs" (hormone-rich and happy), who were said to have better careers, relationships, health, wellbeing, and sex lives than those not taking HRT. The Jubilee Report received widespread--and supportive--media coverage in the UK, virtually none of which mentioned that the pharmaceutical industry fashioned the campaign", Clark wrote.

Funding

According to the SIRC website the group is a non-profit organisation, "funded partly by income from our sister organisation MCM Research, which specialises in applying social science to problems faced in both the commercial and public sectors". [5]

MCM clients include:

  • the Ministry of Defence (research and training programmes on alcohol and drug problems);
  • the Portman Group (prevention of underage drinking);
  • the Civil Aviation Authority (design of selection systems for Air Traffic Controllers);

SIRC "recent and current clients" listed as of January 10, 2008 [6] are:

  • '3'
  • Automobile Association
  • Alliance and Leicester
  • British Airways
  • BT
  • Cadbury Schweppes
  • CBA
  • Children's Mutual
  • Department of Health (UK)
  • Diagio
  • eBay
  • Egg
  • Esure
  • European Commission DG Research
  • Fisher Price
  • GSK
  • Friends Provident
  • Halifax
  • Home Office
  • Hudson
  • Kimberly-Clark
  • Masterfoods
  • Mattel
  • Office of Science and Technology
  • Palm One
  • Pimms
  • Prudential
  • Rackspace
  • Renault
  • Roche
  • Sugar Bureau
  • Telewest
  • Tio Pepe
  • Wine Trade Action Group
  • and others

"SIRC has also received funding for research on food-related social and health issues from food companies such as"

  • Kelloggs
  • Mars
  • the BCCCA
  • HP Danone
  • Sugar Bureau

Other funders include

  • Renault,
  • BT Cellnet,
  • PG Tips (research on DIY),
  • Partridge Films (research for TV series 'The Human Sexes'),
  • the British Horseracing Board (social anthropology of racing),
  • the Amsterdam Group (research on football violence),
  • The Portman Group (research on alcohol-related violence) etc.

Contact information

Resources