Sense About Science

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Sense About Science
Charitable Trust No.110111
Genre Public relations, Science
Founded London 2003
Founder Lord Taverne
Headquarters London, England
Area served
England and Wales
Revenue £405,569 (2011) Increase 22% from 2010

Footnotes / references
Board of Trustees (2011)

Lord Taverne (Chair)

Sense About Science is a British charity that promotes the public understanding of science. Sense About Science was conceived in 2002 by Lord Taverne, Bridget Ogilvie and others to promote respect for scientific evidence and good science. Sense About Science was established as a charitable trust in 2003, with 14 trustees, an advisory council and a small office staff. As of 2009, the managing director is Tracey Brown.

Sense About Science aims to work with scientists, journalists and others to ensure that scientific evidence is at the forefront of public discussions about science, and to correct unscientific misinformation.[1] They encourage and assist scientists to engage in public debates about their area of expertise, to respond to scientifically inaccurate claims in the media, to help people contact scientists with appropriate expertise, and to prepare briefings about the scientific background to issues of public concern.

Reports and campaign statements released by Sense About Science have generated significant press coverage.


The Trust maintains EvidenceBase, a database of over 2,000 UK scientists willing to use their expertise to help inform public debate. It also runs the Voice of Young Science programme to help early career scientists engage in public debates. Sense About Science hosts an annual lecture and publishes an ad hoc series of reports under the title of Sense About... and Making Sense of….[2]

Since its founding, Sense About Science has contributed to UK public debates about such subjects as alternative medicine, "detoxification" products and detox diets, genetically modified food, avian influenza, chemicals and health, "electrosmog", vaccination, weather and climate, nuclear power, and the use and utility of peer review.[3] SAS encourages scientists to explain to the public the value of peer review in determining which reports should be taken seriously. Director Tracey Brown describes such critical thinking as crucial to preventing public health scares based on unpublished information.[4]

The John Maddox Prize[edit]

Sense About Science also promotes the John Maddox Prize:[5]

The John Maddox Prize for standing up for science rewards an individual who has promoted sound science and evidence on a matter of public interest. Its emphasis is on those who have faced difficulty or hostility in doing so. Nominations of active researchers who have yet to receive recognition for their public-interest work are particularly welcomed.

Part winners were: Fang Zhouzi, David Nutt, Simon Wessely, and Emily Willingham.

Supported causes[edit]

One of Sense About Science's prominent campaigns has been in favour of Simon Singh, sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association.[6]

The Trust actively campaigns in support of various causes. It has issued a statement signed by over 35 scientists[7] asking the WHO to condemn homeopathy for diseases such as HIV.[8]

It has also launched a campaign[6] in defence of a member of its board of trustees,[9] author and journalist Simon Singh, who has been sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association. They have issued a statement entitled "The law has no place in scientific disputes",[10] which has been signed by many people representing science, medicine, journalism, publishing, arts, humanities, entertainment, sceptics, campaign groups and law. As of 1 June 2012, over 59,000 have signed.[11] Many press sources have covered the issue.[12] In April 2010, the BCA lost this case[13] with the court accepting that criticism of the BCA concerning its promotion of bogus treatments was fair comment.


Sense About Science and their publications have been cited a number of times in the popular press,[14][15] most notably for encouraging celebrities and the public to think critically about scientific claims,[16][17] criticizing marketing unsupported by research,[18][19][20] decrying the unsubstantiated claims of homeopathy,[21][22] supporting genetically modified crops,[23] criticising 'do-it-yourself' health testing,[24][25] denouncing detox products,[26][27] warning against 'miracle cures',[28][29] and promoting public understanding of peer review.[30] They have received positive coverage in publications from the Royal Society[31] and the U.S. National Science Foundation,[32] and in the writings of scientists such as Ben Goldacre[33] and Steven Novella.[34]

Lord Taverne, chairman of Sense About Science, has criticised campaigns to ban plastic bags as counter-productive and being based on "bad science".[35]

Anti-genetic-modification campaigners and academics have criticised Sense About Science for what they view as a failure to disclose industry connections of some advisers,[36] and Private Eye reported that it had seen a draft of the Making Sense of GM guide that included Monsanto Company's former director of scientific affairs as an author.[37] Tracey Brown, managing director of Sense About Science, rebutted these claims on the SAS website.[38]

Spinwatch's[39] and journalist George Monbiot have commented on the connections Tracey Brown, Dr Michael FitzPatrick, assistant director Ellen Raphael and others working with Sense About Science have with the former Revolutionary Communist Party and Living Marxism magazine.[40] Claims of a Living Marxist 'network' have been denied.[41][42]

Homeopath Peter Fisher criticised Sense About Science, who have been working closely with NHS primary care trusts on the issue of funding for homeopathy, for being funded by the pharmaceutical industry; SAS responded in a statement to Channel 4 News that "Peter Fisher's desperate comments show about as much grasp of reality as the homeopathic medicine he sells."[43]


Funding for the trust has been increasing. Some is derived from industrial organizations engaged in scientific dispute, clinical trials and research for which SAS is supportive (e.g. genetically modified crops) as well as major publishing houses. For example for the fiscal year ending 5 April 2008, the trust received £145,902 in donations. Disclosed corporate donations comprised £88,000 with pharmaceutical company Astra Zeneca donating £35,000.[44] Previous donations included other pharmaceutical industries such as Pfizer.[44] This dependency has now been diminished since for the fiscal year ending April 2010, the trust received £183,971 in donations of which only £17,500 was derived from the pharmaceutical industry (Unilever and G E Healthcare), in 2011 the amount diminished further to less than 6% funding derived from industry sources (the trust received £268,184 in donations with £15,000 from industry) with the rest derived from Science Bodies and individuals.[44][45]


The charity has an advisory board, which includes Professor John Adams, Mr Richard Ayre, Professor Peter Atkins, Professor Sir Colin Berry FMedSci, Professor Colin Blakemore FMedSci FRS, Professor Gustav Born FRS, Professor Sir Robert Boyd FMedSci, Professor John Coggins, Professor Phil Dale OBE, Professor Adrian Dixon FMedSci, Dr Simon Festing, Dr Ron Fraser, Mr David Allen Green, Dr Irene Hames, Dr Evan Harris, Lord Hunt of Chesterton FRS, Lord Jenkin of Roding, Professor Trevor M Jones CBE, Sir David King FRS, Professor Sir Peter Lachmann FRS FMedSci, Dr Stephen Ladyman, Ms Prue Leith OBE, Dr Robin Lovell-Badge FRS, Professor Julian Ma, Professor Alan Malcolm, Professor Vivian Moses, Professor Sir Keith Peters FRS PMedSci, Lord Plumb of Coleshill DL, Dr Ian Ragan, Dr Matt Ridley FMedSci, Professor Raymond Tallis FMedSci, Professor Anthony Trewavas FRS, Lord Turnberg of Cheadle FMedSci, Dr Roger Turner, Professor Simon Wessely FMedSci and Professor Michael Wilson.[46]


  1. ^ Sense About Science 'Voice of Young Science' workshop, "Ellen Raphael talked about Sense about Science, discussing projects and the ways we correct misinformation with examples from the last five years."
  2. ^ Publications and resources, Sense About Science, retrieved 7 December 2011 
  3. ^ "Health & Medicine". Sense About Science. Retrieved 1 June 2012. 
  4. ^ Butler, Declan (2004). "Academics seek to cast peer review as a public service". Nature 430 (6995): 7. doi:10.1038/430007b. PMID 15229573. 
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ a b Sign up now to keep the libel laws out of science! Sense About Science
  7. ^ Letter to WHO, signed by at least 35 scientists, Sense About Science
  8. ^ Sample, Ian (1 June 2009)."British scientists ask WHO to condemn homeopathy for diseases such as HIV". The Guardian (London).
  9. ^ Board of Trustees, Sense About Science.
  10. ^ "The law has no place in scientific disputes", Sense about Science.
  11. ^ "The campaign at a glance". Sense About Science. Retrieved 7 December 2011. 
  12. ^ Press Coverage
  13. ^ Holden, Michael (1 April 2010). "Science writer wins "fair comment" libel appeal". Reuters. 
  14. ^ Brown, Tracey (25 November 2005). "Making Sense of Science". The Scientist. 
  15. ^ "OFT: Chocolate does not help you lose weight". The Daily Telegraph (London). 20 February 2009. 
  16. ^ Jha, Alokh (3 January 2008). "Evil genes and antifreeze: TV gurus' toxic talk put under the microscope". The Guardian (London). 
  17. ^ Henderson, Mark (3 January 2007). "Celebrities told to embrace the facts, not bad science". The Times (London). 
  18. ^ Fazackerley, Anna (4 November 2005). "Scientists told to enlighten the confused". Times Higher Education (London). 
  19. ^ Randerson, James (10 October 2007). "Food and health firms taken to task by science's 'warriors against claptrap'". The Guardian (London). 
  20. ^ "Prince Charles detox 'quackery'". BBC News (London). 10 March 2009. 
  21. ^ "Scientists attack homeopathy move". BBC News. 25 October 2006. 
  22. ^ "Homeopaths under fire over tropical treatments". New Scientist (London). 22 July 2006. 
  23. ^ Henderson, Mark (21 March 2009). "Why we need GM crops". The Times (London). 
  24. ^ Fleming, Nic (16 March 2008). "Do-it-yourself test kits 'could put health at risk'". The Daily Telegraph (London). 
  25. ^ "Disease forecasts may be bad for your health". New Scientist (London). 18 March 2008. 
  26. ^ "Scientists dismiss 'detox myth'". BBC News. 5 January 2009. 
  27. ^ Kirby, Jane (5 January 2009). "Products offering an easy detox 'are a waste of time'". The Independent (London). 
  28. ^ Rayner, Tom (10 November 2008). "Warning over online 'miracle cures'". The Independent (London). 
  29. ^ Moore, Matthew (10 November 2008). "Patients warned over online 'miracle cure' claims". The Daily Telegraph (London). 
  30. ^ "Peer review key to trust in science". Times Higher Education (London). 25 June 2004. 
  31. ^ "Science in the News – Wednesday 10 October 2007". Science in the News (London: Royal Society). Archived from the original on 9 June 2008. 
  32. ^ National Science Foundation (official report) (2006). "Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Understanding". Science and engineering indicators 2006. Arlington, Va., U.S.A. 
  33. ^ Ben Goldacre's "Sense About Science have very kindly given me the transcripts from their excellent Malaria and homeopathy sting from last month"
  34. ^ Novella, Steven (10 November 2008). "Sense About Science". Neurologica (The New England Skeptical Society). 
  35. ^ Mostrous, Alexi (8 March 2008). "Series of blunders turned the plastic bag into global villain". The Times (London). 
  36. ^ Corbyn, Zoë (19 February 2009). "Charity guide criticised for not declaring GM interests". Times Higher Education (London). 
  37. ^ "Books and Bookmen". Private Eye 1232 (London). 20 March 2009. 
  38. ^ Tracey Brown (31 March 2009). "Response from Tracey Brown, Managing Director of Sense About Science, to the The article by Zoe Corbyn "Charity guide criticised for not declaring GM interests: Sense About Science pamphlet failed to list contributors’ links with industry".". 
  39. ^
  40. ^ Monbiot, George (9 December 2003). "Invasion of the entryists". The Guardian (London). 
  41. ^ Bunting, Chris (28 January 2005). "What's a nice Trot doing in a place like this?". Times Higher Education (London). 
  42. ^ Brown, Tracey. "Where Sense About Science comes from". Sense About Science. Retrieved 2 June 2012. 
  43. ^ MacDonald, Victoria (21 September 2007). "Uncomplementary Homeopathy". Channel 4 News (London). Archived from the original on 5 July 2008. 
  44. ^ a b c "Sense About Science Financial Statements", Charity Commission.
  45. ^ "Financial Statements 2011". Charity Commission. Retrieved 2 June 2012. 
  46. ^ "Sense About Science web-page". Sense About Science. Retrieved 7 December 2011. 

External links[edit]