Sense about Science

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Sense about Science
Sense about Science logo.jpg
MottoBecause evidence matters
FounderLord Taverne
TypeCharitable Trust No.1146170
Area served
Key people
Tracey Brown (Director)[1]
£576,265 (2016) Increase 2.3% from 2015[2]
10 (as of 2017)[3]
40 (as of 2017)[3]

Sense about Science is a UK charity that promotes the public understanding of science. Sense about Science was founded 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. Tracey Brown has been the director since 2002.[1]

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.[4] 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.


Sense about Science publishes guides to different areas of science in partnership with experts. These include: Making Sense of Uncertainty,[5] Making Sense of Allergies,[6] Making Sense of Drug Safety Science,[7] Making Sense of Crime,[8] Making Sense of Statistics,[9] Making Sense of Screening[10] and Making Sense of GM.[11]

Sense about Science maintains database of over 6,000 UK scientists willing to use their expertise to help inform public debate.[12] 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.

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.[13] Sense about Science 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 Director Tracey Brown describes such critical thinking as crucial to preventing public health scares based on unpublished information.[14]

The Sense About Science Annual Lecture[edit]

Sense about Science hosts an annual lecture. Past speakers have been:

The John Maddox Prize[edit]

Sense about Science also promotes the John Maddox Prize:[25]

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.

Past winners are:

Supported causes and campaigns[edit]

Sense About Science launched the Ask for Evidence campaign in 2011 to help people request for themselves the evidence behind news stories, marketing claims and policies.[26]


The AllTrials campaign calls for all past and present clinical trials to be registered and their full methods and summary results reported.[27][28]

AllTrials is an international initiative of Bad Science, BMJ, Centre for Evidence-based Medicine, Cochrane Collaboration, James Lind Initiative, PLOS and Sense About Science and is being led in the US by Sense About Science USA, Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine and the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice.[29]

As of January 2018, the AllTrials petition has been signed by 91,989 people and 737 organisations.[29]

Ask for Evidence[edit]

Ask for Evidence was launched by Sense About Science in 2011. It is a campaign that helps people request for themselves the evidence behind news stories, marketing claims and policies.[26] When challenged in this way, organisations may withdraw their claims or send evidence to support them. The campaign is supported by more than 6000 volunteer scientists who are available to review the evidence provided and determine whether it supports the original claim or story.[30] The campaign has received funding from The Wellcome Trust[31] and is endorsed by figures such as Dara Ó Briain[32] and Derren Brown.[33]

Chris Peters, Scientific Affairs Manager at Sense About Science, has said, 'If you ask people for evidence then they expect to be asked for evidence in the future'.[30] This can lead to a cultural shift in the organisation; they make sure they have the evidence from the start and are more evidence-based.

Keep Libel Laws Out of Science[edit]

Sense About Science launched the Keep Libel Laws out of Science campaign in June 2009[34] in defence of a member of its board of trustees,[35] author and journalist Simon Singh, who has been sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association. They issued a statement entitled "The law has no place in scientific disputes",[36] which was signed by many people representing science, medicine, journalism, publishing, arts, humanities, entertainment, sceptics, campaign groups and law. In April 2010, the BCA lost this case[37] with the court accepting that criticism of the BCA concerning its promotion of bogus treatments was fair comment.

In December 2009, Sense About Science, Index on Censorship and English PEN launched the Libel Reform Campaign.[38] The Defamation Act 2013 received Royal Assent on 25 April 2013 and came into force on 1 January 2014.

The Trust actively campaigns in support of various causes. It has issued a statement signed by over 35 scientists[39] asking the WHO to condemn homeopathy for diseases such as HIV.[40]


Sense about Science and their publications have been cited a number of times in the popular press,[41][42] most notably for encouraging celebrities and the public to think critically about scientific claims,[43][44] criticizing marketing unsupported by research,[45][46][47] decrying the unsubstantiated claims of homeopathy,[48][49] supporting genetically modified crops,[50] criticising 'do-it-yourself' health testing,[51][52] denouncing detox products,[53][54] warning against 'miracle cures',[55][56] and promoting public understanding of peer review.[57] They have received positive coverage in publications from the Royal Society[58] and the U.S. National Science Foundation,[59] and in the writings of scientists such as Ben Goldacre[60] and Steven Novella.[61]

Lord Taverne, chairman of Sense About Science, has criticised campaigns to ban plastic bags as counter-productive and being based on "bad science".[62]

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,[63] 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.[64] Tracey Brown, managing director of Sense About Science, rebutted these claims on the SAS website.[65]

Journalist George Monbiot has 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.[66] Claims of a Living Marxist 'network' have been denied.[67][68]

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."[69]


Sense about Science's principal funding is through grants and donations in respect of its core aims.[70] In its funding policy it states: "Donations do not entitle any individual or organisation to decision-making authority. External funding will not divert Sense About Science from its agreed aims and values".[71]

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.[72] Previous donations included other pharmaceutical industries such as Pfizer.[72] This dependency has now been diminished since for the fiscal year ending April 2010, the trust received £183,971 in donations of which £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.[72][73]

Sense about Science discloses the names of its funders and the purpose of each donation received in its annual reports. Its largest donor during 2015-16 was the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, which donated between £40,001-50,000 to support the AllTrials campaign.[74]



As of November 2015, the trustees of Sense About Science are:[75]

Advisory Board[edit]

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.[76]


  1. ^ a b "Office team · Sense about Science". Retrieved 23 February 2017.
  2. ^ "Financial Summary - Sense About Science". Charity Commission UK. 2016. Retrieved 23 February 2017.
  3. ^ a b "Charity Overview - Sense About Science". Charity Commission UK. 2016. Retrieved 23 February 2017.
  4. ^ 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."
  5. ^ "Making Sense of Uncertainty | The University of Manchester". Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  6. ^ "Making Sense of Allergies". Allergy UK.
  7. ^ MRC, Medical Research Council, (4 March 2014). "Making sense of drug safety science". Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  8. ^ "Making sense of crime after an election full of crime fiction | The Alliance for Useful Evidence". Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  9. ^ "Making Sense of Statistics | Straight Statistics". Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  10. ^ "Making Sense of Screening - Testing Treatments interactive". Testing Treatments interactive. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  11. ^ "Making Sense of GM | John Innes Centre". Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  12. ^ "About us · Sense about Science". Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  13. ^ "Health & Medicine". Sense About Science. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  14. ^ Butler, Declan (2004). "Academics seek to cast peer review as a public service". Nature. 430 (6995): 7. doi:10.1038/430007b. PMID 15229573.
  15. ^ Brown, Tracey. "Science and sensibility: on the untrustworthy nature of truth - podcast". the Guardian. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  16. ^ "Science, technology and democracy: Sense About Science lecture - podcast". the Guardian. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  17. ^ Phipps, Jason. "Science Weekly podcast: Cory Doctorow on an internet that sets us free". the Guardian. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  18. ^ Phipps, Jason. "Science Weekly Extra podcast: What has science ever done for us? Sense About Science Lecture 2012, Dick Taverne". the Guardian. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  19. ^ Evans, Richard. "Sense About Science annual lecture 'Epidemics and refuseniks' by Professor Richard Evans". the Guardian. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  20. ^ "Sense About Science Lecture 2010: Standing up for science | Dr Fiona Godlee". the Guardian. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  21. ^ Judson, Olivia. "Science Weekly Extra podcast: Dr Olivia Judson on why we should conduct experiments". the Guardian. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  22. ^ Green, Ben. "Alan Sokal on science, religion, homeopathy, and fakery". the Guardian. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  23. ^ "Annual lecture 2007 · Sense about Science". Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  24. ^ "Annual lecture 2006 · Sense about Science". Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  25. ^ "The John Maddox Prize · Sense about Science". Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  26. ^ a b "Ask for Evidence". Ask for Evidence. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  27. ^ "What does all trials registered and reported mean?". AllTrials. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  28. ^ AllTrials campaign. 2017. Alltrials Roadmap
  29. ^ a b "All Trials Registered. All Results Reported". AllTrials. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  30. ^ a b "Episode #020, feat. Chris Peters". The European Skeptics Podcast. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  31. ^ Gray, Kate Arkless. "Empowering people to 'Ask for Evidence'". Wellcome Trust Blog. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  32. ^ "Ask for Evidence | Dara Ó Briain, performer". Ask for Evidence. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  33. ^ "Ask for Evidence | Derren Brown, illusionist". Ask for Evidence. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  34. ^ Sign up now to keep the libel laws out of science! Sense About Science
  35. ^ Board of Trustees, Sense About Science.
  36. ^ "The law has no place in scientific disputes", Sense about Science.
  37. ^ Holden, Michael (1 April 2010). "Science writer wins "fair comment" libel appeal". Reuters.
  38. ^ "Launch of the Libel Reform Campaign · Sense about Science". Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  39. ^ Letter to WHO, signed by at least 35 scientists, Sense About Science
  40. ^ Sample, Ian (1 June 2009)."British scientists ask WHO to condemn homeopathy for diseases such as HIV". The Guardian (London).
  41. ^ Brown, Tracey (25 November 2005). "Making Sense of Science". The Scientist.
  42. ^ "OFT: Chocolate does not help you lose weight". The Daily Telegraph. London. 20 February 2009.
  43. ^ Jha, Alokh (3 January 2008). "Evil genes and antifreeze: TV gurus' toxic talk put under the microscope". The Guardian. London.
  44. ^ Henderson, Mark (3 January 2007). "Celebrities told to embrace the facts, not bad science". The Times. London.
  45. ^ Fazackerley, Anna (4 November 2005). "Scientists told to enlighten the confused". Times Higher Education. London.
  46. ^ Randerson, James (10 October 2007). "Food and health firms taken to task by science's 'warriors against claptrap'". The Guardian. London.
  47. ^ "Prince Charles detox 'quackery'". BBC News. London. 10 March 2009.
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  49. ^ "Homeopaths under fire over tropical treatments". New Scientist. London. 22 July 2006.
  50. ^ Henderson, Mark (21 March 2009). "Why we need GM crops". The Times. London.
  51. ^ Fleming, Nic (16 March 2008). "Do-it-yourself test kits 'could put health at risk'". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  52. ^ "Disease forecasts may be bad for your health". New Scientist. London. 18 March 2008.
  53. ^ "Scientists dismiss 'detox myth'". BBC News. 5 January 2009.
  54. ^ Kirby, Jane (5 January 2009). "Products offering an easy detox 'are a waste of time'". The Independent. London.
  55. ^ Rayner, Tom (10 November 2008). "Warning over online 'miracle cures'". The Independent. London.
  56. ^ Moore, Matthew (10 November 2008). "Patients warned over online 'miracle cure' claims". The Daily Telegraph. London.
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  59. ^ National Science Foundation (official report) (2006). "Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Understanding". Science and engineering indicators 2006. Arlington, Va., U.S.A. Archived from the original on 18 August 2015.
  60. ^ Ben Goldacre's "Sense About Science have very kindly given me the transcripts from their excellent Malaria and homeopathy sting from last month"
  61. ^ Novella, Steven (10 November 2008). "Sense About Science". Neurologica. The New England Skeptical Society.
  62. ^ Mostrous, Alexi (8 March 2008). "Series of blunders turned the plastic bag into global villain". The Times. London.
  63. ^ Corbyn, Zoë (19 February 2009). "Charity guide criticised for not declaring GM interests". Times Higher Education. London.
  64. ^ "Books and Bookmen". Private Eye 1232. London. 20 March 2009.
  65. ^ Tracey Brown (31 March 2009). "Response from Tracey Brown, Managing Director of Sense About Science, to the article by Zoe Corbyn "Charity guide criticised for not declaring GM interests: Sense About Science pamphlet failed to list contributors' links with industry"".
  66. ^ Monbiot, George (9 December 2003). "Invasion of the entryists". The Guardian. London.
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  68. ^ Brown, Tracey. "Where Sense About Science comes from". Sense About Science. Retrieved 2 June 2012.
  69. ^ MacDonald, Victoria (21 September 2007). "Uncomplementary Homeopathy". Channel 4 News. London. Archived from the original on 5 July 2008.
  70. ^ "Charity overview". Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  71. ^ "Our funding policy · Sense about Science". Retrieved 17 November 2015.
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  75. ^ "Board of trustees · Sense about Science". Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  76. ^ "Sense About Science web-page". Sense About Science. Retrieved 7 December 2011.

External links[edit]