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Sense about Science

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Sense about Science
FounderLord Taverne
TypeCharitable trust No.1146170
Area served
Key people
Revenue (2018)
Employees (2018)
Volunteers (2018)

Sense about Science is a United Kingdom charitable organization 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. It 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.[2]

The organisation works with scientists and journalists to put scientific evidence in public discussions about science, and to correct unscientific misinformation.[5] 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,[6] Making Sense of Allergies,[7] Making Sense of Drug Safety Science,[8] Making Sense of Crime,[9] Making Sense of Statistics,[10] Making Sense of Screening[11] and Making Sense of GM.[12]

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 Director Tracey Brown describes such critical thinking as crucial to preventing public health scares based on unpublished information.[14]


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.[15]


The AllTrials campaign calls for all past and present clinical trials to be registered and their full methods and summary results reported.[16][17]

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.[18]

As of January 2018, the AllTrials petition has been signed by 91,989 people and 737 organisations.[18]

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.[15] 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.[19] The campaign has received funding from The Wellcome Trust[20] and is endorsed by figures such as Dara Ó Briain[21] and Derren Brown.[22]

Keep Libel Laws Out of Science[edit]

Sense About Science launched the Keep Libel Laws out of Science campaign in June 2009[23] in defence of a member of its board of trustees,[24] 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",[25] 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[26] 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.[27] 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[28] asking the WHO to condemn homeopathy for diseases such as HIV.[29]


Sense about Science and their publications have been cited a number of times in the popular press,[30][31] most notably for encouraging celebrities and the public to think critically about scientific claims,[32][33] criticizing marketing unsupported by research,[34][35][36] decrying the unsubstantiated claims of homeopathy,[37][38] supporting genetically modified crops,[39] criticising "do-it-yourself" health testing,[40][41] denouncing detox products,[42][43] warning against "miracle cures",[44][45] and promoting public understanding of peer review.[46] They have received positive coverage in publications from the Royal Society[47] and the U.S. National Science Foundation,[48] and in the writings of scientists such as Ben Goldacre[49] and Steven Novella.[50]

Lord Taverne, chairman of Sense About Science, has criticised campaigns to ban plastic bags as counter-productive and being based on "bad science".[51]

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,[52] 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.[53] Tracey Brown, managing director of Sense About Science, rebutted these claims on the Science about Science website.[54]

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; Sense About Science 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."[55]

A 2016 piece in The Intercept was critical of Sense About Science's data on and support for flame retardant chemicals.[56]


  1. ^ "Board of trustees – Sense about Science". 14 September 2016. Retrieved 21 September 2020.
  2. ^ a b "Tracey Brown OBE". Sense about Science. 30 August 2016. Retrieved 24 August 2019.
  3. ^ "Report of the Trustees and Unaudited Financial Statements for the Year Ended 5 April 2018 for Sense about Science" (PDF). Charity Commission for England and Wales. Sense about Science. 28 January 2019. Retrieved 24 August 2019.
  4. ^ a b "Charity Overview - Sense About Science". Charity Commission for England and Wales. Retrieved 24 August 2019.
  5. ^ 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."
  6. ^ "Making Sense of Uncertainty | The University of Manchester". www.manchester.ac.uk. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  7. ^ "Making Sense of Allergies". Allergy UK.
  8. ^ MRC, Medical Research Council (4 March 2014). "Making sense of drug safety science". www.mrc.ac.uk. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  9. ^ "Making sense of crime after an election full of crime fiction | The Alliance for Useful Evidence". www.alliance4usefulevidence.org. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  10. ^ "Making Sense of Statistics | Straight Statistics". straightstatistics.fullfact.org. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  11. ^ "Making Sense of Screening - Testing Treatments interactive". Testing Treatments interactive. 12 October 2015. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  12. ^ "Making Sense of GM | John Innes Centre". www.jic.ac.uk. 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. Bibcode:2004Natur.430....7B. doi:10.1038/430007b. PMID 15229573.
  15. ^ a b "Ask for Evidence". Ask for Evidence. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  16. ^ "What does all trials registered and reported mean?". AllTrials. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  17. ^ AllTrials campaign. 2017. Alltrials Roadmap http://www.alltrials.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/AllTrials-Roadmap.pdf
  18. ^ a b "All Trials Registered. All Results Reported". AllTrials. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  19. ^ "Episode #020, feat. Chris Peters". The European Skeptics Podcast. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  20. ^ Gray, Kate Arkless. "Empowering people to 'Ask for Evidence'". Wellcome Trust Blog. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  21. ^ "Ask for Evidence | Dara Ó Briain, performer". Ask for Evidence. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  22. ^ "Ask for Evidence | Derren Brown, illusionist". Ask for Evidence. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  23. ^ Sign up now to keep the libel laws out of science! Sense About Science
  24. ^ Board of Trustees, Sense About Science.
  25. ^ "The law has no place in scientific disputes", Sense about Science.
  26. ^ Holden, Michael (1 April 2010). "Science writer wins "fair comment" libel appeal". Reuters. Retrieved 24 August 2019.
  27. ^ "Launch of the Libel Reform Campaign · Sense about Science". www.senseaboutscience.org. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  28. ^ Letter to WHO, signed by at least 35 scientists, Sense About Science
  29. ^ Sample, Ian (1 June 2009)."British scientists ask WHO to condemn homeopathy for diseases such as HIV". The Guardian (London).
  30. ^ Brown, Tracey (25 November 2005). "Making Sense of Science". The Scientist.
  31. ^ "OFT: Chocolate does not help you lose weight". The Daily Telegraph. London. 20 February 2009. Archived from the original on 24 February 2009.
  32. ^ Jha, Alokh (3 January 2008). "Evil genes and antifreeze: TV gurus' toxic talk put under the microscope". The Guardian. London.
  33. ^ Henderson, Mark (3 January 2007). "Celebrities told to embrace the facts, not bad science". The Times. London.
  34. ^ Fazackerley, Anna (4 November 2005). "Scientists told to enlighten the confused". Times Higher Education. London.
  35. ^ Randerson, James (10 October 2007). "Food and health firms taken to task by science's 'warriors against claptrap'". The Guardian. London.
  36. ^ "Prince Charles detox 'quackery'". BBC News. London. 10 March 2009.
  37. ^ "Scientists attack homeopathy move". BBC News. 25 October 2006.
  38. ^ "Homeopaths under fire over tropical treatments". New Scientist. London. 22 July 2006.
  39. ^ Henderson, Mark (21 March 2009). "Why we need GM crops". The Times. London.
  40. ^ Fleming, Nic (16 March 2008). "Do-it-yourself test kits 'could put health at risk'". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  41. ^ "Disease forecasts may be bad for your health". New Scientist. London. 18 March 2008.
  42. ^ "Scientists dismiss 'detox myth'". BBC News. 5 January 2009.
  43. ^ Kirby, Jane (5 January 2009). "Products offering an easy detox 'are a waste of time'". The Independent. London.
  44. ^ Rayner, Tom (10 November 2008). "Warning over online 'miracle cures'". The Independent. London.
  45. ^ Moore, Matthew (10 November 2008). "Patients warned over online 'miracle cure' claims". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 22 January 2009.
  46. ^ "Peer review key to trust in science". Times Higher Education. London. 25 June 2004.
  47. ^ "Science in the News – Wednesday 10 October 2007". Science in the News. London: Royal Society. Archived from the original on 9 June 2008.
  48. ^ 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.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  49. ^ Ben Goldacre's BadScience.net "Sense About Science have very kindly given me the transcripts from their excellent Malaria and homeopathy sting from last month"
  50. ^ Novella, Steven (10 November 2008). "Sense About Science". Neurologica. The New England Skeptical Society.
  51. ^ Mostrous, Alexi (8 March 2008). "Series of blunders turned the plastic bag into global villain". Times Online. Archived from the original on 13 March 2008.
  52. ^ Corbyn, Zoë (19 February 2009). "Charity guide criticised for not declaring GM interests". Times Higher Education. London.
  53. ^ "Books and Bookmen". Private Eye 1232. London. 20 March 2009.
  54. ^ 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"".
  55. ^ MacDonald, Victoria (21 September 2007). "Uncomplementary Homeopathy". Channel 4 News. London. Archived from the original on 5 July 2008.
  56. ^ Gross, Liza (15 November 2016). "How Self-Appointed Guardians of "Sound Science" Tip the Scales Toward Industry". The Intercept. Retrieved 2 July 2020.

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