World Conference of Science Journalists – Troublemakers Fringe, Penderel’s Oak Pub, Holborn, 1st July 8pm – Midnight

June 24th, 2009 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, science comms | 16 Comments »

Come and see me, Vaughan from and Petra from talk in a pub on Wednesday.

Next week the World Conference of Science Journalists will be coming to London. A few of us felt they were might not adequately address some of the key problems in their profession, which has deteriorated to the point where they present a serious danger to public health, fail to keep geeks well nourished, and actively undermine the publics’ understanding of what it means for there to be evidence for a claim.

More importantly we fancied some troublemaking and a night in the pub.

As a result, you have the opportunity to come and see three angry nerds explain how and why mainstream media’s science coverage is broken, misleading, dangerous, lazy, venal, and silly. Join our angry rabble, and tell the world of science journalists exactly what you think about their work. All are welcome, admission is free. They may not come.

After the presentations (with powerpoint and everything, in a pub) we will attempt to collaboratively and drunkenly derive some best practise guidelines for health and science journalists, with your kind assistance.

Ben Goldacre has written the Guardian’s Bad Science column for 6 years, where he exposes misleading science journalism, health scare hoaxes, pill-pushing quacks and the crimes of the evil multinational pharmaceutical industry. He will talk about how the media promote the publics’ misunderstanding of evidence, focusing on health scares, journalists’ hoaxes, and their consequences, as well as cases where scientists have had their work misrepresented and failed to get satisfaction from newspapers.

Vaughan Bell is a neuropsychology researcher and clinician in the NHS, where he deals with disorders of the mind and brain, and is a writer for, where he deals with disorders of the media. His talk will be called “Don’t touch that dial! Technology scares and the media” and will discuss how the media loves to tell us that new technology will give us brain damage and mental illness but is strangely adverse to discussing the research even when the science says there’s not a lot to be worried about.

Petra Boynton is a Social Psychologist and Lecturer in International Health Services Research.  She specialises in researching sex and relationships health.  For the past 7 years Petra has worked as as an Agony Aunt in print, online and broadcast media. She actively campaigns for free and accurate sexual health advice within the media both in the UK and Internationally.   Petra will  talk about the consequences of PR companies misusing surveys and formulas as a form of cheap advertising, the problem of unethical or untrained people posing as ‘media experts’, and what happens when journalists fail to fact check science and health stories.

Of note, attending the WCSJ will cost you £200 a day. You are welcome to come to our event entirely for free, beer/shrapnel in a bucket gratefully received. Journalists, corporate event organisers: welcome to the shits and giggles economy. Special thanks to Sid the Skeptic from Viz for booking the room at short notice.


World Conference of Science Journalists 2009 – Troublemakers Fringe


Penderel’s Oak Pub, 286-288 High Holborn, London WC1V 7HJ, Holborn Tube.


1st July 7pm for 8pm – Midnight


I should say again, thanks to Sid. Skeptics in the Pub is one of the great London institutions, where you can see really great people give funny and interesting talks to a room full of drunk nerds. Vive les nerds, we are more possible than they can powerfully imagine!

If you like what I do, and you want me to do more, you can: buy my books Bad Science and Bad Pharma, give them to your friends, put them on your reading list, employ me to do a talk, or tweet this article to your friends. Thanks! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

16 Responses

  1. mjrobbins said,

    June 24, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    I’ll be along to this, definitely.

  2. Sili said,

    June 24, 2009 at 7:57 pm

    Bugger. I need to give two weeks notice if I want to take a holiday.

    Please keep doing gigs once I get around to becoming a man of means.

    So I can buy you a pint, I mean.

  3. Paula Thomas said,

    June 25, 2009 at 8:35 am

    I have two other events to be at that night One of them is really important, it is at New Scotland Yard, and I can’t cancel sod it!!!!

  4. catkins said,

    June 25, 2009 at 9:18 am

    hmmm, make sure your wrath is aimed at the right group. not all science journalists are the ignorant scaremongers you suggest they are…

  5. DrG said,

    June 25, 2009 at 9:58 am

    Anyone going along might be interested in the current issue of Nature (Vol 459): 5 pieces about science journalism worth a read.

    As a researcher, I’ve worked with journalists on a number of occasions. My own experience has taught me that a new model is required if we (scientists) are to contribute to the accurate reporting of our work. That is, I find the best way to ensure a new result is reported accurately is to work up a traditional press release in collaboration with your institution in anticipation of a paper being published, then taking this to a SCIENCE journalist (the traditional press release process enhances the likelihood of errors as they are usually of limited scope, and will just be copy and pasted anyway). The engagement with a reporter should be done with enough time before the embargo of the paper is lifted (with the journalist’s understanding they can’t print until then, of course) which gives the time needed to ensure the results are accurately described, and time for the reporter to get the other side of the story or some independent support, if that’s appropriate.

    This is obviously a much more engaged model, but if you’re ‘creating knowledge’ it’s your responsibility to ensure that it finds it’s way into the media intact. No point moaning the media have misrepresented your work if you haven’t engaged with them. Science can be awesome, and we should all ensure that everyone gets to see that.

  6. Samwise said,

    June 25, 2009 at 11:10 am

    Bah. I am seeing Steely Dan in Hammersmith that night.

  7. EmmaQ said,

    June 25, 2009 at 9:32 pm

    You mean you won’t be attending the fancy-schmancy reception at the NHM that evening?!

  8. Artsgrad said,

    June 26, 2009 at 10:02 am

    Is there a signup list? I’ve been over at Skeptics in the Pub, but can’t find one.

  9. zeno said,

    June 26, 2009 at 9:43 pm

    I’ll be there!

  10. Sid said,

    June 27, 2009 at 10:25 am

    Thanks for the love Ben Ben. Unfortunately, Rebecca wont let me be your girlfriend. She’s the only person allowed anywhere near my “wrong-un”.

    Artsgrad, there’s no sign-up list for this one. It’ll be a complete free-for-all, just like the old days. I hope no one dies.

  11. Teek said,

    June 29, 2009 at 11:11 am

    will try and be there although these things tend to get v. busy so will have to get there early!

  12. Bill Bigge said,

    June 29, 2009 at 3:38 pm

    Damn, I wish I lived nearer London. I’d come if I did.

  13. OMQ said,

    June 30, 2009 at 5:14 am

    This is my first post, although I have been following for years.

    Please look out for some research papers about medical news stories, which will be published in PLoS ONE, an open-access journal, in the coming months (one paper will be published on Wed 1st July 2009, which may be timely for Ben’s pub talk). As someone who is trying to bridge the gap between science and journalism, what I find worrying is the dearth of published empirical data available by which “experts” apparently make their recommendations and air their views. I see in science journalism a parallel with what medicine was like before it adopted evidence-based medicine.

    Just look at the 25th June issue of Nature (thanks DrG), as an example. I’ve briefly scanned the series of articles about “Science and the Media” and they all seem to be editorials, opinions (i.e. commentaries) and features (i.e. narrative reviews or essays). No empirical data, but plenty of anecdotes. If you search MedLine (or other academic databases), you will find there are already some published research papers about “medical news” that are based on empirical data. But you will also find many more published articles along the same lines as Nature’s “Science and the Media” series (i.e. commentaries and narrative reviews) that do not have any solid evidence to back up their views. It should be obvious that more good data needs to be collected and more good research needs to be published in the interdisciplinary field of “Science and the Media”.

  14. pinkthing said,

    June 30, 2009 at 5:52 am

    I’m sorry that I can’t come down but I am part of the bastion that keeps Camden from devolving into the primordial ooze and will be “on duty” not too far North of you. As Sid says “hope no one dies” lots of paperwork for a death on licensed premises !!!

  15. Crispian said,

    July 1, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    If anyone is closer to the bar than me tonight. Large Gin and Tonic please.

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