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UK's celebs offered science lessons

'Check your facts' before backing campaigns

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

A UK charity is offering free support to celelebrities who back "scientific research and campaigns" - often to the detriment of good, solid fact.

Sense About Science is distributing a pamphlet to 'VIP clubs and restaurants' across Britain which contains a number A-listers can ring if "they want to discuss anything with experts" before backing possibly misleading campaigns. The hand-out lists "statements made by stars on topics such as organic food, pesticides and ways to avoid cancer", and gives the specific example of actress Juliet Stevenson, who said of the MMR jab: "I was alarmed at the idea of three diseases being injected into her system in one go. I thought, bloody hell, that's an awful lot for this tiny thing."

Professor Adam Finn, a paediatrician at the University of Bristol, sets Stevenson straight with:

The worst fallacies are ones that sound as if they ought to be true. Ms Stevenson's concerns are shared by many parents because they seem like common sense. But sometimes common sense is nonsense. Even tiny babies' immune systems handle many new infections at once, no problem. The best advice is: avoid needless risk by protecting children with full, prompt immunisation.

Sense About Science director Tracey Brown told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "There is a real problem when people present things as though they are scientifically grounded. There is always going to be a fair bit of nonsense around, and particularly with the big interest in lifestyle."

Brown implored celebrities: "We are saying, 'Before you go public, check your facts'. All it takes is a phone call to us. We have over 1,400 scientists who are committed to helping improve public debate."

The Sense About Science initiative is backed by illusionist Derren Brown, who said: "We are more than aware that the media prefer a shocking story over delicate fact. In areas like food, environment and medicine, this can have serious results.

"Scientists, traditionally a quiet bunch, are now trying to redress the balance and finding ways of promoting fact over misinformation."

Bootnote

Sense About Science has some interesting reading regarding nuclear energy. We note the information was compiled from a number of sources, including the Nuclear Industry Association.

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