Most scientists believe that the public needs to know about the social and ethical implications of scientific research, according to a new study by the Wellcome Trust published last week. The survey was carried out by market research firm MORI (Market and Opinion Research Institute), who interviewed more than 1600 UK scientists about their attitudes to public dialogue.
Entitled 'The role of scientists in public debate', the survey found that most of those interviewed felt it was their duty to communicate their research findings to policy-makers and the public. But many felt that the requirements of their jobs left them with little time to do so. The study also found that most scientists were not trained to liaise with the media, and were unaware of the communications services provided by their funding organisations.
'This research explodes the stereotype of the secretive scientist' said Wellcome Trust director Mike Dexter. He added that in the light of recent public concern over issues such as embryo research and genetically modified (GM) foods, the challenge was now to translate the willingness of scientists to communicate into effective public dialogue. 'The next generation of scientists will need to be able, as well as willing, communicators' he said, stressing the need for communications and media training. The full report is available on MORI's website.