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The Science Media Centre is not restricted to reacting to the headlines, and has helped scientists to more proactively set the agenda by bringing new science or evidence to journalists. This comes from our regular briefings, which take a variety of forms and cover a wide range of topics. Many are background briefings introducing journalists to the best experts and science on controversial issues like nuclear waste, nanotechnology, emerging diseases, or animal research, for example. They may also be news briefings where the SMC works with scientists to give the national media a new story on developments within science, whether it’s a report on climate change, a paper on stem cells being published in a leading journal, or science funding cuts in the latest budget. In addition, the SMC encourages leading experts to ‘speak out’ to the media about developments they believe may pose a threat to scientific research – not something science has been renowned for.

paracetamol use in pregnancy and testosterone levels in unborn boys

Paracetamol is the most common pain and fever relief medicine used by pregnant women, but previous observational studies have suggested a possible link between prolonged use during pregnancy and reproductive issues in young boys. Researchers from the University of Edinburgh have investigated the effects of paracetamol use on levels of testosterone in foetuses in a series of experiments using mice with human tissue grafts. read more

the El Niño Southern Oscillation

El Niño takes place in the Pacific Ocean and has the power to affect weather patterns around the world; an especially intense El Niño event is thought to be partly responsible for the famously high surface temperatures of 1998. Scientists are in broad agreement that an El Niño this year is underway, but its effects are notoriously hard to predict. read more

the long-term impacts of childhood bullying

Traditionally childhood bullying has been seen by many as a common and almost inevitable part of growing up, with lasting consequences fortunately happening rarely. However, there has been growing evidence of long-term impacts that can last far into adulthood. Now researchers have assessed whether there are not only psychological impacts, but also physical ones – specifically in relation to obesity and inflammation. read more

clinical research with children: ethical issues

Without well-conducted medical research with children, our understanding of childhood disorders and evidence base for treatments will remain limited. The benefits of research can be seen in areas such as childhood leukemia, but overall, health research with children lags behind that with adults. In everyday practice, doctors still need to prescribe medicines that are often only tested in adults. Despite this, researchers and parents are worried about asking children to take part in research because of ethical and practical concerns. Following a two year inquiry, which has heard from hundreds of children and parents, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics is publishing its report, ‘Children and clinical research: ethical issues’. read more

gene editing of human embryos

As some in science circles have been predicting, gene-editing techniques which are already widely used in plants and animals have now been applied to human embryos. In what is thought to be a world first, Chinese scientists used CRISPR/Cas9 to modify the DNA of human embryos, thereby attracting global headlines about science fiction becoming science fact, as well as warnings about slippery slopes and designer babies. read more

climate scientists’ statement for Earth Day

The Earth League, a group of world-leading research institutions, launched their Earth Statement on Earth Day, April 22 2015. The statement summarises recent climate science, particularly regarding risk and tipping points and outlines the key features of a climate agreement in Paris in December this year to meet the 2 degree target agreed by nations. It calls on the UN negotiators to step up their ambition to ensure an equitable and science-based global climate agreement in Paris, and will describe eight essential elements of a global climate deal from the scientists’ perspective. read more

e-cigarettes – do they help cut down or quit smoking?

Evidence of the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as smoking cessation or reduction aids is still limited. Two new studies investigate whether frequency of use and type of e-cigarette affect whether users either cut down or stop smoking cigarettes. How do the results of these two surveys (one to be published in the journal Addiction, and the other in Nicotine & Tobacco Research) fit in with other evidence? read more

sexual offending and heritability

In the wake of many high profile stories of sex offences in the news, there has been much speculation and debate around what factors contribute to the likelihood of individuals committing sexual crimes. Previously, much of the research in this area has focused on environmental factors such as deprived childhoods and alcohol use, rather than possible genetic influences. In a large population study using data from Sweden, researchers from the University of Oxford and the Karolinska Institutet have investigated the genetic impact on the risk of sexual offending by looking at the close male relatives of convicted sexual offenders. read more

very sick children: treatment at any cost?

Doctors dealing with end of life care for children and young people will be issued with new guidance by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), setting out when it can be considered no longer in the best interests of the child to prolong life at all costs. In the 10 years since the last version of the guidance was published, babies born at 22-25 weeks have better chances of survival and palliative care for children has become more widely available. But for some newborns, or children who have suffered serious infectious disease or catastrophic injury, very difficult decisions need to be taken by medics about how to act in that child’s best interests. read more

launch of East London community genome sequencing project

Bangladeshi and Pakistani people in East London have some of the highest rates of poor health in the UK and are disproportionately affected by diabetes, heart disease and other conditions. Experts from Queen Mary University of London are launching a large-scale medical research study – called East London Genes & Health – which aims to improve the health of these local communities by gathering information, for the first time, about their genetic makeup. read more

the latest evidence on HRT and cardiovascular health

Hormone replacement therapy has long been a controversial subject, with different studies demonstrating complex benefits and risks associated with women taking HRT. The latest review into the evidence has been published in the Cochrane Library. The new evidence on HRT now suggests different benefits and risks according to the age of women, or how long since their menopause that they started treatment. This review adds a few more pieces to a complicated jigsaw of evidence relating to the use of HRT to treat symptoms of the menopause helping to inform women about their HRT choices. read more

crowdfunding for LSD

Illegal drugs are gaining increased attention in the research community. A combination of complex regulations, differing requirements for clinical versus scientific research and limited funding opportunities have provided many obstacles for the research community, but some still feel it is worth attempting. Prof. David Nutt, former Chair of the ACMD, has been one of the most vocal proponents of research with psychedelic drugs. He and his team are now resorting to crowdfunding to get sufficient money to finish their basic research into the impact of LSD. read more

expert encounter: Prof Mike Stephenson, Director of Science and Technology at the British Geological Survey

A new book by Prof. Mike Stephenson, Shale Gas and Fracking: The Science Behind the Controversy, will be published in early March. It attempts to cut through the misinformation on both sides of this emotionally charged debate and clearly present the unbiased scientific evidence to help policy makers and the public decide for themselves about shale gas and fracking. Prof. Stephenson came to the SMC to talk to journalists ahead of publication. read more

depression and violence

There has been a lot of focus on how suffering from depression can lead to self-harm and suicide. In contrast, there has been little investigation of any link between depression and violent behaviour. Experts have heard anecdotal reports, but there has been no rigorous study until now. Researchers have investigated whether there is a link between suffering from depression and perpetrating violent crime. They have used data from Sweden, comparing patients with depression to members of the general population and, further, assessed risk of violent crime in twin studies. read more

is NICE approval of new drugs doing more harm than good?

Research at the University of York has estimated the effects of changes in NHS expenditure on the health of all NHS patients.* The researchers have asked whether the threshold NICE uses to judge whether the health benefits of a new drug are sufficient to justify the costs are correct. The findings, published in the Health Technology Assessment Journal, suggest that the NHS is currently paying too much for new drugs. The authors also revealed their estimates of the true costs of the Cancer Drugs Fund on other areas of health spending. read more

evidence on standardised packing of tobacco products

The English government intends to put regulations on standardised packaging of tobacco products to a vote before the general election in May 2015. If the vote is passed, England will be the second country in the world to mandate standardised packaging, following Australia’s example. The evidence base for standardised packaging is growing, and the scientific journal Addiction has played a key role in that growth. In the lead-up to the vote, Addiction is publishing a collection of peer-reviewed research papers and commentaries from 2008 to 2015 that bring together key parts of the evidence base for standardised packaging. read more

National Academies’ pre-election statement on research and innovation

While research and innovation may not be central to the political parties’ election campaigns, it will help answer the issues they will be asked about on the doorstep – such as improving health, creating jobs and producing more sustainable energy. UK researchers address major national and global challenges – from economic recovery to climate change, from security to ageing. To that end, the Academy of Medical Sciences, the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society, have published a statement outlining what the new government will need to do to secure the UK’s position as a world-leader in research. read more

expert encounter: in conversation with Professor Anne Glover CBE FRSE FASM

Professor Anne Glover has become something of a cause célèbre since a campaign by NGOs to oust her as CSA to the President of the European Commission hit the headlines and was followed just months later by the apparent abolition of the post. But Prof. Glover has many supporters, with 100s of leading scientists from around Europe wading in to champion her record and argue the need for the continuation of the role. Throughout this time Anne has remained silent about the row and not spoken to the media. Now however as she packs her bags to leave Brussels, Anne agreed to come to the SMC to talk to science journalists and reflect on her achievements, disappointments and hopes for the future of scientific advice in Europe. read more

the ethics of ‘big data’ – Nuffield Council on Bioethics report launch

We are generating more data about people’s health and biology, from more sources, than ever before, including from GP records (e.g., hospital notes, laboratory tests, clinical trials, monitoring devices and health apps. Advances in information technology and data science mean that it is becoming easier, cheaper and more valuable to gather, transfer, link, store and analyse these data. read more

public perceptions of climate change after the 2014 flooding

The UK winter flooding events provided a unique scientific opportunity to test several hypotheses about the links between extreme weather experiences and climate beliefs. A new report to be launched on 29th January at the Royal Society describes the findings of a nationally representative Ipsos-Mori survey of public perceptions of climate change in Britain, particularly how they are influenced by extreme weather. read more

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