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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.

what’s the real truth behind e-cigarettes?

The first Cochrane Review on this subject will be published next week in the Cochrane Library. This new emerging evidence gives some early insights into how effective e-cigarettes are as an aid to stopping smoking. This is an active area of research and this review draws on the first randomised trials that have been done. read more

MBRRACE-UK: Report into maternal deaths

Whilst rates of maternal deaths in the UK have been declining over the last ten years, there are still around 80 deaths during or after childbirth each year and in the majority of cases these women had pre-existing medical or mental health conditions. Ensuring pregnant women receive flu jabs and closer monitoring for sepsis after birth could reduce the number of deaths. This will be the 60th consecutive year in which maternal deaths are reviewed through the MBRRACE-UK programme read more

are Britain’s nuclear plants fit for purpose?

Most of Britain’s operating nuclear reactors are of a type that nobody else in the world has. Over recent months we have seen media reports about cracks in the reactor cores, problems with the boiler units and claims that the regulators are “moving the goalposts” to allow them to operate for longer than they should. Are the current nuclear plants fit for purpose, will they keep the lights on this winter, and for how long can we rely on them to soldier on? read more

geoengineering: can it help combat climate change?

The first UK funded research projects on geoengineering are about to finish. The principal investigators from each project came to the SMC to discuss the conclusions of their work and whether they see a place for geoengineering in a warming world. read more

the future of autonomous vehicles

A new report from the Institution of Engineering and Technology has examined the future of automated transport. A group of experts came to the SMC to discuss what can we expect from the cars of the future and what is just around the corner including automated parking, benefits for older drivers wanting to drive for longer, and automated driving in a traffic jam. How close are we to truly driverless cars? How do we address the cybersecurity issues that a computerised moving vehicle brings? And who would be liable in an accident? read more

food safety: Laboratory of the Government Chemist conference

Food fraud was in the spotlight last year during the horsemeat scandal, and food safety has been brought to the fore again recently following the detection of campylobacter in some supermarket chickens. The Laboratory of the Government Chemist, a company that carries out food testing and analysis, will be having their annual conference later in November. Ahead of this conference a number of the speakers came to the SMC to talk to journalists about various aspects of food safety, food testing, food fraud, supplements and food authenticity read more

The future of gas

The UK Energy Research Centre is publishing a new report on the use of gas as a bridge to a low-carbon future. In ‘Gas by Design’, researchers examine the future role of gas in our energy mix if we are to prevent global temperatures from rising above 2C by 2100, and how much longer we can keep burning gas without widespread use of carbon capture. read more

Hepatitis E – what is it and how do we get it?

Hepatitis E is a liver disease caused by infection with the hepatitis E virus, and leads to jaundice, abdominal pain, vomiting and fever, as well as more serious complications in certain groups. It was previously thought to be a problem only in the developing world, where infection occurs via contaminated drinking water. However, more recent research suggests it may be contracted in the UK and other European countries by eating under-cooked pork or by receiving transfusions of infected blood. read more

supercomputing, weather forecasting and climate science

Weather and climate predictions are inherently difficult because of the sheer amount of data which must be processed. If the science of prediction is to be ever more accurate it will need powerful computers backing it up. Scientists came to the SMC to discuss the future of forecasting, what high-powered computers can and can’t do, and how the extra information can be used in future. At this briefing, science minister Greg Clark announced the funding of a £97m computer dedicated to weather and climate science. read more

what can animals tell us about psychiatry?

Psychiatry has made huge leaps in recent years as it has become ever more scientific in nature. Our understanding of disorders, drugs and therapies has grown dramatically, much of it through research with animals. But are mice and rats good models for these complex diseases, can depression in dogs really equate with depression in people, and how much does that matter? read more

gain-of-function flu research – what is it for?

We’ve heard about lab experiments on influenza that mutate the virus to investigate how genetic changes could alter how infectious or deadly it is. But what are these gain-of-function experiments, how and where are they conducted, and what have we learned from them so far? read more

expert encounter: why are young people born in the UK attracted to supporting terrorism?

As one set of parents continue to issue heartfelt pleas to their daughter to come back from Syria, politicians and community leaders struggle to understand why young people would be tempted to leave comfortable secure homes and travel to war zones to lend support to a variety of fighting groups. Few people in the UK can give answers but one academic is attempting to understand the roots of radicalisation and psychology behind it, so we may begin to take a public health approach and prevent it before it happens. read more

dietary fat and health

Strong claims have been made about our diets in 2014. While sugar has been demonised by some as the new tobacco, fat has been celebrated as ‘not bad for us after all’. With an obesity crisis showing no sign of decline, it’s more important than ever that we know the truth about fat. read more

the problem with brain tumours

Brain cancer is the chief cause of cancer deaths in everyone under the age of 35, with nearly 60% of men and women diagnosed with brain cancer dying within a year. Yet despite having some of the worst outcomes, brain cancer research receives less than 1% of the national spend on cancer research and as an issue it is largely ignored except when it comes to controversy over the different forms of therapies in children. read more

Ebola – what next?

The current Ebola outbreak in West Africa is unprecedented in its size and spread. We’ve heard how the WHO plan to tackle it, about the potential of various treatments and vaccines, but that it is unlikely to be brought under control before the end of 2014. But where are we now, is enough being done, and what is expected to happen next? read more

Icelandic volcanoes

The ongoing eruption of the Icelandic volcano Bárðarbunga continues to raise concerns from the public. read more

proton beam therapy

The SMC hosted a briefing with five experts about Proton Beam Therapy: what it is, how it works, who it’s appropriate for and under what circumstances. Proton beam therapy has been brought to the attention of the public and the media through the case of Ashya King, a child with medulloblastoma, and two UK centres aim to treat patients with proton beam therapy by 2018. read more

e-cigarettes: a critique of the WHO reports

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently published two reports calling for further regulation and the banning of e-cigarette use indoors. Experts critiqued the evidence behind the claims in a report published in the journal Addiction. read more

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