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Science and communication (Part 2)


Science and communication (Part 1)
David Weatherall Scientist
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One of the other major issues that arises when we’re loosely talking about education is the, is he increasing problem of communication, not just between the profession internally, but between the profession and the public at large. I, I first got involved in thinking about this bit anyway, in the year I was President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, where you spend an enormous amount of time, at least for a few weeks, in the great Summer meeting, meeting the press or getting mucked about on the "Today" programme. And the, we, we also really came across this problem quite acutely when we were discussing the whole problem for example of animal research at the moment, and the public perception. This is a problem at many levels really, I think in, in medicine it’s been a, I don’t know why doctors have been such variable communicators. They’re now taught communication skills, I’m not sure, with, with actors and this kind of people, peering through kind of one-way windows at them, all that kind of thing. I’m not actually sure well, you can’t measure it, but I don’t think there’s anything, anything really better. What we tried to do with our kids in Oxford was to make sure that they actually spent lots of their teaching time sitting on the wards, talking to sick people and talking to, talking to their families. But the, the current issues are getting so complex, and the public, I get all the press cuttings from the Wellcome every week, anything to do with science or medicine, and a lot of the papers, they’re just bombarded every day with new advice, new genes for this, new genes for that. They’re now being told it’ll, maybe for a few hundred quid or not much more, they’ll be able to have their total genomes done. They read that the great Jim Watson’s recently had his put on, on the web is it? And except for one gene, which he doesn’t want to know, something that might make him an early sufferer from Alzheimer’s, I believe. But otherwise he’s quite happy for the world at large to know. Must be enormously confusing, and the, when we bring it down to the kind of student training level, it seems to me that perhaps by our better teaching of the complexities of human beings, it may make, I mean, hopefully make, the next lot of doctors slightly more humble, and in my experience of being a patient very occasionally, the one great thing that I required was somebody who listened, and I think listening is, and a little bit of humility, and some training, and this is why it’s so important, I think for all medical students to have a little bit of research experience, and the experience of presenting it, and the ability to take something that’s highly complex and put it into a language which is understandable. It is an art, but I think it’s an art that can be taught to some degree.

British Scientist Sir David Weatherall (1933-2018) was a world renowned expert on blood diseases, in particular thalassaemias, and used his expertise to help control and prevent these diseases in developing countries. He founded the Institute of Molecular Medicine at Oxford in 1989 and was knighted in 1987.

Listeners: Marcus Pembrey

Marcus Pembrey, now Emeritus, was Professor of Paediatric Genetics at the Institute of Child Health, University College London and consultant clinical geneticist at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children London. He is a visiting Professor at the University of Bristol UK, where he was the Director of Genetics within the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children until 2006. A past president of the European Society of Human Genetics, he is also the founding Chairman of the Progress Educational Trust.

Duration: 4 minutes, 8 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2007

Date story went live: 02 June 2008