Research, Impact and the UK Parliament – Event Report

Katie Drax, Honorary Research Assistant at the Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group (TARG)

Science can inform how society is run so research can have implications for public and private policy. But how? How can research feed into policy-making, i.e. evidence-based policy? For those who don’t have a clue about parliamentary actions or how they relate to academics’ work the “Research, Impact and the UK Parliament” event series is a good way to get to grips with Parliament and research.

Starting at 10 a.m. we pinned name badges to our shirts and busied ourselves by riffling through the Houses of Parliament tote bags placed on our seats. Thankfully the event did not require much prior knowledge since it was assumed the majority of attendees were ignorant about the workings of Parliament and so the first presentation was a 30 minute crash course on the subject. Continue reading

Scientific Ecosystems and Research Reproducibility

Marcus Munafo, Professor of Biological Psychology, University of Bristol

In 2005 a seminal article by John Ioannidis argued that various biases in how science is conducted, such as the use of small sample sizes and emphasising on novel, eye-catching findings, conspire to reduce the likelihood that a piece of published research is in fact correct. Since then, there has been growing interest in what has become known as the reproducibility crisis, stimulated in part by growing empirical evidence that many published research findings cannot be replicated. For example, in 2011 scientists from the pharmaceutical company Bayer reported that they were only able to replicate ~20-25% of results published in academic journals. Interest in the question of what proportion of published research findings are actually true, and whether we can do better, has grown – in 2015 the Academy of Medical Sciences in the UK held a symposium on the topic, while the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee is currently undertaking an inquiry on these issues. Continue reading

Sharing stories of migration and belonging

Dr Devyani Prabhat, Lecturer in Law, School of Law

Dr Devyani Prabhat, Lecturer in Law, School of Law

Last month I led an ESRC Funded Thinking Futures Event on Migration and Belonging at the St Werburgh’s Community Centre, Bristol. The event was attended by twenty-six people who had experience of applying for British citizenship or had personal stories to share about migration. Storytelling gives a direct voice to research participants and this was the theme of the event. Artist Sam Church who is a graphic artist simultaneously sketched the stories which were being shared. Continue reading

Working with the media can be beneficial but linking to and citing your research should be compulsory

 

Andy Tattersall, Information Specialist at the School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR)

Andy Tattersall, Information Specialist, ScHARR, University of Sheffield.

It’s great when academic research is covered by the media but too often this coverage fails to link back to or properly cite the research itself. It’s time academics insisted on this and Andy Tattersall outlines the benefits of doing so. As well as pointing more people to your work, the use of identifiers allows you to track this attention and scrutinise where and how your research has been used. At a time when academic work is vulnerable to misreporting, such a simple step can help ensure the public are able to view original research for themselves.

Academics are increasingly being sold the benefits of working with the media as an effective way of gaining impact and presenting their work to a wider audience. Yet all too often media coverage of research has no direct link to the research it is referring to. The general public are used to seeing news stories that say ‘researchers have found’ or ‘researchers from the university of’ yet these reports are often lacking when it comes to linking to or citing the actual research. Academics dealing with the media should make a point of insisting on linking to their original research outputs where applicable as there are several benefits. Given that Oxford Dictionaries just named ‘post-truth’ as their word of 2016, we need to do everything we can to ensure fact retains its importance in the reporting of research.

Continue reading

The UK Diet and Diabetes Questionnaire: A new tool for assessing dietary habits

clare_england

Dr Clare England, Senior Research Associate and Specialist Diabetes Dietitian, in the Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences and the NIHR Biomedical Research Unit in Nutrition, Diet and Lifestyle.

Dr Clare England discusses the challenges of providing individualised dietary advice for people with Type 2 diabetes and introduces a new, validated assessment tool, the UKDDQ, that may offer a solution.

Diabetes UK estimates that over 3 million people in the UK are living with Type 2 diabetes, and a further 5 million are at high risk. Complications (for example, increased cardiovascular disease, kidney failure, blindness, foot ulcers and amputations) caused by poorly controlled Type 2 diabetes, costs the NHS an estimated at £7.0 billion.

There is an increasing choice of medication available for Type 2 diabetes which can help to reduce blood glucose, cholesterol and blood pressure, but a healthy diet, regular physical activity and good weight management underpin successful control.

Continue reading

‘Solidari-tea’ with Helen from The Archers

Dr Emma Williamson, Senior Research Fellow in The Centre for Gender and Violence Research, University of Bristol.

Dr Emma Williamson, Senior Research Fellow in The Centre for Gender and Violence Research, University of Bristol.

Dr Emma Williamson discusses how the current storyline in The Archers raises the question of what justice means when it comes to abuse.

Social media has once again been a-twitter with discussion about The Archers.

I wrote back in April about the domestic violence and coercive control storyline and how the producers had managed to shine a light on the often hidden aspects of abuse. As the story moves this week into the Courts, the media is once again gripped by the drama, with people posting their pictures of solidari-tea with the central character, Helen. The Mail Online even ran a story with Barristers discussing the fictional case .

Continue reading

Life in the House of Commons Library

Madeline Burke, PhD Student, Bristol Centre for Functional Nanomaterials

Madeline Burke, PhD Student, Bristol Centre for Functional Nanomaterials, University of Bristol

As a PhD student I rarely get exposed to aspects of academic life such has grant writing, policy and management.  So when the opportunity came up to apply for a 3 month internship at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST), funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), I jumped at the chance.

POST, as it is known, is based at the heart of Westminster. It serves both Houses of Parliament in providing impartial advice to parliamentarians on science and technology policy issues; often in the form of briefing papers called POSTnotes. POST was formed by a group of MPs and Peers concerned at the lack of scientific evidence available to influence Parliamentary policy and in 2001 both Houses decided that POST should be established as a permanent bicameral institution.

Continue reading

How can schools help talented students from disadvantaged backgrounds into university?

Dr Jo Rose, Senior Lecturer in Education, Bristol University Graduate School of Education

Dr Jo Rose, Senior Lecturer in Education, Bristol University

There are many bright young people who come from disadvantaged family or school contexts where university attendance is not the norm.

As part of the High-Potential Learners Project, we investigated how these young people could be supported in making decisions about university. In particular, we wanted to know how to encourage high-achieving young people to consider the highly-selective, research-intensive, Russell Group universities as an option.

Over a period of two years, we worked with a group of 44 sixth-form students from schools across Bristol, to understand how and why they made decisions about university. We also analysed a large-scale, nationally-representative dataset of 2290 high-attaining learners who had turned 18 in 2009/10.

Our project found that school context was highly important with regards to subsequent university attendance, and identified some of the ways in which schools and universities can work together to support students’ decision-making.

Continue reading

Engaging with the Policy-making and Scrutiny Process in Wales: How Does Research Get into the National Assembly for Wales?

Lauren Carter-Davies, Public Policy Institute for Wales

Lauren Carter-Davies, Public Policy Institute for Wales

In addition to our remit to support Welsh Government Ministers to identify their evidence needs and provide them with independent expert advice and analysis, the Public Policy Institute for Wales (PPIW) is trying to play a broader role in developing the ‘evidence ecosystem’ in Wales – the networks and channels through which evidence can inform policy and practice. We think that it’s important that Assembly Members who are involved in scrutinising policy and legislation also have access to authoritative independent policy experts.

The National Assembly for Wales is a democratically elected body with three main roles: representing the interests of Wales and its people, making laws for Wales, and holding the Welsh Government to account through policy scrutiny. In fulfilling these roles, the Assembly is a big consumer of research and is always looking to make links with independent sources of expertise. Specifically, the National Assembly for Wales Research Service provides impartial research and information to support Assembly Members and committees in fulfilling the scrutiny, legislative and representative functions of the Assembly. Providing an effective Research Service requires access to research from external organisations and individuals with knowledge and expertise in relevant subject areas. Continue reading

Scientific research and the European Union – how UK science may be affected if we choose to leave

Dr ewan fowler

Dr Ewan Fowler, Research Associate in the School of Physiology, Pharmacology and Neuroscience, University of Bristol

The referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU is fast approaching and as the debate intensifies, science is a topic that remains very much overlooked, despite its importance to the UK economy.

I have recently begun to consider the scientific relationship that Britain has with the EU and how UK science may be affected if we choose to leave.  This relationship is not trivial, according to OECD figures the EU produces around 1.7 million scientists, which is more than either China (1.5 million) or the US (1.3 million).

To facilitate this each member state contributes towards a fund called Horizon 2020, which the European Research Council (ERC) distributes to research and infrastructure projects.  The expected budget of Horizon 2020 from 2014-2020 is over €80bn, an increase from the previous incarnation called Framework Programme 7 which had a budget of €53bn from 2007-2013. For projects involving international collaborations a single application to the ERC is required removing the need for separate applications to national funding agencies.

The UK received €8.8bn under Framework Programme 7 from 2007-13, amounting to 3% of total research spending.  This may seem small however it is just shy of charity-funded research (5%) and is typically viewed as a main source of funding for biomedical research.  The UK is highly competitive in obtaining funding as it is currently awarded the greatest number of grants under Horizon 2020, and achieved the second greatest number under Framework Programme 7.

Credit - JISC, Creative Commons

Credit – JISC, Creative Commons

Continue reading