Empowering people to ‘Ask for Evidence’
As a biomedical research funder, evidence is core to what we do at the Wellcome Trust, but would you know what to do if you spotted a spurious marketing claim or a too-good-to-be-true statistic? The Wellcome Trust-supported Ask for Evidence campaign today announces ten new Ambassadors – a group of early-career researchers – who will help bring the campaign to new audiences around the UK. Dr Claire Marriott a researcher at the University of Brighton, and supporter of the Ask for Evidence campaign, explains why scrutiny of the evidence behind claims needs to be put in the hands of the public, not just scientists…
We are constantly exposed to bold claims from marketing departments, in news stories and even within government policies. How many times do we just take these as truth? It’s easy to assume that if it’s there in black and white then surely there must be some research behind it.
The Ask for Evidence campaign believes you (yes you!) have not only the right, but also the power, to question claims that you come across. Whether that’s the evidence behind your local recycling policy, the face cream that claims to empower your skin to look younger, or an allergy test recommended by your pharmacist.
It is a positive and accessible campaign that aims to put evidence in the hands of anyone. As the campaign grows, help is needed to spread the word and to let people know how they can get involved – which is why Sense About Science, the charity behind the campaign, has recruited a group of early-career researchers to become Ask for Evidence Ambassadors.
Following a tough selection process with over one hundred applicants, ten researchers were selected to come together for a day at the British Pharmacological Society to learn more about the campaign and share why evidence matters to them.
Each prospective ambassador was given two minutes on the clock to share a time they had asked for evidence themselves, or helped someone with a scientific issue. This revealed a host of good reasons for wanting to get involved and encourage more people to “Ask for Evidence”. For some it was about professional integrity, while others had a more personal motivation.
Sharing our experiences of the Ask for Evidence campaign, Chris Peters, from Sense About Science, and I gave the group a taste of what to expect as Ambassadors. Talking to groups about Ask for Evidence is certainly different to speaking at a research event and the questions from the audience can be a lot more diverse than you might expect! From politics to the role of regulatory authorities, to asking for evidence about whether this campaign actually works… an Ask for Evidence Ambassador needs to be ready to think on their feet!
The Ambassadors were given public speaker training with Hilary Lyons from the Speakers Trust – something I was slightly nervous about as I harboured an irrational fear of being asked to sing and dance in front of everyone (clearly I have never attended something like this before). It turned out to be an incredibly valuable few hours learning tips and tricks to communicate effectively – for example dividing the room up and making eye contact with people in your audience, or even pretending you’re hands-free on your phone so you can practice your talk on your walk to work! We all left with a better understanding of how to keep an audience engaged (without the need for dancing.)
The newly trained Ambassadors were given a second opportunity to present their stories having had some time to take in all of the information given. The passion of these motivated individuals shone through and now fully primed with powerful public speaking advice, it is clear that the Ask for Evidence campaign is in good hands.
The whole day, chaired by Max Goldman of Sense about Science, was a great reflection of how positive the campaign is. Ask for Evidence has made a difference; company policies have been reviewed, potentially harmful products have been banned from sale in the UK, and individuals asking for evidence have held corporations, individuals and politicians to account. We’re delighted to welcome our ten new Ambassadors who will be spreading the word about the campaign and encouraging anyone who wants to know more to get involved – so if that includes you, please get in touch.
You can find out more about the Ask for Evidence campaign, Ambassador programme, and ways you can get involved at askforevidence.org and read more about the power of asking for evidence in this previous blog post.