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Science’s half-decade of evolution

Frontline science is ever changing. Every week, you can tune into the BBC’s science section and see how a lab has ‘developed’ a new cure for cancer, or we hear about a novel invention of forms of green energy pledged to revolutionise how we power the world. Amid all these small progressions of science, the whole scientific landscape has drastically evolved. Rolling incremental changes in technology and knowledge have resulted in a significant, yet often unnoticed, change in culture and methodology. In this article, three of SciTech’s journalists interview leaders in their field to gain an insight into how they believe science may have changed, and how the path is paved for future developments. 


Scientific Communication 

Rodrigo Castro Fernandes 

For many of us, including Tom Whipple, the pandemic marked a colossal changing point in time. The Boar SciTech Editors sat down with the Science Editor of the Times to discuss the evolution of Scientific Communication over the past decade or so.  

Having started on the Foreign Desk of the Times, Tom smoothly transitioned into being the Science Editor, where he has covered compelling topics from climate change to mental health, and more recently the controversial court case against Oxford and AstraZeneca`s Covid-19 efficacy claims.  He has therefore been an ever-present figure as research morphed from its days from being an unregulated, erratic ‘boys-club’ to what it is today. With much to still be improved upon, Tom certainly had his opinions on how scientific communication to the public has changed and its direction moving forward.  

When asked about any major changes within Science Communication, Tom stated that major changes were catalysed by Covid-19. He feels he transitioned from a period where his articles would be catered to a very specific audience, to ones that interests all.  I am sure you all remember the countless stories describing the rationale behind the ‘R’ number and how we can predict the spread of a virus. During Covid, everyone became an expert in epidemiology. This trend has stuck, and science now has responsibility to cater for all. From potential new pandemics to biological warfare, science’s role in our future is inevitable and how it is communicated needs to change too. 

It was virtually impossible to cover any Covid-related news as pure Science, as these would always be met with political backlash

What was also insightful was how Tom described the interlink between Science and Politics, in which he suggested the two subjects will forever be intertwined and connected during the pandemic, for instance, it was virtually impossible to cover any Covid-related news as pure Science, as these would always be met with political backlash. Despite an implicit liberty and full ownership in its scientific coverage, Tom stated that Science and Politics will forever be interlinked and function as a “continual background noise in all our lives”.  


Science Education 

Zoé Barret 

To understand how the teaching of science has changed in the past 50 years, we asked Pr. Miriam Gifford, the Head of School of Life Sciences (SLS), how she thought the teaching of science had evolved in regard to funding, students, teachers, courses, and specifically how the department keeps up with modern advancements. Pr. Gifford discussed this with Dr. Robert Spooner, an expert lecturer at the SLS, and both replied with detailed, thorough, and optimistic outlooks on what this change looks like.  

They emphasize the interdisciplinarity that is now offered to students, in contrast to the more discipline-specific courses that were proposed 50 years ago

Firstly, they emphasize the interdisciplinarity that is now offered to students, in contrast to the more discipline-specific courses that were proposed 50 years ago – allowing students to have a much broader view of bioscience. Regarding the content, a lot of Year 1 involves founding a sturdy base for the next years, deconstructing what has been taught at A-levels, and building new and important information.   

Another point they put forward is the diversity and accessibility that is now supported in the university. Fifty years ago, seeing a female lecturer was unusual enough, let alone a female head of the school! The actual environment in which the lessons take place has also allowed more accessible spaces.   

 Not only are the physical environments more adapted to students, but the use of online content also allows students to have access to content readily and on their own time. This has dramatically changed the lecture style, making them more relaxed. There are more possibilities for interaction through virtual resources, despite the size of a cohort being 400 compared to 50, fifty years ago. Lecturers are also researchers, and scientific knowledge is constantly evolving. More communication can be established, which is vital in an ever-changing field.   

Ultimately, how the department keeps up with modern advancements in the field is by changing, changing, and changing! The new use of space and technology are examples of this. Both content and methods of teaching have been adapted to the advancements of the sciences. The possibility to interact with students, and the increase in diversity and accessibility, seems to be rewarding for both Miriam and Robert.  


Scientific Research 

Andrew Miltiadou 

On a bitter November evening last year, the type of night that makes you unwillingly aware of your extremities, Nobel Laureat and author Sir Paul Nurse came to the University of Warwick to give a talk titled ‘What is life’. In this talk, Dr. Nurse described what he thought were the fundamental aspects to define a being: he used anecdotes about his childhood fascination with insects as well as ideas generated within the scientific community to portray how we can define the parameters of being alive. After this talk (to a hundred-something crowd), I was lucky enough to interview Paul one-on-one to pick his brains on how science has changed from his undergraduate days at Huddersfield University, to winning the Nobel prize and becoming director of the Francis Crick Institute, one of the most prestigious scientific hubs in the world.  

Throughout our conversation, one thing was blatantly obvious: he thought science ‘did it wrong’.  

Science has long struggled to connect with those outside the science-sphere, and although many despair at this, Paul thinks that it is only getting worse. With words he admits he barely understands, Paul joked that he makes his PhD students rifle through the matrix of over-complicated numbers and studies, to present him, simply and succinctly, the publications worthy of further exploration.  

He, [Paul] ultimately, just wants science to excite, attract, and motivate not just scientists, but everyone

Paul additionally expressed his personal admiration of Erasmus Darwin, a botanist who conveyed his work through poems. He hopes to see journals and publishers try to communicate science with the same curiosity and fascination that urges researchers to discover. He, ultimately, just wants science to excite, attract, and motivate not just scientists, but everyone to discuss and debate ideas for the sake of advancing scientific knowledge. 

Our chat ended with Paul concisely summing the issue of the world “drowning in data but thirsty for knowledge”. It was one of the greatest pleasures to have a chance to speak with Paul Nurse. The advice he gave us, as aspiring scientists, was to simply remain curious, but he believes very few individuals are genuinely capable of this. In our busy everyday lives, we tend to lose sight of ‘the why’ in our actions. For those in STEM, it is our curiosity about the natural world which has nurtured this passion. Paul has let his curiosity guide him across his academic journey, and I hope to do the same as I set forward in mine. 






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