In this installment of our series of interviews with today’s professionals we meet Mark Smith, a chartered chemist and member of the Royal Society of Chemistry. Mark discusses how science is affected by the vast amount of information available on the Internet- does this help or hinder progress?
‘You always have a dilemma working for various companies. You see company confidential data all the time and it can be quite awkward when evaluating for a third party; some of the data you know disagrees with other data, but you cannot bring it into the analysis of the information claims because of confidentiality issues. You have to go back sometimes to source data to find out what is in the public domain.’
Mark Smith is a chartered chemist, chartered scientist and a member of the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC). He works as an independent consultant, and gives advice on analysis, analytical quality control, disinfection, by products and efficiency testing to international standards.
Mark describes some of the problems concerning the source data.
‘There’s still a shortage of reference material but a lot of chemical analyses aren’t actually carried out because of extremely high costs. Analytical quality control is a lot more established now in the commercial world, but it still tends to be extremely patchy in the academic world.’
According to Mark, the Internet can provide what may seem like a solution.
‘Nowadays with the Internet there is a huge amount of information out there, so you are finding that the public are becoming more informed. I specifically didn’t say better informed because the data quality can vary considerably between various sources and some of the information doesn’t make any scientific sense. People may be getting the wrong information as some of this isn’t going through peer-group reviewed journals and peer-reviewed papers.’
However, Mark points to processes whereby information available can be improved further.
‘The RSC assisted certain chemists and scientists to help Wikipedia with some of their entries, to make them more robust. Wikipedia has certainly got a lot better and is continually evolving. But now with the advent of social media, people can set up their own groups and they can repopulate scientific medicine. That’s something which we just now as professionals are starting to understand and get to grips with.’
‘The recent citizen science movement is becoming more mainstream and really assisting people who have no scientific background or training to address issues and ask questions. Official information sources must change guidance that seems to have been set in stone by getting organisations to look at the base data and check that they are actually giving the right information out, as opposed to just continuing pursuing information which may have been right when originally written, but over a period of time has changed. We scientists have to be more understanding and more interested in how the general public deals with science and receives science.’