Debating Science Issues: Communicating Biomedical Science and Health through Dialogue

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The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) played host to the 2014 Debating Science Issues (DSI) All-Ireland Finals last Thursday. St Joseph’s Secondary CBS, Fairview from Dublin emerged as eventual winners of the competition. Manolito Aviles and Alexander Fay, the speakers from the winning school, are pictured left with DSI All-Ireland coordinator Danielle Nicholson.  Colaiste Muire, Crosshaven, Co. Cork was awarded All-Ireland Runners Up.

Danielle Nicholson, REDDSTAR Dissemination Officer with Leinster Team Manolito Aviles and Alexander Fay

Danielle Nicholson, REDDSTAR Dissemination Officer with Leinster Team Manolito Aviles and Alexander Fay

Part of the EuroStemCell toolkit, DSI is a dynamic debating competition, and the only All-Ireland collaborative science outreach initiative of its kind, which invites young people to engage in debate on the cultural, societal and ethical implications of advances in biomedical science. Open to students in the senior cycle of secondary school, the competition provides a great opportunity for students to expand their communication and scientific skills. Debating Science Issues is a road-tested outreach program and provides open access materials which can be downloaded for use by other FP7 health projects with a strategy to communicate and work with young people.

The other schools involved in these hotly-contested debates were St. Brigid’s Vocational School, Loughrea, Galway and Our Lady & St. Patrick’s College, Knock, Belfast.  Four teams, narrowed down from 34 came through regional preliminary debate rounds on a variety of contemporary biomedical science.

Do the potential benefits of using embryonic stem cells to develop new medical treatments mean we have a moral obligation to support this research? This was the topic of first two semi-final debates of the day.  The semi-final debates featured St. Joseph’s CBS, Fairview, Dublin against Our Lady & St. Patrick’s, Knock, Belfast; and St. Brigid’s Vocational School, Loughrea versus Colaiste Muire, Crosshaven.

St Joseph’s and Colaiste Muire won to meet each other in the grand final.  The two teams debated the system of allocation of donated organs available for transplantation, with St. Joseph’s Secondary CBS taking the 2014 All-Ireland crown.

Judges on the day were Dr. Jill McMahon, Senior Neuroscientist at NUI Galway; Jane Butler, Education and Research Communications Officer, RCSI; Dr. Andriana Margariti, lecturer in the Centre of Experimental Medicine at Queen’s University Belfast; Brian Molloy, CEO of Orbsen Therapeutics; Maria Delaney, Science Journalist and Founder of Science Calling, Asst. Prof. Cormac Taylor, School of Medicine & Medical Science, UCD, Dr. Anne Cody, Head of Clinical & Applied Biomedical Research, Health Research Board; Prof. of Bioengineering & Regenerative Medicine Fergal O’ Brien, Deputy Director of Research and Head of Tissue Engineering Research Group of RCSI, and Dr. Paola Atzei of Science Foundation Ireland.

The winning team from St. Joseph's Secondary CBS, Fairview Dublin with their teacher, Don Sheahan

The winning team from St. Joseph’s Secondary CBS, Fairview Dublin with their teacher, Don Sheahan

Danielle Nicholson, All-Ireland Co-ordinator of Debating Science Issues (DSI) and REDDSTAR Dissemination Officer, said: DSI provides young people with insight into science as an institution and the processes by which scientific knowledge is produced.  Incorporating the values and limits in science as well as its tactics for decision-making, DSI employs a discussion-based teaching model in the pre-competition workshops.  It is important that students do not judge their understanding of scientific knowledge to be insufficient to allow them to engage with socio-scientific issues of concern.  Argumentation is one of the cornerstones of the scientific process.  DSI increases student engagement with science content and promotes reasoning and justification skills that help prepare an informed citizenry.

Data collected from six cycles of DSI involving more than 4,000 students shows an increase in interest in science as a subject and as a career as a result of participation in the project.

The DSI All-Ireland Finals event was funded by a Science Foundation Ireland Discover Programme award. The competition is co-ordinated by REDDSTAR at NUI Galway and collaborators include APC at UCC, BDI at DCU, RCSI, CIT, CRANN at Trinity College, W5 in Belfast, INSIGHT at UCD and the University of Ulster.  For more information, visit