Saturday, September 30, 2023

The Future Perfect 50: Saloni Dattani, researcher

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Shreya Christina
Shreya has been with for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider team, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

From discovering the secrets of the atom to forging new gene editing technology, science has brought us closer to understanding the world around us — and each other. But despite the achievements of the past century, that progress has slowed down, in part due to challenges such as paywall magazines and slow turnaround peer review. Without faster scientific progress, we risk becoming entangled in stagnation.

‘Science must be overhauled’ writes researcher Saloni Dattani, specializing in making science accessible and delivering smart, digestible analysis of the world’s most important questions.

Seeking hard data and putting assumptions to the test is how Dattani thinks, and much of her writing focuses on advocating for better data transparency. She is a part-time researcher for Our world in data — a UK-based non-profit organization that publishes free, easy-to-understand statistics that give us a clearer picture of how things really are versus what we assume they are.

At Our World in Data, she collects and audits data on health-related topics, including: COVID-19 and mental health. Our World in Data’s Covid dashboard, to which she contributed, was a main source of information to evaluate the effectiveness of lockdowns and other public health measures.

Dattani also has an impressive number of side projects for someone who is also pursuing a PhD in psychiatric genetics. In 2020 – when the world was flooded by bad Covid forecasts – she praised the “super predictorswho made testable predictions about the pandemic, and were often right. (Dattani himself correctly predicted that a vaccine would be available by the end of 2020, at a time when many experts goods skeptical.)

That same year, Dattani also helped find Work in progressan online magazine that shares original ideas are relevant to making progress on the world’s greatest challenges. In addition to new science, Works in Progress also covers economics, culture, and politics, hosting writers who can provide detailed and thoughtful in-depth dives into complex problems.

Her interests are widespread, but the common thread is clear, data-based reasoning. In 2019 she spoke on the podcast rationally speaking about the debate on gender differences in the brain, and its recently launched share pile newsletter varies from the evolution of lactose tolerance to potential vaccines against cancer. Dattani believes it is important to highlight new scientific research that may be relevant to readers’ lives, and to show how the results can be interpreted. Instead of keeping her analysis and research behind a paywall (her Substack is free) or just talking to other academics, Dattani tries to reach people where they are: Twitter, podcasts, newsletters, publications, wherever.

Dattani’s skill in interpreting and explaining data was recognized in July when she was recommended for a Statistical Commentary Award from the Royal Statistical Society for her New article from the statesman on Covid-19 vaccine messages for pregnant women. She continues to provide clear and informative coverage of the latest health news, such as: monkeypoxand advocates reform in science.

“My motivation to write [the New Statesman] article was the same as the motivation I have for all my scientific writing today,” Dattani writes. “Here was an issue where the evidence was so obvious, but the coverage had let the public down.”

Not every researcher is at the forefront all the time, but Dattani’s approach to her work lends itself to ensuring that prescient progress can move forward rather than be held back.

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