Friday, 25 January 2008

Scientists open mouthed in Australia

The Australian newspaper reports that scientists are to get a charter guaranteeing their right to take part in contentious debates linked to their research fields. This comes after claims that scientists were barred from commenting on reports that research agencies had to get government clearance before speaking to the media.

US funding insufficient to ensure dominance?

THES reports that federal spending on science research in the US is rising at a rate lower than inflation according to National Science Foundation's Science and Engineering Indicators 2008. The report warns that this level of funding in conjunction with the increase of expertise in China and India could pose a threat to the US dominance in this area.

The funny side of chemistry

THES reports that academics from the University of the West of England are teaming up with Horrible Science illustrator David Smith to develop comics based on a character called "The Chemedian". The project is funded by a £72,000 grant from the EPSRC's Partnerships for Public Engagement Fund.

An interdisciplinary approach to climate change

Former Government Chief Scientist, Sir David King is encouraging academics from the arts, humanities and social sciences to move towards more interdisciplinary work, engaging with scientists to tackle the problem of climate change.

'"It is also a problem that needs to be looked at from the social science point of view, economic point of view and political point of view, and universities need to address these problems in an interdisciplinary mode"' he said.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Mum's the word

THES reports that the key to securing a new generation of science students is convincing mothers. Martin Westwell, head of a new Centre for Science Education in the 21st Century in Adelaide, Australia, told The Australian newspaper: "One of the things we know makes a difference is a mum's view of science and technology. If Mum's are interested, we know that children are more likely to take part in science."

Oxford University's scientific output analysed

THES is reporting that Dr Bruce Charlton from Newcastle University has found that the scientific output of Oxford University has more in common with the University of Minnesota that Harvard.

The number of times Oxford researchers were cited by their peers, the number of highly cited academics at the university and the number of Nobel prizes its staff have won were all taken into account. Dr Charlton acknowledges that, "People will argue that these are crude measures, but I can't think of any better ones." Dr Charlton also said that 'Rather than being encouraged to tackle tough problems where the risk of failure is high, the best of Oxford's scientists are being pressured to undertake easier, short-term research'. Although this ethos could be linked to the RAE, as this type of research has a higher chance of receiving funding, one Oxford scientist believes that 'the cause may be less the RAE than the practices of the research councils in choosing which research to fund. They tend to fund research they feel is sure to succeed in a three-year timescale.'

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Pope accused of despising science

Pope Benedict XVI has called off a visit to Rome's oldest University, La Sapienza amidst hostility from both academic staff and students accusing him of 'despising science and defending the Inquisition's condemnation of Galileo'. At a speech made in 1990 at La Sapienza he quoted the judgement of an Austrian philosopher of science who wrote that the church's trial of Galileo was "reasonable and fair".,,2241497,00.html

Friday, 11 January 2008

Their names were LoLas...

In an attempt to move away from the "three years, one postdoc, one protein" mindset the BBSRC is introducing a new longer and larger (LoLa) grant scheme to encourage more blue-sky research. The uncapped grants which start at £2 million have a maximum lifespan of 5 years; at present only two such grants have been awarded.

The grants align nicely with the £115 million push in systems biology that the council plans to make over the next 3 years.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

And its Goodbye Public Health Research Board

The Medical Research Council has announced changes to its research board structure in a move to foster more interdisciplinary research and boost applied science. The Public Health Research Board evolves into a new "strategy board" which will oversee four grant-awarding research boards. Four thematic overview groups will also be established, covering population sciences, global health, translational research and training and careers.

Stephen Hawking joins fights against cuts

Stephen Hawking has added his name to the 10,500-strong Downing Street petition against cuts in physics and astronomy. Prospect, the scientists' union has warned that the cuts (due to a Science and Technology Facilities Council £80 million funding shortfall) could result in hundreds of public-sector scientists losing their jobs and the privatisation of major public research facilities. Many worry that a review on the health of physics, commissioned by DIUS, to be held by the Parliamentary Select Committee which shadows DIUS on 21 January, comes too late to save their subjects.

These plans are amidst a three year effort to save £120 million pounds following the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review.

Amount of doctorates awarded in US continues to increase

Figures from the National Science Foundation have shown that for the fourth year running US Universities have seen a growth in the number of doctorates awarded in science and engineering with a particular increase in the number of PhDs awarded to international students. More than half of all the new doctorates went to international students with China, India and Korea providing the majority.

Where have all the technicians gone?

THES is reporting that we are on the brink of an 'age time bomb' that will see a dramatic shortage of laboratory technicians. According to their trade union, Amicus Unite the average technician is over 40 and almost a third are over 50 years of age.

A combination of, lack of opportunity for job development and low wages has seen many leave the academic field, favouring a move into industry or the National Health Service.

In a move towards a solution HEFCE has proferred £75,000 of start-up funding to be used in the formation of a professional/membership organisation (called The Heated project) with the remit of rectifying the skills gap between older experienced technicians and those new to the job. It is hoped that this project in conjunction with Universities continuing to take on trainees will generate a sustainable cohort of technicians.

The return

After a considerable hiatus, The Sciblorg has returned to bring you up to date news and opinion on issues within and around the scientific community.